Old dirty sheets of cloth hung over a nearly barren food court out in the sketchiest part of the city. Stalls, tables, chairs, space, everything was set except, it would seem, that the business side of things was a long forgotten after thought. Perhaps the entire place was just a long forgotten memory. The usual buzz of a thriving city were filtered out by the enclosing walls, giving the place an eerie silence. All sounds joy and excitement were quickly extinguished like a giant tsunami jumping a small fire.
Rays of sunlight squeezed through the many, but small, holes in the sheets above. The light slowly creeped in, not making a noise for it feared something would grab it and not let go. The hazy atmosphere lit up when the light hit the shiny dust particles floating about in the still air. Intangible curtains of light rippled about in the stillness, it, too, didn't make a noise.
Within the silent calamity sat two young men.
The tallest one slouched over his chair with his eyes closed while he hummed to an irregular tune.
The short one was slouched about with his head hanging over the back of the chair. His eyes lit up at the sight of a light ray as he followed the slither back up through the small hole. He thought of the long journey it trekked in the vast emptiness of space until somehow, someway, it had reached his glowing curious eyes. He rather enjoyed these types of thoughts and so he would have them often. He was curious of his current surroundings and how it met its fate..
The two sat in the darkness, accompanied by silence and dread as they sat there waiting. Or at least thats what they liked to think, honestly they had no idea what they were doing, or where they were exactly.
"She's late," the tall one said. He had stopped his humming and had begun to tap the wooden circular table in front of him with his finger tips.
"I hadn't noticed," the short one replied with a touch of sarcasm, much to the distaste of his companion.
"Well," the tall one stood up, stretched until his joints cracked, and continued. "Can't wait all day now. A man has to realize when he's been stood up."
"That would be good advice had it not come from a guy who has never even held a girls hand before... or guy, I don't judge."
To some it would be... strange, adjectives have failed me, to say that silence could somehow get more silent than it already is, however that statement would be proven true in those brief moments before the tall fellow recovered from blowing the jab.
"Damn... I mean, I could say the same to you... Then again you'll bring up our three year age difference. You must really care for me to bring that up whenever you get the chance. If anything it makes me happy."
The short one stood up quickly and handed him a few coins. "Too expensive, that's my excuse. But just this once, I guess, drinks are on me. Like you said, 'she's late.' Might as well start heading out."
Silence and serenity were restored once again when the two left the, now sentient free, completely, abandoned food court. A place that had been sucked dry of its color was surprisingly delighted, for once, to see this. It was like being a bitter, lonely, wrinkly, sorrowful, and regretful elder looking at ease after yapping at some kids whom where expressing their youthfulness so carefree.
Chaos replaced the calm as they stepped outside the gate that sealed the food court in its own personal place in the universe, or maybe it's more appropriate to say it was more of a void in the universe.
Sounds of laughter, bargains, and casual chatter clashed in the cool afternoon breeze under the sights of a warm sun that illuminated the cluttered streets.
White puffy clouds rode the waves of the winds way up, far beyond the touch of man, floating about on the ocean blue skies.
"Yo, Azura," the tall one handed his friend a smoothie, outside a colorful and decoritive cafe.
"Thanks," Azura said, "where's my change?"
"I had to tip the smoothie girl."
Azura looked passed Aiti, through the cafe window and glared at the cafe girl bitterly, she seemed so pleased with herself.
"Jeez. Whatever, c'mon."
All around them corpse moved along the streets making their way through life. Some say life is a blank book that gets filled with memories that can be looked at afterwards, like a picture book. Azura is the type to take things as they come and would feel indifferent if an experience was good one or a bad one because as he would say, "either way it had to happen, it is what it is." To him life was just a large river in which he floated in. Some would swim further down to get a glimpse of what was to come only to realize the current was too strong to swim back. Others would anxiously swim against the current to no avail. While others would simply drown then and there. He just floated his days away, watching the familiar clouds fly by, wishing he, too, could take flight.
"Aiti, we're here," Azura spoke to his tall friend.
"I can see," Aiti reported.
"Just saying, sheesh." Azura took a sip of his smoothie before looking up from the map he held in his hand.
He blinked rapidly for a bit to reassure himself that his eyes had adjusted the light they received properly. He looked down at the rough sketch again, then back up to where an 'X," in his map, was marked in the real world.
"It isn't here," Azura said.
"I can see..."
"It says X here on the map, see."
"Hmm, I can see."
"Can you say anything else?" Azura became annoyed, which was something only Aiti could pull off.
"You're right," Aiti took a sip of his drink then turned on his heel. "Right-O! It's not here so jobs done. Let's go!"
Aiti managed to take a couple steps forward before stopping in his tracks. A girl stood idly ten feet from him. He searched anxiously for his straw with his tongue without letting the girl escape his eyes.
"Y-yo, you're late!" He called out.
She began to take her own steps forward--towards him.
"Hey, I whatchu-"
She brushed past Aiti, then past Azura, then stopped in front of an open lot of land between two shabby loboking building. The two buildings looked as if they would also become open land soon.
She reached out her hand and held it in mid air. Suddenly ripples dispersed from where her hand was. It looked like space itself had become liquid.
Aiti and Azura stood in awe.
