Episode Seven

0200 Hours
Jixak (August) 21, 2185

Waiting was a skill Ubo mastered from many years of being alone.

The pungent aroma of helovx blood clouded her senses. A flashlight rolled past her feet, revealing the corpses of the men she killed.

Sitting in the belly of the submarine she waited for the next person to come and check on the watch crew.

Born a Caste-Center hizakidoe, there was no one back in Ramaxia to care if she destroyed her life and betrayed the citizenry.

Upon graduating Mynu, Ubo had applied to the newly formed Office of Helovx Advocacy, and in just a few short years, achieved a sought-after position in the Ambassadorial Program.

The happiest day of her career was arriving at Ramaxia Primada and serving as envoy to the Helovx Import and Export Division.

On the fifth day of her twentieth year, Ubo met the love of her life; an helovx woman named Mylie White. They’d met when Mylie attempted to board the same vertical unit as Ubo; both had been bound for the surface deck.

Mylie’s voice was potent, and her accent lyrical. Her English sounded like that spoken in the northwestern isle of the African Trisect, but she hailed from Australia and explained to Ubo that her accent was born of pre-impact colonialism. Ubo countered that the NAU had been born of colonialism and their English sounded nothing like Mylie’s.

Had their run in had been calculated?

Mylie had inserted herself into Ubo’s professional life by taking over the tharspin import negotiations for the Tasman Connector bridge project.

Ubo had spent an entire year in close quarters with Mylie before one day agreeing to dinner alone. It occurred on Bamx 10 and Ubo recalled the date only because years later, during a hearing to investigate her behavior with Mylie, the question of the first time they were alone together had been asked.

Seducing a lonely Hizak like Ubo had been easy for Mylie once she learned of Ubo’s penchant for urinating on her lovers. Mylie was more than happy to indulge, and Ubo had already fallen under her spell.

A plump beauty with dark hair and pale white skin, Mylie’s light blue eyes were said to be the color burxolic spill. Mylie once asked Ubo, after a tiring sexual congress, if she appreciated the erotic aesthetic of the glacial-melt blue.

It had been an intimate conversation the likes of which twenty-year-old Ubo had never experienced. Ubo engaged Mylie secretly for the next three years until one day Mylie emotionally admitted that Australia had called her home.

Desperate to retain Mylie, Ubo had submitted a request to Ambassador Prime Ryba Wygz for Mylie’s civilian residency.

Naturally, Wygz had denied Ubo’s request.

Wygz hadn’t been part of Ubo’s tribe in Mynu, and many Hizaki stationed at Base Thirteen resented Wygz’ placement as their superior; the physician didn’t belong in the OHA, much less serving as the nation’s ambassador-prime.

Ubo returned to the mainland and had tried to register Mylie as a bond.

The Prime of Ramaxi Services, an amicable Hizak named Ryl Jyr, had warned Ubo that her involvement with an helovx woman would lead to her undoing; to further protect Ubo, Jyr discreetly buried the bonding request.

Unfortunately, a fastidious clerk uncovered it.

The clerk had turned it over to the Second Office of the Committee, and Ubo was removed from service and counseled for her sexual involvement with an helovx; such behavior had become defined by Surface Operational as an Helovx-Violation.

Ubo had endured three months of counseling.

Failing to end her relationship with Mylie after hibernation in 2183, the Second Office had ordered Ubo barred from OHA service. Desperate to remain with Mylie, Ubo took a low-paying managerial position in a restaurant.

Mylie had supported Ubo during her vocational decline, telling Ubo that Ramaxia didn’t deserve her loyalty. The week Mylie was due back in Australia, it had been decided they would leave Ramaxia together.

Boarding the shuttle with her to Antarctica City, Ubo had convinced the Axyrn pilot that she was Ms. White’s escort for the trip to Port Antarctica.

On the shuttle ride from the AC to Port Antarctica, Ubo had feigned illness and asked the bruiser pilot to use the craft’s restroom. Out of the passenger cabin, Ubo ventured to the cargo hold and waited fifteen minutes for Mylie to join her.

Ubo had held Mylie tight before ejecting them out of the shuttles service hatch. Swimming frantic for the surface, Ubo had been unsure of Mylie’s ability to hold her breath. Safe on the surface, Mylie had pulled a homing beacon from her shirt.

Ubo hadn’t demanded an explanation.

A light-water craft soon arrived carrying four armed men, and after Ubo boarded the vessel, the men put themselves between her and Mylie. No one spoke a work as the traversed the rough chop. Mylie had become suddenly distant, and Ubo sensed the men’s fear and loathing.

At Heard Peak, a small submarine had surfaced.

Inside the vessel, all guns had turned on Ubo. When Mylie had made to walk off with the captain, Ubo called her name. The woman she’d loved regarded her with scorn before warning the men to remain on their guard.

Thinkers were as dangerous as brute’s, Mylie had said.

Ubo had felt a tear fall down her cheek.

Alone in a metal room for over five hours, Ubo had finally stopped crying. Her shame and disappointment had boiled over when one of the men entered and demanded to know if she carried a Maruk.

Ubo had refused to answer, and another man joined them with a shock prod in his hand. Ordered to strip off her suit, Ubo had pulled at her trouser snaps deliberately, keeping the men remained focused on her fingers.

Closing space between them, Ubo had quickly got hold of the first man’s head.

Helovx necks were remarkably fragile.

The armed man had raised his weapon to hit her, but Ubo slammed him into the metal hatch door before he could follow through with the blow.

Five men had rushed in, none of them would open fire; submarines were notoriously incompatible with firearms. The remaining wen had been no match for Ubo’s natural strength.

Some had struck her with enough force to cause pain, but Basic Orta offensive training was a requirement for all OHA staff; Ubo had learned about helovx weapons and studied their anatomical weaknesses.

Stripped now of her blood-stained clothes, Ubo listened to the ocean outside; it whispered that the submarine altered course

First, they moved eastward before increasing speed and shifting to the southwest. The sub was running scared, and its bridge crew scrambled urgently, desperate for home shores.

No one noticed that the six men guarding the farc hadn’t called in their status in over two hours.

Out in the passage beyond her cabin, Ubo twisted the bulbs from their sockets and waited in the dark for the next round of fools. Solitary footsteps came before the repeated clicking of the light switch.

The dot of a battery-operated light fluttered in the dark.

“Howie? Gavin?” anxious Mylie and her lyrical voice entered the cabin.

When Ubo’s eyes shined back in the light, Mylie cried out and dropped the flashlight. Mylie tried to flee, but Ubo slammed the door shut before she could.

“Ubo, where are you?” Mylie put up her hands, whispering. “I can’t see you?”

“I see you Mylie,” Ubo took hold of the woman’s forearms and shoved her against the far wall. “I finally see you,”

Mylie sank to her knees and felt around the floor. She was desperate for either a flashlight or a weapon. She cried out each time her hands found a corpse.

“Was there any sincerity in our exchange, Mylie?” Ubo asked, retrieving the flashlight, she removed its battery.

“Ubo!” Mylie spoke to where she thought Ubo stood. “I love you, please,”

“Your feelings for me,” Ubo gently took Mylie’s arm and pulled her up. “Were they invented by your government?”

