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 their long journey they trekked in the vast emptiness of space until somehow, someway, they 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, he was curious about the nature of others, and a whole heap of other 'boring' subjects.
The two sat in the darkness, accompanied by silence and dread as they sat there waiting. Then again that isn't the full story--one waited for a certain 'someone,' the other waited for something more. Which waited for what? Who knows, not even they.
"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 was proven true in those brief moments before the tall one recovered from the jab.
"Damn... I mean, I could say the same to you, then again you'll bring up our two 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."
Once again the silence and serenity were restored once again when the two left the 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, ugly, wrinkly, sorrowful, and regretful elderly person looking at ease after yapping at some kids.
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 like a void in the universe.
Sounds of laughter, bargainings, and gossip clashed in the cool afternoon breeze under the sights of a warm sun that illuminated the uncertainties of yesterday. That was one thing the curious short fellow would often think about: 'what is more frightening: facing what you don't know, or facing the threats head on knowing of what's to come?"
White puffy clouds rode the waves of 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.
"Thanks," Azura said, "where's the change?"
"I had to tip the smoothie girl."
"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. Instead of swimming he wished he could fly in his next life.
"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' was marked on the his map.
"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 around 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.
"Y-yo, you're late!" He called out.
She began to take her own steps forward, towards him.
"Hey, I said-"
She brushed past Aiti, then past Azura, then stopped in front of an open lot of land between two shabby looking building. They, too, looked like they'd soon become open lots of land.
She reached out her hand and held it in mid air. Suddenly ripples dispersed from where her hand was. Tt looked like space itself had become liquid.
Aiti and Azura stood in awe.
"It's a barrier," she stated. Within 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.
Aiti coughed violently upon 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 from a safe distance from the door, asked.
It only provoked Aiti to intentionally cough 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 crunched under the feet of the three bodies. The innards of the building was 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 and crossed each other 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 became 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 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. '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, even the ashes would later be burnt in a pit of lava.
Light struggled to pierce through the thick black paint splashed on windows. By the way it was splashed it could be taken into consideration if the paint was really 'paint' and if the darkness merely made it look black. Heck it could just be the work on 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 reluctantly.
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 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 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, a smaller circle was 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. Things are about to get bright," 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 their 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.
"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, on the floor, in her notepad. "It's called Esperanto, and it's spoken by those in some parts of the East. Anyways your work here is done."
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."
"Figures," the three let out a breath of annoyance.
"I'm friggin' tired," Aiti yawned as he stretched his arms then rubbed his teary eyes.
"What do you mean? We didn't do anything." Azura clasped his hands behind his head. The winds were rather strong that afternoon and the leaves fancied themselves a surf. The fun was abruptly ended for many for they became entangled with the hair of passerbyers.
Aiti yawned again. A 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 get 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."
"Bro, Azura. What. Is. You. Saying? 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."
"What love life?"
Aiti stormed ahead, fuming. 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 drink earlier."
"You beat me to the ground with words and you won't buy me food? You're terrible."
"Hmm? 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 on his heart when he noticed he had no cash on him. "Yo, what the? Don't think there's anymore in the bank 'cuz there isn't."
"Honestly," Azura bangedhis forehead with his palm. "Fitty-fitty."
Warm hues of yellow, red and orange began to bleed into the evening sky. Long shadows roamed the stone streets of Cyan and to their sources the last golden rays of the vanishing sun clung to their cooling faces. Street lights clicked on, a quiet hum radiated from them.
As the dim light finally hid behind the wall of buildings 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, Azura thought, he probably hadn't eaten that day. Every so often he would 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.
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.
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 then past him. Clouds from the west began to roll in.
'It's gonna be an easy to sleep night,' he thought to himself.
Street after street, intersection after intersection, he walked alone in the night, only the street lamps accompanied him home. 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. Soon the taps grew more fierce and larger in number. He wanted to run but his home was still far off.
"Just let it rain," he sighed.
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 amongst them. On the third floor, all the way down the corridor, was where his sofa bed waited for his return.
The single window in his living room was the only thing visible in the darkness.
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 that wasn't there when you 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.
"Oooh. That's satisfying," he sank further into his couch. He eyed the envelope for a moment then reached over for it.
