Chapter 1: The Outcasts
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By Nilanjana Dey
[This is the first chapter from Nilanjana Dey’s multi-part novella, The Crossover. Read Ch. 2 & Ch. 3]
The city of white ants, Sopora, just woke up to a new technology. The new communication team – ringers – was all over the city, trying to attach strands and fit receivers that would connect each and every part of the city. And also other white-ant colonies. This way they would be able to network with one another much better.
Hermes was not happy with this arrangement. He thought he would not be required to snoop into the lives of his fellow white ants anymore if they were already strand-connected. He decided to raise his complaint to Hercules, the leader of white-ants in Sopora.
The worker ants moved forward drudgingly in a straight line. They have been trained to always follow the instructions of their boss. No questions to be asked ever. No disobedience. Loyalty and obedience were always rewarded handsomely.
Hercules stood at a distance and observed the ones who reported punctually every day. Hermes stood right next to him.
“You look pleased,” Hermes observed.
“Yes,” Hercules replied. “My staff is always under my control. They are punctual, loyal, and obedient.”
“Hmm…under your strict supervision.”
“How are we deciding the medium of the strands?” Hermes began.
“I think my zone would be connected with strands of dry grass. We have enough of them around and they are of no use,” Hercules replied casually.
“What would be my role once you have this new method of communication?” Hermes blurted out, unable to hold himself.
“Come on, Hermes. Do you think you will be redundant as a resource once we are strand-connected?”
Hermes looked blank.
Hercules continued, “The strands would be used to carry information. You will have to give the news. And you are smart enough to understand the difference between the two.”
Hermes did not respond.
“Hermes, you look preoccupied?”
“I cannot see Diana and Apollo here,” Hermes looked around.
Hercules looked around as well and became serious. “Can you ask them to meet me?”
Apollo was standing outside his house biting away a piece of wood to form a designer shaft. He pulled out the piece of wood from his mouth and took a close look at it. It was far from perfection. He put the piece of wood back into his mouth and began biting it again. As he saw Hermes approaching him, he stopped biting the wood and tucked it away at the corner.
“Hey,” Hermes smiled, “I came to visit you.”
“Really?” Apollo wondered aloud.
“Oh, come on.” Hermes continued, “Apollo, we are having this conversation outside your house…”
“Why are you standing outside?” Hermes asked.
“Because the ringers are inside and they are fixing the strands and the receiver that will reportedly connect our whole colony with other colonies,” Apollo burst out annoyed.
“You don’t seem to be happy with the arrangement!” Hermes observed.
“Who would want to get their privacy invaded? Anybody can reach you anytime!”
“Then why did you not opt out of it?” Hermes suggested.
“I had no choice. This is office accommodation and they said that all office quarters will have to be strand-connected.”
“Ah!” Hermes sighed. He looked surreptitiously at Apollo and began, “I thought I saw you designing something when I walked in here.”
Hermes continued, “Why are you hiding your design?”
Apollo was quiet.
“Are you, in your head, comparing your design to Diana’s? Hercules always says she is much better.”
“Why should I do that? And Hercules has never told me so!” Apollo erupted and immediately controlled himself, “Diana and I are partners. I know she is a beautiful artist.”
“You mean beautiful to look at?”
“No. Yes. I mean both.”
Hermes laughed, “Apollo, come on, show me your design. I am not judgmental, you see. I will not compare your work to Diana’s.”
Apollo looked very annoyed. The ringers came out and announced that the quarter was strand-connected. Apollo went in to check. Hermes followed him. The ringers demonstrated the new technology and left.
Apollo examined Hermes with questioning eyes.
“Well, I am not here to check your strand-connectivity. I feel that…” Hermes paused.
Apollo remained silent.
“Well, Hercules feels that Diana and you are a threat to him.”
“He said so?” Apollo chewed his words as he spoke.
“I don’t know that. But I am your well-wisher, hence I am here,” Hermes answered. “What are you thinking?” Hermes was observing Apollo closely.
Apollo did not answer.
“Anyway, will you not show me the design?” Hermes asked.
Apollo did not move. Hermes suddenly broke the news, “Hercules wants to meet Diana and you ASAP!”
Before Apollo could respond, he chuckled and left.
Diana was very busy in her cosy cell with some pieces of wood that lay in a heap. She examined them closely and pulled out the thickest one. Her antennae extended in anticipation of a new craft. As she inspected the wood more closely, she discovered the weakest spot on the wood. This would give her the much required point to weave the zigzag design that she was planning to craft on this piece of wood.
Apollo had entered the cell sometime back. He was busy observing Diana engrossed in her craft so much that she seemed to be unaware of the world around her. Diana carved her first design and looked happy. She smiled to herself and decided to take a break. She then noticed Apollo standing in the corner of her cell.
“What brings you here?” Diana asked.
“Have I not visited you before just like that?”
“Are you not part of this project?” Apollo asked.
“Oh, so that’s why!” Diana thought she knew the reason. “I have chosen not to be part of non-creative assignments.”
“Really?” Apollo sounded amused.
“Yeah. But why do you look disturbed?”
Apollo walked over to the piece of wood-art. He scrutinized it closely.
“What are you looking for?” Diana was concerned.
