Episode Four

JULY 7, 2228 – 7 BAMX 2228

Skody Palace, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – 4:45 AM

Boris Kotko was a child when he learned that without a vagina, he would never rule. The birth of Juliana Mikołaj ensured the continued support of Antarctica, and unlike his aunts and mother, he felt no bitterness toward his Empress.

Boris and Juliana carried a shared resentment of the farcs.

Their parents had sacrificed their dignity to the unsentimental Ninth Generation; the Vostok Awakening should’ve been enough to remind Primary Kul, and her poisonous Committee, that Ramaxia owed its very existence to the Slavs.

“Boris?” Juliana called to him from her bed, “You must tell Kasimira-”

“—sleep, my love, don’t leave this world distressed,” Boris sat beside her failing body, and holding her cold hands in his, he longed to take her place.

Juliana’s dying eyes pooled with tears.

“No emotions,” Boris whispered with a kiss.

“You must tell Kasi,” she struggled to lift her head. “She must remain the way she was born to me,”

“You cannot get worked up over Kasimir,” Boris regretted his slip when her sullen eyes came alive with the passionate spark that once aroused him when they coupled.

“You’ve entertained her nonsense long enough!” Juliana’s anger ushered in a fit of coughing. Pressing his palm to the translucent skin on her chest, he eased her back onto the pillow.

The dreaded Sickness had finally come for Juliana.

His mother lamented in her dying days that the destructive radiation in their bones was Elohim’s way of punishing them for their cruelty during the world’s end.  The birth of the Slavic Empire was a shameful one for his elders.

For Boris, the real shame was their reliance on the farcs.

The Fifth Generation had been the first farcs to aid post-impact humanity. The benevolent creatures procured fresh water for roaming bands of survivors. They’d created farmable soil and relocated small populations to areas where wildlife had rebounded.

His great-great-grandfather, Emperor Mikel Kotko, had dispatched his youngest daughter, Boris’ great-grandmother Sashonna, to seek them out at their newly erected dam in Greenland.

After many arduous weeks in a small boat on the shallow seas covering continental Europe, Sashonna was retrieved from the water. She spoke to the farc guards in archaic Russian and presented their leader with a name: Ivan Balantin.

Balantin was their post-impact Moses. A man that had survived being set adrift by the original generation of farcs because he was born a native of Arctic Siberia.

The chaotic Atlantic carried Balantin to the north, where he was recovered by the last commissioned ship of the Russian Navy. The extremes of the Southern Pole had taken took their toll; losing his hands to frostbite, he lived his final years days in comfort, dictating his memories of the farcs to a secretary.

Balantin had been fortunate enough to die before the meltdown.

Sashonna was returned to her father in the company of Committee Member Laxum Wram. Free of the most severe mutations, Sashonna’s healthy condition had been the sole reason the Slavs endured the morbid curiosity of the thinker-farcs.

The farcs filtered radioactive contaminants from their water and had introduced a means to grab moisture from the air and freeze it. Ice caps reformed in the highest mountains, and as the planet cooled, the air quality within the wall had improved.

Infant mortality among the Slavs soon declined. Teratogenic mutations had degenerated. Boris and Juliana’s were the first generation unhindered by nausea, brittle bones, and failing organs; they were also the first to thrive past the age of eight.

In their youth, the gender biases of the incoming Sixth Generation of farcs had crushed the Slavs road to self-reliance. Primary Ixo Kul wasn’t been comfortable assisting a human nation with a male ruler.

Unwilling to lose the farcs assistance, his grandfather stepped down and Sashonna took his place. Her rule had led to the return of food shipments from the farcs. The mother of three healthy Kotko men, Sashonna died, leaving her throne to Boris’ father.

The farcs had returned unsatisfied with his crowning. When they attempted to remove the clean-water technology they’d provided, his father dispatched guards to stop them.

Leery of confrontation, the laboring caste had abandoned Uralskey Island, but within days, dozens of bald musclebound warriors took their place; lives had been lost, all of them Slavic.

Anya Mikołaj, a wife of his uncle, secretly renegotiated access to fresh-water technology and food by arranging the death of her husband, his brothers, and the remaining Dukes of Kotko. Deposing them had guaranteed the cunning Anya the throne for her toddling daughter, Juliana.

His family robbed of power, Boris never bothered with diplomacy.

In the years following his manhood ceremony, he’d built up his body and his brain, preparing for the day when the farc warriors would return. He would protect his Empress, and yes, Juliana was his Empress.

Juliana Mikołaj had blossomed into a rotund and stunning woman. Upon capturing her heart, Boris had become her most trusted advisor. He’d enjoyed this elevated position until the ascendancy of the Ninth Generation.

After their Primary destroyed the Australians, her senior administrator, a thinker named Ryo Uym, had reassessed Ramaxia’s relationship with the Slavic Empire.

Lekada Wram, a thinker, continued to serve as the farcs face to humanity. Convening with Juliana, she’d demanded to know why Ramaxia should continue to care for a human nation that offered nothing in return.

Juliana politely reminded Wram that the Slavs had delivered the femmar from the Earth’s womb. Wram belligerently refuted such a notion, reminding his Empress that the femmar woke themselves.

The Russians remained adept at being in the wrong place at the right time; Wram had gone further with her insults by expressing amusement in that Slavs took so much pride in a whore like Balantin.

Unable to hold his tongue, Boris had barked his rebuke to Wram. It was then that his Empress had dismissed him from the room. Wram commented loudly that men were slaves to their emotions.

Unruffled, Juliana claimed that she too loved her whores, and found it best to send them out of the room when emotionally compromised. Though her words stung him, the dismissal and sexist chide had garnished respect from the unkind Wram.

Juliana had beseeched Wram the Elder to consider her unborn daughter, the next ruler of the Slavic Empire, before making a clean break from assisting their nation.

Pleading for this hypothetic child had proved a success; Wram had left Uralskey with a new food shipment and fresh water technology intact. Like a good whore, Boris had then set out to give his Empress a daughter.

Juliana whispered through her pain, “Kasi’s to remain a she if we are to survive,”

Chiming bells had proclaimed Kasimira’s birth throughout the Empire, but the child’s refusal to adhere to his feminine body remained a closely guarded secret.

“Kasi knows what must be done,” Boris said.

Leaning in to kiss her brow, a bead of sweat rolled down his bald scalp and fell upon her bottom lip. Gently, he kissed her forehead as she grabbed the kerchief from his uniform pocket and covered her sharpened smile.

“Borisov, my strong man, with eyes like the sea,” her last breath danced between them as he pulled away. Her mouth became slack and her eyes lost their focus. No pulse was felt from beneath her thin skin.

A dull ache exploded in his head like a bomb. He stood, and tugging the hem of his uniform jacket down over his belt, brought his fist to his mouth and bit into the skin. His trusted minion, Pascha, wrapped a cloth around the broken skin on his leader’s knuckles as the five crones tending to Juliana dropped to their knees and wailed.

“Is she dead?” asked his cocky brother.

Yuri was now a stunted version of Boris; he’d inherited the Kotko baldness and muscle but lacked their lofty stature.

“Our Empress is gone, Yuri,” Boris spoke over the cries of the women. “I want you to go to the Duke,”

Yuri’s face twisted into a mask of displeasure.

“Let Pascha go to the Duchess,” he whined.

“I will gladly serve, Duke Kotko!” the morbidly thin Pascha snapped to attention, prepared to do anything asked of him, like a proper soldat.

“Pascha will see to the cook and the servants as they must prepare for tonight’s obituary feast,” as Boris stepped to Yuri, his men stepped aside and gave him space. “You’ll go to the Duke, and you’ll comfort him,”

“Must it be me that goes to her?” Yuri demanded.

“The Empress is dead,” Boris flicked some imaginary dust from the shoulder of Yuri’s uniform. “The Duke can now live as the man he is, and we will recognize his identity because he is now our Emperor.”

“If he’s a man,” Yuri whispered, “Why can’t he like girls?”

“The problem lies not with his desires, but yours,” Boris said. “A true cock loves only the hole to be fucked, not the ornamentation around it,”

“I’m not like you,” Yuri said, “Or your cock,”

“Then you are not a real man,” Boris said, as every man in the room chuckled, except Pascha.

Yuri shook his head, “Choose someone else,”

The women began wrapping Juliana’s corpse up in her sheets.

“For one so in love with himself,” Boris declared. “You fail to recognize when others love you,”

“Duke Kasi makes me uncomfortable,” Yuri said.

Boris opened his arms and grinning, Yuri walked into them. Boris brought his knee up and jabbed Yuri’s testicles.

Boris knelt beside his brother, now choking on the floor.

“Is that uncomfortable, Yuri?”

His body tucked, Yuri nodded fiercely.

“We all must endure some discomfort,” Boris stood and addressed the room. “My Empress is gone, and I’ll never be comforted again.”

The men followed Boris out of the room, scowling at Yuri as they passed him. In the hall was Tatiana Karel. A woman of Juliana’s age, Tati was also Yuri’s occasional toy; this would change now that Pascha proved himself Yuri’s better.

“Inform Wram the Younger that our Empress is dead,” Boris said. “Inform her lovely wife, Miss Ilo, that she’s expected to dine with us after sundown, to mourn our Empress.”

“Yes, Duke Kotko,” she said.

“Take my Pascha with you, Tati,” Boris lowered his voice and smiled. “A gift for your service,”

Tatiana bowed, “Thank you, Duke Kotko,”

 


 

Cloister Hall, Utama
Ramaxia – 1040 hours

Eight gapirx stood up in a line along the shiny tile floor and they could’ve been perfect replicas of the tall ice holes used by her ancestors, were it not for their clunky ceramic bases.

Communal urination was beneath Eppis but holding her stream until she reached the familiarity of Level-Nine, was implausible at her age.

Bounding up to one of the porcelain saddles, she pulled aside her jacket-tail and undid the enclosure below her gashcol.

Mounted on the high seat, Eppis aligned her gurxil over its opening before letting loose a loud stream. The pressure on her bladder diminished, an unpleasant blast of warm air shot from gape’s mouth, drying her before she could dismount.

“Leaking in the Lobby with the rest of the herd?”

Sofita Kul stood against the far wall, suited neck to heel in the same horrendous uniform she’d exhibited at Port Yukon.

“From the sound of it,” she teased. “You’re still drinking too much at day-rise.”

“Toxian tea remains a habit,” Eppis fastened the crotch-snap of her suit pants as the gapirx flushed.

At the line of sinks she rinsed her hands under a running faucet and then punched each lever on the remaining spigots, activating all eight.

“They monitor the gape’s?” Sofita asked.

“Don’t wager against it,” said Eppis, yanking every hand dryer clutch.

“Before you inquire, yes,” Sofita rinsed her hands under one of the flows, “I entered Cloister today through the front door.”

“You wouldn’t want Ryo Uym ignorant of your visit,” Eppis said.

“I’m a Divisional Komad,” Sofita said, drying her hands on the back of her uniform pants. “I’m allowed to enter and exit the Cloister,”

“That dreadful uniform is obscenely transparent,” Eppis said, eyes set on the muscled globes of Sofita’s girsuzsch.

Sofita lifted an eyebrow, “You believe me reckless, today?”

“Nothing you’ve enacted these past decades, indicates otherwise,” Eppis replied, “Your ill-timed visit aside, at Yukon, you spoke of plans reborn. I wasn’t aware the strategy included risking your life with regular visits to Utama?”

“Eppis, recall the day you, Pitana, and Lax, came to our estate,” Sofita stood with her hands behind her back. “Fusa collected me by the neck that day, and tossed me into the lake,”

“My recollection of that incident is pristine,” Eppis said.

It was the first time in her seven-year-old life she’d seen an adult behaving violently; it was the only time she would ever see a donation being abused.

“What immediately followed?” Sofita asked.

“Fusada’s attempt at a violent counter was rewarded first with Fusa’s laughter, and then with a punch to the gut,” Eppis said.

“Lax and ‘Pita, jumped in after me,” Sofita said. “But not you, Eppis.”

“You remained submerged,” Eppis said with a nod, “I suspected you’d swam to a safer shore, having been through similar encounters before my visit.”

“You trusted my tactics then,” said Sofita. “Where’s that confidence now?”

“Apologies,” Eppis conceded. “Why’ve you come?”

“Pitana was recalled by CM Wram, why?”

“The Empress of the Slavic Empire is deceased,” Eppis said. “The woman falsified the gender of her heir,”

“CM Wram brought this before the Chamber?”

“Any severing of support to the Slavs must be Chamber approved,” Eppis said. “The Second Office cannot exercise sole jurisdiction when it comes to the Empire because the Slavs are reliant on technology dispersed by Wram Constructs.”

“Ah, the anticipation of consigned interest,” Sofita said, smiling.

“You said yourself at Yukon, her desire to purchase her way back into Wram Constructs is how she intends to disguise her offensive against us,” Eppis said. “Involving the Chamber in this interest-conflict is just another means of promoting that solid and proverbial storyline,”

“Covert schemes aside,” said Sofita. “The gender of Empress Juliana’s heir liberates Ramaxia from custodianship.”

“Helovx males are problematic enough when it comes to negotiations,” Eppis stood before one of the mid-length mirrors and adjusted her suit buttons, “Dealing with one put in charge by others, is beyond reason.”

Sofita grinned, “Ambassador extraction to follow,”

Eppis furrowed her brow.

“I hadn’t thought of the ramifications, Sofita!”

Sofita laughed, “Bringing Velto back to Ramaxia is generous even for you, Eppis.”

Veltowram had been a shard in Eppis’ hide since their donational years.

When the head-strong Bizak served as a Representative in Cloister, they’d engaged in a daily battle to halt Velto’s disenfranchisement of Hizaki from bluzsh ownership. As a teen, Velto had proven herself a brilliant bio-engineer with a talent for conceptual design. She temporarily put aside these abilities to enroll in the political sciences; this put her on the same educational path as Eppis, Sofita, Laxum, and Pitana.

“Surely Pitana can find another hovel to send her too,” Eppis said.

“Velto needs to come home, Eppis,” Sofita said.

Eppis said, “How do you intend to secure her participation?”

“You’re my CM One,” Sofita said. “They’re your Committee, not mine,”

Eppis pondered the ramifications of Sofita’s sentiment; it was one Fusada had failed to appreciate. The dead Marix often bragged of her and Sofita’s singular identity, but anyone with a brain could see that the Kul twins were very different femmar.

