“So, what happens after that?” Fyre asked, crumpling up the bed sheet in his hands.
“Maybe Daniel goes back to his old ways? I mean if marriage is a vow taken by two people who would stay together forever, I got to introduce characters or circumstances that would prevent it from happening,” replied Erska, her hands ready to catch the voluminous looking bedsheet, all rolled up.
“Correct,” he said, shooting the ball towards her which she caught and put it into the compartment with wheels which contained pillow covers, sheets, bath towels from each room that was supposed to go for laundry. The past hour they had been brainstorming using this method, figuring that they’d hit two birds with one stone.
“Maybe I should make Tori pretty staunch, in the sense, she has definitely settled for commitment and is working hard towards it, maybe a little bit harder than she is supposed to. It possibly burns out Daniel. Or for a change I can let the girl go astray and let the guy be all proper committed,” chattered Erska to herself as she pushed the compartment to the next room where Fyre was already taking off the covers.
“Nice. Think of all possibilities. Whatever it is make sure the recorder is on,” he said, shooting the covers towards her.
“Okay,” she said, dropping the cover into the compartment while she checked the voice recorder that she had placed in the small space between the handle and the compartment.
“What the hell are you guys doing?” asked Bastian, coming out from his room, his hair all messed up. He was rubbing his eyes incessantly to get him to wake himself up.
“Brainstorming,” Fyre said, peeking out from the room. “What’s sleeping beauty doing?”
“Ooooh. Sleeping beauty! Nice one!” Erska affirmed, high fiving Fyre.
“Well, don’t y’all get together to diss me?” Bastian said, blinking his puffy eyes.
“That we do,” replied Erska.
As Bastian was about to go back in, a thought struck him. He turned back and said, “You know, Erska as much as you do want to do this novel, don’t you think you should do the whole thing on your own?”
“I am doing the whole thing on my own,” Erska said, confused.
“I mean Fyre is obviously guiding you, you know like setting up schedules and stuff. Don’t you think you should set up your own schedule?” Bastian asked.
“Dude, you introduced me to her. That’s my job,” defended Fyre.
“Then is there a difference between what Fyre does and what your mom did?”
Erska clasped onto the compartment’s handle tightly, staring blankly at Bastian before she went all ballistic on him. “Wow. Wow. I can’t believe you actually went there, Bastian,” she answered sharply. “You of all people…wow. You should mind your own goddamn business, man.”
“Haruhi. Why do you think I wasn’t able to think that way?” Bastian asked, a bowl of bite-sized carrot pieces in one hand while the other popped it into his mouth, one by one.
“What way, Bastian?” she asked while she was busy inspecting the newly arrived jewellery that she had ordered.
“You know when Fyre suggested that maybe she should think about doing the sequel now that she has creative control over her work if she has no other ideas. That kind of sounds like a solution. I was simply urging her to keep finding it, encouraging her and stuff. I wasn’t realistic at all, now that I realize,” he pondered.
“Both Fyre and you have different approaches. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other yet it also depends upon what solution is the most suitable to the other person,” she explained.
“That’s what I’m saying! Am I not realistic enough? I just wanted her to be able to find her own path at her own pace. What’s so wrong about that?” he questioned.
“Not wrong but given the time she has left, I don’t think Erska can afford that luxury,” Haruhi pointed out.
“Isn’t she still being conditioned by Fyre like she was under her mother? What’s the difference now?” he repeated.
“Erska needs to be guided but someone more flexible than her mother, someone who lets her be creative yet at the same time push her. That’s what Fyre is doing now.”
“Is that why I was reassigned? I’ve completed all my assignments successfully except this one,” he whined.
“Reassignment happens when your aptitude and skillset doesn’t match your assignments. All Draphas are skilled in different ways. Isn’t that why during your initial training you are trained with various simulations? After all that, you’ll be picked for the ones you’ll excel in,” countered Haruhi rationally.
“Don’t you think one should also engage in challenges?”
“Bastian, isn’t our job a matter between life and death? We can make no mistakes,” she said, turning towards him. “No mistakes.”
“Hmm. I wonder what exactly is the criteria for these assignments. I’m ready to screw up Orfer if he has answers for this.” he murmured to himself as he continued to eat the carrots.
“I’m going to screw you up if you don’t put that bowl. Lately, you’ve been gulping down carrots like water and it is not helping the cooking in any way, I tell you!” Haruhi scolded him.
“If someone can answer my questions, that’d be great, you know?” he stated seriously.
You’re questions are going to be the death of me. “Why don’t you finish it up with Fleur first and then, go try the simulations from the top? You may expand your skillset and try angering Orfer back at HQ with all your questions,” Haruhi suggested.
“After Fleur? What about vacation?”
“Vacation? For someone who is an awful lot keen about their assignments, you hardly look like the guy who slacks.”
“I don’t understand myself, Haruhi. That’s the truth,” sighed Bastian, trying to reach for carrots to keep his mouth engaged but a swat from Haruhi was all it required for him to prevent temptation.
“Not in the mood for listening to your existential crisis when you are interrupting my work over here,” she said, tapping onto the plastic cases that cover the jewel pieces. “Any plans for today?”
“My plans surround Fleur officially. Besides that, my entire life, for now, is a futile mess,” he grumbled.
“I said don’t bring your existential crisis in,” she shot back ruthlessly. “By the way, how are things with Fleur?”
“Smooth as usual. Throw on my usual Prince Charming act and it’s over.”
“Is she the usual clingy, romantic type?”
“Yea but not to the point where she’s thirsty.” He sighed, rubbing the nape of his neck. “On one hand, I’m tired and pissed off with all these girls but on the other hand, I just feel sorry for these people.”
