The traveler nodded and left. Jade hoped he would take a nap. And a shower. He looked knackered. Jade wondered what he looked like clean.
She stood still for a few minutes, clenching the bar and trying to breathe deeply and calmly. In her mind she was still looking deep into his eyes.
What did he see in mine?
“Stupid, stupid schoolgirl,” she said at last, turning around and looking at herself in the mirror. “You’re a Jade,” she said to her reflection. “Not some witless teenager mooning over a movie star or some eejit who just came out with another record.” Her eyes blazed like a summer storm and a midday sky.
It wasn’t until she glanced at the special cabinet that she even remembered.
Jade opened the door and took out the envelope. The special directives never looked special. Back in her old life, she’d gotten letters from far-flung friends and family who came with more ceremony and decoration. The pale brown parchment was made by hand, as were the envelopes. She knew because part of the training was that each new Jake and Jade must make a thousand perfect envelopes and a thousand perfect sheets of paper. Jade had finished hers in record time.
The Management had said that this exercise was meant to help them understand the importance of process and repetition, of paying the closest possible attention to detail regardless of the task at hand, regardless of experience, regardless of how many times you’d done the same action before.
Jade suspected it was really a way to save on the cost of paper.
Glancing at the pub door and taking a moment to not just hear the sounds but listen to the minds and souls of the people teeming outside, Jade exhaled. The world wasn’t coming in yet, so she had nothing to worry about. Jay was just another traveler and she was just a Jade—and that was all there would be to it. She unfolded the paper and read:
The new traveler is not just the new traveler. He and the world must remain in Agamuskara until the eclipse, so he can be as a sunrise that never ends. When the time is right, you must make him forget himself and follow what he would never follow.
Jade read the letter two more times, memorizing the lines and wondering what the hell it all meant. The Management’s missives sometimes held a certain poetic tone. Jade could never decide what was profound and what was just wrapped up in a convoluted mixture of philosophy and high-handedness. Or maybe it was a translation quirk of beings that weren’t human trying to communicate with humans. But she’d never seen anything this inscrutable.
She made a cup of coffee—roasted, ground, and poured perfectly in every way. Coffee, she had learned in the training, was the drink of ultimate perception. A perfect cup of coffee, The Management had explained, could help you see the world in the way it was meant to be seen. They had also cautioned that coffee—along with stout, absinthe, and water—could not be influenced by Jakes, Jades, or even The Management themselves. Those safe havens had made coffee Jade’s beverage of choice over the years. Every time she needed to ponder, every time a difficult sense of destiny and decision took her longer than usual to determine, she looked through the gently wafting steam of a fresh cup of coffee and found her way.
Today’s cuppa offered no insights. Reality was as obscure as the black liquid in her cup, nearly as opaque as GPS.
Jade read the directive again. None of it made any more sense than it had before. What was so special about Jay? Other than the effect he was having on her heart rate, he wasn’t very different from any other traveler who’d sought a bed at the Everest Base Camp. And why “the world must remain in Agamuskara?” Agamuskara was a small place in a big world, not the other way around. Besides, the city was crowded enough already without packing in the rest of the planet. And what would make Jay forget himself and “follow what he would never follow” anyway?
Jade shook her head. “You’ll figure it out in time,” she said to herself. “Do your duty, and duty will show you the way.”
For a moment, the memory of Jay’s green-and-gold eyes left her mind, and she felt focused on her purpose, on her work, again. A moment’s heated rush. Some sense of attraction. Well, Jade reasoned, I’m still only human. More or less. No one ever said we couldn’t feel a bit of a flush toward someone. Just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what I have to do.
She started to let the directive fall from her hand, the way she had hundreds of times before. Once it left her person, the sheet of paper would always disappear. No flames or puffs of smoke; as the paper drifted to the floor, you would start to see the floor through the paper, until the sheet had faded away into nothing. Or not nothing. What happened after the paper disappeared, where it went, she did not know; Jade always figured The Management simply moved the sheets into some sort of filing system. Even when managing existence itself, every management had to have an office, and every office had to have its filing.
But her heart beat faster again as she thought of his bright eyes, the long years and hard miles behind his gaze. Jade couldn’t let go of the sheet of paper. The directive was seared onto her brain, but the realness of the words on the page pulled at her. For the first time in her career as a Jade, she ignored policy, folded up the directive, put it back in its envelope, and tucked it into her back pocket.
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