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The Maker of Duramere

Written by Lis Vilas Boas

Edited by Vanessa Guedes

Translated by Julia Serrano[i]

Copyedited by Natalle Moura



The reptilian pupils took a while to adjust to the bright neon lights of the Worlds’ Fair. Cipriano followed curiously the movement of the old lady between stands. His interest increased when she started beelining towards him.

It was a day just like any other on the Fair, which happened every Tuesday of the even months on the Fifth Republic’s calendar. As usual, Cipriano and his robot had arrived quite early because they enjoyed taking their sweet time putting together the stand, and their sector was near the end of the platform. The downside was the noise coming from the generators of the vacuum-magnetic dome but the good side was it had the best view of the asteroid belt and the endless sky behind it. Not that the background had any influence on the sales—no—but since sales were slow, Cipriano enjoyed having the scenery to admire. And that’s what he was doing until he noticed the old lady walking up to him while ignoring all the high-tech stands.

She didn’t seem interested in those luminous signboards announcing the latest engineering marvels—habitational satellites, hyperspace trekker houses, atom-sized mega constructions. She didn’t even look up when passing under the hologram of the most recent feat by the engineering masters: a one-person planet made-to-measure, fully customizable—The ad orbiting over the projection read “Because space is never too big to you!”. The old lady was really not the usual type of customer at the Fair, much less the kind who used to go to his stand.

Most of Cipriano’s sales came from engineers wanting to include a city in their projects—a curious item that moon and planet owners could show off to possible visitors, a pseudointellectual conversation catalyst. (Like the usual “And to think people used to live like this, all together” or even “how fabulously archaic; such a human thing to do”.)

The truth was he didn’t like these fanciful commissions, but they paid the bills and his more self-indulgent artisanal projects. So, he tried not to get overly excited about the human’s approach and the potential project she might be bringing him. She was short and used old Solar System clothing, most notably her dainty crocheted coat, worn on the elbows. Her dark skin had few wrinkles, and it contrasted with the gray hair in a bun—she must’ve had a good aging-neutralizer implant. She might’ve been around her 50’s-100’s or 100’s-200’s, hard to tell.

Cipriano put his coffee aside and offered her his best businessman smile, it showed the sharp teeth of his species.

“Good morning!”

“It’s already afternoon in the Solar System.”

“Yes, I understand, but at the Fair, we work in the Fifth Republic time zone.”

“Good afternoon,” the elderly woman insisted.

“Good afternoon… How may I help you?”

“Is this Cipriano’s stall?”

“Indeed, it is! I’m Cipriano and here you’ll find the perfect polis for you!”

“That is not a very good slogan.”

“Oh... yes, right, thank you. I’ll add your note to the suggestions box. Meanwhile”—and with a signal from him, his robot activated the counter and lit up the display with holographic models of the cities he had made—“why don’t you examine the showcased pieces? These are just some of the basic models, completely adjustable to fit your tastes and needs. I also work with pre-made blueprints if you have one.”

She stared at the robot, a hovering domestic unit, with some distrust. Cipriano tried to bring her attention back to the showcase.

“See, we have coastal cities, big and small. Mountain villages, megalomaniac metropolises… What is it you desire? 

It would be impolite to ask right out of the gate how much she was willing to pay, and he had a soft spot on this matter anyway. He did it for the art, not the credit.

“I want a good place for my granddaughters to live in.”

Despite the critical eye watching the holograms, the voice came full of emotion—something as rare as cities in those days, after the emotion inhibitors had become a fever among humans. Cipriano sometimes didn’t understand that species, always trying to become another, always ashamed of its own physiological processes. He got along better with humans when they presented themselves in a way like that lady—as they were, just people.

“Grandma!”

A little girl came running with a milkshake in her hand. After her, came a woman with a gaze so stern it blasted through Cipriano like a laser welding machine—he put his hands to his chest to make sure the plates of his carapace hadn’t melted. There it was, the other type of human being that he liked very much, even though his reptilian body was rarely liked back.

The child went on a speedy retelling of her virtual mini rollercoaster experience from five stands ago. The older one stopped and crossed her arms, staring at Cipriano with such animosity it warmed his cold blood and made his slow heartbeat faster. Both were really similar to their grandmother.