“Why so?” Haruhi asked.
“In Fleur’s case, she was a neglected child. Divorced parents, lived with her mother who dreamt of meaningless fairytales, chasing random guys. That stuck onto her but she tries to be normal like she doesn’t want to depend on anyone but when there are times when she feels weak, incapable – the whole fairytale starts flooding on her. It’s like a cycle she can’t escape.”
“Wow, that’s deep actually,” she acknowledged.
“That’s exactly why I want challenges! To test my brains!” Bastian said, pounding his fists on his chest like a gorilla.
And we are back to square one. “Go ask Orfer, dude. It’s not my area of expertise.”
“I’ve already done that.”
“What?” asked Haruhi, stunned. “What exactly did you ask him?”
“I asked him why my assignments were all explicitly flirty which I wasn’t exactly comfortable with.”
“He said we aren’t supposed to question our job because we are going to get a very good compensation for it a.k.a. immense wealth which will substitute for our present suffering.”
“Sounds like Orfer, alright. But you not flirty? Can’t imagine you any other way,” mocked Haruhi.
“If it weren’t for Quincy, I don’t think I’d be able to go through any of that. He’s a master romantic. Irony was that he failed from time to time trying to be overly cheesy. That idiot..” he reminisced, laughing to himself.
“One hell of a pair, the two of you. Mischief makers,” commented Haruhi.
“Yea but recently it’s like we don’t spend time, specifically, when both of us are assigned at the same place. Usually, we get assigned far off and we go on vacations together when we are free but now…wait..” Bastian’s forehead crinkled. “Is he still on vacation at Lessa? Doesn’t he have an assignment or something? Now that I think, what the fuck is he doing here?”
“You can ask him when he returns from HQ.”
“When did he leave? Why doesn’t he tell these things? What’s wrong with him?” Bastian began furiously rattling like he was spitting fire.
Haruhi exhaled. “Sometime before, man.” Quincy, you idiot. Can’t you just tell him the truth??
Quincy kept on tapping his feet at an irregular rhythm until he caught the annoyed face of his older neighbour. He quickly stuttered an apology and turned his attention towards the empty dais. It was unusual for him to be this nervous, he was more of a ‘carpe diem’ kinda guy but the unfamiliarity of his surroundings and people around him was making him feel like fish out of water. He wanted to run away, faster than he ever could. He has never been more serious about anything during his tenure as a Drapha than the present. The discomfort was making him breathless. Everyone was older than him, their faces evident of wrinkles and their hair showed signs of greying. Sixty or to the maximum, it was sixty five which was considered the ideal age for a Drapha to retire. Some unfortunate circumstances had led Quincy to this a lot sooner than he could have hoped for. Goodness, he was only thirty seven after all! Though he was able to spot some younger counterparts, he was not familiar with them and neither was his usual self merry enough to crack jokes, slap on their backs and make friends with them.
He had chosen to take a ‘cooling off’ period that was offered to all retired Draphas. It was where they could take some time off, re-analyze how they wanted to carry on with their Drapha lives before entering the initiation session where they are officially deemed retired. Usually, they retired to the wealth they had accumulated during their job as a Drapha and settled on human terms comfortably. Others who didn’t want to feel left behind carried the feeling of Drapha brotherhood with them till the end and simply stayed back at the HQ to try their hands at various jobs like training the recruits, working at the Records Archive, reporting officers, administrative work, stationed Draphas, surveillance, technicians or as delegations to other celestial communities. Rarely did anyone go back at attempting normal Drapha duties. Which obviously is impossible. How can anyone feel at ease being in active duty after going through all this?
Quincy had extended his ‘cooling off’ period big time. Rather than choosing to do anything specific, he resorted to hiding himself in the comforts of Lessa, away from scary reality, spending the time to fool around with Bastian yet he felt miserable. He was more than grateful for the way Haruhi had handled his tomfoolery. You need to sort yourself, Quincy. The faster, the better.
He already knew the basics and with the support of Haruhi, he had coped through the initial stages a little better. Though he knew that all the assignments were chosen for each Drapha based on their skill set, there were reasons for why these assignments were alarmingly similar, how Draphas were recruited, why the wrong assignment could disrupt the entire process and all behind-the-scenes work that goes into assigning Draphas, their training and other things that were off-limits to an active Drapha would now be exposed. It was almost as if all these secrets were thrust onto his hands in one go and he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
“Nice to see one familiar face in here.”
Quincy, startled, nearly jumped out of his seat. He turned to see Orfer, twirling his mustache. What a sight for sore eyes.
“Hello, sir,” Quincy said, getting up but was gently pushed down back to his seat by Orfer.
“That’s alright. Sit, sit. Took a long time to do your initiation, huh?”
“I’m quite sorry about that. I know I’ve been dragging it for a long time,” Quincy replied.
“It’s alright. As long as everyone is quite comfortable and copes up with it. We’ve not started yet but I believe you know the positions available for retired Draphas. Any idea what you’d want to do?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve thought about being a reporting officer but I kinda want to stay back at Lessa. Hopefully, I’ll make a decision soon.”
Placing his hand on Quincy’s shoulder, he said, “ You’ll find what you want to do. It’s okay to take your time. By the way, how’s your friend Bastian doing?” Orfer’s demeanour became a bit more serious.
“He’s doing well. You know him. He’s the best at what he does,” he replied, his voice slightly cracking due to Orfer’s sudden tone change.
“I know that. As long as he does his job, he’s alright. Can’t wait to go back to his vacation, I hope?” Orfer asked as he was about to part ways.
“Haha yea..” managed Quincy in mild discomfort.