Never the Time; A Tale of Sloth

Never the Time; A Tale of Sloth

Continuing with my seven deadly sins series, here’s round two of Sloth featuring Zita.
. . .

Every Imatria library existed in a state of organized chaos. Some of the shelves were full of neatly ordered books, arranged according to an alphabet or dates or locations. Other shelves contained stacks of paper, rolled scrolls and books stacked haphazardly in something resembling piles. Other shelves were blank because their books were stacked on the floor, or on a desk, or were in the hands of an interested party. They always expected to be greeted by similar sights when they visited the libraries of their fellows, so Zita didn’t know why Zaren was staring at her as if she had set the place on fire.

“I’m a tad busy,” she said with some annoyance as she set a fresh stack of leather-bound tomes onto her desk. “Is there something I can help you with, Commander?”

He stuck out his tongue. It made him look surprisingly childish, even in his carefully pressed military uniform. “Don’t be so formal with me, Zita, please. I can’t have upset you that badly. I haven’t even opened my mouth.”

Zita put one hand on her hip and the other atop the stack of books she had just set down. While she could admit this was a greater state of disarray than she usually allowed to occupy her tower, she thought she could be excused, given the circumstances.

“I’ve clearly disappointed you somehow.”

“Would you believe it’s because I’d like to stay but can’t?” His expression was somewhat innocent, his tone somewhat pleading.

Zita pursed her lips and lifted her chin. She wasn’t falling for the puppy-dog look in those emerald eyes this time. If he was going to act like a military commander while he was home, she was going to treat him like one.

“You know I’m not upset about you doing your job. Those of us who stayed behind do understand that there’s a war on. We’re trying our best too.” She lifted her hand from the books and gestured at the disarray surrounding her. “Between backups and reports, none of us have much time for anything else.”

“Not even updating your logbook, I see.”

So that was what crawled under his skin and died the moment he walked through her door. Zita clenched her jaw, lips pressed into a thin line, blue eyes hard as steel. She might have been more forgiving if she hadn’t just had the same conversation with her sister the day before, and with one of the council elders three days before that. She happened to know that her sister hadn’t written a thing in a month, which was perhaps what made her so raw about the topic.

“I should like to see the state of yours.”

“I don’t carry it with me. You should know better.”

The twist of her lips and narrowing of her eyes told him that she knew very well and that was exactly why he could shut his mouth about it. He must have gotten the message because he clamped his mouth shut and lowered his eyes. She turned her back to him, sorted through the stack of books, set two on her desk and carried the rest back to the shelf they had come from.

“So what brings you?” she asked when the silence had grown awkward. It wasn’t right; things being so strained between the two of them. But she was in no mood for his superior attitude today.

“I did genuinely want to see you, Z, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. You know how it kills me being away from you for so long.”

“You came to grouse about my logbook.”

“Well, the council did ask us to make sure they were up to date while we were off duty-“

Zita cut him off with a growl. She accidentally knocked over the last book in the stack, but left it horizontal on the shelf. She’d fix it later. “The council can’t act as if nothing’s happening with the entire kingdom in disarray. There are too few of us to keep watch with most of us serving as reinforcements. Besides, the queen isn’t reading my updates anymore. She doesn’t have time, and bigger concerns at that.”

“That doesn’t mean we should stop doing our job,” Zaren insisted. “When all this is over, we’re going to need to know what’s happening on all the planets both inside and on the border of the kingdom. And yours is one of the most important of all.”

“It’s not even a candidate for entry. Its people are still too primitive. And too strong-willed, if you ask me.”

The look on Zaren’s face suggested he wanted to make a comment about her strong will, but he managed to refrain. “Look I understand that you’re busy, that your nerves are frayed. We all feel the same. But our most important task is still observation and keeping the history of the worlds to which we’re assigned. You shouldn’t let anything else distract you from that.”

She sighed. There was no point arguing, no matter how she wanted to scream about the futility her day-to-day life had become. “My journal is sitting right beside it.” She indicated the smaller book tossed haphazardly across the platform where her all-important logbook rested. In it, she recorded the history of the planet she had been set to watch over, though her last entry had been made more than nine months before. “I’m keeping track, Zaren. I just have to write it all in long form. There’ll be time when the queen restores order to her court.”

