Episode Five

9 BAMX 2228 – JULY 9, 2228

Atangapaxo, Yukat`wagidol
Antarctica West Islands – 0230 hours

Two in the morning found Koba sitting in a human café feasting on baked crumb-coated bananas smothered in thick sour cream and brown sugar.

She discovered the place the second week of her residency, after it became a gateway drug for her addiction to round dark-skinned ladies. Her favorite was Yevette Komba, a tall, stocky beauty whose coal-colored skin came alive under the bright light of the water-closet where she took Koba for clandestine sessions of oral sex.

The petite girl behind the counter called out, “Do you need me to core you a pineapple before you go, Miss Koba?”

This one didn’t typically work the overnight shift, but like every other employee at the Atanga, she knew Koba well enough.

The human companies leasing space along the commerce strip at Entry-Port Secondary made their real money trading goods at port; native ladies worked their unprofitable storefronts to entice femmar with the promise of what grander vaginas awaited between the poles.

“Rolly,” Koba tossed her napkin onto the empty plate. “Where’s Yvette?”

“She’s gone back home,” said Rolly. “She was getting too fat,”

“Why do humans dislike body fat?” Koba asked.

“You’re not fat,” Rolly said, refilling her honey-tea.

“If I was, you’d never see me,” Koba said. “I’d be in my residence, touching myself, constantly. I’d get nothing done, Rolly, ever.”

Laughing made the girl’s cocoa colored cheeks turn rosy, “Well, Madame Yvette is back home, being touched by the man she married.”

“Rolly,” Koba sipped her tea. “You think she told him about us?”

“There is no us, Miss Koba,” Rolly’s rolled locks whipped her shoulders when she shook her head, “When I found you and Madame doing what you do in the toilet, you asked for a kiss, and I gave you one. Then I left you to it,”

“You should’ve stayed,” Koba said, “It would’ve changed your life,”

“My life is fine, unchanged,” Rolly said, finger raised.

“Unchanged is no way to go through life, Rolly,” Koba paid her tab with three gold coins. “Neither is being so thin. Gain some weight!”

“I’ll get fat when you get fat,” Rolly laughed as Koba made her exit.

Lamenting the loss of Yvette, Koba stepped out into the residence quarter where darkened windows reminded her that humanity slumbered nightly.

The four corners where Port Avenue crossed over the Commerce Strip, housed the decaying remnants of Antarctica City’s once-thriving human district.

In the era of the Fifth, humans had blanketed three city blocks in every direction with their unique shops, food carts, and quaint hotels. After the Ninth’s ascendancy, Lekada Wram ordered the island purged of humanity, until Koba’s kermatic-sibtox, Rasa Jyr, the political custodian of Antarctica City, set-aside a meager square for them here on the Strip.

The floating tharspin fingers of Entry Port Secondary stretched out over the bay, drifting above the undersea hub of Entry Port Prime. Yvette often persuaded Koba to walk their length to the end rail, and here, Yvette would admire the twinkling lights on Stephenson Ridge.

Once the highest peaks of an untouched mountain, Stephenson now housed dozens of tiered cargo decks, each brought to life by thousands of shimmering lights.

Across the water from Stephenson, a pair rydokular monstrosities stood guard over a swath of geodesic-housing. Hundreds of bubble-topped homes dotted the landscape, and behind their illuminated windows lived Bizaki foolish enough like Koba, to live in the AC by choice.

Yvette had regularly expressed a desire to see where Koba lived, but such desires were impossible to fulfill; Egbert Landing was a human-named city where humans were forbidden access.

Raucous laughter peeled out from below.

A group of youthful thickly-muscled bruisers in colorful big collared shirts and bright hide-tight pants passed beneath Koba’s position on the elevated pedestrian walk. Behind them lingered a uniformed bruise with an architeuthid stained on her scalp as deep red as the enflamed stippling upon her blotchy black-gray hide.

Bakiprime Deltad Polvix bid her youthful underlings a good liberty before lingering quayside. Koba hadn’t seen the broad-shouldered Polvix in over fifteen years, and under the light of the jetty, the Marix had changed little.

Koba moved toward the stairs, intent to join the burly bruise until a stunning Tenth-Gen Zaxir suddenly appeared.

The zaxxy rushed at Polvix, and falling into her embrace, kissed her passionately. It was odd seeing Polvix latched onto a belly; the bruise spent her youthful citbluz years chasing turban-headed Hizaki, desperate to liberate their thick girsuzsch from those oppressive robes.

Koba stepped away from the railing.

The smiling Zaxir’s long yellow fingernails danced over the red tentacles tattooed on Polvix’ scalp. Kissing her again the zaxxy moved those fingers with the skill of a human card-dealer, depositing a tiny sliver of paper into Polvix’ collar,

Koba retreated further from the light when Polvix moved the belly away from the quay and onto the walkway. After a few spirited words and a hard groping of the belly’s backswell, Polvix escorted her under Koba’s position. Emerging on the other side of the overpass, Polvix dismissed the Zaxir with a slap on the rump.

Polvix stared out into the sea a moment before moving north.

Confident the bruise had gained some distance, Koba sprinted to the stairs. Taking hold of the tubular rails, she kicked her feet up and slid all the way down the stairs, and onto the walkway.

She tailed Polvix, passing the typical post-Bizarak laborers who wandered the night until their intoxication wore off enough that they could safely return home to their bonds.

At the Yukat Launch Center, Polvix set her Ramaxi-Credit ID against the screen of an automated boarding sentry then jogged to the line of citizens entering Shuttle Pekada.

Koba refused to pay for such a quick trip to Pikalit, so she made distracting small talk with the lone boarding attendant, a Ninth-Gen bizzy with opinions on the design trends of this year’s crop of BK Glides.

When the departure bell sounded, Koba hurriedly excused herself and sprinted for the Pekada without plugging her credit-stick into the attendant’s handheld.

Concealed within a group of Subaki and Bizaki, Koba sat in the last row.

A Tenth-Gen Hizak boarded without her suit jacket on, and Polvix’ eyes fixed squarely on her backswell, following her until she took a seat in the middle; now this was the Deltad Polvix that Koba used to know.

A sudden gentle stagger indicated the shuttle’s launch. Outside her window, the dark polar water teemed with mobs of luminous icefish parting to clear a channel for their passage.

The smooth voice of Coligon rang out on the overhead, notifying passengers of their estimated arrival time to Pikalit, and telling them the Triad’s current weather conditions.

Good-natured Coligon felt like an old friend.

Upon arriving at the Bizaki Academy of Citizenry as a donat, Collie’s voice was ever-present in the classrooms, the showers, and the dorms; the lifeform even made herself available to talk while young Koba straddled the gape.

Shuttle Pekada emerged from the waters of the Ramx`atoll and into the motley colored realm of the Dirtoxian Plateau Launch Center.

The arched dome’s irradiated glass cast a kaleidoscope of light upon the concrete leading to the courtyard outside. Beyond the sliding door, a circular-common of mesh-scored stone lay enclosed by a barrier of trees whose large phosphorescent leaves trembled in the midnight breeze.

Paxo-carts shucking fast-food catered to the throngs of night-shift workers gathered for a quick bite in the final hours of their shift.

Polvix sought out a specific cart, and finding it, stepped around to its backdoor and knocked. An Eleventh-Gen Bizak emerged. Exchanging some welcoming words, Polvix got a handshake before she retired to a nearby table alone.

The Bizak emerged later carrying a tray of food. The young citizen sat with Polvix, pointed to the cart during their conversation, and then aimed her finger at another nearby.

Polvix nodded at some questions and beamed proudly when at the Bizak answers to her own. The Bizak refused to take Polvix’ payment, rising from her seat, she jogged back to her cart, a smile on her face.

Finished with the foodaxi, Polvix discarded her trash in a nearby brazier before heading out of the park, and Koba made ready to follow until Pita Wex arrived.

Wex was Bakiprime of the Woxidat, an Ark assigned to the waters around Yazhou. Upon her scalp were two oceanic koi floating vertically head to tail, mimicking the yin and yang symbol native to the people there.

Like Polvix, Wex had also been an associate of Fusada Kul.

Her birther was an erotic film star named Pitazwex, a Ninth-Gen belly renown for starring in tavi that featured her getting ridden by Bizaki, and or pleasuring a Subak.

Koba had interviewed the lovely zaxxy after she’d bonded to a famous Bizak glider operator named Jizat Boz. The pair of 40-somethings fell in love upon meeting for the first time, after the twenty-year-old Marix made from their blindly mixed patches had brought them together.

Koba sighed when she realized why Polvix had come to this place; in the window of the paxo-cart, the young Bizak continued to smile brightly. It wasn’t every day one discovers her cit-cat-found kerma was responsible for protecting the West Islands.

Pita Wex patronized a different paxo-cart, and after procuring a transit-sized bottle of water, exited in the direction of Polvix.

A ginger-hided bruise with milky blotches on her arms and legs, Wex veiled her bodies golden freckles beneath a bright OS blouse, one sealed at the chest with a thick front stripe to tout her hidden uzxi.

Modesty came to rule Wex after she’d bonded; a pair of subbies and a belly kept house for Wex in Toxis, and together they’d donated four zaxiridoe to the citizenry.

Drink in hand, Wex ended up at the Pikalox Grand Terminal, waiting for the Outbounder on the same platform as Polvix. The two bruisers ignored one another on the Outbounder, with Polvix sitting up front, and Wex in the middle.

Koba waited until the last call before boarding, and upon taking a seat in the back, she spotted the Orta Slide emerge from the opposite tube.

Many of its passengers were sedately attired Tenth-Gen Marixi, and among them was Fostis.

Bakiprime Tis jogged to the Outbounder and boarded two rows in front of Koba. She’d been Fusada Kul’s closest friend in Orta, remaining social with the troubled Komadon until the day she died.

A jade colored bruise with patches of brown along her neck and shoulders, Tis let the young bellies on the Outbounder know of her accessibility with a bright orange blouse open wide enough to display the dark green seam between her suzsch.

Koba hunkered down for the ride to Jyrtax Terminal, but to her dismay, all three bruisers went their separate ways beyond the embarkment platform.

Polvix entered the pedestrian-walk level and beyond it lay Utama’s tiny citbluz district. Bluzsh ownership outside of West Toxis was strictly regulated; three to four per dome could operate but only in designated transit zones.

Polvix disappeared into the Exruzat.

A staple in Utama since the maturation of the Tenth Gen, the ‘Zat catered to admirers of Hizaki, and kept a strict age requirement; no Ninth’s and Eleventh’s were allowed.

Going in after her would surely get Koba caught, and the scent of fried food from paxo-sector one block over, made her stomach growl. The sight of Rakuta Bakuti’s bright signage across the alley gave Koba mouth-watering fantasies of deep-fried bakuti breast.

Just then, Polvix emerged from the ‘Zat dressed in outdated OS flair. Trekking back to the Jyrtax, she met up with a local named Vaniav Gwo.

A fellow Marix, Gwo was another companion of Fusada Kul, and like Polvix she was dressed for bluz-hopping. After punching shoulders and exchanging jovial pleasantries, the pair boarded the Utox Slide.

Keeping a low profile, Koba followed Polvix and Gwo aboard the bounder to find Tis and Wex also aboard and ignoring one another on opposite sides of the car.

During last call to board, the Turkol Shuttle from Orta ambled up on the next platform. When Zerix Julo and Bam Yuxi exited the Tukol and entered the Utox, Koba buried her face in her Filmark; if any of them were too notice her, it would be Zerix.

During the second production season of 2185, zaxxy Laxu Julo patched up with two deeply respected Marixi; the first, Dakil Dox, was a Fleet educator assigned to Orta’s caste training program, and the second was a Guard-Bat instructor named Urdu Utat.

Bonding hadn’t been an option for the trio, and this was fine by elder Laxu.

Despite her initial disgust with the screaming newborn marixidoe she named Zerix, Laxu came to love her donat, and it was difficult for Laxu to hand Zerix over when she turned eight.

Koba recalled Laxu crying in the arms of her sib, Koba’s kerma, Ixo.

Though Koba wasn’t an actual genetic relation to Ixo, the Ninth-Gen bruise took Koba everywhere, and young Zerix was a regular fixture in their household because Laxu wanted ilitux-carrier Ixo to be a positive influence.

Eight-year-old Koba had been standing between Ixo and Laxu that day in Orta when Zerix left for Caste-Training.

After crying, Laxu kissed young Zerix on the head and listened when Ixo pointed her over to the platform where hundreds of other marixidoe had gathered.

Koba had held out her hand, and the pink and black striped Zerix gave it a quick shake before turning her bald head around and joining her caste-sisters.

Koba wouldn’t see Zerix again until Orta Attack night in Toxis, where they reconnected over a shared passion for bellies.

Zerix had been Fusada Kul’s spy in Utama.

Assigned to the Axyrn, she’d served the Custodial Branch of the Sernatae after making Dokomad. Following Kul’s death, she’d continued up the ranks, and now oversaw the Cloister’s transient program for political prisoners bound for Vosk ISO.

Fusada Kul had cultivated peer relationships with the skill and an Hizak. An articulate and well-spoken Marix, Kul chose bruisers that in varying degrees, shared her temperament.

When a diplomatic approach was needed, Kul would dispatch the affable Zerix, or utilize a sociable bruise by the name of Bo Kilvx.

Kul had chosen Kilvx to enlist Koba to her cause because in those days Koba was riding all three of the Kilvx’ gorgeous zaxxy sibs.

If Kul wanted to send a less friendly message, she dispatched Polvix, or Koba’s other sibtox, Ryoz Julo. The pair were habitual girz-kickers in and out of uniform, and no one crossed them without a beatdown.

Fusada’s eyes and ears between the poles had been Vaniav Gwo.

Gwo was the proverbial ice on the pond as there was no one more adept at being unseen while standing right beside you. Gwo spent her years shuttling prisoners to Isolation in the North Pole, cultivating a network of disgruntled citizens with no love for their Ninth Gen Committee.

Another of Kul’s investigatory agents had been Pita Wex. Also assigned to the Ramaxatae, Wex monitored the higher-ups in the Polar Air Command. After Kul’s death, Wex remained between the poles aboard the Woxidat, making regular visits to her pod in Toxis.

Bam Yuxi was as cunning as any Hizak.

A brooder pack-leader, same as Fusada Kul, she’d come together socially with Kul to overcome a problematic obstacle course.

Since that day, Kul had relied heavily on Yuxi, more so after her relationship with twin Sofita became strained. Kul’s dependence on the clever Yuxi had made the hizzah’s on her future committee nervous.

Life hadn’t been kind to Bam Yuxi.

Two years after bonding to a pair of cherished Hizaki, Yuxi lost the first of them, Fee Tat, at Igitat. After her death Yuxi had been able to transition from Terminal Sabotage afterward, to the offices of Marixi Administration.