“I cannot legitimately bring back Velto, neither can Pitana,” said Eppis. “Ilo’s a degenerate waxamist, and her well-earned shame ensures Velto’s continued exile.”

Sofita narrowed her eyes, “You are not judging Ilo,”

“Stating facts, Sofita,” Eppis said.

“You’re aware that Ilo confessed her collusion with you in acquiring Velto?” Sofita said. “Confessed it while delivering Fusada’s donation,”

Eppis spoke to her reflection in the mirror.

“A laboring Zaxir will say anything,”

“Ozbi didn’t seem to care when she heard it,” Sofita said. “Strange how citizens that fall in love with monogamists will do anything not to lose that love,”

On the fourth day into teenage Mynu curriculum, a Subak named Ozbitis arrived to collect Velto; it had changed Eppis’ life forever.

The petite, curvaceous beauty hailed from Vanda, as evidenced by the crooks and spirals of her long suzuk. Her hide color was a mystery, but the light patches of stippling along on her hairline and on the back of her neck, darkened when she giggled at one of Velto’s many crude observations.

Eppis had matured sexually partial to facades that covered the eyes, and Ozbi’s eyes were perfect circles that promised to set exquisitely within the ornate holes of a domino mask.

When Ozbi’s orbs had lingered on Eppis long after Velto had steered her away, Eppis chose to attempt a conjugation. Eppis was even desperate enough to entertain grouping up with Velto to gain access to Ozbi, but that notion had revolted her to such an extent, she quickly abandoned it.

Eppis acquired her opportunity when Velto graduated from Mynu. The Bizak went to work for her pod’s company and had moved to Toxis.

Anticipating Ozbi’s relocation, Eppis schemed to acquire a residence in a high-rise near Wram’s.

Unfortunately, Eppis’ kerma, Tee Banto, had interfered and insisted Eppis remain in Mynu. Obeying Tee this one time proved advantageous; Ozbi had decided to acquire a graduate degree in birthing, and this kept her in Mynu another year.

Further bolstering Eppis’ fortunes was the arrival of Ilocux.

A fellow monogamist, the beautiful belly latched on to the unsuspecting Bizak, and being a Zaxir, Ilo had quickly consummated their relationship. Ozbi being Subak, Eppis couldn’t reasonably entertain intercourse until a proper romantic relationship was established.

Velto’s visits to Mynu drastically decreased with Ilo in her life. Ozbi genuinely cared for the Bizak, and so resigned to make it work. A sexual relationship should’ve worked given Ilo and Ozbi’s shared friendship with Hibperkad.

The belly Hib had known Ozbi since she was a teen, and she’d met Ilo as a donat and was living with her when Velto ended up on Ilo’s couch.

Eppis played the good friend and had supported Ozbi in her disastrous decision to move into Velto’s new high-rise in Toxis.

Ilo and Hib regularly patronized the local citbluz, dragging Velto along with them, while Ozbi declined to join them, despite repeated invites.

Waxamists had a sense for one another, and once Ilo caught on to Eppis, a deal was struck; if Eppis played along with Ilo’s plan, she’d have Ozbi until the day she died.

Ilo had updated Eppis constantly via text on the state of the relationship, mainly when she, Hib, and Velto ventured to the citbluz without Ozbi.

Eppis would linger near Velto’s building and await Ozbi’s running an errand; she would then coincidently run into the lovely Subak. Feeling lonely without the others, Ozbi always accepted Eppis opportune invites for a drink or to a digi-cast hall.

When Ozbi finally relented and accompanied Velto to the local citbluz, Ilo had texted Eppis frantic and told her exactly where they were and where to find Ozbi.

Ozbi had emerged from the changing rooms, robe pulled tight. Eppis had conveniently walked by and stunned to see Ozbi, offered the uncomfortable Subak her private room.

Eppis played the part of Ozbi’s emotional support that night and listened while the Subak lamented the state of her relationship with Velto.

Soon, Ozbi began calling on Eppis to attend films, or visit gallery openings. During their twenty, Ozbi had propositioned Eppis.

Eppis assured Ozbi that she’d be honored to satisfy her sexual needs during that year and made it clear that there were no strings attached. If Ozbi had emerged from her twenty still in love with Velto, Eppis vowed to step aside.

This well-rehearsed admission, written by Ilo, had endeared Eppis to Ozbi.

“Perhaps a reconnection with Ilo is warranted,” Eppis said.

Sofita nodded, “You want Velto, you’ll need Ilo,”

“One wonders how Ilo’s faring on the precipice of her vitality,” said Eppis.

“Midlife is upon us, Eppis, it cannot be avoided,” Sofita’s calm was enviable; the notion of turning forty-four kept Eppis from hibernating some years. “Resurrecting Fusada’s ambition will make things problematic for you,”

“Navigating the problematic is a skill I’ve mastered,” Eppis said. “My concern stems from appreciating that nothing is beneath our makers,”

“Our advantage rests in them believing they know our lives,” said Sofita. “I remain defeated, Lax indifferent, Velto angry, Fyla a victim, you controlled, and Pitana-”

“—the only heir they can trust,” Eppis said.

“Pitana’s anticipating Velto’s extraction,” Sofita added.

“It’s been two hours since the severance motion,” said Eppis. “Pitana should’ve been notified by now,”

Sofita tapped her lapel, “Pengon, display Divisional assignment board,”

Illuminated data danced upon Sofita’s eyes.

“Are those ocular implants?” Eppis said.

“No, they’re my eyes,”

“Your eyes connect to the Hive?” Eppis asked.

“The Shell’s optic-interface functions without my needing to fully ignite it,” Sofita replied.

“Is it wise,” Eppis said, “To allow this semi-sentient armor access to your anatomy when not fully activated?”

“Divisional received an Ambassador Extraction notice,” Sofita sighed in frustration. “It’s addressed to Primekomad Yilaz,”

“Is that an issue?” Eppis asked.

“Yilaz is TermSabo,” said Sofita. “A Polluted Gen eel that hasn’t worked a mission in over a decade,”

“Subhive posts are subject to retrieval from Komad’s and above, correct?” Eppis asked.

“I’m impressed, CR Banto,” Sofita’s eyelids began moving up and down. “I’m contacting Komad Ergat in dispatch, informing her of an assignment error. She’ll kick it back to Pengon,”

Eppis started, “I’m acquainted with that name, Ergat,”

“Erg’ attended your tavzkoltil with Lax,” Sofita said.

Rage took hold of Eppis.

“You associate with the likes of Ergat,” she spat, “After her lewd behavior at my tavzkoltil,”

“It was a bonding ceremony,” Sofita said, “There’s always sex-”

“—between the guests of the bonded, afterward,” Eppis cried. “Not with a member of the bonding party before the ceremony!”

“Your anger lies with Acari,” said Sofita. “Not with Ergat,”

Acaritol was the foulest blunder Eppis ever agreed to make.

After their twentieth year, Eppis and Ozbi were cohabitating blissfully in Vanda when Tee dropped in on them uninvited, demanding a reason why they were still a duo. Unsatisfied with Eppis’ explanation, Tee found a pair of citizens in a similar circumstance.

Ibur Grik was the youngest donation of the prominent Ninth-Gen Representative, Uwav Grik. A modestly famous bluzerie designer, Ibur’s partialism for bellies behaving lewdly found her residing with an uninhibited Zaxir named Acari Tol.

Acari had never refused a sexual invite, so when Ibur presented her with Eppis and Ozbi, she readily agreed.

Ozbi made an instant impression and before long the germ-phobic Hizak, and her debauched belly, fell in love.

After months of Eppis avoiding the three of them sexually, Ozbi had cornered her, and coerced Eppis into engaging. It hadn’t been thoroughly unpleasant due in large to Acari’s appreciation of Eppis’ desire for masks.

Despite the relative ease of their irregular conjugations, Eppis had balked when Ozbi insisted on bonding to them; Ozbi was by then over the age of twenty and desired a donation.

The bonding ceremony had promised to be a lavish affair due to House Tol’s desire to outspend Line Banto at every turn.

Its beauty and pomp were sullied when Acari had been caught entertaining Laxum Jyr, and that bruiser Ergat, in the back of the very ceremonial transport meant to take the four of them to their post-tavzkoltil celebration.

“Outstanding,” Sofita said, and closed out the information in her eyes with a blink. “Pengon deferred to Toligon because the mission is coded OHA, and Toligon has notified Ambassador Prime Dag,”

Eppis snapped, “Laxum and Ergot could have refrained,”

“I didn’t,” Sofita said, stone-faced.

“I believe your interaction with Acari occurred prior to our bonding?” Eppis said, folding her arms over her chest.

“Pitana will tailor a new request,” said Sofita. “Tailored, so Pengon assigns a Divisional officer that by default serves between the poles.”

“Bearing in mind the ill-will Velto continues to hold,” Eppis said. “Might it be safer to allow an assassin like Yilaz, her due.”

“I’ll handle Velto,” Sofita brought her fist to her stomach in a salute before raising it to Eppis. “The way I handled Acari,”

Smiling, Sofita fled the lavatory.

Stunned by Sofita’s sudden departure of disposition, Eppis quickly made the sojourn back to her office on Level-Nine and passed the time until her midday meal by migrating every nude casti of Ozbi from her bivelox, to her private Filmark.

“Toligon, I’m withdrawing for the afternoon,” Eppis tapped the top of her desk, blackening its surface.

You are logged as retiring, CR Banto.

Is there anything else can I do for you today?

Eppis pulled on her suit jacket, “Who is the Genetic Inheritor of Primary Fusa Kul?”

The Genetic Inheritor for the Retention of Primaryship as it relates to the current Primary of the Ninth Ramaxian Generation is the deceased Fusadakul.

“At what frequency do you receive this query?”

I have received this exact query ninety-seven times in the last twenty-two days from various sources throughout Ramaxia.

“How many sources originate within the Cloister?”

The exact query initiated from eight sources within the Cloister at various times throughout the last twenty-two days.

“Who’s the In-Coming Primary of the Tenth Generation?”

At the present time, no citizen is recognized, CR Banto.

 “Toligon-”

I received this exact query three times in the last twenty-two days from sources originating in the Cloister.

“Might I inquire as to whom-”

I am unable to reveal the citizens from whom I received this query, as I am bound by privacy protocols that regulate Cloister communications.

“Thank you, Toligon.”

*********************************

From the second-floor balcony, Eppis gazed down into the grand foyer.

Bright tile and darkened rock dominated the spacious entry, and the only sound this time of day came from broken shards of ice churning in the pond beneath the central fountain.

Multiple chimes rang out from the verticals below, followed by the swoosh of parting doors and the clacking of thick-heeled shoes.

A herd of young admins flooded into the lobby, a cacophony of disconnected voices on a cloud of pungent colognes.

Among them was Eppis’ firstborn, Obiz.

When Eppis first brought Obiz to Cloister, one-year shy of the her leaving for Mynu, the hizakidoe had made a seal’s dive for the pond; her little hands groping for a piece of ice to take home to her nestor.

Whisking by the fountain now, eighteen-year-old Obiz spared it a fleeting glance; collecting ice-bits long been replaced with acquiring dirtoxian diamonds, for lovers that made her happy in ways her nestor never could.

Obiz had inherited her maker Ozbi’s hide, Eppis’ delicate features, and Line Banto’s driving ambition.

She’d acquired an internship at the start of the year, and Eppis, desperate to avoid favoritism, assigned her to a lowly position in the Communications Room of her headquarters in Vanda.

Arriving last month to her offices here at Cloister, Eppis found Obiz stationed at one of the many work bubbles on her floor; left to her own devices Ozbi impressed her supervisors in Vanda enough to earn an elevated position.

Acquiring a degree in Governance, Obiz was now eligible for Cloister Service, and the young Hizak had wasted no time in posting her resume to the Cloister-Aid occupational forum.

The position of Cloister-Aid was prime among the administrative denizens of Utama; a CA not only sat in the Session Hall behind her Representative during official sessions, but she was considered second in command of her chosen dome.

Vanda Prime’s Cloister-Aid position became available when Eppis’ longtime Tenth-Gen Aid, Ruta Sok, resigned last month.

Regrettably, Ruta’s resignation was Eppis’ doing; upon returning from her trek to Port Yukon, Ruta had drafted a dispatch claiming that Eppis’ covert journey between the poles was too gross a breach of trust.

Given a list of candidates to replace Ruta, Eppis found no Tenth-Gen among them, and of the qualifying Eleventh, her Obiz was at the top.

Eppis chose candidate, Fiboendiz.

Fibo hailed from a pod of proficient document managers, both her kerma’s processed logistics data for prime unions within the Bizakaxi. Fibo’s pedigree wasn’t as crucial as her pliability; a staunch micromanager, Eppis desired an Aid who wouldn’t operate outside her supervision.

Eppis had informed Obiz of her decision this morning, upon which Obiz departed the meeting without an embrace or an expression of gratitude for the opportunity to apply.

Migrating across the square with Fibo, Obiz was laughing at a joke shared; at least her firstborn wasn’t the sort to begrudge a professional peer.

“Kerms!” boomed a voice from below.

Eppis’ second-born entered the grand foyer clad a grubby sleeveless jumpsuit. The elaborate hide stains on her arms captured the attention of passing Hizaki.

Ignoring the escalator, the skinny Bizak ascended the stairs, her tail of hair bobbing between her shoulders.

Fezil Banto had matured into a mentally healthy Bizak from a significant genetic line and displayed none of the flaws that defined the likes of Fyla Uym, or Velto Wram.

Fresh from caste-training in Pikalit, young Fezil earned her citizenship for Ramaxia by scrubbing the outer domes for Vanda Prime Sanitation.

Eppis found her donats complete lack of ambition refreshing, particularly when Tee continuously pointed out that dome maintenance was an unsuitable vocation for any member of Line Banto.

 “Did I have to dress up for a mid-day?” Fezil asked, extending her hand.

“Changing your attire isn’t required, Fezil,” shaking her hand, Eppis guided her onto the escalator.

Eppis often ate her evening meal with Fezil, but she’d restructured her morning schedule to have their meal at mid-day.

