Chapter 33 The Day Before the Exam

Statue-still stares,

A failed hero’s hell.

Anguish forever is your fate.

The city looked as if it were rotating slowly, all the buildings shifting in a subtle parallax motion. Tall buildings and sprawling streets blended together to create a collage of browns, reds, blacks, greys, flashing lights of greens, whites, oranges, and the entire panoply the mixing of movement and stillness that encapsulated the bustle of such a city as Garghent generated. About eighty million people called this slice of the world home. One even claimed ownership of this slice, that one person being Garghent’s ruler, Janiform Gemma. Everyone else called it home.

“Do you ever wonder why we build things?” Deo broke the contemplative silence, his head resting on his hand as it pressed against the window facing inward toward the city. 

“We build to survive, to evolve.” Hales explained in her seat next to Deo, looking out his window as well. Hales elaborated further, giving it more thought. “Perhaps it is in our nature? In the same way that ants build colonies, or beavers construct dams or birds weave nests. We have the ability to build because of our hands and so we do it.”

“I agree in part, but it’s more than that. See these skyscrapers and mighty palaces and fancy mansions? Those are not shelters. They are crude obscenities, defiances of nature itself.” Deo turned when he spoke, to look at Hales. She found it increasingly more difficult to keep from blushing every time his eyes met her own. She looked away first and he turned back to the window.

Hales recovered. “Our nature is one of competitiveness, if your enemy or even your neighbor has a bigger, more secure shelter then you must build one that tops that. If not, you will be slain. It escalates over centuries and here we are with massive displays of expert architecture.” Hales reclined in her seat, stretching her legs to rest on the arm of the chairs in front, relieved that they had a section of the train relatively free of the crowd. Deo and Hales had been riding the train for over an hour, its route going around the outskirts of Garghent endlessly. The train operated all day and night, stopping in designated stations to refuel and change out for a fresh crew and any other maintenance issues that may need to be addressed. 

Deo had asked to meet on the train today. The day before her final exam. The school had given her class the day off to study and prepare but Hales elected to see Deo instead, for time was terribly short. After the final exam is a three day processing period to assess each student’s scores and then graduation. After graduation is the formal induction ceremony into the military. After that who knew how long it would be before her first assignment, a month, a week? Perhaps not even that long. 

The little free time she had was spent with Deo, talking and walking through the city, or for the first time, riding the train around the city.

The sun only recently reached its peak, a shining clock that numbered their time together in centimeters across the skyline. 

“Human architecture never escalated, sure methods change and different materials are used and styles develop and vary over time, but from the earliest records humans constructed vast temples and wonders, carved monuments out from mountains, molded obelisks from the ground, hauled slabs of granite over great distances. Garghent itself has been built and rebuilt over itself multiple times. The city-states are as old as human history.” Deo pressed his argument further, “Take the city Labyrthnium in the Brother continent, it was built thousands of years ago, a hollowed out mountain complete with a maze of cave and tunnel systems. It was aptly named after a labyrinth, though it uses a much older and more archaic pronunciation, due to the design and layout of the city, something the original architect thought of. Only the appliances and technology have been updated.”

“Hmm.” Hales thought over the points he made, and to some extent it made sense. What he was questioning wasn’t so much a biological reason as it was a philosophical reason for building structures, one that perhaps bordered on the existential.

“So why do you think humans build?” She asked, moving the debate along to the crux.

Deo sighed before answering. “I think it’s for dominance. I don’t just mean staking a claim of land and building a liveable and defendable structure as you said. Certainly that does apply. The reason is more psychological.” Deo paused for a second to gather his words. “Take chairs for example. There is deeply ingrained psychology in the style, color and design of a chair. Let’s say you go to a neighbor’s house and they have wooden chairs with low backs and sharp angles and no arm rests. Your impression is one of a cold and unwelcoming home. Any conversation will probably be awkward and forced.”

“Exchange those chairs with a higher, naturally slanted back and cushioned seats and raised arm rests and suddenly conversation flows easily and the atmosphere warms. Every situation that involves sitting can make use of proper seating. An office chair may need to be reclinable and offer movement either in the form of swiveling or rolling or both in order to keep energy levels higher. Stools may be more useful in places where closer relationships are necessary. Sitting side by side without any sort of back or arms leaves it as an open environment. That’s why bars typically employ rows of stools to promote friendliness and camaraderie.”

“Everywhere you can see how chairs affect us mentally, and you can see which ones are wrong or which ones work for any given scenario. Architecture is based on that same psychological process. When dealing with constructs, the more elaborate, the more grandiose, the more intimidating, the more intricate, all these various factors play a role in human psyche.”