"Good eve-Oh. It's you, Azura," an man stood behind a cafe's counter, polishing a china cup. "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.
Azura closed the entrance door, a little bell played a tune. "It started raining all of a sudden."
"I hadn't noticed. I lost myself cleaning these cups, you see," the man chuckled. "Go up and take those clothes off. I'll close things down here and get the bath ready for you."
Though they knew themselves well Azura preferred to keep a well natured, polite tone when speaking to Benedict.
The cafe was empty, probably because the sign outside already read CLOSED.
The taps of the raindrops had now subsided and now only the creaking of the wooden planked floor could be heard.
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 asked.
"They told me to tell you to go to 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 bad 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.
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 hundreds of changing faces I sauntered awkwardly.
It wasn't always like this. When I was young, in the days of yesterday when time moved slow, I remember smiling and skipping on the stones that laid out the street to my school. Those days of innocence, days full of happiness... They don't come around very often anymore. The only thing that remains the same is my solitude, but I still smiled then.
Today, like 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 slumbering state. Like an on and off switch my dreadful face put on its facade.
"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 the creases in her hand until I my brain processed her words. I searched the smallest pocket of my bag, where I keep my wallet. Then the second largest; then the largest. Shit.
"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 at 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 warming morning light that passed through the large window walls. A slight strain caused a bit of pain on my eyes. Small specks of dust on the window glimmered. The Janitor is probably going to get fired one of these days. In a city renowned for its cleanliness this was unacceptable. But that's 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 find peace with just its sight.
However, the surreal pleasure of floating soothed me too well and I lost connection with reality. Before going through the doors I was early, now I'm late. Just my luck.
I passed clusters of doors that lead to offices, hoards of cubicles filled with wasted human lives. 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 just to sit in a 5 by 5 foot space as I file and write paperwork?
Since the first time I entered those doors these question have 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 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 seem to 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?! The hell am I gonna do about groceries now? I bet everything on this, DAMN IT! AZURA LET GO!" His anger filled voiced called out again.
May-maybe I should wait for things to cool down.
An eerie silence fell as I finished that thought. The banging of furniture hitting the wall, and the grunts, had halted.
"H-hey, yo-you ok man?" The raging voice had softened to that of a concerned one.
I couldn't wait any longer so I pushed the door forward.
The two boys I had met the other day were there in the room with me. The short one was holding back his taller friend, the one that might be responsible for the screaming, but he wasn't doing verywell.
Karim was there too, sitting behind his desk with both hands pressing against his chest and pain filled expression on his face.
"Karim." His name left my lips without realizing it.
Once again I was stuck in limbo: should I move or not?
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.
Though my mind was raging a war my body moved towards Karim. I couldn't leave him hyperventilating like that without at least making an effort to help.
Then his eyes moved away from me.
"Ho-holy--," he had a hard time catching his breath. "For a second there I... I almost gave a damn!"
"Do you honestly think I care about you and your meals? Hell no!"
Karim laxed his body, like nothing happened, against his chair and the boys quickly 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 his water eyes bulging out of his skulls as the tall guy's grip tightens around his neck. Actually, I call him short but his about my height.
"Ca-calm down--" I get interrupted.
"Oh, you mean this?" Karim held up two envelopes with the names Aiti and Azura labeled on them respectfully.
"What the hell, man? You mean to say you already have them?" The short guy had barely enough energy to speak let alone yell, his annoyance had risen a lot by the looks of it.
"Karim, what're you doing?" I try to butt in, however Karim just held up his finger as to say, 'one moment please." Oooh that really ticks 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. His 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 bastards.
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 squad for your upcoming trip, and, well, 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 and two bows were leaning on the wall near them. These two are most likely part of the hunting division.
"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."
They're 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. Karim didn't take it too well.
Oh, his name's Aiti then.
"I don't wanna hear it." Aiti refuted.
"Aiti..." Karim sighed. "Listen. See this envelope? Within it is a days 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 is whether or not you'll hand it over." Azura looked reluctant.
"And, only for one month's work."
The boys looked hesitant to speak, every so often their mouths would open then immediately shut. I too 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 top of not getting paid you'll also serve some jail time. (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 every time our wavelengths matched.
