tagNovels and NovellasThe Freshman Ch. 36

The Freshman Ch. 36

bycaligula97236©

Chapter 36 - A summer of Public Penance

Jason and Cecilia spent their first summer in Upper Danubia with their days divided between learning the Danubian language, their household duties, and relaxing. The first priority, of course, was learning how to communicate in a city where very few people spoke English. The daily routine included six hours of intensive language instruction that started at 9:00 and ended at 4:00 with an hour for lunch. As the summer progressed, the couple realized that Prime Minister Dukov had enlisted the best language instructors in the country to pursue a single goal: to try to have them ready to attend university classes in the fall. They wrote endless exercises, memorized lists of words, were put through conversation drills, and studied grammar. They read everything ranging from children's stories to simple newspaper articles, in addition to their preparing exercises and doing endless speech drills.

By the end of August they had a working knowledge of Danubian, although they knew that taking regular classes at the university level still would be a struggle. Cecilia actually found herself at a slight advantage over Jason because she was bilingual. Her mind, already accustomed to the differences between Spanish and English, was able to grasp some of the grammatical concepts of Danubian faster than Jason. As for reading and writing, they seemed to progress about the same, but by the middle of the summer, Cecilia was slightly better at conversing in Danubian than was Jason.

During that first summer there was much more to their lives than language classes during the day and the Socrates Club during the evenings. Their activities included traveling and getting into better physical shape.

Sightseeing in the provinces surrounding Danube City became an important part of the adjustment to life in Upper Danubia and vital for relieving the intense stress from the couple's other responsibilities. They began traveling around Upper Danubia on the weekends with Cynthia Lee and her boyfriend. They made it as far east as Rika Chorna and spent two very pleasant weekends at the famous reservoir. They even went hiking in the mountains overlooking the lake, exploring the thick forests that had been the object of so many corporate ambitions over the past several years.

All of their explorations over that summer were in the nude. While traveling they obtained a permit from the Temple to wear orange courier shoes at railroad stations and wear hiking boots when in the forests. However, shoes, shampoo, toothbrushes, small towels, and cameras were the only items they took with them on their trips. As long as they wore collars, Jason and Cecilia had to comply with their vow not to cover their bodies, so they traveled completely naked. Very quickly their inhibitions vanished, and to them it felt like the most natural thing in the world to jump on a train wearing nothing but a pair of shoes and jump off an hour or so later to explore a new town.

Exercising became a regular part of their routine, because they were officially enrolled as students in the university and subject to participating in the institution's fitness program. Each morning before seeing their language instructors they had to perform rigorous calisthenics and run 5 kilometers in groups that were segregated by sex.

The exercise program was the one time each day that Jason and Cecilia's nudity did not set them apart from anyone else, because at the university, gymnastics classes meant just that, exercising in the nude. Along with swimsuits, most athletic clothing was prohibited, the only exception being clothing specifically designed to prevent injury. The only items the students wore during their fitness sessions were track shoes during the runs. A few of the larger-breasted women were permitted to wear sports bras while running, but to do so they had to obtain a doctor's waiver. As soon as the daily run ended the bras had to be taken off immediately.

Rigorous exercising was nothing new to Jason, who was used to keeping fit. He loved the runs, because running nude on a regular basis had been a lifelong dream for him and finally he was living that dream. His ability caught the attention of his fitness instructor, and soon he found himself committed to joining the North Danube City track team and practicing to run for inter-provincial marathons to be held in the fall. Towards the end of the summer he began practicing with the track team instead of the regular fitness group, which opened up new friendships with Danubians who were athletes instead of people who either were criminals or associated with the Lee sisters. The old self-confidence Jason enjoyed when competing in high school came back to him after a two-year absence. As he prepared to compete in long distance running, his thoughts began to move past the trial, his parents' deaths, and the tumultuous events that brought him to the country.

In contrast, for Cecilia running five kilometers was a struggle. For several weeks she always trailed the other naked, sweaty, college-age women of her group. When she started out she despaired over ever improving, but slowly she did get better over time. She was fortunate that Tiffany and Cynthia were part of her group and gave her encouragement. Cynthia began the summer somewhat overweight, so in the beginning she ran at the rear of the group with Cecilia. However, within a couple of weeks constant physical activity put Kim's sister in much better shape, which in turn allowed her to improve on the runs.

Once Cynthia improved with her running and could stay with the main group, Tiffany's encouragement became even more important to Cecilia. If Tiffany noticed Cecilia falling behind the others, she dropped back to run alongside her fellow American. Once that happened, Cecilia knew she had to catch up to the others very quickly. If she didn't, Tiffany started landing hard slaps on her bare bottom to make her pick up her pace. As strange as it seemed, Tiffany was actually doing Cecilia a favor by spanking her if she ran too slowly. It was customary at the university that during a group run, the slowest member of the class was subject to discipline from the instructor. By running with her, Tiffany spared Cecilia the indignity of having her bottom smacked by the fitness teacher. However, by the end of August Cecilia was running as well as the other women in the group and no longer faced the threat of in-class discipline.