"It's a barrier," she stated. In a second the liquid space froze over, then shattered like glass, into millions of shards that melted upon touching the street. A small silver stream of an unknown substance glimmered in the sunlight as it made its way down the street, strangely it never mostened the pavement.
Another run down building stood in its wake. It rose four stories up. The windows on the third floor were boarded up, clearly indicating their next destination.
"Damn. Well, that was something," Aiti took a sip of his drink again.
Azura remained silent, he was never good with new faces.
The Girl turned to face them. "I would introduce myself but it might be better to get to work first and then introductions." She said sternly.
Aiti coughed violently when taking his first lung full breath inside the foyer. The air inside was so encumbered with dust it was difficult to see five feet into the haze. A mixture of mold, decay and feces followed the bursting winds out the building when they opened the entrance door. The winds were eager to purify themselves, unbeknownst that the outside stench was no better.
"Can you be any louder?" Samara, who stood a safe distance from the door, asked.
It only provoked Aiti to intentionally cough and sneeze louder. He didn't take the sarcasm kindly. "Sorry ma'am, I seem to have caught an extreme case of the sniffles."
Though chary, they stepped inside. It was dark and foggy. Most of the paint on the walls had long begun to fall off from the walls and ceiling, their flakey remains gave a hefty yet satisfying crunch under the weight of the three bodies. The innards of the building were mostly wood that was probably more ancient than the city itself, and it was showing.
"Give me a sec," Samara said. She stretched out her right arm up, she pulled down her long sleeve to reveal white strings that ran crossed down her arm until it looped around between her fingers. She stood still for a moment. Then another...
"What're you doing?" Aiti asked with a bored look.
She brought her arm to her side. Her face beaming red with embarrassment. In order to do what she wanted to do she needed to take a deep breath, something she definitely had no intentions of doing inside the building.
"Wait, just give me a sec." She ran down the corridor within seconds, certainly not a new record but very close. Deep breathing could later be heard beyond the entrance. She returned with cherry cheeks full of air and fire in her eyes.
She reached for the ceiling again. She slowly let out the air between her cheeks. The white string gradually came to light. When she ran out of air a white ball of light materialized above her palm as it absorbed the light from the sting.
"Woah," Aiti lifted his face from the color of his shirt shirt that he used as a filter. "I'm impressed."
'Damn straight,' Samara thought to herself then gave a twerky cheeky smirk.
Slowly and cautiously they climbed the wooden stairs with the help of the glowing ball of whatever. The wood creaked and cracked with the burden of their weight.
'Just put me out of my misery!' The planks cried.
The second floor had better air quality. Still, any building inspector would probably request the building be burnt down, then have the ashes be thrown into a lavq pit.
Light struggled to pierce through the thick black paint splashed on windows. By the way it was so natrually presented, along with the skidded hand marks, trails of something large and heavy being dragged across and other subtle things, it could be taken into question if the paint was really 'paint' and if the darkness merely made it look black. Heck it could just be the work of a modern artist, only this work actually had character to it.
Another thing they noticed was the tacky choice of wallpaper used in the architecture. No wonder nobody bothered to buy a lot.
The third floor followed. It too didn't fare any better than the rest. It's four windows, one for every room, were boarded up with poorly cut plywood. The wallpaper here: vomit green, or rather, vomit inducing green.
"What are we looking for exactly?" Aiti asked as he scanned one of the empty rooms.
"A-anything really." Samara said with an unsettled voice.
Easy enough. Each room was once a small apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom, and a small living room, no dedicated bedroom. They were very simple with no miscellaneous details.
The three carefully inspected each room together because, as it stood, Samara was their only source of light.
Mold had claimed large parts of the walls, parts of which had been destroyed and now displayed the rotting wood which made the skeleton of the it all.
It wasn't until they got to the last room that they found any remnants of human tampering.
"Look here." Aiti stood next to door in question. The side that always faced inwards had, at first glance, a motif. After further inspection it was clear it was something else entirely. A white circle was painted on the door, smaller circles were then placed inside with dots decorating the inbetweens. A perfectly carved star was placed in the center then colored in with red paint.
Samara traced the image with her finger tips. She could feel the bumps of the paint plastered over the wood and the roughness of the carved star. Her eyes traced every line with bewilderment.
"It's a message," she spoke.
"How do you know?" Aiti asked in Azura's stead. Azura's shyness kept him from speaking his mind in the presence of a stranger. Thankfully Aiti had learned to read his expression.
"It's written right under it." She pointed to the Elian Script under the circle. It was written in dark paint that only her light could illuminate.
"Huh. Well that's convenient." Aiti had taken the fall.
"Alright, back off," she rolled up both sleeves this time, the left arm had no strings.
She placed her overlapping hands over the red star, closed her eyes softly and began to slow her breathing. Moments passed. She kept taking more breaths... then some more moments passed.
"Are yo--" Aiti was cut short.
A blinding white light lit up underneath her palm, its presence was harsher to the eye than the light from the noon sun on a clear day. The light trickled down the cracks on the old door until it reached the concrete floor where it all came together and flooded the room in a pond of light. Their feet felt warmth but other than that they felt nothing, literally nothing, they no longer knew where the skin on their soles ended and met the concrete flooring.
