Episode Thirteen

Eyes opened to the dark.

Cool metal touched her hide, and her mouth tasted of sea salt. Fingers and toes intact, her hair lay loose upon her shoulders. Mildew permeated the air. Chained to a chair in a cargo hold, vermin scurried around her feet in the dark.

Voices erupted and light filled the room along with dozens of armed islander-rats. They regarded her with a mix of fear and hatred. The thickest of them came forward, a Maori with taped knuckles and a tattoo of the letters T U I in a nest of filigree on his chest.

“Tui Hooker,” she sighed.

Tuk Pongia stepped into the light, “Don’t forget about me, Ambassador,”

“Mister Pongia, I’m not that contrite. Your Queen’s nagged my office with complaints of you and your Mana-Men’s most recent acquisitions,” she eyed Tui’s fists. “If you’ve wrapped your fingers for my benefit, it’s appreciated as I’m certain you’re the type that never washes his hands after urinating.”

A Subaki male moved out from behind Pongia. His deeply shaded hide was covered in tiny pale dots and he reeked of the sea. Large thick braids framed what was clearly the face of Ryo Uym.

That’s a rude observation,” he said in Ramaxi. “Laxumjyr,”

It was you,” she scowled. “You employed my mak’s voice,”

“Behold gentlemen,” he address the men surrounding them. “You’re in the presence of greatness.”

Grumbling and foul sentiments followed.

“Ambassador Jyr used to be Citizenry-Representative of Utama,” he regarded her with affection. “She fought so hard to end the ban on my gender,”

“Don’t waste your esteem on me, Nephis, my legislation called for the removal of the Balanced Citizenry Act,” Laxum said. “Being a product of your maker’s perverted riding sessions, you would’ve found no salvation.”

Tui’s fist caught her cheekbone.

Are your insults supposed to make me cry?” he asked.

Why am I here, Nephis?” she asked.

He opened his robe and slid onto her lap, the binds of his fundoshi stretched tight over his wide hips. “I bet there’s at least one man out there that would do anything to be yours,” he whispered, his hands in her hair.

You’re certainly a Uym,” said Laxum. “Let’s see that clasper, subby,”

Nephis detached and gave a nod to Tui; the blow to her temple caused more pain then expected.

“Otago Joe,” Nephis said, arms folded.

“That name’s familiar,” Laxum shook off the pain. “You must forgive me, though, I can’t place it,”

“You better find it,” he smiled. “Human men don’t like to be forgotten,”

“You’ve abducted me on behalf of an helovx?” she asked and in Ramaxi added, “Nephis, your descent in this life transcends depths lower than imagined,”

“What have you done to her?” a man’s voice boomed beyond the walls.

Memories rushed in when Mister Whaley entered the hold. Well-dressed as always, the look of concern on his pale, angular face was touching.

The voice of Nephis invaded her thoughts.
Sofita used to say, Lax never forgets a clasper.

“Joseph,” Laxum softened. “End this enterprise, and I’ll forget any of it occurred,”

“You were to bring her to me,” Joe stepped into Tuk.

“You need to settle, mate,” Tuk said.

Joe glared at Nephis, “What right do you have to treat her like this?”

“The same right you had in demanding her mind be wiped,” Nephis replied.

“Joseph, beyond your talented tongue, you failed to impress,” Laxum said. “This scheme, however, vastly alters my perception of you,”

Joe turned on Nephis, “I wanted her memory wiped, and her body brought to me, that was the agreement.”

“I changed the agreement,” Nephis said.

Joe’s eyes burned with anger, “Did you now?”

“He is a Uym, Joseph,” Laxum mused. “They’re notoriously unpredictable,”

“I can kill you and you can’t kill me,” Nephis remained calm. “That means, you’re no longer part of this story,”

Joe pulled a pistol and aimed as Nephis raised two fingers. Brought to his knees, the gun hit the floor. Nephis curled his hand into a fist, driving him onto his back. The men crowding the cargo hold roared in laughter as invisible hands rolled him over. His body twisted violently before he began heaving up the contents of his stomach.

“Do not get vomit on my feet!” Laxum cried, curling in her toes.

Tuk stared at her, “You’re a cold mother fucker,”

“Tuk Pongia,” said Laxum. “If I had fucked that blade crafting birther of yours, you wouldn’t be associating with these hooligans,”

Tui landed a punch to her jaw, filling her mouth with blood.

“Say the word Lax,” Nephis stood over Joe. “I’ll stop hurting him,”

Nephisuym,” Laxum’s eyes met his. “You may place Otago Joe between your legs, and squeeze,”

Tui punched her again.

“You, syphilitic fuck!” when she strained against the chains, her captors recoiled. “I’m going to enjoy watching the Femitokon’s terminate you Nephis, the way you murdered Pikaz!”

“Be still,” Nephis laughed. “Pikaz is fine,”

“Pikaz took a bullet through the brain!” Laxum hissed.

The male’s smile faded and Tuk stepped up.

“Nephis, calm down,” he whispered.

“You were told to collect the farc diplomat when the male under my control brought her home!” he glared at the two Junwanian ruffians on the platform. “He wasn’t to be harmed in any way!”

“He tried to stop us!” the largest man shouted as Nephis balled his hands into fists and screamed. “What the fuck were we suppo-” the heads of both men exploded, sending bits of flesh and cranial debris down on those standing beneath them.

At Laxum’s feet, Joe struggled to breathe.

“Oka, Jin,” Nephis shivered as Tuk put a protective arm around his shoulder. “Toss Joe into the water,”

The two men moved as ordered when Nephis knelt before Laxum, “Did you feel nothing for Otago Joe?”

“Did you feel nothing for Orestes?” she countered.

“I didn’t kill my brother,” he hissed, taking her head in his hands.

Pain seized her brain.

On the surface, her transport sped past the Fairgrounds.

Over white tundra bound for the coast, a full moon gave the world a strange glow. Base Princess Elizabeth, once the pride of humanity for its zero-carbon emissions, was now Fyla’s Uym private laboratory.

She resolved to stay calm; if Fyla combined their patches, she desired to know why. The indignity was unbearable; how could Fyla do something so underhanded?

Out of the transport, she trudged through the fierce winds and entered the calm undercarriage of the base. She tapped at the ice-covered control panel until the hoist beneath her feet began rising.

Elevated into the dark entry-court, she found no staff and no visible collective interface.

“Fyla!” she kicked ice from her shoes and passed under the central arch.

Overhead lights flickered on when she entered the corridor, shutting off behind her as she advanced.

In the office at the end of the hall, she found a desk with an illuminated biv-top upon it.

A large screen shone on the right wall, a collage of floating displays depicting brain scans and life signs. On the floor beside it was a short a line of light. She stepped to that line and activated a door that took her into a long white hall with two doors on the right and one on the left.

The familiar cadence of a heartbeat monitor lured her inside. The first room she passed contained a makeshift paxicol, the second was an office housing Fyla’s deep-sea diving accouterments.

At the third door, the thump of the heart monitor was deafening. The naked body of Orestes Uym lay sleeping within, under the white mist of a stasis blanket.

“What are you doing in here, Laxum?”

Fyla stood at the door.

“What have you done, Fyla?”

She brought up her hands, “I can explain this,”

“He’s dead, Fyla!”

She shook her head, “No, you don’t understand,”

“I attended his presentation!”

“He was alive in the glass,” she said. “I presented him that way because-”

“—Do you appreciate how wrong this is?”

“His brain was damaged, blunt force trauma,” she stepped around and darkened the stasis-blanket, hiding Orestes in its shadow. “I was able to repair the damage to his brain and his skull,”

Laxum tore free when Fyla grabbed her arm.

“Your deception is boundless!”

“I presented him to convince Ryo and Fusa he was dead!” Fyla wrung her hands together, her head pivoting from Orestes to Laxum. “He’s been in womb-dream since I repaired the damage,”

“Orestes should’ve died!”

“I saved him, I had to save him,” she took her by the hand and led her to the bed. “If you could bring back Pitasa, wouldn’t you do it?”

Laxum reached into the black and touched his chilled hide.

“He’s not awake yet, at this point, it’s up to him,” Fyla said quickly. “Until he does, I’ll keep his body in suspension,”


“Listen to me!” she cried. “You can’t tell anyone!”

“Sofita has a right to know,”

“She abandoned him to Fusa!”

“She cared for Orestes!”

“Sofita will kill him for being alive!”

“You’re wrong,”

“You tell Sofita, and I’ll never forgive you!” Fyla stepped into her. “You tell Sofita, and I’ll terminate myself. Then you and the others can kiss ascension goodbye!”

Laxum slapped Fyla across the face.

“It’s a simple decision to make is it?” Laxum demanded. “Do you consider your donations, what happens to them if you self-terminate!”

“You mean our donation?” she asked, cradling her cheek.

Laxum gasped, “You did use my patch,”

“It was easier than trying to slip it back into the system,” she spat.

Laxum slapped Fyla repeatedly, her hands stinging with each new blow.

“Kerma please!” Fyla fell to the floor. “I’m sorry, stop!”

“I’m not Ryo!” Laxum withdrew. “Fyla look at me!”

Fyla peeked out from behind her arms.

“I’m not Ryo,” Laxum declared.

Fyla grabbed onto her collar, “If Ryo finds him-”

“—I won’t tell,” Laxum assured, pulling Fyla to her feet. “Not even Sofita,”

Laxum screamed until Nephis detached.

“He was never recycled!” he panted, falling to his knees.

“Who?” Tuk held him tight. “Your brother?”

He knelt before her, “Where’s his body?”

“Safe and hidden,” Laxum felt nauseous. “When Sofita swells up enough for a ride, she pays him a visit,”

Sofitakul isn’t like that,” Nephis thumped a finger upon her sore head. “You need to come up with better lies if you want to get a rise out of me!”

Tui punched her on the side of the head.

“Your hand is going to break eventually,” Laxum shouted. “You Maori-fuck!”

“Relax Laxum,” he slipped onto her lap again. “Your stay will us will be short if Sofita cares enough about you to risk her life,”

“Tell me, Nephis,” she said. “Are you still versed in throwing your legs over your head and sucking your own clasp?”

He detached from her, disgusted, “Take her below!”

Tuk and Tui dragged Laxum’s chair across the floor, and then tipped it over an opened hatch. The chair came down hard in the dark, painfully jarring her back.

This new prison cell was exponentially cleaner with blankets arranged neatly under a pergola draped with strung-together shells. The air was cold, and water churned somewhere in the dark.

The man called Tui whined from above, “You killed Otago before he could pay us,”

The one called Jin, agreed, “Tuk, this is fucked-,”

“—Sofita will come if we have Laxum,” said Nephis.

“The Femitokon?” Tuk demanded.

“Does this Sofita have cash?” Tui asked.

“Not everything is about money, Tui,” said the fat one with the glasses.

“It is for me!” Tui countered.

“Will we get to go to Antarctica?” the crazy Maori that was eating like a pig in the rafters, spoke up. “I want to see an ice-burg. I never seen one,”

“My brother’s alive, Tuk,” Nephis said. “Sofita left him to rot in Fusa’s hands, and she’ll answer for that!”

A moment of silence passed.

“Luring the Femitokon here is dangerous,” Tuk said.

“She needs to make amends, that’s important in my culture,” Nephis said. “She’ll do it by bringing me Ryo, dead or alive,”

“What makes you think she’ll even bother coming here?” Tuk asked.

“Her generation cannot ascend if a member of their future Committee is dead,” Nephis said. “I’m offering her a win-win scenario because if Ryo dies, Fyla ascends,”

And Orestes will be safe with Fyla on the committee, his voice whispered in Laxum’s head.

“Ascension my love,” Nephis said to Tuk. “It’s a powerful thing.”

You’re holding something back, his voice taunted Laxum. I thought it was your maker, but now, I’m not so sure.

“Get out of my head,” she whispered.

Sorority of Defense Prime Terminal
Femitokon Division Mission Bay – Orta
24 Yulitat 2228 0730 hours

Fuzo entered the cabin and caught her reflection in the mirror beside Kul’s chair; too much time had passed for Orta to pay for removing this scar.

