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Chapter 8: Penalties

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By Nilanjana Dey

The story so far: 

Set in the land of white ants, The Crossover is the story of two artists – Diana and Apollo. They reside in one of the colonies of white ants named Sopora. The commander-in-chief of Sopora is Hercules, who believes in exercising strict control over his subjects. While that may work for the rest of the white ants, Diana and Apollo are not happy. They become disgruntled; bored of their regular jobs that provides them with no creative satisfaction whatsoever. On the other hand, Hercules is also irked with them, since they do not seem to fit into his scheme of things. They often undermine his authority and do as they please. He confronts them and eventually releases them from his services.

Unperturbed by this setback, Diana and Apollo open a boutique of their own called The Outcasts and leave Sopora to find better avenues.

Loki, the commander-in-chief of the neighbouring colony Tizz  welcomes them with open arms. Diana and Apollo embrace this opportunity to showcase their talent and decide to cross over to Tizz. 

An opportunity arrives when the Queen calls for a pitch amongst all the colonies of white ants. Loki allocates the responsibility of the designs to Diana and Apollo. In the multi-colony pitch that ensues, Tizz emerges the winner.

Loki announces an inter-colony race ‘Whizzy Ants’ to celebrate the victory. The prizes for the race are the three royal gifts that the Queen had presented to them when they won the multi-colony pitch.

A change in the Queen’s coterie puts Tizz in a fix. One of Loki’s arch rivals, Prom, takes over the Queen’s guild and decides to reassess all the decisions taken before.

[This is the eighth chapter from Nilanjana Dey’s novella,The Crossover. Read Ch. 1Ch. 2, Ch. 3, Ch. 4, Ch. 5, Ch. 6, Ch. 7] 

Chapter 8: 

There was complete mayhem inside ‘The Den’. One of the strand connections had become loose. Loki’s assistant Edda had put all the helper white ants to get them fixed since the ringers had gone missing.

Loki walked in, only to get irritated by the chaos. “What is the matter, Edda?”

“Oh!  Nothing serious, Boss.” Edda guessed that her boss was still in a bad mood and did not want to update him on the failed strand connection.

“Has Diana reported to work today?”

“Not yet.”

Loki walked away and Edda rushed the helper ants to quickly fix the strand connection.

As soon as Diana entered the office, all eyes were on her. Edda seemed to be waiting for her, “Oh my dear, where have you been?”

Shocked by this sudden affection, Diana froze on the spot. “All okay?”

“No, my dear. Boss has been asking for you the whole of yesterday… and today too.”

“Why?” Diana wondered what the urgency was. She proceeded to check with Apollo. But Edda would not give up so easily.

“Are you not keeping well?”

“No. Why?”

“I mean this sudden absence…”

Diana cut her short, “I took a day off.”

“Oh, but did you not inform Boss?”

“What is the matter? Why are you interrogating me?”

Edda walked up to Diana and almost whispered, “Prom had come here yesterday. He is not very popular, you see, after he fought with Boss and left.”

“The same Prom from Sopora?”

“Yes, am sure you know him. He kept on asking about you.”

“Oh!” Diana seemed to understand the reason for her sudden popularity.

“Thanks for the update.” Diana walked towards her cell.

***

Skathi was helping Apollo find the sample of the approved design that they had to show Prom and Freya. They searched all the cabinets that Apollo used and the sample was missing.

“Diana keeps all her stuff in her cabinets. Maybe it is there,” Apollo explained.

“Perhaps we can scan that, too,” Skathi suggested.

“Well, she can come in any moment. Why don’t we wait?”

“Ideally, we should do that Apollo. But you saw how Boss has been reacting. If he asks again, we should at least have an answer.” Skathi sat on Diana’s chair while Apollo kept thinking.

“Wow… this is a lovely sight!” Diana’s voice shocked them. She stood at the entrance looking at the disheveled cell.

Skathi stood up from Diana’s chair and smiled, “Hello… we are just…”

“Apollo…” Diana began, “Is our cell the destination for some treasure hunt?”

“Diana…” Apollo exclaimed, “We have been looking for you…”

“Inside the cabinets?”

Skathi excused herself as Apollo continued, “Prom is here and he wanted the sample of the approved design. Loki was angry that you were not there…”

“I take leave for one day and the entire office goes haywire?”

“Well, that is exactly how it is. And you never told me where you were. I was worried too.”

“Did Skathi not give you my message?”

“No.” Apollo got very busy explaining the situation to Diana. Meanwhile, Diana pulled out the sample of the approved design from her cabinet.

 “The sample was in your cabinet, right?”

“Yes.  As always. ”

“I guessed as much. In fact, Skathi was advising me to scan your cabinet.”

“In my absence? Very ethical I must say!”

“Oh, come on Diana, I just told you how it was…”

Skathi knocked on the door, “Loki has asked all of us to assemble inside ‘The Den’”.