A gentle breeze disrupted the stillness. It was bitter on their faces, meaning she was not comfortable with this type of magic.
The sea of light drained into the small holes in the flooring, leaving behind words, of some kind, in a foreign language. They heard quiet whispers but they failed to find the source. It was like telepathy, the ghostly voice was everywhere yet nowhere, it was all in their heads.
Just like the foreign glowing words the whispers faded as quickly as they appeared, making Aiti and Azura question if the events even happened. The only remnants were burned words on the concrete floor.
"Did you catch that?" Samara asked. She slowly turned around hoping nothing went wrong. When she saw the stupefied looks on the boys' faces she took a sigh of relief. All was well.
"The f--What was that?!" Ait's voice grew gradually..
"Huh? What do you mean?" She looked at him as if he'd said something weird.
"Those words. They weren't Elian."
"Nothing gets passed you, does it?" She lowered herself and began copying the burned words onto her notepad. "It's called Esperanto, and it's spoken by those in some parts of the East. Anyways your work here is done."
"Wha--?" Aiti got cut off, again.
Azura interrupted, breaking the code of loners. "What exactly was our job here?"
"I've already explained," she picked herself off the ground. "This message came from the East, it could've been a trap. That's why you're here. Lucky for you nothing happened. Also, don't ask what the message meant, 'cuz I don't know either."
"Like I said your job here is done," she said sternly.
The boys didn't take her words kindly but there was nothing that could be done, they were just hired guns for Cyan's Intelligence Unit.
"Aaargh!" Aiti couldn't take the secrecy. "When do we get paid then?"
"Hell would I know, I'm just an officer I don't write checks." She opened the door and pointed them out. "If anything I also want to know when I'm getting paid."
The three let out a breath of annoyance.
"I'm friggin' tired," Aiti yawned as he rubbed his weary eyes.
"What do you mean? We didn't do anything." Azura clasped his hands behind his head.
The winds were strong that afternoon and the loose leaves of the aging trees fancied themselves a surf, allowing for a rather enchanting specticle of floating leaves and colourful pedals.
Aiti yawned again. To his displeasure a rogue pedal floating by became curious of the space opening before it, then panicked as it sucked it in.
"ACK!" Aiti clutched his throat and began to violently cough.
"What is it now?"
"These friggin' leaves are getting on my friggin' nerves!"
"That's a pedal," Azura said, pointing to the light pink carnation pedal.
"Whatever," Aiti flicked it. "But man, we really didn't do anything, huh? I guess doing nothing still gets you worked up. It wasn't all bad; we got to see a light show; and that girl...er."
"Come to think of it she never did tell us her name."
"Well, you know who I mean."
"Hm? Really, so that's your type, eh?" Azura laughed. "You're a masochist."
"Wha-what the hell? Where'd you get that idea?!"
"Well obviously, hypothetically speaking, and I mean like in a billion years, if you two were a thing she would definitely be the alpha."
"Wha-? My ass. That would never happen."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. The universe would probably blow up before you even touch a single hair on her."
"What are you even saying? This isn't like you. Besides, it already blew up, genius," Aiti's right eye started to twitch in annoyance. "Anyways, shut up about my love life, I'm already depressed as it is without you reminding me."
"Hmm, I thought a change of conversation would be better. Asking with the mundane is getting tiresome. Also, what love life?"
Aiti stormed ahead, fuming from his head. Azura couldn't understand why but he always got a kick out of annoying Aiti.
"Calm down, I was only joking." Azura looked up and noticed the sun had already covered most of its journey. "Let's get something to eat, that'll calm you down."
"You calling me fat?" Aiti pouted. "You're buying."
"Are you dumb? I paid for the drinks earlier."
"You beat me to the ground with words and you won't buy me food? You're terrible."
@Maybe I was wrong about your 'type. You're always asking me to buy you stuff. Still not the alpha though."
"FINE! Geez. I'm buying." Aiti felt a faint stab at his heart when he looked at the single dust bunny that had made a home out of his wallet. "What the? This is it, there's nothing in the bank either. I'm done for..."
"Honestly?" Azura slapped his forehead with his palm.
Warm hues of yellow, red and orange began to bleed into the evening violet sky. Long shadows roamed the stone streets of Cyan. Street lights clicked on, a quiet hum radiated from them.
It wasn't long before the wanning luster of the sun hid behind the city skyline, taking with it its warmth.
Azura sat behind a large window staring at the sapphire skies twinkling above. Aiti sat across from him. The table between them was laden with plates of food to be picked from.
Ati delved into the food as soon as it had arrived, heck he might have had bitten a waitress's fingers as she placed the dishes on the table. It was fine, though, he probably hadn't eaten that day.
Every so often Azura would cautiously take a nibble or two as the beast plumaged.
Under the moonlight they sauntered and conversed about unimportant and irrelevant matters. The crowds had calmed and a close silence settled in their stead. It was a pleasent eveing.
They soon arrived at a fork in the road. One street headed left while the other lead right. A light post flickered where the road separate, its soft hum was interrupted by sharp static, then settled when the light took a hold of its self.
The two split off in opposite directions after a quick farewell.
Aiti ventured right.