"One month?" Azura broke the excruciating silence.
"(Chew)... Thash riahh." Karim said without a shred of pity.
"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 at all.
"(Swallow) Wonderful," Karim's ugly smile returned. "See you at the docks in three days. Now, go do something productive, like painting an enchanted forest and get lost in it. 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, his could 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.
Azura looked like couldn't care any less. Or did he always look like that.
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 joined.
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 useless, 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 pulled up his bow to 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."
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 beats filing paperwork that's for sure.
With a yellow hard hat, a high-vis vest and a black whistle I command the streets. As powerful as that sounds I'm really not, at least in the physical aspect. My frail 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 is 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 is 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. If it helps one can imagine walking through the streets of heaven as depicted by the ancient philosophers.
The roads here are wide, for better flow, the trees and flowers act as divisions but no one respects the fact that you have to walk on the to right. Plazas are also plentiful, usually they're only a couple blocks apart and allow the warm sun to enter the clearing.
Large, thick walls surround the city, they define the boundaries of the city thus limiting the living space. They keep the dangers of the outside from hurting those inside, I feel like a hermit everytime I come to that realization. Instead of building long structures everyone is aiming for the heavens, in fact the tallest buildings are adorned with religious statues.
The advancement of a city is dependent on ancient pieces of paper called Blueprints. Supposedly those papers are mind-bogglingly old and surpass our understanding of when we, as humans, came to be. Many prints have been lost over the ages due to greed, therefore 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. However, not all papers are shared between the cities thus creating the abstract style, not only in architecture but in pretty much everything. Everyone has 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 Tail 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 is uptight here about purity yet... nevermind. It doesn't matter anyways, I'm just ranting mindlessly at this point.
Regardless of my own thoughts life continues and so does the advancement of civilization. Holographic signs are the upgrades this time. I know I should be more excited about this, like, 'damn, friggin' holographic signs! So cool'. And such but I can't be bothered. Still, seeing these futuristic objects, or lack thereof, coming in contrast with the old buildings is kinda cool, thought provoking almost.
From my understanding this is more of a catch up rather than an upgrade, other cities have long incorporated this technology along with other things like augmented imagery, though only the real advanced Cities those far more powerful than Cyan. 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.
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."
"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 inconsiderate heat also did a number on my head.
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.
"Hahah, I thought you would. Yeah, 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 in place."
"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 said jokingly.
"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, 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 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 now they drift as mere debris. The flower withers under the cold touch of winter, leaving only an old and frail carcass.
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 closed themselves.
"Who the hell sleeps with their eyes open?" I heard his voice echoing through the corridors of my dreams, though I have now traveled to far in to hear 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 woken-- 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 three 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.
"Can I at least get my luggage from my house?"
"You should've thought of that before you fell asleep in my office."
Damn, if only that bloody chair wasn't so damn comfortable.
"What am I supposed to do about clothes then?"
"Buy them when you get there, you girls like shopping right? Get something there."
"Only if you paying!"
"You should've thought about that before."
"JEEZ!" I pouted.
"C'mon, just hurry up."
It was difficult to navigate with my droopy eyes. At this point I was practically sleep walking. The bleeding lights didn't help much either, it must've had rained again while I was sleeping. Everywhere I looked it seemed as if the world was melting. The lights, the buildings, it all looked like some kind of odd, messy painting that could possibly be worth millions. The soft sound of raindrops hitting the streets fell heavy on my ears, they were now incessant crackles. The stoned streets had become slippery and flooded with streams of water trickling through the grooves of the stone until they reached uneven pockets where they formed puddles.
If it wasn't for the ripples of light on the water I'd say everything had been crystallized, frozen in a fragile coat of some unknown clear substance.
The darkened skies above no longer glimmered in tranquility, its lights had been turned off, buried under churlish clouds. The skies still rumbled, not hard but enough to spark a bit of worry in me-- I have never been too fond of loud sounds. I wondered if what shook me was the vibrations or the cold.
"Get a hold of yourself," Karim shoved me slightly. "You look a mess."
"Thanks." I wanted to reply with something witty, then I thought it would be best to just concentrate on walking.
