Cyberpunk Challenge: Nightfish Part 9

Story Part 5

Sohl knew how he could get out of everyone’s crosshairs. He got up the next morning and went into the hills with the priests. The priests would choose one of the higher peaks, but not always the same one, and have conversations focusing on what was and wasn’t allowed in the religion. A lot of things had to be reconsidered or revisited because things had changed so much in the last three and a half thousand years since the religion was first created.

Sohl paid attention. The two elders spoke of how the spirit left the body at death, and the body was then considered pollution. The body of a dead person or dog polluted everything that it touched, including a living space, the ground, air, water and other people who handled the body out of necessity to move it. Ritual washing took care of some of that, but the living space of a dead person or dog should not be inhabited for a time. The same went for a dead person’s clothes and personal belongings. In the old days, the elders said, the dead were not buried or burned, but carried off into the wild and left out in the open. Steward Arcology was under governmental mandate to maintain a small cemetery, or remains were transported to their next of kin in the city of Triumph, with the result that no bodies were taken out and left anywhere.

When the topic of conversation shifted into how a woman’s menstrual cycle was also considered pollution, Sohl excused himself and went for a walk. He brought a weapon along, but it wasn’t his electric lance this time. Sohl carried a bow that, like the lance, he’d made himself out of PVC pipe. His bow was bad ass. One of the fixers had showed him how to soften PVC plastic with a heat blower, and how to cut out a wooden mold that enabled him to bend the bow while it was flexible. The bowstring was made of Dacron II poly-fiber, and the arrows were state of the art carbon straight from a 3D printer, with feather shafts he’d attached himself. While the PVC was free, and the quiver he’d sewn together from old denim pants, the other pieces were expensive. That’s why he hated losing merit points. They were the currency he needed to get the best gear.

By noon, when the priests were ready to walk back, Sohl had hunted two small quail and one unlucky squirrel. He would have to wash thoroughly after he dressed the animals, but the priests understood the necessity of hunting, and of the god Mazda providing sustenance for his flock of faithful. Sohl was proud of himself. Rory might beat him at fighting and wrestling, but Sohl was one of the top four hunters in the village.

They arrived at the arcology just as the rest of the villagers were finishing up their lunch. Usually, people ate light meals: only an apple or orange, and a bag of chips or crackers washed down with vitamin water.

A lot of young people watched Sohl coming in with the priests, and sitting down at their table after he’d passed off his catch. His father wasn’t around, thankfully, but Brittney Valeta looked angry, and Dirk Diluh walked around with his arm in a sling. His sister wanted to say something to him, but she did not want to approach the priests, so she went elsewhere. Only Sohl’s mother had the courage to walk over, but all she did was compliment him on his hunting. She might have wanted to say something past that, but not in front of the priests.

“Next time, you bring me some quail eggs and I’ll make you a nice omelet out of them.” She said, just before she left.

“Can I still be a hunter if I’m accepted as a priest?” He asked the elders.

“You can still be a hunter, if you are hunting for sustenance and not glory.” One answered.

“I can’t make up my mind on what career I want.” He said. That was something he’d wanted to bring up all morning, but had been too timid to speak about until now. “I think I’ll like being a priest, but I also like hunting, and I also like fixing things.” He could have added that he liked farming as well, but at the moment he was upset at his farmer father for telling on him. “I can’t figure out what will bring out the best of me.”

“If you put your best effort into your tasks, you will bring the best out of yourself.” The elder told him. “Regardless of what career you choose.”

“But I can’t decide what to do!”

The second elder replied this time. “Meditate your concerns to Ahura Mazda. Ask for god to bring guidance into your life.”

“I’m going to do that.” Sohl decided. “Tonight when I go in the meditation room, I’m going to do that.”