Goose bumps formed on his arms when a cold breeze brushed him. Leaves of all sorts hurtled towards him while magically dodging his large presence. Clouds from the west began to roll in when a loud presence of thunder.
'It's gonna be an easy-to sleep-night,' he thought to himself. The sound of plitter platter always soothed his woorysome thoughts that came about when he settled under his blanket.
Street after street, intersection after intersection, he walked alone in the night, the huming street lights were his sole companions. With his hands in his pockets thoughts ran wild in his head. Mostly having to do with work the following day; work then lead to money. Money was always a hot topic to think about for him, one he didn't speak much about but important nonetheless.
Gentle taps on the pavement awoke him from his thoughts. The taps grew more fierce and larger in number with every step he took. He wanted to run but his home was still far off.
"Just let it rain," he sighed. Though he wanted warmth the rain gave him a cold embrace as it seeped into his clothes.
A sweet petrichor scent filled his nostrils just as he approached his apartment complex. Sets of buildings rose three stories alongside the street, his home was among them. The first building, on the third floor, all the way down the corridor, was where his abode waited for his return. No one to say "I'm back" to, on the other hand he was used to it by now.
The loud pitter patter echoed between the thin walls of his small apartment. He turned on the lights and shut the curtains. As he laid his keys on the table he noticed an envelope on his desk that wasn't there when he left earlier that morning.Before he touched it he threw himself on the couch and tossed a his sheets over himself. Slowly he slid off his shoes and socks.
"Oooh. That's satisfying," he sank further into his couch. He eyed the envelope for a moment, awaiting for it to do something unexpected, funnily nothing happened. Then reached for it.
"Good eve-Oh! It's you, Azura. Good evening to you," an old man stood behind the cafe's counter. he was polishing a white china cup decorated with autumn coloured leaves. "My, you're dripping wet!"
It was Benedict. An old family friend you could say. Benedict had kept an eye on Azura for most of his upbringing and now all that hard work was beginning to show on his aging face, and more importantly on his lower back.
Azura closed the entrance door, a little bell, just above the door, played a tone when the door bumped it. "It started raining all of a sudden."
"I lost myself cleaning these cups, you see, so I hadn't taken notice," the man chuckled. "Go up and take those clothes off, you'll catch a summer cold. I'll close things down here and get the bath ready for you."
The cafe was empty, probably because the sign outside already read CLOSED. The pitter-patter had now subsided; now only the creaking of the wooden floor could be heard as Azura made his way to his room.
A thin mist filled the bathroom. Droplets hung from the faucet, momentarily, then dived in as well. Azura sank his feet in first then slowly allowed himself to be encased in the water. He let out a sigh then relaxed himself.
"By the way, before I forget," the man's gravelly voice was difficult to hear through the door. "Some officers came here earlier looking for you."
"What for?!" Azura was surprised.
"They told me to tell you to head towards their headquarters tomorrow."
"I don't know, they didn't tell me. Maybe it has to do with today's work?"
"Did something happen? Anything I must know?"
"No! Not really!"
"Then perhaps its to pay you for your work. Either way, remember to report to them."
He heard footsteps leading away from the bathroom door. Azura closed his eyes then sank his face into the bath water and blew bubbles. Taking jobs from Karim always churned his stomach; nothing bad ever happened but there was always an unsettling and uncertain aura whenver he did.
Chapter 3 Samara
No matter how many times I walk these streets I never seem to find comfort in them. Despite taking the same route every morning for the past two years I can't figure out where I should look when walking, so I stare at the ground in front of me; my arms begin shaking, so I clench my bag's straps tightly; my mind, however, is something I have yet to learn how to control. Within my inner thoughts static plays on repeat like old antenna TV's when they didn't pick up a signal. Amongst the morning herds of changing faces I walked alone.
It wasn't always like this. When I was young, for example, I remember smiling and skipping on the stones that laid out the road to my school. Those days of innocence, days of smiles... They don't come around very often anymore. The only thing that remains the same is my solitude, but I still smiled then.
:ike most days, I arrived at my destination without realizing it. Somewhere between my house and here, time existed, but I can't remember living it.
"Samara, right?" A young receptionist awakened me from my feint state of mind.
Like an on and off switch my dreadful face put on its facade. Within me-- not my mind or heart, but within something deeper-- an acnient war raged lose. Though an immense emotion of uncertainty and regret boiled my state of mind, my fear was stronger for the certain insanity that would come if I lost myself under my self pressure I had unknowingly placed myself under. I had made my life into an ultimatum: either forget the past or go mad.
Somehow, I found my smile in my dreams, in a world where all was well and peachy. I smile, hopeful, for an elusive serenic fantasy.
"Ah! Yes, that's right." I brushed my bangs off my face and hung them on my ear. The receptionist giggled at my awkwardness then searched within her binder. She was young, probably in her mid 20's, and had a warm smile.
She looked back at me, "ID please." She reached over the counter and held out her hand. I stared blankly at her creases until I my brain processed her words.
"O-oh, right," I searched the smallest pocket of my bag, where I keep my wallet. Then the second largest... Then the largest. Shit. "Hehehe. I--uh, sorta forgot it."
"Again?" She sighed. "Don't worry about it. This happens at least twice a week, doesn't it?" She laughed.