Another improvement in Cecilia's life was that, at age 20, she finally began to enjoy swimming. It was in the pool at the National University where Cecilia finally learned how to swim properly. With Jason still watching over her, Cecilia began swimming more and more on her own and learning various strokes. By the end of August she no longer needed Jason's help and could even go under water for short distances. Cecilia's ability to swim meant she and her partner could go to the river with their friends and swim at the beach just like anyone else.

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There was a big surprise waiting for Cynthia Lee at the end of August. Just two days before classes were due to start, Cynthia and Kim went to the Temple with Tiffany and several members of Kim's band. Upon seeing her, the Priest who had collared Cindy immediately approached her and took her outside. He prayed and then talked to her at length about her Path in Life. When the interview ended he told her that she needed to conclude her public penance. He unlocked her collar and handed her a prayer robe. Her face still reflecting surprise and bewilderment, she quietly got dressed and returned to the main chamber of the Temple as a normal citizen.

When she returned to her sister's house that evening, she found out why her penance had ended. There was a letter from the National University offering Cynthia a position of Academic Apprentice, which was the Danubian equivalent of a non-tenured instructor. She had not finished her doctorate, but her knowledge of the United States and its political system far surpassed that of anyone else in Danube City. While she finished researching the relationship between the Danubian government and Mega-Town Associates for her dissertation, the university wanted her to teach undergraduates about U.S. political history and social development. It was an opportunity for Danubian students to find out about the United States from an American who had proven herself intellectually and was well-respected by everyone in the capitol. She knew more about the U.S. than anyone else in Danube City, so it made sense for the university to put her knowledge to good use in the classroom.

It had been the rector of the university who contacted Cynthia's Priest and asked him to end her penance so she could accept her new position. The job offer was the sign from the Ancients that both she and the Priest had been waiting for. The path of her life had been determined by the Ancients and they had spoken to her. She was destined to be an instructor at the National University in Danube City and was on her way to becoming a Professor in full standing.

The following week Cynthia Lee's life changed dramatically. Like her sister, she started braiding her hair to better fit in, one detail out of several that reflected the change in her appearance and her outlook on life. She assumed the formal title of "Apprentice" when sworn in at the university. To her students she had become a Danubian Public Official. They had to address her as Apprentice Lee in class, and any collared criminals among them had to kneel when speaking to her.

Like her younger sister, Cynthia Lee's Path in Life was to become a full member of Danubian society. That path was confirmed by another event towards the end of September. Her boyfriend concluded his public penance the day after the Day of the Dead Ceremonies and left the Temple wearing a prayer robe. The following evening he proposed to her. From that point forward Cynthia Lee wore her engagement jewelry whenever she appeared in public.

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September started without any sign that Jason and Cecilia should end their public penance. As a result when classes began, they remained collared and restricted from wearing any clothing. The fall semester started and the two Americans, along with fellow American Tiffany Walker, went to the university completely uncovered. It became apparent that the earliest the couple might take off their collars would be towards the end of September, after the Fall Equinox and the Day of the Dead ceremony. It was obvious that they would have to participate in the march along with Tiffany.

At first their situation made them feel very uneasy, but there were some big advantages to living without any clothing. They discovered that their lives were simplified in many ways, because in the mornings there was nothing they needed to do to get ready to go out apart from brushing their teeth. There was no getting dressed, and for Cecilia, no putting on any makeup. The only permitted concession to vanity was their hair. During the weekends the only item they had to wash was their bed sheets, so their nude lifestyle eliminated one time consuming task in life, having to keep a bunch of clothing clean.

When classes started in the fall Cecilia decided to take a semester of first-year economics classes. She calculated that she already had learned most of the course material from Ruth Burnside. However, she reasoned that by studying concepts she already had learned in English, she could much more quickly become proficient in the Danubian language and learn the vocabulary of her field. After the first semester she could by-pass the second year courses and go straight to third-year classes, but she needed to know how to speak and conduct research in Danubian before making such a leap.

Jason, on the other hand, simply enrolled in a mixture of classes that came closest to what he would have had to take during his sophomore year had he stayed in Chicago. His strategy differed from Cecilia's. While she would drop her language tutoring and concentrate on learning vocabulary in class, he would keep language tutoring and get outside help on a daily basis. On top of the formal tutoring, he could rely on help from Tiffany Walker because he shared two classes with her.

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The first weeks of September passed uneventfully as Cecilia and Jason struggled with a full load of classes in a difficult foreign language. Both were drawn into informal study groups of Danubian students and both faced the harsh pressure of being held accountable to their peers.

During the first month of classes the reality of Danubian social values dominated the lives of Jason and Cecilia. The country may have been grateful over what they had done to save the government, but the way that gratitude was expressed was for their peers to accept them as equals, no better and no worse than anyone else. Their classmates and professors did not grant them any special treatment apart from trying to make sure that they understood what was needed from them. The Danubians were convinced they would be rewarded for what they had done, but whatever reward they were due would come from the Creator in the Afterlife. In the meantime, life had to be lived day-to-day and it was the obligation of the two Americans to work hard and make themselves useful within the society. It was for that reason, in spite of her notoriety, that Cecilia's fitness instructor had shown her no sympathy as she struggled to keep up with the other women in her running group.

