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. He inflicts Tizz with penalties for playing around with protocols of the land.
Skathi and Njord sat in front of Loki inside ‘The Den’. Silence had descended inside Loki’s office and each seemed to be waiting for the other to begin. Finally, Njord cleared his throat, “Boss, you have summoned us so late?”
Loki did not answer. Skathi attempted, “Boss, you look very serious. We are not used to you being so silent.”
Loki exhaled, “In the last few days, everything has been very topsy-turvy. I am trying to organize my thoughts.”
“This sounds like doomsday,” Njord whispered to Skathi.
“I still have the same sharp ears, Njord,” Loki murmured.
“We want to know how we can help,” Skathi said.
“I don’t know.” Loki was still thinking. He paused for a while and walked to the door of his office. He opened the door and seemed to check something. He closed the door and sat back on his couch, “There is nobody there. I seem to be thinking there are spies around.”
Skathi and Njord waited patiently as Loki kept on speaking slowly. “We are having a trying time. Ours was the most affluent colony with reserves of Bahia that nobody owned. I have always managed to sell the Bahia to other colonies at a very premium price. They needed it and they bought it. I had the exclusive right to it so all business deals were always in my favour.”
Loki paused and Njord added, “Yes Boss we know that…we have been part of the joyride.”
Loki sounded tired, “But it looks like the joyride has come to a halt. We don’t have those reserves anymore and if my spies are to be believed someone in the Queen’s coterie is trying to take the exclusive rights away from us.”
“Prom?” Skathi and Njord had the same suspect.
“Looks likely. But I don’t have proof…I need you guys to help me. I suspect that spies are planted in Tizz. News from here is leaked outside. And, I am not surprised. If I can plant spies in other colonies, someone can do the same to me…”
“So, you are the leader here too,” Skathi pricked Njord at this misplaced humour.
Loki did not pay any attention and continued, “I want you both to keep an eye over everybody.”
“Freya?” Skathi asked.
“Well, not her in particular. Prom has officially posted her here. Unlikely that she will be the spy.”
“Diana?” Skathi asked again.
“Maybe,” Loki sounded tentative, “Diana is an artist. For her, her art comes first. But she will do anything to protect and nurture her art. The only concern is that she knows Prom. And he seems to be fond of her.”
“Apollo?” Njord asked.
“Perhaps,” Loki cleared his voice, “Apollo likes to be in everybody’s good books. But I am not sure how good he is at keeping secrets. Anyway, keep your eyes and ears open and let me know if you have a sure suspect.”
“Another thing. When I hired Diana and Apollo, we were affluent. In that affluence, we could put up with artistic demands. Now we have to be careful. We cannot splurge and waste resources in experimentation.”
“What experimentation, Boss? We have an approved design. We just have to replicate that,” Njord said.
“Oh, you don’t know Diana. The artist in her will force her to even experiment with the approved design. And she will not let it go so easily.” Loki smirked and bade adieu, “Well, it is very late. See you guys tomorrow.”
Skathi and Njord followed him out of ‘The Den’.
The troll ants stood in a queue in front of Edda, as she kept speaking very loudly, “I am sure my high pitched voice is not reaching your ears even now. Pitfalls of being unusually tall!”
The entire office slowly gathered around Edda. “What happened?” asked a curious colleague.
“Boss has asked all of us to be alert and save costs. Not to waste resources. I have communicated the same everybody and also to these troll ants. But would they listen? They went on a rampage and destroyed precious wood.”
“Not precious, lady,” answered one of the older troll ants.
“In times like this everything is precious,” Edda reminded them in her high pitched voice.
“My boys were having fun.”
“This is not the time for that. Please ask them to behave themselves.”
The troll ants were silent. Flustered, Edda went back to her chair and glared at the crowd that had gathered. Everyone quietly receded back.
Diana was examining the pieces of wood that were lying around. She picked up one, inspected it closely and sighed.
“Is anything the matter?” Freya, who was new to the setup, was curious.
“Not really.” Diana was not sure if Freya would understand.
There was a tap on the door. Diana and Freya saw Edda enter the office.