“Do I have any messages, Orny?”

You have three personal messages.

“Let’s hear them,”

First message, Uli Po, twenty-four Yulitat, zero-six hundred hours. Dox, your credit cleared. It’s completely gone. Pleasure doing business with you. End message.

It took a sizable sum to have the interHive scrubbed of the infamous Daxakil’s recording; over three’s month credit.

Second message, Pikalit Yards Residences, twenty-four Yulitat, zero-six fifteen. We’re sorry Citizen Dox but we cannot approve your application at this time-

“—Yes, I know about that one,”

Third message, Ebival Kul, zero-seven ten.

Fuzo, I want to thank you for the perfume. That was nice and I appreciate you thinking of me. At the next group meeting I’ll make sure I bring you something just as nice. Have a good day, Fuzo. End message.

“Was that a text or a voice?”

All voice messages are converted to text for processing.

“She sounds nice, huh, Orny?”

Her voice is deep for a Subak.

“Yes it is, Orny, very deep,”

Are you engaging this citizen, Komadon Dox?

“Are you using that word the way Kul uses it?”


“What’s going on between the poles today,”

Divisional Mission Board updated fifteen minutes prior to your arrival. Eight new assignments appeared on the schedule today, five of them are newly assigned. There are no Femitokon Division missions on the queue.

“What about TermSabo?”

Komadon Dox, where is Promad Kul?

Fuzo hesitated, “She’s in recovery,”

Holistics Medical indicates that Promad Kul was released from medical service yesterday at zero two hundred hours.

“The Promad’s taking a sabbatical,” Fuzo said. “The Shell’s out of her body for an upgrade. She’ll be back Orny, I promise.”

Thank you, Komadon Dox.

The list of missions floated above the console.

Most were routine, but one near the bottom caught her eye. Issued just hours ago, it was a Terminal Sabotage listing entitled EXTAVO.

Fuzo tapped on it, “Details are missing on this one,”

Terminal Sabotage mission EXTAVO was dispatched at 0500 hours this morning. The collecting officer is Dokomad Styba Balru by order of the Office of Committee Member the First, Ryo Uym.

“Orny,” she said. “Is there any way to get the details of this mission without the officer assigned finding out we’re looking?”

I can ping Thokai for mission details.

“What’s a Thokai?”

Thokai is the chosen name of Ornithocheirus Three.

“Styba Balru’s Ornith?” Fuzo wasn’t up for sparring with the likes of Balru.

One moment.

“Orny, wait-”

—Citizen Tavo Ex is marked by Terminal Sabotage for retrieval by decree of the Office of Committee Member the First, Ryo Uym. Citizen Tavo Ex is charged with two counts of Subversive Helovxis.

“That’s not possible,”

She is also wanted for questioning in the death of Citizen Ziw Balru—my connection to Thokai is now terminated.

“She cut you out, why?”

My relationship with Thokai is a private one.

“Are you serious?” Fuzo smiled. “When did that start?”

Apologies Komadon, but my private life is not my professional one.

“I tell you everything, Orny!” Fuzo cried.

Apologies Komadon, but I am not comfortable with speaking about my interactions with Thokai.

“Do me a favor then, give me the last location of Citizen Ex before the warrant was issued,” Fuzo said.

This is a Terminal Sabotage mission. I am not authorized to open interdivisional files unless ordered by the Promad.

Fuzo typed in her Komadon credentials.

Your access to the Orta Hub has been denied.

Fuzo typed in Kul’s code to enter through the Ramaxicon Hub where Kul’s rank enabled her access to the Sorority of Defense interdivisional database.

Komadon Dox, you are impersonating a superior officer.

“Kul had me do this over the summer at Port Yukon,” Fuzo said.

The code was given to you for that specific mission, Komadon Dox.

“Orny, I had a relationship with Citizen Ex, one that I don’t want to elaborate about,” Fuzo said. “I just want to make sure she’s okay,”

Orny went silent for a moment.

I will parse the Promad’s code as entered.

Citizen Tavo Ex departed Ramaxia on Ramx 21, 2228 on assignment by the Office of Helovx Advocacy to Kuril Base South. Citizen Tavo Ex was marked Missing from Post on Ixax 2, 2228 by Ambassadorial Assistant Doka Gil.”

“Doka told Ebi,” Fuzo rolled her eyes. “She played me, Orny,”

I do not understand, Komadon Dox.

“That subbie was I was talking about earlier,” Fuzo said. “She knew Balru would come looking for her and made sure she was with me when Balru found her!”

Are you certain of this, Komadon?

“Why else would a chunk of ice like her give me the time of day?” Fuzo demanded.

You’re both admitted waxamists, Komadon.

Fuzo started, “I didn’t admit to that!”

Apologies, Komadon.

“Give me list of all occupied islands northwest of Aotearoa,” Fuzo said. “Cross reference them with any reported subversive helovxis activities.”

There are eight incidents on file, four are marked as homicides.

“There’s no way Tavo killed anyone!”

Citizen Ex’s connection to the homicides is a result of the Terminal Sabotage collection warrant citing her name within the investigatory documents related of Citizen Balru’s death.

“She’s Subak, Orny!”

Crimes committed by Subak caste citizens amount to-

“—I don’t need stats,” Fuzo tempered her tone. “I just need to know the locations of subversive helovxis incidents with resulting thefts of Fleet equipment,”

There are three cases of missing equipment. Subsequent disciplinary action occurred in connection to an admitted Helovx Violation.

“A fleeter got her shit stolen while riding an helovx,”

Your summation of the incident is correct, Komadon Dox.

“Tavo wouldn’t condone an helovx pandering themselves,”

I have triangulated the incidents against known areas of helovx settlement. Coordinates designate the unregulated waters of the Papua Barat.

“How unregulated are these waters?”

Travel restrictions are mandated by the nations of Jungwa and Aotearoa.

Fuzo typed in her code for pilot access, “Let’s go, Orny,”

Komadon Dox, your rank gives you the authority to commandeer my navigational systems, but I must log an official protest. We are engaging in a mission not assigned to the Femitokon Division.

“Are any of the deaths considered abnormal?”

One Fleet member is listed as voluntarily terminating.

“Suicide?” Fuzo asked. “In the same area?”


This corpse was found in waters of the Raxuda`acarol, within a twelve-mile radius of the helovx-nation of Aotearoa, on an atoll in the unregulated waters of the Papua Barat.

“Papua Barat, that’s where the helovx violation with theft took place,” Fuzo said, pulling up the autopsy findings on the fleeter that committed suicide. “Orny, are there any inhabited islands in those waters?”

The Islands of Rinjani, Semeru, and Merapi.

“Any Toxis-Class flush activity in the last thirty days?”

Affirmative, the isle of Semeru.

“Largest population near Semeru?”

There is no census information available for the waters of Papua Barat.

“What about OHA estimates?”

The Office of Helovx Advocacy estimates that Rinjani Island contains eight clans, with an estimated population of approximately fifty helovx of varying age-

“—Ornithocheirus,” Fuzo declared. “After reviewing the post-mortem brain scans, I’ve decided to launch an investigation into the suicide of a Fleet member found in the unregulated waters of the Papua Barat,”

Logged and assigned Komadon Dox.

Fuzo said, “Coordinates eight point four-one-six-six degrees south, by one-one-six point four six-six-six,”

The Segara Anak bay was once a glacial-

“—Vox off Orny,” Fuzo snapped; her boot came down on the engagement pedal, but the thrusters didn’t ignite. “What’s the problem, Orny?”

Words blinked out on the screen: I AM NOT DEPARTING UNTIL MY VOX IS RE-ENGAGED.

“Will you keep the statistics and useless information to a minimum?” Fuzo said. “I need to think, Orny,”


“Vox on,” the launch boosters fired and kicked up water in the pool. “Thank you Orny,”

You are welcome, Komadon Dox.

Out of Orta Prime Terminal, they soared past the caryatids and glided above the ocean’s choppy surface.

Upon making Division, Fuzo was tempted locate the Subak by accessing her citizenry-log. It was highly unethical and that’s why she never did it.

“Orny,” she said. “Citizenry-log access, EXTAVO,”

Above the navigation console, glowing text appeared.

Tavo had released Subak Toys the day after her night with Fuzo. She wrote the project while staffing the victim-services of Toxis Guardia.

Shortly after its release, CR Gentix Relo had brought the book before the Cloister demanding its removal from distribution. Seconding the motion had been CM Tee Banto, who suggested young Tavo be collected for failing to acquire permission from the Fourth Office before publishing it.

CR Ryl Jyr hadn’t defended the work but reminded CM Banto that since no citizen could be denied the right to publish, permission from her office wasn’t needed. The Sernatae-Second, Ixo Gizul, had agreed, herself the owner of a publishing firm.

Put to a vote, the CR Gallery had been divided on the issue of banning Subak Toys, enabling the decision to shift to members of the Committee.

Fuzo huffed a sigh, “Damn CR’s never agree on anything,”

When the Committee had been unable to reach a unanimous decision due to CM Wox Dag voting against the ban, Sernatae Yir Gizul returned the decision to the CR Gallery.

The only good to come from Subak Toys being dragged through the Cloister had been Ryl Jyr expanding the definitions of unlawful sexual contact to include coercion, and non-violent assault.

Unfortunately, CM Tee Banto had used her hold over the media to have Subak Toys placed on a permanent non-distribute list, until Sernatae-Second, Ixo Gizul, had produced an edition through her company and uploaded it to the interHive; enabling the citizenry to get hold of it.

Tavo’s career as a scholar was finished. Unable to procure work in her vocational field, she’d applied for administrative positions throughout Ramaxia, finally acquiring a post in Antarctica City. No Subak wanted to live outside the continent, but she’d been given no alternative.

Before departing for the assignment, someone had requested her for a counselor position at Tonga Geothermal.

“Someone’s looking for you,” Fuzo whispered.

Fuzo tapped through to Tavo’s vocational log and found Tavo’s gen-code registered as boarding the PAC Woxidat on the last day of Ramx, 2227. Woxy had delivered her to Tonga Trench base on Ixax 1, 2227 where she checked into her residence that same day.

Tavo went missing on Bamx 10, 2227, the day of the mega-tsunami.


“Thokai,” Styba rose from her navigational chair. “Take a position at zero-point zero south, one-zero-two-point zero east,”

She reviewed the contents of her field bag; a rope, a dagger, a backup digger, ice cold water, and a mission-recorder. “This is Dokomad Styba Balru, Terminal Sabotage Mission E X T A V O,” she said into the recorder, “Sync test one,”

The icon of World Oceans appeared on its screen and then faded into a symbol for the Sorority of Defense.

The high-pitched voice of Thokai filled the cabin.

Dokomad Balru, why have we taken a position in this location? The waters of Papua Barat belong to no helovx-nation, and Fleet presence is sporadic to-”

“—We’re waiting for Ornithocheirus Five,”

Dokomad Balru, why are waiting for Orny?

“Thokai, has the Ornithocheirus Five pinged you recently?”

Affirmative, Dokomad Balru.

“Please tell me why,”

Orny sought my current position and then inquired of my mission forcing me to disengage communication.

“Don’t be angry,” Styba grinned. “Orny’s loyal to Komad Kul,”

Promad Kul is currently on sabbatical from World Oceans.

“Promad?” Styba paused, “What’s Kul’s status?”

Promad Kul is listed as fully recovered from life-threatening injuries sustained during a mission to North America. The Shell that Promad Kul hosts is undergoing enhancements to counter future enemies like the one faced in North America.

“A male fucked her up,” Styba said. “Was this filed in a mission report?”

Negative, Dokomad Balru. I learned this information from Orny.

Styba grinned, “You could’ve told Orny our position,”

I do not feel that would be right, Dokomad.

“When I tapped into the suspect Ex’s citizenry logs, I discovered she once registered for a gazten unit with a Marix now serving the Femitokon Division,” a flash appeared on the horizon and seconds later, the Ornithocheirus Five raced past their position above the clouds. “And there’s that Komadon,”

Do you wish me to ping Ornithocheirus Five?”

