The Meaning of Life

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“What exactly are you doing?” sister Roberta asked Sarah, who was fumbling with a knotted bunch of ribbons, growing more frustrated by the minute.

“I can’t believe I’m wasting my time with this! Where is Sys? Why can’t we just remake this?” the redhead abandoned the struggle, her cheeks flushed and her eyes gleaming furiously. “Can you take this to your lab and bring me back a fresh spool of ribbon that is not knotted? You have no idea how many things I have to do right now, all at the same time!”

“I think I beat you in that department, my dear. I haven’t even started the staging for the light show, so if you’ll excuse me…” Roberta left before Sarah had a chance to pass on to her the ribbon unknotting challenge.

“What. For. Use. Ribbon.” Purple inserted their unavoidable wisdom. “Wisp. Think. Matter. Worthless. Anyway.”

“Why don’t you tell me more about that, I really need the pep talk! Where is Lily!?” Sarah burst and left the room, trying to escape the immortals’ nagging. Ever since they started with the preparations for the B0nding Ceremony everybody was a frazzled bundle of nerves. Nothing came out right, not on the first try, anyway.

Lily was managing the whole process with endless patience and a calm disposition, no doubt acquired from her long experience with all sorts of species, and with the wisps in particular, who were, to put it delicately, demanding.

They had brought an exhaustive list a requirements, observed that Terra Two didn’t seem to have the appropriate characteristics to accommodate the ceremony, complained that the high ionization of the atmosphere made them lose focus, questioned the rationality of a Bonding Ceremony for a solid in the first place and objected to each and every one of the preparations already in course, calling for ‘small’ modifications that required complete redesign.

In the midst of the chaos, flocks of dragons flew back and forth, eating anything in the way of flower arrangements and getting their scaly legs tangled in the drapery. Sister Joseph, in agreement with Jimmy, Jenna and Iseult, thought it would be a good idea to bring them in early, so they could acclimate to the conditions and not create havoc at the blessed event. Why would one believe the lizards would behave was a question for another time, but there they roamed, noisy, cantankerous and everywhere.

Sister Roberta didn’t spare the community the unavoidable surprise. Lily’s brave attempts of persuasion fell flat, much as she tried to convince the sister that having anything not pre-screened in a ceremony that was all about protocol, ritual and compliance was not a good idea. Since Roberta didn’t relent, Lily left her with a smile born of the spectacular composure that made her so good in critical talks, and resigned herself to having to explain a dud of massive proportions to a dissatisfied Vlorian delegation. Lily could almost see their expression and sighed, checking another rubric in the chronicle of things she could have done better.

“Lily! Thank goodness! Do we really need all of these?” Sarah asked brusquely, as she rushed into Lily’s office without knocking, with the bunch of tangled ribbons in her hand. Lily happened to be very frustrated at the time, but she wouldn’t dream of disrespecting Sarah, her revered mentor. She clenched her jaw, managing to smile at the same time, which was an extraordinary feat in itself, and stretched out her hand for the offending bundle, to assess the seriousness of the situation. Sarah dropped the messy ribbons in her hand, with a confrontational attitude, quite uncharacteristic under normal circumstances.

“I think we can skip these,” Lily replied, in a calm and comforting voice. “What were they for, anyway?”

“The flower arrangements, of course, which, by the way, I had to do over and over again! I wonder if those blue eating machines can ever be full! I don’t think there is a chance in a million that we’re going to reach the ceremony with any plant decorations!” she rumbled, irate.

“The Second Circle asked me for a detailed description of decor and the schedule for the ceremony. I was just about to ask you for details on all the plants, but it seems like we may need to make some changes before that. What would you like me to tell them?” Lily asked.

“You really don’t want me to tell you what I would like you to tell them right now!” Sarah couldn’t help herself.

“I will let them know we need a little more time to fine-tune the details,” Lily continued, unperturbed.

“Fine-tune? The second they have a list on their hands they’re going to ask for a complete redesign. Why even bother with option fifteen of the blasted flower arrangements? They’re not going to make it three feet out of the greenhouse before those five headed pests descend on them like famine!” Sarah continued, more and more flustered, and her alabaster cheeks turned deep shades of rose and wine, lighting her eyes on fire. Her former pupil sat back in her chair a little bit, secretly amused at the absurdity of the situation, but careful not to crack even the shadow of a smile and annoy her mentor further. “Why did we need the dragons, anyway? Isn’t the Vlorian approval process punishment enough?”

“It would make sister Joseph very happy,” Lily started an explanation.

“That would indeed be a miracle!” Sarah retorted, morose.

“Watch that vicious tongue, sister! You might accidentally bite it and poison yourself!” sister Joseph obliged through the interlink.

“Don’t you have something to do, sister? You may be the only one!” Sarah continued the offensive.