“Now let’s observe the throne, these chairs represent rule and authority, all others not in a throne are suppliants, mere servants to that enthroned master. The tall design that extends far above the head conveys a sense of importance, of eminence. Expensive wood with ornate engravings and royal colors that embellish and bolden, acting as a symbol of wealth and legitimacy. Perhaps there are carvings in the arms that enhance the sitter as a figure of divine and non-human origins or the entire throne is raised on a platform, demanding further the sense of dominance over the neck-strained surfs who must beg for the good graces of the seated sovereign. A throne whose seat is deep, where the sitter lounges back in a slouch, represents a tyrant, a callous dictator that yearns only for supremacy. The shallow seat produces a leader who is for the people, a humble and just ruler that puts the interest of his land first. All these factors, and so many more, they amalgamate into the human race’s ultimate essence, the core of being and the catalyst of spirit and soul that animates us. For who else in nature assembles chairs? We are solely unique in that facet of evolution. Shelters and technology and transportation, any creature that has a practical and necessary use of those will invent it. We can see that clearly in plants and animals alike all around the world. Only the chair sets us apart, for nature is about movement, hunting, surviving, inventing, evolving, growing, scavenging… With chairs, humans abandon everything natural. To sit unmoving for days does not bring food or encourage adaptation, it only atrophies us. Yet still we sit on thrones. Why?”

“Humans are forever vying for that seat of power. That is why we build. The reasons are beyond evolution and survival. It is preeminence, influence, imperialism over the fellow man, not as men themselves but as a deity ruling high above. The entire history of our race suggests this.” Deo lapsed into silence for a minute, reflecting out the window. The city outside flashing by.

“That’s the idea I’ve been mulling over in my mind. We build because of its effects on our minds. The schematics, the blueprints themselves are products of imagination and careful planning, all done in the name of domination. Therefore it follows that any architecture is a product of the psyche and its biggest impact is on the psyche and the most impactful construct is the chair and the king of chairs is the throne. We’re all vying for that seat of power…” Deo said again and trailed off before he started talking in circles.

Hales added nothing, she was content with listening and learning how his brain worked. He fascinated her. The two sat in a quiet full of peace and faraway thoughts. Neither concerned about conversing unnaturally.

“Want to grab lunch?” Hales asked with a smile almost an hour later. Deo smiled back.

“Of course. Will we return to our train?”

She echoed him, “Of course.”

They exited on the next stop and walked to a nearby restaurant. They ate in silence and casually strolled back to the train station, awaiting the next available cart. 

After a half hour they re-embarked on their apprehensive journey around the city, boarding the next train. Though this time Deo suggested sitting on the side that faced away from the city, out to the country. At one point the rolling mountains could be seen, at another were forests and plains and farmlands and rivers that stretched out as far as the eye could see. From their position, raised as it was on the hilly tracks that paved the trains path, the view of the horizon was stunning as the sun crept its way down, setting the sky on fire. 

“I think we will loop around Garghent one more time before the sun sets. At this rate we’ll get to see it dip below the horizon on this side.” Hales gestured to their window.

“I was just thinking that.” Deo said and offered his hand to hold. Hales took it.

They watched a herd of horses gallop across the plains and flocks of birds flying in a V through the sky, their frames silhouetted against the orange sky. Time didn’t exist, and yet Hales was all too aware of its fleeing. Even in this state of perfect harmony where she breathed every breath and felt every pulse and memorized every textured line of his hand in her own, even then time made its steady and inexorable escape toward oblivion.

“Why is it that such wide views captivate us so powerfully? A mountain seen from a distance motivates us beyond what any skilled speaker can inspire. The ocean charms our imaginations, playing the nerves of our brain like a ethereal harp. The vast and endless plains spark our sense of self, granting us the ability to remake who we are.” Deo lapsed into silence again. It was as if every time he stopped talking it was because he was embarrassed by his own words. He held back so many inner thoughts. Hales didn’t want him to ever feel shy from his own personality.

His words were so beautiful that Hales couldn’t stop a tear from forming in her eye. Maybe it was the view, she thought. She had no response to him, other than to gaze at the world with him.

In another hour the train made its wide arc around the metropolis, revealing the brilliant sunset. Tears stung Hales’ eyes, this time from the pain of the light. Melancholy wrapped its drab blue rags around her as she thought of the past and future, the days before and the days to come. Her stomach became sick with anxiety. She didn’t want to go anywhere, she wanted to stay with Deo and discuss philosophy and talk about dreams and wander the city and try new foods and spot flowers, but she knew the chains of duty would yank her away and bind her to the military. Yet without the military she never would have met Deo in the first place…

Hours passed and faded, indicated by the glittering sky lit up by iridescent stars burning millions of light years away.

“You know, eventually there won’t be anything here, all the stars will burn out and planets will crumble and maybe new ones will replace them, but either way, this specific rock, us, our home, it will all be gone… What was the point of building anything?” Hales asked somberly, her mood maudlin and her energy drained.

Deo stared at her as one heartbeat led to another, his face a mixture of concern and contemplation. “I don’t know the answer to that…” He exhaled ever so lightly, “But… maybe this will suffice.”

Deo leaned into Hales and brushed his lips against hers. Her lips reacted on their own, instinctively and passionately pressing back into his. And suddenly the world made a little more sense to Hales.

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