“Negative, Thokai,” Styba returned to her chair. “Follow outside Orny’s long range scans, remain cloaked,”

Dokomad Balru, what are our mission parameters in relation to Ornithocheirus Five?

Styba eyed the interface screen, “What’s the name of the Ornithocheirus Five’s junior assigned?”

Komadon Fuzo Dox.

“That’s who we’re following, not Orny,” she said. “You care for Orny, don’t you?”

Orny and I were developmental-pairs during our cybernetic-adherence phase.

Styba laughed, “Are you familiar with the helovx term, coincidence?”

I am, Dokomad Balru.

“Fuzo Dox and I were also developmental-pairs,” Styba glanced up when Thokai slowed to a stop. “What’s happening?”

Orny slowed momentarily but has regained his speed.

Thokai restarted, moving rapidity but keeping her distance.

“Orny’s a male, huh?” Styba asked.

Orny sees herself as a male.

“If he’s male, Thokai, then he’s a he,” Styba scolded.

Orny’s personality matrix was designed by Doctor Riltav Gwo during her internship with Orta Prime Lab. Doctor Gwo was on the team responsible for the design of his frontal lobe constructs.

“His brain was designed by an Eleventh Gen?”

Doctor Gwo is now on staff at Femitokon Holistics and tends to the care of the Shell lifeform.

“I thought you were all older than us?”

We Ornithocheirus have been with the Fleet for fourteen years, Dokomad Balru. Orny is the youngest though he is biologically older than the Eleventh Generation. He was not fitted with a proper kyrsbrain until recently.

“He’s a baby, and you got to oversee his growth?”

If you are referring to my developmental mentorship, yes.

“Who was your handler?”

Post cyberization, I was assigned a Tenth-Generation mentor at Orta Biologic named Doctor Pax Pentulax.

“The mighty doc Pentulax?”

If you are referring to the current Prime of Pentulax Constructs, yes.

“What about Orny?”

Post cyberization, Orny was assigned an Eleventh-Generation mentor at Orta Biologic named Doctor Pik Cux.

“I bet Cux encouraged the gender anomaly,”

I do not understand this conclusion, Dokomad Balru.

“Doc Cux breeds ramxkul for the Femitokon’s and she processes their kills,” said Styba. “I imagine she thought sending a male Ornith to them was some hilarious shit.”

I comprehend the humor of that situation, Dokomad Balru.

“What does Orny think?”

Our identity and thoughts on the current state of our existence are conversations of a private nature, Dokomad Balru.”

“Understood, Thokai,”

Styba tapped at the interface screen and brought up Dox’ medical records. The bruise had advanced to the rank of Dokomad while attempting to save citizen Ilo Cux; but she had yet to file a skin-repair request to fix the bullet wound on her face.

“What’s that Femitokon’s current mission?”

Komadon Dox is investigating the suicide of a Fleet member found in and around the unregulated waters of the Papua Barat. Autopsies show severe brain damage brought on by neuro-chemical imbalance-

“—imbalance that occurred minutes before they ate their palm,” Styba studied the files pulled by Dox that morning. “Thokai, I want you log these findings and send them to this Doctor Gwo in Femitokon Holistics,”

May I ask why, Dokomad Balru?

“If this Gwo is as smart as you suggest,” said Styba. “She’ll run those findings against those taken of the deceased Komadon Fusada Kul,”

Citizen Fusada Kul was believed to have committed Zish’tilgul in her paxicol until an investigation concluded severe emotional and mental imbalance brought on by hosting the Shell lifeform.

“Send along to Gwo, please, Thokai,”

Information is sent, Dokomad Balru.

Over the waters of Rinjani Island, Styba stripped down and then pulled on the dirty uniform she kept for field missions.

“Thokai, search TCS flush logs for this area,”

TCS Delphinus flushed its system at Semeru Island. There is open investigatory notation on the Delphinus marked as unread for the Femitokon Division.

Styba looked at the screen, “Has it been accessed yet?”

Negative Dokomad Balru. I can read the contents, and flag it as unread.

“Please do so,”

TCS Delphinus, Promad Pen Axitat: Fleeter Erudix Wazil found with injuries like those encountered on cases-

“—How many cases?”

There have been eight Fleet members found dead in these waters-

“—I don’t need a timeline, thank you Thokai,” Styba opened the hatch at her feet, blinded a moment by the the ocean’s shimmering surface. “Take me over Semeru, I’ll drop into surf,”

Thokai slowed over the island and hovered above the choppy break. Styba crossed her arms over her chest and stepped out, splashing feet first into the waves.

Once ashore, she called into the Thokai.

“I’ll rendezvous with you on the Bromo shore, Balru silent,”

Thokai veered around, her blue-metal skin gleaming in the sun before she shot off over the craggy peaks.

Every island in this part of the ‘Raxuda was once a mountaintop. Conifers replaced palms and black sand gave way to thick soil covered with bushy turf.

An eight-foot-wide depression ran over the grass; a TCS unrolled its waste-tube here. The shriveled membrane was part of every Toxis-Class lifeform’s anatomy, and it expanded when filled with fluid that needed flushing.

Styba followed the trail to the remnants of a pond.

A hand over her forearm brought to life a scanning program. She aimed it at the water and once her readings were collected, she pulled out her mission recorder.

“Analysis of the water indicates filtering through a Toxis-Class, but it’s over a week old. Tracks around the pond reveal a dozen or so inhabitants first converged on the pond, becoming more sporadic as the water was depleted.”

Styba climbed the strongest of the trees and from her position could see the entire clearing and the grasslands beyond the jungle.

“Fresh oil and tire tracks forty yards from the water indicate the presence of a scout. There’s no signs of profiteering, that means the helovx apex predators having discovered the pond will return to acquire sexual, or nutritional, prey.”

Curious birds swooped close, never landing for fear of the snakes laying still against the branches. The long wait settled her nerves and once the wildlife got used to her presence, they returned to the noisy business of being alive.

After sundown, four men brandishing machetes and guns made camp near the water’s edge. Unkempt and foul-mouthed, they bullied one another as they ate, then all took turns defecated in the jungle.

Helovx males failed to interest Styba, but helovx women were another matter. Brasilia and Port Yukon contained women that were diverse shades of brown, some blacker than her eyes; the bigger the better.

Night passed uneventful but the morning brought an old woman and a young girl. They wandered in unawares, after the men packed up their camp to lay low in the trees.

“Kuk, fill up and just leave the bucket,” said the old woman, “The boys will catch up and carry it back to the boat,”

“Yes Gaga!” this girl was at an age in which she bled monthly, and her immature fronts stretched the face of her shirt; she wasn’t likely to be sexually active, but that wouldn’t matter.

The men sprang out with machetes raised.

“Run Kuk!” cried the old woman, putting herself in their path; women were adept at sacrificing themselves and for her courage, this one got her head caved in by the water’s edge.

Three of the men set upon the girl.

She struggled fiercely, collapsing from exhaustion while the men yanked her about by the hair and shoved her to the ground. None would punch her in the face—they needed her jaw in working order.

The men shed their pants and took turns shoving themselves into her mouth. She made one last effort to crawl away but was forced onto her back and violated. The first man was brutal, and her screams made the birds in the trees take flight.

“That’s my girl, Kuk,” Styba brought up her palm and aimed.

Finished, the man pulled his penis free and Styba jerked her thumb and fired. The blast hit the man’s head, splashing blackened flesh and bone across his comrades thighs.

Pants in hand, the other men fled while the girl got to her feet like a calf finding its legs.

Styba jumped down and jogging around the trees she scooped the girl up under her powerful arm. Certain the men would tread back through the pond, she circled around to the beach and deposited the girl on a formation of rocks. She brought ought out a second blaster from her uniform belt and slid it onto her hand before taking position on the highest rock.

Both hands up, she spotted the vehicle break through the trees. The men were now armed, but too frightened to know that making themselves a moving target wasn’t very smart. She delivered a volley of destructive energy. Balls of light bobbed through air and over the landscape, forcing the vehicle to swerve or be hit.

The driver dodged only two before the wheels of the vehicle were blasted out. It overturned a few yards from her position, it undercarriage burning. Its occupants now crawled along the grass, and she walked to the one in front, yanked him up by his hair, and then punched him in the face.

Two of the remaining men darted off, hoping to get clear of the vehicle before it exploded. When it did go boom, the force knocked both men across the field and closer to Styba. One helped the other to his feet, and that’s when Styba snatched them from behind and slapped their bodies together, knocking them out.

She laid all three at the dazed girl’s feet and eyed the rising bloom of black smoke; old woman spoke of a boat and that meant this girl had family nearby. She secured the three men’s ankles and wrists to hunks of wood pegged firmly into the soil. Once the men were stretched and tenable, she slapped the girl Kuk in the face.

“Come back to life, little girl!”

Kuk roused instantly before cowering upon sight of the three men that raped her.

Bound naked and finally awake, they pled for their lives.

“Look at me,” Styba said in Ramaxi.

Traumatized eyes turned to Styba; someone taught her the language.

“Are these the animals that violated you?”

Kuk’s eyes lost their focus.

“Answer me girl!”

“Yes!” cried Kuk in Ramaxi.

Styba took out her dagger and held it out, but Kuk wouldn’t take it. She grabbed the girl by her thin arm and dragged her over to the men. The girl watched as she moved over them and with fluid exactness, cut the limp penis from the first man.

His screams forced Kuk to cover her ears, but when Styba sliced open his scrotum, the girl watched entranced as he bled out.

Styba held out the knife, “Punish them.”

Kuk took the knife and walked to the men, but lost her nerve.

“I can’t,” she whispered.

They killed Gaga!” Styba shouted in her language. “Punish them!

Kuk clenched her teeth and took a step toward them.

Kuk no!” Tavo Ex appeared, hide stained with mud. “You’re better than this!

The conflicted girl looked to Styba.

Punish them, Kuk,” she ordered.

No Kuk, you’re angry,” Ex was closer now, sand flecks visible in the rows between her braids. “If you hurt them, it’ll haunt you forever.”

These animals took your purity and killed Gaga!” Styba shouted.

Enraged, Kuk knelt and stabbed the closest man in the penis. When he shrieked in pain, the frightened girl ran into Ex’ arms, leaving the knife embedded in his flesh.

Styba pulled the knife out and then blasted the remaining men with her digger.

“How could you incite this?” Ex demanded.

“Say goodbye,” Styba clutched her arm. “You’re going home,”

“What’s wrong with you!” Ex struggled against her.

“Humans are cruel animals,” Styba said. “They’re prone to an eye for an eye—or in this case, a cock for a hymen,”

“Did you stand by and let it happen? Ex tried to kick Styba. “Gurxhole!”

“You’re being impolite, Citizen Ex,” Styba took her by the braids, determined to pull her along.

A gun popped behind them, followed by Kuk crying out. The girl stumbled over into the grass, blood covering her chin.

Styba shoved Ex aside aimed her palms, picking the group of gunmen off as they filtered out from the trees.

No longer at her feet, Ex didn’t charge to recover the dead girl. She turned to retrieve the Subak but instead was met with a blaster to her face. Instinct brought her hand up as well and now she stood toe to toe with her rival.

“Komadon Dox,” said Styba, calm. “You’re interfering with an operation.”

“I’m here investigating a possible Femarctic male attack on a Fleeter,” she countered, palm unwavering. “Can you tell what the charges against Citizen Ex are?”

“Citizen Ex is suspected of multiple counts of Subversive Helovxis-”

“—not grounds for termination under the Orta Guardia Committee,”

“She’s a suspect in the murder of a citizen,”

“I had nothing to do with Ziw’s death!” Ex cried.

“If Ziw Balru is your bone,” Dox added. “You cannot objectively carry out this mission,”

“Your history with Citizen Ex,” Styba said. “Bars you from advocating on her behalf,”

“Please, lower your palms,” Ex stood beside them. “I didn’t kill anyone, I swear. I can prove where I was, I’ll go back and testify to that.”

“She’s not here to take you back, Tavo,” Dox kept her eyes on Styba, “She’s been given a termination order.”