“I apologize for being unable to collect you as standard,” said Eppis. “I have plans this evening that I cannot cancel,”

“It’s smooth,” Fezil said.

“Sky Tables,” Eppis stepped off the escalator, “or Rakuta Bakuti?”

Fezil’s eyes lit up, “The Sky Tables!”

Outside on the pedestrian walk, Fezil asked, “Kerms, won’t I have to change for Sky Tables?”

“Not if you’re with me,” Eppis took hold of her reedy arm.

When the transport stopped beside them, a burly Primepodas named Warixo Atiba emerged from the operator-side door.

Assigned to Eppis years ago by the Axyrn, Warixo, a fellow Tenth, opened the passenger door while delivering a salutatory nod to Eppis.

“Atiba!” Fezil said, smiling bright, “How they hanging?”

Warixo grinned, “Hanging high as always, citizen Banto,”

Fezil slid into the transport laughing.

Joining her, Eppis lowered her eyes to the unappealing sags sitting obtusely out of place upon Warixo’s chiseled chest.

Though her uniform was every bit as unattractive as Sofita’s divisional monstrosity, both improved over what bruisers wore when off duty.

Ortosk Style was a prime example of what too much mitokerotien in the brain did to one’s fashion sense.

At least Sofita had the sagacity to avoid wearing those obscenely tight trousers, or the garish blouses that most bruisers unbuttoned so low they frightened seals back into their spyholes.

On the drive across Utama, Fezil spoke of her transfer to Pikalit, but Eppis wasn’t to tell Ozbi just yet. Fezil felt her nestor wasn’t quite ready for her to live outside the estate.

After caste-training, Ozbi had insisted Fezil live at home until she completed her post-graduate art studies; Eppis agreed with Ozbi but kept this to herself.

At the elegant Sky Tables, an elder Subak hostess embraced Eppis before leading them to the tavern portion of the restaurant, where a host of well-tailored Bizaki filled the stalls and bar stools and spoke of things they couldn’t with their Hizak clients or co-workers.

After placing their order with the server, Fezil explained the advantages of living in the Triad, and stopping suddenly, rose from her seat.

“Shake my hand, Bam,” Fezil said, stepping into the path of a well-dressed Bizak.

Bam Ukel’s eyes did a noticeable inventory of the room before obliging.

“Citizen Ukel,” Eppis stood, arms open.

Bam hugged her without hesitation, “CR Banto,”

Line Ukel’s industrial success and financial prowess had been built on the brilliant minds of their Hizaki, but when their Eleventh-Gen progeny came in the form of two Zaxiri and four Subaki, young Bam was made an unwilling heir apparent.

“Are you still employed with Hizrutaki?” Eppis asked, returning to her seat.

“I accepted a house position,” Bam said, eager to discuss her career as a clothing stylist. “Proprietor Tux graciously allows me time to continue developing my own line.”

Fezil returned to her seat, “You’re still dressing brainers, huh?”

“Indeed, I am,” Bam said. “It’s good to see you, dressed,”

At home, Fezil was an avowed Sixer, a subculture that celebrated the daily nudity incorporated by the original-six, upon their waking into the world.

 “I got a year left at Mynu Art, my instructor doesn’t care if I show up naked to class.” Fezil’s gaze moved over Bam’s body. “Collective Maintenance though, they frown when I show up to work, without clothes,”

Eppis disguised her surprise; Fezil’s move to Pikalit hadn’t been a simple transfer, she’d been elevated to Collective Maintenance.

“That’s impressive,” Bam now seemed genuinely interested. “I know you can’t speak to details, but are you assigned to a specific sect of paxum?”

“I can’t really say,” Fezil said. “So, are you and Pik living in Utama?”

Bam hesitated before answering, “I haven’t seen Pik in over six months,”

“I’m sorry, I thought you and her,” Fezil’s eyes widened. “I thought for sure you’d have picked out some subbie or bruise and bonded right out of school.”

“Do you still perform?” Bam asked.

During caste-training, teenage Fezil had bought a b’do and formed a band.

“Bizarak circuit mostly, outside of Vandox,” Fezil pulled a card from her pocket. “You need to come hear me play,”

“I might do that, thank you. It was good seeing you, Fezil,” Bam graciously took the card and turned to Eppis, “CR Banto, enjoy your day.”

Upon Bam’s departure, their meal was delivered.

“I cannot believe Pikutat let that get away,” said Fezil.

“Why does the name Pik Utat sound familiar?” asked Eppis.

Fezil chugged her water and belched.

“Remember those times you came to Pikalit for a sit-down?”

“They’re called Disciplinary Reviews,” Eppis said.

“Pik was the one I was always scrapping with,” Fezil said between bites. “Her and Bam shared a room, and everybody knew they were riding each other,”

Eppis glanced at the bar when a few Hizaki turned their heads.

Teenage intercourse within the confines of one’s caste was a common occurrence after the start of their mandated socials with Subaki and Zaxiri; within the Hizaki strata, it remained highly frowned upon.

“I had art classes with Bam, and I’d flirt with her to make her smile,” Fezil said, “One time, I walked right up to her and Pik during meal assembly and thanked Bam for taking the time to tutor me after class.”

“I was unaware you were ever tutored,” Eppis raised an eyebrow.

“Not in anything educational,” Fezil grinned.

Eppis said, “No doubt this provoked a response,”

“You know it,” Fezil laughed. “I’m walking back to my table, Pik beams me with a palux.”

“That’s what instigated the foodaxi incident,” Eppis recalled the day she’d been tasked to accompany Ozbi to the Bizaki Academy of Citizenry.

The conflict hadn’t been confined to Fezil and young Utat, the entire cafeteria had erupted into a battle of thrown food and drink.

All cited Fezil and Pik as the initiators, and since neither bizakidoe would name the other as the instigator, subsequent disciplinary action ensued, and this required the presence of Eppis and Ozbi.

At the time Eppis was unaware that young Utat had been born of Ilo Cux; the belly had given the bizakidoe over to her hairdresser, a tempting Subak named Yulia Utat.

Ozbi and Yulia’s instant rapport suggested this incident wasn’t the first to occur between their bizakidoe; since subbies weren’t the sort to take altercations to heart, the pair had developed a friendship outside their roles as nestors.

“I assume the two of you mended your ways?” Eppis asked.

“Pik transferred to Mynu after that,” Fezil said. “Out of sight, out of fight,”

Eppis set down her fork.

“Collective Maintenance, Fezil?”

“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Fezil said. “I mentioned it to Bam because she’s a chunk. I wanted to impress her,”

“You’re attracted to Bamukel?”

“Bam smells nice, dresses nice, she’s got thick hair and walks with her fronts out,” Fezil said. “Bam’s got great fronts for a bizzie.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Fezil laughed, “She wasn’t wearing a mask,”

The remark brought heat to Eppis’ cheeks.

“I’m not into big fronts,” Fezil’s attempt to quickly alter the subject indicated that Eppis’ expression had changed from embarrassed to annoyed. “My caste looks good with them though, brainers do too. There’s this Hizak from Orta, she’s like a soldier, the only one.”

Eppis returned to her meal.

“Her fronts are so big, and she’s ripped,” said Fezil. “I bet you could be that ripped if you worked out with weights like she does,”

Eppis continued to eat in silence.

“We did a vent-cleaning assignment on Base Three,” Fezil said. “This Hizak, she lives there. She jogs the habitat ring, and when she runs, everything bounces,”

“Fezil,” Eppis said, “You’re speaking of Mynu’s top graduating Hizak,”

“Am I being rude?” asked Fezil.

“Extremely,” said Eppis, and to lighten the mood, she pointed her head at the elaborate design on Fezil’s shoulder. “That’s Wyltabi’s work,”

“What do you think of it?” Fezil said.

Eppis said, “I was unaware Wyltabi continued to stain,”

“She’s retired,” Fezil said. “She did my stain for free, though,”

“Fezil,” Eppis put her fork down. “Wyltabi does nothing for free.”

Wyltabi Mok was a Tenth-Gen artist with a sexual penchant for young citizens that bordered on illegal.

“I didn’t ride her, kerms,” Fezil laughed. “She’s old,”

Eppis thanked the waitress when she refilled her juice.

“Wylts told me that she studied with you,” Fezil said. “I didn’t know you went the Ramaxian College of Design.”

“Art was a minor scholarship,” said Eppis.

Fezil shook her head, “Mak said you got a prime-degree.”

“How’s your staining coming along?” Eppis asked.

“I quit the shop to keep up with the band,” Fezil said. “I stain by appointment now.”

“Overextending isn’t wise,” Eppis said and noticed a table of patrons warily regard Fezil from the dining room. “There’s a debut set of needles out, claiming to be ideal for staining Zaxiri.”

“They’re garbage,” Fezil said. “The thars-tips you got me, they’re all I need. Those new ones are for stainer’s that can’t work with a flabby hide.”

Eppis had purchased Fezil a set of hide staining needles when it was clear that her donation was rather skilled at the art.

“I can’t imagine staining a Zaxir is stress-free,” said Eppis.

“Steady hand’s all you need, kerms,” Fezil added.

“On the subject of stressful Zaxir,” Eppis said. “Did you accompany Obiz to Acari’s for your birthing day?”

“Obiz didn’t go, so I didn’t go?” Fezil noted the disappointment in Eppis’ eyes. “Mak Acari will be fine, kerma-Ibur will buy her some diamonds,”

“Perfect summation,” said Eppis.

“Hey kerms,” Fezil set down her fork. “Why don’t we have any sibs?”

“Acari bore only the two of you,” Eppis covered her grin with a napkin. “Your nestor said it wasn’t healthy for Acari to deliver more than that,”

Fezil nodded, “We thought it was because Acari and Ibur didn’t like us,”

“That’s an untruth,” Eppis said, somewhat deceitful.

After Acari’s implantation with Obiz, the glutton moved in with Ozbi and Eppis while Ibur remained in Greater Vanda.

The unhygienic aspects of production horrified Ibur and she’d wanted no part of it. Acari made time for Ibur because the Hizak had developed a sexual fascination with her pregnant body.

After birthing Obiz, Acari had undergone another implantation in the second season of 2211, and upon birthing, convinced the antiseptic Ibur to relocate to the estate.

The first month had been peaceful, until toddling Obiz unceasingly invaded Ibur’s space.

Regularly shadowed by a newly crawling Fezil, Obiz made playthings of Ibur’s many handhelds, applying germs and filth that no manner of cleaning would ever restore.

Acari found Ibur’s anxieties amusing until Ozbi’s donapx set in, and after a year without sexual access to her beloved subbie, Acari had revolted.

The pair sat Ozbi and Eppis down and explained that Ozbi’s complete loss of libido, and Eppis’ sustained indifference toward the donations daily invasion of adult spaces, had driven them to the edge; to save their bond, a separate residence was required.

Ever the consular, Ozbi had assured the pair of her love for them and understood that wandering spirits such as Acari and Ibur’s needed their own space.

Eppis had merely offered to pack up Acari’s things and refund Ibur the cost of replacing some gnawed upon casting-pens.

Fezil eyed empty bottle of water, “Mak Acari said she didn’t move back in when we went to caste-training because-”

“—her disdain for me isn’t clandestine,” Eppis said. “Have you at least plotted with Obiz to purchase her something?”

“I don’t keep up with Obiz these days,” Fezil then did an impression of Obiz. “Our peers are socially incompatible.”

“Surely, she’s available at the estate,”

“She’s looking for a place, in Utama,”

“Obiz plans to reside here, in Utama?”

“Well, yeah, since she got the Aid job,”

Eppis pushed her plate away as Fezil continued.

“Nestor’s stoked about you two working together,”

“Obiz was not chosen to be my Aid,”

Fezil’s smile faded, “You didn’t pick her?”

“It’s complicated-”

“No, it’s not.” Fezil countered. “Obiz tried for a position in Greater-Vanda last month, but you gave her a bad review. Nestor said it was because you planned to make her your Aid.”

“I gave Obiz no review,”

“That’s as bad, as a bad one,”

“There is an apparent conflict of interest-”

“—your pod is not an interest,” said Fezil. “It’s your pod.”

Eppis eyed the passing waitress, “Fezil, it cannot appear that Obiz earned her position because she’s my donation.”

“No one would ever think that because you don’t give Obiz shit,” Fezil pushed her plate away. “Did you make Obiz just to have a gen-heir?”

“That’s a discourteous thing to say,”

“Acari said it, and I’m starting to think it’s true,” Fezil lowered her voice. “Obiz never asks you for anything, you know why?”

“You suggest I’ve extended Obiz nothing?”

“You extend her your opinions, just like elder Tee does to you,” Fezil gulped down her juice in the face of Eppis’ silence. “That was shitty of me to say, kerma, let’s drop it.”

When the waitress appeared with the bill, Eppis took the tablet.

“I can put a thumb to my share,” Fezil said, hand out for the device.

“I will cover our meal, Fezil,”

“Split the checks, please, Hegat,” Fezil said to the waitress.

“Fezil, I will cover the meal!” Eppis snapped and put her thumb on the screen.

Ignoring the poorly disguised stares of the other diners, Eppis stood with Fezil, who made no attempt to wait for her as they exited.

Eppis and Fezil remained silent on the two-minute drive to Jyrtax Terminal.

On the bounder platform, Fezil extended her hand; Eppis took hold of her instead.

“You should inform your nestor of your promotion,” said Eppis.

“I heard you arguing last night,”

“It’s no cause for concern, Fezil,”

“Mak Acari says you got a ride on the side-”

“—that’s an untruth,”

“That’s what Obiz said,” Fezil nodded. “I know it’s none of our business but if you’re riding someone else-”

“—I’m not sexually involved with another.”

“Good,” said Fezil, “Nestor wouldn’t do that to you,”

Boarding the Vanduel-Central, Fezil found a seat, and as the bounder slid away, a curious Marix moved into the seat behind and tapped her shoulder.

Eppis Banto was suddenly the loneliest citizen, in all Ramaxia.


 

Nitra Hall, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – 07:40 PM

Whatever citizen came up with the idiom that all attention was good attention, never had to live among the helovx.

It wasn’t easy being beautiful in a culture that despised fat people. Considering their sickly state, the Slavs had no grounds to judge her; they reeked of sweat, urine, and incense.

The men strutted about like peacocks despite the cartilage holding their skulls together being fully visible beneath their bald translucent heads.