Thankfully the city port wasn't far from the Intelligence Headquarters-- god I hate saying that it makes me sound like a narcissistic nerd. You know you're there because no matter what time of day or night it is there's always a ruckus. On the outskirts of the city, near the walls, little people run back and forth with lifts, shouting at every chance they got and don't I think they spoke kindly. A sewer rat probably has a cleaner mouth than the workers at the port. 'Yap, yap, yap,' nothing good ever comes from them.
As one would think the workers weren't all from Cyan, people from all parts of the world pass through here whether they're just stopping for rest or staying here for work or just visiting. Thankfully, Elian is the official language for the entirety of the world, as to better communicate, so it was good I understood them, though maybe not considering all they ever said were curse words.
I was all too familiar with the port it was the place we got frequent calls from. When cultures clash it's not always good, even when we understand one another.
If there was one place that I'd consider a strong contender for most futuristic looking site in the city it would be the port. This place gets more upgrades than what the entire city gets in ten years, holographic signs have long since been installed and they look better suited to this steel built cave.
Now that I think about it I could say the port was just a very large hangar. Airships drop from the skies though a large opening in the ceiling only after getting clearance, then land on their designated landing pad. The engines on the airships are quite quite loud, earplugs are a must in these parts. Every time one is about to land a bright red light flashes and a rusty voice through a microphone says, 'please clear landing pad insert number here.' The amount of energy those things produce can either suck you in or flick you in every which way, never saw it happen but I've heard stories.
The first time I came here I was awestruck by the gleaming ships, the lights, the fast workers, the flippin' noise. Everyone here has their task and they understand it down to a science. Everything has a purpose, everything is perfectly calculated even when it just looks like they're a bunch chickens running with their heads cut-off. It still amazes me to this day, just not as much.
Once inside Karim instructed me to wait on the side while he goes and collects our tickets. I loitered about kicking some garbage around. When I got bored I leaned against the steel rails that separated me from the hangar deck and watched small people run around causing havoc like the people in old comedy black and white films do.
The other two didn't take long to arrive. They carried the same duffel bags as last time, probably just their luggage. With cold trembling hands I shook theirs, tipped my head and gave them a hello. Despite they're tiresome faces Aiti still managed to radiate an abundance of energy. He no longer looked angry or regretful, rather I could tell he was excited by the large smile in his face. Azura looked like an unwanted burden had been betrusted on him and wanted to be anywhere else other than where he currently was. As Aiti rambled on about meaningless things Azura leaned against a pole and closed his eyes. He only spoke when he knew he had to.
They tried to include me in their conversation but I felt awkward talking to people I barely knew. I tried to distance myself but the port had suddenly become crowded without any signs of lighting up anytime soon.
"It was pretty nice, I guess," Aiti said.
"My dream, aren't you listening? I'm telling you steaks that big only exist in dreams."
"Is that why you were drooling on your seat?
"I was drooling?"
"Don't you remember? We got booted off the aermetro because of you. Thankfully we were kicked close by."
"That literally happened ten minutes ago. If your fat ass could stop thinking about food for a moment maybe you'd be somewhere by now."
"Have you met me? I cannot sleep well, think well, therefore live well if I haven't even eaten well."
"That's pretty deep."
"Nah, you're just shallow."
They're stupidity was daunting, virtually laughable. Oh celestial powers that be please lend this fiable, undeserving servant patience to get through the upcoming days.
"Yo," Karim, the third member of the three stooges, appeared. "Long time no see."
Karim hung his arm around Aiti's shoulder and gave him a joyful smile, something I thought was impossible. Aiti's good attitude took a nosedive, he no longer spoke with the enthusiasm he had before.
"If it isn't the devil in the flesh," Aiti said.
"Damn right. Now shut up, I'm gonna explain some stuff quickly so I can go home and sleep." Karim covered his mouth as he yawned deeply. "Come, come, huddle up."
Karim reached around his back and took out some folded up paper from his back pockets. On his left breast pocket was a packet of black cherry flavored cigarettes, he put one in his mouth and lit it up before unfolding the papers.
"Alright, let's see here. (Cough) Shit. Ok these are for you."
