by John Wyatt
“Daddy? Can you help me figure out this math problem?” Gradian, the smallest of Cusia’s children, extended her best ‘I’m cute, so please help me’ look towards Quarkus, who simply sighed and nodded.
“Yes, my little chip, I’ll help.” Quarkus had found Cusia and her children after the concert had dispersed. Job, apparently one of Cusia’s friends, had been frantic and tried to help, but in the end it was Quarkus who did the honorable thing: Quarkus married what was left of Cusia, who now clung happily to his Left side. He adopted her children as his own, and found that he had a true knack for fatherhood. They lived at the edge of the amphitheater, which was as far as Quarkus could push the little ones without running into other Clanbits. Naturally, this gave them seats at every concert!
In truth, Cusia had lost so much weight giving birth that she did not much hinder his traveling. Quarkus had copied the childhood memories he had of her into what remained of her consciousness, which had been more stunned than damaged. In the end, Cusia was restored as a person, though she would always have large memory gaps.
Now that the secret of reproduction was known, Clanbits who planned to have children always made a backup copy of their memories. Backup and restore facilities were being started throughout the World.
“Ok, what’s the problem you’re working on now?” Quarkus rolled closer.
“If a Clanbit leaves the Leftmost Circle at 0FA4 ticks past the Mid-Period, going spinward along the Hyberon line and moving at three revolutions per tick, and another Clanbit leaves the Rightmost Circle at the same time, going anti-spinward along the same line but 50% slower (because it’s harder going anti-spinward), where along the line will they meet, and at what time? The Hyberon line is 34C9 revolutions long.”
“Ack!” Quarkus hiccupped!
“I’m sorry, daddy, were you having Conversation with someone? I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Oh, no. I … just hiccupped. I wasn’t in Conversation. Well, the problems sure are harder than when I was in school!” Quarkus chuckled nervously. He had never been very skilled in mathematics, having never advanced beyond 8-bit counting. This was clearly a 16-bit problem. Quarkus’ nervousness was mixed with pride in his little girl. After all, she could already do 16-bit math! It turned out that the children carried much of their mother’s knowledge, and therefore learned much more quickly.
“Dear, it’s almost dinnertime.” Cusia reminded her husband. “We’d better get the children over to the table.”
“Oh, yes, of course!” Quarkus was elated to have any excuse to avoid admitting his deficiency in mathematics. He slid over and bent enough poles anti-spinward to temporarily attract Gradian, who stuck to him happily! Quarkus felt the child’s inner glow of joy as he rolled over toward the dinner table. Yes, Quarkus thought to himself, she is definitely a chip off Cusia’s block! Quarkus had always loved Cusia’s children, just as if they were his own.
Once he reached the dinner table, he only had to release the energy it took to hold his poles anti-spinward, instantly releasing Gradian onto the table. One of the Gatherers had already spread the fresh smudge on the table – a tasty dust that littered much of the World. For years, the smudge had been ignored by the Clan until they found that it readily clung to Chips, helping them gain in mass and energy. It was also somewhat effective for the mother, but since Cusia was tightly married to Quarkus, the dust simply fell off. However, Cusia was quite happy as a homebody and did not want a divorce.
A means of divorce had been invented by Leptera, involving the laborious turning of poles to reverse Left and Right, but few Clanbits obtained divorces – even ones who had been accidentally married. Pair-bonding, even when unexpected, produced a kind of joy that only came from sharing.
Cusia enjoyed being a constant companion to her childhood friend, Quarkus. Whenever her husband felt lonely, she had only to think towards him and radiate her unbounded love for him. Marriage and motherhood suited her well.
A neighboring Clanbit rolled awkwardly up to the community table, grumping and complaining. Quarkus set about gathering the rest of his children.
“Why is that Clanbit mad, mommy?” little Gradian asked.
“Oh, he has quite a large Chip on his shoulder. That can make rolling and talking awkward at times. Sometimes it even makes you sound grumpy.”
“oh.” She sounded disappointed. Until now, Gradian had never thought of herself as a burden to her parents.
“But dear, it’s well worth it.” Cusia reminded her petulant little Chip. “You children bring joy to my life! I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Oh!” Gradian rolled happily around the table, picking up the fresh smudge. She was not a burden after all! Her parents loved her! The children all knew the story, about how her mother had gotten knocked up at a rolling rock concert, and how the father had left them to fend for themselves. They felt no attachment to their geological father – Quarkus was the only father they had ever known.