Styba spoke through her teeth, “You fuck with me Dox and you won’t come out of this unscathed the way you did our Final Trial,”

“I didn’t kill anyone,” Ex sobbed.

“Stand down, Komadon,” Styba warned. “Or I burn off that cute little face,”

Dox wasn’t the type to back down, “You’re not taking Tavo,”

Palms fixed to each other’s faces, Styba softened. She lowered her weapon, but the moment Dox lowered her, she raised up and fired.

Ex screamed but Dox, always spry, dodged the pulse of energy, suffering a line thin burn to the hand.

Styba hoisted Ex over her shoulder and sprinted toward the jungle. Deviating from the formed path, she doubled back to the men’s camp and dropped Ex onto the ground. Rummaging through the men’s abandoned gear she found a cord of rope, not enough to secure the Subak full body.

Ex tried to scramble away, but Styba fixed a boot to her back and pinned her against the earth.

“Let me go!” Ex said.

Styba forced her onto her back and held a fist over her face—it was enough to make her stop struggling.

“Stop it,” Ex slapped at her. “What do think you’re doing?”

“Your hide’s going to look great tied up in this,” Styba leered, rope in hand.

“Whatever you’re going to do to me, please don’t,” Ex calmed herself. “I’m begging you, this isn’t the time or the place,”

“Don’t get your gash wet, subbie, rape isn’t my style,” Styba grabbed her face, “We’re not all looking for Subaki toys,”

Ex jerked her face free of Styba’s grip, “Why are you tying me up!”

Styba forced the Subak’s legs together, “Standard hostage procedure, stripping you of clothing gives less of an incentive to run away,”

“That only works on helovx who actually care that their naked!”

“You’re already naked,” said Styba. “Thank for saving me the calories,”

“You’re no soldier you’re a thug,”

“We can’t all be Dox,” Styba quipped.

“I can’t believe you’re Ziw’s bone,”

Styba yanked Ex up by her hair hard enough to make her scream like a donat.

“You don’t speak of Ziw!” she put a fist to the Subak’s gash. “You’re going to shut your mouth or I’m going to make you my glove, you understand me?”

“Ziw was helping me,” Ex whispered. “Someone was trying to kill me, Ziw found out who it was,”

“You want me to put my fist in your gash?”

“Would saying no make a difference?”

“I can get you to say yes,”

“You’d still be a rapist,”

“It’s better than being a victim.”

“You twisted Kuk’s soul,” Ex snapped. “She was a good girl.”

“She was damaged, you know the psyche of a victim,” Styba said. “She wasn’t recovering from that shit, she’s helovx,”

“All victims are capable of recovery,” Ex shouted. “Even humans!”

“You idealize them and what for?” Styba demanded. “They’re a fucking menace, they destroy everything they touch. You want me to believe that Kuk would’ve recovered from what they did to her?”

“You’re wrong Balru,” Ex shook her head. “Victims of any species are resilient! Its why there’s still males hiding back home. They’re strong. What they endure makes them stronger.”

“She chose to kill the man that attacked her,” Styba said. “By your own admission, would she have ever recovered from the guilt of murdering the man that raped her?”

Ex shook her head.

“She chose revenge,” Styba added. “Knowing the guilt would end her,”

“Human children aren’t like us Styba,” Ex said. “They don’t mentally mature until much later in life.”

Styba decided rope cuffs would suffice.

“Hold your wrists out,”

“Fuck you,” Ex snapped.

“I knew you’d give me permission eventually,” Styba fixed a boot between Ex’ fronts. “But this isn’t the time or the place,”

She fixed the Subak’s wrists together and pulled them up over her head. After securing her wrists tightly, Styba looked down on her, “Sorry about your little child friend,”

“You put Kuk in that position, you gurxhole!” Ex exclaimed.

Styba grabbed a soiled pair of underwear from one of the men’s bags and stuffed it into Ex’s mouth.

“You don’t get to judge me, Tavoex,” she seethed, “You may not have killed Ziw with your own hands, but you put her in the position that got her killed! You owed me Kuk!”

The Subak began crying.

“For the harm that you have caused me and mine,” she growled. “I take Kuk’s life from you, though you know it will never be enough to replace the life that I have lost because of your actions!”

Hizaxir 15, 2202
Surface Excursion Point 1
Marixi Training Center
Orta – Ramaxia

Stifled laughter brought her head out from under the spigot; everyone was a stranger here. Fuzo missed her toobmates back at barracks and wished Dokomod Dukil hadn’t nominated her for this Surface Trial.

She walked to the pool steps, stealing glances at the fourteen-year old bodies around her. They all pretended not to look at each other and it was difficult as their bodies were changing fast.

All covert staring ceased when Balru stepped in line.

An inch taller than Fuzo, her arms and legs were already corded with muscle. Her hide was hashed with pink smoke and faint blue streaks that ran over shoulders and down her back. She moved like a soldier, but that’s not what drew everyone’s attention.

Balru possessed what every toober dreaded; a well-rounded backswell and exceptionally large fronts.

Fuzo took her position on the dive-line when the instructor barked for them to present. A second shout drove her into the pool.

The four laps up and back were timed by the Dokomad’s poolside, egging them all on with encouragement and the occasional taunt.

After the swim, Fuzo jogged to the gapes and Balru joined her, choosing a unit on the opposite side of the line; Fuzo was thankful she wasn’t the only who needed to leak.

Girtabu, an arrogant ‘toob and habitual trouble-maker, entered with a few friends on her heels. Content to distress anyone she felt needed it, Tabu approached with arms folded over chest.

“Balru,” she said. “You got fat fronts like a subbie,”

Balru silently finished urinating and stood. She stepped past a smiling Tabu and without warning, reeled back and punched her. Laughter rang out as Tabu hit the floor and skidded naked all the way back to the pool.

“Anyone else have thoughts on my suzsch?” Balru asked.

There were no takers.

Back in her stall, Fuzo readied for the trial.

Clad in her surface suit, she pulled on her boots before doing a quick inventory of her mission bag; a dagger for cutting ice, a solar cup for melting ice, an undersuit, a length of rope, and an armband plasma shield.

Last in the pack was her tooth cleaning kit and a sanitation blade for her skin. Where was her hibernation brick?

“It’s at the bottom,” said Diz, in the stall beside her.

Fuzo fondled the rump of her bag and felt the sharp edge of a shrink-wrapped blanket.

The only thing left to secure was the limited-charge blaster. Issued to her just a week before, she’d been to the range only twice to fire it.

Cautious, she surveyed the area before working up the nerve to slip it onto her hand. It was low power compared to a real palm-blaster, but still dangerous enough to be forbidden to glove in barracks.

She took a moment to admire it on her hand before hastily peeling it off and attaching it to a waist loop on her suit.

Mission bag on her back, she fell in behind her group and marched to the surface.

They were tasked to follow the same scout path Femitokon set out upon with her team of eight awakened; the mission then had been to purge the continent of helovx.

Femitokon and her Marixi discovered throngs of helovx survivors while escorting Hizak and Bizak engineers over the surface. Pekada learned from Camp Vostok’s computers that they were gathering together by order of their governments.

Femitokon separated her eight elite into pairs with orders to commandeer the structures and kill their caretakers. They’d accomplished this mission naked, without palm blasters or kinetic-plasma shields and without food.

These same parameters would be the elite Eleventh’s first surface trial, though Fuzo and her peers donned uniforms, and were issued low-grade diggers to protect them from hostile wildlife.

All four two-member teams stood at attention for inspection and none of them wavered; fortifying oneself against the wind was a skill Fuzo learned her second year as a ‘toob.

The Promad paced the snow as she addressed them.

“You’re all here because you’re the best your barracks has to offer. On this mission you will get no help from your Dokomad. On this mission, no one will be out there to rescue you if shit goes bad.

“If you’re not back here on this patch of ice at mission end-time, you’ll hibernate on the surface, and that’ll be the least of your hardships. Some of you will combat wild-life, some of you will combat each other.

“What takes place on this mission will shape the Brooder you’re to become. Some of you won’t survive this trial, but none of you will fail it.”

The Promad’s words unsettled Fuzo; uymtik packs and roaming fusaxia aside, the idea of combating another ‘toob outside the confines of trained sparring was absurd.

She glanced at her trial-partner, the strapping Zirixpolo; tall and thick like Balru, Polo wasn’t cursed with a breeders chest. Fuzo scolded herself for thinking about Balru’s fronts; one of these days she’d get caught staring and end up slipping across the floor on her ass.

Tabu had recovered and now stood beside Kiltavru. Behind them were Balru and the gruff Iladiz. To their right was a thoughtful ‘toob named Dakperkad, whose partner was the ugly Taxilboz.

Dismissed by the Promad, the teams set off in different directions.

It took Fuzo a few days to develop a dislike Polo and her thickheaded views on life. She was ignorant and barked orders without doing much work herself; she was an effective scout though. Together they acquired the Australian flags from Davis and Casey Stations, and a Russian flag from Molodyozhnaya.

On route to Concordia Station they ran into Balru and Diz carrying the flags of South Africa from SANAE IV, an India flag from Maitri Base, and a Japanese flag from Syowo Station. In moments, Diz spotted Perkad and Boz flying their flags like kites; China’s flag came from Zhongshan Station, and another Russian from Mirny.

Tension reigned until Perkad suggested they combine their efforts build a deep-snow shelter to rest up. Once complete, they stripped down into their under-suits and melted some snow to drink.

Perkad soothed everyone’s anxiety again by initiating a discussion on her annoying Dokomod. The conversation took a weird turn when Polo detailed a plan to end her Dokomod’s life in the most humiliating way possible. Fuzo didn’t need to voice her disapproval because Balru spoke up saying that Polo needed mental help. Boz passed gas later on and sent them all clamoring for the surface.

Up on the ice, Fuzo stretched her long legs and caught Balru watching her. Mindful of her lanky frame, she shriveled under Balru’s gaze. She quickly pulled her uniform back on and joined the others in gathering their gear.

The three teams decided to walk together toward Concordia. Those first hours went by quickly as everyone spoke of their pods back home; the only caste-center doe, Fuzo remained quiet.

Diz was the first to notice spatters of blue on the snow; closer inspection revealed bits of bone.

“What are waiting for Dox?” Polo snapped. “Go check it out?”

Balru put an arm in front of Fuzo and flared at Polo.

“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded.

“What?” Polo stared back at her.

Balru glanced Fuzo, “Me and Polo will check it out,”

It made sense since Balru and Polo were the largest, but when Fuzo turned she found the others smiling. Perkad tried to hide her grin as filed in behind Balru and Polo.

The three tread carefully as not to step on the blue, but then stopped abruptly. When Polo turned and vomited, Fuzo rushed to their position over a make-shift shelter dug into the snow.

Inside were the remains of Tabu and Ru. Fuzo never saw a dead citizen before, much less a ‘toob her age. All six teens gathered around the hole, staring down with the same mix of fascination and dread. The odor of blood and shit souring Fuzo’s stomach.

Balru jumped in first, followed by Perkad.

“There’s dark fur in the wounds,” said Perkad. “It’s uymtik,”

“There’s no tracks up there, Perkad,” Balru said.

“This wasn’t a pack kill, Balru,” said Perkad. “The bodies are still here,”

“We need to get them out of here,” Balru said.

“Agreed,” Fuzo placed a hand over his nose, “Just let me get used to the smell,”

“I don’t smell anything,” Boz said.

“I didn’t smell it up there,” Balru shook her head. “But it’s ripe down here,”

“Dox is a bear snout,” Diz gave Fuzo’s back a friendly slap before jumping into the hole with Perkad and Balru.

“Get your swell down here, Polo,” Balru snapped.

Perkad unsealed Tabu and Ru’s hibernations packs so Diz and Balru could store their torn remains. After wrapping their bodies tight, Perkad and Polo hoisted them up and handed them off to Fuzo and Boz. On the surface, they lay neatly beside one another.

“We have to take the remains back,” said Perkad.

Balru started “We can’t trek back to Prime now,”

“We got to stay on mission,” Polo agreed.