Karim handed each of us a sheet of paper. Within them were pictures of us individually along with other information like birthdate, eye color, hair color, complexion and those sorts of things. There was one bit that did take me by surprise when I scanned the paper, it read that my place of birth was the City of Elea, Tenth Department. The hell?
"Those are your passports and I.D after you land, got it? Though I think they call them DP... something--I forget. Anyways, if for some reason you get deported you'll be sent to Elea, the city closest to your destination. If you do get deported you'll have to walk back and sneak in, so please don't do anything stupid."
"'Please?' Never knew that was in your vocabulary," Aiti chuckled.
"Ass kicking is also in there if you want a demonstration."
"Chillax. Anyways you guys will be going to a colonial town called Belmonte. There you will meet up with an old guy called Rodolfo, if you want a description just imagine a really old guy--like, the guy is literally hanging by a thread. He'll be taking shots with Saint Peter soon enough, trust me."
"It's a colony?" Azura asked
"Yeah, its parent is the City of Arron, it has some fancy accent in there somewhere but I digress. When you meet Rodolfo he'll get you to do things for him. Just follow his commands and you'll be back within a month."
"You don't really know what we're gonna do, do you?"
"Listen here Azura," karim placed his hands on his hips. "Yeah I don't. I couldn't translate the text you got so I sent it to a translator but I haven't received word from her in awhile. We work for the government, bite me. For all I know, and for all I care, you could either spend the next month hanging on hamak as you sip coconut water, or you're seriously screwed. Either way I'll know when the month is up. Here's the last bit: you can't have any communication with anyone other than those involved in the operation, I think that's common sense, but you'll also have no contact with me after you board that ship. If you have anything to say to me say it now or forever keep your mouth shut."
"Basically we're going in blind and I have no way of getting out of this, huh?" Aiti sighed.
"I hate you so much I have trouble unclenching my fists everytime I see you."
"Love you too bruh. Anyways if that's all I'll be going, I got some Z's to catch."
And like that our little meeting was over and I'm left as confused, if not more confused than before. The last time I had a pep talk we were given words of encouragement as well as pats on the back, that was just for patrol duty. Now our lives could seriously be on the line and all we're told is 'good luck.'
"One more thing," Karim added. "Samara you're squad commander so you guys follow her orders. Nothing more."
"What?" I argued but had no luck.
I take that back, we weren't even given a good luck. Damn it, I'm so dazed. What are meant to be doing? Stupid Karim can't even explain things properly, on top of that he seems way too chilled to be taking this seriously. Is he taking this seriously? Is anyone taking this seriously? Are we seriously OK with going in blind?
I couldn't stop the question from barbarding my mind, I felt light headed and tired. I should've rested more, I couldn't think straight. Shit.
When I came to I was no longer behind the steel rails, rather I was now past that. I was in line with Aiti and Azura, they were ahead of me by two people. Were they ok with this? Then I remembered they were being held against their will. Still, they also seemed way too chill. Aiti had gone back to smiling and laughing, Azura was sitting on his duffel bag as he listened to his friend yap on. Is this even real life?
The engines on the ship suddenly turned on, it shook the ground for a moment then everything calmed down. Though, I was still shaking. I had two days to reject this job, why didn't I? Shit, shit, shit. I turned back towards the rails only to witness Karim's slimmy smile as he waved us farewell. I really hate that guy.
With reluctant hands I grabbed onto the rails of the stairs that lead us up into the ship. When I took my first step I felt my heart sink. This was the first time I got on one these ships, this would be my first time ever venturing outside of Cyan. Holy cow, I honestly need to get tested for essential tremors.
I had to calm myself, I couldn't show this side of me to the other two, I was their commander after all. Calm yourself, calm, calm, calm. The stairs felt like they went on forever, like if the final boss of a game was in front of me but I wasn't prepared enough to take him on so the game wasn't allowing me to advance. The more I traveled the more the people around me got further away from me, a lonesome feeling jabbed my heart. I could feel my anxiety creeping under my skin, it stopped my thoughts from passing through like a blood clot until all that remained was the disturbing sound of static.
Holy cow, this is really happening and I just realized it.