Yuxi and their bond partner had patched up with Fee before her death but seven years after the birth of that lone donation, a bizakidoe, that surviving bond, Iba Ukel, died from surgical complications from a botched attempt to reverse her hizaxikogatix.

Facing pressure from Line Ukel over custodianship of her bizakidoe, Yuxi had exiled herself from Ramaxia by accepting a command position aboard the TCS Ramaxicol.

Polvix and Gwo partook in a vulgar conversation with a pure-gen belly and her brainer pals. Zerix and Yuxi sat engrossed in a discussion about the Committee’s latest move to provoke glaciers in Greenland. Tis sparked up a dialogue with a young bruiser, while Wex was chatted up by a couple of Bizaki in matching bonding sashes curious about Wex’ subbie bond.

At Kyrtabi Station in West Toxis, none of the bruisers caught the rounder to the citbluz district. Yuxi and Wex exited the station to find a transport on the street, while the remaining crossed the platform and boarded the Toksul, bound for Vanda.

The bounder ran late this time of night due to bluz patrons heading back to Vanda before day-rise, and Koba felt safe in the last row of seats, until confronted by the clawed bear paw slicing through the ice on the back of Zerix’ head.

The Marixi went their separate ways after arriving at Terminal Tiskol.

Tis walked to a high-rise in the museum district called the Lurata. The commune existed to house career-centered Zaxir, but Tis wasn’t there to visit a belly. The bruiser stood in the lobby consoling a crying Subak.

The distraught Ozbi was Tis’ sibox; she was also the bond partner of Eppisbanto.

Koba lingered at the Rounder Station near the Lurata’s front door as a belly named Hib Perkad passed by carrying a box of prepared food and a bottle of vintage paluxi.

Inside, Hib set down her goods and hugged Tis.

Koba opened the door for a group of modestly dressed Zaxiri and heard Tis decline Hib’s offer to come upstairs. Smiling, Ozbi revealed that Dyb was upstairs.

Years ago, Pitasa Jyr, Koba’s favorite sibtox, introduced Tis to her long-time lovers, Ebi Tat, and Dyb Kul. When patch collections began, Dyb proposed bondship to Pitasa on she and Ebi’s behalf. Adoring Dyb, Pitasa eagerly accepted, and brought her Marix lover Tis, onto their couch.

Pitasa had gone axibosal after their twenty, and Ebi wanted her gone. The ice cracked between the two breeders, the bruise wanted no part of it, despite holding strong feelings for the hizzah, Dyb.

Tis politely refused Hib’s offer, and after kissing her goodbye, she escorted Ozbi to the Lux Garden Club.

The owner of the Lux was Fylux Acari, one of Koba’s favorite elders.

On that day in Orta all those years ago, Koba’s anxieties at losing Zerix were sated by the arrival of Laxu and Ixo’s sib, Pikaz.

Pikaz, a lowly transport-mechanic, had been Clan Julo’s most underwhelming Bizak until she bonded to a Line Acari subbie named Fylux, and her Hizak lover, Uli Brigitat, of Clan Brigitat, a cartographer assigned to Project Suvayul.

After Uli’s death during the Rubo Tragedy, Laxu carried Pikaz and Fylux’ donux to term; they named that shithead, Ryoz.

Eight-year-old Ryoz Julo hadn’t needed a handshake farewell that day in Orta. Following a brief tussle with Ixo, the black and brown striped Ryoz ran off without saying goodbye to her kerma, Pikaz.

Finding Zerix at the end of the line, Ryoz pushed her way into place beside her and set off a shoving match among the marixidoe around them.

Despite her orneriness, Ryoz had done well in Orta.

RIO was out of the question; she’d proven unfit for Polar Air Command due to an intense dislike of heights. It had been her vicious Final Trial performance that scored her the rank of Donmat.

These days Ryoz served as Promad aboard the TCS Chironex.

Fos Tis kissed Ozbi and after watching her go inside, surveyed the area before disappearing into the alley between the Lux and a closed Subati Suit outlet. A hired transport slowed in front of the Lux. Pita Wex and Bam Yuxi stepped from it and then confirmed Koba’s suspicions by vanishing down the same alley.

Guarding the reception area was Pure-Gen subbie with intricately braided hair that Koba suspected was a Julo. A tan subati suit covered her shapely curves with roses as coal-black as her hide, and its lime-colored vines matched the light stripes along her hairline.

Koba entered smiling and noticed upon closer inspection that the subbie’s rosy freckles ran up into the clean valleys of her tightly braided hair.

“Can I help you, Citizen Julo?” she asked, deadpan.

Koba started, “I’m here to see my elder, Fylux,”

“Citizen Acari doesn’t come in anymore,” she came out from behind the service desk and proved taller than Koba. “This Garden Club is off limits to outside visitors, and if you’re recording me right now, you’re breaking the law,”

“I’m not here for work,” Koba said. “I’m stopping in to see my elder,”

The subbie pointed at the cushioned bench, “I’ll check and see if she’s taking visitors, Citizen Julo,”

“I’m not a visitor,” Koba said, insulted. “I’m her bone,”

“I’ll be back,” the subbie said.

Alone in the lobby, Koba jiggled the long handle on the entry doors and found them both locked. Soft lights behind the falling spring cast shadows on the floor and gave the gold foliage along the water’s edge a pretentious glow.

Garden Clubs catered exclusively to Subaki, and just like them, they exhibited a false sense of refinement. Sex behind these locked doors was as lewd as anything carried out in the citbluz; subbies just weren’t the sort to advertise their debauchery.

“Citizen Julo,” the young subbie reappeared behind the service desk. “I’ll buzz you in. You’re to go down the hall to the door on the end. The door on the left is forbidden to you,”

Koba paused after opening the entry door.

“You are the rudest Club host I’ve ever met,”

“Just because I don’t want to ride you,” she sassed, “Doesn’t make me rude,”

“I wouldn’t ride you if you paid me,” Koba said.

“I wouldn’t spend one credit on your old-narrow girz,” she said, lip curled.

Koba slipped through the entry door. The fruity aroma of freshly baked gabishol lingered in the dimly lit passage, and stopping at the lone door on the left, Koba tapped it with her foot and found it unlocked.

Pushing in, she got shoved right back out.

Kobajulo!” Ryoz took Koba by the collar and pushed her against the wall. “What the fuck are you doing here, bizzy?”

Koba smiled when Deltad Polvix appeared behind Ryoz.

“I think my invitation to your strategy meet, got lost,” said Koba.

“What is she talking about?” Polvix asked, grinning.

“Koba’s always talking shit,” Ryoz grasped Koba under the arms and hoisted up her off the ground. “My kerms loves this noisy fucker,”

“Put me down!” Koba demanded.

Ryoz looked to Polvix, and when Polvix gave the nod, Ryoz let her drop to the floor.

“What’s going on?” Koba said, rising to her feet.

Polvix shrugged, “What are you talking about, Julo?”

“I know you’re all here,” Koba said. “Except for Kilvx,”

Ryoz pointed her head at the lobby door, “What do you think of Akuda?”

“Mouthy subbie gashes ain’t my thing?” Koba snapped.

Ryoz clutched Koba’s neck and squeezing it, anchored her to the wall, “That’s my subakidoe, Koba!”

“How sweet,” Koba gasped for air. “Maybe she can hook up with Polvix’ bizzy,”

Ryoz released Koba and turned to Polvix.

“I thought you had a zaxiridoe and a bruiser?”

“I just found out I got a bizakidoe,” Polvix said.

“Look at you, Polvix,” Ryoz grinned. “Patching up all over the place,”

Polvix nodded with pride, “Being a kerma’s not as weird as I thought,”

“Where’s Yuxi!” Koba shouted.

Ryoz seized Koba by both arms and slammed her into the wall, “It’s rude to interrupt a citizen’s conversations!”

“The First Office isn’t seeing anyone today,” Polvix added.

Koba said, “Our First Office is Eppis Banto,”

“No, Julo, no brainer that icy is anyone’s First Office,” Polvix said, smiling. “I dream of getting my face between those hizbacks,”

“I think we should take Koba back to West Toxis, Polvix,” Ryoz released her. “There’s a predator and prey citbluz there that loves bizshits like her,”

Polvix smirked, “Those freaks would form a line to punch those little fronts,”

“Pry open that big mouth,” Ryoz laughed. “Hock a wad a spit in it,”

“Rape humor, that’s nice,” Koba said, “What are you two, damaged?”

“Yes, we are damaged,” Polvix wrapped her arm around Koba’s shoulders and walked her toward the door.

Koba said, “I want to speak to Yuxi,”

Polvix became serious.

“That can’t happen right now, Julo, I’m sorry.”

Ryoz took Koba by the arm led her back into the lobby.

“Be out front of the Tavitax, in ten hours,”

“I’m only talking to Yuxi!” Koba exclaimed as Ryoz pushed her out the front door.

Under the pale blue light of the club’s signage, Koba brought up Eppis Banto’s contact code on her Filmark.

The club’s door flew open.

“Julo!” Polvix said finger pointed. “Yuxi says no Banto, not yet.”

Over the Mediterranean Ocean
22 Miles South of Uralskey Isle
Ornithocheirus Five – 0420 Hours

Sofita eyed the back of Dox’ head.

“Is there something wrong, Donmat?”

“Nothing, Komad,”

“I heard about the altercation out front of Uxcals,”

“I didn’t think a report got filed-”

“—it wasn’t,” Sofita said. “What was the fight about?”

“I can’t talk about it,” said Dox.

“It can’t be worse than what occurred with Citizen Utat,”

Dox turned, “How do know about that?”

“Orny was well within his rights to report her,”

Dox rolled her eyes, “Did Utat tell you what happened?”

“Doctor Utat is a member of the Femitokon Division,” Sofita said.

Dox started, “She never told me that!”

“I suspect conversation wasn’t on her mind,” Sofita crossed one leg over the other. “The young Doctor minds the ramxkul at Orta Biologic. I reprimanded her for putting a divisional officer in a position of vulnerability,”

“Thank you, Komad,” said Dox.

“What transpired at Uxcals?” Sofita asked.

Dox sighed, “I don’t want to talk about it, Komad.”

“Do you refrain from speaking of your Final Trial to me because of the circumstances around my Final Trial?” Sofita asked.

“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it,” Dox said quickly.

“I’ve no regrets about defending my life. I don’t repent my actions as I had no choice but to make them,” Sofita said. “I know I’m the only combatant to take a life during a Final Trial, and while this brings me no pride, I carry no remorse.”

The tension melted from Dox’ shoulders.

“I got into a fight with someone I fought with during my Final Trial,” Dox said, facing her. “If you know anything about my Final, you know I only fought with one Brooder.”

“On the ice that day, when you woke and heard Balru screaming in victory,” Sofita said. “You thought her celebrating what she’d done to you?”

Dox turned to her, “Wait, were you there?”

“You were angry, Dox,” said Sofita. “You thought she sucker punched you,”

“I grabbed the first dultax I could find,” Dox nodded.

“Your anger is misplaced,” Sofita said, and Dox glared at her. “Balru made a strategic kill on a brood named Bol because was her biggest challenge on the fighting ice, and she took her out early to avoid dealing with her later.”

Dox eyes returned to the navigation panel.

“Right after laying out Bol, Balru got jumped by a brooder named Kil. Balru pulled that arm of hers back to slug Kil, and that’s when her elbow caught you in the head,” Sofita said.

“I never watched the playback,” Dox said.

“Balru hadn’t aimed at you,” Sofita said. “She’d been unaware of your standing directly behind her. You just caught the jab when you turned to find her,”

Dox whispered, “I thought she attacked me,”

“When you went down,” Sofita pulled out her Filmark when she felt it vibrating and tapped open the second correspondence from Kobajulo regarding the Donmat. “Your Mortay Suit took a minimal impact, but Balru walked away. Worse, she kicked snow over the lights that blinked on your suit.”

“That’s not true,” said Dox. “If that’s the case why call us both over for that humiliating review?”

“Balru was too subtle,” Sofita said. “She did the honorable thing though, and admitted to it,”

Dox pressed her back into the chair, “Her testimony was the proof that I’d been unconscious!”

Sofita grinned at the scene playing back on her Filmark.

“Komad,” Dox pointed her head at Sofita’s handheld, “What’s so interesting?”

Sofita faced the Filmark’s small screen at Dox.

The Donmat’s bald head went ashen as the encounter between her and the Tenth Gen belly from the club replayed on the screen.

“We’re over the Mediterranean Ocean, Komad,”

“Dox at Daxakil’s,” Sofita read the scrolling text. “You burxed her in under a minute, Dox. That’s some serious oral skill.”

“Can you turn it off, please?” Dox said. “Kul, I’m begging you to turn it off,”

“You prefer Silent Gen bellies?” Sofita asked but Dox wasn’t talking. “I suppose they’re more inclined to engage one on one.”

Dox remained silent.

“Should I allow Citizen Julo to air this footage?”

Dox tapped at Orny’s central array pad without a word.

“Is Daxakil’s nice, Donmat?”

Dox shrugged, “It’s only the second citbluz I’ve been too,”

“You don’t partake in the citbluz?”

“You know I don’t, Komad,” Dox said. “You can stop acting like you didn’t get notice of my suspension from Ortosk Genbluz.”

“The notice lacked specifics,” Sofita said. “It stated that you required time off to attend mandated citizenry bluzsh therapy,”

“It’s not something I wish to discuss, Komad.”

“Daxakil’s is expensive,” said Sofita. “Were you a guest of citizen Bol?”

“Yes, Komad,”

“Did she spark the hostilities with Balru?”

“Yes, Komad,”

“Did citizen Huro or this Rivo put a thumb on your pad?”

Dox thrust out her lower jaw.

“I’m not a waxamist, Komad,”

Sofita put away her Filmark while Dox brought up the mission summary on Orny’s interface.

Skimming the details, Dox aimed a curious gaze at Sofita, “This mission got posted to Terminal Sabotage,”

“Ambassador Prime Dag took control when she saw the assignment error,” Sofita said. “Pengon reassigned it, to us,”

“Primary says TermSabo hunts citizens that collude with helovx, against Ramaxia,” Dox said. “Tell me that’s true,”

“You’re quoting CM Ryo Uym, Donmat,” Sofita said. “Primary doesn’t employ terms like, collude.”

“Is it true, though?” Dox asked.

“If the Primary doesn’t have ice to crack with anyone under legitimate investigation for anti-Ramaxian activity between the poles,” Sofita said. “She allows Uym to pass on apprehension to the Axyrn.”

Dox turned, “You’re saying that any citizen can be targeted by the Primary, or CM Uym, outside the scope of the Sernatae?”

“I’m saying that our current mission was assigned after the Ambassador Prime of Ramaxia saw an assignment-error and corrected it,” Sofita snapped.