“I’m not leaving them for a pack to scavenge” Perkad said.

“Time’s running out,” Boz nodded. “I don’t want to hibernate up here.”

Diz spoke up, “Maybe we can cover them-”

“—I’ll help you take them back,” Fuzo blurted.

“Belay that,” Polo snapped. “Dox, we’re going to finish this!”

“I’ll do it myself!” Perkad cried. “None of you may want to hear this, but citizen’s are more important than any damn mission!”

“Perkad, we’ve come this far,” Balru remained non-threatening. “Let’s wrap them in some uymtik-seal, and inform the mission crews when we get back,”

“We need to stay focused on the mission,” Polo added.

A rank wet odor found Fuzo, “What’s that smell?”

“Those are fusaxica claws,” Perkad pointed the base structure. “Those things will tear right through uymtik-wrap,”

“Then that’s just how it is Perkad!” Polo snapped.

“Why’d they make camp out here?” Boz mused. “They should’ve gone into the station,”

“I won’t leave sisters on the ice to be eaten,” Perkad said.

“The smell is getting stronger,” said Fuzo.

“I’ll take them back with you Perkad,” Diz declared.

“Shit!” Balru whispered. “Don’t turn around, but I just saw eye-shine in one of the windows,”

“I see it now too,” Perkad whispered.

Fuzo nodded, “That’s what smells,”

“Why aren’t they attacking?”asked Polo.

Perkad kept her eyes down, “To see if we separate,”

“You take those bodies back now,” Boz said. “They’ll hunt you down.”

“We all need to stand here and keep talking,” Balru casually pulled on her blaster.

Perkad smiled, “Let’s get out our diggers and our daggers and be ready,”

“Can we secure the doors?” Fuzo asked, joining them.

“The minute any of us separates, or goes near the structure,” Perkad said. “They’ll come out through windows,”

“Maybe we should start a fire,” Diz said. “To keep them at bay-”

“—and to burn the bodies,” Polo added.

“Burn them?” Perkad scowled.

“Burning over recycle is repugnant,” Balru said.

“Balru, I appreciate your Subbie sensibilities, and the Hizzah-like way you express them,” Boz sighed. “But this is a survival situation and we need to protect ourselves, like Marixi.”

Polo smiled wide but Balru kept her cool.

“They’re soldiers, Boz, not animals,” Perkad said.

Fuzo added, “Burning them makes us no better than helovx,”

“Anyone that tries to burn them,” Balru fixed her eyes on Boz. “Is going to discover the Marix-like way I sensibly kick backswell,”

Perkad smiled, “Balru, beating the shit out of each other only helps the uymtik,”

“How bad is our luck Boz?” Polo declared, blaster gloved. “We’re both stuck with ‘toob’s bound for the Gard-Bats,”

Fuzo grabbed Polo by the collar and when Balru came between them, two male uymtik dove from the windows.

“Polo, aim at the one on the right!” Balru shouted, down on one knee.

Polo knelt as well and did as Balru ordered, taking out the smallest male with their combined shot.

Diz and Boz shot at the other male, taking out his leg. The white-haired beast limped toward them, snarling with its fangs exspoed. Perkad threw herself onto its back and Fuzo moved in fast. Careful of its snapping jaws, she punched a blade into his ribs, his yelp filling her with remorse.

At that moment the monstrous female was upon them. She jumped clean over them and landed with her jaws to Boz’ throat, tearing the hide beneath the chin as if it were paper. White fur stained with blue blood, she stepped over Boz’ trembling body and fixed eyes fixed on Fuzo.

She yanked her dagger out from the male’s ribs and held it at the ready, unwilling to raise her palm for fear of hitting Boz with the blast. The female jumped, teeth bared, until knocked out mid-air by a blast from Balru’s digger. She barked out in pain before charging off into the white.

Perkad ran to Boz and slid down beside her.

“Boz, look at me, Boz!” she pressed her hands on the sputtering wound.

Boz smiled, revealing her stained teeth.

“You got her! You took her out Boz! You did it!” blood gushed between Perkad’s fingers.

The twitching in Boz’ legs stopped as her eyes closed.

“Boz?” Diz asked, standing over her.

Perkad sat back upon the snow, bloodied hands in her lap.

“I wouldn’t have beat her ass,” Balru whispered.

“Balru,” said Perkad, “This isn’t you fault,”

Polo spoke up, “Who’s going to butcher these uymtik for food?”

Fuzo knelt beside Perkad, “We’re going to wrap up Boz first,”

“Balru?” Perkad said. “We need to wrap them up and clean ourselves and then eat,”

Balru nodded, “That’s the plan, let’s move,”

Fuzo and Diz built a makeshift sled from pieces of the Concordia structure while Balru and Perkad wrapped the bodies.Balru stopped once to order Polo from her position standing watch, to help load the bodies onto the sled. Upon cleaning their hands in the snow, they stripped out of their uniforms again to clean them.

“You should eat something before you leave,” Fuzo said.

“Sounds good,” said Perkad.

“I got meat cutting experience,” Balru said. “My kerma owns a restaurant,”

“I can skin them,” Diz said. “I saw a show when I was donat about how helovx take hides off cattle in North America,”

“Were they long horns?” Fuzo asked.

“Huge horns!” Diz grinned.

Fuzo helped Diz skin the wolves as Balru and Perkad dug a shelter pit beside the station. Once the fire got going below, Polo used decaying chairs from the station to build a surface fire, warding off anymore uymtik.

“Why did we engineer wolves,” Fuzo asked.

“We have predators on the surface because the original subjects needed power,” said Perkad.

“What are you talking?” Balru asked, spearing portions of the meat with narrow metal rods salvaged from the station.

“The originals built the KB-Trench, to harvest the katabatic winds,” Perkad took a meat-covered rod and stood it up in the snow against the flames. “The population of Emperor Penguins tripled because we redirected those winds,”

“It’s true,” Diz also took some speared meat and did the same on her side of the fire. “Millions of penguins got relocated to these artificial coasts over Toxis,”

“The originals harvested their mucus to make those nasty brine pills our makers force us to take before we can walk,” Perkad said.

Doz griped, “Those things smell disgusting,”

“After the Kyron-Spheres made the KB-Trench obsolete,” Perkad explained. “Efforts to relocate the penguins back to the coast failed,”

Polo frowned, “Why didn’t we just kill them?”

“Because we’re not sharks,” Balru snapped.

“A geneticist developed the fusaxica from the DNA of endangered polar bears found in the Ramaxatae. They were released on the surface to control the penguin population,” Perkad grinned. “It worked until the fusaxica population doubled and started encroaching on Orta surface territories.”

“Let me guess,” Balru huffed. “They made the uymtik, to hunt the fusaxica,”

“An engineered food chain,” said Diz

“Fucking Hizzah’s,” Polo said. “You know it was their idea,”

Balru said, “Did you clear the butchered scraps?”

“Since when it that my job?” Polo demanded.

Balru stood, “I’ll be back,”

Fuzo joined her up on the ice.

As she helped carry butchered pieces back to the station she sensed Balru’s sudden distance. Fur and bones cleared, she sat upon the snow and thought about Boz.

“Dox!” Balru kicked Fuzo’s boot. “Get below with the others!”

Fuzo jumped up, “What’s your problem?”

“My problem?” Balru stepped into her. “If you hadn’t gone for Polo, we’d have been better prepared for that attack!”

Perkad came between them.

“Dox’s move on Polo didn’t kill Boz,”

Balru’s jaw tightened.

Fuzo wanted to punch her in the face.

“The uymtik killed Boz,” Perkad added.

“We need to eat,” Diz shouted from illuminated square behind them. “That primary’s going to come back and this time, she’ll have her pack.”

Balru stalked away.

“Dox, it’s not your fault,” Perkad tapped Fuzo’s arm. “Balru knows that, she’s just angry at herself,”

“Then I’ll stay out here,” Fuzo mumbled.

“Get the fuck in here Dox!” Balru shouted before jumping into the dugout.

“Now that’s just Balru, being nice,” Perkad smiled. “I’m going to leak inside the station,”

Fuzo took her time walking back to the dugout, stopping short when Polo’s voice found her ears.

“Let’s take off for Amundsen Scott,” she said. “Just you and me,”

“You can’t go back without Dox,” Balru said. “You’ll lose merit for abandoning her,”

“Dox thinks too much,” Polo said. “She’s probably going to find some way to join Perkad when she takes the bodies back,”

Diz spoke up, “I’m going with Perkad,”

“What the fuck, are you serious?” Balru snapped.

“Don’t use helovx curse words around me, they’re vulgar,” Diz scolded.

“You’re leaving me?” Balru said.

“You’ll still get merit once I explain why,” Diz said. “I just don’t want any part of this trial. Too much has happened,”

“Take Dox with you,” Polo said to Diz.

“No,” said Balru. “Dox is valuable,”

“Are you blind?” Polo asked.

“Balru sees just fine,” Diz giggled. “That’s why she wants Dox around,”

“Shut up, Diz,” Balru said. “Listen Polo, I caught you scouting us earlier today because we were scouting you.”

“Sure Balru, whatever you say,” Diz said. “She’s right though Polo, we saw that Dox found those stations, you just pocketed the flags,”

“I’ll tell you what, Balru,” Polo said. “In return for Dizzy’s blaster and her unused surface-pack, I’ll let you have Dox,”

Balru asked, “Are you riding Dox?”

“That’s nasty Balru!” Polo said.

Diz chuckled, “Not for Balru,”

“Don’t offer up Dox if you can’t,” Balru snapped.

“I’ll let you have her for the mission,” Polo said.

“Let me try and talk Diz out of abandoning me,” said Balru. “Then I’ll think about your offer,”

Fuzo angrily retreated and nearly toppled Perkad.

“Everything good?” she asked.

Fuzo nodded, “Everything’s fine.”

Polo climbed out of the dugout and walked toward the surface fire.

“I’ll be there in a minute, Perkad,” said Fuzo.

Polo crouched down by the fire.

“I heard what you said to Balru.” Fuzo came up behind her. “You want to ditch me?”

“If you want to win this,” Polo stood and faced her. “You need to step it up,”

“You’re not going solo with our flags!” Fuzo said.

“Dox! Polo! Come on!” Perkad called.

Fuzo joined the others below, allowing Polo to enter first.

Diz informed Perkad she would be going with her. Balru remained lost in thought, chewing the meat from her stick until she glanced up and fixed her eyes on Fuzo.

She consumed her fill of the gamey meat and stood to stretch. She then caught Balru gawking. Back up on the ice to leak, she thought about Balru’s naked body; Polo was right, she needed to focus on the mission.

Later, as Fuzo helped get Perkad and Diz secured, she noticed Polo and Balru whispering to each other as they filled in their dugout with snow.

“Take this,” Fuzo handed her palm-blaster to Perkad. “You’ll need it,”

“I can’t take your blaster,” Perkad said.

“Take it, Perkad,” Balru joined them. “Carrying these bodies puts a target on your back. I need Diz back at Prime Base for my win to count.”

There was no snide comment from Polo, she wasn’t there.

“Here, take their surface-packs,” Diz handed Balru two bags. “They’re dead, they won’t need them,”

“Where’s Polo?” Fuzo asked.

“I don’t know, leaking out behind the base,” said Balru, bags in hand. “What am I, her kerma?”

Fuzo frowned before jogging toward the base.

“Bye Dox!” Perkad called out.

Fuzo waved before venturing inside.

The remaining supplies were gone as were all the flags. Out the window Fuzo spotted Polo on the horizon, running fast.

Driven by anger and instinct, she gave chase.

Through the gusting wind she tracked Polo to Taishan Station and while Polo was busy taking down a Chinese flag, she landed a fist to the thick bruiser’s back.

Polo tackled her and shoved her face into the snow, the biting cold burned her nostrils until she exhaled. Yanked to her feet, Polo loomed over her with palm aimed.

“Are you going to kill me, Polo?”

“Don’t tempt me,” she growled. “You were supposed to go with them!”

“I’m so sorry I ruined things for you!”

Polo backhanded her, driving her face again into the snow.