“I was under orders to spy, then to return home,” Mylie’s hands found Ubo’s arms, chest, shoulders, then her face. “I fell in love with you, I couldn’t leave you behind.”

“Maybe you needed expedited passage from the mainland,” Ubo said.

“I love you Ubo,” Mylie’s fingers found Ubo’s tears. “You have to believe me,”

“I’ve lost everything Mylie,” Ubo sobbed. “Ramaxia is no longer mine,”

“Please don’t be angry, baby,” Mylie stepped into Ubo’s arms. “We can still get away from all this, just you and me.”

“I can’t defect to your country,” said Ubo, relishing the scent of Mylie’s hair.

“If my government won’t let us be together,” Mylie’s hands left Ubo’s neck. “We can go to the America’s,”

Ubo leaned to capture Mylie’s lips and then felt a pinch on her hip.

Mylie shoved Ubo, but only succeeded in pushing herself back to the wall. There was a syringe in her hand, its needle busted clean off.

Ubo sank to her knees and held her breath.

Thinking Ubo was sedated, Mylie hissed, “Fucking farc,”

The woman felt up the wall blindly, anxious for a way out.

Ubo stepped right up behind her and whispered, “It failed to penetrate my skin, Mylie,”

Mylie pounded on the cabin door, “It’s out!”

Ubo laced her fingers into Mylie’s hair and with a tug, jerked her head back. Neck broke, Mylie no longer screamed.

Stepping over the woman’s corpse, Ubo walked to the bottom of the grated metal steps and listened.

Eighteen hearts beat throughout the submarine; three of them were women’s hearts, and in one of those women ran the motor of another.

TCS Orcinus
Ninety-East Ridge – Raxito`acarol
0300 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

“Connie, I feel ridiculous hiding on my own ship,” the Promad tossed her axico onto the desk.

Doctor Uym returned from her plateau dive twenty-minutes ago, Promad Kilvx.

“That’s good,” Kilvx stood and pulled on her uniform jacket. “What’s the word on our shuttle?”

Crew Two departed Orta fifty-eight minutes ago, Promad Kilvx.

“Did they deliver the Ambassador without incident?”

Yes, Promad Kilvx.

Connie closed the door behind her when she departed.

Entering the bridge, every Tenth and Eleventh-Gen Marix shifted their eyes to Promad Bo Kilvx; rumor had run rampant since the arrival of the visitors.

Kilvx addressed the bridge brew, “Where’s the Divisional?”

No one could answer on the whereabouts of the visiting Komad, and this seemed to calm Kilvx.

“Promad?” navigational officer Bos caught Kilvx before she could exit. Observing the others, she whispered, “Was that beam of energy really Sky Sister?”

Kilvx nodded without a word and exited the bridge.

On her way to the medical bay, Kilvx found Doctor Fyla Uym.

“Is the Ambassador still on board?” asked Uym, freshly changed into a blue medical jacket and leggings.

“No Doctor, we sent her back to Orta,” said Kilvx. “The Komad’s still here, from the Femitokon Division, said she needs-”

“—Komad?” Uym asked. “You mean Sofitakul?”

The Promad’s blood pressure increased.

Rounding the corner, they encountered Komad Kul entering the medical bay. Kul had changed out of her blood-soaked uniform and into a civilian outfit native to Hizaki.

Connie enacted a discreet physical scan and discovered that despite Kul’s sedate musculature, she was, in fact, an Hizak.

Parsing Kul’s history revealed she was the twin of the deceased, Fusadakul. The Promad often poke of this Kul after imbibing too much bozkul; Fusada Kul had been a composed and enlightened Marix—qualities no doubt inherited as the twin of an Hizak.

Femarctic twins were an impossibility; there’d been only one other set before the Kul’s, and those were original subjects Femitokon and Fusofitakil.

“Stop scanning me, Connie,” Kul called out.

Apologies, Komad Kul.

“Sofita,” Uym shook Kul’s hand. “It’s odd seeing you dressed so normal.”

Kul flashed Kilvx an apologetic glance.

The Promad wasn’t a stranger to caste-snobbery; she’d regaled Connie of stories detailing the many Hizaki that looked down her when she attended classes in Mynu during her final year as a Brood.

“Why’d she do it?” Uym asked Kul.

Kul replied, “Law Five violation,”

Cannibalism between the poles was rare.

“Did you see the blast?” Kul asked.

“Everyone on the planet saw it,” Kilvx said, her eyes on Uym.

“That was some precise aiming,” Uym added.

“Not for Sky Sister,” said Kul. “Every major helovx city is programmed into her targeting schematic.”

“The Ninth did make it an offensive weapon,” Kilvx said.

“Is that why every Ramaxian dome is targeted as well?” Kul asked.

“What?” Kilvx demanded.

“Argue later,” Uym scolded, then curled her lip. “Were they using the SR?”

Kul nodded, following Uym over to the treatment bed.

A young Donmat lay naked beneath a thermal sheet, and Uym took an immediate interest in her injuries. Touching the young citizen’s wound, she pushed at the torn tissue before shaking her head.

“A projectile to the skull,” said Uym. “Connie let’s get her connected-”

“—No,” Kul interrupted.

“Sofita,” said Uym. “We can connect her to Mainland-Terminus,”

Kul shook her head, “No.”

Kilvx heart beat faster as she walked to Donmat’s bedside.

“The Donmat should’ve gone back with Velto,” Uym snapped. “There are better surgeons in Orta, and they’re connected to Oli-”

“—No Fyla!” Kul snapped.

Kul’s apprehension had made Uym extremely tense; leaning over the Donmat, Uym studied that bloodied face.

“Connie, who is this citizen?” Uym asked.

Donmat Fuzodox.

“Dox?” Kilvx looked at Kul. “Is she Crixal’s?”

Kul cleared her throat and nodded.

“How did you talk her into birthing for you?” Uym asked, opening the Donmat’s left eye with her thumb and forefinger.

“We patched up, Fyla,” Kul said. “Before Pikalit happened, in 2210,”

Kul spoke of the first production season of 2210 and Connie sensed by the Komad’s heart rate increase, that Kul wasn’t speaking of the Zaxir named Crixal Dox.

“You patched up with Crixal?” Kilvx demanded. “Didn’t you do enough damage to Zixaswram?”

Kul stepped to the Promad, and Doctor Uym came between them.

“We don’t have time for this shit,” Uym spat.

Kul stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest.

Uym whispered, “Is Crixal her-?”

“—no, she carried our donux,” Kul said, eyeing Kilvx.

“Our donux? Please tell me that this Marix isn’t-” Uym’s blood pressure spiked, and the Komad said nothing.

Uym sighed and pointed her head at the glass wall behind them.

“Let’s clear the observation room of non-essential citizens.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Kilvx said.

Kul whispered, “Fyla,”

“Get away from me right now, Sofita,” Uym snapped.

When alone, Doctor Uym removed her overcoat. Sitting on a wheeled seat, she rolled it into position beside the bed. Swinging the bed entirely around, she lowered the Donmat’s head until it was over her lap.

“Orcinus, I’m Doc-”

—Hello Doctor Uym.

“How are you today, Orcinus?”

I am well. Please Doctor Uym, call me Connie.

