(Set sometime after Here, Kitty Kitty Kitty)
There were two apples on the table. For some reason, it was always apples. Hardy looked from one apple, to the other, and then sharply back to the first again - their gaze unwavering and intense. The apples were green, relatively unblemished, and - save for one thing - entirely unremarkable.
From the back of the small, stuffy, room, a clock ticked. Across from the table, Councillor Lazaro leaned back in his wooden chair. His eyes were fixed on Hardy. Hardy tried not to notice; devoting themselves body and soul to the scrutiny of fruit.
Finally, Hardy nodded, and pointed accusingly at the apple on the left. “It’s this one, boss. I got a strange feeling about it. Definitely flux’.
The Councillor raised his eyebrows, breathed in through his nose, and gently unsteepled his fingers. “Unfortunately Hardy - that is, yet again, the consensus apple.”
“Never mind. We’ll get this right eventually.”
Hardy fiddled with the buttons on their waistcoat; with a spare hand they rooted absentmindedly in one ear. The waistcoat - which was striped, and pleasingly soft - had probably been tailored for a somewhat smaller monkey. Or maybe this was how a noble’s clothes were meant to feel? Might explain why they were always so uptight.
By now, Lazaro had picked up the two apples, and he turned away from Hardy to conceal which was which before replacing them on the table.
It was then that Hardy noticed something.
Before Lazaro had even leaned back in his chair, Hardy had extended their finger. “It’s that one. That one is flux for sure.”
Lazaro nodded, slowly. “You’re right. Now. Let us try again.”
Hardy picked the flux apple right the next time. And the next time. And then the time after that.
By the fifth time Hardy had picked the right apple, Lazaro had a strange kind of glow in his eyes. “By jove, Hardy, I think you finally have it! Are you starting to see now? Can you see what the flux is? Just think - once you can discern what’s flux and what isn’t, why, that’s just the tip of the iceberg - you can start to shape items from it, start to mend broken things and heal flux creatures, and then of course there’s the much more powerful applications - but I’m getting ahead of myself - there’s so very much more you’ll have to learn but the important thing is that this, this is the first step and -”
And it was then that Lazaro noticed that Hardy was trying not to cry.
“I’m sorry boss. I cheated”, mumbled Hardy - mashing a hairy fist into one eye. “I just…really wanted to be able to do it, s’all.”
“But..how? How could you have cheated? There’s no marks on the apples…nothing else that you could do to determine the difference between them. I don’t understand.”
“It’s not the apples, boss. It’s you.”
“It’s how you react to them. Something about the way you handle the flux apple. Like…it’s like you don’t…think that it’s a real apple? Like, you don’t handle it like it was a real piece of fruit. Sorry, I’m rambling.”
“Ah. Ah, no. That makes sense. After all, I can feel the difference between them. Hmm.”
The clock ticked. Somewhere from deep below them, in the Guild basement, there was what sounded like a strangled cry.
“Tell me something, boss.”
“Why is it that you and your…Haberdasher -”
“ - Harbinger - ”
“Harbinger.” Hardy slapped their forehead. “Ain’t I a palooka. Anyway, why is it your - folks - seem to hate all flux stuff so much anyhow?”
Lazaro smiled. “We don’t hate the flux, Hardy. It’s just… “ He scratched his chin.. “Maybe…think of it like this. The consensus is our home, right? So going to the flux is like…going on holiday. Right?”
“Right. And going on holiday is all very well and good but. It’s a holiday.”
Hardy looked at Lazaro quizzically. “But I don’t - “
“You see, Hardy, holidays can be…very exciting. Very different. Compared to how your life is at home, you can do anything on holiday. Holidays are very…alluring. Very tempting. And so there are some people that think, hey, they might quite like it if they were to be on holiday all the time.”
“But that’s silly, right, boss? You can’t be on holiday all the time.”
“Well, exactly. What these people fail to understand is that what defines a holiday….what’s important about a holiday…is home. Home is what we strive for, where we belong. We go on holiday so we can appreciate our home. Otherwise, it’s not really a holiday. Otherwise, it’s something else entirely.”
Hardy thought about this. “So what you’re saying boss….is that you don’t like flux apples because they’re sort of like an apple holiday? When we should be appreciating our consensus apples at home instead? Oohh. This is one of those, um, Metal Fours, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Well….no. Not really. And it’s a metaphor, Hardy. Metaphor.” Lazaro sighed. “I promise I’ll explain it to you properly one day.”
“In the meantime. What say we both go take a break?”
Hardy jumped up from their seat as though a catapult had just disgorged a tiny simian spring.
“I thought you might like the idea. Oh, and Hardy - snacks are on me. Catch.”
As the apple flew through the air, Hardy thought - for a moment - they caught sight of something shimmer.
But only for a moment.