Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Seventy
11th January 1974
Contrary to what many people seemed to think, Ziska was hardly helpless. Provided that prosthesis on her right leg was adjusted properly, she could walk without much undue difficulty. The trouble was that it was difficult to keep the complex device made up of fiberglass, springs, and metal hinges working properly. If any part of it went wrong, it swiftly became cumbersome and annoying. She also risked injury to her good leg and in a disgustingly ironic twist, the portion of her right leg that she still had in the process. There had been a day months earlier when she had been clothes shopping with her mother and sister that had been particularly dark when it had all been going wrong at once. Ziska had refused to take another step and had just wanted to go home. They had been less than understanding.
Later, she had talked with the same Orthopedic Specialist who she had been seeing since she was a small child about what had happened. “We are trying to replace with artifice what was perfected by evolution over millennia” He said, “And as clever as we are, we cannot build better than what we are trying to replace. The weight is wrong and the field of movement of the human ankle is difficult to duplicate, so we do the best we can.”
Basically, it came down to the acceptance of her own disability and Ziska’s own rebellion against those who didn’t understand it. The later was a circle of people that seemed to be growing by the hour. That was hardly a surprise. Ziska’s older sister had never been kind to her, occasionally crossing the line into outright cruelty. Her mother though, she expected Ziska to be normal, that was impossible, and as Ziska grew older, her mother’s impatience with her seemed to be increasing.
All of that was at the forefront of Ziska’s mind as she listened to Sophie’s latest frustration. It seemed like everything, without many exceptions, Sophie eventually turned into frustration. The most galling part this time was that it involved cycling. A few years earlier, Sophie had taught her how to ride and it had been like something from a dream. Flying down hills in a way that she never could have before. The bicycles that both of them had back then, the one that Ziska still had, were built for families. Heavy, well-constructed, with solid step-through frames, up-right geometry, and platform pedals. Perfect for someone like Ziska who discovered that the racing bicycles that Sophie had gotten into were nearly impossible for her to ride. That alone sort of cast a pall over the whole thing, but now Sophie had found a whole new thing to complain about.
“She isn’t interested in what I can do” Sophie said, “Her interest in me is entirely because she wants Katherine’s sponsorship.”
It was unbelievable, it seemed like Sophie had come to define her entire life around refusing to compromise. It was difficult for Ziska because she had been forced to compromise one way or another her entire life due to being disabled.
The latest example of this was when Alida Baruch entered the picture. She had been a world-class athlete from the Netherlands a decade earlier as a sprinter in track and field. She had gotten into cycling after an injury had sidelined her and was part of a group that was trying to get Women’s Cycling made an Olympic event. That effort had brought her to Berlin where she apparently figured that growing interest in the sport was an opening. The thing was that she needed money, numbers, and visibility. The offer to give Sophie Pauline Sommers, the fourteen-year-old ward of Kurfürstin Katherine von Mischner zu Berlin a chance to try out for the team she was building fit her needs perfectly in all three of those areas. Of course, Sophie being Sophie, she didn’t trust any of it, not for a second.
“Isn’t it what you want though?” Ziska asked.
“Anyone who gives you something can always just take it away” Sophie replied flatly as she had countless times before.
It was her typical response.
Ziska had realized that it was actually about power and trust. Sophie didn’t want anyone she didn’t trust to have power over her. Except for Ziska, Sophie’s half-sister Gabi and perhaps Katherine and her husband, Sophie didn’t really trust anyone. If someone gave anything to her, she felt beholden to them and that was unacceptable.
“That isn’t what is happening” Ziska said choosing her words carefully, if Sophie got defensive then nothing could change her mind. “You are being given a chance to try out, nothing more, if what you told me is true.”
“Why though?” Sophie asked, “I’ve never been in an actual race, she has no idea what I am capable of.”
Ziska knew the answer. There had been many times when Sophie had ridden on the nearby University campus following the same routes as the student athletes. Just the fact that she could keep up had drawn attention. There was also Katherine herself who might have dropped a word or two set it up. Sophie had told Ziska that she had asked for Katherine’s help in physical training, that meant Katherine’s standards which were far beyond what Ziska believed she was capable of.
“Then win some races” Ziska replied, “Make everyone think that she would be insane not to have you on her team.”
Sophie just stood there blinking for a moment. As if something so painfully obvious had never occurred to her.