“You know, I cannot help but admire how you craft such perfect pieces. I mean…this is the thickest piece of wood that one can find and you have carved the perfect zigzag pattern.”
“Well, I find our traditional straight lined designs very uninspiring. But, why are you so interested in my design? Are you planning to steal it?” Diana winked.
“Perhaps…by the way have you heard the rumour?” Apollo quizzed.
Apollo opened his mouth and shut it.
“I think very soon we’d have to go undercover.” Apollo spoke very softly.
“Reportedly, Hercules feels that we are a threat…”
“Why?” Diana retorted.
“He is the boss. He can think anything,” Apollo almost whispered.
“Since when have you started being so bureaucratic?” Diana sounded disgusted.
“In any case,” she continued, “he is a nobody. It is always the Queen’s call. And she has better things to do than to get into mundane affairs of subterranean mortals.”
Apollo still looked grim. “Hermes gave me the news. Hercules is angry. Unless we obey all his instructions, he will throw us out.”
“Those non-creative instructions are not for us,” Diana retorted.
Apollo nodded in agreement as Diana continued, “Art cannot be judged by a moron who understands nothing!”
“Do you think the Queen and the senior management will like our art and craft?” Apollo asked.
“We can always try. Project after project we follow the same design. There is no customization; no window for better craft. We all work like a boring sweatshop. This will kill the artist within us,” Diana sighed.
“So, what should we do?”
“Follow our instincts. Our work speaks for us,” Diana sounded confident.
“What if we get thrown out? Hercules wants to meet us,” Apollo’s voice echoed fear.
“Let us go and meet him then. Anyway, I don’t care. And neither should you. I am sure there are other communities who will appreciate our creative thinking. Maybe we can reach the Queen.”
“She is travelling at the moment.”
“Then we will wait till she is back. Meanwhile, let us meet this moron and see what he has to say.” Diana concluded.
Diana and Apollo sat in front of Hercules. He looked very hassled as the newly installed strand-connection was not working. A group of ringers were attending his connection and looking very perplexed.
“Why is this damn thing not working?” Hercules yelled.
“We are also trying to figure that out.” The head of the ringers spoke calmly.
“I will fire you all.”
“It is exactly not in our hands.”
“Then who is responsible?”
“This inter-colonial connection has to go through many inter-colonial strands and then finally you can talk. We are trying our level best.”
Hermes sat in one corner smirking away. Apollo was looking bored. Diana inspected her feet. She had not gone for a foot massage in a long time, she thought.
Suddenly, the inter-colonial connection clicked and Hercules looked very happy as he conducted his first strand-connected conference.
After a while, Hercules kept his phone down.
“I was wondering,” Diana began, “if we should come back some other day.”
“I have always admired your courage…” Hercules began, “and your work.”
“Thank You,” Diana replied.
Hercules looked at Hermes. They seemed to be having a silent conversation.
Apollo broke the silence. “We’d like to know why you have summoned us?”
Hercules finally spoke out, “I have always thought that both of you are the best workers in our group…in fact your designs have won us many accolades in our community. From a mere white-ant community who just eats away old furniture, we have been repositioned as a creative clan creating unique designs that set a benchmark for all.”
Hermes was amused.
“We really value creativity and craft.” Hercules took a long pause and continued, “Diana and Apollo, while we are very proud of your work but there have been attitudinal and behavioural issues on your part.”
Diana looked curious while Apollo thought he knew.
“I have had several complaints from your colleagues about your attitude. But I have always supported you. But then you have opted out of the last three projects. Can you please explain why?” Hercules looked for an answer.
“All the three were similar mundane projects. Creativity was not required,” Diana explained.
“But that is the need of the hour,” Hercules justified.
“Well, there are a lot of people who can do these mundane projects. Diana and I thought our brains need to be used for larger purposes,” Apollo spoke.
“Well then,” Hercules replied, “how do I use two such brilliant resources, if they do not fit into the scope of our project?”
Diana looked bored while Apollo shrugged.
“I am afraid I have to let both of you go since you cannot fit yourselves in with our mundane projects,” Hercules spoke very softly.
“It is your decision,” Diana quipped as she got up. She slipped her arm around Apollo’s and walked out.
“It looked quite easy.” Hercules heaved a sigh of relief.
“Or maybe, it is the lull before the storm.” Hermes had a glint in his eye.
“How dare he?” Diana fumed as she stepped out of the office. “That moron who has no clue about creativity dares to sack us?”
“I had told you that earlier,” Apollo reminded her.
“Well, I don’t want to belong to this group of mundane morons. I will take my designs and go to the Queen.”
“Well,” Apollo began, “Loki from Tizz said he wanted to see our designs. Would you like to go meet him?’
“We can do that.”
“If the deal works out, we may have to relocate to Tizz,” Apollo suggested.
Diana looked calm, “I don’t mind till we are able to do good work.” She thought for a while and said, “Let us begin a small setup of our own. We call our setup ‘The Outcasts’. What say?”
Apollo nodded as they entered into a business partnership.
[This is the first chapter from Nilanjana Dey’s multi-part novella,The Crossover. Read Ch. 2 & Ch. 3]
A post-graduate in English Literature, Nilanjana Dey is a marketing and communication professional based out of Mumbai, India. Her first novel, a children’s tale, The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail, was published last year. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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