Years of radiation had taken its toll on the women as well, but at least they had the sense to comb what thin strands they had over those nasty onionskin scalps.

Pity motivated Ilo into calling Uvi Gwo.

A fellow Zaxir and former model, Uvi had bonded to three Hizaki, one of whom sold display-wigs for the windows of Style Sits.

Ilo ordered hundreds, special made with synthetic helovx hair, and gifted them to Empress Juliana and her court.

Grateful, the Empress began insisting on Ilo’s presence whenever a meal was to be served. Tonight’s meal was Ilo’s last; her dear Juliana had died that afternoon.

Helovx tradition called for those that loved the deceased to dine in their honor and trade stories. Femarctic traditions were similar stay for a few unsettling details.

The Slavs buried their dead.

Ilo found the notion of any flesh being abandoned to nature, sickening.

That hizzah-eel Ryo Uym had ordered their suicided elders dumped onto the surface, Ilo defied the additional decree banning the erection of any ziko’litovx to honor them.

Ilo commissioned a shishitav of Jyrulix from bones of those Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Gen Zaxir that had taken their lives in defiance of the Ninth.

Another strange tradition of the Slavs was their covering of mirrors.

The thought of going a day without seeing her reflection was daunting.

The Slavs also wore black to mourn their dead.

For femmar, black is the life below and white is the death above. Black clothing had always been celebratory; bondship gowns and suits, training and school graduations, and attending the naming party of a donation.

Ilo owned three dresses designed exclusively for recycling rituals; all were white.

Her plate empty, Ilo returned smiles to the cordial.

Not everyone wore a happy face because inviting Ilo meant socializing with her spouse, Ambassador Velto Wram.

Laxum Jyr had said to Ilo that putting the word ambassador before Velto’s name was what the helovx called, a misnomer. She laughed off the insult, Ilo loved her obnoxious little bark; but since arriving at Uralskey, the reality of Laxum’s observation had been hammered home by Velto’s utter disdain for the Slavs.

These helovx had given as good as they got; they never expected a Bizak emissary, much less the creator of the machine providing them food.

Inspecting the processor that the first day, Velto returned to their room in such a state that Ilo couldn’t even console her with oral sex.

The Slavs had designed an interface that allowed them to use her processor in their own language. Enraged, Velto had upgraded the sustenance replicator’s operation matrix with a new network code to ensure the protein resequencer could only be operated remotely from Ramaxia.

Faced with Velto’s modifications and her removal of their interface, the Slavs began limiting her access to it.

When Velto demanded the SR-I be broken down, Boris Kotko and his men had obliged, delivering parts they claimed belonged to the replicator.

Velto had confronted Kotko, saying the pieces they’d brought weren’t essential to the replicator’s function. She repeatedly demanded to be taken to the raw-materials processing facility.

Each time, Kotko found a reason to cancel.

During Ilo’s tea with young Kasi, Velto had flippantly suggested that Kotko would probably kill his own Empress to further delay her inspection of the replicator’s processing facility; when the Empress died two days later, there wasn’t a hole big enough for Ilo to hide in.

Excuse me, Duke Kotko,” Ilo asked in Sladdish, a strange fusion of pre-impact Russian and Polish, with a bit of what Pitana Dag called Yiddish. “What is this dish’s name, again?

Boris was an imposing man that stood as tall as a Marix. He was also one of the few Slavs whose skin didn’t make Ilo want to vomit.

Zupa grzybowa,” he lifted his brown eyes. “A mushroom soup,”

It’s delicious,” Ilo said. “I’ve another question if you’ll allow it?

Ask me anything, Lady Ilo, I can hide nothing from you,” said Boris, tapping his long black-tipped fingernails on the table.

Why can’t we eat meat, with cheese?” Ilo’s question brought a wave of muted laughter.

It’s handed down from our ancestors,” Kasi said, raising a glass. “Our dietary rules come from old religious worship.”

The Empresses’ heir, young Kasimira, possessed a head of long healthy hair, and Juliana had insisted she wear it down to attract a proper husband.

Ilo didn’t bat an eye when the former Duchess introduced herself tonight as Duke Kasimir, soon to be Emperor. Being the first and only to compliment the petite young man on his smart new uniform went a long way in earning Ilo some acknowledgement.

 “We cling to these rules, for sentimental reasons,” Boris gave Kasi’s hand a kermatic pat. “Your people are so young, Lady Ilo, religious observance is strange to you.”

Velto sucked her tongue, and Ilo grabbed her wine the moment she started speaking.

Duke Kotko,” Velto said. “My species dominated this planet long before monkeys like you crawled out of the Cenozoic seas. We have established moral principles, some of them ritualistic.”

We have this annoying guilt-trip called the Ramaxi L’uxial,” Ilo raised her voice, “Some of them are so important that they got made into laws,

Your six moral laws,” Kasi turned to Boris, “The ones mentioned by Balantin,”

Ivan Balantin?” Velto demanded.

L’uxial aren’t actual laws,” Ilo straightened her back and leaned to, ensuring her voluminous hair eclipsed Velto. “It’s the basic moral stuff. Don’t kill your own, don’t steal from your own, don’t eat your own,

Suddenly, a pair of diners left the table. Some others shifted in their seats.

I meant no insult to you, Wram the Younger,” Boris tried to alleviate the tension, but Velto hated being addressed as Wram the Younger.

You’ve been very gracious with my ignorance,” Ilo smiled wide, “Thank you so much, Duke Kotko.

Lady Ilo, this is a meal, let’s talk about food,” Boris spoke kindly, but his tone turned cold when the man beside him rose to abandon the table. “Sit down, Duke Jerrick,”

Kasi eyed the frightened Jerrick nervously, “Lady Ilo, what foods are popular in Ramaxia?

Pasta,” Ilo glanced at Velto’s untouched plate of pierogi, “We grow so much itabix, so pasta is a staple.”

Itabix is polar wheat?” Kasi asked, then addressed the table. “Polar wheat grows in the dark, it is as yellow as gold.”

Smiling, Ilo nodded, causing her long thick hair to tickle her shoulders, “When itabix noodles and keltavi noodles are on the same plate, all that blue and gold, makes a gorgeous dish,”

I thought you were all color blind,” blurted Yuri Kotko, a piece of seal-shit that made no show of hiding his disgust for Ilo and Velto.

No dumbass,” Velto snapped. “Only our thinkers can’t see color,”

If you process raw grains through one of Velto’s machines,” Ilo inserted herself into their exchange. “It makes more than just pasta.”

“They know how the processor works, Ilo,” Velto said in Ramaxi.

What won’t you eat?” Yuri rolled his eyes.

Are you asking me, or insulting me?” Ilo demanded politely with a smile.

We don’t eat shellfish,” Kasi glared at Yuri and then grinned at Ilo. “Yet we love fresh fish.”

Shark steaks are delicious,” Yuri raised a glass.

Ilo felt sick, “You eat sharks?”

Velto put her hand on the small of Ilo’s back.

Your kind also eats fish,” Yuri said, defensive. “You’re an island like us,”

They’re larger than Australia,” Kasi argued with a laugh.

Yuri pursed his lips.

You consider Australia an island?

Velto said, “No one considers Australia, anymore,”

Speaking of eating,” Ilo spoke up; she hated unpleasant escalations. “Some humans think we don’t eat. As you can all see from my size, I love to eat,”

The room erupted with laughter.

Ramaxia,” Yuri asked. “Is your name for Antarctica?

No,” said Velto. “Antarctica is your name for Ramaxia,

Ilo reached down and gave Velto’s leg a warning squeeze.

We’re a bit sensitive about that, Kotko the Younger,” Ilo said.

Antarctica was its name for centuries,” Yuri said.

Ramaxia’s been its name since it was part of continental Famarixicon,” Velto said, putting her arms on the table. “You humans called that landmass, Rhodinia, back when Ramaxicon was a big ball of ice.”

Ramaxicon?” Yuri said, confused.

The proper name for this world is Ramaxicon,” Velto said. “Named seven-hundred billion years ago when our ancestors built the planet’s first cities beneath the ice of the Neoproterozoic.

Ilo brought a sandaled heel down onto Velto’s foot, but the wily Bizak had anticipated and curled her toes.

Potato, tomato,” Ilo said, “Words for things we eat,”

Kasi laughed heartily at Ilo, prompting the others to join, and when he raised a glass, the rest followed suit; Velto and the Kotko brothers refrained.

“Since I’m being looked upon as instigating, I shall change the subject,” Yuri declared. “Lady Ilo, where do you and your, wife, plan to go once you leave us?”

“Her wife?” Velto snapped.

 “Velts!” Ilo scolded, but Yuri was laughing.

“Allow me to educate you on how my culture works,” Velto said, and when Ilo began to speak, Velto ordered her to shut up. “I have a degree in proto-physics, Kotko. Before birthing secured Ilo’s fortune, my funds kept her in the best clothes, my funds made sure she ate the best food and allowed her to indulge in creature comforts your sad species can only dream about.

So, you see Yuri,” Ilo blurted, “She’s my husband, not my wife!”

The table quaked with laughter, even Boris cracked a smile.

“You say one more word Velts,” Ilo leaned back and planted a firm kiss on Velto’s cheek. “I’m going to put my foot so far up your gurx, you’re going to feel my toes tickle your tonsils.”

“I’ll smack the blue off you, belly,” Velto whispered.

“You better grow a few feet, bizshit,” Ilo warned, and turning to the diners she added,I think we’re ready for night-night,”

Everyone roared with laughter when Velto jumped from her seat. Knocking it over, she fled the banquet hall.

On the walk back to their residence, Ilo attempted to take Velto’s arm, but the shorter Bizak jerked it away.

“Ride off, Ilo!”

“You’re angry, with me?” Ilo said. “You don’t know when to shut up, Velts,”

The two young men escorting them smiled; they didn’t know a word of Ramaxi, but a lover’s quarrel looked the same in any language.

Velto’s obtuseness used to be sexy but watching Velto aim her vitriol at the helovx these past weeks reminded Ilo of Velto’s malicious kerma, Lekada Wram.

Koba Julo once wrote that Ramaxia could run without sphere-farms for a thousand years if it could harness just one ounce of the hatred Ilo held for old Lekada.

A large part of why Ilo supported Velto taking an advisory position with the Office of Helovx Advocacy was because she couldn’t stand another day living within spitting distance of Clan Wram.

“Helovx did own this planet for a long time, doe,” Ilo said.

“We’re the original custodians of this world,” Velto countered.

“No, our ancestors were,” said Ilo. “We’re not the Femati. We’re nothing like the Femati. If you want to get technical, Citizen-I-Got-a-Degree-in-Proto-Physics, we’re more like the helovx.”

“Forgive me, Doctor Cux,” Velto whisked by, bumping Ilo’s arm as she passed. “I wasn’t aware of your authority on helovx-studies, or that degree you got in Femarctic anatomy,”

“I don’t need a degree to know what I am, short stack,” Ilo stepped into Velto’s path; looking down at her she said, “You’re not a hizzah, so quit acting like one.”

Velto pointed at her, “Are you calling me a bizhiz?”

“Just because the suit fits,” said Ilo. “Don’t mean you need to wear it, Velts.”

Arriving at the Divozen, Velto opened the left entrance door for Ilo. Instead of walking through it, Ilo opened the door on the right and entered.

“That’s mature, Ilo!” Velto barked.

Grinning with their escorts, Ilo strolled into the dim foyer.

Ornate tapestries covered the walls, and between these squares of thick cloth were framed paintings of deformed and long-dead nobility.

The Divozen’s dank interior stayed dust-free thanks to a score of young women clad in black and white dresses; the oldest of these sickly penguins curtseyed Ilo before stepping around to remove her shoulder wrap.

“Thank you, Miri,” Ilo said to the girl in Sladdish.

“What happened to the pregnant one?” Velto asked, in Ramaxi.

Ilo smiled at Miri when she replied in Ramaxi, “This is her, she lost her baby.”

“Where did she lose it?” Velto asked.

Ilo turned, “It was born dead, Velts,”

Velto’s large round eyes widened, while Miri, ignorant of their language, perceived nothing unusual.

On the stairs, Ilo took Velto’s hand.

“I want to talk about the mothers here,”

“Why are you whispering,” Velto snapped. “They can’t understand Ramaxi?”

“Miri is the fourth girl I’ve seen pregnant since we got here,” Ilo said.

Velto shook her head, “Helovx don’t have scheduled breeding, Ilo,”

“I know that!” Ilo gently pushed the tail of hair from Velto’s shoulder, “It’s weird. There are no children.”

Miri noticeably recognized the word, children.

Velto raised two fingers, “We’ll speak when we’re alone, Ilo.”

Dismissing Miri at the door, Velto locked them in for the night.

“Why lock it?” Ilo asked from the bed.

Velto rushed into the bathroom without answering.

Paranoia had been part of their lives since day one; someone was always watching. Before they’d bonded, Velto had explained ascension to Ilo, and all the intrigue that went with it.

Ilo jokingly shared what Fusada had told her with her best friend, Hib Perkad, and when the intelligent belly echoed Fusada’s sentiment and shared her concerns, Ilo took it to heart.

Ilo met Hib when she was nine, on what was the worst and best day of her life.

The morning Ilo had turned eight, her kerma, a male belly named Kel’r, was collected by Terminal Sabotage agents at the citbluz where they’d lived.

The next day they’d returned for her other kerma, an Hizak named Pik Altos. Found guilty under the Balanced Citizenry Act of harboring Kel’r, Pik had been sentenced to isolation; she chose death.

Alone for the first time in her life, Ilo’s maker, Tavo Cux, turned to bozkul.

After the citbluz’ new owner evicted Tavo for being too drunk to work, the dark blue belly and her lighter zaxiridoe spent a year in a low-end citbluz where Tavo worked until her poor famaxic led to a gashcolic infection.

Barred from the bluz circuit, Tavo drifted from one gazten to the next, with little Ilo in tow.

Sent outside to play while her maker entertained clients, Ilo had happened upon a zaxiridoe who introduced herself as Hib. Ilo spent the entire day playing with Hib and her two subakidoe sibs, Po and Bulata.

At day-fall, four of Hib’s makers came collect her. Three were Hizak, and the lone Subak among them pointed out Ilo’s filthy dress and ill-fitting sandals.

