Chapter 9: Stark Nights
It seemed to Simin like she had made her way back to camp in seconds; but when Alekos questioned where she had been for the last fifty minutes, the effect of the sprint came crashing back down on her.
“Whoa! How far did you run?” Alekos questioned as Simin’s knees buckled under her weight.
“Oh—just around the wall of the Compound a few times.” Gasping for breath, Simin put her hands to her knees to support herself.
“Well, you might regret it. Rumor is there’s going to be a raid tonight.”
“Are you kidding?” Simin groaned as she made her way back up. Raids happened once a month at the dead of night, a practice scenario of an attack on the camp.
“I wish I was. I was talking to Andries, and he said that Fanis had mentioned something about it for the Golds’ sake.”
“On their first night? That seems harsh to me.” The two were walking on the cement path back towards the bath house, where Simin was planning on taking a shower. She wondered just how bad she smelled to Alekos beside her, who was wet himself, presumably from a shower. He was also dressed in his common clothing
“I think Jodha will love it.” His voice cracked slightly at the name; Simin pretended not to notice. At this, they arrived at the large circular cement, where most of the junior ranks were socializing.
The two lost contact after this; Alekos went to join Sandra and Polydamas in conversation, while Simin left for the bath house. Grabbing a towel at the entrance, she was delighted to find a shower open—there was little worse than waiting in the midst of many smelly soldiers in a humid and closed environment. In the shower stall, she carefully took off her clothes, making sure to keep the pen tucked in the folds of her shirt as she slipped her hand out of the curtain to place them down. The towel hung up in arm’s reach, she pressed the button on the side of the stall, and the shower head began its drizzle.
For the first three minutes, the water was hot. Simin began her routine of washing herself, getting soap from the dispenser next to her and putting it on one of the sponges left in the shower. Each scrub was methodical and precise; she concentrated her washing especially under her armpits, in her elbows, on her neck, and behind her knees, the places where she knew sweat would grow the most.
As the fourth minute wound on, the water gradually became colder and colder. Simin used this minute to scrub her bald head, making sure to get the back. She also washed her face, using the second dispenser for the softer soap. Though the chemicals were less harsh, the sponge remained quite spiky, and her face was red by the end of the minute.
The final minute of the shower was Simin’s least favorite. The water was nearly ice cold by this point, and it seemed to grow even colder with each passing second. Her washing was over; but it was mandated that Auxiliaries receive exposure therapy at least once a day in an effort to make them stronger against even the elements. It was therefore impossible to stop the water before the minute was up, and forbidden to leave the stall. Simin could still remember her first day as an Auxiliary when she had undergone this for the first time.
After a day of more physical activity than the twelve-year old Simin had done in what she deemed must have been her whole life, she was told to go shower with the rest of her class. She and a few other clueless converts had taken a few minutes to find the showers at all; once they did, many of them could not figure out how to turn them on, Simin included. Once she had pressed the button successfully—not an easy class for a person of her then-caliber—she had spent the first three minutes simply basking in the small bit of comfort she had received that day. By the time she had realized that the water was getting colder, she barely had time to scrub herself with the sponge before it had reached near-freezing. Chattering, Simin attempted to push the button but had found it stuck. Using all of her exhausted muscle mass, she did everything in her power to turn it off, but found it impossible. Feeling the onset of what could have only been hypothermia, she finally did the unthinkable and jumped out of shower, completely nude. Realizing there were other people who were coming out of their shower—fully dressed—Simin did everything she could to cover herself up. The boys, however, had a good laugh at her expense, and even some of the girls.
Blushing at even the memory, Simin now stood in that same freezing water eight years wiser. She welcomed the slight heat that came with embarrassment; but the next thirty seconds dragged on at a snail’s pace. The water finally shutting off, Simin reached for her towel, quickly wiping away the tiny icicles that had surely formed on her eyelids. Her clothing, however, had been replaced by her night clothes, which she quickly put on.
Fully clothed this time, Simin made her way out of the shower. A line had formed, and Simin recognized the tall boy who darted into the shower after her, obviously ecstatic at the end of his wait. Simin considered warning Aurelio about the shower system, but decided against it; she saw the group at the end of the line gleefully watching him step into it.
Outside, Simin attempted to find Sandra, with whom she usually spoke at this time. Just as she had spotted her, however, a familiar bell clanged throughout what must have been the whole complex. The chattering crowd of junior soldiers quickly silenced and all made a beeline to the sleeping house. They unlucky few who had been paces away from the entrance to the bath house were forced to stop in their tracks and head as well to the sleeping house.
The crowd was quite rough, but ordered enough to allow Simin to get to her bed in the corner without having to shove too many fifteen year-olds. The closest bed belonging to one of Simin’s friends was Achilles’s; he slept four down the wall. He gave her a meager wave before climbing into bed. Simin, however, had been stopped in her tracks.
The bed next to her had been moved off the wall to allow for a night desk and a small bookshelf, where a few familiar books had been placed.
Please don’t let that be Jodha—please, Earth. The quick words were sent down to me as Simin crawled under her covers, keeping one eye on the bed in front of hers. Though the lights were dimming, no body came to inhabit it. Simin hoped this meant that it was Aurelio’s who must have been just crawling, freezing, out of the shower by now. But just as the thought entered her mind, a shadowy body entered the bed. It was bald, just like Aurelio, but the room was too dark to discern any other detail. But just as Simin was taking her eyes off the bed, a voice like feather thunder struck through her.