“Have you explained to Miss Difficult here yet that her project is impossible?” the lady raised an eyebrow.

The reptilian ears were capable of attributing different sensations to sounds, and that woman’s voice was sharp. Not low, not high, just the perfect frequency to slice him to bits and make him feel grateful for it.

“Well, see, I don’t—”

“It’s not impossible,” the grandmother interrupted.

“It is! Cities need space, organization, and people!” The lady sighed, covering her nose with a hand. “Besides, you can’t afford it.”

For a few seconds, the sound of the youngest sucking on her milkshake dominated the conversation. The robot emitted an awkward beep. The face of the old lady was frozen in a mask of determination—her gaze gleamed with the tears at the corner of her eyes, and at that moment, Cipriano found the answer to the question he hadn’t asked. It seemed she was willing to pay any price, even if she didn’t have enough credits at that moment.

Cipriano cleared his throat, trying to dissipate the tension. And, also, if he were to be completely honest, to turn the angry lady’s gaze back to him.

“I’m sure we can find an adequate—”

“If you are an honest artisan, you’ll not fuel her delusion.”

With words as sharp as her voice, she shot him a furious look before walking away. It was all so fast, but Cipriano caught a glimpse of a stubborn tear trying to escape her eye.

“Melina, dear,” the old lady said softly, “go after your sister.”

The little girl stared at her grandmother and then at Cipriano. She exuded cuteness from every pore and could melt him in a whole different way. If he stayed a while longer with that family, he’d need a couple of days in a hibernation chamber to collect himself.

“Sir, I want a blue ice cream shop in the city, is that okay?

“That can certainly be arranged.”

She smiled and ran off calling for her sister.

“Laila, wait!”

Cipriano and the old lady looked at each other. From the pocket of her dainty crocheted coat, she took out a chip and left it on the counter.

“Your models are beautiful, but all I want is in this book” she smiled her resignation “Plus the blue ice cream shop.”

“Of course, and regarding the service fee we could…” he trailed off when she waved her hand in the air and turned away from him.

“I’ll come back next week to see the first draft.”

 

 

 

Cipriano waited until he was at his house-ship[ii] to access the chip. It was a novel. “Postcards from Duramere”, by Cerolina Aman.

Over at the purplish sky full of stars of Duramere, a spaceship cut through the atmosphere, drawing closer, making a human heart beat faster.

The start was enough to hook Cipriano. He was so absorbed he forgot to turn on the heat lamps, and his body began to cool and turn mellow while he lost himself in the streets of the story and the love of Lita and Pérolo. He was saved by the robot, which initiated the emergency protocol after six hours of continued torpor—lying still, reading the holographic book, considerably smitten.

He started planning as soon as his reptilian organs warmed up enough, still under the reproaching beeps of the robot. Working without assurance of payment was never a good idea, but at this point, he cared less about the job than he did about the satisfaction of inspired creation. 

He planned its curved streets, buildings that leaned to the right, the hanging gardens…] It wasn’t hard to make space for the blue ice cream shop, because Duramere had been made for dreams, it had perfect descriptions of relevant places and tourist attractions but left open alleys where new things could emerge. He thought of Pérolo’s sighs to mold empty spaces and of Lita’s eyes to choose the colors.

For the materials, Cipriano had to be even more imaginative. He thought about how a sharp voice would better reverberate through the buildings and how coily hair would sway as the wind blew between buildings.

 

 

A week later, he was rereading the book for the tenth time, wandering through the fictional city and completely oblivious to the Worlds’ Fair, when the rasping sound of a throat brought him back to reality. The sound was so intense it made all the plates that covered his body shiver.

“She couldn’t come.”

It was the woman, Laila, as angry and sharp as she was the last time he’d seen her. He wanted to ask her if she’d like to go for a walk in Duramere, but instead, he just put on his businessman smile. His thermosensitive eyes saw her cheeks warming up, captured the subtle shaking of her head, and so his own heart beat faster in return.

“She’s in a health unit.”

“And you came to check the initial draft in her place?”