The tallest of Hib’s makers, a handsome Hizak named Dak, asked Ilo the whereabouts of her maker. Afraid, Ilo had whispered the answer in Hib’s ear: Ilo’s mako was upstairs in room eight, and Ilo was to stay on the swings until she was done working.

When Hib pointed to the eighth window of the gazten, another of her makers sucked their teeth.

Hib’s nestor, the Subak, told Hib to say goodbye to Ilo, and then took her hand and led her to the high-rise across the street.

Well after nightfall, as little Ilo lay on the pebbles of the playscape gazing at the lights of Toxis, Hib appeared over her, smiling brightly.

This time she’d brought her birther-mak, a Zaxir also named Hib. The belly was familiar and friendly, and she asked if Ilo’s mak was still in their room.

When Ilo nodded, the lovely Zaxir had waved over the brainer Dak and told her to take Ilo and Hibby across the street for some sweets. Ilo wasn’t supposed to leave the swings, but when Hib had grabbed her hand and hugged her, Ilo knew she was safe.

Years later Ilo would discover that while she was enjoying her first delicious cup of frozen kelsub cream, Hib’s makers had found Tavo Cux dead in her room.

Ilo had been sitting beside her new friend Hibby when elder Hib returned with four aging bellies and a muscular bruiser in a black and white uniform.

When told that her mak was dead, Ilo cried terribly and had latched on to Hib. Ilo’s sadness had been compounded when, two days later, she’d been sent to a caste-center in Toxis and spent eight months with a group of pod-less zaxiridoe.

At age ten, while in line with dozens of other little bellies waiting to enter a Zaxiri House, Ilo had been reunited with Hibby.

Squealing, hugging, and laughing, the pair held hands so that they would be assigned to the same Clutch.

Three years passed pass before Ilo realized that Hib wasn’t like other Zaxiri.

Twelve-year-old Hib spent more time with their Subak instructors than she did with her cast-mates and their older zaxxy Clutch-Minders. After Hib confessed she preferred reading to masturbating, two Subaki had come and escorted Hib to the building across the street.

While Ilo learned about inducing burxols and being beautiful, Hib learned where donats came from, and how to balance a credit account.

Finished with caste training, Ilo scored a job as a model.

Poor Hibby had chosen to study in Mynu.

After winning Prime Citizen, Ilo reconnected with Hib, now a patch-designer in training. Living together, Hib had come to understand Ilo’s waxamist nature, and watched it destroy many a burgeoning relationship.

Ilo spent many a night crying out her heartbreaks in Hib’s arms, and when pregnant Hib’s relationship fell apart with the handsome Hizak, Pitana Dag, Ilo was there to do the same.

“Velts?” Ilo called, “Have you heard from Hibby?”

“Wait until you hear this,” Velto said, laughing. “You know that icer-cast she does on the interHive?”

“The one where she takes a shower, naked?” Ilo smiled.

No matter how many pretentious skills those subbies taught Hib at the Subaki Citizenry Center, she remained a zaxxy-whore at heart.

“I logged on and left a comment,” Velto said. “So, she took me private,”

Jealousy forced Ilo into a sitting position.

“She asked about you, and how we were doing, but she cut it short, said she was late for her mid-day,” Velto said. “With Dybkul,”

“Dyb Kul?” Ilo couldn’t believe it.

Every Kul was descended from original subjects Loz and Zix.

Loz, a Zaxir, would establish the wealthy yet humble Line Kul with the genes of the mighty Femitokon. Zix was a Marix whose lover Bantol had bred with her and the commanding Hizak, Fusofitakil; their genes would go on to create the illustrious if not damaged, House Kul.

“When did Dyb get a pass to free ride?” Ilo asked.

“Sins Eb guta bund brak,” Velto said, and Ilo made out the words bond-break through Velto’s cleaning her teeth.

Ebitat was a Subak from a mediocre clan that managed to snare the affections of Ilo’s former clutch-mate Pitasajyr. Connecting with Pitasa at one of their many Subaxir Socials, theirs became a love born of first-time orgasms; even Ilo had fixated on the subby that had burned her first, Yuliautat.

The pair drifted apart after the Pikalit socials started, but they’d reunited at the Mynu socials, fixating on Hizaki like Dyb Kul.

After Mynu, Dyb and Ebi remained intimate, and sought to reconnect with Pitasa who by then a celebrity socialite. Pitasa’s bluz-buddy was a bruiser named Fostis, a strapping Marix with a lust like Pitasa’s for fat-backed brainers.

Trouble started when Pitasa had introduced Dyb to Fos during their twenty; the brainer and the bruiser became somewhat attached until Pitasa went axibosal the following year.

Ebi desperately tried to push the bipolar belly and her bruiser out of Dyb’s life; Pitasa returned the favor by outing Ebi’s illicit affairs with elder Hizak. Tired of the drama, Fos had abandoned the relationship before Pitasa died in a transport accident during the production of the Eleventh Gen.

“I don’t know why Dyb stayed,” Ilo said.

Velto emerged from the bathroom stripped out of her black suit and walking about with her back straight; the stance always gave her the veneer of an extra inch. Velto’s littleness came from being birthed by a Subak; her obtuse nature came from being deprived of that Subak.

Stuck with an intellectual bully for a kerma, and a bruiser sib with no boundaries, Velto spent her formative years drawing lines in the snow and lashing out at anyone daring to cross them.

“Dyb had a donation on the way with Ebi,” Velto said, thin honey brown arms sticking out of the same ugly sleeveless green undershirt that Ilo had thrown away last month. “She needed it to work,”

“What does that mean?”

“What does what mean?” Velto asked, unfolding her stretching matt.

“You think I don’t appreciate citizens that want to raise donations?”

Ilo bore four citizens to Ramaxia because doing so was the sole purpose of her caste, yet being a Zaxir, Ilo had no desire to raise them.

“Ilo, I didn’t say that,” Velto began her stretching. “Donats were important to Dyb, really important,”

 “Sorry,” Ilo’s guilt over compelling a pod-oriented Bizak into a monogamous bond with no hope of such a dynamic, consumed her. “It wasn’t fair of me to birth all those donats and tell you we couldn’t raise them-”

“Ilo, that wasn’t even on my mind,” Velto inhaled, and reached for the ceiling with both arms up. On the exhale, she bent over to grab her ankles, and pulled the hem of her tight green shorts up high enough to expose the miniature globes of her backswell.

Ilo was a slave to little swells front and back; her desire made her feel like one of those freaks with a taste for donats.

“What were you yapping about earlier?” Velto asked.

“Yapping?” said Ilo. “I don’t yap,”

“You constantly yap,” Velto stood with her feet together. “Like a penguin that lost his egg,”

Ilo frowned, “Velts, the girls here get pregnant and at eight months in-”

“—helovx carry their young for a long time-”

“—at eight months in I don’t see them for a week,” Ilo adjusted her tone to let Velto know she was serious. “When they come back not pregnant, I ask if they delivered safely. All of them say they lost their baby.”

 “Miscarriage is common,” Velto said, repeating her stretch.

“Not that common,” Ilo cursed not having her Filmark handy. She often captured Velto in a variety of every day scenes and posted them to her interHive page. “Every girl I’ve met has been pregnant at least once in the year that we’ve been here, and there are no babies,”

“They’re emerging from years of intense radiation exposure,” Velto said. “Their chromosomes are still adapting.”

“Velts, there are no donations here,” Ilo said.

“We’ve seen donats,” Velto said, inhaling.

“Only two, in the house of that rabbi woman,” Ilo grimaced when Velto’s spine cracked. “There’s no kids here,”

Velto exhaled, “They’re keeping them from us,”

“Why would they do that?” Ilo said.

“We’re monsters to them,” Velto said.

“That’s weird, hiding their donats,” Ilo stood and undid the shoulder clasps of her dress. “There’s always pregnant girls around here, though.”

Letting her dress fall to the floor, Ilo stepped out of the circle of cloth.

On the small bureau beside their bed were dozens of atomizer bottles and scented creams. Seizing her favorite, Ilo smeared its clear goop onto her hide.

The white spots in the azure of her forearms were bright today. Her hide began dulling a few years ago, and she dreaded the first well-meaning article to display her as an example of how Zaxiri beauty faded with age.

After a month in Uralskey, though, her hormonal clock had reset; her gashcol regained its juice, the suppleness of her hide returned, and her hair recovered its volume.

“How can you tell when they’re pregnant, maybe they’re just healthy,” Velto said, watching Ilo closely. “They’re all so damn skinny,”

“Skinny is relative, Velts. Are Bizzies unhealthy?” Ilo reached for her sea-salt moisturizer, “I can smell a pregnant helovx,”

“What do they smell like?” Velto asked, round eyes fixed on Ilo’s fingertips as they rolled smoothly over the voluptuous folds of her thighs.

“Stink aside,” said Ilo. “I can hear the secondary heartbeat,”

“I have a secondary heartbeat,” Velto’s coded request for affection wasn’t ignored.

Ilo seductively crawled forward on the bed and smiled as Velto’s black eyes glazed over. “Velts? Let’s list everything you did wrong tonight,”

Velto turned away in a huff, “If you’re going gripe at me belly, put on some clothes,”

“You’re a massive girxhole, like the first I met you,” Ilo flattened out on the bed as Velto folded up her stretching matt. “Velts, you remember the first time we got together?”

“At the Gathering Center in Mynu,” Velto’s hairtail swayed as she collected Ilo’s discarded clothes from the floor.

Rolling to the edge of the bed, Ilo planted her feet on the floor.

“That’s not the first time!”

“It was in Mynu during that Prime Citizen social. I remember because bellies were all there, and I only showed up because I wanted to-” Velto paused. “Wait, you said got together? We bounced blue that first time, in Toxis.”

“What were you going to say?” Ilo narrowed her eyes, “You said you remembered it was Mynu because you wanted something, wanted what?”

“I’m going to bathe,” Velto tossed Ilo’s discarded dress at her and then pointed, “Your attitude better be different when I come back out.”

“Enjoy that human tub,” Ilo cried. “You’re the only one of us that fits in it!”

One drawback to her hormonal resurgence was the return of her monogamist insecurities. Velto loved her enough to put up with her suspicions and jealousies, but Fusada Kul had been a different story. The charismatic bruiser had been the only citizen strong enough to put Ilo in her place, intervening whenever Ilo’s fits of jealousy threatened to box Velto.

Ilo and Fusada had never been sexually intimate, but they cared for each other and shared a love of Velto. There’s been a couple of stormy episodes, on particularly contentious dialog had occurred on the eve of their bondship, after Fusada learned of Ilo’s hand in pushing Ozbitis out of Velto’s life.

Ilo had been threatened by Ozbi romantically and socially.

The Subak was Velto’s first sexual experience, a milestone during a Citizenry Social at age fourteen; Ozbi had also befriended Hib upon her arrival to the Subaki Citizenry Center at age twelve.

The four of them might’ve worked it out if Ilo hadn’t met that opportunistic hizzah, Eppisbanto.

A mastermind with the beauty of a belly, Eppis was a closeted waxamist who’d fixated on Ozbi and was desperate to have her.

Ilo had orchestrated Ozbi’s isolation and facilitated Eppis’ access.

Fusada looked out for Velto, they’d known each other since they were donats, and when Fusada had learned of Ilo’s scheming, she chastised her not for being selfish, but for pushing Velto’s first love into the arms of a hizzah that went out of her way to make Velto feel like shit.

Velto had taken Fusada’s death hard.

Refusing to accept the finding of suicide, Velto lobbied to have Fusada’s case reopened. One Fusada’s demise had been officially recorded as the fault of that weird energy armor, Velto left Cloister and returned to Wram Constructs.

The only good thing to have emerged from their return to Toxis was Velto’s reconnection to Zixas.

Lekada Wram’s chosen donation, Zixas was estranged for many years, and Zixas’ sudden maturity and ambition had come from a newly established friendship with Sofitakul.

Everyone grieved for Fusada, but Sofita had gone insane.

The brilliant Hizak joined Orta and conquered that awful Shell that made Fusada kill herself.

When the Primary ordered Sofita to take it out and undergo this condensed Orta training program, she’d ended up in Zixas’ life.

Sofita had been good for Zixas, until she killed her.

Ruminating on Zixas’ fate had ushered in Ilo’s own fall from grace.

The well-meaning citizens harping on how she and Velto’s lives as a widower-duo were unnatural finally got to Ilo; tired of the comments, she’d admitted, during a live interview with Koba Julo, to being a waxamist.

Overnight, Ilo’s endorsement deals vanished, groups ousted her membership, and every program she’d helped establish served her with severance notices.

The worst had been Lekada; that old eel told all who’d listen that the reason Fusada partook in zish’tilgul was likely due to Ilo’s monogamy.

“What’re you thinking about?” Velto asked, returning from the bath.

“How much I hate your kerma,”

Velto shivered, “Ugh, don’t mention her when I’m naked!”

The dark brown uzxi lining Velto’s tiny frontals came together in the blotch of blue over the puffy line of her gashcol.

“You shouldn’t bait the Kotko’s,” Ilo whispered.

“I don’t bait, I bite.” Velto jumped onto the mattress, “I bite!”

Pawing at Ilo with comical fervor, Velto ground her swelling gash against Ilo’s stomach.

“Make sure you do your best,” said Ilo, pulling Velto in for a kiss. “You know they’re watching,”

“I’d like to think they look away when we’re doing this,” Velto said.

“No one looks away when I’m doing this,” Ilo lashed her tongue against Velto’s and felt her uzx tighten as Velto’s palms glided over the seams.

Velto loved the darkest parts of her…

Suddenly, Ilo sat up with such force, she knocked Velto off the side of the bed, “I know what you were going to say!”

“What?” Velto said, climbing up from the floor.

“When was the first time we met?” Ilo demanded.

“You were stuck in the door of my building, in Toxis!” Velto yelled, and when Ilo swung a pillow at her, Velto grabbed it and threw it aside. “What is wrong with you, Ilo?”

“Mynu, Velts! You thought it was Mynu because you were there for that black-hided whale, Crixaldox!”

 Ilo stared hard into Velto’s eyes, and when the golden-hided bizzy looked away, Ilo’s worst fears came true.

