So, this is my first "Contact" fanfic. I watched the movie recently and had an inspiration to write something about one of the scenes. This will just be a one-shot for now. We'll see if I ever decide to continue it later . . .
Lines come straight from the movie. (Yes, I have read the book, but I wanted to explore the relationship between Ellie and Palmer in the movie).
Spanish was an easy language to catch on to. All one needed were a few disposable phrases: "Hola, que tal?", "Donde esta?", and of course the ever important, "Y una cerveza, tambien."
I settled at an empty table with my stack of catalogues and my bottle of beer, finding the atmosphere of humid air and chirping tropical birds somewhat pleasant compared to the steel-lined, gray-carpeted analysis rooms I had known through most of my career.
I remember when he had first approached me; stopped beside my table in the dingy outdoor cafe where I had been minding my own business, looking like a complete nerd because it was okay to look like anything you wanted in a place like this.
He had not looked out of place in our industrialized Eden setting, but he had stood out. And I had been so surprised at being approached by such an intriguing stranger that my mind had momentarily gone static. (Which never, ever happened to Ellie Arroway.)
I was caught off guard.
"Does it show?"
"Yeah." He gave a hesitant laugh and lifted his hand. He was holding something, but my peripheral had taken a momentary break for breath. "Crackerjack?"
So that's what was in his hand.
"No, thanks." I don't accept food from strangers.
"Mind if I sit down?"
"Sure." It was the first response I could think of. I didn't really think it through, but the consequence involved him actually sitting across from me a second or two later.
"I hear the locals around here, they call it 'el radar'. Convinced it has some dark military purpose."
He smelled like pineapples and deodorant. He was southern; suave in a very unassuming, casual way.
I shrugged innocently. "I think we're pretty harmless."
He looked vaguely convinced, which I found surprising.
A moment later, his hand had thrust unexpectedly into my personal space, so that I had absolutely no choice but to accept it in a gesture of introduction.
"Palmer Joss," he stated his name.
My voice was despicably weak, as I responded, almost at a loss for breath. "Ellie Arroway."
"Nice to meet you Ellie." He sounded so genuine, I almost flinched.
He pulled out what looked to be a worn journal of sorts and a writing pen, which he clicked to a point in his right hand.
"So what are you studying up there?" he asked, his eyes somewhat intense. For an instant, I had the distinct feeling I was about to undergo some kind of interrogation.
"Uh, the usual," I conceded to reply vaguely at best, absently rubbing the goose bumps that had at some point risen on my arm, which seemed strange given it was almost ninety degrees at ten in the morning. "Nebulae, quasars, pulsars . . . stuff like that."
His right hand glided comfortably across the page as I spoke, a small but content smile quirked on his lips.
My curiosity chastised me for not asking sooner. "What . . What are you writing?"
He shrugged and twisted my own quote in an amusing way. "The usual . . . Nouns, adverbs, adjective here and there."
The laughter melted a little in the back of my throat. This feeling was quite strange.
So I gave in. But not without a sip of beer for good measure.
"I work on a project called SETI."
"Search for extraterrestrial intelligence?" He raised his eyebrows. I imagine I must have mirrored his expression. "Wow . . . And that is out there."
"Wait, are you a student or something?"
He shook his head, no. "I'm a writer. I'm writing a book. I'm down here doing research. It's about how technology affects third world cultures. I'm also looking for this guy, David Drumlin. He's the new head of the national science foundation; I'm trying to get an interview with him."
This man wanted to interview David Drumlin? I almost laughed. A coincidental meeting seemed the lesser ironic of the two possibilities. Either that, or this man had been watching us on our whole project, which I then suspected he had.
"I take it you know him?" he asked, reading my obvious recognition.
"Mm hm," I nodded, stiff-jawed just at the thought of that scum-crawler, "You could say that."
"Huh. SETI man, that's fringe," he mused as he unwrapped the cracker jack trinket. "I've crossed paths with this guy before, something like that's really got to chap his ass, huh?"
Oh, he had no idea.
He held out a tiny black circle between his thumb and forefinger, presenting it for me to view across the table.
"Compass," he said softly. I remember being severely distracted by his hand as he produced the most likely faulty navigation tool and said it was for me . . . "For you, Elle."
He was already using my nickname. And we'd just met. And somehow it didn't make me uncomfortable. And the strange feeling wasn't going away.
I took the morsel of black plastic and inspected it for show, more aware of how his eyes must have been inspecting me as I did so.
With the intention of teasing him, I held it out for him to take back. "You'd better keep this . . . Might save your life someday."
It was a blatantly flirtatious thing to say, especially for me - I never acted this way around people - so why was I acting this way now?
He received the compass with lazy fingers; his face conveyed deep, brewing thoughts . . . So unlike the usual, stoic faces of feverishly calculating scientists I had grown familiar with.
I knew too long before he actually responded what his exact response was going to be. And before the words left his mouth I was already prepared to be speechless. The brilliant smile that suddenly disrupted his thoughtful face would have done the deed for me.
"Will you have dinner with me tonight?"
I smiled at my own clumsiness as I fumbled for any excuse that would make me sound modest - now, I was sounding more like the boring scientist I knew myself to be. "I don't make a very good research subject. I'm just not very quotable . . . " I hastily scooped up the mess I had intended on leaving at the table and made to get up before he could use charm to convince me.
"No quotes," he was saying, "No quotes. Scout's honor." He edged just slightly closer and my neck was suddenly sweltering. "Just good meal, good company."
The invitation suddenly did not sound the least bit threatening. In fact it sounded comfortable, even appealing.
But I couldn't. I had my work and this was exactly the kind of distraction that was bound to pull me behind. I could not get kicked out when I'd just gotten here.
"I can't." My voice had not been regretful, but the second I stood and walked toward the door, still sensing the unignorable presence of the man behind me, I realized I could not end our meeting with such a damp farewell. Palmer Joss deserved something, so I gave it to him.
I made sure to remove my glasses first as a cheeky smile made its way onto my face. "Uh, but uh . . . But . . " I turned around for effect. "Drumlin's coming in this Tuesday."
He smiled knowingly.
That was goodbye.
As I exited the bar, I made a mental note to keep close on Drumlin's heels come Tuesday. With any luck I would be running into Palmer Joss again.
Not too sure many people will read this, but I had it written for a while and wanted to just get it out there.
Stay on the Fringe.