Cyberpunk Challenge: Nightfish Part 5

Story Part 2

Sohl stopped the flock on a small hill overlooking the archology. He knew he shouldn’t allow the sheep to graze there; the sloped pasture needed time to regain its composure after nearly reaching a barren state, but thanks to the wolf sighting he didn’t have much choice. He still had a couple of hours to go before the sheep were scheduled to come back in. Sohl didn’t mind the wait. He asked for the duty because he felt he needed time alone, time to think.

Officially, people called it Steward Archology, named after the founders. It had the shape of a large, sliced pentagon with an empty center. Each of its five sections could house up to fifty people, but at present occupancy was down around thirty percent. Each section had its own color designation, with short avenues between the sections fenced off on both ends, creating play spaces for the little ones, except for two avenues where Gardener Stream ran though the entire complex. Because he lived in Brown Building now, Sohl belonged to the Brownie club. The accent color of the building designated who lived in it.

Blue Building housed married couples and families with small children. Sohl lived there with his parents until recently. Married couples and the older crowd referred to the married as the Blues.

Brown Building housed the village’s young or single men. Some of the older boys left their families as young as thirteen, including Sohl’s biggest nemesis, Rory Magdan. The residents of Brown Building were called Brownies.

Green Building housed the young or single women. Unlike with the young men, nobody batted an eye if a girl didn’t leave her parents until she turned sixteen. Occasionally, girls as young as thirteen or fourteen were ready to become Greenies. More than a few of those early starters came in ready to get married right away.

Silver Building housed anyone over the age of sixty, whether they were single or married. Every other section had a mandate to keep their building clean except for Silver. Each evening, people volunteered to go into Silver Building to help the older people, the Grayhairs, do anything they needed help with. Just the day before, Sohl swept and mopped there, and carried out used bedpans for washing. Some people, like Rory Magdan, assumed Sohl did the extra work because he gained merit points, or because he flirted with the Greenie girls who also enjoyed taking care of the Grayhairs. The assumptions were false. Sohl did not flirt, not with any girl or woman, and he didn’t care for any merit points. He simply enjoyed the smiles and conversations the older people gave him whenever he did something nice for them.

The last section carried the name of Yellow Building. People who wanted to join the archology stayed there, sometimes for months before they made a final decision over whether or not they would become permanent residents. Visitors from Triumph used the building as well, including social workers and health care personnel, or the occasional tourist wanting to take a quiet vacation outside of the city. The archology rules did not permit dating or intermarrying with Yellows. Even after officially joining, Yellows were assigned to Yellow Building for one full year before they could move into any of the other sections. They were expected to work as hard as anyone else.

Buddy Mayson strode up the hill to where Sohl tended the sheep. His race was Negro, the man in his thirties and looking fitter than most. Buddy had watchman duty that day, as attested to by the shock rifle he had slung across his chest, military style.

“Hey, Sohl.” Buddy greeted.

“Hey, Buddy.” Sohl said. “I had to bring the sheep in closer because a wolf tried snatching up one of the lambs.”

Buddy’s eyes instantly scanned past the flock. “How far back?”

“I don’t know. A third of a kilometer maybe? It happened right where the woods start up. Can you do me a favor? Can you carry the lamb in for me? I don’t think its leg is broken, but the wolf took one good swipe at it before I could chase it off. It’s hobbled along ever since.”

“Yeah, I’ll take it in.” Buddy said. He carried a rechargeable radio clipped to his vest, used it to inform the watch commander of what he was doing. “I’m going to hand this lamb off about halfway home. You stay right here, kid. When I come back I’ll go out to make sure the wolf didn’t follow you.”

“Sure.” Sohl nodded.

He watched the man walk off with the lamb, talking to it as if he held a cute puppy. Some people didn’t like Buddy because he could seem rude sometimes. A better word for him would be moody. Personally, Sohl got along with the man fine, but he had seen his father arguing with Buddy on occasion.

With the potential crisis averted, Sohl took a few minutes to toss around the thoughts that plagued him right before he started messing with his hat. Part of it had to do with the Spring Festival coming up. A lot of people, including his mother, expected Sohl to choose a wife, even if he was celebrating only his first festival as a Brownie. The idea scared him, of choosing a wife and later she turns out an ogre, like what had happened to two other young men he’d known. The rules of the archology were that married couples stayed married for five years before they could go their separate ways. In his opinion, as a sixteen year-old, five years could be compared to forever. Besides, of the four girls he could choose from: one at seventeen years old, two at fifteen and one at fourteen, he did not really like any of them.