Dox brought up Wram’s OHA file, and read it as it floated in the space above the console, “What did Ambassador Wram do?”

“CM Lekada Wram,” Sofita said. “Wishes to reinvest in Wram Constructs,”

“Velto Wram’s being set up for execution because CM Wram wants back in at a company she turned her back on when she ascended?”

Dox’ assessment was impressive.

“She can’t kill Velto without losing her seat on the Committee, right?”

“CM Wram is not after her donation,” Sofita said. “Wram Constructs used to have three owners, each with equal credit-share of the company. Laxum Jyr sold her shares to Velto many years ago, making Velto a half-owner.”

“That’s why CM Wram had us sneaking around Jyr last month?” Dox said. “She knows the other owner won’t sell and dispatched us to make Jyr look like a fuck-up?”

“Precisely,” said Sofita.

“If Jyr did fuck up, then old Wram would make it go away in return for Jyr convincing the majority owner to sell,” Dox said.

Sofita smiled, “Ambassador Dag outsmarted that attempt by salvaging Jyr’s position and shielding her from any accusations of misconduct,”

“CM Wram’s Hizak. She must’ve anticipated Dag canceling the Termsabo order, and Pengon choosing an operative with permanent assignment between the poles,” Dox turned to Sofita, “You’re the target, Kul!”

“Are all monogamists as clever as you, Dox?”

Dox narrowed her eyes.

“I’m not a waxamist, Kul,”

A holographic map of Uralskey Island sprung up between them, followed by beeping from the Orny’s proximity sensors.

“Uralskey,” said Sofita. “Home to over nine-hundred helovx,”

“Long range scans indicate decayed conversion electrons,” said Dox.

“The Slavs have adapted,” Sofita said.

Dox used her finger to swipe through the information on Wram, “Komad, is Ambassador Wram related to Zix-,”

“—listen to me Dox,” Sofita said. “No matter how much vitriol Wram aims at me, you’re to ignore it.”

“Vitriol? That’s like a bad attitude, right?” Dox asked, rolling her eyes at Sofita’s silent judgment, “I’m not stupid, Kul, I just don’t know that word!”

“Ignore all insults aimed at me,” Sofita said. “Dox, under no circumstances, are you to flirt with Ilocux.”

The Donmat’s eyes went wide, “Wram’s bonded to Prime Citizen, Cux?”

Clear of the clouds, two lines of flame burned along the curtain-wall.

“Orny disengaged our heat expels, Komad.” Dox said.

“Slavs use natural gas,” said Sofita.

“I thought they split atoms?”

“They’re unwilling to enact new exothermic processes,”

Orny said, five helovx detected, Komad.

“Strategic?” Sofita asked.

The female carries a locked breech pistol, model CZ75. The males are concealing carbon steel knives in their boots, each with a five-inch wooden hilt. Each male also carries an AKS-74 series assault rifle.

“Tactical?” Sofita asked.

These weapons cannot damage my exterior hull, nor damage the Femitokon Shell, but they can bruise Femarctic hides and cause blunt force injury if fired at close range.

“Set us down between the landing fires,” Dox said, and observing the woman on the ground, she added. “That purple head wrap can be seen from Ixco.”

As Orny touched down, the woman stepped out from behind her soldiers.

“What is with those metal hats?” Dox laughed. “Forget blasting them with my digger. I can throw stones and dent those.”

“They’re called Hauberks,” Sofita said. “The founders of the Empire believed that returning to the simplicity of earlier centuries would enrich post-impact generations.”

“Returning to simpler times worked so well for that twentieth-century wacko, Pole Cat,” Dox said.

“Saloth Sar’s name was Pol Pot,” Sofita corrected. “Read up on helovx history when not trying to form exclusive relationships at the genbluz?”

“That’s not why I got suspended!”

“You requested the same singular partner each time you visited the genbluz,” Sofita said, smiling.

“I’m not a waxamist!”

“Circling back to our prior exchange,” Sofita said, calmly. “Your grasp of helovx history is inspiring,”

“I took helovx-studies to help my career-path,”

“A grander credit stipend is required,” Sofita said, “If you intend to spend your twenty with just one citizen.”

Unprovoked, Dox stood as Orny touched down.

“Leave your digger, Donmat,” Sofita said.

“I don’t think that’s wise, Komad,”

“They don’t use energy weapons here,” Sofita said. “The Slavs do have unethical curiosities. No weapons, no tech, Orny’s not sticking around.”

“Got it,” Dox said, peeling the digger from her hand she stuffed it under her seat.

“Civilian engagement will be minimal,” Sofita said. “I chose our arrival to correspond with the late-night hours. Helovx tend to sleep until sunrise. Should we encounter civilians, you are to remain silent.”

“Yes Komad,” said Dox.

The hatch-door opened, and as the wispy woman made to walk in past her, Sofita grabbed her reedy arm and drew her back out.

“I’m Tatiana Karel,” she spoke Ramaxi, and as she looked past Sofita, long strands of her light hair branched out from beneath her headscarf.

Orny’s hatch sealed shut the moment Sofita’s boots hit the ground, and as he touched off the wall and hovered away, Karel followed.

Karel had been unable to stay at Base Thirteen following a fainting spell during a negotiation for radiation scrubbers. At Surface Quarantine, nurses caught her rummaging through a medical closet before she claimed herself lost while searching for a toilet.

Where does your bird go?” she asked in her native Sladdish.

“It’s going away from here,” Sofita replied in her language. “I’m Commander Sofita Kul, and I’m here to speak with Ambassador Velto Wram.

Lady Karel?” Sofita snapped.

Commander!” Karel reeled about in an animated fervor and parted her lips, exposing her strangely sharp teeth. “We were told of your coming only an hour ago. The Ambassador, she waits for you below.”

Fearful, the armed men laid their weapons down as Karel led Sofita and Dox toward the bulkhead. Descending the wall’s stone stairs, Karel expressed excitement at having visitors from Antarctica.

On the iron elevator going down, Karel continued to her high pitch ramble over the noise of the giant metal cogs; apparently, the Slavs were grateful to have such benevolent supporters amongst the Ninth Ramaxian Generation.

The illuminated spires of New Warszawa appeared above a cloud of thick white haze, and beneath it, spots of twisted metal and stained-glass protruded from the patchwork of concrete cubes.

Exiting at street level, Sofita and Dox followed Karel over a narrow iron bridge and into the city center.

Curious heads watched from parted curtains, and as the two uniformed strangers walked the cobblestone streets, scabbed and pocked faces displayed various degrees of poorly disguised indifference.

“Komad,” Dox inquired in Ramaxi. “Are these many people supposed to be awake?”

Sofita didn’t answer for greater mysteries plagued her thoughts; where were the horses, the dogs or the cats? Where were the birds and insects? Where were the children?


Failing to find at least one bulbous tumor-covered mutant, Fuzo had become, thanks the unrelenting body odor of the Slavs, a proficient mouth breather.

Traversing the streets, she and the Komad followed Karel to an eyesore called the Divozen, a tower of misshapen stones located one block south of the Palace.

The structure’s drab exterior looked and smelled as if grouted together by human excrement. Nests of foul-burning incense dotted each of its four entry steps, and in the foyer were three sickly men with guns slung over their shoulders.

The men came to attention when Karel entered, and upon seeing Fuzo and the Komad, they hid their weapons.

Along the grand staircase, tapestries hung in place of the windows, and their decay mingled with lingering gas from the wall-lamps.

Up on the second floor, Fuzo stopped to check her reflection in the clear glass of tall standing clock.

“What are you doing?” Kul demanded.

“I want to look good for Citizen Cux,” said Fuzo. “You’re Hizak. You know what I’m doing. No one spends more time in front of a mirror than-,”

“—fall in, Donmat,” Kul snapped.

Fuzo quickly rejoined Karel, and following her down the hall, Fuzo caught the faint scent of a perfume called Pikat-Lilly.

“Thank you, Lady Karel,” Kul said when they reached the door.

Karel displayed her foul teeth in a smile before leaving.

Kul moved aside, “Knock on the door, Donmat.”

Fuzo rapped her knuckles on the wood until it swung open revealing a short honey-colored Bizak in a thick green robe.

“Ambassador Wram?” Fuzo brought her fist to her stomach in a salute.

Large round eyes inspected Fuzo from face to foot, “You’re a little young to be a Komad,”

“She’s a Donmat,” Kul slipped by Fuzo and pushed past Wram. “I’m the Komad,”

“Feeta!” a sensual voice rang out from within the room.

Fuzo gingerly stepped around Wram, desperate to meet the Zaxir whose image she’d pleasured herself to many times in her youth.

Fabulously plump, the belly’s blue hide glowed like tropical water. The white spots on her shoulders spilled down the length of her dense upper-arms and spread across those thick globes that hung in the cups of a tight sleeveless dress.

Delicious rolls of her corpulent flesh bounced as Cux bounded toward the Komad with arms open wide.

“You’re as beautiful as when we first met,” said Kul.

The Komad never expressed warmth, to anyone; when she took Cux into her arms with a kiss, Fuzo was more curious than envious.

“Try not to fall in love you hizzah-bark!” her fingers squeezed the Komad’s arm, “Feel the muscles on you!”

The front door slammed and Wram whisked past Fuzo with hands balled up tight. Lower jaw thrust out in frustration she loomed like a storm cloud as Cux led the Komad into the what the helovx called a bedroom.

Cux had left her mark on the room; a heavy quilt covered the rickety sofa; thick blankets adorned the only two chairs. Three oil lamps lay unused on the floor, and in their place on the tables were glass bottles filled with various lotions and perfumes.

“Okay ‘Fita, remember when you told me about all those powerful women?” Cux slapped the hair from her shoulders, “This room belonged to Anya Mikołaj.”

A faded painting hung over the head of the bed.

Crisp as any casti, it featured a wide-faced woman with damaged skin dressed in an ornate and antiquated gown. Tiny specs coated the painting’s surface, their red color revealed along the artwork’s bottom frame.

“Komad, who’s that?” Fuzo blurted.

Cux turned as if surprised, but then smiled warmly at Fuzo.

“That’s Anya Mikołaj,” said the Komad, enticed by the image. “Anya brought Pita Ikat, the Promad in charge of the Sixth-Gen garrison here, to this very bed, and watched as Ikat put her palm to her husband’s neck.”

Cux lost her smile, “Are you saying I been riding Velto where that man died?”

“Anya wanted to be rid of the Marixi,” Kul was more excited by the room than by the presence of Ramaxia’s Prime Citizen. “She served the Kotko’s up to Ikat, in return for the promise of peace,”

Cux moved into Fuzo’s space.

“Sorry, doe,” she cooed. “Who might you be?”

Fuzo straightened her back and smiled.

“I’m Donmat Fuzo Dox,”

“Dox?” Cux said flatly and then glared at Kul.

Kul narrowed her eyes, “This is the Donmat’s first diplomatic retrieval,”

“What did you do, Sofita?” Cux blinked at Kul.

Kul forced a smile, “Let it go, Citizen Cux.”

“Sofita, your gurxholiness has surpassed even my wildest expectations,” Cux sighed. “It’s like it’s in your genes, or something,”

“Ilo, please,” Kul said, relaxed.

“Komad, how is it that you’re here?” the disdain in the Ambassador’s voice made Fuzo prickly.

“Protocol dictates Surface Operational retrieve all diplomats from helovx-nations where impending extraction elevates the potential for hostility,” Kul explained. “As agents of the Sorority of Defense, we’re duty bound to serve the OHA if there are no operatives directly available for expedited extraction.”

Cux laughed, “There’s still a brainer underneath all that brawn,”

“You’re Femitokon’s,” Wram spat. “There’s no males here for you to murder.”

“Velto!” Ilo cried.

The shorter Wram stepped close enough to get in Kul’s face, “You’ll exit my residence until I call you, Komad!”

“I’ll be on the north wall, Ambassador,” Kul marched for the door, and Fuzo followed her.

“When you get there, jump off it!” Wram said.

In the hall, Kul punched one of the iron sconces from its bracket.

“Donmat, you are to remain with Ambassador Wram,”

“Komad?” Fuzo interrupted. “My senses are in overdrive. I can’t explain it,”

“I can,” Kul said. “It’s what you feel when you’re at the citbluz,”

Fuzo’s desire levels were undoubtedly ramped up.

“Control it, Dox,” Kul warned.

When Fuzo reentered, the lovely Cux waited with a smile.

“Hey Velts, this is Fuzo,” she said. “Fuzodox.”

Wram put her hands on her hips and studied Fuzo.

“Are you shitting me, Ilo?” she said, and smiling she turned to Cux, “That crazy hizzah,”

“That’s what I said!” Cux nodded, her lovely eyes aglow.

Before Fuzo could inquire, the Komad reappeared.

“Karel’s in the lobby,” Kul said. “I’m to inform you, Wram the Younger, that the Emperor wishes an audience,”

“Emperor?” said Fuzo. “I thought they had a queen?”

“Get rid of her, Donmat!” Wram spoke to Fuzo, “Tell Karel we’ll be there in twenty minutes. Tell her, don’t ask her.”

“Kasi is biologically female,” Wram said.

“Gender isn’t biological, Ambassador,” Kul hostility stepped Fuzo at the door.

“Hey ‘Fita,” Cux said. “Boris Kotko might be Kasi’s father,”

“Kotko bone cannot sit on the throne,” Kul said. “There’s too much bad blood.”

“The brothers Kotko don’t care about bad blood,” Wram said. “Like you, Komad, they kill who they must in the name of self-preservation,”

When Kul lunged, Fuzo slid into place between her and Wram.

“Sofita!” Cux grabbed Kul’s arm. “Take me downstairs for a stroll. The Donmat will go with the Ambassador to see Kasi,”

Cux pulled Kul into the hall, her abundant backswell bouncing with each weighty step.

Fuzo stood entranced until she sensed the shorter Bizak in the space beside her.

“What are you looking at, Donmat?” Wram demanded.

Fuzo stammered, “I was, wondering-”

“—wondering if that backswell has a crack in it?” Wram growled, nodding. When Fuzo smirked, Wram shouted, “Get your bald girz downstairs and deal with Karel!”

Vanda Island Estates, Vanda Exodome
Ramaxia – 0630 hours

Eppis tucked a loose hair up into her turban.

“Toligon, detail my agenda for the day.”

It is the twenty-fifth day of Bamx.

At seven-thirty hours you will convene with Dome Financial and review Vanda Prime expenditures.

At nine-forty hours you are scheduled to discuss North Vanda District-Five infrastructure development with CR Grik.

“Qul seeks funds for her latest residential endeavor,” Eppis said, shoving her Cloister Keycard into her robe pocket.

I have a new message from Ozbitis.

Eppis emerged from her study room, “Is she not here?”

