by Stefan Vucak
Genre: Science Fiction
When everybody is against them, it is tough being a lifeliner, as Nash Bannon found out. Lifeliners are ordinary people…almost. They can draw energy from another person; they live longer and are smarter. Scientists claim that Western high-pressure living and growing sterility in developed countries has triggered the rise of lifeliners, and homo sapiens will replaced by homo renata within ten generations. So, what’s not to like about lifeliners? Protest marches by extremist groups, riots, attacks against lifeliners, repressive laws enacted by governments everywhere, were portents of a dark future. Young, successful, Nash Bannon did not like what was going on, but he thought he had the world at his feet and life in Australia was good, provided no one found out he was a lifeliner. A chance encounter with Cariana during a lunchbreak develops into something he considered important. The Australian government calls a snap election, and Nash stands as a Senate candidate on the Lifeliner Party ticket. Unless lifeliners rise up and fight for their rights, they can expect sterilization, incarceration, and possible extermination as democracies everywhere turn into autocracies. To survive, the Lifeliner Party must employ the same dirty tricks the government used against them, but they were not prepared for what awaited them.
He spotted her sitting alone at a small square table in the open part of La Asiago along the promenade and the world faded around him. Dressed in cream slacks and gray business jacket, flaxen hair spilling across her left shoulder, time stopped and he stared at this captivating woman alone in her shell, surrounded by chattering people, yet unreachable. He traced the lines of her delicate face, the fall of her hair, and a small frown creasing her forehead that made her perfect.
You don’t want to become involved again, old son!
Probably not, but he could not see any harm in an interesting lunchtime diversion compared to the alternative of a lonely bench beside the river, warm sunshine notwithstanding. It might do him good to seek out some distracting company and wash out the unpleasant taste of his IBM meeting.
With the exterior section of the restaurant packed and no empty seats, he took a deep breath and weaved between the tables toward her. If she didn’t like his approach, she could always tell him to buzz off. It had happened before. Some women just didn’t want to be bothered. Peace.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but you seem to have the only spare seat. May I?”
She glanced around, gave him an appraising look with eyes that cut and probed, and finally nodded.
“There are tables inside,” she said softly, her clear voice sending an unexpected tingle down his spine. What the hell was going on? He reminded himself that this was just lunch—diverting as it might be—not a romantic encounter.
“Yes, but it’s not the same thing, and it’s too cold and crowded in there,” he declared as he pulled back a chair.
Her eyebrows rose. “You prefer your own company?”
“Depends on the company,” he said and eased himself down. “I never take chances I don’t have to.”
“You’re taking a chance now, aren’t you?”
“Sometimes you have to.” He glanced at two David Jones store shopping bags beside her, and she smiled.
“I took advantage of a nice day to pick up a few things before returning to The Alfred,” she explained.
“You’re a doctor?”
The babble of voices around them created a shield of intimacy and a sense that time had stopped. Even the crowd strolling along the promenade faded from his view.
“Fascinating line of work,” he said, genuinely interested.
When the waiter arrived, he ordered spiced ravioli and gnocchi and half a bottle of red Chianti. Shortly afterward, her spaghetti marinara arrived. Looking at her speculatively, he lifted the bottle. She frowned and brushed back a stray lock of golden hair.
“Is this your standard gambit when picking up women?”
She had slim, delicate fingers with a subdued red nail polish that complemented without being gaudy. He imagined fondling those hands, running his fingers over her smooth skin. Could he be getting infatuated with a woman he just met? No, this was merely an interesting meeting with someone attractive and sophisticated. Still, she had a magnetism he could feel and his soul reached out to her, warning bells clanging in his head. He clamped a lid on them, prepared to enjoy this moment.
“I don’t do casual pickups.”
She inclined her head in disbelief. “And I am…”
“A fortuitous and pleasant accident. No spare tables, remember? Besides, you looked so lonely…”
She lifted a finger. “Don’t push it.”
He grinned at her. “A peace offering, then. A glass of wine?”
“It’s a very light Italian red. Won’t do anything to spoil your day.”
She bit her lower lip, then slid her glass toward him. “Only a little.”
He poured both of them half a glass. She lowered her fork and took a cautious sip. Her eyebrows arched and she nodded.
“Glad you like it. By the way, I’m Nash Bannon.”
“Cariana Lambert, and I still think this is a pickup routine.”
Nash winced. “Now I’m hurt. I really—”
Just then, the waiter brought a bowl of steaming ravioli and gnocchi, cutting off whatever he was about to say. Nash thanked him, picked up his fork, stabbed one of the gnocchi and popped it into his mouth. It was nice and chewy the way he liked it and he relished the tangy mushroom sauce.
Cariana watched him with an amused expression. “That won’t do much for your waistline,” she remarked dryly.
“It’s my carbs day,” he explained between bites. “I usually have a mixed salad and fruit juice, but that is not always enough to keep me fueled and beat off the sharks at work.”
She glanced at her bowl. “I know what you mean. Seeing you relishing your gnocchi eases my own guilt for being weak.” She dabbed her lips with a napkin and took another sip of wine. “And what fills your days, Mr. Bannon?”
“Nash. I do systems integration for IBM.”
“Weren’t they taken over by Facebook?”
“They certainly were. IBM culture was getting stale and needed an infusion of new methodology and ideas. I have doubts that it worked, but they run some cutting edge projects.”
“And what are you working on right now?”
“I’m currently managing a major Telstra network program where everybody is giving me a hard time.”
“Your sympathy is appreciated.”
She turned serious. “I did not mean to tease you, and I do understand, finding myself in a similar position. Doing research would be fun if it weren’t for the oversight protocols, although necessary.” She finished the last of her marinara and gathered her bags. “Thank you for the wine…Nash.”
Dismayed to see her about to leave, his mind raced. He could not let it end like this. “I enjoyed meeting you and I would enjoy it even more if we could do this again, taking more time.”
Now what the hell made him say that! This was supposed to be a simple lunch without sticky romantic overtones.
She stood and laughed. “Are you always this forthright?”
“I don’t go out much, and meeting someone like you is rare,” he said quickly and rose, figuring his pickup line could use some updating. “What do you say?”
Stefan Vucak has written eight Shadow Gods Saga sci-fi novels and six contemporary thrillers. He started writing science fiction while still in college, but didn’t get published until 2001. His Cry of Eagles won the coveted Readers’ Favorite silver medal award, and his All the Evils was the prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist and Readers’ Favorite silver medal winner. Strike for Honor won the gold medal.
Stefan leveraged a successful career in the Information Technology industry, which took him to the Middle East working on cellphone systems. He applied his IT discipline to create realistic storylines for his books. Writing has been a road of discovery, helping him broaden his horizons. He also spends time as an editor and book reviewer. Stefan lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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