Kuril Base North – Primada Sector
Raxuta`acarol (Pacific Ocean)
1 Yubol (June) 2228 0130 Hours
Unlike the scores of other young men before him, the boy didn’t dive for a dark corner when she arrived, or collapse into a fetal ball, sobbing on the floor.
Stepping over the threshold, Laxum found the heat stifling. Red-blooded helovx ran cold under the sea, and this boy persisted in turning the thermostat to its highest level.
Setting down her bag, she moved her fingertips over the climate-control pad.
“How are you today, Wu?” Laxum asked, in his native Hamgyong.
Wu sat on the bench, entranced by the dark water outside.
Prone to tension, his species required intervals of analytical downtime to maintain mental balance; this need to regain control of their psyche proved them masters at complicating simple existence.
“I inquired of your well-being, Wu,” Laxum said, excited by his indifference.
Sitting beside him, she savored how the skin on his knee pebbled beneath her touch.
Men were stingy with their affections when it came to her kind, but Wu proved more accommodating than most helovx males. He’d confessed, early in his captivity, that her brown hide reminded him of the tiger sharks that had stalked the refugee boat he’d lived on as a child.
A quick inventory of her open robe forced Laxum to admit that the impressive streaks she’d inherited from her kermatic maker, did resemble those of a sea tiger. Her hue remained a mystery; a femmar of the Hizak caste, she was wholly color-blind.
Laxum’s world existed in degrees of darkness and light; the blue gibix robe shrouding her naked body was merely dark, while the golden turban that protected her high styled hair, light.
“I’m aware of the tradition wherein you celebrate the day of your birth,” Laxum said, keen to put thoughts of sharks behind her.
The vilest folklore invented about the origin of her species claimed them sharks gone bipedal. A shark wasn’t sentient enough to warrant comparison to the femmar; their sole purpose was to eliminate the weak and devour the dead.
“Our doctor informs me that you are sixteen, today,” Laxum said. “I’m a citizen of the Tenth Ramaxian Generation, I’m forty-three years old.” Laxum hoped to provoke a smile, “I’m at a stage called, mid-life. It saddens me, but if the next forty years are as eventful as the first, I’ll have no regrets.”
Wu sat focused on something beyond the glass.
“I might defy convention, and forgo ending my life when the time comes,” pulling the cloak from her bag, Laxum shook the folds from the fabric. “I’m aware of the chill you endure, this far down,” as she draped it over his naked shoulders, her knuckles feathered the soft protrusions on his chest. “Tell me, Wu, what’s the last birthday celebration you remember?”
“I was twelve,” Wu’s voice pleased her. “My mother and my sister took me to the mountains. I was excited. I’d never seen snow. On the way home, we stopped at a roadside stand. A plane flew over our heads. Tiny balls of light, chased after it, like bugs.”
The fine hairs on his shorn scalp tickled her palm.
“The lights began to whistle, and they moved so fast. I covered my ears, it felt like someone blowing a whistle beside me.”
Taking his hand, she savored its chill against her lips.
“When they followed the plane, over the ridge, mother turned to us and said, I want you both to know that I love you very, very much.”
Laxum released him.
“Clouds on the horizon were sucked down over the ridge, where the lights chased the plane,” Wu trembled, “The boom shook the ground beneath my feet. A black ball of smoke rose up, like a blooming flower.”
Laxum set her forearms on her thighs; bringing her hands together, she admired her new manicure.
“Who saved you from the impact wave, Wu?”
“I never knew his name. The man, he grabbed us and dragged us down into a ditch. My mother was screaming when the winds took her.” Wu blinked as if woken. “Why am I here, Ambassador Jyr?”
Laxum stiffened at the mispronunciation of her pod-designation.
“My name isn’t enunciated as jeer. It’s pronounced like the helovx-English word, year,” Laxum said. “Say my name again, and this time, endeavor to do it properly,”
Wu quickly corrected himself, “Ambassador Jyr why—”
“—you were part of a team that attempted to destroy my base. The strategy entailed sinking explosives onto our outer hull.” Laxum grew tired of repeating this story. “Your team failed to assess the proper depth. The pressure imploded your devices before contact. We extracted you, and your team, from the surface water.”
Wu petted the cloak, “This material is strange,”
“It’s called gwobix,” Laxum said. “It’s like your silk.”
“It’s from Antarctica?” Wu asked.
Laxum didn’t mind his name for Ramaxia if he didn’t mind her refusing to call him, human.
“Ambassador Jyr, it has a hole for my—”
“—it was made, just for you,”
“I’m a man. Is it for men, from Antarcti—”
“—no, Wu. We don’t produce boys,”
Wu glanced at her open robe.
“How are your babies born?”
Laxum straightened her back, “Detailing the complexities of our genetic engineering would be lost on you,”
“We make things, like fish,” he said.
“Using our technology, yes, you now have hatcheries,” Laxum said.
Wu closed his eyes, “We made you—”
Laxum’s hand came down hard and struck the back of his head. Wu lay sprawled at her feet, his chest pressed to the floor.
“I’ve worked so hard in my resolve, Wu!” Laxum rose from the bench and her shadow cast darkly upon his bare back. “I’ve progressed much in my attempt to interact with you without resorting to abuse.”
Wu’s eyes fixated on her hands.