Ozbitis remained overnight at the Lux Garden Club.

Eppis felt a tickle in the folds of her gashcol.

“Play the message, Toligon,”

‘Eppis, this was low, even for you.’ Ozbi’s voice filled the room. ‘You knew about last night. You knew we were expected. You should’ve come with me instead of choosing to make Acari pay for some-’

“—halt playback,” Eppis slid into a pair of soft-soled shoes. “How many messages came from Ozbi before this final communication?”

Twenty and one.

“All from the Lux Garden Club?”

Negative. Many of these communications originated at the Lurata Commune in West Toxis.

“Does Acari Tol own a commune residence?”

Negative. Many of these communications originated from Residence-Eight, owned by citizen Hibperkad.

“Thank you, Toligon,”

Outside, a transport pulled into the roundabout and stopped beside Eppis. Her driver Atiba emerged from the operator’s side and walked around to open the transport door.

Settling in the back, Eppis activated her biv-tab with a tap and synced it to the Cloister Network signal that emanated from within the transport.

CR Banto, an update has just been logged to the day’s agenda.

“I logged no update, Toligon,”

At twelve-hundred hours you are expected for a meal at the Coralix Gardens by Fourth Office of the Committee, Tee Banto.

“Kerma wishes to share a mid-day meal,”

“You’re going to dodge it, right, CR Banto?”

Eppis eyed the cap of dark filigree tattooed upon Warixo’s scalp, “To the best of my ability, Warixo,”

Steering the transport into a tube bound for Utama, she spoke to Eppis in the dashboard mirror, “Your nestor tapped the hood last night,”

“Tapping the hood?” Eppis stared up at Warixo’s reflection, “Is that a euphemism for something sexual?”

“No, CR Banto,” Warixo laughed.

“Your location when this tapping occurred?” Eppis asked.

“I was parked out front of the Uzati Bakila Hut,”

“This addiction too deep fried bakuti, Warixo,” Eppis scolded. “It will stop your heart one day.”

“She asked me if you remembered to credit Fezil’s meal account,”

“Warixo,” said Eppis. “Have I ever not met my kermatic obligations?”

“No, you haven’t,” Warixo said.

“And still she prompts me as if to suggest it’s my debut,” she said, and then gazed at Warixo’s head. “My nestor remains stunning, yes?”

“She does, CR Banto,” Warixo said. “What’s it like?”

“Excuse me?” Eppis asked.

“Last night makes it twenty years,” Warixo said. “That’s a long time to be bonded,”

Twenty years ago, yesterday, was their ceremonial Tav’zikoltil; last night was low Eppis, even for you…

“What else did you converse of?” Eppis asked.

“She told me what time to be at the party,” said Warixo.

Eppis asked, “Was she accompanied by-?”

“—Citizen Tol,” Warixo nodded. “Citizen Tol asked me if I was bringing you,”

“Bringing me to her citbluz party?” Eppis asked with a frown.

“When she told your nestor you’d forget,” Warixo said, “I said you had plans last night, to do some shopping beforehand,”

“Admirable tactic, Warixo,” Eppis said.

“Citizen Tol was hot about it, though,” Warixo said, “You think she’d be happy, it’s her night too, right?”

“Citizen Tol can drown in a glacial stew,” said Eppis.

The bond between Eppis Banto and Acari Tol had been fraught with tension from day one. Financially hefty, Eppis remained in a constant struggle with the affluent Acari for the position of their bond’s prime-hand.

Warixo turned to Eppis as the transport sat in traffic, “You forgot, didn’t you?”

Eppis glared, defiant.

“I’ve managed bondship this far without you Primepodas Atiba, thank you.” Eppis slammed her foot down, triggering the transport’s privacy screen and blackening out her view of Warixo.

The Banto-Acari Tav’zikoltil had been officiated by then Ninth-Gen Prime of Subaki Social Services, Zakila Brigitat. A former lover of her kerma, Zakila had been a staple at the Banto estate in Eppis’ youth.

After reciting the ceremonial words, elder Brigitat had fixed bonding sashes around Eppis and Acari’s waists. Eppis and Acari had done the same to Ozbi, and Ibur Grik.

Overlooking Acari’s sexual indiscretion immediately following, the carnal post-party had been pleasant. Pitana had brought Hib Perkad. Sofita had attended with Laxum, who had dared to appear after her antics with Acari that day.

Fusada accompanied Ilo Cux, but the bonded pair had come without Velto Wram; Eppis bonding to Ozbi proved the final stone in the wall between them that had been under construction since their donational years.

I have rescheduled your appointment with Doctor Ebival Kul at the Greater Vanda Generational Bluzsh for 1900 hundred hours.

“My initial appointment is a ninety-minute session?” Eppis asked.

Yes, CR Banto.

Warixo’s voice came out of the speaker beneath her, ‘CR Banto, I know it’s none of my business-’

“—correct, it’s none of your business,” Eppis said, deadpan.

‘That subbie Doctor, she’s a Pure-Gen, right?’

“Doctor Kul is young,” Eppis said, “And continues to be none of your business,”

Warixo’s silence spoke volumes. A tame bruise, Warixo belonged to five bond-partners with seven donations, all of them born Subaki.

“My appointment is strictly therapeutic, Warixo,” Eppis sighed. “I’m not engaging a subakidoe, sexually,”

‘Good. That’s not right, CR Banto.’

Deposited at the pedestrian walk along the Utam Gathering Yard, Eppis bid Warixo a good day before making her way toward the Fitzrutak Building.

The Fitzrutak was a lumbering gashcolic barbarity notable for housing some of Utama’s best salons. On its pedestrian level, windows displayed stylishly dressed mannequins with intricately molded hair; each Hizaki doll posed in scenes of daily management.

The Fitat Fashion House sat on the top floor and catered to Hizaki with no regard for the price of its services. The Fitat’s main salon lay sheathed in dirtoxian glass, and from its elevated mani-pedi deck, clients could view the rydokular trunk of the Cloister.

Passing through its automatic doors, Eppis encountered melodic music, and an amiable Ninth Gen Bizak rumored to have dressed the elite of the Sixth until the Suicides depleted her clientele.

Extending her hand, the elder commented on the day’s weather cycle while leading Eppis toward the back of the house.

Water churned in coiled canals upon a floor of contrasting mosaic tiles. Cord-strung shards of glass shivered in the high ceiling and cast twisted patterns of light upon the thickly striped walls.

A line of chairs fronted the ornately framed mirrors where Bizaki fluttered about like subglacial uraxi, pollinating their seated Hizaki blooms.

Eppis’ twice-weekly visits first involved wardrobe and hair; her stylist for this was a fellow Tenth named Kel’r Sok. A twenty-year veteran of the Fitat, Sok had been dressing Eppis since her Cloister debut.

Kel’r appreciated Eppis’ desire to downplay her hefty backside; unlike most Hizaki, Eppis refused to advertise her mental prowess in the workplace.

Today’s visit to the Fitat would encompass Eppis’ hands and feet.

Eppis expressed to her kaltzin of eight years, Egat Su, a desire for a new nail-set; disenchanted with its darkness, she wanted something lighter.

Tapping a handheld, Ergat retrieved Eppis’ style-schedule from the Sok’s database before choosing a proper nail color.

As Egat removed the dark and applied the light, Eppis inquired of her opinions on the defeat of the Committee’s plans to begin new construction throughout the domes by demolishing the districts vacated by their deceased elders.

Egat paused before answering, “I’m sentimental. My elders lived there, and I had good times with my elders. I think they’d want the Eleventh to move into their homes,”

“Yes,” said the Bizaki beside them, as she painted the nails of her Hizak client. “Our elders died so that we could produce the Pure Gen, damn right they would want their donata to move in,”

Hearing the term Pure Gen brought Kobajulo to mind.

“Uneducated in the realm of politics,” her Hizak client said, “I recognize maliciousness when it rears its head.”

Egat nodded, “The Ninth’s as vindictive as ever,”

“It crossed my thoughts that this motion crafted by the Committee might be another means of punishing makers no longer accountable in the flesh,” Eppis said, and her words appeared to comfort this audience of three.

“I remain conflicted,” the Hizak said. “As a citizen of Vanda, I appreciate that so much remains undeveloped under our dome, but the repurposing of properties left to gather dust curtails the vocational opportunities of my youngest, a construction engineer with Ramaxi Metropolitan.”

“Rehabbing real estate still requires labor,” Egat said, politely.

The Hizak shook her head, “Only a fraction, I’m afraid.”

“I didn’t think about that,” said the other Bizak.

The Bizakaxi had indeed thought about it.

The collective of labor unions remained in the hands of Ninth Gen Bizaki that counted on new construction projects to employ their Eleventh-Gen Bizak workforce.

The Bizakaxi’s support of the Committee’s plan to demolish and rebuild had faced direct opposition from Pikalit’s chosen Representatives.

Tenth Gen’s Pel Jyr, Yegi Das, and Cruzo Tegal had supported restoring empty bloom villages, high-rises, and shell neighborhoods to a livable quality.

Ultimately, the decision had fallen to the Third Office, Rasa Jyr.

Despite heavy pressure from the Bizakaxi, and blatant antagonism from Committee Members Lekada Wram, and Eppis’ kerma, Tee Banto, Jyr came down on the side of Pikalit’s three representatives.

Her nails set, Eppis followed Egat up the incline and toward the foot soaking stations. Walking its glassed-in deck, Eppis ignored the splendid view of Utama’s skyline when she saw a familiar Hizak soaking at the last station.

That first week in Mynu, Sofita had gone out of her way to meet Dyb Kul; even Eppis had been curious about what she considered, a normal Kul.

During their Level Two years, Dyb fell in with a rival tribe headed by Tib Brigitat.

Tib had established an adversarial relationship with Sofita, yet despite the social discourse, Dyb remained cordial to Sofita and her tribe, due in large to sharing a residence cube with Pitana Dag. She recalled how cruel they’d all been when Dyb and Pitana were rumored to have engaged one another during an organized social with a young Zaxir.

Every Resident Hall contained a three-cube unit; Eppis and Iba Ukel shared one across from Sofita Kul and Ixo Gizul, and beside Pitana Dag and Dyb Kul.

At age fourteen, Eppis and eleven other Hizaki got invited to Toxis along with twelve uninteresting Bizaki from the Citizenry Center in Pikalit. Once there they’d been let loose to dance, socialize, and sexualize with the Zaxiri Clutch in attendance.

Eppis enjoyed socializing; for youthful Hizaki this entailed standing around and intimidating each other with contemptuous glares.

The physical absence of adult supervision led Eppis to exciting experiences in the pools and private rooms. Like many of her caste-peers, Eppis remained physically detached from sexual encounters; content to instruct the fat beauties that interested her in engaging their oversexed Bizaki admirers.

Following one of their Toxis excursions, a sexuality counselor visited their Hall and convening all six Hizaki in their communal sitting room, the elder Hizak spoke of a Zaxir that bragged about grouping up with two Hizaki from their group.

According to the young belly, the pair were so aroused by one another that they engaged each other intimately while partaking in her. The instructor used the Zaxir’s story to spark a conversation around what must always be a healthy attraction to other Hizaki.

Though the Zaxir claimed it was the best experience of her fourteen-year-old life, Eppis and her peers had been immature; they cared only to learn who among them was weird enough to lust after their own.

Days after the counselor’s visit, Fee Tat had arrived to retrieve her best friend, Iba and passing by Pitana and Dyb’s room she’d witnessed them kissing. It was ironic that Fee had been the one to spark the rumor, considering her hidden desire for Iba.

Fee’s story had made its way through Mynu and forced Pitana and Dyb to endure whispers, snide remarks, and outright rude requests for reenactments, mainly from Sofita. The pair had emerged socially unscathed; Pitana was now chief Ambassador of Ramaxia, and Dyb’s talent for credit organization had led her to Ramaxi Prime Credit, where she now served as its Prime.

Noting the seat beside Dyb empty, Eppis requested it, but when she sat down at the foot soaking station, Dyb’s cordial expression faded.

“I suspect your sitting here lends to want for confrontation,” said Dyb.

“Explain why I’d desire a confrontation,” Eppis said.

“I assure you, Eppis,” Dyb said. “Nothing erotic transpired,”

“I assure you, Citizen Kul,” Eppis said with a smile. “I do not care, nor did I ever, about your coital pursuits.”

“Ozbi accompanied Hib, and I home to dine,” Dyb set down her biv-tab. “I pledge to you, nothing sexual occurred.”

“Unless you went with Ozbi to the Lux, dear Dyb,” Eppis said. “I believe you,”

Eppis slid her feet gradually into the churning hot water, silently amused by Dyb’s tangential connection to Pitana, one-time lover of Hib Perkad.

“This awkward start to a conversation aside, it’s good to see you again. If you must know, I trust Ozbi,” she said. “You and Ebi cohabitate with Citizen Perkad?”

Dyb remained guarded, “I severed my bond to Ebi, last year.”

“I was unaware of this,” Eppis turned to her, “I apologize for the discourtesy of requiring its mention.”

“Speaking again on last evening,” said Dyb. “When you hadn’t appeared, Ozbi suspected Acari of not inviting you,”

“Acari invited me, calculated on her part, as she’s aware I will not patronize the citbluz,” Eppis said. “Any chance to depict me in an unfavorable visage makes her life complete. Bondship is problematic,”

“I empathize,” Dyb said. “You appear rather accomplished today. Closing in on a Cloister victory?”

“Do I seem more proficient than usual?” Eppis asked.

“You’re certainly more gracious,” said Dyb.

Eppis paused, “I’m quite stand-offish, aren’t I?”

“Politeness maintained,” Dyb said. “You are a Banto,”

Eppis laughed, “Insulting me, Dyb?”

“Conversational delicacy escapes me, apologies,” Dyb grinned.

Eppis motioned for the Bizak attendant and ordered up a coffee with a double shot of vanilla syrup and extra brown sugar.

“The single most important helovx contribution to this world is the roasted coffee bean,” she said. “I pervert this achievement by inundating it with things that disguise its taste.”

Dyb laughed heartily.

“How is Citizen Perkad these days?” Eppis asked.

“It embarrasses me to admit this,” Dyb said. “We remain mostly platonic,”

“I recall you and Iba Ukel being notorious hizmarox,” Eppis ceased speaking when the attendant returned. After the young Bizak set down Eppis’ coffee mug and departed, Dyb chuckled. “That was grossly discourteous, Dybkul, my apologies,”

“Discourteous and partially true,” said Dyb. “Dearly departed Iba was the true Marixi addict. I dabbled, for social purposes. Speaking to that which excites us, Laxumjyr inquired after you last night.”

“No doubt Laxum Jyr was the first citizen Acari invited,” Eppis said.

“I mention her because Ambassador Jyr has brought you a gift from the between poles,” Dyb lowered her voice. “You will marvel at its exquisiteness.”