“You wanted Crixal more than me, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t even know you,” Velto sank to her knees, “Why are you doing this, Ilo? You put me through so much shit over Crixal all those years ago, a belly I’ve never been alone with, ever, at any time in my life!”

Ilo burned with shame, “Oh Velts, I’m so sorry,”

“I love you, Ilo,” Velto said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I know doe, I’m sorry,” said Ilo.

“What’s happening to you?” Velto sat beside her. “The shit you’ve been saying, the way you’re acting, it’s like we’re in our twenties again.”

“You love me, right?” Ilo asked. “That’s why you stayed?”

“I love you with everything that I am, Ilo,” Velto said.

Ilo closed her eyes, “I love you,”

Velto walked to the window, and when she didn’t return, Ilo found her with an odd expression on her adorable face.

“Velts, what’s wrong?”

“They’re so many of them out there,”

“Come back to me,”

“It’s like they all come out at night,”

“So, they’re night people,”

“Helovx aren’t like us, Ilo,” Velto said. “They need to sleep for eight to ten hours, each day.”

“So, they sleep during the day,” Ilo said.

“Helovx are creatures of habit,” Velto said. “They sleep at night,”

“Come back over here. Let me show you what kind of creature I am,” Ilo said, but Velto didn’t move.

Rising from the bed, Ilo decided to take matters into her own hands.

 


 

8 BAMX 2228 |  9 BAMX 2228

Pleasure District West, East Toxis
Ramaxia – 2230 hours

Bol lay paralyzed on the ice.

“It was Balru!” she shouted.

Dox appeared over her, “I’ll take her out,”

“Watch out!” Bol screamed as Dox collided with Balru’s elbow.

When Balru’s elbow came for her tonight, Dox got hold of that weaponized arm, and pulling the heavier bruiser over her shoulder, dropped her to the floor.

The resident Zaxiri fled the scene screaming as Donmat’s Styba Balru and Fuzo Dox turned the dance floor of the Uxcalina citbluz into their sparring ice.

“Don’t stop recording,” Koba Julo said to her digimar operator. “Not even if the orcas show up.”

Hizaki smart enough to get out of harm’s way began recording the altercation with their Filmarks, while its instigator, star-athlete Zebi Bol, stepped into the fray hoping to land a punch upon Balru.

 Balru was a bear at seven-foot-five and two-hundred forty pounds. If she hit you, your body became raw material for a recycle beaker.

No one knew this better than the muscular bruise, Bol.

Koba had been in the observer’s box during the Final Trial of the Eleventh Gen Marixi last year.

Two lines of brawny bald bruisers had stood completely still, each with a dultax in hand, facing each other in silence. The second the born had blared, they set upon one another with a ferocity Koba had never seen before or since.

Balru and Bol had sought each other out, and despite being equal in strength, Bol lacked Balru’s ability to strategize.

Bol’s suit had paralyzed her body where fatal blows were dealt, and soon she was helpless to stop Balru from lifting her up and slamming her face-flat onto the snow.

Kicking Bol onto her back, Balru, delivered a blow to her sternum. No longer blinking, the nodes of light on Bol’s suit shined steady; she was dead.

Silent sensors had notified the Bizaki medics on the sidelines and as they swooped in, Koba tried to imagine what it must’ve been like for the original Bizaki who’d taken part in Femitokon and Fusofitakil’s first Marixi culling.

Those bizzies had been given meat hooks and tasked with gliding over the ice in their bare feet to stick and drag the fallen from the fighting field amidst the carnage.

The femmar had evolved since then. Swooping into the chaos, uniformed Bizaki weaved above the melee on their Isurus boots, and with their anti-gravity Pulsars aimed, bounced Bol’s body off the fighting ice.

“Bol’s not looking to crack a jaw,” Koba turned to her underling. “She just wants to hit Balru hard enough for her to feel it.”

The young Bizak smiled in agreement, a steady hand on her digimar.

The device, plugged into her ear and protracted over her left eye, was being jostled by half-naked Marixi arriving on the scene to witness the action.

Koba hadn’t been there when they stripped Bol of her uniform and credit allowance, but she’d witnessed her podcresting try-outs at the Fairgrounds. Sensing a story in the dark hided bruise, Koba approached her.

Bol was picked in the first round of drafts, and since she began podcresting, had garnered a reputation as the most aggressive hunter on the ice.

Tonight, Bol was being cautious.

Dox got the better of Balru, but Bol was robbed of her shot when Balru jumped from the floor and right foot planted, brought left her leg up, catching Bol in the chest.

The excitement ended when a cluster of black and white uniforms swarmed the dancefloor. Herding the belligerents outside was a Tenth-Gen orca with the name Yeg stitched over the identification wrap on her bicep.

Stepping between Dox and Balru, Yeg ordered them to go leave the area in separate directions.

Balru spit a glob of blood onto the ground, “Yes Podkom Yeg,”

“Thank you, Podkom,” Dox said.

Cooler heads prevailed under the blue lights of Ruacar Walk because any officer caught raising her hand to a Guardia faced an immediate loss of rank. Reliably shrewd, Yeg’s eyes shifted from Bol to the lackeys standing around Balru.

Bol sneered at the two bellies fawning over Balru.

The bruiser got it honest; muscular and tall, Balru was blessed with sizable round fronts, and her smooth creamy gray hide that held enough light blue it made her irresistible to the breeders.

A plump half-naked zaxxy with a brilliant cobalt and orange hide set about wiping blood from Balru’s lips, but she was wasting her time; from what Koba witnessed in the bluz tonight, Balru’s interests centered solely on brainers.

Bol angrily stepped up behind Yeg.

“You best be on your way Donmat!” Bol pointed at Balru.

Balru flashed her blue stained teeth in a smile.

“I’m going to put you out of my misery, Bol.”

Dox snapped, “Let it go, Balru!”

“You’re right Dox,” said Balru. “She’s a civilian, I can’t threaten a civilian,”

Fists up, Bol made for Balru until Dox blocked her path.

“Why don’t you just go, Balru!” Dox shouted.

One of Balru’s peers turned, “Dox, why don’t you just go, and pretend to be asleep.”

Balru cast an apologetic glance at Dox.

Koba’s ever observant underling tapped her shoulder.

“What are they talking about?”

“Balru and Dox have history,” said Koba.

Last year, Balru stood alone on the fighting field screaming in victory with just a few moments left to spare.

The Pure-Gen bruise had been unaware that her chance to take out Tenth-Gen’s Fusada Kul’s record Trial time was about to be dashed;

Dox had risen to her feet on the ice, a fallen combatant with minimal damage to her suit.

Koba jumped up in excitement when the lean brooder recovered her bearings and made a line for Balru. The Bizaki in attendance had begun cheering for the lanky Dox, hoping she’d collect her senses in time to extend the trial further.

Even the Primary was standing with eyes aglow as Dox snatched up a dultax from the ice and moved in behind Balru, swinging with all her might and determined to hit Balru’s lower back.

Balru had heard the cheering in the stands and turned in time to avert the deadly strike. Taking the blow on her shoulder blade the suit had rendered Balru’s right arm inoperable.

A minute left on the Final Trial clock, a one-armed Balru held off a massive assault from Dox. Snatching the dultax from her, Balru landed a tactical kick to Dox’ lower back, crippling her.

Legs paralyzed, Dox wound her arms around Balru’s hips to remain upright and brought them both down onto the ice.

Time whittled down as Balru struggled to her feet, bringing Dox up with her, rather than lose her shot at last-standing with her knees still on the snow. Balru straightened up with seven seconds to spare while Dox continued to claw her way up Balru’s torso.

Unwilling to tumble, Balru took Dox in a headlock with her one working arm and used Dox to maintain her balance; Balru released Dox and let her fall to the ice, one second before the blaring of the timer horn.

“Fuck her Dox,” Bol shouted, “You made Division before any of the recruiters even knew her name!”

Balru leaped over the Cit-Guard and might’ve struck Bol’s face had the remaining Guardia not formed a wall to block her.

“Move it along, or I haul you all in!” Yeg shouted at Balru. Reeling about, she pointed at Bol, “I’d love to haul your swell in, just for sending our carrier over the rails.”

Dox took hold of Bol’s arm and pulled her along; Bol’s post-victory bluz crawl being the night’s assignment, Koba and her digicast operator shadowed them.

Dox confronted them, “Why are you still following us?”

“Dox, it’s Channel Ramx,” said Bol.

“Is this for Orta Patrol?” Dox relaxed. “I love that show.”

“Orta Patrol follows real Fleeters,” Bol lost her smile, “I’m a fail.”

Bol’s self-loathing was entirely misplaced; her first year in the Podcrest League saw her touted as leading the Vanda Megs to victory over the Toxis Koolasooks.

“Excuse us, please,” Dox put her hand up, blocking their shot, and pulled Bol out of range.

Koba signaled her operator to elevate the power of their audio recorder.

“You got to stop shitting on yourself,” Dox scolded.

Dox was a gravelly voiced bruise with thoughtful eyes and dark gray hide. Her angular brow reminded Koba of—

“Why’d you do it?” Dox demanded of Bol. “You sent Balru a drink, and when she turned around, you pointed at me,”

“I didn’t just do that for you,” Bol declared. “You’re not the only one who hates that mollusk,”

“I don’t hate Balru,”

“She tried to have you disqualified,”

“Balru didn’t file the grievance,”

“You’re defending her, after what she did!”

“She did what she had to do, Bol!” Dox cried. “We all did!”

Dox was Bol’s closest Brood-mate, and they’d had the other’s back in Orta, even the day of their Final Trial. Tasked to take out everyone else on the ice, they’d refused to attack each other, like Fifth-Gen’s legendary Pitana Kul and Wibo Zag.

On the audio, Bol’s voice rose an octave, “If she hadn’t taken me down in the first round, Dox, I’d be in her uniform.”

“You’ve got nothing to be bitter about Bol.”

“I could’ve had my own ship in ten years!”

“Instead, you got thousands of screaming fans,”

“This might seem like a great life, Dox-”

“I’m going shut up,” said Dox. “I’ve no right to tell you what to regret.”

Koba turned to find her operator smiling with glee.

“Orta drama, is the best drama,” said the young Bizak.

“You still with us, elder Julo?” Bol called out.

Koba approached when invited, “Want to hug it out like a couple of hizzah’s?”

Bol cuffed Koba’s neck, and sharing a laugh, Koba and her operator followed them through the boisterous crowds of Rigitix Square.

“We got a find citbluz that allows elders,” Bol teased, eyeing Koba.

“I didn’t think bizzies liked the bluz,” Dox said.

“I’ve been hitting the citbluz since the two of you were scraped off the lining of some subbies makzol with a fertility swab,” said Koba.

Koba was a free-birth, the result of an Axyrn Division bruiser named Ixo Julo, gifting her favorite belly with a male.

After that belly died during delivery, Ixo turned the male over to the GPD and got her bizakidoe registered by way of resourceful sib at the Zaxiri College.

Koba might’ve ended up fixing wireless routers in dark rooms had she not grown up with two condescending Hizaki sibox, and the unconditional love of her kerma.

After a smooth transition to Mynu, Koba graduated with the best of the brainers, and armed with a degree in telecast journalism, set out in life following her kerma’s advice: You don’t need to be the best, Koba, you just need to be needed.

Koba perverted this life lesson by surrounding herself with idiot’s.

Convincing her superiors of her indispensability, Koba found her niche working under Hizaki station managers that struggled to make their Bizaki production crews aspire to more than earning a monthly credit stipend.

A Bizak with training in broadcast production, Koba earned the respect of her caste coworkers because unlike their hizzah bosses, she could do their job.

“Let’s go to Daxakil’s,” said Koba. “I know some bellies there,”

“You know bellies everywhere,” said Bol.

Daxakil’s glassy entrance sat back from the pedestrian walk, and from the blades of its frosted revolving door came the scents of food, drink, and sex.

Inside, a large monitor in the circular lobby flashed glamor shots of the gorgeous Zaxiri residents.

Koba adored bellies, and often pondered how many of her sister-caste would’ve felt the same if Subaki were never hatched from the Vosk`tulak.

Beyond the hanging panels of blue and green glass, lights pulsed in time to the beat of the music.

Throngs of vibrantly hided citizens migrated as one across the dance floor while hundreds of feet above them hovered dozens of round booth-tables, each packed tight with tipsy patrons engaging in a less active form of carousing.

The Tenth-Gen belly behind the reception desk shook her head when spotted the young Bizak behind Koba.

Koba flashed her broadcasting badge, “Channel Ramx!”

“You’re Citbluz Central, right?” the lovely gold and red belly asked. “My prime says you got to make an appointment before you can record in here, Citizen Julo,”

Koba turned to her operator, “Cut the cast,”

“Seriously?” the young Bizak asked.

“There’s Tenth Gen in here,” Koba said. “We like our privacy,”

“You’re the boss, Citizen Julo,” the young Bizak teased, pulling the digimar from her ear. “I’m heading back to the station, did you need me to pick you up anything?”

“That’s thoughtful of you,” Koba said.

“It’s my pleasure to make sure you have what you need,” she said.

“That’s ridiculous,” Koba laughed. “You should come inside,”

“Nope!” she said. “My nestor would kill me,”

“Coward,” Koba called out as the Bizak departed.

Bol turned to Dox, “You want to go upstairs, get naked, or you want to get some drinks first, and dance?”

Dox mulled the offer.

Bol received an athlete’s stipend of twelve-thousand credits a month, not including her many performance bonuses.

Dox likely didn’t have the funds for a locker to stow her clothes while she walked the sex floors naked; her service-credit from Division didn’t recharge until the last day of the month, and that was ten days away.

“Let’s dance,” Dox said.

Bol mocked, “Bellies love watching you dance, Dox,”

“It’s not my fault you move like a dolphin without a fin,” Dox said.

Following Bol and Dox to a hover-table, Koba passed a gauntlet of sour looking locals; Bol was an upstart, the sole reason their city lost in last night’s podcresting finals.

Bizaki clad neck to foot in sheer uniforms refilled drinks and cleared abandoned bar tops, while their bizzy counterparts above flew free of gravitational constraints between the hover tables.

The Bizak bluzsh worker remained safe from the erotic machinations of the clientele because of strict rules set in place to protect non-sexual staff.

