Cyberpunk Challenge: Nightfish Part 6

Story Part 3

That’s all it took to get the fight started. Sohl went after Rory, and Rory went after him. Sohl threw his punches and he got some in return, with the single men cheering, some for him, most for Rory. Sohl nailed Rory’s jaw hard enough to send him reeling back, but Rory came back strong and rained down fists on his head and arms. The last time they fought, Rory’s longer arms lifted Sohl and slammed him on his side. Unwilling to have that happen again, Sohl went into a crouch and kept his weight low.

Somehow, Rory thought of a way to counter the crouch. He pretended to grab at Sohl’s shoulder, and then, oomf! Rory’s knee came crashing into Sohl’s side and toppled him into the drink, where of course he swallowed half a gallon because he had his mouth wide open. Not only did he fall, but he had the wind knocked out of him, and Rory toppled over him like a tree falling on a watermelon.

Rory seemed to grown ten arms a second later, until Sohl realized the others were pulling them apart. Breathing hard, trying to catch his breath and spit water out at the same time, Sohl let himself get dragged away.

“I’m not done yet!” Rory shouted. “Let me go!”

Sohl tried pulling away from the many-armed octopus that held him. “Let him go! We’re going to settle this right now! Dirk, you’re next, faggot!”

“Sohl!” His bare-chested father splashed into the water, standing in front of Sohl and showing that face of disappointment the son hated so much. “Watch your language!”

“Dad, this has nothing to do with you. This is between me and Rory.”

“Enough!” His father shouted. “I said enough!”

Sohl’s anger provoked him into kicking water at his father. After that, he relented and stepped back. The others let him go. So much for his bath, he thought, seeing the soap floating nearby but not caring enough to pick it up. At least he got his entire body wet. Sohl stalked his way over to his clothes, snatching them up as the adults turned their scrutiny on Rory, because everyone knew who started the fight.

Sohl did not sit at his usual place for dinner, next to his parents. Instead, he took his supper bowl into an avenue and sat down next to the wall. Sohl ate in relative peace, almost, because a couple of flies kept buzzing around trying to get at his rice and veggies.

Septima came and found him. “I brought your dessert.”

“What is it?”

His sister had dark hair and eyes, like he did. She looked a lot like their mother, and even at fourteen she showed signs that she’d be just as pretty, just as busty.

Septima took a seat next to him. “Yogurt-covered pretzels from the city.”

“I didn’t know we had those.” Sohl commented, taking a new bowl from her hands. He counted five savory pretzels, all for him.

“They were just brought in today.” She replied. “You’d better eat them before I do! So, brother, why didn’t you sit with us at supper?”

“You know why. Dad already had that look on his face. I know exactly what he would have said. The bigger man walks away from a fight. Violence doesn’t solve everything. You handle disputes with your words, not your fists. I’m sick and tired of hearing that!”

“Is it true that you called Dirk a faggot?”

“Yeah.”

For some reason, the admission made Septima giggle. “Nobody uses that word anymore! Why would you call him that?”

“Because he said something I didn’t like.”

“What did he say?”

“You don’t want to know.”

She snatched his bowl of pretzels away. “Tell me or you’re not getting these back!”

“Septima, yogurt pretzels are my favorite. Give them back to me!”

“Not until you tell me what Dirk said.”

“Fine. He said he was going to motorboat Mom.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’s a porn term.” Sohl said, wincing because there was no easy way around it. “A guy shoves his face into a woman’s boobs, and he shakes his head like this.”

Septima laughed. “Why is that called a motorboat? I don’t get it!”

“I have no idea. Can I have my pretzels please?”

She returned the bowl to him. “I figured Rory started the fight. I don’t understand how the two of you used to get along, and now you hate each other’s guts.”

“Rory can be as stupid as a log.” Sohl huffed. “It’s no secret that he’s after Brittney Valeta for this year’s Spring Festival. I told him a dozen times that I’m not interested in her, but he can’t get that through his thick head.”

“Brittney is the prettiest girl in all of Steward. You’d be crazy not to want to marry her.”

“I swear, I’m not interested! I’m not ready to get married yet! I still haven’t given up on the idea of becoming a priest.”

“Priests are allowed to have wives.”

“I know that. I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I could be a farmer, or a hunter, or a fixer, or I could be a priest. I want to choose a career before I choose a wife.”

“Brittney wants to get married. She’s not going to be single for next year’s festival.”

“So?”

“So?” Septima made a face at him. “Maybe there is a reason why Rory picks on you so much. Maybe the reason is because he’s jealous. Give me your rice bowl. I’ll take it back for you.”

Sohl watched his sister walk away. Did she just hint that maybe Brittney liked him? That was not what he wanted to hear! It only added more stress to the mountain he already felt pressing down on his head. He could only take so much!

“Think good thoughts,” Sohl said to himself, as he walked to the garden center of the archology. “Say good words. Make good actions. Good thoughts, good words, good actions.”

The open area in the middle of the pentagon had a jogging path all the way around, two small bridges of redwood on opposite ends to cross the stream, several poly-plastic tables and benches for eating or group meetings, and separate garden spots with retractable roofing for use as small greenhouses. One of the garden spots measured four yards by eight, with rotating plant tubs and automatic nutrient feeding through timed drips. That would be the hydroponics section where Sohl’s father worked to grow carrots, lettuce and potatoes. His father wouldn’t be there this late, but Sohl avoided that section anyway.

People living in the archology didn’t have any requirements or prohibitions when it came to religion, but they did have to respect the beliefs of the original founders. The Stewards believed in a god named Ahura Mazda, a god of light and purity, of honesty and altruism towards all. The religion didn’t have temples like other religions, but it did have holy writings from thousands of years ago written by the prophet Zoroaster. A shrine stood in the exact center of the archology, two yards around and three yards high, with four ruddy columns leading to a cone-shaped roof, a large urn of oil at its base, and wind baffles that prevented the Holy Flame from going out.

Ever since childhood, Sohl had witnessed at least one priest keeping watch over the flame, or several of them at a time meditating together around the shrine. The priests could be men or women, but the men presently outnumbered the women by two to one. They had three ranks: votary, the lowest rank, priest, the middle rank, and at the top, elder. The votary did the menial work like passing out food and sweeping, the priests organized functions and gave orders to the votaries, and the elders counseled and spoke wisdom learned throughout the ages. In the past, the followers of Ahura Mazda kept long beards and robes, but practicality had won over tradition. Nowadays the men kept short beards, the women short hair, and both sexes used tunics and trousers in light colors rather than long, flowing robes.

“Hello, Sohl.” The priest Regine Wyke greeted him. She kept busy dusting the poly baffles and readjusting them against whichever way the wind was blowing. “I was just about to take the flame indoors. Would you like to help me?”

“Yes.”

Sohl knew what to do. Regine used the flame burning in the urn to light a candle, and would carry the candle into a sealed room in Blue Building, where she would transfer the flame into a new urn. Once lit, the urn at the shrine and the candle could be extinguished.

Sohl followed Regine into the building, where two other priests, votaries, waited to watch the flame transferred over. They both greeted Sohl. When the indoor urn lit up, a votary was assigned to turn the candle off, and the second would walk back to the shrine. In this case, the votary accompanied Sohl, and it was Sohl who covered the outdoor urn to stop the flame, and who removed the baffles so they wouldn’t rattle if the night became windy.

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