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 provide 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. The office slowly turns into a nasty place where people are pitched against each other. While Loki subtly indicates that Apollo is a leader in the making, Prom invites Diana for a secret meeting.
Chapter 11: Intrigue
Both the troll ants walked into Loki’s office when summoned by him.
Loki ordered, “I want both of you to go find where Diana is. She has just disappeared from Tizz.”
Loki’s raged as they kept on standing there, “What is the matter? Why are you not following my orders?”
The younger one looked at Loki defiantly as he said, “I have won ‘Whizzy Ants’…”
“No, you came third and put us all to shame…” Loki interrupted.
“It was my first race…”
“Does not matter… the trolls have put us to shame… now shut up and do what I want…”
“I am not happy… we are not allowed to have as much fun as we want… all perks are being taken away… there is no motivation to work hard…”
Loki looked at him closely and said, “I see… can you please wait outside while I sort out these issues with your senior?”
As the younger troll stepped out, Loki cornered the older one, “Do all of you feel this way?”
“No Sir,” responded the older troll ant, “You have always allowed us to have lots of fun… we understand that these are bad times…”
“Good… now go find Diana…but lock this fellow up… I don’t want him to create too much trouble… lock him up in one of the closets next to the spare parking lot… anyway nobody goes there… but rush and find Diana.”
Freya was waiting for Diana outside the Queen’s mansion. Diana parked D’s Torrent in the Queen’s guest parking zone and joined Freya to meet Prom.
“Is this your first visit to Her Majesty’s mansion?” Freya asked.
“Oh… the mansion is very beautiful, but we are only allowed on the topmost floor.”
Diana betrayed a curious look, though she kept quiet. Freya continued, “This is one of the few subterranean palaces among the white ants. We enter the mansion through the topmost floor and the rest of the floors descend downwards. The palace has grown downwards, so Her Majesty stays on the floor at the bottom. It is believed that the floor is connected through subterranean tunnels and she can easily escape in case of any attack.”
“Wow,” Diana heard herself say.
Prom was waiting for them in his office. Freya led Diana inside and left Prom’s office.
“Oh, come on don’t be so pompous!” Diana laughed as she looked around.
“There is no ostentation in my office. It is quite contrary to your den.”
“So, how is it working with Loki?”
“Is that why you asked me to meet you?”
“Ummm… no, but do you not want to answer the question?
“Prom, you know me. I am straightforward to the extent that I am often perceived as rude. There is no reason why I would not want to answer your question. But you need to let me know why you have called me here, that too in such a secretive way.”
“Well, I know Loki for quite some time. He always places himself first…”
“So does everyone else…”
“No Diana, he often has sly deals and he gets people to sign them in a very playful manner.”
“Yes. Did you guys not sign a deal with him that had at least one weird clause?”
“No. He never signed any deal with us.”
“That is surprising.” Prom looked puzzled.
“In fact, I am still quite annoyed because our deal is not signed yet.”
Prom sat down and leaned ahead, “What are you saying?”
“Yes,” Diana kept on explaining, “Apollo and I had formed ‘The Outcasts’ after our tiff with Hercules. Loki invited us and offered a partnership. Of course, the details have never been finalized.”
“So, you guys did not sign on anything?”
“No. Initially he said he was thinking and then he confirmed the partnership without any written evidence.”
“Good,” Prom walked away and exhaled deeply.
Diana waited till Prom was ready to talk again.
“Did you have a contract with Loki?” Diana asked.
“Oh, yes. It was a contract that was made up of fantasies. Loki laughed a lot when he showed it to me. Even I laughed a lot and did not want to sign it. He revised the draft and I trusted him. Only to be deceived later.”
Diana looked confused, “I am not sure I understand that.”
“Nobody will. The dude made me sign a contract that had clauses enabling me to take free drags of bahia powder…”
“What is bahia powder?”
“When you cut the bahia wood, some residue remains. That powder is sold at exorbitant rates for people who like to smoke up…”
“Wow… so you got it for free?”
“Yes… free indulgence!”
“What else was free?” Diana teased.