"Aha," I tried to smile, but I think it came off broken. "Sorry about that. I thought I packed it, but I guess not."
"It's alright. It's a stupid rule anyway." She pressed a button that caused a loud buzz, then the glass door to her side clicked. "Go on ahead."
"Thank you, thank you. And sorry again." I kept bowing for some reason, I probably looked stupid.
I stepped inside the doors only to bask in the warm morning light that passed through the large window walls. A slight strain caused a bit of pain on my eyes. Small specks of dust glimmered like small candles on the glass. More amazing was the fact the janitor hadn't been fired yet, in a city renowned for its cleanliness this was unacceptable. But that was none of my concern.
I allowed myself to float on the gentle waves for a moment to clear my head. Maybe it's its warmth, or its symbolism, whichever it may be, I seem find peace with just its sight. Unfortunately, the surreal pleasure of floating soothed me too well and I lost connection with reality. Before going through the doors I was early, now was late. Just my luck.
I passed clusters of doors that lead to offices. Hoards of cubicles filled with wasted human lives also littered the building. Zombies walked alongside me, I followed their ways and kept my eyes pinned to the floor. In this grey lifestyle eyes are only meant to open but not see; hands are meant to work, not feel; voices are meant to be heard, not understood; and lives are meant to be drained, not lived.
My heart clenched for a moment as the thought of my future being tossed into the betting pot passed my mind. Is this it? Is this what awaits me? Waking up every morning to an unmeaningful life just to sit in a 5 by 5 cubicle as I file stuff?
Since the first time I entered those doors these question had been ringing in my head. At first they were quiet whispers that merged well with the ambiance, now they over power my commands to stop as they screech like the deafening cries of a banshee.
'What the hell am I even doing?'
My feet came to a stop as I pondered the question.
Nothing came up. My failure to conjure a response sparked my insecurities and the facade of a wall I managed to build came crumbling down like dominos
For what seemed like hours only seconds had passed.
'Is this it? Is this all I'm cut out to be?'
A brown wooden door at the end of the hall stood staring at me as my mind faded into an abyss of blackness. All sounds became muted until all that was left was a slight ringing sound in my ear. There was my stop, in front of me... the wooden door... yet I couldn't move. I had become numb.
Like before, I must have deleted memories of events happening. I was now directly in for of the door with my trembling hand above its silver knob. My murky reflection in the knob stared back at me. I could feel my heart sinking with every millimeter I moved. The voices in my head now spoke in sync: 'run, run, run...'
Then I awoke.
"GODDAMNIT!!" A boy's voice pierced my ears and reached my pitiful carcass. "I'll break you, you sonuvabitch! LET GO!"
Though the words came from beyond the door they still hit hard on the metal bars of my cage. Fist banged in desperation, they called for me without saying my name. His voice was filled with so much life and energy that it seeped into me. I could feel his energy, his anger, his might. I had found the courage to scream back at my inner voices, but they had already been scared off.
Sounds of wood crashing and breaking followed his words, as well as grunts and deep breathing.
"Is this some kind of game, HUH?! We had a deal, didn't we? I bet everything on this, DAMN IT! AZURA LET GO!" His anger filled voice called out again.
'May-maybe I should wait for things to cool down.'
An eerie silence fell as I finished that thought. The dispute had halted.
"H-hey, yo-you ok man?" The raging voice had softened to a concerned one.
My curiousity spaked so I pushed the door forward.
The two boys I had met the other day were in the room with me. The short one was holding back his taller friend but he wasn't doing very well. I guessed the tall one was the one doing most, if not all, the screaming.
Karim was there too, sitting behind his desk as both his hands pressed against his chest and a pain filled expression on his face.
"Karim!" His name left my lips commanding it. without thinking I made my way to him.
Karim's face calmed, once he saw me. The short boy's grip on his friend loosened for they too were in a bit of a scare. Then his eyes moved away from me.
"Ho-holy molly," he had a hard time catching his breath. "For a second there I... I almost gave a damn!"
'What?' I thought with a dead pan expression.
"Do you honestly think I care about you and your feelings? Hell no!" Karim laxed his body against the back of his chair. without a moment to spare the boys resumed their protest. "I give more damns about that plant over there, the one you smashed with the chair, than that piece of trash you call your life."
Oh, I had forgotten, Karim is an ass.
"I don't care if you give a damn or not! Just pay what you owe me!"
If it wasn't for the short fellow then Karim would probably be up against the wall with watery eyes bulging out of his skulls with the tall guy's hands tightening around his neck. Well, I call him short but his about my height.
"Ca-calm down--" I got interrupted.
"Oh, you mean this?" Karim held up two envelopes with the names Aiti and Azura labeled on them respectfully.
"What the hell? You mean to say you already have them?" The short guy had barely enough energy to speak let alone yell but his patients was now at its peak.
"Karim, what're you doing?" I tried to butt in, however Karim just held up his finger as to say, 'one moment please." Ooh that really ticked me off.
"I'm legally allowed to not hand them over." For a moment he searched one his cabinets then laid out a piece of paper. "You signed here, yes?"
"Yeah, what of it?"
"Well..." Karim had a nasty smile on his face. "If we flip it over, like so, then we can see that you are, in fact, not one hundred percent finished with the work assigned to you."