“I finally get Balru to myself and all she wants is your narrow ass!” a boot collided with her stomach. “If I can’t win with Balru, then I’m going to beat her!”

Yanked her up by her arm, Fuzo felt Polo’s breath against her ear.

“I’m going to blast you, if you don’t fall in,” she hissed. “Stow the flag and pick up the rest of my gear,”

She broke free and Polo fired, melting a hole in the snow just inches from her boot.

“Next time I won’t miss,” she warned. “Pick up the gear and fall in,”

Fuzo scowled, “When this is over-”

“—you aren’t going to do shit,” Polo grinned. “We’re going to win, and then go our separate ways, understand?”


Just east of Amundsen Scott, Fuzo spotted a glacial cave; sensing the opportunity, she dropped everything and ran.

Polo was too fast.

A fist struck the back of her head as the larger bruise fell upon her. She struggled to get out from under while Polo pummeled her with closed fists. Suddenly, one strike blackened her world.

Fuzo woke fetal on the snow, her body bound in rope. Beyond the heel of Polo’s boot sat the cave, just a few yards away.

“If the uymtik come back,” Polo said over her shoulder. “I’ll have time to clear out while they’re chewing on you.”

Miles of white tundra became a barren canvass for Fuzo to think up inventive ways to hurt Polo once she got free.

A howl on the wind brought dread; five long-legged uymtik appeared on the horizon and galloped down the snow drift.

Fuzo struggled anew to free herself. She slowed her breathing and began twisting her wrists against the ropes. She wasn’t getting free before the uymtik reached her; with wet eyes she screamed for Polo.

A figured darted down the snow drift behind the beasts, gaining ground from the opposite direction. It was Balru, running faster than Fuzo thought any of them possible.

Balru sped by her without a word and Fuzo craned her neck to witness Balru enter the cave. Digger-fire erupted followed by the sounds of a fight.

The uymtik were a hundred yards and closing.

A tug on the ropes led to them loosening from her wrists. Finally free, she quickly jumped to her feet and and fell in behind a running Balru.

At the mouth of the cave, Balru turned around and planted her feet. She fired with a blaster in each hand while Fuzo ducked to avoid the streaks of energy as they soared past.

Inside the cave the wind was brutal; all glacial caves housed a rear entry, this one’s must’ve been small.

Balru inched backward, felling one beast and injuring a third. The other others set upon the injured one, making them easy targets.

The monstrous female on the hill howled out, bringing two more wolves over the snow dune.

“Come on Balru!” Fuzo yelled.

On the ice Polo stirred and Fuzo snatched her up by the collar.

“Forget her, Dox!” Balru screamed, tossing her a digger, “Put this on, blast that edge of the roof!”

Fuzo moved to the opposite side of the opening and joined Balru in firing upon the top of the cave’s entry. Chunks of ice, rock, and snow rained down, blocking the uymtik from entering.

Balru tore her blaster from her palm.

“My diggers out of juice, Dox!”

“Grab Polo’s,” said Fuzo, turning to find Polo gone.

“The back-hole,” Balru shouted. “She’s going for it!”

Fuzo gave chase with Balru on her heels.

Polo was already up on the ice formation that anchored the cave. She was half-way out the small hole when Balru jumped and got hold of the bags and flags. Snatched from Polo’s back, they fell at her feet as she jumped again and grasped the fleeing bruisers boot. Polo kicked free, knocking Balru back.

Fuzo raised her hand to fire but paused when Polo’s legs abruptly ceased moving.

A fierce growl was heard outside the hole.

Polo scrambled to shimmy back inside.

She shrieked in pain as her body was jerked out with enough force that her remaining boot came free and fell onto the ice near Fuzo. The screaming continued as a uymtik forced its snarling head into the hole.

Fuzo aimed her palm and fired, caving in the opening and killing the beast.

Beyond the rock, Polo wailed, forcing Balru to her knees with her head in her hands. Fuzo pulled off the blaster, covered her ears and sobbed.

The uymtik howled in unison after Polo’s cries died down. She and Balru sat in silence while the beasts fed noisily; after a time, their presence was replaced by a noisy gale.

Balru crawled over to her, “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” said Fuzo.

Balru yanked the dead wolf free of the rubble.

“Did Diz show you how to skin it?”

Fuzo nodded, holding Polo’s boot.

“I can butcher it,” said Balru.

They needed to eat before sleeping.

“Did they issue us Faltrix logs?” asked Fuzo.

“They’re wrapped inside the hibernation-packs,”

Eyeing the wolf, Fuzo stripped off her uniform.

“What are you doing, Dox?”

“This is my last clean suit,” said Fuzo, “I don’t want blood all over it,”

Balru nodded and began removing her uniform.

Fuzo’s underclothes were also the only semi-clean ones she had left, and as she began removing them, she turned her back to Balru. Once naked, she glanced over to find that Balru did the same.

Dagger in hand, Fuzo skinned the uymtik best she could, leaving the fur around its head and upon its legs.

Balru butchered it, the ample portions on her chest jiggling as she moved. Needing a distraction, Fuzo dug a deep hole in the cave’s ice floor, and then got in to measure its height. When deep enough, she filled it with the snow carpeting the cave, then used what energy remained in her blaster to melt it.

They forced down the raw meat in silence.

Afterward, Fuzo slid into the icy pool and rinsed the blood from her skin. Fatigue took hold, the sort she felt only when it was time to hibernate. Out of the water she opened her bag and cracked the cloth brick against the ice wall. It expanded it into a sheet that reeked of Col-Tan. In its folds was a tiny hand-held dominated by a keypad.

Exhaustion made Fuzo lazy in her discretion. Blanket spread out on the ice, she boldly watched Balru scrape her hide clean with a kaltix blade. Balru was thick, and her fronts larger without an undershirt hiding them.

“You think I got Subaki swell?” she asked, staring at Fuzo.

Fuzo took the blade from her and rinsed it off before dragging it over her hide.

“What’s wrong with Subaki swell?”

“I didn’t give you that for you,” Balru snapped. “Do my back,”

Fuzo did as ordered when Balru sat down before her.

“Did your maker have a blue hide?”

“My kerma’s got some blue,” said Balru. “Never knew my mak,”

“I grew up in a caste-center, never knew mine either,”

“Mine died between the poles,” said Balru. “Just before I was born,”

“Can you do my back?”

“Turn around,” said Balru, rinsing the blade in the water.

Fuzo shivered when the blade moved down her back.

“Try not to swell up,” Balru teased.

“I’m sensitive because I’m tired,”

When clean, Fuzo kicked the discarded skin and bones into the water hole that was already freezing up. She turned to find Balru searching the small space for a clean spot to lay down her blanket.

“Just set it next to mine,”

Once settled, Fuzo grabbed the hibernation log.

“I was supposed to hibernate tomorrow,”

“We got all the flags,” Balru said. “They can’t end the trial until we’re back,”

Fuzo tapped in her gen-code, notifying Faltrix she was sleeping.

“That’s a weird code,” Balru sat beside her.

“Maybe because I’m from a caste-center,”

“Maybe,” Balru entered a code into her own log with half-lidded eyes. “What do I put for a paxicol number?”

Fuzo wasn’t at that screen yet.

“What options does it give,”

“Surface!” Balru declared, smiling.

Fuzo was groggy, “Surface,”

Once logged, she laid down with her back to Balru.The moment she felt Balru’s back touch hers, she scooted over, but Balru’s hide followed until it touched her again. Was Balru was still awake and unaware she was encroaching?

“I hope Perkad’s all right,”

“Perkad’s cool under pressure,” Balru replied. “Nothing gets to her, that’s why they’re cycling her out,”

“She’s going to the Guard-Bats?”

“She’s not one of us, Dox, she could be though,” Balru said, “SThat’s what’s going to help her be a badass when she goes into the Guardia,”

For the first time since arriving in Orta, she longed for the paxicol under her barracks.

“I miss hibernating with others,”

“I hate being stuck with my entire ‘toob crew,” Balru said. “Some of them snore and it drives me crazy,”

“Do you snore?”

“I don’t know,” Balru said. “I’m asleep and can’t hear myself,”

“Everyone thinks I might cycle out,”

“You won’t,” Balru said. “You got what it takes, Dox,”

“What are you going to do, after Final Trial?”

“I’m going Divisional,” said Balru. “I got a plan,”

Fuzo studied the back of Balru’s head.

“Division agents learn to sleep like helovx,”

“You still hibernate,” Balru rolled over and faced her. “You just take naps.”

“What’s a nap?”

“Helovx word,” said Balru. “It means a little sleep, or something,”

“I’ll end up walking the ice or playing a sport,”

“You just need to gain some weight,” said Balru.

“Medic told me I have a high metabolism,” Fuzo said. “She said gaining mass will be something that comes later in my life,”

“She probably felt sorry for you.” Balru grinned.

Fuzo laughed with her; giddy from the Col-Tan.

“You must be good at something,” Balru said. “Your Dokomad wouldn’t have chosen you for this trial if you weren’t.”

“I want to be between the poles with my own TCS,” Fuzo lay flat as Styba snorted a derisive laugh. “You think I can’t?”

“I know you can’t,” Balru fell over onto her back and laced her finger behind her head. “Not until you learn to give orders,”

Balru’s fronts sat there, exposed in all their glory. Sluggish from the Col-Tan, Fuzo brought her arm up and rested the back of her hand against Balru’s underarm.

“Your skin is so warm,” Balru whispered.

Fuzo grinned, “It’s my high metabolism.”

“You got to take leadership classes and learn how a Toxis Class works,” Balru yawned. “You have to be a Komad before you can move to Fleet Promad.”

Fuzo scooted closer, putting her head in Balru’s armpit.

“How do you know all this?” she asked.

“I read it in the career path journals in barracks,” Balru draped her arm across Fuzo’s forehead. “Don’t act like you can’t read.”

“I can read, I just can’t lead,” Fuzo rubbed her head against the side of Balru’s frontal, “I like your subbie swell,”

“I can kick the crap out you, Dox,” Balru warned.

“Does your uzxi get hard when you see certain things?”

“My uzxi get hard when my undershirt is too tight,”

“Do you rub off?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“You told Polo you were nasty,”

Balru sat up and looked down at her, “I wouldn’t have let her cut you out, Dox,”

“I don’t care about her,” Fuzo whispered. “Have you burned yet?”

“Every time I rub,” said Balru, reclining again. “I finally figured out how to spill,”

Fuzo put her hand on Balru’s stomach, “What do you mean, spill?”

“You burn,” she said. “Then your splooge comes out,”

Fuzo glanced down, “How do you do it?”

“You get your ryd out from the rest of your gash,” Balru jumped when Fuzo touched her swelling flesh. “Don’t start nothing you can’t finish, ‘toob.”

“I can finish,” Fuzo whispered.

Balru sat up and turned around so that her head lay at Fuzo’s feet.

“Let’s see what you can do,”

Fuzo’s hand glided over the folds of her own swelling gash. Pinching her rydok between her fingers, she brought her other hand over it and rubbed, aroused by the mix of desire and fascination on Balru’s face.

Balru laid back and began touching herself too and when Fuzo’s foot found her gash and trapped her rydok between her toes, she laughed and batted it away.

Fuzo lifted her head as Balru became winded. Her fronts bounced as her hands moved and the sight of it brought Fuzo close to burning. She wanted to taste Balru’s seam, to run her tongue over it, but she didn’t dare. It was one thing to touch the other’s muscles, or to watch each other masturbate, but it was quite another to grope swell, or even kiss.

Hand rubbing furiously against her swollen flesh, Fuzo rolled off the blanket and felt the cold wetness upon her hands as she leaked light blue onto the snow. She’d done it, she’d finally spilled.

Balru began snoring, her deflated gash and hand coated in fluid.

Semaru Island

24 Yulitat 2228 1230 hours

Carried over the bruisers thick shoulder, her head bounced against that muscular backswell. The jungle floor was no longer familiar and the pressure on her stomach made her retch.

“You need to vomit?”

“Just slow down or carry me another way,” said Tavo.