“Acquired between the poles?” Eppis brought the steaming cup to her mouth. “Dyb, you’re aware that helovx call our sexual desires, kinks.”

“The term kink implies a bend in what should be a straight line?” Dyb asked.

“The temerity,” Eppis said, shaking her head.

“I’m not bothered by what helovx deem unconventional,” said Dyb.

“Did Pitana Dag attend the festivities?” Eppis asked.

Dyb fell silent.

“I inquire only because of Hib,” Eppis said. “They’d been lovers for years, and parting put an exceptional strain on Pitana,”

Dyb hesitated before saying, “I’ve not seen Pitana since our annual pilgrimage to Pitasa’s zikolit,”

“Forgive me, Dybkul,” Eppis set aside the cup and stepping from the water she stood. “I’ve been discourteous multiple times since sitting beside you. I assure you it has not been intentional.”

In the production season of 2211, Pitasa Jyr, Laxum and Pitana’s Zaxir sib, entered into labor early. Pitasa, bonded to Dyb, was at their high rise when her pains began and being axiboxal, she panicked when her mucus plug melted.

Instead of calling for a transport, Pitasa’s bipolar nature saw her hobbling to the transport lot and getting into the operator’s seat of Dyb’s glide. Not knowing how to operate it, Pitasa had crashed it into the bulkhead of Utama’s Prime Causeway exit.

Pitasa had delivered her subakidoe alone, and when the medics arrived, they found the dead belly holding her subakidoe, the same young Subak that Eppis planned to visit at the Genbluz in Vanda.

“It’s fine, Eppis,” Dyb said.

“You mentioned Laxum and Hib,” Eppis said, apologetic. “I thought only of Pitana,”

“I didn’t suspect calculation, Eppis,” Dyb said.

“Nonetheless, I’ll depart before provoking further melancholy,” Eppis allowed the Bizak attendant to finish drying her feet before she turned, smiling at Dyb. “Freedom from bondship suits you, Dyb,”

“Thank you, Eppis,” said Dyb. “Say hello to my donat this evening, her appointment with you keeps her from our weekly meal at day-fall,”

Eppis’ discourtesies during their brief conversation certainly warranted a dose of retaliatory condescension; she opened her arms when Dyb rose to embrace her.

After having the callouses shaved from her feet, Eppis enjoyed a relaxing foot rub while a young stylist refreshed her current hairstyle.

The simplicity of Sofita’s curl on the crown impressed Eppis; she asked for a part down the middle with two mounds on each side.

Cursed with her kerma’s subakesque face, Eppis asked the stylist for two thin tails over each ear; their length would draw the eyes away from her face and down to her chest.

In the wardrobe room, as Kel’r pulled the creases out on her suit, Eppis pondered the amount of time it might take her kerma, Tee, to learn of her appointment with the young Ebivalkul.

“Kel’r,” Eppis said. “How long has Dyb Kul been a client?”

“The Fitat took on Advisor Kul last Dubol,” Kel’r said. “Living in Pikalit prior, she was considered new and ineligible to join. Dressing the Prime of Ramaxi Credit was too good an opportunity for the house to pass up, so,”

“Has her donation ever sought her here?”

“Attractive citizen,” Kel’r brushed the arms of Eppis’ jacket, “If you’re into subaxi,”

Calling a Subak fat was no insult, yet that term was a rough sort of verbiage employed by basic-Bizaki; Eppis expected better of Kel’r Sok.

Also, Ozbi’s weight gain in the years before Obiz and Fezil left for caste-training had appealed strongly to Eppis.

“I gather subaxi lack an appeal?” Eppis asked.

“I don’t mind a large girsuzsch, but I can do without a subbies fronts being bigger than my head,” said Kel’r.

Eppis’ maker had been rather endowed; her fondest memories were of tugging on and resting her head upon those large suzsch.

“Was your nestor not equipped growing up, Kel’r?” she asked.

“My nestor was Hizak,” Kel’r said with a grin, “None of us touched her fronts, not even my kerma’s, or my other maks,”

“My youngest is a Bizak,” Eppis examined her suit in the mirror. “She was rather fond of grabbing at mine. I would pass her immediately to her nestor,”

“We Bizaki tend to be hands-on,” Kel’r said, gazing at Eppis’ backswell with a face reminiscent of Sofita’s perverted fleet underling, Dox.

When Kel’r found Eppis scowling at her in the mirror, the Bizak cleared her throat and stepped back.

“I’m in a pleasant mood today, Kel’r,” Eppis said. “Let’s not repeat this familiarity in the future.”

“Apologies, CR Banto,” Kel’r said, her eyes cast down.

Outside the Fitzrutak, the wind threatened to dismantle Eppis’ hair.

Quickly crossing Cloister Square, she entered the busy lobby only to find herself facing a vertical packed tight with Hizaki.

“If younger than me,” Eppis snapped. “Exit!”

Every young Hizaki stepped out of the vertical, and as Eppis took their place, she stood beside an amused Yegi Das.

“Irada said she missed you last night, Eppis,” Yegi said of her bond partner, a Zaxir that Eppis once tangled with while in Mynu.

Yegi had been popular with Zaxiri because of her broad nose, thick lips, and angular face. Ozbi once told Eppis that Yegi’s hide was the color of mud and cobalt, but neither she nor Yegi knew what that meant.

“How was the atmosphere?” Eppis asked.

“I remained here until late,” Yegi’s words made the young Subak behind her shift uncomfortably. Eppis stared boldly at the young citizen, while Yegi made no move to introduce her.

“Enjoy your day, Eppis,” Yegi stepped aside when the doors opened, and allowed the young Subak to exit before her.

“Thank you, Yegi,” Eppis said, and the Subak stared brazenly at Eppis while she and Yegi embraced.

CR Qul Grik had arrived as scheduled and waited for Eppis in her office.

The long-faced Hizak wished to revitalize a residential bloom district inside the North Vanda dome.

Her plan called for expanding the existing structures and extending the abandoned Shell district alongside it. Each rehabilitated neighborhood would then converge on a vacant high-rise sector around Tiskol Terminal.

Armed with polling statistics, Qul showed Eppis that a sizable portion of young Subaki displayed clear bonding interests outside the Bizak-caste. Eleventh-Gen Bizaki seemed to be of similar intention, most showing little to no interest in settling down with a Subak.

Qul predicted that financially elevated Eleventh-Gen Bizaki and Subaki with no interest in one another would seek bondship with Hizaki. Any Hizak brought into this new domestic situation would undoubtedly desire a high-rise living arrangement.

If such a theory proved true, Qul’s converging districts would be quite profitable.

“Ozbi looked lovely last night,” Qul said, suddenly. “Acari’s disposition turned sour when she departed,”

“No doubt CM Banto was there to elevate her mood,” Eppis said.

“Not to offend,” said Qul, “I was relieved when Ozbi departed.”

“Subaki have no business in a citbluz,” Eppis agreed.

“If your kerma ran Ramaxia,” Qul said. “Subaki would never leave the house,”

“What has CM Banto said now?” Eppis asked.

“Yegi elevated young Kilwex to Cloister-Aid,”

“Wex?” Eppis said. “The Subak with the Governance Degree?”

“She’s quite ambitious,” said Qul.

“I expect no less from a donation of Iluz Vyx,” Eppis said.

An educated Zaxir, Iluz had been enamored with Eppis during her early years in Mynu. The ravenous belly eventually moved on to lesser Hizaki, but when they last spoke, Iluz, now Secondary of Zaxiri Registration, had invited Eppis onto her couch.

“Citizen Vyx’ superlative station was certainly recognized,” Qul said. “I believe CM Banto was less unimpressed with the other half Kil’s pedigree,”

Eppis laughed, “Line Jyr blood counts for nothing with my kerma?”

“CM Banto failed to make mention of Kil’s kermatic maker. I suspect the young Subak is ignorant of it,” Qul said, smiling. “Shocking when one considers that Laxum made no effort to disguise her hyper-aggressive patching,”

“Citizen Jyr exists in a constant state of excess,” said Eppis. “CM Banto’s discontent centers solely on Kil being a Subaki.”

“The Ninth remain set in their ways,” Qul said.

“Ramaxicon evolves, Qul,” Eppis folded her hands in her lap, “The Ruling Platform would do best to appreciate this so close to an ascension year.”

“Eppis,” Qul’s smile faded, “Our generation lacks a Primary,”

“If that’s the situation, Qul, why is Fusakul still on the Ruling Platform?” Eppis stood. “I’ll review these revitalization plans, Qul,”

“Thank you Eppis,” Qul rose and opened her arms.

After Qul’s departure, Eppis stood before the glass walls of her office and watched the young clerks sitting in the enclosed globes of their workstations.

Some kept a sharp eye out for their Tenth Gen supervisors; others engaged their neighbors in private conversation.

Obiz Banto’s workstation sat empty and cleared of all contents.

“Toligon, who’s the In-Coming Primary of the Tenth Generation?”

Presently no citizen is recognized, CR Banto.

Divozen Residence, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – 10:30 AM

Ilo tugged at the curled tail on Sofita’s crown.

“You let your hair grow back.”

“It makes an impression,” Sofita rose from the chaise.

Watching Sofita walk to the pool’s edge, Ilo mourned the hizzah she used to know, the one that came alive when her clothes were off.

“Who’s been tending to that gash, Sofita,” Ilo asked.

Sofita turned to her, “Do you feel as good as you look?”

“I’m juicy again,” Ilo said, and Sofita smiled. “Velts isn’t complaining.”

“At least something brings Velto some joy,” Sofita said.

“I don’t want to talk about Velto,” Ilo waved Sofita over to join her, “Let’s talk about Fuzodox.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Ilo,” Sofita said, returning to the chaise.

“Oh, there’s plenty to talk about,” Ilo would never forget the scared and pregnant Hizak that the medics had wheeled into her birthing room. “I never got a chance to ream you seventeen years ago,”

“You should’ve scolded me at my tribunal,” Sofita said. “Everyone else did,”

“We’re not going to talk about Zixas,” said Ilo.

Zixas Wram had changed following the death of Fusada Kul.

The honey and sapphire bruise had started visiting Ilo and Velto socially, desperate to restore the relationship she once had with Velto when a donat, before their nestor’s suicide and their kerma taking control of Zixas’ life.

Zixas supported Velto’s decision to exit politics and return to Wram Constructs, and while out to dinner one night, Zixas had let it slip that Sofita was living in her barracks; Velto whispered in Ilo’s ear that Zixas’ sudden maturity now made sense.

Under Sofita’s influence, Zixas learned to read; she began taking placement tests and often questioned Velto about Cloister procedure.

Ilo saw nothing wrong in Sofita pushing Zixas toward possible Primaryship, but Velto hadn’t liked it one bit. Despite her reservations, Velto had been proud of Zixas mainly for standing up to their kerma Lekada.

Elder Lekada had arranged a dining party to celebrate Zixas’ securing a place in the Secondary Final Trial of the Tenth Gen in Orta.

Though not invited, Ilo and Velto were collected by Zixas on her way to attend. The trio arriving together had put Lekada in a sour mood, and Ilo enjoyed watching Zixas take a combative tone with the hizzah eel whenever she’d express a poor opinion of Velto.

Ilo also noticed Zixas’ renewed interest in Lekada’s captive Tenth-Gen belly. Crixal Dox and Zixas had once been lovers, and Ilo would’ve encouraged an affair had Lekada not been prone to extreme punishments.

The Secondary Final Trial of the Tenth hadn’t been Ilo’s first.

After making Prime Citizen, she’d been given a select seat to watch the Tenth Gen’s original Final; so many familiar faces and Fusada was the victor.

At the Secondary, Sofita had stepped out onto the trial-ice no longer the brilliant brainer from Mynu; all that had remained of the scholar Ilo once knew were those round fronts and that thick girsuzsch.

A bald thug with lifeless eyes, Orta had turned Sofita’s body into oddly chiseled ice, stacking on too much definition to what was already defined.

“What were you thinking, Sofita?” Ilo whispered.

Sofita turned to her, “She tried to kill me, Ilo,”

“I’m not talking about Zix, or that Final Trial!” Ilo cried.

“Yes, I could’ve died, that day,” Sofita said. “I’d missed two Sealer injections,”

“You used that nasty Banto Sealer?” Ilo asked.

“I couldn’t survive without it,” Sofita said.

“You’re lucky Fusada didn’t kill you,” Ilo said.

Fusada had insisted on joining Ilo in the birthing room the day she planned to deliver their subakidoe. The bruiser had been nervous yet stress-free until they’d wheeled in a laboring Sofita, bleeding and traumatized.

“Fusada knew my reasons for doing what I did,”

“Yeah, I met her upstairs, Sofita,” Ilo said.

“The only way to access the College was pregnancy,” Sofita said.

“Crix thinks that Lekada killed her marixidoe,” Ilo said. “Do you have any idea what that did to her?”

Sofita fell silent.

“I understand, you wanted to find that marixidoe,” Ilo said.

“Do you, Ilo?” Sofita demanded.

“I’m a Zaxir not a fucking shark,” Ilo snapped. “I know where all my donats ended up, you arrogant hizzah,”

Sofita’s lips curled at the corners.

“Forget that marixidoe upstairs,” Ilo said. “Did you even think about the ramifications of delivering a donat you had no intention of keeping?”

“Zaxiri do it all the time,” Sofita said.

“It’s what we’re designed to do, gurxhole,” Ilo sat back, relaxed. “I hope you thanked Ozbitis because if she hadn’t been there that day, you’d be dead.”

“If Ozbi hadn’t been there that day, she would’ve missed your amazing confession,” Sofita countered. “I wasn’t so far gone that I missed you blurting out that you and Eppis, played her and Velto, like a couple of posing dolls.”

“You think that’s funny, huh?” Ilo wanted to be angry, but she adored seeing Sofita behaving like her old self. “Ozbi and me went to Hibby after you bore that donat,”

Sofita looked at her, “Ozbi and I,”

“Don’t correct me you brainer-fuck,” Ilo jammed her foot into a laughing Sofita’s backside. “We went to Hib because she was the only one that could’ve processed a birthing number for you.”

“You, Ozbi, and Hib got together and discussed me?” Sofita’s eyes drifted to Ilo’s ample cleavage. “Did you group up?”

“You told Hib you were going to raise that marixidoe, with some Bizak, in Utama.” Ilo said, glaring. “When Hibby realized you lied to her, she tracked the number Oligax assigned, and saw that you used it to find Crixal’s marixidoe-”

“—Fuzo doesn’t belong to Crixal,” Sofita said.

Ilo felt her heart sink, “Who are her makers?”

“Privacy, Ilo,” Sofita rose from the chaise. “A moment prior, you were quite the advocate,”

“That doe might as well be hers, Sofita,” Ilo said. “Lekada had her makodux ripped out after birthing that donat,”

Sofita’s mood soured.

