Cyberpunk Challenge: Nightfish Part 10

Story Part 6

Dessa was the oldest person at the arcology, so old she could not remember her exact age anymore. The closest she could come was eighty-something. The woman was light-skinned with gray-white hair, and had a unique head and face that set her apart from everyone else in the village. Dessa’s forehead was wide, her eyes set close on either side of a long, thin nose, her head the shape of an upright rectangle. It was possible, according to the rumors, that Dessa had been an artificial baby, designed and grown, but not born from a human mother. Maybe that helped to explain her deteriorated mental and physical state, as if her genetic material simply gave up working earlier than it did on natural people. Another rumor hinted that she was very beautiful when she was young, and had been a gifted dancer, with enough wealth to help the Stewards buy the supplies used to build the arcology.

Regardless, Dessa could barely walk, even after several surgeries in Triumph City to strengthen her body. Her ligaments had worn out, resulting in her leg bones grinding against each other, causing her pain if she even stood up for too long. Dessa moved around on a tread-chair. Mostly, she stayed in the flatter pentagonal open area in the center of the buildings. If she went out to where the groves were, her tread-chair’s equilibrium sensors would sometimes have trouble tracking uneven ground. The tread-chair was not stuck, but it worried it might tip forward or sideways, and it would start beeping until someone pushed it to a flatter patch of land. The chair was designed for sidewalks and floors, not the great outdoors.

Dessa maneuvered the chair as far as she could outside the arcology, before setting it on manual to avoid any beeping. After that, Sohl pushed it under the shade of an apple tree.

“I haven’t been out here in over a week.” She smiled at her young escort. “Will you fetch me an apple? They look so sweet.”

“They’re not sweet, they’re tart.” Sohl replied, but he went ahead and stretched his arm up into the branches and pulled a couple of them down.

One thing that had not failed on Odessa was her teeth. They were complete, crispy white and sharp. She could still chew her way through a stubborn apple. It took her twice as long as most people to swallow, however. She said she had to make apple sauce first, because even small bits tended to give her throat trouble if they had edges on them.

“I’m in the mood for an orange.” Sohl said. The orange trees were a short distance away. He jogged over and picked two fat ones, because he always picked two of everything. He’d gotten the idea from the priests: pick one for yourself, and one to give the next person who you come across, and then two people will be happy instead of only one.

Sohl had accompanied Dessa out before, but her memory was faulty and she sometimes forgot. On some days, she would repeat stories because she didn’t recall that she’d already told them to Sohl. Today, the young man soon discovered, she was unusually lucid.

“Tell me about Triumph City.” He said. “I was three years old when my parents came out to the arcology. I don’t remember anything about it.”

Dessa smiled and started talking, saying things he’d never heard before and could not verify to see if they were true or not.

“I was a dancing prodigy at three years old.” She said. “People would pay money to see me perform onstage. It was almost as if I could float on air when I leaped. My bones were designed to be light, you see. They weight a third less than the bones of other women, always have. That is why I have so much trouble with my legs nowadays. I would twirl and pirouette and splay my legs, while dressed like a little princess with a sparkling tiara. That was when I was only three. When I was ten, oh, I remember one time I danced in the Cantrum amphitheater! The other girls couldn’t believe what I was doing and how I could stay airborne for so long. The critics thought I used grav-wires, but I never did. My costume, it twinkled and dazzled. I had a set of wings pinned to my back, and my hair… I looked like a fairy that night, not a princess. A fairy right out of a storybook!”

“You were that young and you knew you wanted to become a dancer?”

“Of course! I had to be a dancer! When I was a baby, my mother would stretch my arms and legs to give me extra flexibility. She knew she had to be careful, you see, because my bones are so light. All I ever knew was dancing, and all I ever wanted to be was a dancer!”

“Did you want to be the best dancer in the whole city?”

“Oh, that came later.” Dessa reflected. “During my teenage years. Before that, I danced simply for the pleasure of dancing. When I grew into a teenager, that’s when things became more complicated. I had rivals, you see, who couldn’t stand that I could do things they could not. For a time, I was banned from entering competitions, for about six months when the critics found out about my genetic alterations. The critics were all hypocrites. Every girl I competed against had some kind of enhancement. Most had facial surgeries or breast and hip sculpturing. A few had flexi-joints, and let me tell you, they were a marvel to watch! Not a one of those girls had lighter bones, mind you, but only because their mothers didn’t think of it like mine did.”

“Did you ever want to do anything else, other than dancing?”

Dessa laughed. “Are you crazy? Dancing was my life! My entire life!”

#####

“Where have you been?” Sohl’s sister asked.