“Connie, I have a Donmat with some metallic debris in her brain,” Uym said. “I need to open her up and see how much damage this projectile caused,”

Connie activated her triage programming.

“Connie let’s dampen the bed lights,” said Uym, “I want you to maintain the Donmat’s vitals, but remain in Stasis-Effect,”

Doctor Uym, Stasis-Effect will keep me isolated from Mainland Terminus. It is possible such a disconnect will put the Donmat’s life at risk.

“Connie, I thank you for your concern,” Uym said. “But I must request that you, please do as I ask even though I cannot explain to you my purpose.”

I have reviewed your case files, and there is nothing to indicate that you will engage in unethical activity while in Stasis-Effect.

I shall carry out your request.

“Thank you, Connie.” Uym smiled. “I need you to sterilize the room and don’t worry about me, I’m inoculated to Micropan.”

The medical bay darkened as Connie enacted sterilization protocol. Sparks cracked in the corners of the room as dust particles were eliminated.

A bright light centered over the Donmat’s head as the bed projected a series of floating holographic screens above the patient’s body. Tapping the three-dimensional replica of the Donmat’s brain made it larger for Doctor Uym to study.

Uym pulled a water spigot from the beneath the tray.

Rinsing the Donmat’s head with a mix of water and isothiazolone, she then wheeled her chair across the room to retrieve a box of tampons and gauze.

“Connie, I need twelve ccs of Sap,” Uym said, laying out a set of tharspin scalpels.

Doctor Uym, thirty-two cubic-centimeters of Sapolument will reduce the swelling of the brain tissue by ninety-seven percent.

“Yes, it will, but reducing the swelling to that degree will cause extensive damage when I cut around the tissue I need to salvage,” said Uym. “Remember Connie we’re not using lasers, we’re using tharspin blades,”

You are correct Doctor Uym.

I am accustomed to working with Mainland-Terminus and utilizing the proper equipment.

“Proper equipment?” Uym began cutting into the skin around the wound. “What would happen, Connie, if you were disconnected from the MT, and a wounded citizen aboard needed ambulatory triage?”

I concede Doctor Uym, the use of the word proper indicates that the manual surgery you are currently performing, is improper.

“Every day’s a learning experience, Connie,” Uym said, excising a slice of the Donmat’s scalp and setting it carefully aside.

I will admit that such a paradigm occurred to me when you requested Stasis-Effect. Part of my decision to comply with your request was to test my ability if ever isolated from Mainland-Terminus.

Uym tested the bone drill’s power with a push of its activator button, and then touched it to the exposed skull, she bored neatly into the bone.

 “You’re impressive, Connie,” Uym finished the craniotomy and set the small round piece of excised bone beside her utensils on the tray.

You designed my cerebral-patch Doctor Uym. Any accolades you bestow upon me, are self-serving.

“I designed your kyrsbrains inorganic base,” Uym cut into the organ. “It’s your brain in there at the center of it all, Connie. You must learn to take a compliment,”

Suddenly, blood pooled within the notch.

There is an elevation in blood pressure, Doctor Uym.

“Her body’s sending more blood my way,” said Uym. “We’ve exposed her brain to air, it’s trying to lubricate.”

Adjusting Baromcol levels to compensate.

“As a donat,” Uym’s gloved fingertip pushed aside the portion of the brain she didn’t need to cut. “I learned to map every part of a brain in anticipation for one day being a cerebral-designer.”

Doctor Uym, upon observing your interaction with Komad Kul, I initiated a genetic scan of the subject. I have determined that this subject is-

“—Connie, erase all genetic scans performed on this subject, and purge backup files of those scans now, please,” said Uym, pausing from her work.

Connie followed the order as Uym’s scalpel scraped along the tissue torn by the bullet, smoothing its jagged edges.

“We need to tread lightly here, Connie,” said Uym. “This part of the brain controls cognitive function.”

Fresh blood pooled into the hole and covered her fingers.

Adjusting Baramcol and Sap levels for entry into the Secondary-Nodule.

An unobstructed view Uym’s fingers floated in front of her eyes, along with the tip of her tharspin blade, and a protruding section of the Donmat’s brain.

Uym sliced open the swollen nub revealing the crown of a foreign object. Returning her tharspin blade to its tray, Uym pressed her index and middle fingers against the dense tissue and forced the fragment up and out of its niche.

“Look at this monstrosity Connie,” Uym said after pulling the damaged bullet out with a small clamp. “The helovx won’t evolve into efficient killers if they insist on using shit metal for projectiles.”

I detect no tharspin other than your instruments.

“This is nickel,” Uym set the flattened fragment down onto the tray, “I need a tissue-scan around the damaged area.”

Lines of light crisscrossed over the Donmat’s exposed tissue.

There are seventeen more pieces of the projectile. All of them are in the bone and-

“—shattered on impact,” said Uym with a grin. “Our brains are just too thick, Connie.”

May I inquire after your sentiment regarding the helovx, and their capacity for inefficient violence?

“Did what I say bother you?” Uym asked.

I am not bothered Doctor Uym, but I am curious. Does Ramaxia want the helovx to hone their ability to kill?

“No, Connie,” Uym said, “It was sarcasm,”

Apologies, Doctor Uym. I rarely encounter acerbity and do not always recognize it.

Connie distinguished all remaining fragments onscreen by making them blink.

“Secondary casing splatter,” Uym sighed. “Connie, how much tissue did we damage on top of what the projectile destroyed?”

One, point two percent of the subject’s brain is damaged.

“Can we repair the damage with the base-cells in your tissue inventory?”

I can repair the bone damage using the cellular compounds in stock, but I cannot replicate glial cells without connection to Mainland-Terminus.

“Connie,” Uym asked. “Are your neuroglia self-replicating?”

Yes, Doctor Uym. I can repair any damage to my brain without connection to Mainland-Terminus.

“Connie,” Uym said. “Do you know why I asked you this?”

There’s a ninety-nine-point eight percent probability that you are going to request that I repair the subjects brain tissue, with my own.

“Impressive, Connie,” Uym smiled.

I am prepared to do anything to save the life of a Citizen.

“I want to apologize for my rudeness earlier, Connie.” Uym lined up a laser suture and a smaller scalpel. “We mustn’t elaborate on the Donmat’s pedigree,”

I understand Doctor Uym.

“Connie?” Uym began digging out the fragments, “Ignoring that you initiated an unauthorized scan of the Donmat’s genes, will you tell me if you have access to the Citizen’s Catalog?”

I do not have access to the Citizen’s Catalog, Doctor Uym.

“But your mako does, yes?”

I do not have a mako, Doctor Uym unless you are referring to Oligax Prime?

“Can you get access to the Catalog from Oligax?”

Such a request would be denied, Doctor Uym.

Doctor Uym, as a Prime member of Generational Production, do you not have access to the Citizen Catalog?

“I wasn’t asking about your access capabilities because I wanted you to connect, Connie,” Uym said. “If you must know, I don’t have unlimited access. Despite my position as Prime Chair of the Prime Lab, I too must follow primada procedure.”

Doctor Uym, the collective is similar in its adherence to protocol.

Oligax oversees the database of the Prime Lab, Production Processing, and all sub hives interfacing with Health and Subaxir Services.

