Fari didn’t so much observe the fairgrounds as loom above them. Like a sapphire god, she gazed down at the little tents and attractions and found them wanting.
“This is hopeless,” she said and scattered the tiny people before her into a shower of illusory particles.
“That’s about the tenth layout you’ve tried so far isn’t it?” Mel asked from the other side of the war room.
“Eh, it’s been a few more than that,” Fari said. Roughly around a thousand iterations of the basic fairground design had flickered across the planning table. Most of them Fari was able to dismiss out of hand without any in-depth study but some had held more promise. At least until she looked at them closely enough.
“Are you running into a simulator limit?” Mel asked. “I remember having a bunch of headaches trying to set the table up for war game planning.”
“I recall that too,” Fari said, casting a smile in her friend’s direction. “That’s why I removed the direct link to the Horizon Breaker’s main cannons before I started doing any of this.”
“So no chance of just blasting the festival area off the map?” Mel asked.
“I make no promises about that,” Fari said. “But if it happens, I’ll probably have a lot harder time claiming it was accidental.”
“I’m surprised you’re having trouble with this,” Mel said. “Isn’t it basically child’s play compared to the deployments you’ve organized?”
“Yes,” Fari said. “No. It’s different. Deployments are easy, or easier, for me. There’s a set goal, and the motivations are predictable. We want to arrest people. They don’t want to be arrested.”
“Isn’t a festival kind of the same, except everyone’s goal is ‘have fun’?” Mel asked.
“The problem is everyone’s idea of what’s ‘fun’ is different,” Fari said. “I can’t predict that and it’s messing up everything I try to put together.”
“I don’t think you need to predict their fun,” Mel said. “But if you’re having this much trouble with it, I’m guessing there’s more to planning this festival than spacing out the food booths and leaving room for some public toilets right?”
“I don’t know!” Fari said and buried her head in her hands. “Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe this does just need a grid and some walk through diagrams.”
“If that was all it took, you wouldn’t have gone through a dozen plans trying to figure it out,” Mel said. “Something about this excited you though. What was that?”
“It seemed like fun,” Fari said. “I mean it’s a festival, it’s supposed to be all about fun isn’t it?”
“Not for the people who have to work it,” Mel said. “But come on, it was more than that. I’ve seen you get interested in things before, and there always some challenge the pulls you in. Something unusual or unexpected.”
“Well, this is supposed to be for the Empresses 25th Anniversary Gala,” Fari said.
“Yeah, but they’re doing festivals in honor of that on a lot of worlds,” Mel said.
“True, but this is the one we’ve been assigned to,” Fari said.
“I’ll grant you that,” Mel said.
“And I thought this would be a good chance to…I don’t know, connect with people,” Fari said.
“You sound like you’re worried about that?” Mel said.
“No, I’m not,” Fari said. “But, well, I do serve some pretty specific functions here.”
“Meaning you’re concerned that you’re slipping into the role of a machine rather than a person?” Mel asked.
“Not really,” Fari said. “But maybe I’m not nurturing the person part of myself enough? I mean, what we do here, our work? It feels pretty comfortable, easy, even when it’s not easy if that makes any sense.”
“I think it does,” Mel said. “And I’m probably just as guilty of it too. We stay so busy that it’s easy to let the missions become everything we do and think about.”
“Maybe that’s not even bad?” Fari said. “It could be that mission work is what I was designed for. That might be why trying to plan this festival is driving me insane.”
“I suspect that’s not the answer,” Mel said. “And I don’t think your ‘design’ matters all that much.”
“How can we know that though?” Fari asked. “I don’t even know what I am. Not completely.”
“Why don’t we try to find out?” Mel asked.
“What do you mean?” Fari asked.
“The festival is still a few months away right?” Mel asked.
“Yes, but what does that have to do with me?” Fari asked.
“It means we’ve got a few months that we can get away from mission work,” Mel said. “Or we can think of it as focusing on a new mission.”
“We can’t take months off just to deal with me going crazy though,” Fari said.
“I think you’re radically underestimating the sort of leeway I have in choosing my assignments and the companions I ‘request and require’ aid from,” Mel said.
“But there’s so much else we need to deal with,” Fari said. “There hasn’t been a week in the last eleven months that we haven’t shut down some horrible plot or dealt with some weird event that no one else could.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Mel said. “But that also mean you’ve been slaving away for eleven months without a break.”
“It’s ok,” Fari said. “I’m built for that sort of thing. I don’t need to take breaks.”
“Your body is a masterwork of spellcraft. It doesn’t tire or run out of energy. I get that,” Mel said. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t need R&R too. You’re more than your body.”
“I guess that’s the problem,” Fari said. “I don’t know if I am. I’m hitting this limit that I don’t think should be there. Not for a real person anyways.”
“First, you are a real person, and second, share,” Mel said. “What is it that you can’t do?”
Fari stepped back from the table and sighed.
“I can’t think like someone’s who’s having fun would think,” she said.
“Ok,” Mel said, more prompting Fari to continue that agreeing with her.
“Laying out the festival is more than just setting up spaces for everything. I did that in about two seconds,” Fari said. “To make it work though, you need more than that. You need to have the stalls connect to each other. You need to have spaces where the patrons can encounter the unexpected or find shelter and quiet in all the bustle.”