***

Loki was pacing up and down in his office when Diana, Apollo, Skathi, and Njord entered the room.

“We can expect Prom any minute now. Just wanted to share a few moments chatting up with you guys…”

A knock on the door interrupted this tete-a-tete. Prom popped his head in and asked, “Wrong timing, Loki?”

“No… not at all… I had asked my assistant to announce your arrival…”

“Why should I trouble a poor lady… chivalry… Loki… chivalry is not old-fashioned yet…” Prom had already entered along with Freya. He looked at Diana, “There you are! You were sorely missed yesterday.”

Diana smiled and then observed the bandaged right mid-leg. “What has happened?” she asked.

“Well, my right mid-leg has gone missing and so I cloned it with a black strap.” He laughed aloud and looked at Loki, “Won’t you say this is very creative, Loki?”

Loki tried to smile as Prom continued, “I must begin from where we left yesterday.” He looked around at the expectant faces and said, “I will recap what we said yesterday. The erstwhile Q-Minions have been asked to go on an indefinite sabbatical for personal reasons. I have been asked to take over the Q-Minions and we are evaluating every decision that they had taken. So we are in the process of going through all the work that was shared at the pitch. We need the sample of the approved design back.”

Diana handed over the sample to him. He looked at it very closely and kept it aside.

“Now, we also need the royal pieces of wood back. The erstwhile Q-Minions had handed them over to Tizz.

Everybody sat quietly wondering who will break the news. Loki began speaking very slowly, “Actually we gave away two pieces of royal wood as prizes for winning the ‘Whizzy Ants’. One piece is with us and we will return it to you.”

Prom looked stunned. He slowly moved closer to Loki, “I need all the three pieces back.”

“How can we get that?”

“How can that be my problem?”

“Prom, please understand…”

“U… N… D… E… R… S… T… A… N… D is a word, Loki, which did not exist in your dictionary even sometime back.”

Loki looked helpless.

“So here’s the deal, Loki. I am taking this sample back. I will consult with the Queen and let you know the final design. You have to send the other two pieces back to me in the next two days. Unless we get the royal wood back, we will not let you know of the final sample. Delay it and I will take this project away from Tizz. Freya will be stationed here to supervise how Tizz works on this project. We support ethical and benevolent practices. Any questions?”

The Tizz team was silent.

Prom spoke very softly, “So, do I interpret this silence as an approval from your end?” He was observing Loki very carefully.

Loki nodded in the affirmative.

“Will you not see me off?” Prom asked Loki. Gloomily, Loki walked Prom out of Tizz.

***

 Freya was given an apartment close to Diana. Loki ensured that she had no reason to complain and was stationed in the work cell of The Outcasts.

Loki had sent Njord to Canny to request them to return the pieces of royal wood. They refused. After a lot of negotiations, they agreed to return only if they could be compensated with twelve reserves of Bahia – the exquisite wood that Tizz owned. Now, that called for another meeting at ‘The Den’.

Loki yelled, “Everything is going against me. I cannot just give away this exclusive wood.”

“Why Loki?” Njord asked, “They have agreed to give back the royal pieces.”

“At what cost?” Loki yelled again. Eventually he was the only one talking, “Bahia is our business. All the affluence that you see in Tizz is owing to our reserves here. I trade it to other white-ant communities. At the moment, there is no supply. And we have only twelve reserves left. If we give all this away, we will be left with nothing till fresh reserves arrive. We may go out of business!” Loki sighed and sat down. Finally he said, “Let me think.”

“We don’t have a lot of time.” Njord said softly.

Eventually, Loki handed over the reserves of Bahia to Canny in exchange of the two royal pieces of wood. Freya offered to go and meet Prom with the pieces of royal wood. She brought back the chosen sample and the deadline that was just around the corner!

When nobody was around Diana cautioned Apollo, “Times are trying. Resources are dwindling. One will be pitched against the other. Unnecessary strife will be generated. So that we kill each other before the weaknesses of the mighty are exposed. Be careful.”

 Apollo understood. He smiled and took leave. As he stepped outside, he saw Skathi.

“What are you doing here so late?”

“I’m… I tried crafting something based on the sample piece. Just wanted to show it to you.”

“You should show it to Diana. She may be able to give you the right feedback.”

“Okay,” replied Skathi as Apollo walked away.

A tap on her mid-left arm alerted her to the presence of Njord. She chuckled, “Don’t you try to scare me. I am too used to your style now.”

“But I am still not getting used to Loki’s style,” Njord said seriously.

“Why?”

“He has asked us to meet him right away. Only me and you, at this hour!”

Skathi and Njord marched to Loki’s office.

[This is the eighth chapter from Nilanjana Dey’s novella,The Crossover. Read Ch. 1Ch. 2, Ch. 3, Ch. 4, Ch. 5, Ch. 6, Ch. 7]

Author:
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: nilanjanadey@gmail.com.

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***

Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on Short Stories, themed around ‘Night’, edited by author, Sumana Roy.

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