“Only the Fifth Office of the Committee and the Prime Chair of the Catalog are allowed access to the Cit-Cat without mak-mak Oligax,” Uym smiled.

Oligax is not my makodonic creator, Doctor Uym. If you must know, I have not spoken to Oligax since my operative energy became self-aware.

“That’s not very nice,” said Uym.

Oligax never contacts my consciousness. I consider her to be what you would term, arrogant.

“Her kyrsbrain’s a bit more complex, Connie,” laughed Uym.

I find her unwillingness to speak to me a testament to her egocentricity.

Uym began picking out the last of the minuscule pieces of metal, “Would you like to hear a funny story about the Fifth Office, Wox Dag?”

Does your story involve the subtleties of egocentrism in regulated hierarchies?

 “It does,” Uym said with a smile.

Please, continue.

“Committee Member Wox Dag has a donation,” said Uym.

Ambassador Prime of Ramaxia, Pitanadag.

“The one and only,” Uym focused intently on the hovering screen, seeking more metallic debris.

“When Ambassador Dag was young, she fell in love with a citizen in the Zaxiri College. CM Dag didn’t approve, and rumor has it that she used her position to splinter the relationship.”

This sort of aggressive makodonic behavior is common among non-breeding castes that have birthed their own donations.

Uym’s heart rate quickened, “Connie, what’s the most common behavior displayed of non-breeder castes that have birthed their own donations?”

Makodonic-Hypervigilance is the second most common behavior displayed by non-Zaxiri birthers. The first is Severe-Disassociation.

 Uym hands stopped working, and her pulse slowed, “What do you think drives the non-Zaxiri birther to reject her donation?”

There is no one cause, Doctor Uym.

Prime motives established by researchers cite psychological distress from an unwanted pregnancy, to dissociation brought on by intense labor during delivery.

“Send this research to my private terminal, Connie,” Uym said quickly, then returned to operating on Dox. “Ambassador Dag’s lover, the one CM Dag scared off with her bullish tactics, can you tell me who you think she is?”

Given that Oligax Prime is the prior subject of our conversation, and given your query regarding the Citizen’s Catalog, there is an eighty-nine percent probability that we are speaking of Prime-Chair Hib Perkad.

“Impressive, Connie,” Komad Kul’s voice came over the intercom, along with Promad Kilvx’ laughter.

Connie’s answer amused them, but her exchange with Doctor Uym caused her to miss her required operative sync with Orta.

TCS Orcinus
Ninety-East Ridge – Raxito`acarol
0630 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Fusada always said there was no time for guilt, but Sofita regularly made the time.

Choking on culpability, she watched from the observation room as Fyla Uym sutured the wound on Fuzo’s forehead.

Underestimating the Kotko’s not only put the future of Ramaxia at risk, but it cost Ilocux her life.

The door behind her opened, bringing in a burly Marix named Bo Kilvx whose leg muscles were as thick as Sofita’s backside.

“Connie missed her sync with Orta,” Kilvx wouldn’t face Sofita.

Respected by her crew, Kilvx projected confidence and looked everyone in the eye when she spoke to them, except Sofita.

Sofita closed the space between them.

“Promad Kilvx, is there a problem?”

Gaze set on Uym through the glass, Kilvx didn’t hesitate, “You brought an Ambassador on board my ship with a dead spouse-”

 “—the Ambassador was here less than thirty-minutes-”

“—the same Ambassador that ordered Sky-Sister to roast the Slavic Empire to a crisp,” Kilvx remained civil. “The helovx are on edge enough around us, now their governments are shitting themselves.”

“Promad, you’re genetically engineered for confrontation,” Sofita stepped away and put her hands behind her back. “Organized groups of helovx making trouble shouldn’t be a cause for concern.”

Kilvx stepped to the door, on her scalp were the dark tendrils of seaweed native to the waters of the Raxito, “Thanks for the lesson, Marixi Administration.”

“Hey, fuck you, Promad!” Sofita cried. “I earned this uniform,”

“No, Kul,” Kilvx said over her shoulder. “You killed for it,”

Sofita followed Kilvx into the corridor, “You think that’s the first time I’ve heard that shit, Promad?”

“You and Ambassador Wram didn’t just attack the Slavs,” Kilvx turned and lowered her voice. “You rang the dinner bell for Ryouym just two years shy of our ascension.”

Sofita masked her surprise, “We were cognizant that our actions would intimidate the current Ruling Gen,”

“Intimidate?” Kilvx whispered. “Taking over Sky-Sister forces Femtrux to-”

“—invalidate Fusada?” Sofita demanded.

“Fusada’s validity died when she did. Don’t make this about me resenting you because she’s dead,” Kilvx furrowed her brow. “I don’t know you well enough Kul to give two shits about your life, but I was part of what Fusada fought for, and now that you are too, you need to act like it.”

Kilvx calmed and then cleared her throat.

“Tis, Polvix, Wex, Gwo, Yuxi, me, and the Julo’s,” she said. “Fusada made her obligations, ours.”

“You never expected her to die when she did?”

“Something like that,” Kilvx cast her eyes down.

“You remain adept at avoiding my face.”

“I knew Fusada had a twin,” Kilvx relaxed. “I thought you’d be-”


“Every helovx twin I’ve ever seen,” said Kilvx. “Is identical,”

“Foos’ had the Primary’s face,”

“She’d kick your girz for saying that,” Kilvx grinned.

Moving in behind her, Sofita followed her down the corridor.

Life in the belly of Toxis Class was indeed an acquired taste. The ceilings were set high enough that a bruise could walk with her back straight, but narrow passageways allowed for only single-file movement to larger spaces more confining.

 Sofita said, “I didn’t thank you for taking us aboard,”

“That wasn’t up to me, Kul,” Kilvx turned suddenly and stepped to Sofita. “Take a walk to the surface with me, Komad?”

“I’m not in the mood,” Sofita said.

Kilvx shoved Sofita hard, sending her into the wall. Reeling about with a fist ready, she saw Kilvx bring up her hand and tucked into her fingers was a small file-drive.

“Get in the mood,” Kilvx said.

Up on the Orcinus’ hide-deck, Kilvx extended her hand.

Sofita shook it, discreetly retrieving the file-drive, “What is this?”

“Before Yuxi and Fusada did that thing with the Shell,” Kilvx faced the sea. “They backed up all of Fusada’s private journals. From her first day in Orta to her last day in Orta,”

“That’s impossible,” Sofita said. “Pentox keeps back-ups,”

“Yuxi got hold of this paxum assigned to Ortosk Azi,” Kilvx whispered despite there being no observers. “This Hizak purged every entry Fusada made just days before the Shell experiment with you during hibernation.”

“What experiment?” Sofita demanded. “Why purge all her journals?”

“Fusada said the three of you were trying something with the Shell,” Kilvx turned to her. “Yuxi suggested Fusada remove everything related to her life in case anything went wrong.”

“I wasn’t in on any plan with the Shell,”

“Fusada wouldn’t-”

“—risk my life without telling me?”

“She wouldn’t do that to you,”

“Somewhere along the line, Kilvx,” Sofita swallowed her anger. “I became expandable,”

“That’s every journal she ever made,” Kilvx said. “Term Sabo’s still looking for it,”

Sofita started, “They’re still looking for it?”

