Sherri felt her pulse race and her face warm with excitement as she watched the sweating bodies pumping away in front of her. Well-built, heavily muscled men and lithe, perfectly-curved women had gathered in the arena in four large groups and were now working away in perfect synchronicity.
In the grandstands all around them, safely huddled under the huge concrete dome, the rest of the Cyberius III colony were gathered as a cheering mob—each one egging on their favorite team. Through the small skylights in the dome above Sherri could see the sky graying, one of the few nights left for this season. Sherri felt contentment underlying her growing thrill of watching the contest before her, the night signified the end of a weeks hard labor for all the colonists.
The colony had just finished their fourteenth Quarternal Migration and this contest, the highlight of a two-day celebration, had become the colonists' biggest stress relief after the hazardous move. Fan groups and betting sharks had been following team members since training began. Sherri knew some of the participants, and had seen them begin the arduous training almost a year ago.
The arena had been carved out of the bedrock, granite stone cut into concentric rings of smooth, polished seats rising out from the center, and rough surfaced steps, at regular intervals, for access. All to provide the colony citizens a prime view of the action below. At one point of the circle an executive box had been set. Cut from a dark blue marble airlifted from the distant mountains it had been polished to a deep shine. Then set in place in the arena where it stood out like a sentinel against the warm reds of the local granite.
Seated in the executive box Sherri cheered for the Blue Team. The team, designated by the intricate blue decorations they had painstakingly painted onto their bodies, was working the pump handles in perfect rhythm. It wouldn't be long, Sherri knew, before the half-frozen water from the underground streams burst from the huge pump and began to service the North Colony buildings again. Just in time too, with children maturing and new emigrants arriving every week the colony had grown to over five thousand adults. This meant the emergency water they'd stored for their return was almost exhausted. She'd have to commission more reservoirs before they left for South Colony again. Not for another four years, thank God.
"It looks like you are right again, Madam." Praetor congratulated her.
Below them the Blue Team ran squealing and cheering from the torrent of icy water that suddenly burst out from the pump outlet. Within seconds they'd reattached the viaduct which directed the water to the treatment stations. The colony had water again. She checked her timer; they'd broken the record for the fastest time.
With the remaining teams sluggishly finishing their tasks, the Blue Team began their victory lap of the arena. Sherri glowed with satisfaction, ignoring councilman Praetor's distaste. Praetor's favorites, the Green Team, were the last to finish, but then the councilman was known for his habit of backing the losing side. Warmed by the success of her friends under their new team leader, and able to relax now they had a renewed water supply, Sherri finally allowed her childhood memories to surface.
Sherri had been amongst the first arrivals, just grown out into adulthood when the first wells had been sunk. In those days it had been different, and so serious. Getting the water was vital for survival and the entire colony had been involved, children too. There was none of the ritualistic pomp and excitement of today, no arena, no cheering mobs. Just a worried huddle of colonists standing on a small rocky plateau surrounded by trees, watching hopefully—late into the evening—as the wells were sunk. Back then the colonists' only had time, and the material, to sink two wells. But they only needed two, since barely a thousand, half of those sent, had survived the journey through space. Even so, with the elation of their arrival at Cyberius III, a comradely competition had arisen between her father's and Liether's team. Dressed in regulation civvies both teams had raced to charge the pumps.
Being the first to breech the underground caverns and provide fresh water to the parched water systems of their makeshift homes was a major milestone in setting up the colony's independence. It had raised Sherri's father to hero status amongst the colonists. Liether had joined in her father's praise. But then Liether had been far more sensible than his son, Praetor, had become. Sherri still sensed resentment in Praetor at her father's success.
Now, though, the display was all for show and play, a time of frivolity when the children were safely tucked into beds for the night. It would be easier to just prime the pumps mechanically but then, Sherri listened to the roaring crowd, it had become a tradition amongst the colonists to charge them by hand. The two days of celebration surrounding the event helped to keep the tradition alive too and, she realized, most of the colonists sane.
The Blue Team stopped in front of the executive box for the traditional presidential speech. Standing, she smiled warmly at them.
"Will the leader of the Blue Team come forward please?"
She waved them in. Then paused, swallowing as her face flushed.
She hadn't expected this. The mysterious new leader of the Blue Team who stepped forward, and started up the broad steps to the executive box, looked like a movie star from one of the old realvids the massive merchant ships sometimes traded with them. Tanned, muscled and with a handsome chiseled face and tawny gold hair he studied her with blue eyes that glowed brighter than the mid-summer skies. And the traditional swimming thong he wore left nothing to the imagination. Old unfamiliar feelings raged in her chest as Sherri fought to remember the words she'd written in her speech. He was so, so ... God, she hoped he wasn't too young for her.
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