The war updates show up on the TV screen in our dorm apartment and I sigh in relief when my father’s name is not mentioned.
“You know somebody in it?” Zoe asks, twiddling around with one of her facial piercings.
“My father,” I reply. “He’s still going strong. It’s been almost ten years.”
“Did you say ten years?” Zoe’s eyes widen. “Nobody in history has ever survived that long. It’s either they die pretty soon in or are discharged, but combat has never lasted for longer than even five years.”
“Really?” I frown. “But it was on and off - he spent three years back home. He’s been there since I was... nine. So, seven consecutive years after that.”
“Well, it’s still over five years. And I would have expected him to be gone by his first drafting. I’m not being offensive, I’m being realistic. He’s exceptionally lucky.”
“How do you know so much about this anyway?”
“Both of my brothers were killed,” she says. “My eldest died five years ago. My other brother died three months ago.” Despite the heaviness of her sentences, she says it so bluntly that it frightens me. It’s almost like she’s immune to emotion. “They both didn’t even last a year; how pathetic is that?” She scoffs. “But it feels better knowing that I can watch the updates and I’ll never have to feel the apprehension that you feel, and I’ll never have to cry about seeing their names up here again.” The last part of her statement confirms that she did once pour her heart out over them, and I feel a lot of sympathy for her.
“Did Aris ever tell you he was a part of the war?” Zoe asks.
“No... He was?”
“Yup. He was discharged around nine months ago. He had been in there for five years himself, joining when he was nineteen, I think. And Osscarte was a part of it. Many moons ago, of course.” She laughs. “That guy is older than time itself, I bet.”
I come to the realisation that I hardly know much of Aris and Osscarte’s pasts, or even much of their present. Yes, I may have found out about Aris’ personal standing and his family, but I learned that it’s just commonplace. I remember way back when I was moving up, and Joseph mentioned something about Osscarte having a wife, yet I have never heard anything of her or about her in lessons. And by the looks of it, Aris is either single, very good at keeping low-profile relationships, or distances himself from the counterpart he may have. I go with the first choice, because almost like me, I cannot imagine him to be seeping with affection and compassion for others.
“None of them have ever talked about their time in the war, but people say that Osscarte was a fearless soldier, intimidating any of the opposition he came across.”
“I wonder why he doesn’t tell us this.”
“He teaches philosophy, not a biography on his life,” Zoe rolls her eyes. Suddenly a question pops into my head. “Does anybody know how he earns a living? What does he actually do on the side?”
“I think he’s become recently unemployed. He spent a long time in architecture and stonemason work before, though. Guy told me that he helped to build the statue of Adaven in the H.D. Square.”
“Interesting.” I reply. “What do you think of him?”
Zoe shrugs, “I don’t think much. I just know that Guy is obsessed with him, so I know more about him than I would have otherwise. I just find him kind of odd. Like, he was once a Graduate to the Higher Division, but then he felt that he didn’t need to stick around here and went back to the L.D. This was once he had basically insulted every politician he could think of.”
“Wow,” I raise my eyebrows. “He certainly does have an ego on him, doesn’t he?”
“Yes. Aris is a little better. He’s not as outrageous, but he’s in no place to be – he’s a direct elite.”
We stop talking after that, deciding to cook something up for dinner. The options of meals are much broader, meaning I actually look forward to eating now, unlike before. There is never too much to talk to Zoe about as we’re different in so many ways, but her presence is enough to stop me feeling lonely when I start missing my mother.
“The final, most important thing to study is the art of reasoning and argument.”
This is the fifth lesson of Osscarte’s that I have attended and the second one that Aris has been absent to. Despite being caught off guard with a lot of the things he says, it’s slowly starting to sink in. I’m catching on, bit-by-bit. I take on his scepticism, trying to define things before I accept them. Everything I come across, I make sure I understand it, and any other possibility of its definition that could be explored, just like Osscarte had done when questioning me on wisdom.
I think back to the trees in the HDSS Park, and how I tried spending time to analyse them. The colours are more vibrant than in the Divisions below, lighting up, shifting in miniscule swirls around the surface of the bark and the leaves. It is much harder to see through them; they have a much more solid structure. I sometimes get lost in the glimmering patterns on, looking too closely. Remembering what Osscarte said, I try to analyse them as opposed to just observing. But… nothing about them seems interesting or out of the ordinary, and they don’t even really vary in size, so I find it hard to even delve deeper into something so simple to me. Other than the hollowness of each tree, I can’t find much to criticize. I mean if trees were supposed to be full, wouldn’t they be? And what would they be full of?
“There is no better way to learn of Truth. Most things are, as explained before, concerned with opinions and interpretations. Almost anything you choose to engage yourself with can become useless if not utilised correctly. Even the logical sciences. Reasoning is the ultimate guide. It requires no sight not sound, no touch nor smell, no taste. It requires the mind only. From my experience, I see the process of reasoning as something with levels. Sort of like how this city is built. There is a bottom layer, and moving up, you’ll eventually reach the top. And once you’ve reached the top, you are within Truth.
“The first layer to the art of reasoning is the most basic. It’s something that we cannot help but engage in - we do it all the time. It’s just that… we don’t know we do it. This layer focuses purely on how we use our senses and how they can come to deceive us. This is how we differentiate from similar appearances different natures or substances. For example – you know that you exist. You also won’t look in the mirror and assume that it’s also you, just based on the sole idea that you look the same. Correct?”
We all agree, mumbling or nodding in response. “So that’s pretty simple. You won’t look in the mirror and start talking to yourself, and you won’t start panicking if you find your reflection mimicking your own animation. You know it’s not you. You know your shadow is not you. You know a framed photo is not you. Maybe at one point in time it was, but even then – it was light capturing you through a lens. So it’s a pretty simple concept to grasp. However, this mind-set represents awfully weak logic. It is really only attributed to infants or minors, as they begin to explore their world and come to understand it. We all know that babies react different to their own reflections than we would - a sign that they are still new to the world, and they are not familiar with it. Concepts of further reasoning have yet to be indoctrinated and prescribed to them.
“We then move further into reasoning, but not too far. We’re still relying on our senses, which is not the best of help. But this is at the point that we are at – focusing on legitimate objects. Not photos or reflections or images projected into TV screens, but actual objects in existence. Though this is slightly better, it will never be adequate enough to lead us to the world of Truth.
The highest forms of reasoning abandon empirical awareness, and delve into logical, rational, scientific aspects. The more we study those, the closer we are to Truth. And once we’re right up there, we are living in Existence. We now understand that the world really works with ideas and concepts, not images and objects. You are enlightened. And that will feel beautiful."