While mornings were reserved for cleaning one’s residential building, afternoons were pretty much open. Sohl had choices. He could play sports, learn arts and crafts, work on his potential career choice, or simply hang out with people he was cool with and do nothing. All of those choices would leave him accessible to nosy rumor-starters. To avoid any questions about Dirk or Brittney, he went into Silver Building and made himself useful there. There wasn’t much to do, since only eight older people lived in the arcology and they’d taken care of the most crucial things themselves, like emptying out bedpans for those who were too frail to walk to the toilets at night.

Sohl went to the roof to check on the tank’s water level; it was more than half full. He looked into the toilet and shower area; it was clean. His next idea was to knock on every elder’s door, and ask the elders personally if they needed anything.

One of the elder priests lived in Silver Building. He walked into the hallway and motioned for Sohl to step closer. “What is this I hear about you losing merit points?”

“Do you really want to know?” Sohl asked. “You might get offended.”

The priest smiled. “I think I’m too old to get offended.”

Sohl took a deep breath and let it all out. He told the priest about Rory’s harassment, Dirk’s motorboat comment about his mother, and his father’s betrayal of him to Katt Steward. Since he was revealing so much already, he added last night’s confrontation with Rory and Dirk too.

The priest listened quietly, nodding a few times. When Sohl finished, the older man placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “This conflict took place because of three men and one woman. That should be a lesson in and of itself, yes, of how men can get overwhelmed in their jealousies of one another. Dirk was a manipulator, and perhaps Brittney as well.”

“Brittney? Why her?”

“Your sister hinted that Brittney might like you. Is your Brittney one of your sister’s close friends?”

“No. They barely even talk.”

“Why would Brittney give your sister the impression that she might like you?”

“Because she likes me?” Sohl shrugged.

“Perhaps, but wouldn’t it be easier if Brittney told you herself, or told one of her friends to mention it to you? How many days are left until Spring Festival?”

“Less than a week.”

“We are talking about marriage for the next five years at least, Sohl. If Brittney really liked you, I think you would know about it by now. One way or another, she would have reached out and gotten your attention a long time ago.”

“Wait… So Dirk wants me and Rory to fight so he can marry Brittney, and Brittney lied to my sister so I’ll think Brittney likes me? I don’t get it. Why would she do that?”

“A boastful spirit, perhaps?” The elder guessed. “To say she had three suitors after her for Spring Festival would surely disappoint the other girls who had none. Brittney would be seen as the biggest catch of them all.”

“Oh.” Sohl said. “I didn’t think about that.”

“But that isn’t what bothered you, is it? No, what bothers you the most is that your father meddled into your affairs and made them his affair. Your father stepped into your world, and now it is going to cost you merit points.”

“Don’t mention any of this to my father.” Sohl said. “It will just make things worse.”

“If I did that, I would be stirring the pot, wouldn’t I? It is up to you to find your legs and make amends with your father and Katt, if you believe in your heart that you offended them. Do you believe you were at fault?”

“No. I’ve been fighting with Rory for years now. Most of the time he wins, but I’ve beaten him a couple of times and he knows it. I believe I have to stand up for myself because that is how I will find my legs to stand on my own.”

“Would you say that your actions against Dirk were done out of purity?”

Sohl had to think the question over for a few moments. “Yes, because I was defending my mother. If I let Rory and Dirk get away with it, they’ll be taunting me forever. Am I right?”

“If you were defending against lies and manipulation, you are fighting the good against the evil. That is the lesson you are learning well. The loss of merit points is regrettable, but our god Mazda sees injustices. You will have your reward, possibly in some way you don’t expect.”

“Evil must be cast off one’s back for there to be purity.”

“You have done that. If someone does you wrong, you can forgive, but you can also move away from that person so you will not be wronged a second time. You feel that your father has wronged you, but was your father acting out of malice, or out of concern?”

“My father wants me to be his duplicate. He wants me to be him, but I’m not like that. If my father was my age, Rory would run over him every day of the week.”

“If your father was your age, and he tattled on you to Katt, how would you react to that? I want you to answer that question tonight during our meditation. You said you needed a task. Why don’t you take Dessa out for a walk? I’m sure she would be grateful.”

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