Steward Archology was a horny place, Sohl grinned to himself. Well, not horny as in sexually horny, but horny as in everything the residents did had to be dictated by horns, in this case expertly placed air horns that could be heard throughout the complex and beyond its walls. The wake up horn, the breakfast horn, the go to work horn, the lunch horn… Those blasted out in the morning. Sohl waited for the come home horn, herding the sheep together when he heard it, because his hunger that evening could be compared to a hunger of two days. Every so often, people would say they were hungry enough to eat a horse. Sohl had an idea of what a horse looked like, and how big it was, and definitely he felt he could scarf one down, mane and hooves and tail and everything else.

He counted his sheep for the hundredth time that day, and prodded them along past the groves of fruits trees: apples, avocadoes, oranges, lemons and others, that lined the outer walls of the entire archology. Through one of the avenues, he pushed the sheep. The hardest part would soon come up, where he couldn’t let the sheep stray into the gardening area where all the veggies and herbs grew. Several of the sheep tried to veer off that way, smelling something tasty when Sohl could only smell garlic and onions. He managed to get them all into their pen, even the last two stubborn ones that stood their ground until he went hands on and wrestled them in.

That done, he figured he smelled so much like a sheep he could be mistaken for one of their relatives. That prompted the young man to head out of the complex again, this time south where the stream flowed out. The bathing area came first, and after that the bowel movement area.

The elderly, couples and small children bathed together, while single men and women had their own areas further along. Sohl understood some teasing would come his way, and it did because Rory always teased him nowadays.

“Hey, Mama’s Boy.” Rory called out to him. He stood at a few inches taller than Sohl, with a similar athletic build, but a lot more boldness. “I heard you got a little too excited with the sheep earlier. Is it true you almost broke one of them? The poor thing can barely walk now!”

The Magdan’s first arrived at the archology seven years before, when Rory had just reached double digits in age, and Sohl one full year younger. For years, the two boys played with each other, and with the other boys, showing their competitive spirit and always trying to outdo each other. At thirteen, Rory had joined the Brownies, but a year later Sohl could not follow his lead. Sohl felt he should stay with his parents at least one more year, but that one more year turned into three more. He still didn’t like the idea of being without his mother and father.

Maybe he did deserve to have Rory call him a Mama’s Boy, but that did not mean that Sohl would be seen as a chump, either. Fights and rough wrestling matches always broke out between the two, regularly, because Sohl did not fear Rory like some of the other young men did. Every so often, Sohl even won a fight against his rival, but most times Rory handed him his ass. For some reason, and Sohl hated this, Rory could anticipate his moves and counter them ahead of time. Sohl felt that maybe Rory had the ability to read his mind; he was so good at it.

Sohl stripped down to his micro-fiber briefs and grabbed a bar of soap before walking into the stream. The current cooled from his knees on down the moment he stepped into it. There weren’t enough buckets to go around, so he waited for one of the other young men to pass one over. The wait gave Rory and a couple of other young men time to wade over to him.

“So, how’d it go with the sheep?” Rory kidded. “Are you two engaged now?”

“Keep talking, Rory.” Sohl said.

Dirk Diluh’s family joined the archology two years before. Dirk entered Brown Building the first chance he got, clicking with Rory because they were both assholes. “Why don’t you ask him if he still breastfeeds, Rory. I bet you he does.”

Not again, thought Sohl. More and more frequently, Rory or one of the others brought that up. Sohl’s mother was attractive, and… and curvy up front.

“He never gives us a straight answer.” Rory said. “He always dances around the question.”

“Just ask him.” Dirk persisted.

“Okay. Sohl, is it true that you didn’t join the Brownies until you were sixteen, because you were having too much fun breastfeeding from your mother?”

“I’m going to take his clothes.” Dirk grinned. “I’m going to put them on and maybe his mother will think I’m him and I’ll motorboat on her for a while.”

The other men around them laughed, even the ones that didn’t get along with Rory.

Dirk took a step closer to the bank, where Sohl’s clothes were lying. Sohl took a step toward Dirk, but Rory got in the way.

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