“Fine,” he said, finally letting the subject drop. He drew a deep breath and motioned back toward the door. “Now can I steal you for five minutes for lunch before I have to return to my regiment?”

She wasn’t ready to forgive him, but she was painfully aware they didn’t have the luxury of time anymore. No one did. She nodded once, brushed the dust from her face and hands, then followed him out the door.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Zita sat curled on the comfortable couch, a forgotten book spread across her lap, open to the same page for the last half hour. Her fingers were curled against the next page, ready to flip it, but it seemed the proper moment would never come. She only realized that she must have zoned out, her head fogged with memories past and her eyes glazed, when her sister waved her hand three times in front of her eyes.

She blinked, sighed and released her grip on the book in her lap, letting it slide closed. She never had written those notes in her big log book. She wished now that she had brought both with her when she left, despite the council’s decry that the history logs were never to leave their assigned libraries. Only carefully made copies were to be carried to the queen, or she could ascend to the towers to see them for herself. But if she had thought to grab it before she left, she might have been able to keep a proper record during the time she spent on Earth.

It wasn’t quite the same; recording history as she experienced it. They were supposed to be silent observers, watching from afar rather than participating. But any record was better than no record, especially considering how many years had passed since her descent. She kept short-hand notes in a dozen or more aging journals, but it just wasn’t the same. She had neglected her duties too willingly in the past; no amount of diligence now was going to correct it.

“Hey!” The loud snap of fingers next to hear ear startled her back to the moment a second time. “Earth to Zita! You listening?”

“Ow! What? Sorry…” She slid to the far side of the couch so that her sister could flop down beside her.

Neffazia pulled her long blue braid over her shoulder and let it dangle over the arm of the couch so that she wouldn’t accidentally sit on it. “You looked like you were miles away just now. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, sure. I was just remembering some things that happened a long time ago. Nothing to worry about.”

“Oh good. Because I thought you were avoiding answering my question.”

“I’m afraid I didn’t hear it,” Zita admitted with a shrug. She mustered a smile. “Why don’t you ask again?” It was probably what they should do for dinner or if Zita had any plans for the weekend. Her sister wasn’t one for deep philosophy, most of the time.

“I asked why you haven’t told her yet.”

“Told who what?”

Neffazia’s eyes glinted with grim determination. “You know who. If you can restore the queen to her throne, what are you waiting for?”

Zita’s blood turned to ice, sending a chill up her spine. It bounced back down a moment later and she shivered violently. “I don’t know for sure that I can, Neffy, and neither do you. It’s best if we wait and see what happens. We were never supposed to interfere.”

“We were supposed to interfere enough to protect her.”

“Well, I’ve done that, haven’t I? She’s still in one piece!”

“Yes, but you know how I feel about the task we were given. The queen wanted us to protect her daughter until she came of age, then help her take her rightful place. The more time we allow to pass, the less likely we can restore the kingdom to its former glory.”

“I think that ship has sailed,” Zita muttered.

Her sister shot her a look that would have slain a lesser soul. “It will if we don’t act. All we have to do is tell her the truth. At least let her decide.”

“Yeah, because it’s that simple, isn’t it? Just tell her a story that anyone on this planet would find absolutely crazy and expect her not to freak out and call the police on us.”

“We can show her the truth and you know it.”

“Sure, all right. But then we’re ruining her life, Neffy. We’re taking away her dreams and aspirations and replacing them with our own. Do we really have a right to do that?”

“Is that what keeps you from fulfilling your duty?” Neffazia demanded, arms crossed in front of her chest. “Or is it because you’re afraid to face whatever’s waiting for us up there?”

Zita didn’t answer. She gritted her teeth instead. She had to remind herself that Neffazia hadn’t been on Earth as long as she had, hadn’t seen the things she had seen in the years leading up to now. She viewed the whole situation differently, and it was her right to do so. But that didn’t change her mind.

“The queen said we would know when the time was right. I’m pretty sure I don’t know anything anymore.”

“I just don’t know how long you think we should wait, Z. Isn’t two-hundred and fifty years more than enough?”

Zita turned her head, once more refusing to answer. The truth was she didn’t know anymore what she was waiting for. Perhaps she had never known.

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