In the early years of Ramaxia’s expansion between the poles, the physical cruelty of the Femarctic warrior caste became legend; the term Fear the Fist had come from violent altercations between helovx men, and Marixi soldiers.
The femmar found helovx men masters in escalating verbal conflicts.
During these exchanges, if the strongest of the bald, muscle-bound females made a fist, then her subordinates set upon the loudest man. Stripping him, they’d force him on all fours so that she could shove a clenched fist into his rectum.
“This tale you helovx perpetuate about creating us, it’s obscene!” Laxum was no brute, but her kindness expired in the face of ignorance. “Humanity was barely cloning cattle when the impact occurred. It astounds me you think yourselves capable of such discipline!”
No longer content with his nonresponse, Laxum wedged the top of her foot between the floor and his testicles, then pressed the ball of her heel into the small of his back.
Hearing him wail out, she detached.
“Rise Wu. I don’t keep you alive to hurt you.”
The land-male bowed to the polar female, again.
In and out of the water, this was the way of the world.
Gliding out of the trench, its snout went numb from the rush of warm water. Leaving the structure’s pulsating energy behind, it swam for the calm in the shallows.
Swimming up and over the ridge, it tapped into a part of its brain where nothing was untrue.
The water was dark here, and beneath its belly, a patch of submerged residences sat tucked in the flattened crags.
The man it sought often came here when his eyes could no longer stay open.
The walls were thick, but nothing escaped its senses.
Beneath the drumbeat of his feet was the patter of his beating heart. He stood alone in the narrow window, and when he turned around, his thin eyes went wide.
Screaming, he vanished down the corridor.
Cutting through the current, it savored his palpable fear. Snout inches from the thick square of glass, its mind illuminated the darkness.
Inside, the coward’s faint rhythmic heartbeat beckoned.
Turning about, it pulled back its tail, and with all its might, whacked the wall. The thick glass buckled, and inside the man was screaming.
Surface Operational Housing Unit #3
Dirtox’takal [Lazarev Sea]
1 Yubol (June) 2228 0630 Hours
Sofita woke with a start, haunted by the image of Fusada laying on the floor of their paxicol, eyes rolled over white in death, vomit drying on her throat.
Poolside on the chaise, Sofita glanced up to find someone standing over her.
Clad in a tight Citizen’s Guard uniform, Ziw Balru’s powerful physique had held up in the eighteen years since they’d last spoken.
Sitting up Sofita mumbled, “Podpromad Balru,”
“That’s a lousy greet,” said Balru.
Talking down to fleeters was a habit, but Balru didn’t deserve it. Born with ilitux and trained to protect, Balru lived among the citizenry, unfettered by the aggression native to Marixi.
“I heard you divisional barks were prone to bouts of sleep,” Balru proved true to her design by waving cordially to the onlooker’s poolside and then blocking Sofita’s view of them, “You’ve chosen a shitty place to hide, Kul.”
SOHU3 sat on the sea floor, one mile short of the southern oceans border.
A residential base for laborers and their pods, it boasted a communal pool, a shuttle pavilion, and a single market that sold more protein blocks for sustenance replicators than it did fresh foodaxi.
“Plenty of engineers, here,” Balru grinned. “Still crave bizzy’s, Kul?”
Balru’s crass observation was given a pass since their association had been born of Sofita’s desire for her Bizak sibling.
“My cravings,” Sofita eyed the creped skin on Balru’s bald head, a reminder that their generation had reached midlife. “Are few and far between these days.”
Balru’s eyes drifted to the stringy hand-unit clinging to the back of her chaise, “Should your blaster be out like that?”
Sofita pointed her head at Balru’s bare right hand, “I assumed Guardia gloved, at all times,”
“I’m no longer on the street, Kul,” Balru said hand raised.
Snatching her workout pants from the concrete, Sofita tossed them over the blaster, “Feel safer now?”
“The citizens on the other side of the pool do,” said Balru.
“Those breeders aren’t scared of me,” said Sofita.
“Don’t call them breeders, Kul,”
Balru’s sort drew clear lines in the snow when it came to Zaxiri and Subaki; one was for sex, the other raised you until you were eight. Neither deserved blanketing with a crude term like breeder.
Sofita pushed the balls of her hands into her eyes.
“How’ve I earned a visit from you today, Podpromad?”
Balru pulled a duxpak from her uniform pocket.
“There’s a name on this that concerns you.”
Sofita glanced the young Subak pictured on it.
“That subakidoe has nothing to do with me,”
Balru’s scowled, “She’s Fusada’s donation,”
“I don’t care.” Sofita declared.
“You cared enough to finance that book of hers,” said Balru. “The one that killed her career.”
“The Committee destroyed her career, not me,” Sofita said, impressed that Balru remained the consummate detective. “Spoken to her, have you?”
“She came into the precinct, concerned about her place in the world given her pedigree,” Balru said. “Obviously, I’m the only one that cares,”
“She’s no threat to the Primary, Balru,” Sofita said. “On that note, Fusada was next in line to rule, not me. The fact that she’s dead and I’m alive doesn’t change that.”
Balru tucked the paper-thin device back into her uniform jacket, “Our Primary has another donation out there?”
“You know she doesn’t, Balru,” Sofita sighed.
Balru said, “Femtrux considers you and Fusada, one citizen,”