Anyone caught harassing a non-resident physically or verbally, not only paid a hefty fine but were barred for life from returning.

The hostess, a rotund Pure-Gen decorated in a florescent body-paint that glowed brightly under the incandescent light, hugged Koba tightly.

Bringing a fist to her stomach in a salute to Dox caused her enormous fronts to tap together playfully.

Resident Zaxiri made their way down from the upper sex rooms, bouncing their corpulent flesh with each heavy-footed step. These succulent residents smiled lustily for the voyeuristic and credit-heavy Hizaki.

Somewhere unseen above them, Hizzah’s were already naked beneath their open robes; hair wrapped protectively in turbans, they wandered between the cold pools and orgies looking for something to rub off too, or someone to burn them blue.

Kobajulo!” someone yelled from above.

A crew of Tenth-Gen Zaxiri leaned over the balcony ledge, their wobbly fronts dangling like ornaments in the flickering lights.

“Bring that skinny swell up here!” one of the bellies shouted.

“I’m working!” Koba yelled.

“What do you think we’re doing!” chimed another, jiggling her suzsch.

Koba slid into Bol’s chosen booth beside Dox.

Taking control of the operational gears, Bol moved them high over dancing crowds. Zooming past loaded floaters, she anchored them near a fifth-level balcony, where some bellies and bruisers were already making out in the shadows.

When Bol inserted her credit-ID into the table’s center console, a bottle of chilled itabix beer rose up from inside the table, and with it came four glasses.

Koba filled Bol’s glass.

“Why aren’t you happy, Bol?” she asked.

Bol shrugged, “I’m successful,”

“Happiness and success should be synonymous,” said Koba.

“When success comes this easy,” Bol downed her beer, then belched. “There’s no challenge.”

“The games look challenging enough to me,” Dox put her hand on the top of her glass when Koba tried to fill it.

Bol said, “I wasn’t meant to be a podcrester, Dox,”

“I wasn’t meant for Division,” Dox said. “I deal with it, Bol. I don’t make others around me deal with it,”

“You can strike for Surface Op,” Bol said, then spoke to Koba. “Dox used to talk about making Promad, serving on a lifeform in the Ramaxatae,”

“Orta had other plans,” Dox said to Koba.

Koba sighed, “I didn’t know your friend was Division, Bol,”

“What difference does it make?” Bol asked.

“I can’t use any of the footage we recorded tonight, without her superior’s permission,” said Koba.

“Are you serious, Julo?” Bol laughed.

“Is that true?” Dox asked. “It sounds true,”

“Right after you dokkers were born, the Primary’s donation went on audio with me about her job,” Koba explained. “After that fiasco, Divisional rules regarding the recording of their operatives changed.”

“Was that story the reason you got fired from Showcast?” Bol asked.

Koba shook her head; she’d been transferred, not fired, long before she exposed Terminal Sabotage and the Femitokon Division.

After being awarded by her peers for breaking the ilitux scandal, Pikalit Showcast, under pressure from CM Tee Banto, exiled Koba to Cloister Telecast.

The station’s lowest-rated program, CT was a dead-end show that ran just four times a year, until Koba changed the format and renamed it Cloistercast Monthly.

Featuring members of the Chamber, she and her team of intrepid Bizaki hoped to bring viewers closer to their elected Representatives. Koba hit solid ice while documenting her sibtox, Laxum Jyr.

The youngest member of the Chamber at the time, Jyr had shared her desire to overturn the Balanced Citizenry Act with the documenting crew. Faced with no legislative means to take the law down, Jyr sought to invalidate it by challenging the moral character of its creator, Fifth Office, Wox Dag.

CM Dag had emerged unscathed from Koba’s exposé on the ilitux scandal, so Koba eagerly sought fresh dirt on the elder Bizak and found it during an interview with then Komadon, Fusada Kul.

Kul had taken Koba into the bowels of Femitokon Holding and detailed the activities of the Femitokon Division.

Kul spoke of the inner workings of the Sorority of Defense, inadvertently revealing the existence of Terminal Sabotage.

Koba shared the footage with Laxum.

Koba had no understanding of her own gen’s ascension until she’d accompanied Laxum to confront Fusada.

Fusada was the future Primary of the Tenth Ramaxian Gen, and Laxum, her intended Fourth Office, demanded she testify in open Cloister about the existence of the Femitokon Division. Koba had sat silent as the pair argued over how Laxum’s move against elder Dag might hinder ‘the plan’.

Koba knew of no plan, and being of an inquisitive mind, had demanded details. After letting Koba in on her plans to ascend, Fusada had agreed to appear during the First Session of 2213.

The testimony never came to pass; Fusada was found dead by zish’tilgul in her paxicol, at years end.

Koba mistakenly assumed Laxum had abandoned her move against Dag after the First Session came and went, followed by the Second.

She’d been shocked when Laxum opened the Third Session with a motion to remove CM Dag from the Ninth Ruling Platform.

The Sernatae had demanded to know what grounds CR Jyr had to make such a request, and Laxum replied that the Fifth Office was murdering males outside the scope of Femtrux.

The Cloister exploded into a flurry of shouting and whistles, as the Sernatae slammed that ball of toxian-coal against her podium.

Tee Banto ordered Koba and her digimar removed from the observation deck, but Koba had no intention of leaving.

Sernatae Gizul rebuked Banto’s request citing that the live session remained essential in maintaining the trust of the citizenry.

Presented with playback of Komadon Kul, the First Office, Ryo Uym, had requested the session be moved to a private hearing.

Every Tenth-Gen member of the Chamber had challenged her, and demanded the proceedings continue in the Session Hall.

The Sernatae pointedly asked the Primary if the Sorority of Defense existed, and when Primary Kul admitted to its existence, the Sernatae had ordered Koba to cease recording. Koba remained in the Session Hall, but she’d continued to clandestinely record, despite the digimar footage being of her feet.

CM Wox Dag had been forced to admit to the existence of the Femitokon Division, but she swore that no male was ever terminated without cause.

Bol’s face twisted into a smile.

“Here we go, Koba!”

Koba followed her gaze to a pair of Daxakil’s resident Zaxiri.

On the balcony stood Rivo Gix, a Pure-Gen with black hair so long it cascaded over her golden brown shoulders well past her elbows.

Her thick lips were painted dark blue to match the lines of uzxi that ran deliciously down the middle of both her sapphire shaded fronts. Those weighty globes sagged handsomely over a copious belly, and beneath that sheer bluzerie, was her partially swollen gash.

Behind her was Pelar Huro, a Tenth Gen with an uneven blue and green hide.

Pelar’s hair and fronts were every bit as hefty as Rivo’s, but her arms were too slender, and she lacked the loose flab in the middle that Koba found attractive.

Bol grinned, “She brought you a Silent Gen, Dox,”

“Now that’s hospitality,” Dox said.

“You divisional bruisers love to run on cracked ice,” Koba teased.

Riding a Tenth-Gen was risky business for an Eleventh, but elder Zaxir were prized for their stamina, oral skills, and gashes made lush by age.

Young patrons relied on bellies knowing the citizens they gave birth to; no zaxxy rode someone she bore, genetic relation or no.

“I hope this booth isn’t taken,” said Rivo.

Bol made room for her. “There’s plenty of room for you, belly,”

“Bringing your donats in now, Koba?” Pelar remained on the balcony.

Dox turned to Koba, “You’ve been here before?”

“She’s here so much,” Pelar said, as Koba helped her step from the ledge. “The owner’s going to put her on staff.”

“We’re not her donats,” Bol said. “Tonight, I’m under the dome on victory,”

Rivo whispered, “You know how many Koolasooks are in here tonight?”

“Megs think their jaws are big enough to handle anything.” Pelar polished off the remaining ale.

“Keep your voice down,” Rivo said. “I don’t want a fight,”

“I want a fight,” Pelar tossed a piece of ice at Bol and then noticed Dox. “What’s your name, Donmat?”

Rivo knitted her brow, “How can you tell her rank?”

Fuzodox,” Dox said to Pelar.

Pelar touched the wide collar of Dox’ red silk shirt, “This pin means she’s a Donmat,”

“It’s hard to see your pin, it’s the same color,” Rivo leaned over for a better look, giving Koba a view with her fronts.

Bol sat back to ogle her fleshy back-swell, then shifted her eyes to Koba for a silent invite; they would share Rivo later.

“Not just any Donmat,” Koba declared. “She’s Division.”

“Not just any division,” Bol added. “She’s in the S O D,”

“S O D?” Rivo asked. “Is that Surface Operation?”

“SOD’s not Surface Operational,” said Pelar, “It’s Sorority of Defense.”

Dox softened, “How do you know that?”

“Surface Operational deals with helovx, right?” Rivo crinkled her nose. “Helovx are disgusting.”

“It’s a good thing you’ve never seen one,” said Pelar.

“I’ve seen science shows on the BEB,” Rivo snapped. “They kill each other over the color of their own hides.”

“Helovx have skin, not hides,” said Dox.

Rivo said, “They feed on themselves,”

“Helovx no longer do that,” Dox said. “They have food,”

“They’re animals, with diseases,” Rivo countered.

“I’m an animal,” Bol said, “No diseases.”

Tired of verbally sparring with Dox, Rivo stood up on her knees and pulled Bol closer to her, “You’re my animal, Zebibol.”

“Hey Bol,” Koba asked. “Does it hurt when you get hit?”

“I don’t know, never been hit,” Bol said, her face between Rivo’s fronts.

“Our carrier’s being replaced because of you,” Rivo broke free of Bol clutches and moved over beside Koba.

“It’s my job to take her out,” Bol followed her, slipping her hand under the table and between Rivo’s fat thighs, she said, “Don’t hold it against me.”

“You’re lucky I’m not the sort holds grudges,” Rivo said sweetly.

Koba nudged closer to Pelar, and Dox stayed put, lifting her arm to let the Tenth-Gen belly in close.

“Never seen you here before,” Pelar whispered to Dox.

Dox said, “I’m on a citizenry-pass tonight,”

“You get a lot of helovx gash on the surface?” Koba asked.

“That’s disgusting!” Rivo snapped.

“I don’t partake in helovx,” said Dox.

Bol said, “Dox has got special needs that Orta would like to go away.”

“Bol!” Dox cried.

“You into weird rough stuff, like the Primary?” Pelar wrapped her arms around Dox’ lean torso and started kissing the bruiser shady gray neck.

Rivo wrapped her arms around Koba, “They say Primary Fusa beats up bellies,”

“The Primary beats up, everybody,” Dox mumbled, kissing Pelar back on the lips.

“You work in Terminal Sabotage?” Koba asked.

“No,” Dox broke the kiss. “Nor would I,”

“Dox won’t hurt you,” Bol teased. “She’ll just get hurt if there’s more than one of you,”

“Bol, shut your mouth!” Dox exclaimed, brow furrowed.

“Dox prefers one at a time?” Koba asked.

“Waxam!” the bellies said in unison.

“No!” Dox said, her cheeks and head became ashen.

“We can put our thumbs on your Orta assigned pad if you want us to,” Pelar cooed, gently scratching Dox’ bald head.

Rivo nodded, “Yeah, this is a judgment-free zone, just like mak Ilo always says,”

The mention of Ilocux brought back fond memories.

Long after an Eleventh Gen usurped her position as Prime Citizen, Ilo was still considered by most to be the most beautiful citizen in Ramaxia.

Koba adored the freeborn Zaxir for more than her blue-hided exquisiteness; the monogamist belly had defied convention by falling in love and bonding to a Bizak.

“Did you get caught demanding exclusivity?” Koba asked Dox.

Pelar smiled to Rivo.

“I bet it was another soldier,”

Bol curled her lip.

“Now who’s being disgusting?”

“You bruisers never mess around with each other?” Rivo teased.

Bol and Dox said, “No.

“Who’s your commanding officer, Dox?” asked Koba.

Dox regarded Koba warily, “Why?”

“So, you can be on my show!” Bol cried.

Dox hesitated, “I’d rather not say,”

“What’s the big deal?” Bol demanded.

“Leave it, Bol,” Dox said.

Bol looked to Koba, “It’s Komad Kul,”

“Sofita Kul?” Koba raised an eyebrow.

“Who’s that?” Rivo asked.

The icon on Dox’ lapel began beeping.

Silencing it with a tap, she stood up, “I got to check in,”

“At ten minutes to midnight?” Pelar glared at Koba for some backup.

“Donmat,” Koba snapped. “You have forty-five minutes after mission-call to show up for duty,”

Dox glared at Koba now, “You know entirely too much about Orta procedure.”

Pelar hopped up onto the table top and opened her robe.

“You want to know my procedure?”

“Do it Dox!” Bol said, and when she repeated the command, the bruisers on the balcony began chanting, do it, do it!

Pelar parted her thick legs as she sprawled out on the table.

Koba yelled over the boisterous intoning, “You should eat before duty,”

Giggling Rivo pushed herself onto Koba’s lap.

Dox eagerly hooked her arms under Pelar’s legs and yanked the hefty beauty toward her. Settled between those chunky limbs, Pelar’s hand came down on the young bruiser’s head and dragged her up for a kiss.

Rivo’s talented palm began working Koba’s gash over the fabric of her suit as the Marixi chorus of do-its morphed into a proper Orta chant of Dox-Dox-Dox, drowning out the hum of Koba’s recording Filmark.


Femitokon Holistics
Marixitak Ridge, Orta Main
Ramaxia – 0115 Hours

The Femitokon Annex resembled the skeletal head of a ramxkul taking a bite of the Ortosk shoreline.

Past its jaws and down its gullet existed an intricate maze of offices and laboratories all clustered around a central chamber known as Phasics.

Phasics was the domain of Doctor Fyla Uym.

Arriving on time for her physical exam, Sofita found Uym absent and in her place was an Eleventh-Gen Hizak named Riltav Gwo.

The young doctor’s presence was highly irregular as Uym, a Tenth-Gen Bizak, held an intense dislike of Hizaki.

Uym’s aversion to the condescending caste came from living among them while a teen prodigy in Mynu.

An esteemed physician and geneticist, Uym could staff her lab exclusively with Bizaki medics, allowing the occasional Subak intern.

Gwo was fresh out of academia as evidenced by her neatly pressed trousers, and unlike other Hizaki in Orta, she hadn’t employed a thick-heeled dress boot to enhance her height.