For Jason the pressure was nothing new, because it was very similar to what Cecilia had put him through the previous year. He actually was very happy, enjoying his study group and his new friendships with the fellow runners in the North Danube City Track Team. He worked hard during the day and treasured the hour or so he could spend with Cecilia each night.

As the semester began Cecilia struggled to come to terms with her situation. She had to humble herself somewhat, because she no longer was an RA in charge of a floor full of freshmen and no longer in charge of Jason's studies. He still struggled in his classes, but now it was up to his Danubian classmates, not her, to push him to succeed. Cecilia found herself drawn into study groups of her own and pressured by Danubian women to perform well. Tiffany Walker was a member of one of Cecilia's groups, and put pressure onto her to do well in her studies. Cecilia actually found herself taking directions from Tiffany, because her lack of experience and limited language ability made her dependent on her housemate.

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During the days leading up to the autumn equinox and the Day of the Dead, the country began its preparations for the most important holiday of the year. The 36-hour vigil was celebrated with special foods and recipes, all of which were red to represent blood, or black to represent death. Nearly every stove in every kitchen was occupied by pots of boiling blackberries, which would be used to make the special blood-red punch and other unique foods that were mandatory for the ceremonies. Other recipes included a type of fruitcake that was dark red on the inside and covered with blackberry frosting, dark-red tomato stew, and plates of black noodles in red sauce.

Before the cooking began, any cooking utensils to be used in food preparation had to be blessed. Two days before the ceremonies, Cecilia and Tiffany lugged several pots to a nearby Temple along with hundreds of their neighbors for the official permission to use the utensils as part of the preparation. Once the pots were blessed (something Cecilia thought was rather stupid), they returned to Victor Dukov's house to help with cooking. Cecilia's stomach turned upon seeing the black noodles, especially after they were covered with blood-red sauce.

In the middle of the afternoon before the first night, Tiffany led Jason and Cecilia to the Plaza of the Ancients. Because all three were wearing collars, they would be participating in a two-day march around the capitol. Waiting for them in the Plaza was a fourth member of their group, Vladik Dukov. Vladik was standing out in the open as naked as anyone else in the Plaza, wearing a Temple collar so he could march alongside his fiancé.

Cecilia already was familiar with the importance of the march, having read about it when she was helping Kim with her band's website. How strange...she had read so much about this ceremony, and now here she was, right in the middle of it, standing naked in the open air and about to be covered in body paint just like 2,400 others. Just like any Danubian criminal, she and Jason would spend two nights walking along silent country roads as part of the yearly national quest for atonement.

The group went through a Temple assembly line set up in the Plaza, first getting covered in white body paint, then getting painted with black highlights. They received their torches and shoulder slings, and finally were given instructions how to carry the torches safely and minimize the strain on their arms. As the sun went down there was a rather lengthy worship service in the Plaza. When the service was over it was dark. Completely dark. There was not a single light illuminating Danube City, because all electrical power had been shut off. Nothing, with the sole exception of the Emergency Services at the National Hospital, was operating. The silence of Death had descended over the entire country.

The marchers slowly moved out of the Plaza, in single file towards the river. Vladik moved in front of Tiffany, who was followed by Jason and finally Cecilia. For the next two nights the only thing any of them would see would be the painted backside of the person in front, and the long line of flames extending out in either direction as far as the eye could see. Everything else was pitch black.

As they moved inland away from the water, the only reality in the lives of the marchers was what they could see: the line of fiery dots stretching off into the distance and the illuminated back of the marcher in front. As they moved through the darkness, everything else from the world seemed to disappear for existence. They moved in a trance, through a world of dreams and spirits, through the darkness of an Underworld that suddenly seemed all too real. The throngs of kneeling worshipers along the sides of the roads, reduced to shapeless black figures by their prayer robes and barely visible in the darkness, seemed only to add to the feeling that the marchers had left Earth and now were moving through the Underworld of the Dead.

Every two hours there were breaks, as the marchers stopped to drink blackberry punch, go to the bathroom, and exchange their spent torches for new ones. Vladik dribbled some of the punch down his painted chest to make it look like it was covered in blood. He then dribbled some more punch on his three companions, adding to their already ghoulish appearance. The breaks were very short, just enough to recharge for the next portion of the march. It was as though the marchers were surfacing from the Underworld, only very briefly, before plunging down even deeper.

They couldn't have explained why, but after each break Cecilia and Jason were becoming ever more apprehensive as they plunged back into the darkness. Soon they even forgot about their physical sensations as their only reality became the line of lights they had to follow. They had the feeling that if they got separated from the trail, they would be forever lost in darkness and despair.

Both of them breathed a huge sigh of relief when they noticed the sky lightening in the east. They approached the campground where they would get a meal and sleep during the day as the torches from the second group of marchers became visible in the distance. The marchers had resurfaced from the darkness, hugely relieved to be back on Earth and blessed by the sun. They ate some black noodles and hot stew, went to the latrine, and collapsed on cots set up under several large Army tents. The marchers were exhausted and most of them went to sleep immediately.

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