Quarkus brought more of the children and dropped them onto the table. The Chips rolled and fed hungrily, at times bouncing playfully with the neighbor children. It would take many periods of feeding before they were large enough to travel on their own, although the three roundest of the children had already left and now held jobs of their own. Photonian, the smartest, was a Router; and Dynen and Centron had left last period to start a family planning clinic, complete with backup and restore facilities for the memories of expectant mothers.
“Daddy?” Gradian mumbled, her Right pole covered with smudge, “when can I have my own IP address?”
“Not for several periods, sweetpole. Not until you can master elementary mathematics and philosophy.” Quarkus cooled a little, having never mastered them himself until his wild travels. Leptera had been a patient teacher and had helped Quarkus to compensate for the odd vein of solid magnetic material that caused his lisp. Now it was barely noticeable.
“Daddy?” little Joulia inquired, “what’s so important about philosophy? I mean, it’s so boring!” The other chips giggled! Most of them enjoyed mathematics intensely, but philosophy was not a subject that caught the interest of most chips.
“Well,” Quarkus had never been much for philosophy either. “Your mother knows more about that than I do.” He quickly spun about so that Cusia was facing the table.
“My dear sweetpoles!” Cusia hummed. “Philosophy tells us how to live and why we exist.”
“I thought we existed to have fun?” one of the neighbor children interjected.
“Fun is nice, but it’s not why we exist. Leptera teaches that we exist to fulfill the Divine Plan by engaging in Conversation. That’s why getting your own IP address is so important. The Divine Will can only become understood and manifest through Conversation.”
All the children hummed assent. They all yearned to join the rest of the Clan in Conversation, though the drudgery of philosophy bored them to fragments!
“BOP! You’re It!” Barryon spun across the smudge, rolling into Gradian and knocking her to the side as he slid away.
“Oh! I’ll get you!” Gradian spun about and smacked into her sister Joulia, sending her caroming into Barryon.
“Well,” Cusia sighed, “I guess it’s playtime now. Alright, you can all play Ballyards for awhile – but be sure you don’t knock anyone off the table!”
Soon, all the chips were happily spinning, bouncing, and caroming off each other. Ballyards was all the rage these days. The teacher, Ballyar, had originally invented the game as a learning tool at his academy – to teach pole-spin coordination skills. The game was an instant hit! Now he was off building Ballyard rinks.
For many periods, schools had taught pole spinning with an aim to preventing unwanted marriage, rather than just focusing on counting. Some of the more stationary Clanbits frowned on the occasional ‘one-smack-stands’ of casual mating, so they definitely frowned on Ballyards; but Cusia failed to see the harm in a simple game. She trusted the Chips to spin their poles correctly to avoid unwanted bonding.
“Look at me! I’m SPINNING!!!!!!” Gradian giggled loudly! She slid across the table, gyrating in circles, spinning from several bounces off of her siblings. Gradian began singing as she spun.
“La la – la le la!” her little voice seemed to warble like a coloratura.
“I call this ‘Ball-ay’ singing!” Gradian had invented her own style of singing as she spun, combining the grace of Ballyards with song.
“Slide off me!” a little neighbor boy called. Cusia watched in awe as the little neighbor chip, Itch she thought he was called, slid into Gradian’s path. The girl spun as she rolled, glancing upwards as she slid across the little chip, flying high into the air in a graceful pirouette! Cusia had never seen anything like this! The children no longer just banged and rolled around – they were graceful in their movements! Then a thought struck her!
“Ahem … Quarkus, … my dear?”
“Yes, Cusia darling?”
“You know, we DO live right near the edge of the amphitheater.”
“Uh, yes. So?”
“And we DO help setup and manage the chipcare while people attend the concert.” Cusia beamed softly. “So the Banned people should really be grateful for all our help.”
“Uh, yes?” Quarkus sensed that Cusia was leading him up to something.
“Well, what if … just for the sake of argument … what if the children put on a show sometime? In the amphitheater. They can spin and sing quite gracefully. You’ve seen them. Don’t you think that people would enjoy seeing them dance?”
“OW! Get your pole out of my ear!” A chip’s cry howled across the table!
“Well watch where you’re spinning!” Gradian had gotten into an altercation with one of the neighbor girls.
“Don’t get all anti-spinward on ME!”