“Crixal got punished for not naming the citizens she carried for,” Ilo said, her voice unsteady. “I assumed she was its maker, but you’re telling me she was just a carrier?”

“Crixal saw a chance to defy Lekada, and she took it.” Sofita furrowed her brow. “Don’t make her my victim, Ilo.”

“Everyone you encounter is your victim, Sofita,” Ilo said.

“Does Velto know about citizen Utat?”

Ilo’s anger gave way to frustration.

“What right do you have to judge my life choices?”

“It’s a valid counter in the face of you questioning mine,”

“My life choices don’t get citizens killed or hurt!” Ilo calmed when Sofita turned her back on her. “Velto knows Pik. She doesn’t know that Pik is hers. She just thinks I carried for Yulia.”

Sofita stood over Ilo with anger in her eyes.

“You named that donat, Pik?”

Laughing, Ilo pulled her down and hugged her tight.

“What am I going to do with you? I’m no good at tribal warfare,”

Sofita pressed her lips to Ilo’s neck and asked, “What did Fusada say about the donux she gave you?”

“I asked her who she mixed her soup with,” Ilo replied. “But ‘Foos gave me some story about it being blind,”

Sofita sat up.

“Whoever she mixed her patch with, she loved them,” said Ilo. “I gave Fusada a useless subakidoe, but she didn’t care. She saw someone she loved in that face.”

“You keep up with your donats, Ilo?” Sofita asked.

“I may not want them around, but I keep tabs,” Ilo took Sofita’s chin in her hand, “You, turning away from your newborn that day, that’s normal. Brainers aren’t meant to give birth. You’re not even wired to care about donats until they can talk to you.”

“Fusada held hers,” Sofita’s voice cracked.

“Barely!” Ilo said. “Foos’ had that little doe by the back of her neck and backswell like some trophy. I thought Ozbi was going to lose her mind thinking she might drop her.”

Sofita laughed a this.

“If it makes you feel any better, ‘Fita, you birthed a marixidoe, they don’t care if you love them.” Ilo said, still keen on discovering young Fuzo’s maker-ship, “If that bruise upstairs isn’t Fusada’s, then who does-?”

—Sofita moved in for a kiss.

“Unbelievable!” Ilo cried, pushing her away.

The uniformed Hizak stood, amused.

“You’re quite a distraction, today, Ilocux,”

“I’m always a distraction!” Ilo bragged.

“Your pheromones are powerful,” said Sofita.

Ilo demanded, “Where’s that doe you birthed?”

“Her kerma raised her,” Sofita said.

“Do me a favor,” said Ilo. “Leave her with her kerma.”

“You’ve been riding like you’re twenty, haven’t you?” Sofita asked hands on her hips.

“Velto’s not complaining,” Ilo grabbed onto Sofita, to stand.

“Has she spoken to you,” Sofita asked. “About your sudden resurgence?”

“She says it’s because of the radiation here,” Ilo replied.

“We do thrive in extreme environments,” Sofita said.

Ilo scanned the area for familiar helovx, “I wonder if Velts is back from meeting the Empress,”

“You mean, the Emperor?”

“Kasi’s a good kid,” Ilo said. “It shouldn’t matter, should it?”

“Kasi’s a Kotko male, and there are no good Kotko males,”

“She was born a woman,” Ilo pouted.

“For helovx, the body is a mere host for the brain,” Sofita set off over the poolside tiles. “If the brain is male, it doesn’t matter that the body is not,”

“Wait for me, ‘Fita!”

“I thought you were revitalized,”

“My legs are too chunky to march.”

“I’m not marching.”

“You march. You always did.”

“I always did?”

“First time I saw you in Mynu,” Ilo said. “You led the way.”

Sofita slowed her gait, “I have a forceful nature,”

“You have Fusada in you,” Ilo said, “Just like Fusada had some of you, in her.”

“Was that her price for bonding to you?” Sofita’s animated eyes went cold. “Carrying a donation, she made with a caste-off male?”

Ilo’s chest tightened, “I hurt you, saying that about Fusada and you, didn’t I?”

Sofita held a hateful gaze.

“It’s good to see Orta didn’t rub all the hizzah out,” Ilo scowled. “You know what? If ‘Foos had put face to face with that male I’d have ridden him and birthed for him because that’s what love is, Sofita!”

“I’m sorry, Ilo,” Sofita softened. “Fusa certainly loved you,”

“I convinced your kerma that I wanted to be part of perpetuating those Kul genes,” Ilo grinned, then turned to her, “How is it that House Kul isn’t related to the nice Kul’s?”

“Nice Kul’s?” said Sofita.

“The Pikalit Kul’s aren’t like the Utama Kul’s,” said Ilo. “Dyb and her sib are so sweet and charming, and you and Fusada are like a bad day,”

“It’s the Banto blood,” said Sofita, smiling. “It makes us Utama Kul’s, cruel.”

“We best make sure that bruiser of yours in Utama doesn’t end up with any of Eppis’ donats,” Ilo said, laughing.

Sofita raised an eyebrow, “The Banto-Tol Tav’zikoltil Remembrance was last night.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel guilty?” Ilo asked.

Sofita replied, “I don’t think you’re capable of guilt, Ilocux,”

“Look at that,” said Ilo. “We have something in common, Sofitakul.”


Kasi peered through a sliver in the stone.

The farc Ambassador and her oddly attractive soldat stood beside one another in the hall, speaking at length in their strange polar tongue.

“How long have you been in divisional, Dox?”

“Seven months Ambassador Wram,”

“Your Final Trial tactic was impressive.”


“Laying low until the fiercest got worn down.”

“I didn’t play dead.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Yes,” the bald farc spoke as if insulted.

“That’s a shame. I’d have more respect for you if you’d planned it. Now what I would’ve done, no, scratch that,” Wram the Younger shook her head. “I wouldn’t have been out there in the first place.”

“With all due respect, Ambassador,” the soldat frowned. “Hizaki have a pecking order every bit as brutal as Marixi.”

The Ambassador glared at the soldat.

“I’m not Hizak, Donmat,” she growled, prompting the young soldat to close her eyes. “That’s beside the point. If I got offered a job that required me to get my head kicked in, I wouldn’t take the job.”

The bald farc remained polite, “There are worse things than getting your head kicked in, Ambassador.”

“No there isn’t, Donmat.” the Ambassador said. “And spare me that Citizen, You Should Appreciate My Brutality Because I’m Here to Ensure Your Quality of Life, crap. You’re more than adequately compensated for putting your life on the line.”

“So are Bizaki,” the soldat seemed proud of herself.

“You sound like your Komad,” the Ambassador spat. “That’s not a compliment,”

When Lady Karel entered the hall to collect the pair, Kasi fled the hidden room and emerged from behind the tapestry covering its entry.

Reviewing his reflection on a hall mirror Kasi found his chest pleasingly flat; Lady Ilo’s gift to him, a binding-undershirt, was deeply appreciated.

Entering the grand hall, Kasi found Duke Kotko and Yuri, each standing protectively on either side of his mother’s throne—no, his throne. Kasi sat between them and suddenly felt stifled enough to tug at the skewed collar of his kosovorotka.

“All is well, Emperor?” Duke Kotko asked.

Kasi looked into those light blue eyes and felt safe, “All is well, Duke Kotko.”

Lady Karel brought in the farcs, and Wram the Younger seemed less angry today.

The young soldat trailing behind Wram was rather thin, but still tall and well-muscled; Lady Ilo claimed the farc warriors wore binding-shirts like the one she’d given Kasi, but this muscled brute’s breasts were clearly visible.

Kasi straightened his back, “Ambassador Wram,”

“Emperor Kasimir,” Wram bowed, but the soldat did not. The gray colored farc observed the room before setting her pitch-black eyes upon Boris.

“Thank you for respecting my situation, Ambassador.”

“How you identify yourself matters only to my government,” said the Ambassador, “Deconstructing the SR-I and removing it is my only care.”

“You’ve been kept from this task, for some time,” Kasi said.

“Some time is what you’d call, an understatement,” Wram remained civil, something Kasi hadn’t seen her do before. “The components presented to me are missing their operational hardware, this tells me that the SR-I remains in use,”

“I assure you Ambassador Wram,” Kasi said. “The processor you asked to be broken down, has been.”

“Forgive me, Emperor,” said Wram. “But you’re wrong.”

“My mother’s death was unfortunate and her passing, unavoidable.” Kasi rose from his chair and walked to Wram. “No doubt, your Committee will remove the processor once I’m crowned.”

“I’m certain, Emperor, my Committee will remove me, and my processor,” said the Ambassador. “I won’t be leaving though until I have all the parts.”

“I anticipated this, Ambassador,” Kasi stood before Wram and noticed they were of equal height; the soldat, however, towered over them. “The welfare of my people is important. I cannot let you have access-”

“—until we know what your Committee decides,” said Duke Kotko.

The bald farcs eyes set squarely on the Duke.

“The Commander and this Ensign,” Kasi asked, eyeing the soldat. “They’re here to collect you, Ambassador Wram?”

“Emperor, I’ll be removed from here and in my place, there will be soldiers,” said the Ambassador. “Do you understand this?”

Kasi nodded, and then returned to his throne.

“I will speak with your Committee,”

Wram bowed, “It’s been an honor, Emperor Kasimir,”

Kasi stood, “It has been an honor to have you serve with-”

“—you didn’t let me finish,” said Wram, “It’s been an honor, to know you. My Committee will never speak to you, Emperor, and I’m sorry your life has been so short.”

Kasi’s stomach turned as Wram the Younger bowed one last time before turning on her heel and exiting.

The soldat regarded Kasi with a twinkle in her eye before confidently turning her back on him and following the Ambassador out.

“What did she mean by that?” Kasi turned to the Duke. “A life so short?”

“The Committee will send troops,” said the Duke.

“Can they climb our wall?” Kasi said.

“They don’t need to climb,” Yuri snapped. “They can fly right in.”

“No worries, my Emperor, they’ll not invade us,” said Duke Kotko.

“How can you be certain of that Boris?” Yuri demanded.

“We’ll be keeping Wram the Younger,” Kasi said. “And her fat wife,”

The Duke folded his arms over his broad chest.

“Keeping them as collateral,” he smiled proudly. “Will ensure Ramaxia never attacks.”

“They killed one of their own destroying Australia!” Yuri cried.

“Idiot!” Kasi said. “That farc killed herself,”

“Killing Wram the Younger, and her wife, will not be seen well in the eyes of the farc populace,” Duke Kotko said.

“They’re too popular, Yuri,” Kasi added.

The Duke smiled, “Harming them isn’t what’s best for Fusa Kul, or her administration,”

“Why has it come to this?” Kasi slumped on his throne.

“Because you-” Yuri stopped talking when the Duke tapped his head.

“Let him say what he’s thinking,” Kasi ordered.

“I think not,” Duke Kotko glared at Yuri.

Kasi exclaimed, “Let him say what he’s thinking, father!”

Yuri eyed the Duke before smiling at Kasi.

“They fear your strength,” he said.

Kasi stepped to the tall and handsome Yuri.

“You’d better start fearing my strength,”

“Yes, Emperor,” said Yuri, head bowed.

“I don’t want Lady Ilo, hurt,” Kasi said to his father. “She’s always been so respectful to me and was respectful to my mother.”

“Of course, my Emperor,” the Duke bowed to Kasi.

“That silver beast is on the western wall,” said Kasi.

The Duke turned to Yuri, “While Wram the Younger conspires with her protectors, Yuri will find out what he can of it.”

“Yes Boris,” Yuri set off quickly for the hall.

“Yuri?” Kasi caught up with him. “I didn’t mean to be so cross,”

Yuri delivered a subservient nod.

Kasi’s decision to live as he felt was hard on Yuri. They’d engaged in an intense flirtation as they matured and consummated their lust just days before the Empress’ demise.

Yuri had gone cold since Kasi refused to wear another dress, and then insisted on being recognized as a man.

“Since we’re all still awake,” Kasi said. “Will you dine with me when you return?”

Yuri hesitated, “I will be back, my Emperor.”

After Yuri’s departure, the Duke scolded Kasi.

“Your passion for Yuri, mustn’t be shown to others,”

“I’m Emperor,” Kasi said. “My passions are no one’s business but my own.”

Duke Kotko softened his gaze, “At this moment, you are your mother.”

“At this moment,” Kasi said, smiling. “You are my father,”

Coralix Fine Gardens, North Vanda
Ramaxia – 1210 Hours

Eppis had arrived an hour early to the restaurant hoping to exit before Tee Banto’s arrival; she’d planned to predicate her absence on the pretense that Tee misunderstood the actual meeting time.

“Acari said you’d be acquired here, mid-day,”

Laxum Jyr stood between two Eleventh-Gen Marixi; each examined the room as if it were their first day on Ramaxicon. Despite their OHA assigned uniforms, the pair were woefully out of place at the Coralix.

Laxum’s thick heeled shoes gave her unnecessary height, but such was the warped fashion sense of an Hizak serving amongst Marixi.

“How did you get these two fertix past the hostess,” Eppis rose from her chair and embraced Laxum.

“Vyx and Acari,” said Laxum. “Visit the bar, imbibe.”

The two bruisers stared at her, confused.

“That means get a drink,” Laxum said, flatly. “Charge it to my tab,”

“Young Tuso?” Eppis addressed the taller one, “How is your maker, Iluz?”

“CM Banto,” the bruiser said, saluting with her eyes averted.

“What’s the problem, Vyx?” Laxum asked.

“My mak told me about you, CR Banto,” Vyx said, her head ashen.

Laxum smiled inanely at Eppis.

Zaxiri often sexualized their marixidoe by engaging them in unsuitable dialogues about their sexual adventures. Marixi dabbled in similar forms of inappropriateness with their zaxiridoe.

“Say goodbye,” Laxum added, and the two bruisers left them.

Eppis returned to her seat without another word spoken.

“Since you won’t invite,” Laxum said. “I shall intrude,”

Laxum continued to don the sedate style she made famous as CR of Utama, with two symmetrical globes of hair set atop a square of trimmed bangs; it was a masterful choice to cloak her woefully small eyebrows.

Pulling out her Filmark, she tossed it onto the table.

“What’s this?” Eppis asked, pushing her plate aside.

Laxum lowered her voice, “It’s what you requested,”

Eppis glanced the room before collecting the device from the table and swiping a thumb over its screen. A playback of two tiger sharks tearing into a thin helovx man began, and Eppis tapped the screen to black before setting it face down on the table.

“Sofita allowed me to dispose of him,” Laxum snatched an uneaten roll from the basket and shoved its entire mass into her mouth.

“The demise of your table manners appalls!”

Rolling her eyes, Laxum helped herself to Eppis’ water.