"What? That wasn't there before!"
"Hmmm? Are you sure about that? Are you absolutely sure?"
"Yes, I reviewed it thoroughly myself." The short boy kept a stern face.
His sincerity did a number on Karim, Karim's confident smile was wiped from his face and his eyes sharpened. Lying is not an odd thought when it comes to Karim, he works for the government after all. The slimy bastard.
At this point I was beginning to question my existence, as you can imagine. 'What am I? Just ambient noise?'
"Samara." I leaped off the ground in surprise when I heard my name at last. "I told you I'd find you a team for your upcoming trip.Wwell, what do you think?"
"Huh?" I said stupefied. "You can't be actually be serious. These two?"
The boys also looked confused.
Now that I looked at it, they had duffel bags hanging at their side with two bows leaning peeping through the zippers. 'These two are most likely part of the hunting division.' I thought.
"Oh, I actually am."
"What am I going to do with a couple of hunters?" I protested. "No offense guys."
"None taken. At this point things like that don't even faze us. Just give us our pay and we'll skedaddle," the tall one was quick to say.
They were persistent, I'll give them that.
"You guys aren't listening-uh." Karim began to pout like a child. "We're short on personal."
"Woah! I almost gave a damn!" The tall one slammed his hand against Karim's desk, though Karim failed to see the joke in it.
"Aiti..." Karim said patiently.
'Oh, his name is Aiti then?'
"I don't wanna hear it." Aiti refuted.
"Aiti..." Karim sighed. "Listen. See this envelope? Within it is a day;s worth of work, right?"
"Hell would I know"
"Well, it does. Now, listen to this, this is the juicy part. What if, let's say, I offer an entire half a year's worth of pay. What would you say?"
A single sweat drop slid down Aiti's face at that moment until it reached his chin and inevitably fell off. His right eye began to twitch and his skin visibly got goosebumps.
"Well, I'd say that's a whole lotta envelopes."
"Riiight? For you too, Azura." He looked at the short one.
"If you can afford that many envelopes, then you could probably afford to pay that much. The problem lies in your word, seeing as how contracts don't mean anythig to you." Azura looked reluctant.
"And, only for one month's work." Karim threw his words out out without worry
The boys looked hesitant to speak, every so often their mouths would open then immediately shut. I didn't know what to say--could I say anything?
"It's a one time offer, boys. And I need an answer here and now."
"If we choose 'no' then we won't even get paid for yesterday's work," Aiti spoke at last.
Karim grabbed an apple from another cabinet then took a hard sounding crunchy bite.
"Well (chew)... yo technwally(chew) ... aweady signed... (Swallow) so on fof of nof geffing paid you'll also serve some jail fime. (Bite)"
I could feel the tense atmosphere creeping up my skin like hundreds of little insect legs. So many things must have been running in their heads that it started to seep out and I could almost feel their discomfort.
"One month?" Azura broke the excruciating silence.
"(Chew)... Fhash riahh. (Swallow)" Karim winked at him.
"Don't I get a say in this?" I asked.
"No, not really. I am your boss after all."
"Alright," the two said simultaneously. "We'll go." They said that but they didn't look delighted.
"(Swallow) Wonderful," Karim's ugly smile returned. "See you at the docks in three days. Now, go do something productive, like painting a forest and getting lost in it. AH! Wait, just one more thing."
"If I see a single scratch on my adorable, sweet, angelic little cousin... I'll break you."
Karim got out of his seat and walked my way. He latched his arms around me like some kind of worthwhile trophy, his cold touch sent shivers down my body. I tried to push him off but his grip was too strong.
"Get off!" I yelled.
"I'm just trying to protect you, so don't worry. Got it you two?"
"Yeah, whatever," Aiti shrugged.
I managed to break off karim's hold then I ran out the door until I met the two in the corridor.
"I'm really sorry you two. You don't have to go if you don't want to." I tried to make peace.
"And face jail time?" Aiti asked. "It's only for a month anyways, plus half a year's salary? It doesn't sound all bad."
"Yeah, if he pays up." Azura said.
I didn't know what else to say, I already apologized but other than that could I really say anymore?
"Actually, he said it was a trip. Where to exactly?" Azura said.
"Well, I also don't know. I worked until late last night, with Karim, to decode the message we found, but I ended up going home early. So... I don't really..."
I felt uselessi. It wasn't something new but it was uncomfortable nonetheless. I only chose to start working with Karim so I could get a recommended into university... other than that what exactly was I doing?
"Whatever," Aiti placed his bag on his shoulder. "We'll find out soon enough."
"We got work to do so see you when we see you, I guess."
"Yeah," I managed to say. "see ya."
Chapter 4 Samara
For the past two days my life became a humdrum, mundane, stale, tedious and all the other synonyms I can't be bothered to think of. Two years of experience on the force and this is what it ultimately boils down to: crowd control. Construction was becoming rampant around the city and it was my job to... well to control the crowds. Surprise!
It certainly beat filing paperwork that's for sure.
With a yellow hard hat, a high-vis vest and a black whistle I command the chaotic, cramped streets of this large city. As powerful as that make me out to be I really was not, at least in the physical aspect. My frail, pale limbs pose no threat to anyone looking to cause mischievous acts. In a field like the hunters division I'd be useless.