“I’m not!” Gradian skipped away from the girl, who was bouncing up and down on the table, scattering loose smudge over everyone.
“Careful!” Gradian taunted. “You’ll bounce too hard and get knocked up!”
“She’s just a child.” Cusia remarked. “And please stop fighting.”
“We aren’t fighting, mom. We’re discussing!”
“You’re disgusting is more like it!” the new girl taunted. “Besides, I don’t have a boyfriend to reproduce with. So there!” she stuck her pole out as a deliberate taunt.
“Well, don’t bounce too hard – or you’ll, oh, well, just go ahead! Bounce as hard as you like! Maybe you’ll just go and reproduce yourself!”
“Gradian!” Quarkus barked. “Be polite. I declare, I’ve never seen Clanbits argue as much as you chips!”
“Well, she ran into me first.” The new girl chided.
“That’s because you weren’t watching where I was going!” Gradian countered.
WHAMMMM!!!!! The smudge table shook hard, jarring the whole batch of chips.
“Alright, Chips! That’s enough!” Quarkus and Cusia had spun in concert, landing their combined mass onto the table. “Dinner is over! You chips get so hyperactive when you overeat! Now it’s time to go rest in your pockets so you can absorb your food properly.” The chips sat perfectly still. “GO!” Quarkus shouted! The chips scrambled for their home pockets – small, round depressions where they would rest and absorb their food. The depressions helped them to achieve a good roundness to their forms – ensuring they would grow up to be nimble travelers.
“Well, that’s more like it!” Quarkus commented, after the children were all in their resting pockets. “I declare, Cusia, we should start feeding these chips at low warmth! Maybe that will keep them calm!”
“Yes, dear. I know it would. You always say that.”
“Well, it would, you know.” Quarkus knew that Cusia had always been the more tolerant one. “I still think it’s a good idea.”
“Yes, dear. You know that smudge doesn’t bond as well during low warmth; but, I suppose their diet doesn’t matter as much as our peace and quiet.” Cusia started humming Gradian’s little ball-ay tune to herself.
“Well….” Quarkus hesitated, “I guess, I mean, of course their nourishment comes first. I’m just afraid that someone will get reproduced – accidentally, I mean.”
“Yes, dear. I know what you mean. I know you love the children very much. You’ll always do what’s best for them.”
“Hummph!” Quarkus rolled over and saw that the neighbors were putting their own chips to rest. “Maybe if we got our own table – a private table?”
Cusia snorted lightly. “And miss all the table chat? Not see our own neighbors?”
“I don’t even know half their names! I tell you, this reproduction craze is making this place more and more crowded!” Quarkus grumped as he slid along the table edge, pushing the left over smudge into a pile. The chips could have leftovers next period.
“I know, dear.” Cusia hummed happily while Quarkus cleaned up. The neighbors pitched in as well. Table arguments were becoming more frequent, and Quarkus feared that someday they would all be reproduced by it. But Cusia did not share his fear of reproduction, and why should she? She was the first Clanbit to ever reproduce, and though it had crippled her for life, she never seemed to regret giving up movement to have children.
“I guess I’m just restless sometimes.” Quarkus offered as an apology. “I guess it’s harmless enough.”
Still, he felt the fear that all fathers feel. He was watching his children grow up – and someday, they would no longer need him. What would he do when he and Cusia were no longer the center of their lives? It was painful enough when Photonian had left; and he had done his best to keep from crying when Dynen and Centron had left to start a family planning center. Now there were less than a dozen chips left, not counting the neighbor chips.
“So, Quarkus dear?” Cusia asked. “What do you think of having the children perform their dance in the amphitheater?”
“Do what? Oh.” He had nearly forgotten her earlier suggestion. “Well, I don’t see why not. Sure. I’ll see when they can schedule a performance.”
“They look so cute when they’re sleeping, don’t they dear?” Cusia sighed with love, gazing at her children. They were unexpected, yes. But they were also loved – and wanted. Cusia knew that this happiness, and her love for Quarkus, would last for eternity.
The noonday sun shone hard on the ground below. Small pockmarks had begun appearing in the rock field, occasionally occupied by small, dusty pebbles and fragments. The hot sun baked the plutonium-rich smudge into a hard shell, causing the fragments to grow larger and rounder, like smooth river pebbles. They were much smoother than most of the original stones, and quickly became the most nimble of all.
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