He’d stayed with Dessa until just past dark. Septima had run up to him right after he’d come out of Silver Building, where he’d taken the old woman to her sleeping quarters. They stood near a low glare, solar-powered light mounted over the door.

“Is something wrong?” He asked.

“Did you really break Dirk’s arm?”

“Is that what people are saying? More like he broke his own arm. I was standing in front of the wall, he ran at me, and I moved out of the way. Anybody that says different is a liar.”

“Are you telling people that you don’t like Brittney? She’s mad at you right now.”

“What’s going on, Sep? Are you gossiping about me like everybody else?”

“Come on, Sohl!” His sister whined. “The Spring Festival is one of the biggest party days we have all year! I just want to find out who you might end up with!”

“Dirk is starting rumors about me, Brittney is starting rumors about me, and now you? If Brittney really liked me, why didn’t she tell me herself?”

“Sohl, please. A girl is not going to walk up to you and tell you she likes you. Think about it! If you liked a girl, and you walked up to her and said you liked her, what if she laughs in your face? That would make you feel really bad, wouldn’t it?”

Sohl suspired. “Yeah, I guess it would. I still don’t think she likes me. If she did, she wouldn’t wait until a few days before the festival to send you to tell me. I think she’s doing it for the attention, so she can say she had Rory, Dirk and me chasing after her.”

“Tell me who you do like.”

“I don’t like anyone!”

Septima made a puppy dog face at him. “You have to like somebody. Pweese, pweeese tell me who it is?”

“All right, let me think.” He relented. “I am not going to marry anyone at this year’s festival. First, I’m going to figure out what career I want. Once I know what my job is going to be, I can run a compatibility search on our library computer. If I am going to be a hunter, I need to make sure my wife is into hunting. If I’m going to be a fixer, same thing.”

“My friends and I have been running that program for weeks now.” Septima admitted. “We have been creating profiles from all the info we have available. You know, all those vocational tests, aptitude tests, and personality questionnaires we take. I know who would make a plus-seventy percent match with you.”

“Don’t tell me that! Now I want to know who the computer matched me up with!”

“Tamsin.”

“Really?”

Septima nodded. “That’s from her point of view, as if she input all her information. We couldn’t do it for you because you’re so fickle!”

“Fickle? What does that mean exactly?”

“It means you can’t make up your mind because you do so many things so well. If we enter your info with you as a hunter, we get one set of matches. If we enter it as a farmer, we get other matches. Tamsin comes out at plus-sixty percent for you, most of the time.”

“I really don’t want to get married, Sep, not even to Tamsin.”

“She’s shy. That’s why she hasn’t told you. But she told somebody, and that somebody told me, and now I’m telling you.”

“Less than a week before Spring Festival? That’s cutting it pretty close, if you ask me. I’m sorry, but Tamsin is just going to have to marry someone else.”

“She said no last year. Do you remember? She could say no this year too, until you think you’re ready. She might wait.”

“Sep, cut it out!” Sohl nearly burst apart. “Why are you so interested in who I’m going to marry, anyway? You know, I bet you’ve done like a hundred match searches on yourself. Who did the computer say you were compatible with?”

“You’ll get mad if I tell you.” She answered.

The first name that popped into Sohl’s mind was Rory.

“If I had more accurate information, maybe I can get a better result for you.” Septima said. “Why don’t you tell me who your ideal woman is? Tell me what she looks like. Tell me what she likes. I’ll enter that into the computer tomorrow.”

“You know, I was supposed to go into Blue Building to meditate with the priests.”

“I’m not leaving until you tell me!”

“You serious?”

“You’re not going anywhere until you tell me!”

“All right! This is pointless, but all right. My ideal woman… Let me think… Okay. My ideal woman is a lot like Mom. Same face, same hair, same everything. If I could do it, I would take DNA samples of Mom and have her cloned until she was my age.”

“You would marry Mom?”

“No, that’s not what I said.” Sohl corrected her. “I said a clone of Mom around my age. That’s a whole different person. All I’d have to do is widen out the dynamic range for the clone and she would be mostly like Mom, but maybe twenty or twenty-five percent different. That would give us a high match percentage, wouldn’t it? Wait, would that be seventy-five percent compatible with me?”

“No, dummy!” Septima laughed. “Mom would have seventy-five percent match with a clone of herself. You know what? I’m going to run an analysis on you and Mom. I’m curious to see what your compatibility with her really is.”

“Just don’t tell her I said that, okay?”

“Oh, my god!” Septima laughed again. “You want to motorboat Mom!”

“I didn’t say that!”

Sohl chased his sister as far as the small, wooden bridge over Gardener Stream. The reason he stopped was because she laughed her way into Green Building, and he didn’t want to run into Brittney or Tamsin, or anybody else for that matter. Instead, he turned back and made his way to Blue Building.

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