“Oh, it was a wonderful contract. But just one clause was… funny.”
“What was that?”
“It said that if I was ever found of conspiring against Loki, he could demand any one of my six limbs!”
Diana looked bewildered, “What kind of clause is that?”
“Well,” Prom smirked, “Loki said he wanted to put a pound of flesh, but then thought that one of the six limbs was more interesting. I thought he was joking, but then he changed it. However, he has a copy with my signature on the original one. I still wonder how!”
Diana looked at the bandaged right mid-leg and cringed.
Prom came close to her and sat down. “The agenda of the secret meeting is different.”
Diana sat quietly as Prom continued, “You had submitted your designs during the pitch?”
Diana looked up in hope, “The Queen saw them?”
“Not yet. But the pitch was between colonies. ‘The Outcast’ is not a colony. So how can you qualify?”
Diana felt her shoulders droop. “All is not lost,” Prom continued speaking in an encouraging voice, “Diana, you still have hope!”
“Form a separate setup. Call it ‘The Outcasts’. I will allocate land for that at Canny. They had not participated in the pitch. So ‘The Outcasts’ will be an independent unit operating out of Canny. And I shall inform the Queen that your designs are better than Tizz or any other colony. Hence the prize goes to this independent unit.”
“Is that possible?”
“See, it is quite simple. Canny are my people, they will help you set up the unit. So, while you will be in their geographical boundary, you will still be functioning as an independent entity. I have funds for new ventures, so I will provide you with the seed capital to begin afresh. You have enough talent to sail through.”
Diana was thinking, “All this is so sudden… I am not sure I…”
“Trust yourself… you need to figure out ways to get your work done.”
“Why will you be so kind to me, Prom?”
“Oh, come on Diana, do you not understand that?”
“To settle your score with Loki?”
“And a lot more. I also intend to nurture talent. And, in this game, art should win.”
There was a tap on the door. “Freya must have come back. This has been a long chat, Diana. Don’t think so much.”
Freya mounted D’s Torrent along with Diana. “It is very cool,” Freya giggled.
Diana was too engrossed in her own thoughts to respond.
Njord was sulking away in his corner. Skathi placed a light sting in his forearm.
“Stop it Skathi,” Njord snapped.
“Bad time, Njord?”
“Yes. I am getting to see a different side of Loki.”
“Boss is upset.”
“Well, you are the better stooge.”
“No… you are going on the wrong track…”
“Yes, of course. We are always loyal to him. We follow all his orders. And when there is a minor slip-up, he insults and kicks us out of his room.”
“He may have needed some privacy.”
“He can open his mouth and say that.”
“Njord, you are overreacting.”
“No, I am getting to understand my position better.”
“Well, you are sounding naïve. Is this not how the world functions? You scratch my back and I scratch yours.”
“So, you keep on scratching. I am not interested… actually I quite like Diana’s way of working… she is so focused.”
“Oh really? Boss said that only talent does not take you up there.”
“Then your boss should have been up there. Look at where he is today!”
“Oh, this is just a passing phase. I am sure he will bounce back soon.”
Njord kept quiet. He felt no need to infect Skathi with his pessimism.
When D’s Torrent reached Tizz, Diana parked her vehicle in the spare parking lot.
Freya asked, “Why do you not park in the other one? It is closer to The Den.”
“Oh… it is not safe,” Diana kept it short.
A strange banging noise caught their attention. Freya looked scared.
Diana walked towards the source of the sound. She saw a closet locked with twigs. Diana began biting the twigs.
“You can’t. They are rough,” Freya warned.
Diana ignored Freya and kept on biting the twigs. She managed to bite around and break the lock. As soon as she opened the door, the imprisoned troll ant jumped out. He took a deep breath in and out and laughed aloud.
“Aren’t you the one who won ‘Whizzy Ants’?” Diana seemed to remember.
“Not won lady… came third and put Tizz to shame.”
“Thank you for setting me free. I have a lot of pending work.” The troll ant hopped away.
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: email@example.com.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on the poet of love and protest, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, edited by Pooja Garg Singh, poet and writer.