Though I must admit getting to witness the upgrades on Cyan's infrastructure was pretty interesting. Unlike many other cities that have an abstract style to them, in the sense of not having a defined architectural style, Cyan's was distinguishable. A sort of old colonial style that mainly consists of stone, brick and mortar. The elegant decorations along the edges and the columns of the buildings help to bring a bit more 'umph' to the city. Forgive my lack of knowledge on architectural criticism.
The wide roads allowed the citizens to flow road streams of the city nonchalantly; trees and flowers along the middle of them acted as divisions but no one respected the fact that you have to walk on the right. Plazas were also plentiful, usually they're only a couple blocks apart and allow the warm sun to enter the clearing. From above the streets circled around the city with each one circling closer to the centre where the government palace stood atop a large bulge of land.
Large, thick walls surround the city-- they define the city boundaries thus limiting the leaving space but gifting great security from the outside world. Call me ungrateful, however despite the security they bring I couldn't help but feel like a trapped hermit everytime my eyes caught a glmipse of their enormus stature as I glanced at the horizion.A witty trickery was then put forth when the city refused to enlarge the city, everyone began aiming for the heavens. Tall buildings began to appear, most of them bringing a more 'modern' look to them with glass walls, case and point: the new CAC (Cyan's Authority Committee) headquaters, where Karim's office lied.
The advancement of a city is dependent on ancient pieces of paper called Blueprints. Supposedly those papers are mind-bogglingly old and surpassed our understanding of when we, as humans, came to be. Many prints have been lost over the ages due to greed and war, so it's not hard to imagine that life existed beyond our knowledge. Between the thin lines of those papers lay large quantities information ranging from language to medicine to astronomy and everything inbetween. However, not all papers are shared between the cities equally, thus creating an abstract not only in architecture but in pretty much everything. Culture itself in most regions were undefined with many failing to mix which had brought about the hostile nature between the west side of our large continent and the east side. Everyone had bits and pieces to the puzzle but no one is willing to share.
Cyan is no different. Funnily enough it was founded by a thief who stole an uncertain quantity of these prints and set shop within a valley along the Western Mountain Range. This, obviously, is the short and unglamorous summary of what we are taught. As ironic as it may be our thief was obsessed with purity and cleanliness, this has given Cyan the title of the White Rose of the West. It's hard to find a structure here that isn't painted white, and littering can get you jail time along with a hefty fine.
Everyone was uptight about purity yet... nevermind. It doesn't matter anyways, I'm just ranting mindlessly at this point.
Regardless of my own thoughts life continued and so did the advancement of civilization. Holographic signs were the upgrades this time. I know I should've be more excited about this, like, 'damn, friggin' holographic signs! So cool,' and such but I couldn't be bothered. Still, seeing these futuristic objects coming in contrast with the old buildings of Cyan was kinda cool, thought provoking almost.
From my understanding this was more of a catch up rather than an upgrade, other cities have long incorporated this technology along with other things like augmented imagery. Among the most powerful cities it is well known that Cyan is the slowest to modernize despite the fact that money and research is not the problem, it almost seemed like there was something holding back the City from advancing. The larger cities called it a 'lack of imagination.'
The evening sky was now fast approaching while the sun was slowly ebbing away behind the lustrous fissure in the sky we call the horizon. The curtains were being pulled away and the spectacle of our stars was soon to start. As a child I found joy looking up at the night sky, as I got older and understood the massive distances between them and us it became frighteningly lonesome knowing that I'll never reach them, as was my dream.
I don't know if this affected me mentally but life has certainly became more dull since. Maybe that's where my melancholy stems from, from an unfulfilled childhood dream... probably not.
"Job well done," Karim said as I entered his office. His sarcastic tone and the way his eyes never left his paperwork irked me.
"Thanks, I guess. Here's my report."
"Hmmm? Did you fill it out properly?" He asked without turning to look at it.
"Yeah, I've done it hundreds if not thousands of times already. I think I know how to write a report. But if you want a vocal report here it is: I stood, then I stood and stood some more with a stop sign. Every now and then I would use it."
"Dang, ok," he rolled his eyes.
I found the nearest chair and threw myself onto it. I could feel the weight of the roots that had started to spread from the soles of my feet after standing for so long. The brutality of the heat also did a number on my lighthead.
The chair was wide and circular, it's threaded leather cushion made for a soft landing. Unfortunately, I didn't expect it to be one of those rocking chairs so, as one can imagine, I had a bit of scare when it tipped over.
"Pfft..." Karim laughed behind his collar. "You like the new chair? Don't think it likes you."
I picked myself up then layed on my knees. I stared at him with unamused eyes as I organized my dawdy hair. "Very."
"Hahah, I thought you would. That kid did me a favor, in a way, by breaking that chair. I'm telling you that kid is a beast." He sighed. "It was old anyways, just like everything else in here. Hey, you think he'll break everything else if I piss him off some more?" He chuckled.
"I thought this place was just recently built." I sat the chair back up and sat down cautiously making sure not to repeat my mistake twice. Once I was in place I moved around until I was comfortable.