Hair molded up into an hourglass, Gwo’s stylist had mistakenly given her client bangs, masking the attractive webbing that ran along her hairline.

“Komad?” Dox stepped onto the circular pad of the shell injection platform and stared into the darkened space above it; she’d arrived late to mission call smelling of citbluz soap. “When you’re up in this thing, is it like being airborne?”

“The cloud’s comparable to being underwater,” Sofita pulled her uniform pants up and over her hips.

“There’s a few moments of unpleasantness before I force myself to breathe.”

Dox jumped in place.

“So, it’s like you’re in a Delphic?”

Gwo joined them and pointed her tablet at Dox.

“That platform isn’t the dancefloor of a citbluz, Donmat,” she snapped. “Remove yourself from it, please.”

“It’s an energy cloud,” Sofita said to Dox. “Not a solid-liquid,”

Dox grinned, “Its fluid, but not a fluid,”

Gwo aimed an unimpressed eye.

“Speaking of fluidity, I recommend refraining from transphasic morphing in pressure-heavy oceanic environments,” Gwo set her tablet on the exam bed and addressed Sofita. “The loss of cells was microscopic, and of minimal concern, but transphasic morphing wasn’t intended for use under such conditions.”

“You left some of your DNA in that dome?” Dox laughed. “Komad, you think there’s any tharspin inside of you?”

Gwo eyed Dox, “Your patience Doctor Kul, is admirable,”

“Have we met, Doctor Gwo?” Sofita asked.

“I had the honor of attending a lecture you gave many years ago, Doctor, in Mynu,” Gwo established eye contact with Sofita.

“I appreciate your recognition of my previous station,” said Sofita. “But I’m no longer employed in the capacity of administrator,”

Gwo inhaled and said, “Komad Kul, as you wish.”

“Komad Kul, as it is,” Sofita said. “My Donmat’s question is tangential. Did I attain any unwanted portions of the dome’s tharspin hull?”

Dox chuckled, “You’re lucky you didn’t lose your fronts in there, Komad.”

“The Shell purged all foreign cells during the reformation,” Gwo replied, casting an irritated glance at Dox when she hopped back onto the platform. “When chosen to oversee phasics in my Prime’s absence, I was unaware I’d be minding a donat.”

“What are you a Doctor of anyway, Gwo?” Dox asked, jumping in place.

Gwo scowled at her, “I believe I told you to refrain, Toob-shit.”

Shocked, Dox looked at Sofita.

“Doctor Gwo,” Sofita said. “Are you the same Riltav Gwo that finished Primada First Office at Mynu Neurological Genetics?”

“Though still enrolled, I remain top candidate,” Gwo said. “You needn’t worry, the overall Mynu scores achieved by Administrator Gizul, and yourself, stand unseeded. I finished one-point shy,”

Dox raised a pinky.

“You’re still at the top, right Komad?”

“I’m flattered by your awareness, Komad,” said Gwo.

“My awareness is of your maker, Tee, how is she?” Sofita asked.

Gwo deflated, “Citizen Gaz continues to educate in Mynu,”

Tee Gaz was a noted behavioral-studies instructor who’d shared classes with Sofita during her post-graduate period in Toxis. Gaz had bonded to a Hizak classmate of theirs named Fevi Gwo, whose career in donational psychology made them wealthy.

“The Subak they bonded with,” Sofita said. “Remind me of her name?”

“My nestor is Galxacari,” Gwo said, rolling her eyes.

Dox chimed, “I know an Acari,”

“I doubt we’re related Donmat,” Gwo said, dismissive. “I was cultivated from a select set of patches chosen by my kerma’s sibling.”

Dox crossed her arms over her chest.

“Aren’t all patches selected with some choices?”

“I doubt anyone took the time to plan you, Donmat,” Gwo said.

Dox stepped to Gwo, “What did you just say?”

Unfettered, Gwo got in her face.

“You do speak Ramaxi, yes?”

“Dox!” said Sofita, “Gwo is a member of Femitokon, stand down.”

“It’s your lucky day, brainer,” Dox said.

“Not yours,” said Gwo. “You’re getting written up,”

Dox pointed to her gash, “You can check this ticky-box right down here,”

Hardly intimidated, Gwo’s lips twisted into a grin.

“Neurological science, Doctor Gwo?” Sofita said. “Advantageous opportunities abound in the citizenry sector, why apply your talents to World Oceans?”

“Respect maintained, Komad,” Gwo said, “One might ask the same of you,”

Sofita nodded before looking into Gwo’s eyes.

“I’m here because this Shell killed my sib,” Sofita said. “I was in her mind during this operative energy’s collapse that hibernation. I woke with a need to understand it better.”

Gwo swallowed hard.

“This pre-existing connection to the energy indicates something of your success in igniting it,” Gwo said. “To answer your query, my prime-degree in applied genetics best serves Orta as my focus centers on the curative evolution of operative energies contained within cyber-biological constructs,”

Dox blurted, “I’ve no idea what you just said,”

“Your Ornith has a brain, yes?” Gwo tempered her hostility, giving Dox her full attention. “All brains have natural energy within that powers our body parts and formulates our ability to communicate with ourselves and others.”

Dox furrowed her brow.

“I know what operative energy is, Gwo,”

“All constructs age, just like you and me,” Gwo spoke to Dox was if she were a donat.

“Those designed to serve as Fleet, like your Ornith, have their operative energies transitioned, that means moved, to younger bodies when their current bodies get too old. I specialize in these transitions, do you understand?”

Dox looked to Sofita for tacit permission to slug Gwo. Sofita delivered a silent negative with a downward nod.

“Doctor Gwo,” Sofita asked. “Where is Doctor Uym today?”

Dox blurted, “Good question!”

“Doctor Uym is on another of her deep-sea dive excursions,” Gwo said, “She returns at the end of the month.”

“Did Doctor Uym follow up with you regarding my concerns about the Shell’s unsolicited incursions?” Sofita asked.

“She reviewed your report on the resurgence of the Shell’s conscious invasions,” Gwo said, quickly retrieving her tablet. “She will no doubt address these concerns upon returning,”

“Odd that Uym didn’t consign my issues to you, Doctor,” Sofita said, watching as Gwo casually dropped the tablet onto the chair seat. “The Shell’s adaptive processes do fall under your vocational purview.”

 “I reviewed the Shell’s synaptic activity during phases when these incidents of unsolicited communication occurred,” Gwo stepped back as she spoke, moving the chair into the leg space of the kiosk. “I found nothing unusual given its maturity,”

“Maturity?” Sofita moved her eyes from the obstructed tablet to Dox, “You’re suggesting evolution?”

“The Shell’s not merely a manufactured energy Doc-Komad Kul,” Gwo fixed her eyes on Sofita, “It’s a responsive being that evolves with each new mission.”

Dox moved in when Sofita hopped off the exam table.

“I’m aware of its complexity, Doctor Gwo, and so entertained an evolutionary paradigm,” Sofita interacted with Gwo like an Hizak. “Upon reviewing the neurological-log of its previous host, I found nothing to indicate the Shell capable of progressive growth without manual manipulation by Doctor Uym.”

“The data you pulled from the Phasics database, Komad, is severely outdated,” Gwo put her hands behind her back. “I made Doctor Uym aware of this error,”

“Error?” Sofita asked.

“I requested we remove the outdated information as it was no longer applicable to diagnosing current anomalies within the Shell,” said Gwo.

“Doctor Uym informed me that the information available to Divisional operatives must remain as is,”

Doc moved in behind Gwo.

“Politics,” Sofita shook her head at Gwo, “Is that why I failed to ascertain the spheres organics comprising of male neurological tissue?”

“The organic property of the Housing Sphere is no secret Komad, even the prior host knew of its origins,” Gwo said.

“Keeping the initial subject, unpolluted, my review of the prior hosts neurological-logs found no report of conscious, or unconscious, interactions that might suggest any evolutionary advancement on its part,” Sofita said.

“The deceased Komadon Kul never achieved total operative cohesion,” Gwo said. “Maturated collaboration, conscious or otherwise, couldn’t have transpired.”

Sofita put her hands behind her back, “I was led to believe that maturated collaboration was not part of the Shell’s operational path,”

“I remained unaware of how you came to this conclusion until I saw the outdated data you pulled and reviewed,” Gwo shook her head. “We discovered last year that the Shell progresses beyond its operational path with each new life-threatening experience.”

Sofita inched toward Gwo, “What about the examination I requested of all operative energy records going back to the prior host’s adhesion phase,”

“I reviewed all Op-En activity from Komadon Kul’s first day of adhesion, along with every record of Komadon Kul’s synaptic activity before and during her albeit brief state of adhesion,” Gwo said. “I found no anomalies, Komad.”

“There must’ve been anomalous activity on the day she died?” Sofita kept Gwo’s attention as Dox got closer to the wheeled chair.

“I’m barred from those reports Komad-”

“—why is that, Doctor?”

“I was assigned to this Division only two months ago-”

“—yet you’re Uym’s chosen prime while she’s away?”

“Komad Kul, I assure you my qualifications are above reproach. My restricted access is due to the security protocols required by Orta Main,” Gwo remained calm. “I found no anomalous activity in any of the spherical-cerebral interface data collected from the prior host, in the timeframe that you requested.”

Sofita stepped into her, “Does Doctor Uym limit your scope for a reason?”

“No, Komad-” Gwo stepped back, snatched the tablet from the chair and then smacked Dox up the side of her head with it. “—no!”

Gwo tucked the tablet into her jacket before boldly closing the distance between herself and Sofita, “I took it upon myself, Komad Kul, to examine all the reports available to me regarding Komadon Kul’s mental history with the Shell.”

“Except the day, she died?” Sofita said, undaunted.

“Those were the only reports I hadn’t been cleared to review,” Gwo lowered her voice. “I also reviewed the readings for the fifth day of Yubol. The day you carelessly ignited the Shell in the waters of the Vosk`tulak.”

Dox shifted her eyes to Gwo, and Sofita remained calm.

“I deleted it, of course, as I’m not ignorant of the politics between Uym and the SOD,” Gwo said.

“Your actions, Komad, were utterly careless. If the Shell had succumbed to womb-dream, it would’ve devastated this Lab.”

Sofita softened, “Apologies-”

“—the Shell is my only care,” Gwo warned. “Endanger it again, and I’ll lobby to have it removed,”

Sofita stepped between an agitated Dox and the angry Gwo.

“As prime officer and host of the Shell,” Sofita spoke with respect, “I’m requesting you review Komadon Kul’s cerebral interface data, on the day she died,”

Gwo shook her head, “There would’ve been no cerebral interface to report during hiber-”

“—humor me, Doctor Gwo,” Sofita opened her arms, amicable.

Hesitating a moment, Gwo then stepped into Kul’s embrace.

“As you wish, Komad Kul,”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Sofita said and motioned for Dox to lead their exit.

Entering the corridor, Dox moved alongside Sofita, “That Gwo is smarter than the other ones,”

“Which begs the question, what’s she doing in Orta,” Sofita said. “The netting on her hide, what’s her color?”

“Yellow hided, light red and orange patches, some ugly brown webbing,” Dox smiled. “Why, you think she might your donat?”

Sofita stopped walking, “Why were you late to muster?”

“I wasn’t late to muster,”

“Remind me Donmat,” Sofita walked ahead of her and into the curative bay that housed Orny, “What’s the standard time of arrival upon notice of a mission-alert?”

“Forty-five minutes,”

“How long did it take you to arrive?”

“Fifty-eight minutes.”

“Do you have another definition of the word, late?”

Dox stopped on to the floating platform, “No Komad!”

“Get on board!” Sofita snapped.

“Yes Komad!” Dox jumped into Orny’s open hatch.

“Orny, we’re flying to Uralskey,”

Ambassadorial Extraction Mission Assigned, Komad Kul.

“Is it true what they say about the Slavs?” Dox asked.

Sofita said, “What do they say?”

“They’re all mutants,” said Dox.

Sofita said, “The current generation is lightly afflicted,”

“Why do we still support them?” Dox asked. “Because of Vostok?”

“Slavs are survivors,” Sofita said. “Authentic hominid cock-roaches,”

While the Russian team at Vostok Station burrowed their way into history, Israeli scientists confirmed the collision of meteor 7341-1991 VK and Eros 433, an asteroid in orbit around Mars.

When Astronomers projected the dislodged chunk of Eros would hit the moon, industrial leaders in Eastern Europe and wealthy Slavs in Israel came together to build a safe-haven in the Ural Mountains.

The covert Ural Wall was well into its construction phase after the chunk of Eros bound for the moon missed its target.

Altering the moon’s orbit, the planet was besieged with destructive tides and severe earthquakes. Word of the Ural Wall’s completed western portion became public, and millions of displaced across Europe flocked to it for shelter.

The Slavs refused them entry.

When Eurozone leaders deployed tanks to its partially finished sections, the Russian Federation responded with fighter jets, attacking not only the tanks but also the refugees.

Immense tidal swells and tectonic instability led to decades of insurgent water from the Baltic to settle in and surround the Wall. The Urals became an island and the Slavs continued to labor on their Wall until its last cement block was placed, just three years shy of the Yosemite eruption.

During the Dark Years, the Mediterranean expanded over continental Europe, killing what remained of the millions scattered in its highest elevations. Inside the Wall, the Slavs brought the first of two nuclear power plants online; they were poised to survive the Dark Years.

One cold night in December of 2037, the Anatolian Fault collapsed.

Intense quakes rocked the Urals but did not topple the Wall.

In Spring of 2038, aftershocks plagued the populated valleys, and a dislodged snow cap at Mount Konstantinov caused the lakes near Putorana to overrun their banks.

Flood waters led to a power outage in the main reactor at Mount Kamen, and when engineers attempted to bring the reactor back online, an energy surge cracked a rupture disk. Graphite moderator components from the compromised reactor hit the air and ignited, creating a massive plume of radioactive fallout.

The wonder-wall that protected them from the oceanic surge now trapped them inside a poisonous bubble of filtered radioactivity.

Farming settlements were decimated. Livestock and crops poisoned. No Slav went untouched by the fallout that permeated their world, and by centuries end the Slavs were believed, extinct.

“I’ve never seen a cock roach,” said Dox.

Sofita said, “You will when we get to Uralskey,”

 


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