“No, I came to make sure this madness doesn’t go any further. I don’t wanna waste your time and—”

Laila swallowed hard, staring at the counter where Cipriano had left the holographic book open. Her face was livid.

“Have you read it?”

“I’d say rather I was transported. I could close my eyes and see myself in its streets, I’d feel the warmth of the kiosks at the square and the smell of—”

“The smell of the carnivore flowers by the lake,” she finished in a whisper, the corners of her mouth tilting up slightly. “You don’t need to quote Duramere for me, sir.”

“My name is Cipriano, no need for honorifics. I’m not even old enough for them by reptilian standards[iii]…”

Her almost-smile widened just a tiny bit larger before she sighed. Laila turned her back on him and leaned against the counter, sending a citric perfume to his nostrils—he quickly thought to himself that he could replicate the scent in the gardens of New Duramere, as he’d been naming the project.

“Do many people come here commissioning nostalgic cities?”

“Almost no one,” he leaned on the counter, getting closer to the scent, “People see cities as something from the past, from the times of barbaric humans. Deep down, I think they’re scared.”

“Why?”

“Living in a city means to stare into a kind of mirror, to know who you are and the attitude you have towards your community. People might pretend they don’t, but everybody knows… In a city you can’t escape the others, nor what they show about you. It’s less embarrassing to live alone in a spaceship or in cohabitation facilities where no one meets.”

“Maybe…”

“Do you miss living with more people?”

“Physiologically, no,” she whispered.

They stared at the Fair in silence. Cipriano’s mind wandered slowly through the scenery and then refocused on Laila and the reason she might not want the city. He asked himself who was this other she preferred to run away from.

“That’s not why I don’t want my grandmother to spend all her money on a city, “she said as if reading his thoughts. “People will always need one another, in a city or not.”

“Then, why?”

“Because people also need to live in the real world. It’s not the dream of a writer that Melina and I need.”

Her razor-sharp tone was back, and as Cipriano’s blood rushed, his ears noticed how her voice faltered at the word writer. It wasn’t his place to ask, but he wished it was.

“Your grandmother only wishes to give you the best that she can.” 

“But that’s not what we need.”

“Maybe. Or maybe giving you Duramere is what she needs. You don’t need to live in this dream if you don’t want to, but… Look around you. Hasn’t living in a dream actually been the dream of so many species for millennia? Choosing the dream to live in doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”

Laila gave him a side glance, there was a different gleam showing there.

“Didn’t know reptilians were such dreamers.”

“Physiologically, no,” he smiled. “We make up for it with art.”

 

 

 

When he wasn’t thinking about Laila and wondering if their conversation had been enough to convince her, Cipriano dedicated himself to creating something to awe her.

In the book, Lita and Pérolo met each other at the must-see destinations and missed each other in day-to-day life. They fell for each other in the most beautiful places and found not-so-great features at the edges of town. The first kiss happened in between, in a nameless street that became the couple’s favorite. Cipriano tried to fix the problems, he gave good houses and businesses to the suburbs, and widened streets where buses couldn’t go through, but left them winding. He wanted to give the project the same possibilities as the story—that people could love each other, and that this love turned the city into this magical place he was transported into when he read the book.

He finished the project and began the construction using space junk and stardust. He had to scrape together all the savings he had, even using those materials that cheapened after the dark matter manipulation technologies had exploded in the market.

 

 

 

Everything was ready when he met them again. The old lady was already at the stall when he arrived at the Fair, sitting in a magnetic wheelchair with installed life support.

“Oh, what a pleasure to see you! How have you been?”

“I’ve been… I’ve been debilitated in a hospital ship for a while, and I hope Laila didn't make you give it up.”

“Not at all. I—”

“Grandma!”

The scene repeated itself, but it was Laila that came running this time, followed by Melina that walked behind her, again with a milkshake.

“You were not discharged!”

“Those lazy folks were taking too long, so I discharged myself, and came to check on our city.”

“It is not our city because we’re using the credits to buy you a new health stabilizer!”

“Look, I—” Cipriano tried speaking.

“You stay out of it!” Laila cut him dry.

“Laila, I’m buying this city!”

“No, you’re not! I don’t want a lie.”