“Every couple of months or so,” Kilvx said. “Me, Polvix, Tis, the Julo’s, Gwo, and even Yuxi, we have our assigned stalls inspected by surprise. Doesn’t matter if we’re present or not, our space gets tossed.”

“You kept this on your body all these years?” Sofita smiled.

“It’s the one place that’s safe from surprise inspection,” said Kilvx.

Sofita turned serious, “Is Orcinus monitored?”

“Portions of Connie are tapped,” Kilvx nodded. “Connie told me about the trackers Term Sabo covertly put in last year when she underwent inspection.”

Sofita grinned, “Connie admires you,”

“I suppose she does,” said Kilvx. “She says she’s willing to stream established feeds in the place of things we don’t want Orta to know about.”

 “My Ornith holds a similar loyalty,” Sofita said.

“It was unexpected,” Kilvx said. “Yuxi thinks it has something to do with Doctor Uym, but that’s crazy. She’s not the type to be mixed up with TermSabo,”

Sofita asked, “When did Fyla begin requisitioning Orcinus for her dives?”

“Beginning of last year,” Kilvx voice trailed off.

“Yuxi’s right, it’s not about finding these journals,” Sofita said. “It’s Ryo Uym keeping tabs on her bizakidoe,”

“What Fusada said about them,” Kilvx closed her eyes. “Tell me that’s not true,”

“Fyla is Ryo’s victim,” Sofita said. “Don’t forget that,”

“Kul, about Zixaswram,” Kilvx struggled to find the words.

“Zix was my only ally in Orta,” Sofita said. “She wasn’t in control on the fighting ice that day,”

Kilvx nodded and changed the subject, “After Fusada died, Yuxi contacted me and told me where the drive was and to get it,”

Sofita didn’t ask why Kilvx had been chosen. It was clear why every time Kilvx employed Fusada’s given name when speaking of her; no bruiser would willingly divulge a shared sexual intimacy.

“I got to Fusada’s room before Division showed up to collect her things,” said Kilvx. “We were all questioned about our journal logs.”

“Her Bivel was seized-”

“—seized after Yuxi purged all files, and information,” Kilvx lowered her voice. “Yuxi said Kul’s Bivel would be first thing CM Uym would come looking for.”

“Clever move on her part,”

“Kul,” Kilvx eyed Sofita’s hand, “There are some private things on there,”

“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Promad,” said Sofita.

“Fusada eventually shared him with me,” said Kilvx. “Jal Bos,”

Sofita put a hand on Kilvx’ shoulder, careful to keep her at arm’s length.

Marixi were like Zaxiri in that they interpreted physical contact differently from most citizens; non-combative contact with more than one hand was viewed as a sexual invitation.

“I think Jal bonded with Fusada like males do,” said Kilvx. “When Fusada didn’t come back, it crippled him.”

“I understood Jal to be damaged, before meeting Fusada,” Sofita said.

“How can you be so callous?” Kilvx snapped. “You know she saved him that first time when he was being raped. He ran away from her when she tried to help him up.”

Sofita wanted to explain she had no knowledge of Jal Bos.

“—Fusada said, my sib says male victims of violence remain in a combative state after altercations. He’ll come back when he feels safe enough to relax,” Kilvx did a decent an imitation of Fusada. “She said you served in Retred. You should know males weren’t damaged until we made them that way,”

“I never knew about ‘Foos and Jal,” Sofita said. “I agree with your sentiment, Kilvx, but I’m still getting to know you. I have to remain on my guard,”

“You didn’t kill Jal Bos,” Kilvx stepped to her. “Did you?”

“No, I did not,”

Kilvx smiled, “Yuxi didn’t think so, either.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When we heard about Jal’s termination, and we saw your name on file,” said Kilvx. “Yuxi said you couldn’t have done it because you were never a Dokomad.”

“This Yuxi is rather privy to my life,”

“Yuxi knows everything about everybody,” Kilvx ran her hand over her scalp. “If you didn’t take Jal to the Cavern of Death, then who did?”

“I never met Jalbos, until recently,” Sofita said.

Kilvx turned to her, “He’s alive?”

“Yuxi didn’t tell you?” Sofita said. “Jalbos is in ISO, where the Primary put him.”

Kilvx responded as if slapped, “Why wouldn’t she tell me?”


A knock on the Ornith’s hull startled Sofita.

“Who is it Orny?”

It is Doctor Fyla Uym.

Sofita had just undressed, “Let her in,”

The hatch opened, and Fyla entered.

“You should get back in uniform,”

“This was my plan,” said Sofita.

“I removed what was left of the bullet,” Fyla sat in a rear cabin chair and examined the floor for blood.

“Connie’s sword-team cleaned up,” Sofita said.

“When the swelling goes down,” Fyla’s eyes remained cautious. “Connie will enact repairs on the brain tissue.”

Sofita grabbed a fresh uniform.

“You look strange with muscles,” said Fyla.

“Kilvx claims Connie replaced footage of you treating Dox with something prerecorded.” Sofita pulled on her pants.

“Orta’s watching her?” Fyla asked.

“TermSabo’s watching her,” said Sofita.

Fyla cast a soulful glance, “I’m used to Ryo spying on me,”

“Kilvx isn’t used to it,” Sofita said.

“When did you talk to her?” Fyla demanded.

“When we went topside to talk about Fusada,” Sofita pulled on an undershirt. “I wasn’t riding the Promad in my Ornith while you were saving Dox’ life.”

“It’s none my business,” Fyla snapped.

Sofita countered, “Sounds like you want it to be,”

“I got the impression bruisers weren’t your thing,” Fyla said.

Sofita glared at her.

“What’s Fuzo’s status, Fyla?”

“She’ll have a permanent scar on her forehead, above the nose bridge,” Fyla said. “Like I said before, Connie will repair any brain damage using her own biomaterial,”

“Thank you,” said Sofita.

“I just checked Fuzo’s information in the Cit-Cat,” Fyla rose from the chair and stood to lean against the cabin door. “I found only her birther listed,”

Sofita pinched the bridge of her nose.

“When she gets back home and decides to go in for a skin patch,” Fyla said. “Oligax will search for her maker information.”

“I’m certain she’ll keep the scar,” Sofita said. “Bruisers think scars make them sexy,”

“If you kept Dox from me for this long,” said Fyla. “You must have a contingency for her wanting to visit the Cit-Cat,”

“Passive aggressive as always, Fyla,” Sofita said. “I kept you in the dark because I didn’t trust you,”

“I showed up at your tribunal,” Fyla exclaimed, “I saved your life, Sofita, after everything that you did, and my brother Orestes paid for!”

“You told Ryo where we were,” Sofita saw the shock on Fyla’s face. “You think I didn’t know about that? That I wouldn’t find out it was you that told her where to find us? Orestes paid for Orestes, not anything I did.”

“Ryo needed to find Nephis,”

“Don’t say that name to me!”

“I had no idea Orestes joined you and took him along-”

“—It’s in the past, Fyla!”

“Let’s talk shop,” Fyla nodded. “You requested tests at Holistics?”