“Dining with Marixi makes one forget the fundamentals,” Laxum followed her words with a closed mouthed belch, and upon pilfering another roll, she made it a point to tear off small bits and mock Eppis with each dainty bite.

“Why are you in Ramaxia?”

Laxum grinned, “I’m here to sign off on Sofita’s version of the Bumo Investigation,”

“The investigation the Komad claims you initiated,” Eppis said. “I’m confident you relayed your gratitude, as that fabrication surely saved you from disciplinary action.”

“Fabricating my involvement wasn’t your idea, Eppis?” Laxum asked.

Eppis frowned, “I’m not that emotionally invested in you, Laxum,”

“Content to see me tumble through the ice?” asked Laxum.

“Some days are better than others,” Eppis said as Laxum grabbed a plate of food meant for another patron from a passing Bizak waitress. “Today isn’t one of those days.”

“What have I done to you now?” Laxum asked, between bites.

“Did you enjoy the revelry last night?” asked Eppis.

Laxum considered her words, “Possibly,”

“Wasn’t enough to engage Acari on our bonding day,” Eppis said. “You relived the glorious event on its anniversary,”

“Your anniversary!” Laxum seemed genuinely shocked. “That explains Ozbi’s presence. When I witnessed her, I thought she’d gone ice-brained like some subbies do when they’re not being satisfied at home.”

“Ozbi’s satisfaction is none of your concern,” Eppis tempered her rage and took the signing-pad from the waitress.

The Bizak waitress pretended not to listen as Eppis put her thumb to the pad to pay for her meal. After processing it, the waitress thanked Eppis with a nod, and smiled at Laxum as she walked away.

“I was relieved when Ozbi merely engaged in a short greet and farewell,” Laxum’s head followed the departing waitress. “Bizaki age so beautifully, don’t they Eppis?”

“How was Acari’s performance, Laxum?”

“If you must know, I’m aging poorly,” Laxum sighed. “Zaxiri never motivated me beyond my twenty, and last night, I was too tired to seek Acari out,”

“Lack of a clasper, I presume?”

“I got something for you,” Laxum set a small box upon the table.

Eppis retrieved it, and removing the crisscrossed ribbon, pulled the lid free.

A calligraphic half mask stared back at her, a dark and intricate lace that surely appeared like ink drawn on the face of its wearer.

“You’re welcome, Eppis.” Laxum said, then lowered her voice. “I was toying around with that helovx because I’d long written off any future on the Committee.”

“Situations change,” Eppis said, transfixed by the mask.

“Last month, Vyx and Acari were petitioned to author weekly reports on my activity,” Laxum said. “They came to me, of course.”

“The Eleventh are overtly devoted to us, more so than we were to the Ninth,” Eppis said, putting the lid back on the box, she slipped it into her suit jacket. “What are your thoughts on Vyx and Acari’s Primary in wait?”

Laxum furrowed her brow, “Who do you speak of?”

“Fusada’s bruiser,” Eppis said.

Fusadakul had no marixidoe,” Laxum said. “I assure you. Polluting the subject, I refuse to believe that Sofita’s abandonment of us was anything but intentional.”

“You doubt her insistence that her rekindled ambition is just that,” Eppis asked. “Rekindled?”

“No one perseveres like Sofita,” Laxum said, nodding. “She’s the endurance of a glacier,”

“I must speak with Pitana,”

“Your conversation won’t transpire today,”

“The intercepted extraction order for Velto?”

“Your omniscience frightens me,”

“Wram’s assignment was a mistake,” Eppis said. “A citizen of Velto’s talents must never be allowed to leave Ramaxia.”

“I’m not stunned Ilo chose to accompany her,” Laxum said. “She’s on Velts like a tumor on Slav,”

Eppis grinned, “That’s a horrid association,”

“Bonding is horrid,” Laxum countered.

“On the subject of bondship, Dyb Kul broke hers to Ebi Tat,” Eppis leaned in and lowered her voice. “She’s residing with Hib Perkad,”

Laxum choked on her water.

“I must tell my nestor,” Laxum said, after clearing her windpipe. “She’s desperate for Pitana’s return and for her to reunite with Hibby.”

Dybkul rather sweetens the lure,” Eppis said.

“Dyb should’ve abandoned Ebi years ago,” said Laxum. “Bonding is tantamount to ISO,”

“Habitual companionship defines balance,” Eppis said. “You’ll appreciate such intricacies when you’ve matured enough to consider it.”

“Velto’s not bonded, Eppis,” Laxum said. “She’s in bondage,”

“Monogamists don’t cloy,” said Eppis, but when Laxum suddenly leaned over the table with eyes down, Eppis threatened her, “Do not pass gas in here!”

Laxum spoke without moving her lips, “Your kerma’s walking this way.”

Eppis tossed her napkin down.

“Did she observe you?”

“She inquired of the hostess,” Laxum continued to speak clandestinely. “Then cast her attention to us.”

Tee Banto moved through the dining room as if she owned it.

Just shy of her sixty-fourth year, those Banto genes awarded Tee a full head of hair, and a hide as supple and smooth as a dolphin’s.

“Ambassador Jyr, I wasn’t aware of your return,” Tee sat in a chair brought over for her by the hostess, and warily began peeling off her gloves. “I thought our mid-day was for twelve-thirty, Eppis?”

“Eleven-thirty,” said Eppis. “I dined without you.”

Laxum hid her amusement.

“Are you out of sorts today Eppis?” said Tee. “You seem out of sorts.”

“Twenty years, and counting,” Laxum joked.

“I witnessed you, Ambassador, at our celebration,” Tee continued to refer to everything Eppis had as ‘ours.’ “Where were you, Eppis?”

“I was engaged, elsewhere,” said Eppis.

Laxum raised a glass, “So Ozbi explained,”

“Acari labored to convince Ozbi to remain, and while doing so, Ozbi said nothing of a joining you,” Tee examined the menu brought over by the waitress. “We were informed of her departure later in the evening. Acari attempted to acquire her by pinging that Hib Perkad.”

Tee’s face soured upon saying Hib’s name.

“Acari should’ve called Dyb, her Filmark’s always on these days,” Laxum’s rakish grin shriveled under both Tee and Eppis’ glare.

Fiddling with her napkin, Laxum’s eyes set upon her discarded Filmark.

“Ibur informed me,” Tee smiled at the waitress delivering her warm glacial water. “That you’re spending time in that insignificant Utama residence you retained years ago.”

Eppis snatched up her empty glass and began chewing the ice left in it, “How did the subject of my residence enter the conversation?”

Laxum eyed Tee, then foolishly glanced the Filmark.

“The subject of your notable absence at a party given to honor the anniversary of your bond,” Tee frowned. “Acari bore you two donations, Eppis. You might’ve attended.”

Eppis gathered her napkin into her fist.

“Neither I nor Ozbi, frequent the citbluz,” Eppis angrily tossed the napkin, making sure it landed on the Filmark. “Acari is aware of this and should’ve considered it before planning the festivity. Her calls to Ozbi were ignored for obvious reasons,”

Laxum snatched a glass of ale from the tray of a passing waitress.

“You spoke at length with Dyb Kul this morning at the Fitat,” Tee’s eyes shifted to Laxum before focusing on Eppis. “Does Dyb know you’re entertaining young Ebival?”

Laxum stared openly at Eppis.

“We spoke only of my impending appointment, kerma,”

“Doctor Kul is allegedly Eppis’ therapist,” Tee said to Laxum. “Doubtful of course, since the young Subak specializes in sexual-dysfunction,”

“Your insensitivity never ceases to amaze me, kerma,”

“I’m well, Eppis,” Laxum raised a hand. “My nestor is emotionally tied to young Ebival, so I’m aware of her vocational focus, and that your relationship with her is a professional one,”

“I would never engage a Subak so young, but I fall on her mako from time to time,” Tee said. “Bonded Tenth are astounding lovers. They excel at keeping secrets.”

Laxum spoke coldly, “Pitasa never kept your secret,”

Ebi’s fondness for elder Hizaki was legendary, and it had been easy for her to become one of many Tenth Gen that Tee tasted during their twenty.

Pitasa had learned of Ebi’s affair with Tee and upon acquiring proof of it, attempted to persuade Dyb to eject Ebi from their bond.

Dyb had been unwilling, and during patch collections, the Hizak had managed to persuade Pitasa to forgive Ebi. The Zaxir’s clemency ended upon learning that Ebi had created a donux containing no part of Dyb, or Pitasa.

After Tee ordered her meal, she waited until the Bizak departed before delicately removing the napkin from over the Filmark.

“What’s this?”

“Playback from last night.” Laxum said. “Stationed at Kuril, I don’t get to engage Zaxiri. When I come home, I stock up on the memories.”

“Don’t get. Come home. Stock up,” Tee frowned, leaving the Filmark untouched. “Your vocabulary suffers since transitioning to the Office of Helovx Advocacy,”

“According to Dyb, you managed to invoke stimulating memories last night,” Eppis said, luring Tee’s attention.

“I’m a Jyr,” said Laxum. “Stimulation is our expertise,”

Eppis said, “I just dined Laxum, spare me your exploits.”

“Our anniversary,” said Tee, keeping her attention on Eppis. “Should’ve been spent with all our partners, not just one.”

Laxum wagged her finger, “That’s right, Ilo!”

Tee laughed at this, and Eppis decided she’d had enough. Rising from her chair, Laxum quickly joined her.

“Call me,” she said, embracing Eppis. “Acari has my locater,”

Tee pointed her head at the Filmark.

“You mustn’t forget your exploits, Ambassador.”

Snatching the Filmark up, Laxum held it out before Tee, “Want to watch?”

Tee frowned, “I’m likely the star,”

Laxum departed with a wink as Eppis returned to her seat.

“What requires my presence today, CM Banto?”

“First, clarify this situation with young Kul,” Tee said. “Reiterating boundaries is ineffectual, Eppis. I care little for what you regard as private,”

“Unless you’re prepared to clarify the details of my nestor’s accident,” Eppis said. “I suggest you leave my boundaries intact.”

Tee’s eyes drifted to her drink, “Your mako drowned, Eppis.”

“Her name was Debo Tol,” Eppis said, and was satisfied seeing Tee squirm. “Why this sudden interest in my therapeutic relationship with Doctor Kul?”

“Full disclosure is paramount,” Tee seemed relieved to forgo further discussion of Debo’s death. “Before Ebival’s birth, her mako, Ebi, turned to me for emotional support when Pitasa caused trouble in their bond,”

“Pitasa discovered Ebi freeriding some elder Hizaki,” Eppis said plainly. “I suspect Ebi’s lovers to be the true origin of the strife.”

Tee sighed, “My awareness of your nature, Eppis, indicates you’re not one to seek fulfillment outside your bonds.”

“Your awareness of me isn’t as compact as you believe,” Eppis said.

The waitress set a plate before Tee of thinly sliced grilled faxuto overtop a bed of aromatic keltavi.

“There’s truth to that, Eppis,” Tee cut into a strip of meat, using her knife to push some dark grains of rice onto it before carrying it past those well-manicured teeth. “I never thought my donation one to leave the mainland.”

Tee to put down her knife and fork.

“Your clandestine journey to Yukon Beach?”

“That bit of trifle,” Eppis did her best seem bored. “You might’ve inquired while Laxum remained,”

“Laxum wasn’t at Yukon Beach,” said Tee. “You’ve not conversed with Sofitakul in many years, Eppis,”

Eppis nodded, “My presence was requested,”

“So, you fled the mainland?” Tee said.

“I booked passage,” Eppis countered. “Sharing with Administrator Gizul my itinerary and my intentions,”

“You spoke to the Sernatae-Second?” Tee asked.

“You’re aware of my journey and its reason, kerma, stop this charade,” Eppis said. “CM Wram no doubt shared with you the details,”

Tee tilted her head, “Lekada spoke nothing of your leaving Ramaxia,”

Eppis crossed one leg over the other.

“Her inquiry into Laxum’s alleged investigation?” Tee asked. “You suggest there’s something more?”

“The more being a stimulus for my trip to Port Yukon,” Eppis said.

“Hide nothing,” said Tee, her lust for gossip boundless.

“You’re aware the remaining bellies of Wulitat Dox have scheduled their ceremonial cit’tilgul for the end of the month?” Eppis asked.

“Lekada’s acquisition of their precious Crixal remains tainted by her subterfuge,” Tee sucked her teeth. “Wulitat was shrewd and her whores even more so,”

Dox Pharmaceuticals, established in the era of the Second Gen, never concerned themselves with medicinal advancement. They focused on the lucrative citizenry-market with lines of erotic and wellness products that made them one of the wealthiest company’s in the world.

After Clan Dox came under the reign of Wulitat, the Ninth-Gen Hizak had sold off all their citbluz holdings in East Toxis; she’d anticipated the yet to be elected Velto Wram to put bluzsh ownership back into the hands of the Zaxiri.

Profits from those sales had financed Wulitat’s purchase of the five square blocks surrounding Kyrtabi Station. After the Chamber defeated a motion brought forth by Toxis Prime to build a Citizenry Transit terminal in their dome, Kyrtabi in the West became the exclusive entry and exit port of the Toxis domes.

Clan Dox had earned more credit in real-estate rents around Kyrtabi than it ever did in traditional pharma. While Wulitat made that fortune, Second Office of the Committee, Lekada Wram, had placed a firm bid on a portion of her Kyrtabi properties.

Wulitat countered the offer with a proposed bond between her Zaxir donation, Crixal, and Lekada’s Bizak donation, Velto. It hadn’t been an unusual request; Hizaki kerma with Subaki or Zaxiri donations were atypically aggressive in shaping their donats bonding choices.

Matching Crixal to Velto, a successful Bizak pre-bonded to the beautiful Ilo Cux had been vital to Wulitat’s plans for Crixal. During their negotiations, Velto had bonded not just to Ilo, but to the Primary’s heir, Fusada Kul.

Lekada had been forced to counter Wulitat’s offer with her Marix donation, Zixas. It hadn’t been unconventional since Zixas and Crixal were involved sexually throughout their twentieth year; Wulitat had refused to consider the match though, citing Zixas’ dismal Final Trial performance.

In 2208, the year Eppis had bonded, Lekada made a heftier offer for the properties, and as an incentive offered herself as a bond to young Crixal.

Outright insulted, Wulitat closed negotiations.

In 2209, Wulitat had suddenly reversed her decision and offered up her only zaxiridoe to an Hizak twenty-three years her senior. It was a typical inter-clan land deal; Crixal, the sole inheritor of her Clan’s assets, would bond to a Clan citizen of equal financial status, thus joining her assets to those of her prime bond, Lekada.

Wulitat Dox had failed to show up to the bonding ceremony; it was discovered that hours before the bondship papers had been signed, Wulitat committed zish`tilgul.