“You don’t have to live in it if you don’t want to, you can come to visit because I’m living in Duramere ‘til the end of my days.”

“Which won’t be too long if you don’t use the credits for the right thing!”

The silence afterward tasted like hurt and love in the bifurcated nostrils of Cipriano. Human beings were so conflicting to reptilian senses, maybe that’s why he enjoyed them in their natural state.

“I’m making the city for free,” he said before Laila cut off before hearing it all. That got the attention of all three of them. “I mean, almost. My price is quite symbolic.”

“How much?” The grandmother asked, gleaming eyes.

“A house in the Palmeiras neighborhood, with a store. I also want to live in Duramere. That way you can keep your credits to enjoy the city for many years to come.”

“I don’t think that’s a good deal to you…” The grandmother blinked slowly; her brow furrowed. “But it would be silly not to accept a gift like that, the universe did owe me a debt. What do you say, Laila?”

The woman stared at Cipriano, jaw dropped and looking outraged.

“Doesn’t make a difference, it’s still just a dream.”

She went away without saying goodbye, painfully stinging the reptilian heart. Maybe he deserved it for meddling in family matters, but he wasn't one to turn down life's opportunities either.

“Sir?” Melina called after her sister disappeared in the crowd. “Can you make a chocolate factory for Laila? In case she changes her mind and comes live with us?”

“I can… But isn’t that from a different book?”

“Yeah, but my mom always said that many stories can fit in Duramere.”

“You know what?... I’m counting on it.”

 

 

 

Cerolina Aman was the daughter of Cássia Aman, who had told him everything after they moved to New Duramere.

The city orbited a small moon at the Coralonar System, at the edges of the Fifth Republic, exactly where its author had wished. For the novelty of it, there was already a list of people interested in living there—a couple of fans of the book, and a handful of people wanting to go back to the old ways. But for now, there were only the three of them and the words of the novel echoing through the streets.

“Cerolina wrote the book for the girls’ father, before she found out he didn’t deserve its dedication and left the three of them behind,” Cássia told him one day while they walked around the Seasons’ Square.

“So, that’s why Laila…”

“Fear and stubbornness,” she sighed. “My daughter died searching for the idiot, believing in the dream. That’s why Laila thinks dreams are not worth it, she thinks you’ll always wake up in a nightmare.”

They both watched as Melina played at the pneumatic seesaw accompanied silently by the robot. She must also have had her own childish traumas from that story.

“And how about you? Why did you really want all of this?”

“Duramere was the last place where my daughter was happy. I couldn’t give this to her in life, but at least it’s here for the girls now. And so, I can be happy too.”

Cipriano accepted the answer, he knew he’d have time to figure out deeper motivations. For now, the excitement of inhabiting his own creation was enough. He was satisfied with himself and full of hope.

“I added the chocolate factory.”

Cássia laughed.

“Didn’t know reptilians were romantics.”

“Physiologically, no. We make up for it with art.”

The words stirred in him a yearning along with the citric scent he made certain to spread throughout the city.

“Do you think she’ll come? One day?”

“Laila, at the end of the day, is just like her mother… And right now, she’s the only one with our location…” Cássia smiled pointing upward.

Over at the purplish sky full of stars of Duramere, a spaceship cut through the atmosphere, drawing closer, making a reptilian heart beat faster.


 

[i] All the translator’s notes were authorized by the original author, Lis Vilas Boas. I thank her very much for allowing me to indulge myself.

[ii] Translator’s note: not to be confused with the big house ships from more ancient and Earthly times.

[iii] Translator’s note: Reptilians, much like Brazilians, address older male individuals as "sir".


Lis Villas Boas

Lis Villas Boas was born in Volta Redonda, a city in the state of Rio de Janeiro, named after the round shape of a river stream. The historical town is a place of innovation and political movements, surrounded by other historical villages in the area of the coffee cycle.. Lis is a speculative fiction writer, represented by Magh Agency, and an oceanography researcher at UERJ. She has works published by Pretérita, Faísca (Mafagafo), Hexagon and Seaborn magazines. She lives with her husband in Rio. Lis is also very fond of coffee and red jelly beans.

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