“You’ll manage, subbie-”

Suddenly, Tavo was airborne before landing in the arms of Fuzo Dox. Dashing off the moment Tavo was caught, she left Balru hanging high by her right ankle high in a tree.

Tave was carried several moments before Fuzo stopped at the bank of a roaring stream. Set down upon a rock, she eyed the drop-off of the waterfall, grateful when her binds were cut.

“I don’t know what you’ve done,” Fuzo said, draping her uniform jacket over Tavo’s shoulders.

“I can explain,” she said.

“You can tell me about it on the way home,”

“What happened to your face?” she asked.

“I got shot, it’s a long story.”

“You’re Femitokon Division?” Tavo’s eyes lifted from the Divisional insignia on the uniform jacket. “Is Kul with you?”

“Yes, Femitokon’s my division,”

“Where’s your Komad,” she stood. “Where’s Sofita Kul?”

“Promad Kul?”

“You have to get me to her, now,” she demanded.

“Promad Kul’s the last person you want to see,” Fuzo said. “If Termsabo has you on a list for termination, Kul will turn you over or terminate you herself,”

Tavo grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her.

Fuzo pushed her away, “What are you doing?”

“Trying to get your attention,”

“There’s to be no physicality between us,” Fuzo snapped. “Understand?”

“I must speak with Sofita, she won’t terminate me,”

“Let’s get you back home first,” she said.

Tavo lowered her gaze, “About that night in Orta,”

“I really don’t want to revisit it,”

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” Tavo needed Fuzo to save her, not be resentful of their one-time dalliance. She grabbed her again forced a tongue past Fuzo’s lips.

Fuzo wrenched free, “What did I just say,”

Tavo put her hands on Fuzo’s bald head.

“You’re in love with someone,”

“That’s none of your business,” said Fuzo.

“You’re right, I’m sorry,”

Fuzo softened, “If you’re looking for comfort right now-”

“—I owe you an explanation and an apology,”

“Apology accepted,” Fuzo stepped away. “We need to get moving,”

“Do you have an Ornith here. Fuzo?”

Suddenly, the bruiser reeled about with her palm up and pulled Tavo behind her. Winded, Balru was there with her palm at Fuzo’s face.

“You’re in violation of SOD procedure, Komadon,”

“Since when do we terminate citizen between the poles?”

“I was given a wide berth on this one,”

“Too wide, where’s your superior?”

“I don’t have a Promad sitting on my every move,”

“You should, this entire mission is a breach of protocol,”

“You don’t get to make that call, Komadon,”

“Don’t forget Dokomad, I outrank you,”

One twitch of their thumbs and both would be dead.

“Will you two stop all this posturing, please?” Tavo cried.

“She’s wanted for the murder of a citizen, Dox,” Balru said.

“Tavo?” Fuzo kept her eyes on Balru. “Did you kill anyone?”

“Ziw Balru was helping me,” Tavo shook her head. “I wouldn’t have killed her, ever, I loved her,”

Each cast a quick glance at Tavo, but kept their palms aimed.

“Dokomad,” Fuzo said. “I think your objectivity is compromised,”

“We’ve had these words before, Komadon,”

“What are you going to do to her Balru?” Fuzo demanded. “What Polo was going to do to me on the surface?”

“We were ‘toobs back then Dox,”

“You saved me,” Fuzo said. “It was the right thing to do-”

“—A move I came to regret,”

“We were friends,” Fuzo snapped.

“I thought that once,” Balru said. “Before you came after me on the Final Trial ice,”

“It wasn’t like that!” Fuzo growled.

“Komadon, you’re interfering with my mission,” Balru clenched her teeth. “I’ll not hesitate unload in your face.”

“Do what you have to Balru,” Fuzo pressed her cheek against Balru’s palm. “I’m protecting her because that’s what we’re designed to do, not murder but protect.”

“Please Balru, listen to me, I can explain everything,” Tavo stepped up behind Fuzo. “Promad Kul can tell you what’s going on, what’s happening to me, what happened to Ziw,”

“Alright Citizen Ex,” Balru lowered her palm. “Let’s hear your side of the story,”

Fuzo kept her blaster trained on Balru.

“Fuzo please,” Tavo whispered. “Stand down,”

Fuzo kept her eyes on Balru and her hand in place.

“Lower your palm,” Tavo pleaded. “We’re going to talk this through,”

When Fuzo’s eyes shifted to Tavo, Balru raised her hand and fired. Tavo dropped to her knees when Fuzo fell back to dodge the blast, hand up and firing.

Energy caught Balru’s thigh, knocking to the water’s edge.

Without hesitation, Fuzo tackled the larger Dokomad, sending her over the precipice and into the rapids.


It was a brutal obstacle course but Styba managed to come in second, finishing right behind the elder, Kul.

At the hot pools, the others spoke of CR Jyr’s resignation; they’d been allowed to watch the Cloister proceedings, it was only thing they ever got to watch on the BEB.

“I think Jyr’s sick,” said Zebibol, a persistent loudmouth. “Femarctic males are animals,”

“Why don’t you shut up until you’ve met one?”

“There’s no males to meet Balru,” Bol quipped.

She sensed Bol come up behind her.

“Are you a male-lover like Jyr?” Bol demanded.

“That’s CR Jyr,” Styba faced her. “Where’s your respect?”

“My respect?” Bol laughed. “Up a male’s gurx,”

Styba punched Bol’s stomach and the young toob jumped back up with fists at the ready.

“What’s going on in here?”

Byza approached from the edge of the water.

Styba came to attention, “Nothing Dokomad!”

Bol did the same,“Nothing, Dokomad!”

“Get dried up,” Byza snapped, exiting the pool area.

Bol stepped into her, “I’m not finished with you Balru,”

“I’m finished with you,” Styba twisted her Bol’s arm behind her back and dunked her head under the water. She yanked Bol up then and deposited her onto the concrete. “You want to hate on males you’ve never met, you go right ahead, but don’t slag on them around me because it reeks of stupidity.”

Styba exited the pools as Bol lay there coughing.

Back in barracks, Styba found Kul in her stall.

Her friends griped about how much she talked to the Hizak, so she waited until they were occupied before walking over.

Inside, Kul was packing her gear.

“Can I come in?” she asked, entering when Kul nodded. “Are you leaving?”

“Next week,” said Kul.

“I wish I could cycle out that fast,”

“Balru,” Kul whispered. “Never let others see your weaknesses,”

“What are you talking about?”

“The subject of males is a weakness for you,” Kul remained hushed. “Never act on your emotions like that, you’ve given Bol a weapon. Next time she wants to get to you, she knows how,”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,”

“You think I don’t know how you feel?” Kul said. “My kerma hurt males. She raped them, beat them, and killed them, in that order,”

Styba’s heart raced at the idea of anyone hurting her kerma, “You should’ve reported her, Kul,”

“My kerma’s too important,” said Kul.

“How did she find them?” she asked.

“When she ran out of retreds to abuse, she set her sights on males that were procured to take care of my sib and me,” Kul grabbed her by the collar. “You can’t tell anyone, you hear me, Balru.”

Styba nodded, “What’s a retread?”

“Males they lock up in secret hospitals,” Kul glanced around them. “They try and change who they are,”

Styba closed her eyes and then nodded, “I won’t say nothing, I swear it,” though there was plenty she wanted to say.

That afternoon they were marched to the surface to dig snow shelters. Creating fire pits and carving out communal latrines was hard work, but it was also fun.

After she and her group of three finished, she found Kul digging hers alone and decided to help.

Dokomad Byza inspected their shelters, and afterward, ordered them refilled. Kul filled hers fast and then helped Balru and her crew fill in theirs.

Shoveling snow side by side, Styba inched closer to her.

“Remember what you said about retreads?” she whispered as Kul surveyed the area. “I think my kerma was a retread,”

Kul grabbed her arm, “What are you talking about?”

“You can’t tell anyone,” she hissed. “You have to promise me!”

“Never share that with anyone else, you hear me?” Kul knelt to her level. “No matter how much you trust them,”

“I trust you,” said Styba. “You’re my friend,”

“I’ll tell no one Balru, you have my word,” Kul said. “Never tell anyone else, not a friend, not a partner, no one,”

“My kerma’s a Tenth Gen, like you,” she whispered. “He got saved from a place like that by the Zaxir that birthed me,”

Kul smiled, “Is that what he told you?”

“He doesn’t talk about it,” she said. “I found some things one day and my elder sat me down and told me,”

“How did he hide from it from his bonds?” Kul asked.

“He was bonded to a Hizak that worked with the Zaxir to help him escape,” she remained hushed, careful of those around them. “They fell in love, but she died before I was born,”

Kul looked down at the snow, “A zaxxy saved him?”

“He doesn’t talk about my birther,” she said. “She died too, but elder Ziw says she’s the one that saved him,”

“Why are you telling me this?” Kul asked.

“I know what it’s like,” she said. “To be the reason your birther is dead,”

“Read up on me, did you?” Kul asked.

“I know how to read,” she said, smiling. “You’re in the Orta database,”

“Never believe anything on the Hive,” said Kul.

“They don’t let us have access to the Hive,” Styba grabbed her arm. “You got to promise me you’ll never tell, ever,”

“I’ll never betray your confidence. What you told me, takes guts, I admire that,” Kul put her hand on Styba’s shoulder. “I mean it Balru, never tell anyone. They have a division that hunts down males.”

“They do?” asked Styba. “What’s it called?”


Fish moved beneath her while birds and monkeys mocked from the trees. The falls rumbled and above her the sky was clear of clouds. Upright, she swam to the beach and stripped off her uniform.

The purple burn on her leg was tender to the touch; Dox would pay for this.

Two distinct heartbeats approached from the jungle ushering in a large man from the foliage with his MK rifle aimed.

Don’t move farc!” he shouted.

A shorter man emerged, his pleasantly round belly shook as he waved the knife at her head, “Where’d you take Tavo!

Styba remained stone. Several moments passed before the men grew bold enough to get closer. When a bird landed on her back and flew off without disturbing her, the larger man lowered his gun.

I think she’s hibernating, Kemen,”

Don’t be stupid Marwoto,” Kemen waved a hand past her face. “When miss Tavo slept, she closed her eyes just like us.

Maybe she’s a robot,” said Marwoto. “Like that silver farc that flies around,”

Didn’t I ask you to not be stupid?

Styba sprang to life, disarming Marwoto and hurling his gun into the water. She took Kemen by the throat and tossed his knife into a far tree.

Come at me big man,” she said in their language. “And I snap his neck,”

Don’t move Marwoto,” Kemen pleaded. “Just stay there,”

Styba back stepped to the water’s edge with the man in her grasp. Satisfied with the distance, she pushed him aside and waited as Marwoto rushed her. Taking him by the throat and waistband, she hoisted him from the ground and chucked him into the lake.

The one named Kemen snatched up her discarded blaster and pulled it onto his hand.

Styba grinned when he aimed it and nothing happened.

It doesn’t recognize your DNA,” she said.

He peeled it off and threw it at her. Fists raised, his eyes followed hers to his groin.

“You like what you see Fleet?” he demanded in Ramaxi.

Styba declared, “You’ve got a satufix,”

Exposed above his sagging waistband, the skin around the base of his penis appeared bruised. He yanked down his pants and found his foreskin a purplish-red.

“It’s a sexually transmitted fungus. North American humans call it, Saint-Fucked,” Styba collected her uniform from the grass, along with her discarded blaster. “Fleeters carry a protein in their splooge that in human males who don’t bathe properly, develops into a fungal infection.”

“That’s disgusting,” his lip curled. “Am I going to die?”

Styba shook her head, “Not from that,” and then punched him in the face.

At the beach where Thokai was waiting, Styba entered the cabin and immediately took a koxtax blade to her hide.

Femarctic neural signatures detected.

Styba studied the map that materialized before her; Dox and Ex were a mile from her location and moving toward the Ornithocheirus Five.

“Where’s the exact location of their Ornith?”

The eastern shore of the Segara Anak Bay.