Unable to have her flesh recycled, Wulitat was barred from passing on her estate holdings to Crixal.

Clan Dox’ holdings had remained all these years in the hands of Wulitat’s surviving bonds, leaving Lekada with nothing but a willful Tenth-Gen Zaxir.

“Wulitat’s bonds were particular about Crixal’s inheritance,” Eppis leaned over the table. “The Zaxir acquires nothing if she remains bonded to Lekada.”

Tee smiled wide.

When they die,” said Eppis. “The properties go to the shareholders of Dox Pharmaceuticals.”

Tee covered her mouth, laughing.

“I thought Lekada, your peer,” said Eppis.

“Lekada’s no fool,” Tee said. “She’ll offer Crixal a bond-break in return for all the assets she desperately desired initially,”

“If Crixal accepts the bond-break,”

“Why wouldn’t she, poor thing,” Tee said, sarcastic. “Contingent on the whims of a belly whose makodux you had removed,”

“A civil bond-break is a gamble at best.”

“My friendship with ‘Kada keeps me from viewing her outside the scope of proper discourse,” Tee said, her smile fading. “Lekada’s desperate to reacquire position at Wram Constructs. For this she requires capital. Your assumption of her ambition justifies the move against Laxumjyr-

“—but why was I in Yukon conversing with Sofitakul?” Eppis said.

Tee waited, without blinking.

“After Fusada’s demise,” Eppis said. “Sofita acquired her shares of Wram Constructs,”

Tee knitted her brow, “Sofita owns a third of Wram Constructs?”

“Sofita owns half of Wram Constructs,” said Eppis. “As Laxum sold her shares before joining the Office of Helovx Advocacy,”

“Laxum desires her shares back, to wager with Lekada should another indiscretion arise in Kuril,” Tee said, triumphant. “Sofita’s response?”

“Sofita’s unwilling to acquiesce, without conditions,”

“Forcing you onto an Ark, to Yukon Beach,”

“Amusing, yes?”

“Immensely!” Tee laughed.

“If I may be candid,” Eppis said. “I’ve washed my hands of them,”

Tee said, “So close to your ascension year?”

“Fusada’s dead,” Eppis said. “As is Sofita,”

“Sofita’s transformation, pains you?” Tee asked.

“I convinced Sofita to speak with Laxum on the matter. Her unwillingness became the cause of their investigations colliding.” Eppis said, then focused on Tee. “What’s that helovx saying, kerma? Quid pro quo?”

“I know little of helovx sayings,” Tee frowned. “But I do know that one.”

“Tell me what you know of young Ebival’s production,” Eppis said.

Tee grinned, “Need something to hold over young Ebival should she have the audacity to demand you abandon Ozbi for her?”

“I’m not engaging young Kul,” Eppis said. “Our relationship is clinical,”

“Ebival Kul won’t cure your condition Eppis, she’s a monogamist herself!” Tee whispered, angry. “You enrage me at times, Eppis, you truly do.”

“That’s the purpose of a donation, yes?” Eppis asked. “I ask only that you remain as candid with me as I do you, kerma,”

Tee brought her drink to her lips.

“Ebi Tat introduced a donux of her own for Pitasa to carry,” Eppis said. “I recall this being the proverbial glacial calve between her and Pitasa?”

Tee studied her manicure, “Ebi convinced a well-connected Hizak into patching up, as it’s called.”

“You didn’t?”

“Worry not, Eppis,” said Tee. “Young Ebival isn’t mine.”

“Due to Pitasa informing Dyb,”

“Those Jyr’s thrive on frankness,” Tee said.

“You’re aware of Ebival’s pedigree?”

“Ebi knew about Pitasa and Dyb engaging that Orta sibond of yours,” Tee said, frowning. “I encouraged Ebi to confront that insane belly,”

“Kerma please,” Eppis scolded. “Respect maintained,”

“For Pitasajyr, never!” Tee snapped. “I felt for Rasa. Such promise and straddled with an axibosal zaxiridoe.”

Pitasa’s axibosis had caused her much emotional instability, but never to the detriment of those that loved her.

Dyb and Ebi grew accustomed to her bipolar nature, even Fos Tis, the sibond Tee spoke of, came to love the Zaxir’s extreme highs and lows.

“You maintained a relationship with Ebi,” Eppis fought the urge to smile. “Even after the tragic incident with Ebi’s donux,”

“After Pitasa’s illegal enterprise with that belly Perkad,” Tee corrected.

Hib Perkad had been called before CM Wox Dag regarding her involvement in creating Pitasa and Dyb’s patch and the failure of Ebi’s donux to thrive.

Upon questioning, Hib was suspended from patch design, but only for the remainder of 2210.

“You reported Hib,” Eppis said. “Your ego knows no bounds!”

Tee said, “She committed a crime-”

“—against your vanity,” Eppis noted.

“She destroyed a donux!” Tee hissed. “If Hib and that Subak whore of Yir Gizul’s hadn’t played on Wox’ ambitions, they’d all be in Isolation for that ilitux nonsense.”

Eppis said, “Woxdag is hardly Hib’s ally,”

“That fat fronted whale incurred the wrath of Wox and still rose to a primada position,” Tee snapped. “It sickens me.”

Eppis pushed her chair out, prepared to leave.

“Fulfilling your desire for quid pro quo,” said Tee, her hand on Eppis’. “There’s none of Pitasa in Ebivalkul,”

Eppis shook her head.

“Ebival belongs only to Dyb?”

“Surely our Ozbi has revealed the kerma,” Tee rolled her eyes. “Poor Ebi, she agreed to raise young Ebival, what choice did she have?”

“CR Banto,” Warixo appeared, and saluted Tee, “CM Banto.”

“How are you, Warixo?” Tee asked.

“It’s been fruitful, kerma,” Eppis said, rising.

Tee stood with arms open, forcing Eppis to reciprocate.

Divozen Residence, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – 2:50 PM

Damn Pitana Dag. Sofita being here was her doing.

Velto and Zixas had been donats when Lekada first took them to the Primary’s estate in Utama. The plan had been for Fusada and Zixas to forge a friendship. That day, Fusada led them through the Kul’s vast nuxyards and to the walking bridge that connected their estate to the Line Jyr compound.

It was here that Velto first met Pitana Dag and Laxum Jyr.

The siboxi had shed their jackets and stood on the bridge’s railing dropping stones into the cold black stream. Idling on the shore was Fusada’s sib, Sofita, and that hizzah spec, Eppis Banto.

Pitana spotted the three of them first and hollered out an invite to join them. Laxum had even jogged over, inviting them to mingle. Velto had readily agreed, having tired of being around two marixidoe who spent their day beating each other up.

Later, Fyla and Orestes arrived from the Uym residence down the street; Velto had silently been thankful to meet new bizakidoe.

Orestes had begun forming canals in the sand with his hands while Fyla, shy and withdrawn even then, barely conversed with anyone other than Velto.

As donats, they’d remained in touch, for better or worse.

Transitioning to Mynu as teens, Velto and Fyla socialized with Pitana and Laxum and skirted the tribal circles of elites like Sofita and Ixo Gizul.

The ice stayed smooth until the night of Orta Attack; Velto had noticed right away the animosity between Fusada and Zixas.

On the Final Trial ice, Fusada had fought her way to last standing, and the first bruiser to pay for it was Zixas.

The disappointment at watching her sib fall in the first hour by Fusada’s hand had been tempered by her kerma’s emotional meltdown in the stands.

Zixas, forever entitled, had become angry and bitter. Velto rekindling her friendship with Fusada had further estranged Zixas.

A chaotic twentieth-year had cost Velto her Subak lover, and she’d been too emotionally compromised to refuse Fusada when she insisted on bonding to her and Ilo. Lekada was pleased by the match, but Zixas declined to attend their tav’zikoltil.

Zixas retired to Orta permanently after Lekada made a bond of the one zaxxy that Zix had truly cared about, and Velto couldn’t comfort her because she was bonded to the bruiser that destroyed Zixas’ career.

After Fusada had died, Sofita entered Orta and conquered that retched Shell; the only bruiser to pay for her victory had been Zixas.

What transpired on the ice that day, still haunted Velto.

Sofita was the reason Velto and Zixas had mended their relationship, and yet she was the reason that Zixas was dead.

Velto stared at the Donmat.

No part of a birther existed in a fertilized donux that wasn’t hers, yet when Crixal Dox defied Lekada Wram’s demand not to produce, it had left an indelible stain on the hide of this marixidoe.

The door to the apartment opened.

“Citizen Cux,” the bruiser said, flashing her best smile. The belly’s resurgence physically taxed Velto, but for the young bruise, Ilo was too luscious to ignore.

“I’m Citizen Wram, Donmat,” Ilo cooed.

“You are, and I’m sorry,” Dox said. “I just don’t want to admit that you’re taken.”

Ilo touched her bald head, “I have a favor to ask,”

“Anything,” said the eager bruiser.

“I’d like you to stay out here,” Ilo walked Dox to the door. “No matter what you hear, stay out. Can you do that for me?”

“You sure you don’t want me to join you?” Dox asked.

Ilo laughed, “You couldn’t handle me, Pure Gen.”

“Don’t count me out,” Dox said. “I’ve had my share of Silent Gen bellies,”

Velto rolled her eyes.

“I bet you have!” Ilo laughed.

“You’re more experienced,” said Dox. “I like experience,”

“Get walking, Brooder!” Velto snapped.

Ilo kissed Dox while pushing her out, and then closed the door.

“Where did you go?”

“We need to talk, Velts,”

“Go talk to Fuzo,”

“What’s boiling in there, Velts?”

“Sofita Kul’s what’s boiling,”

“That shit needs to be plated and served,” Ilo said. “There’s something wrong with her, Velto,”

Velto huffed, “Finally noticing?”

“The suit, it’s changed her!” Ilo said.

Velto stared up at her, “I’m supposed to care about Sofitakul and that fucking suit?”

“It’s infected her Velts,” Ilo lowered her voice.

“The way it did Fusada?” Velto said. “Good,”

“Not like that,” Ilo said. “She doesn’t feel like Sofita,”

“Sofita was always a little off,” said Velto. “Your perception is suspect anyway, you’re not right these days,”

“I know about this, Velto!” Ilo cried.

“Sofita chose the armor Ilo,” Velto said, pushing past her. “She can live with the side-effects.”

“I’m telling you that your friend’s in trouble!”

Velto reeled, “She’s not my friend!”

“She’s always been your friend!”

“She killed Zixas!” Velto cried.

“Zixas killed Zixas!”

“Stop baiting me, Ilo!” Velto shouted.

“This anger for Sofita,” Ilo said. “It’s not about Zixas!”

Velto pointed at her, “I said don’t bait me!”

Ilo followed her like a seal on the hunt, “You want ‘Fita dead because she didn’t take up where Fusada left off!”

“It’s about Zixas,” Velto growled. “Nothing more!”

“You and Lax and Pita,” Ilo said. “You were the only ones that thought her enlistment was all part of some bigger plan!”

“Shut up Ilo!”

“Eppis was the only one to see that Sofita gave up!” Ilo huffed, annoyed.

“Not another word Ilo!”

“This anger is about ascension,” Ilo said. “Not Zixas!”

Velto’s palm caught Ilo’s cheek, and the sting in her fingers was nothing compared to Ilo’s fist. Struck square in the jaw, Velto fell to the floor, her chin throbbing in time with her heart.

“You don’t put your hands on me in anger!” Ilo cried, hands balled tight, the white flecks of her sapphire skin muddled in humiliation.

Tears welled up in Velto’s eyes as the Donmat appeared.

Ilo turned from the young bruiser, embarrassed.

“I don’t like how you both are acting,” said Dox.

Velto glared up at Dox, “Get out of here!”

“I called the Komad.” Dox said.

“That’s adorable!” Ilo giggled and hugged the worried bruiser.

“Get out in the hall!” screamed Velto.

When Dox turned to exit, Sofita entered.

“Did she hurt you?” Sofita asked Velto, “If you want to make a partner-abuse complaint, I’m authorized to take one.”

Ilo laughed out loud.

Velto couldn’t help but smile, “You’re authorized to kiss my backswell, Komad!”

“I’ve been doing that since I got here,” said Sofita.

“Help me up,” Velto reached out for Sofita.

“We must extract you,” Sofita said. “And the SR.”

“Why?” asked Ilo. “I like it here,”

Dox slipped her arm around Ilo’s wide waist, “Policy dictates that we don’t give aid to, or conduct any relationship with, an helovx nation that has a male making law.”

“You don’t have to touch her to talk to her, Brooder,” Velto snapped, and the Donmat released Ilo.

“Velts can’t go,” said Ilo. “She never got the parts from her SR-I,”

Sofita turned to Velto, “It’s broken down?”

“They presented me with parts in a factory outside the city,” Velto said.

“How are they feeding themselves?” Sofita demanded.

“They took it apart,” Ilo put herself between them. “They showed it to you, right Velts?”

“The parts they’re telling me are the dismantled SR-I, are all cosmetic,” Velto said.

“Where’s the sustenance replicator now?” Sofita asked.

“I don’t know!” Velto felt foolish.

“Wram!” Sofita barked. “You’re a representative of Ramaxia, you should’ve forced the issue and demanded access!”

“Without backup?” Velto angrily waved her arms, “OHA dropped us here and said, call us when you need us.”

“You should’ve called sooner than later!” Sofita yelled.

“Don’t tell me how to conduct myself in my position!” Velto cried.

“Your kerma would’ve had them on their knees shaking with the parts in their hands, the minute she showed up at the wall!” Sofita said.

“Is that, right?” Velto nodded, “Well, your sib would’ve rendered the need for my kerma obsolete by now!”

Sofita’s face wore the same mask of pain it had the day Velto showed up at her holding cell in Orta and declared them no longer friends.

Snatched up by the collar, Velto kicked at Sofita when her feet left the floor.

Ilo shoved her forearm into Sofita’s face and got hold of Velto’s waist.

Dox grabbed both Sofita’s arms and held her back.

“Velto’s been looking for it for the last two weeks, they’ve hidden it!” Ilo shouted. “When you quit acting like Fusa we can talk-”

“—fuck you Ilocux!” Sofita screamed.

Ilo refused to back down, “Go cool off, ‘Fita!”

Sofita kicked over a side table storming from the room, and when young Dox turned to follow, Ilo reached for her.

“Don’t you chase after her,” she said. “It’s not your job to wipe her face when she makes a mess of it.”

“From where I’m standing,” Dox looked at Velto with the same eyes Zixas would flash when unable to make sense of things. “She’s not the only mess here,”

“Dox,” Velto called out to the Donmat, her voice strained. “It’s complicated.”

The Marix firmed her brow before leaving them to find her commanding officer and inadvertently revealed her true pedigree to Velto without saying a word.