That’s what they taught us in the Learning Circles, at least. They told us that blankets of dust had unfurled over Lahimaas, day in and day out, for seventeen-hundred and ten years; and as 1710 had crossed over into 1711, it had abruptly ended. The sky had opened up, clearing the way for a sun that, by that point, was little more than an aged and pruned myth, sucked dry from centuries of over-telling.
No one knew why the sand had stopped blowing; then again, no one knew why it had begun either.
Red 8 skipped along the hills of High Tower Mount, light of foot as she neared Orange 14, and dropped to her knees at his side. He paid her no mind, eyes on the ground before him, chipping away with painstaking patience, the kind Red 8 could never muster, at the slanted edge of a blue globe that was just peeking through the dirt.
“Oh, you’ve broken through!” she exclaimed, hands coming together in a loud clap.
Orange 14 gave her a look that managed to marry annoyance and indulgence. “Keep quiet, Red,” he admonished lightly, looking around for the Minders. “You know how they dislike exuberance.”
“Sorry.” She ducked her head; it seemed she was forever apologizing since her release to the Community.
He smiled, waving away the apology as he said, “The blue came through this morning.” He tapped his brush against the globe’s caked and cracked surface. “And not a moment too soon. We were about to write it off as another cone.”
She gave a nod of understanding, scowling at the boring silver down the slope to their left.
“Well, congratulations,” she said lamely. “I’m off for the day.”
He nodded and uttered an absentminded farewell, eyes not lifting from his work. Red 8 gave a small growl, regained her feet and stomped away, kicking up more dust than was perhaps strictly necessary as she went.
“The Minders said you were speaking with that boy from Orange again,” Red 4 announced at the evening meal.
“He works with me, Aba,” Red 8 answered by way of an explanation.
“He is a Digger, Beeb,” her father said, using his pet name for her. “You know better by now than to associate with them.”
“We were only talking, Aba.”
“Regardless,” he replied, a lone finger lifted in warning. “The Honor of Lahimaas Above All Else; you know this.”
“Just think,” he continued, sifting through his plate of barley, “soon you’ll be old enough to be bonded to a Red, Blue or even Yellow. Some respectable Primary, a linkage to be proud of.”
The next day, Red 8 breached the borders of the digging hole, following Orange 14 as they crossed over the half-wall and down into the valley of ruins beyond.
Orange 14 had seen what looked like the roof of an ancient dwelling and had been covertly carving at it for weeks. He’d finally unearthed a portion of the wall and needed Red to decipher the old calligraphy he’d found there.
He helped her down into the workspace, pulling her along the exposed wall until they came upon the crude engraving that had been gouged into it.
“What does it say?”
Red 8 stepped up to the stone, running her fingers through the foreign lettering. “This is the ancient tongue, Orange,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know it well enough.”
She attempted to draw up her childhood lesson on that long-extinct tongue, brows furrowing in concentration.
“Ko – Kou – Kout.” The letters were heavy and alien in her mouth.
“Ko-we-it,” she finally sounded out, the ‘T’ lifting into a pseudo-question at the end.
Orange shrugged, an identical look of confusion on his pale face.
She just shrugged back, following him as they moved to look over the rest of the wall.
First published in Bazaar Magazine, May 2012
Copyright © 2012 Layla AlAmmar