“And you’re having trouble thinking like a festival patron?” Mel asked.
“Yeah,” Fari said. “I can put myself into the mindset of the people we fight against. I can put myself into the mindset of our teammates. I can even put myself into the mindset of ancient people who designed crazy traps in long forgotten tombs, but I apparently can’t think like a everyday normal person who’s going out to a simple street festival.”
“And when was the last time you were actually at a street festival?” Mel asked.
“I don’t remember,” Fari said. “Maybe, back before I was a gem?”
Mel choked back a laugh.
“I’m pretty sure I see what your problem is,” she said.
“But that can’t be it,” Fari said. “I read up a ton on festival planning. From personal accounts to professional reviews. I don’t think I’m missing anything there.”
“I’m sure your research was exhaustive,” Mel said. “And I’m sure I’m getting you out of here.”
“Why? Where are we going?” Fari asked.
Mel tapped her forehead to activate the telepathic channel to the Horizon Breaker’s captain.
“Did you need the space skimmer this week?” she asked Captain Hanq without any preamble.
“Are you going to blow up my nice new skiff?” Hanq asked back, also without preamble.
“I’ll bring you back a nicer one if I do,” Mel said.
“That’s all I ask,” Hanq said.
“Excellent,” Mel said. “Oh, and I’m stealing your Chief Tactical Officer too.”
“You’re not allowed to break that one,” Hanq said.
“I promise, I’ll be very gentle with her,” Mel said.
“Fari, should I be letting her steal you?” Hanq asked.
“I don’t know sir, she hasn’t shared her crazy idea with me yet,” Fari said.
“Are you planning to let my Chief Tactical Officer in on why you’re abducting her?” Hanq asked.
“Eventually,” Mel said.
“Does this involve stopping a criminal empire, uprooting a century old conspiracy or toppling the rightful ruler of a planet?” Hanq asked.
“Nope,” Mel said. “Just a vacation.”
“A vacation?” Hanq said.
He was silent for a moment, contemplating that.
“Right, get off my ship,” he finally said. “The both of you.”
“But we have our weekly briefing tomorrow and…” Fari started to say.
“Nope. Off. Now,” Hanq said. “I know the the kind of Trouble you find when you go looking for it, and that’s when Trouble has a chance to hide. If you’re on vacation, Trouble’s not even going to see you coming and I don’t want the rest of my crew anywhere near that.”
“But..” Fari said.
“Nope.” Hanq countered. “How long of a vacation are you planning on taking?”
“A week,” Mel said.
“Make it two,” Hanq said. “And don’t worry about the skiff. I’ll put in the purchase order for the next one today.”
“Are you sure sir?” Fari asked. “We had that lead on the Phantom Count’s whereabouts that turned up this morning, and there’s the Spatial Rupture in the Hypernal system we were going to check out when things quieted down.”
“I’m having the warp crystals on the skiff charged now,” Hanq said. “It’ll be ready by the time you get to the docking bay. Oh and you are not allowed to track down either the Phantom Count or the Spatial Rupture.”
“I will need to swing by my quarters to pick up my clothes,” Mel said.
“No you won’t. Darius will be meeting you in the docking bay in five minutes with everything you need,” Hanq said.
“But what about…” Mel started to say.
“I’m posting Black Team as guards between the Tactical Room and the docking bay,” Hanq said. “Their orders are to make sure you start your vacation, or shoot you if you try go anywhere else.”
“My team wouldn’t shoot me,” Mel said.
“We’ve been trying to get you to take a vacation for the last six months,” Lt. Tym said. “We’re loading up the sleep gas pellets and will be in position in thirty seconds.”
“Sleep gas pellets! That’s cheating!” Mel said, since her Void magic abilities didn’t work particularly well against physical attacks and even with a shield spell she still needed to breathe.
“We really can’t stay?” Fari asked.
“You are always welcome here,” Hanq said. “Just not for the next month. Get out there, explore a little, take some time away from all this craziness.”
“Wait, a month now? What if something comes up?” Fari asked. “People might need us.”
“I think it he’s going keep extending our vacation until we shut up and get out of here,” Mel said.
“You should listen to Mel,” Hanq said. “She is wise beyond her years.”
“Ok, ok! We’re going!” Fari said. “Umm, where are we going?”
“It’s a big galaxy out there,” Mel said. “I think it’s time we saw some of the parts of it that don’t want to kill or enslave us.”
“That sounds like a delightful idea,” Darius said. “Will three be a crowd on this trip?”
“Please come with us!” Fari said. “My only hope of containing Mel’s insanity is if we can double team her!”
“I don’t know,” Mel said. “Can you really spare that many of us Captain?”
“I think he can,” Darius said. “Blue squad is force marching me down to the docking bay right this moment.”
“I called them too,” Hanq said. “I thought you might appreciate the company.”
“I don’t know what to say then,” Mel said.
“Tell me that you’re all going to have a good time,” Hanq said.
“I’ll make sure of that,” Mel said.
“And that you won’t get into any trouble,” Hanq said.
“Of course not,” Mel said.
“I love that thing in your voice where it sounds like you actually believe what you just said,” Hanq said.
“Ok, how about nothing we can’t handle then?” Mel asked.
“That I am willing to believe,” Hanq said. “Enjoy your month off!”