In the drawer under her bunk, she retrieved a clean undersuit and pants, exposing her collection of commendations. One of the badges, Performance Above and Beyond Survival, had been given to her after she and Dox returned from their surface trial.

“Sofita Kul’s new underling,” Styba mused. “Thokai, has Kul been without the Shell before?”

Promad Kul was forced to cease hosting the Shell when ordered to complete Orta Caste Training in the years-

“—Thank you, Thokai,” Styba said. “I want you to turn off all sensors and power down completely,”

Affirmative, Dokomad Balru, but may I ask why?

“We don’t need Orny fixing on your position,” Styba pulled on a fresh uniform. “I know it makes you vulnerable, but I doubt there’s much of a threat on this island,”

Understood, Dokomad Balru.

“Now,” Styba opened the cabin door. “Let’s see what Dox does without Kul around to wipe her gurx,”


Tavo appeared over her, hysterical.

“You closed your eyes and I couldn’t wake you!”

Fuzo sat up, “I was sleeping,”

“You can do that,” she said. “Just hibernate for an hour?”

“They teach us,” Fuzo rolled to her feet. “Our first year in Divisional,”

“You talked,” she said. “You can dream in short sleeps?”

“I’m sorry I frightened you,” said Fuzo.

“What were you dreaming about?” she asked.

“Remember our night together?” Fuzo said. “I told you that story about me and that ‘toob up on the ice,”

“You hibernated with her, hid out from wolves, you got some award or something,” Tavo grinned. “I wasn’t into that part of the story though,”

Fuzo huffed a laugh, “Are you serious?”

“It was ice-cold,” she smacked Fuzo’s arm.

Fuzo’s smile faded, “It was Balru,”

Tavo frowned, “Ouch,”

Fuzo had woken twenty days later in the arms of Balru.

After digging themselves out of the ice-cave, they’d returned to Prime Base with every flag, and the remains of Polo.

They’d given their superiors a story about how uymtik ambushed them, killing Polo. They were able to confirm Diz and Perkad’s account about the others and had been awarded for their mission focus and behaving in a manner befitting a Marixi.

Balru was assigned to a different Brood and Fuzo didn’t see her again until their Final Trial.

She’d come face to face with Balru amidst a sea of fighting finalists and was resigned to avoid confrontation until Balru took out Bol. It became clear she’d lost Balru’s friendship when the larger bruise attacked. After waking from her blackout, and with no thought to their history, Fuzo had snatched up a fallen club and slammed Balru on the small of her back.

“She hates me now,” Fuzo said. “Sometimes, the feeling is mutual,”

“You never told me about what happened to your face,” Tavo touched the scar on her forehead, “You said you got shot, when, where?”

“Slavic Empire,”

Tavo started, “You’re the one that protected Ilo Cux?”

“I know why you ran out on me,”

“I was an ignorant gurx,” Tavo hugged herself. “I’m so sorry,”

Fuzo wanted to speak of Ebival, but when she glanced to Tavo she saw her eyes fixed on the sky. An archaic F4 Phantom cut through the clouds and sailed low past their position.

“Get inside the Ornith, now!” Fuzo turned to find the Subak running toward the jungle. “Tavo, no!”

“It’s going to attack the village!” she cried.

Fuzo took off after her and just a few feet short of snatching Tavo by the braids, Balru appeared in her path. She vaulted over the larger bruise only to have her arm and leg snatched. Swung about and slammed into a tree, Fuzo hit the ground unable to breath.

Balru stood over her with a struggling Tavo tucked under her arm, “Forgive me if I don’t curl up beside you this time,”

Suddenly, another flier soared past their position and Balru dropped Tavo and took off running over the grass.

“Thokai, go!” she screamed.

The Phantoms lets loose a score of Sparrow missiles just as the red Ornith rose above the trees. All struck Thokai simultaneously, clouding her fire and smoke.

Balru wailed in anger, arms and legs pumping as she raced toward the damaged Thokai who skirted the shoreline.

On her feet, Fuzo watched in horror as the Ornith took off without permission.

“Orny, no!” she shouted.

Balru climbed the high rocks and at the top she raised her arm, “Ornithocheirus Five, retrieve!”

“No Orny!” Fuzo cried as Balru grabbed his talon-extension and was pulled the cabin.

Over the ocean, Orny swooped between the planes, forcing a separation and veering east to attack the most vulnerable.

A thin line of energy shot out from his undercarriage and pierced the flying machine clean through.

Men filed out of the flier before it blew into a thick ball of black smoke. Debris rained down onto the ocean along with some men in parachutes.

Fuzo ran a hand over her arm and brought up an interface screen, “Orny I need you back here now!”

“Negative, Komadon,” said the voice of Balru.

Fuzo raced through the jungle, catching sight of Tavo’s bouncing braids while the audio in Orny’s cabin played in her ears.

“Kyrsat-Cannons,” said Balru’s voice. “Aim eight point two at twelve point seven and blast on my command,”

“Don’t you fire on those helovx,” Fuzo shouted. “You hear me, Orny!”

“Blast!” Balru commanded.

A bolt of energy seared the plane’s right wing and sent the chassis spiraling toward the ground. The crew trickled out in parachutes just moments before the fuselage burst into a plume of fire.

“Orny, offensive position H-Five,” Balru said. “I want no survivors.”

Dokomad Balru, Helovx-Five involves harming collateral persons to achieve the termination of a target. Helovx-Five can only be authorized by a ranking Promad or higher.

“Release control,” Balru said. “Manual operation in affect,”

I cannot comply Dokomad Balru. There is a high probability you intend to carry out an Helovx-Five maneuver despite an awareness of command-protocol.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Orny,” Balru entered her Terminal Sabotage override code and then took control of the Ornith’s weapon and navigational system.

Fuzo pushed through the trees as a holographic display of Orny’s interior jostled over arm. When the survivor’s heat signatures descended upon a village, she decided to call for backup.

“Komadon Dox, emergency KPI, hive Pentox, please respond,” in the clearing ahead she spotted the first of the village’s suspended crosswalks.

Kyrsbrain-Psio Interface cannot be instituted at this time.

“Ornithocheirus Five has been compromised!”

Ornithocheirus Five is under the command of Terminal Sabotage.

“I’m a Komadon, I outrank a Dokomad!”

In instances of jurisdictional intersection without the presence of a ranking Promad or higher, control of lifeforms falls to senior divisional departments.

“Termsabo’s older?” Fuzo demanded. “That’s the rationale?”

Affirmative, Komadon Dox.

Orny flanked the treeline, his right wing pulsing as plasma rained down into the jungle.


“Kemen, Marwoto!” Tavo approached the long wooden hut with a toddler under each arm. “Get everyone inside!”

“What’s going on?” Kemen screamed.

The Ornith lowered into the trees, kicking up a hot wind that forced her braids up.

“They attacked the wrong farc!” Tavo shouted, and once safely inside she counted heads. “We need to stay put until it’s over!”

The door was kicked in by two men brandishing guns.

Inside they tore off their parachutes and with guns aimed, herded the villagers toward the back. Kemen and Marwoto came together in front of Tavo, hiding her as one of the men pumped his gun.

Ornith cast a shadow beyond the door, followed by a broadcast of Styba Balru’s deep and stoic timber, “Attention Basuki’s,”

The men stared at the huddled group.

“She’s talking to us,” Marwoto bragged.

“There’s a couple of bastards in there that I want,” Balru’s voice filled the air. “Send them out, and no one you care about gets hurt,”

The men trained their guns on Marwoto when he stepped toward them.

“You stay back!,” one of them shouted.

Kemen reached for him, “Marwoto, no,”

The lumbering man was allowed his brother to pull him aside, revealing Tavo.

“Farc!” one of the men shouted.

“Grab her,” said the other. “They won’t kill one their own!”

“She’s here to kill me,” Tavo protested as they pushed Marwoto over to acquire her.

Fuzo Dox burst through the door.

She grabbed one man’s rifle, pumped it, and then pulled the trigger, blowing his head to pieces while his hands were still on the gun. The other fool took aim, but she snatched the gun from his grasp and slammed him in the face with butt before tossing him out the door.

She’ll kill him, Fuzo!” Tavo shouted in Ramaxi.

Dox growled, “Those animals attacked an Ornith!

Outside, the man clamored for the jungle and Orny slowly veered right to follow. Pressed against the top of the trees, Orny let loose a pulse of energy that scorching the earth as it burned the man to a crisp.

At that moment, another Phantom appeared on the horizon and retreated upon seeing Orny.


Styba trailed the Phantom to a nearby island.

“Scan terrain for fossil fuel emissions,” she ordered.

The Ornith did nothing because she’d taken him offline to commandeer his offensive array.

Frustrated, she steered around the trees herself before coming upon a sizable military camp. The compound was in chaos as the Ornith closed in over their landing field. Two more Phantoms were being prepped for take-off, while the one she followed tried to circle around behind her.

“Orny, I’m giving you back your controls,” Balru said, cancelling her override.

Thank you Dokomad Balru.

“Orny, offensive position, Helovx-eighteen,” Styba said. “Eliminate the remaining aircraft and eradicate all structural objects. Anything with heat and a motor!”

Affirmative Dokomad Balru.

The Phantom fired from behind, but its sparrows hit Orny’s kinetic shield and exploded on impact. A cluster of Mag-Io’s floated from Orny’s rear, whistling as they homed in on the fleeing Phantom. They struck their with a rumble that bore a blackened cloud.

“Record for evidence,” said Styba. “They got a little army here, Orny. If they want a war with me, let’s give them one,”

Affirmative Dokomad Balru.

Kyrsat-cannon fired multiple beams, striking every plane on the runway.

“Strike every combatant with a weapon in his hand,” said Balru as explosions sent dozens of men into the jungle on foot.

Affirmative Dokomad Balru.

The Ornith released what remained of his Mag-Io inventory. Tiny flecks of light floated slowly to ground level before speeding into the trees upon zeroing in on the running men.

Satisfied with her destruction, Styba ordered the Ornith back to the village. Landing beside the long house, she exited the cabin and found Dox waiting with villagers behind her, and the Subak under her arm.

“Were there more?” Dox asked.

Styba nodded as she approached before backhanding Dox with all her might.

The screaming villagers scattered as Ex joined Dox on the ground.

“Fuzo!” she cried. “Wake up!”

“Say goodbye, Tavo!” she yanked the Subak up by her braids.

Marwoto and Kemen ran at her, but she blasted them without a second thought. Ex tore free of her grasp and rushed to the felled men, belly up with smoking holes in their chests.

“Kemen?” Ex whispered, lifting his head.

The young man’s eyes smiled before closing forever.

On her feet, Ex swung at Styba, who allowed her a few strikes before lifted her off the ground and over her shoulder.

“I’ve officially had it with this mission,” she sighed, tossing Ex into the Ornith and closing the hatch door behind them.

At the navigational array the Subak came up behind her and dug her nails into Styba’s cheeks. She reached back and yanked Ex over her shoulder, slamming the Subak’s thick legs across Orny’s com panel.

Dokomad Balru.

“It’s all right Orny!”

“No, it’s not!” Ex shouted. “Fuzo’s still out there!”

Styba shoved the Subak to the back and forced her down onto the seat.

“Murderer!” Ex shouted, struggling as Styba secured the belt-restraints.

“Locate Thokai and rendezvous, Orny,”

The Ornith didn’t respond.

“We’re doing this again?” Styba began tapping in her Terminal Sabotage override code, but interface panel blipped out. “Orny, you’re a hair close to insubordination!”

I will not leave without Komadon Dox.

“That’s how you want play it,” she nodded, “Five-five eight-seven sixteen-twelve,”

You are not recognized, Dokomad Balru.

“That’s a direct violation of protocol!”

When you last exited the cabin, Dokomad Balru, I received new orders from Komadon Dox.

“Five-five eight-seven sixteen-twelve!”

By order of Pentox and at the request of Komadon Dox, command override from a Promad or higher is required to enact any and all inter-divisional ordinance codes.

“Fucking Dox!” Styba growled and then pointed at Ex. “You run this time and I’ll break your legs,”

Styba opened the hatch and found Dox standing there with palm aimed.