“Hi there!” Edda began, “Apollo is not around?”
“No,” Diana responded, “Apollo has taken off today.”
“Oh!” Edda continued, “I have come here to convey a message from Boss. It is for you, Diana and Apollo.”
Freya excused herself. Edda sat down next to Diana and spoke very softly, “Diana, Boss is very anxious. Our reserves of Bahia have gone. We are going through difficult times. He has asked all of us to be conscious of our resources and use them with a lot of discretion. He has asked me to communicate the same to you and Apollo.”
“I will keep that in mind, Edda. In fact, I wanted to talk to you. We need some new pieces of wood. The ones lying here are not good enough to craft the design that won us the pitch.”
“Darling, I just said that Boss has asked us to be careful about our resources.”
“Yes, Edda. I am not being extravagant. The new pieces of wood would be required for the approved design. It is important for our own benefit that the craft be appropriately represented. For the pitch, we had used the best quality of wood. If we replicate the same design in inferior quality wood, it will not work. And the design will not look as classy.”
Edda sighed. She was not sure if Diana was willing to understand the message. She asked, “When will Apollo be back?”
“I just told you that he has taken the day off.’
“Then I will convey the message to him tomorrow.”
“Your wish!” Diana turned around and concentrated on her work.
Edda left the room and bumped into Skathi outside.
“If you can teach me the design, I can help you.” Freya offered when she was back in Diana’s office.
Diana smiled, “When did you come back?”
“When you were very busy with the pieces of wood. Teach me the design and I can also help.”
Diana was wondering what to do.
Freya said, “Prom has always spoken very highly of you. He has always said that you are one of the best artists he has worked with.”
“We had a very good working equation, Freya.”
“Apollo never worked with him?”
“Well, Apollo has not been much of a designer. He was always more focused on creating fun events. He was more outwardly-led. For designing, you need to look more inside.”
“But of late he has started designing…”
“Yes. It is at an early stage. He did help me replicate designs during the pitch. He has not begun creating yet, but he will soon get there.”
“I am also very keen to learn designing.”
“Sure.” Diana began explaining the intricacies of designing to Freya.
“Hey!” Diana greeted Apollo the next day when he entered their office, “I was waiting for you since morning.”
“We all missed you yesterday.” Freya smiled too.
Apollo looked grumpy as he sat down. Diana continued speaking, “You got late today? What have you been up to?”
“Looks like I am reporting to you nowadays,” Apollo snapped.
“What is the matter? I was just joking!” Diana clarified.
“I just need to check with Edda on something,” Freya excused herself.
As soon as she left Apollo burst out, “Why make an issue if I was not there for a day?”
“Yes. You told Edda that I was not there. This girl reminds me. Many others also told me.”
“What is the matter Apollo?”
“There is no matter. You had disappeared for a day. Did I bother the whole world?”
“I did not bother anybody. People asked about you. And that one day when I had taken a leave was to get my vehicle fixed because someone mutilated it after your event.”
“Oh, yeah. It is my event only! And you tell me after such a long time that D’s Torrent was mutilated!”
“Why are you unnecessarily being so cranky?”
“That is how a talentless wannabe designer who is outwardly-led usually behaves!”
Diana was stunned. She knew someone has reported her conversation with Freya to him, “Who has been feeding you with all this?”
“I am not as stupid as you think. I have people who think of my well-being. Did you not say all this yesterday? I always thought we are together in this, but then you are pulling me down in my absence. That too with rank newcomers!”
“So you are running a spy service? Let’s name them Apollo Spy Services (ASS). And who all are a part of this? Is it their job to only spy on me or do you have other enemies too?”
Apollo chose not to respond. Diana sat in her corner frowning over the pieces of wood. The approved design lay in a corner, waiting to be replicated.
In another corner of the office Skathi and Njord congratulated each other on their first victory!
Nilanjana Dey is a post-graduate in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata (India). Her first novel, a children’s tale, The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail, was published in 2013. She loves to experiment with poetry as well. Her poems have been published in Café Dissensus Everyday, Learning and Creativity, and The Copperfield Review. She is also a marketing and communication professional based out of Mumbai, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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