"Yeah it was," Karim returned his gaze to his work. "But in terms of furniture I have to pay for it, just what's in my office though. Everything you see here is pretty old. Letting that kid break the old chair allowed me to get some funding for that new chair. How laughable is that?"
"It's not unthinkable. I heard some schools had some funding cut in order to get those new signs to be put up."
"Oh boy, here we go again with that anti-government attitude of your's, 'the people running the city are stupid, bla, bla, bla.' They're the ones paying your wages you know. Also stop sitting like that, you could break something."
He was referring to my droopy posture, it's the only way I can comfortably sit after a long tiresome day of doing nothing.
"It's a reflection of how I feel. Can't you see that? I'm calling out to you, Karim. Save me! GAH!" I joked.
"You know, I think it started way back when I was I still in middle school, these feelings of mine..."
"Samara, shut up!"
"Haha, I'm joking. Trust me I don't need a cheap therapy session from you."
"Sure, sure, whatever. Just remember you won't get any discounts just 'cuz you're my cousin."
"I didn't even think it."
A bit of time slipped after that, I don't know how much but the clicking clock on Karim's desk made it go by like it was nothing. Before I knew it I had become fixated on the clicking, I already knew when the next click was coming, down to the millisecond. Seeing karim in this calm and assertive manner made him look like less of an ass than he was. I guess even he can be tolerable at times.
I let my mind drift to the beat of the clicking clock as my eyes explored the veil of darkness just outside the office window. Sparks of fire, way out beyond my comprehension, twinkled in the distance. As my eyes fell accustomed to the darkness I could make out the differences of shade in the sky; some parts were pitch black, where others were more of a dark purplish color. Even the silhouettes of clouds that were once invisible to me could now be seen under the light of stars. They drifted just as calmly as they would in the blue sky, they looked serene up there. I might not be able to reach the stars but maybe one day I'll get to touch a cloud, they look fun.
I kept staring for a while until my eyes became heavy. I tried lifting my arms but I couldn't, I giggled as a ticklish sensation coursed through my body. I remembered then, our bodies are just shells, shells that harbor our true selves, whether that's the soul or something else is for each to choose. Regardless of the answer I was now freeing my mind from the shackles of my senses, disposing of unwanted thoughts lead by emotions.
This state of limbo, hopping between the states of consciousness and unconsciousness, was fun. I could think clearly here, the parts of my brain that garnered worry and regret were numb. Purity was all I could think about.
But, like all good things they only last a while. Like a meadow flower fluttering in the cold wind it knows its end will soon come knocking. Winter is coming. The warm embraces of summer past now lay in wistful memories. As it views the grey clouds above inadvertently covering its bright friend. It knows the time has come. Its pedals are snatched by the coming winds, once worn as pride and beauty now they drift as mere debris. The flower withers under the cold touch of winter, leaving only an old and frail carcass. Howbeit, it waits for the spring warmth.
And like that my serenity was taken from me.
"Oi, Sam." Karim snapped his fingers. "Samara!"
"Mmmnn." I murmured.
"You're creeping me out. You left me talking to myself you lazy kid."
"Shuddap." I tossed and turned on the chair until I was positioned on my side. I hadn't noticed but my eyes had only slightly closed.
"Who the hell sleeps with their eyes open?" I heard his voice echoing through the corridors of my dreams, though I had traveled to far in to understand him.
The next time I opened my eyes I hoped to be welcomed by the morning light filtering through a thin white curtain that would warm me up fervently. I would stretch my arms wide and breathe in a fresh batch of air in a soft yawn, filling me with life. Then I'd lie to myself about sleeping for only another five minutes.
I was shaken instead of awoken-- Karim pushed and pulled on my warn body like I was a piece of washed cloth being dried in the wind. My strained eyes slowly opened to a squint but even that was too much for them. I tried to push Karim's hand off my shoulder but I was still floating in limbo, my arms felt ten times heavier than they probably were.
"Mmmmn! Leave me alone!" I grunted.
"Wa-... up," Karim's voice became more audible the more I regained my recognition.
"Why~?" I whined, then pulled myself closer into a ball of warmth.
He didn't answer, rather he walked towards a cupboard at the back of the room, near the door, and took out a navy coat. He threw it at me without even turning to look.
"Hey!" I jumped out of my sleep.
"Wear that, it's frisky outside at this time of night."
I turned to look at the clock. It read ten forty-five in the morning. Jeez... I sat staring at it with a drowsy look for no apparent reason.
"Oi!" Karim snapped his fingers again.
"I'm up, I'm up!"
The linen gave my fingertips a bit of a tickle when I ran them down the coat. As I tossed it over myself and put it on the fragrance of his smell trespassed my nostrils. Cheap cologne, the kind an overweight person with a messy beard and stained clothes tries to swindle you to buy at a booth in the flea market, is the best way to describe it. He'd have a creepy smile on him and wouldn't smell like a fragrance connoisseur, but you decide to try it anyways. The market air is laden with the smell of cigar and bad hygiene so the perfume smells better than it really does.
If you think that story was too detailed to be thought of on the spot you would be right.
With half a yawn and a rub of the eyes later Karim yanked me by the arm.
"We're gonna be late," he urged.
If there was one aspect about Karim it is that he hates being tardy. He rather be an hour early and wait than be tardy.