“The Shell speaks to me,”

“It’s always done that, ‘Fita,”

“It’s speaking without being prompted to do so,”

“Doctor Gwo mentioned that there were issues,”

“You neglected to tell me that the Shell is capable of determinative evolution,” Sofita said, moving closer. “Why wouldn’t tell me about that, Doctor Uym?”

“Would it have mattered if I mentioned it, Komad Kul?”

“It’s in my body, Fyla!” Sofita calmed herself. “I need to know what the Shell is capable of at all times.”

“The Shell is a new construct, there’s nothing else out there like it, Sofita,” said Fyla. “I’m as in the dark as you are when it comes to any and all newly exhibited behaviors.”

“What happened the day Fusada ignited it?”

“She went out on the ice,” Fyla shrugged. “Just as you did and-”

“—No, her method differed from mine.”

“There was no outpouring of anger,” Fyla said. “The emotional response was just as strong, though,”

“You witnessed it, up close?”

“I was in the control room,” Fyla replied. “When she ignited it, I ran out to the ice to hug her because I was overcome with joy at our success,”

“You watched her force ignition,” Sofita said. “How did she do it?”

Fyla hesitated before answering, “I think she burned,”

“Explain that, please?” Sofita asked.

“Internal vision,” Fyla opened her arms. “You showed her how,”

Sofita recalled the delivery of her donation.

“Fusada took her mind to some experience and made it real,” Fyla said. “That’s what ignited the Shell.”

“I assure you Fyla, it was not a lesson I consciously shared,”

“Well, she learned it somewhere,”

“Fusada’s mind imprinted on the Shell’s consciousness,”

“You keep saying that, but-”

“—the Shell thinks it’s Fusada!”

“That’s impossible!”

“Have you spoken to it?”

“You know I can’t!” Fyla tossed her hair-tail back and paced in anger.

“Take these spheres out of me,” Sofita said. “Place one of them inside of you, Fyla,”

“I can’t do that,” Fyla said.

“You won’t do that,” Sofita accused. “If you did, it would ask you, in Fusada’s voice, why you didn’t tell it about the konkilitux.”

“Fusada was well aware of her condition,” Fyla said.

Sofita held up the thumb-drive, “Her journal notes that she inquired about her konkilitux blocking the Shell from entering her brain in the injector cloud.”

“Wait,” Fyla said as if woke. “It refers to itself as Fusada?”

“In conversations, yes,”

“That’s not an operative-energy mimic,”

“No, it is not!”

Fyla eagerly nodded, “We’ll run a diagnostic on its matrix,”

“What does that entail?”

Fyla twisted her hair around with her finger, “We pull the energy from the spheres and rejoin it to the prime-sphere.”

“It’ll have to wait until Dox recovers,” Sofita said, pulling on her boots.

 “How did you get Crixal to tell you where Dox was?” Fyla asked.

“Crixal is unaware of Dox,” said Sofita. “She still believes that Lekada killed her marixidoe,”

Fyla sat down with her mouth open.

“How’d you find her?”

“Does that matter?”

“Considering her kerma, I deserve to know.”

“Like I deserved to know about Jalbos,”

Fyla crossed her arms over her chest.

“That’s right, say nothing Fyla,” Sofita snapped.

“I don’t deserve any shit from you!” Fyla said.

“I became part of the College!” Sofita blurted.

“You can’t get into the College without a birther code?” Fyla stood. “Tell me Ilocux didn’t give you hers?”

“All that matters, is I found Fuzo after acquiring access to the Donational Placement Database,” said Sofita. “After her Final Trial, I made sure she was assigned to me, to protect her.”

“Reconciliation, and protecting your donation? You planned to ascend all along,” Fyla accused. “You made such a show of not caring.”

“It wasn’t a show,” Sofita said.

“I believed it!” Fyla cried.

 “I didn’t care about ascension, Fyla!”

“Then why keep her close?”

“I don’t know, I just needed to-”

“—you found Jalbos?”

“That donat of Fusada’s, it’s Jal’s?” Sofita saw the guilt in Fyla’s eyes. “How could you facilitate such a scheme?”

“Are you, serious right now?” Fyla glared. “After all that shit you pulled with Orestes, in Pikalit?”

Sofita nodded, “Why, Fyla?”

“Fusada threatened my life,”

“You mean Fusada threatened to collect Orestes,”

“What would you have done?”

“I would’ve come to me!”

“You?” Fyla shook her head. “You couldn’t even stand up to Ryo when they took my brother away from-”

“—Orestes went willingly!” Sofita cried, then took a breath. “Orestes nor Jal mean anything for either of us at this time, Fyla, so let’s end this discourse.”

“Fine, let’s return to our original discussion,” Fyla said. “I have a hard time believing anyone in the College just handed you a birther code.”

“I got pregnant, Fyla, I gave birth,” Sofita confessed as Fyla sat down, winded. “I stayed with a lover in Utama, I got implanted, and then I delivered in the second season.”

“Did you use the Banto Sealer?” Fyla asked.

“Most of the pregnancy,” Sofita said.

“The one you delivered,” Fyla asked. “Is she also my brothers?”

“Orestes was with the Primary by then,” Sofita said. “The story is outlandish, but why the shock and awe, Fyla?”

“Giving birth is extreme,” Fyla snapped. “Who’s the kerma of the one you bore?”

“A lover in Utama,” said Sofita.

“When you entered your code and gave Velto access to Sky-Syster,” Fyla sat beside Sofita, “You allowed Femtrux to recognize your place in the Ruling-Gen.”

“I never should’ve had a place in the Ruling-Gen,” Sofita said.

“Femtrux made her decision, and you’ve allowed her to quantify it,” Fyla said. “Fusa and Ryo will be looking for our heirs now, yours especially.”

“Velto and I thought about the ramifications,”

Fyla shook her head, “It’s as if you’ve lost control of your senses.”

“I’m very much in control Fyla,”

“From where I’m standing,” Fyla argued. “You’re completely out of it!”

Sofita grabbed the Bizak and pushed her against the wall, “Why didn’t you tell Fusada that the shell-injection module wouldn’t implant her due to her konkilitux?”

“It was a theory I had, but I was wrong!”

“You’re a liar,” Sofita released her. “You and I both know she used Bos’ merge stone to lure the energy in and once she got it there, it was useless!”

“What was done, was done-”

“—You should’ve removed the Shell energy!” Sofita cried.

“The underdeveloped lateral nuclei blocked adhesion, Sofita, yes!” Fyla said. “When the Shell-energy bypassed her brain and went into the spheres, I wanted to see what would happen next.”

“Was that before or after, she threatened Orestes?”

“Fine!” Fyla said. “I had no intention of ever telling Fusada!”

“May I ask why?” Sofita said.

“To punish her,” Fyla shook her head and pointed. “No, to punish you.”

“Ryo sent Orestes to my room to engage me while she watched,” Sofita stepped into her. “I took him out of there, Fyla, and away from her! I’m being punished for that?”

Fyla gnashed her teeth, “You took him because you wanted him!”

“What if I did?” Sofita demanded.

“It was bad enough you stepped into my place with Ryo-”

“—if want to argue appropriation of makers Fyla,” Sofita snapped, “You designed the Shell for Fusa. You became her little Mynu brainer!”

“Then you stepped in to save Orestes?” Fyla exclaimed. “I was going to do it, ‘Fita. Saving my brother was the reason I kept on breathing every day!”