“Giant. Pointless. Argument. Time. Passes. Nothing. Done.” the immortals threw their two cents in.

“Really?” Sarah whined, accompanied by sister Joseph’s silent assent in a sudden and quite strange display of solidarity. “Do you want to help out with draping the podium?”

“Giant. Useless. Busy. Work. Sys. Can. Make.” Purple mumbled, offended. Sarah realized they were right and relented.

“I’m not going to ask Sys to work like a robot, doing and undoing endless iterations of wisp rejected plans!” Sarah protested.

“Sys is a robot!” sister Joseph interjected, harshly.

“Sister! Again? Really?” Sarah continued through the interlink, then ignored the side conversation and turned back to Lily. “Speaking of immortals, where is Purple going to sit?”

“We don’t have the final approved plan yet, the Second Circle is still trying to decide if the fusion cloud is posing any risks to them. Humon has been in talks with the Tagas cloud; the progenitors feel that the breech of protocol of not communicating through procedural channels is concession enough. They don’t understand how we get anything done, making decisions for ourselves, without cohesion.”

“How do we get anything done? You mean without the benefit of seven planetary rotations between a petition and the answer to it?” Sarah replied, with a little tinge of sarcasm. “Nobody asked the poor child what she wanted! Does she have any say in her major life event?”

“No.” Humon replied through the interlink, a lot less diplomatic than his wife. “I’m afraid Lily didn’t clarify this with the human side of the family: there isn’t any part of the observance that can ever be modified for anyone. It is highly ceremonial and not supposed to have personal touches. The joyous subsequent festivity is highly ceremonial too.”

“Lovely! Lelia is going to celebrate the privilege of having no input in the most important event of her life. I’m sure she’ll enjoy that!” Sarah protested, outraged.

“Actually, she will, she is half cloud. Appreciation for ceremony is a core component of her personality.” Humon clarified, without guile.

“Here’s the puff of smoke! I was wondering when you were going to chime in and defend your kin!” sister Joseph rumbled. Lily let out a very slow, almost imperceptible sigh. The sister caught it. “Serves you right for marrying fog! I told you nothing good was going to come out of your traipsing back and forth across the universe, but nobody is listening to me! Now we’re all punished for it!”

“Sister,” Lily continued, as if the previous chastisement didn’t happen, “have you given any thought to when the dragons will be brought into the ceremony? They don’t have to be there from the very beginning, do they?” she asked with unrealistic hope.

This innocent remark degenerated into a half-hour diatribe on the rights of the dragons and the importance of respecting one’s elders, the human kind, of course.

“Giant. Can. Do. Nothing. Right. Stop. Everything. Let. Purple. Do.” the immortals screeched abruptly.

All parties turned their attention and their building frustration towards the latter.

“Do what, you big purple blob of goo?” sister Joseph finally replied.

“Giant. Not. Even. Start. Write. Letter. Simple. Thing.” Purple hissed. “Giant. Had. One. Simple. Task. Giant. Can. Not. Deliver. Why. Giant. Try. Complex. Tasks. Giant. Slow. Wisp. Right. Solids. Dense.” they ranted. “What. Stops. Slow. Giant. Write. Lelia. Uch. Waste. Purple. Time.”

“Aren’t you smug?” sister Joseph picked up the gauntlet. “Did you write your letter?”

“Purple. Write. Letter. Not. Sister. Joseph. Problem. Sister. Joseph. Write. Own. Letter.” Purple fought back.

Lily raised her hands in an attempt to reestablish serenity on the battlefield that her usually so peaceful office had become.

“Could we please get back on task, if you don’t mind? Sister Joseph, I don’t want to rush you with the dragons’ schedule, just let me know when you have the arrangements,” she said.

“What a waste of my time!” sister Joseph protested and left the conversation.

Lily turned towards her mentor, whose initial frustration had subsided a little bit, to be replaced by pangs of guilt at the thought that, indeed, she hadn’t given any thought to the writing of her letter to Lelia, the one thing that could bring a touch of caring in this waterfall of procedure and protocol.

“So, do you have a final selection for the flowers and greenery?” Lily asked Sarah, unperturbed. “We’re three weeks away, the schedule is getting a little tight, with all the processing times required by the approval boards…” she smiled apologetically at her mentor, who grunted unintelligibly and turned around to leave.

“Sister Sarah?” Lily asked sweetly.

“It’s Mother Joachima! How many times do I have to tell you people? I go through the trouble to be reborn to this order, take on a new name and everything and nobody cares!” she retorted as she stepped away. Lily was confused by the outburst, since nobody in the entire history of Terra Two had ever addressed the redhead by this name, which had a specific ceremonial purpose.

(Letters to Lelia – Excerpt)