“Good night, Simin Silver.” It was barely more than a whisper, but it was enough for Simin to discern that Jodha was speaking with her. Shivering under the covers, Simin responded out of complete necessity.
“Good night, Jodha Gold.” Simin hoped that the words did not tremble like her body.
Why am I so scared of her? Simin could not help but wonder. The command was terrifying, but it was against Alekos, not me. I should not have been so deeply affected.
It’s the way she talks, and walks. The boys were right—she clearly doesn’t think the rules apply to her, and that is horrifying by itself. To think this Gold has not sacrificed her city for herself—she certainly seems the type. Yet she is a Guardian. She must be pure of heart. She must be.
Sleep usually came easily to Simin; having woken up at six and spending nearly every hour in physical toil, she surely should have been asleep seconds after lying horizontally. But her mind was polluted with thought. It was difficult to have photographic memory after days like these. Under such conditions, Simin had found it best to run through the day and attempt to answer every question that kept her from slumber.
The first unanswered question of the day had come early that morning; Fanis’s display of emotion in his pounding of his fist. The day done, Simin could not help but wonder if he too had been frustrated by the declaration. This seemed unlikely—he was, along with Ansel, like the Silver Council. Simin had observed him leaving the compound with Ansel—and occasionally the professor Emiritus of the theory school, Arian—almost once every wake in the special truck with a golden hood that allowed special entry into the Gold Quarters. Simin knew this only because she had been driven away in that truck after her testing. Then why the display? Without a satisfactory answer, she was forced to move on.
Why had Stratio held such sincere disregard for the Silver rules? This seemed to have an obvious answer—he must have simply not known of them. Otherwise, he would have surely respected them as part of his promise to keep the truth of Kallipolis. But what if—Simin stopped herself. She could not doubt the validity of a citizen’s devotion to Kallipolis without sincere reason to do so.
Simin spent no time questioning what Alekos had been about to say before he was stopped. To speculated about blasphemy was strictly forbidden.
But closer to the grey area were her own thoughts on the declaration. Replaying the memory of her meeting in her mind, Simin noticed a certain artificial nature to Chrysos’s words, as though they were memorized. This would almost make sense—for if she had doubts, there was little possibility that she would be allowed to share them with Simin. Still—her words had been convincing. If this was truly the ends of discovery, then it would make sense to curb it, as the state’s size had been curbed itself to allow for its maximum. Still, it seemed to Simin like there were better ways to achieve such an outcome. Why not simply ban conversation between different classes? Or change the individual education system of each sector to allow for this? Why must one curb it so extremely? These thoughts could never be spoken aloud; but they remained safe in Simin’s mind, untouched by Guardians.
What if I was still Gold?
The thought crashed into Simin’s mind without invitation, blowing the door to smithereens and forcing itself upon the dining residents until it took up the entire table. Though unwelcome, it was an often guest. It was silly—she never was Gold. Simin had simply grown up in the Gold class and tested twice inconclusively. That was the most common result of the first two tests, anyways. The third test revealed her true self, Simin reminded herself, and she was in the class perfect for her. But merely thinking about the test was enough to bring back flashing memories of it: a piece of paper with an essay scratched onto it, a tall, ancient Guardian sitting in front of her, obstacle courses that singed her long black hair with fire. Simin shook them off, knowing that reliving the test was a certain recipe for no sleep.
But the thought remained, making it past her first defenses attempting to throw it out entirely. Chrysos had said she was fairly far along in her training. Did she have any say? Was there some sort of large discussion between all the Golds? For someone who had spent twelve years in the Quarters, she knew remarkably little about how the Councilor system worked. Whenever a declaration went under discussion, the children were herded elsewhere by the Iron and Bronze workers. They did not return until the declaration was passed. Neither were they allowed to walk into the classrooms, not even after sessions. Simin had a distinct memory of waddling into one before her first testing and being strongly reprimanded for even stepping foot into them. Could I have stopped this legislation?
There was no controlling the thought now. Along with the idea that the declaration had been wrong, the two wreaked havoc in Simin’s mind. Try as she might to quiet them, they did not allow her to sleep, much less leave at all.
It’s not blasphemy to think, Simin reminded herself. She repeated the words so often in her head that even her mouth was making them, a slight whisper coming out. She was not concerned that others would hear her—the snoring was louder than anything less than a shout.
Looking up at the dark wooden ceiling for some respite, Simin yearned to see the sky above her. The room was unnaturally dark and unnaturally noisy for the dead of night. The stars offered some respite from doubt, she assumed, in their intentional and perfect being. Intentional and perfect being. The Rulers, the Auxiliaries, the workers, the stars, Kallipolis. With this, the thoughts began to calm; they retreated, slithering, back to a hole where Simin would keep them for some indefinite amount of time. But upon their exit, a final whisper escaped her lips, a dying breath in their honor.
It’s not blasphemy to think.
“Isn’t it?” Jodha’s voice rippled through the air, freezing Simin’s body still.
Sleep poured onto her like blood onto the Ruins, and Simin fell.