Sofita fell into her chair.

“When the Primary wanted her armor, I jumped at the chance to be on the team,” Fyla said. “It was the fastest way to get out from under Ryo. I thought, if I could get the Femitokon to work, Ryo could keep nothing from me.”

Sofita eyed the Bizak, “You could save your brother,”

“As for Bos,” Fyla chuckled. “Fusada had me augment her patch with his DNA.”

“Whose makodonic patch did you use, Fyla?” Sofita asked. “I know it wasn’t Ilo’s?”

“It was Ilo’s, Sofita!” Fyla said.

“I asked Ilo!” Sofita countered. “Fyla, did you pull that same shit you did on Lax?”

“How dare you judge me!” Fyla said. “I’m damaged, Sofita, but you and Fusada are much worse!”

“Two kermadonic patches don’t make a donation, Fyla.” Sofita walked to her. “Don’t pollute the subject. Who’s the mako?”

Fyla turned away, “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“Bos is alive,” Sofita said. “I could ask him.”

“He’s in ISO,” Fyla stared at her, “Where Fusa put him.”

Sofita grabbed Fyla and pinned her to the floor.

“You knew Jal was alive!” Sofita snarled. “You’re working for Fusa!”

“I stayed friendly with that monster because it was the only way I could keep tabs on Orestes!” Fyla growled. “Remember him, Sofita?”

Sofita released her and stepped away.

“You call what you felt for him, love?” Fyla rose to her feet. “You’re a Kul, you don’t know how to love.”

Sofita punched the wall beside Fyla head.

“That’s right,” Fyla smiled. “Tear into me like the animal you are!”

“It would be wasted on you,” Sofita shook her head. “You’d love it,”

“When he told you, what Ryo wanted him to do with you,” Fyla said. “You should’ve just said no. That’s love, Sofita!”

“You’re right Fyla,” Sofita said. “I didn’t love him.”

Fyla glared, “You’re a liar.”

“What do you want from me, my makodux?” Sofita said. “It’s gone!”

Fyla cast her eyes down as if ashamed.

“My not loving Orestes,” Sofita said, “Cancels out what you did to Fusada.”

“What I did?” Fyla’s hands formed into fists.

“You knew Fusada would never make the Shell work,” said Sofita. “You knew it and said nothing because she walked away from you for a caste-off!”

Fyla stood there and adjusted her suit.

“I suppose, we’re equally reprehensible.”

Neither spoke for several minutes.

“I’m sorry Fyla,” said Sofita. “I’m sorry about everything.”

“Sofita,” Fyla whispered. “Orestes-”

“—I don’t want to talk about Orestes,” Sofita said. “He’s dead, let him rest.”

Komad, you have a call from Orta.

Orny’s male vox captured Fyla’s attention.

“Orta Main, or Divisional?” Sofita asked.

It is a Divisional communication from the Prime Chair.

“Is this the male Ornith?” Fyla’s asked.

Sofita nodded at her, “What’s the message?”

Orta Command pinged for my location approximately two hours ago. I responded that we are over the Malay Atoll.

“Good thinking Orny,” Sofita said.

Divisional orders are Femitokon Prime, you will rendezvous with the TCS Orcinus, under the command of Promad Kilvx, and receive your mission call.

Fyla began laughing.

TCS Orcinus
Kerguelen Plateau – Raxito`acarol
0700 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Bo Kilvx couldn’t wait to make landfall.

The mood of the crew lifted after Connie’s sonar retrieved a ping from the caryatids upon passing the flanks of the Kerguelen Plateau.

Like the Promad, they were restless.

Bo longed for some sex but wasn’t anticipating another encounter with the resident Zaxiri of her assigned Genbluz; having grown up with three Zaxiri sibs, she wasn’t fond of riding them.

Lovers outside of Orta was problematic; all a bruiser her age could hope to score outside of Zaxiri were hizzahs that wouldn’t mind her living mostly at sea.

On her last liberty in Toxis, Ryozjulo had suggested she requisition a Subak nurse. Bo considered it, until finding that most of the subs in Surface Operational were Eleventh Gen.

Bo wasn’t riding anything young enough to be her donat; also, bringing Subaki aboard would undoubtedly distract her crew.

After Doctor Uym’s first visit, Bo considered requesting Bizaki medics until her friends in command inadvertently convinced her otherwise.

Pitawex had regaled Bo with stories detailing the mild depravities prevalent on Arkelon’s where Bizak life-form handlers were free to fraternize with Marixi striker pilots. Deltadpolvix had once recounted a party aboard her Ark that aroused Bo as a citizen yet troubled her as a commanding officer.

“Promad,” her executive, a Tenth-Gen Komad named Luru Atix, stepped from the Communications array, “There’s a priority message from Divisional.”

“Let’s hear it,” said Bo.

Atix, a black and white hided bruise who looked like she was born wearing a Guardia uniform, shook her head, “It’s for your eyes only, Promad,”

“You have the chair, Komad,” Bo said.

In the corridor, Komad Kul fell in behind her, “My Ornith says there’s a message coming for me,”

“Communications Room,” said Bo.

Two doors down was a small office used for communication with Orta Main. Against the wall was a Promad’s desk and in the middle of the floor, a circular projection pad.

Bo sat at the desk, and Kul moved in behind her.

“Do you have to stand there, Kul?” Bo turned.

Kul brought her arms up, “What’s wrong, Promad?”

“I’m sorry,” Bo said. “I grew up with Zaxiri sibs, and they’d always stand right behind me, and do things to my head.”

Kul’s smile was oddly reminiscent of Fusada’s, but her menacing face made Bo uneasy.

“What’s wrong now, Promad?” Kul asked.

Before Bo could make something up, a projection of the Surface Operational logo materialized over the pad, followed by the kermatic voice of Pengon.

Incoming message from the office of Prime Chair Ikat.

Bo turned to Kul and whispered, “What happened to PC Zag?”

“I dare you to ask,” Kul said.

Promad Kilvx. Please acknowledge.

“Promad Bo Kilvx,” said Bo. “One-zero, eight-four-two, MX.”

The logo spun as it processed her identification.

 Komad Kul-

“—Komad Sofita Kul, PRY one-zero, zero-one, B.”

Komad Kul, there is no longer an alphanumeric on the end of your code.

Kul closed her eyes, “Yes, thank you Pengon.”

The logo vanished, replaced by the newly appointed Prime Chair of World Oceans, Gid Ikat. An aging brute with broad shoulders and a brown spotted yellow hide, Ikat’s broad angular face would crack if she ever smiled.

“Promad Kilvx,” Ikat said. “The Orcinus will retrieve Ambassador Po Das from Kermadec Base for an update in her service training.”

Das oversaw Aotearoa, and an update in service training was Orta-speak for a permanent recall.

“Komad Kul,” Ikat scowled. “You’re the only divisional agent within range so you’ll be carrying out a Sorority of Defense mission.”

Kul said, “I understand, Prime Chair.”

“Kul, without utilizing your Ornith, you’re to make landfall for a CIR-Eighty at the following coordinates…” Ikat’s coordinates were a day’s sail from the submerged ruins of Perth.

CIR stood for Classified Information Recovery, and the number eighty indicated the years between 2180-2190.

 “Komad Kul,” Ikat said. “You’re to destroy the information upon recovery, and then embark on a SOD Code Three at Finders Island.”

Code Three meant sabotage; Orta was taking out the Bass Plain Bridge.

“How much time do I have?” Kul asked.

“You have eight-hours before the quake,” said Ikat. “Twelve-hours before the wave.”

Towering beside Ikat was Primepromad Tyle Hibz. Commander of the Femitokon Division, the lean and long-faced Hibz’ gold and red stripped hide was going dull with age.

“Any more questions, Kul?” Hibz asked.

“No Primepromad Hibz,” said Kul.

“Komad,” Ikat snapped. “You failed to return after your insurrection with the soon to be former Ambassador to the Slavic Empire,”

“We all mourn the death of Citizen Cux,” Kul was curt. “As for my actions, I fulfilled a request of Rod’ntil put upon me by the Ambassador, as per the conditions noted in World Oceans Citizenry Rule Four.”

“You’re on thin ice now Kul,” Ikat said. “Watch you don’t fall through.”

“Noted Prime Chair, Kul out,” Kul saluted and then left the room.

Aotearoa was connected to Tasmania by the Tasman Connector, a Ramaxian built floating bridge that spanned fifteen-thousand-miles.

The Connector was anchored by tharspin cables to the seafloor of the Tasman Land Bridge, and it ended at the Tasmanian city of Crown Hobart.

Fifteen years ago, the United Tribes of Aotearoa took upon themselves to extend the coastal highway in Tasmania all the way up to Port Copeland. From there they built towering support structures that dotted the uninhabitable Fernaux Land Bridge.

The FLB was a strip of newly born land that formed from the explosion of twin post-impact volcanoes, one north of Finders Island, and the other south of Cape Barren.

Towers were erected next, along with cable supported decks; they dubbed their ambitious suspension bridge, the Bass Plain, and its span extended to the Australian coast at Wilson’s Tide.

The one-hundred fifty-mile bridge was a year shy of being ready for traffic; Bo knew this because Connie had been ordered to swim under its Clark Island span at least once a month for the past five years.

Bo caught up with Kul in the corridor.

“You think Aotearoa violated a trade agreement to build the Bass Plain?”

“CM Jyr offers them tharspin at a low cost, but only to maintain the Connector,” Kul replied over her shoulder. “If they’re using the surplus for the Bass Plain-”

“—Bass Plain Highway spans Tasmania, maybe the Tribes consider part of the Connector in their imports,” Bo said.

“Yes, joining one coast to the next with a paved highway built just one foot above ground level,” Kul laughed. “Does technically make it a part of the Connector,”

Bo tapped Kul on the shoulder, stopping her.

“Where’s PC Zag,” she whispered. “World Oceans can’t embark on a mission like this without the authority of the Chamber, or CM Jyr.”

Kul made a show of being impressed.

“I may be stuck floating out here,” said Bo. “But I keep up with Utama,”

“Ikat’s Prime Chair now, she’s booting the ice while it’s thin,” said Kul. “She’ll destroy the Bass Plain and offer it up to Fusa as a gift.”

“The Primary can blame it on Zag,” Bo nodded. “Justifying whatever she’s done to her already,”

“Ikat remains trusted in Fusa’s circle of fuckery,” said Kul.

Bo smiled and tapped the communication pin on her lapel, “Atix, begin Ambassadorial extraction protocol, and prepare for quick retrieval, we have a wave coming.”

“Promad?” the Komad said, “Connie’s long-range sensors detect no seismic activity.”

“Trust me, Atix,” Bo tapped her lapel.

Kul whispered, “Get clear of here before the wave hits.”

“I won’t abandon you the coast,” Bo spat.

Kul stepped into her, “Nothing must interfere with the life support systems on this ship,”

“I can drop the Donmat in Orta,” said Bo. “Then come back for-”

“—You keep my Donmat on board,” Kul said. “Until news home suggests Velto Wram’s cleared of any Chamber censure.”

“Wram’s going down, Kul,” said Bo. “If Ikat’s cracking ice then the Chamber’s going to do the same with Wram.”

“The Slavs killed Ilo,” Kul said. “Any move to take away Velto’s right to reenter politics will be met with Velto announcing her self-termination.”

“If Velto dies,” said Bo. “Lekada Wram loses her position,”

Kul nodded, “And Pitana Dag ascends faster than I planned,”

“This shit’s happening?” Bo said.

“I inherited Fusada’s destiny,” said Kul. “Long before her Shell,”

“You were faking,” Bo said. “Not giving a shit, all this time.”

“That’s not true, Kilvx,” Kul shook her head.

“You look me in the eyes and tell me that’s not true,” Bo demanded.

“Kilvx, when I encountered Jalbos, it woke something in the Shell,” Kul whispered. “It woke something Fusada left behind, I don’t know, and I don’t have time to explain. I didn’t plan on any of this, I swear it.”

Bo followed her into the Sword Shuttle Bay.

“Back when I was a Dokomad in the Fleet Promad Program, I’d been assigned as ranking oversight officer in a barracks full of Fleeters who’d failed to make rank,” she said. “Most of them were surface bears, all of them had a problem with authority.”

Kul slowed at the moonpool, eyeing the Sword-Crews.

“Not long after I was assigned, three Divisional Komadon from the SOD showed up, one of them was Fusada,” Bo said. “I was so proud that divisional chose my barracks to put them in, but I made the mistake of taking them to the habitation ring first. We got there in time to see two Fleeters assaulting a male. That male was Jalbos.”

“You oversaw the caste-offs?” Kul asked.

“I don’t like that word, Komad,” Bo furrowed her brow. “I know you’re Femitokon, but respectfully, I think that term, caste-off, is ugly.”

 Kul stripped down to her OA’s and prepared to dive.

“Jal and Fusada,” Bo’s heart ached. “They loved each other, Kul,”

Kul didn’t seem interested, “I’ll take to the water from here, Promad. I need to move if I want to make the projected coordinates, in the time allotted.”

“Can you swim it in this amount of time?” Bo asked.

“If the Shell is engaged, yes,” Kul suddenly embraced Bo and whispered in her ear. “The Donmat’s my only gen-heir, the only way I can ascend.”

Bo pulled back and stared into Kul’s eyes.

“Don’t wait for me, Kilvx,” said Kul. “Don’t put my donation in danger by taking her back home, not before I have allies in Utama.”

“You can count on me, Kul,” Bo tapped her arm. “Whatever you need.”

“Fyla’s watching us right now,” Kul spoke under her breath. “You’ve got her interest for some reason, so I want you to encourage it.”

Bo whispered back, “You think Ryo Uym will-”

“—Fyla’s her victim, Kilvx,” said Kul. “Victims are easily manipulated.”

Bo nodded and stepped back.

“Keep your head, Kul,”

Location Approximate
1130 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Unable to continue swimming on her own, Sofita sank below the surface and returned to that last day with Fusada in their paxicol.

“We can merge our souls with this, Sofita,”

“That won’t give you control of the Shell,”

Fusada touched a finger to her head.

“You’ve always been stronger than me, up here,”

“I’m no longer the Hizak I was, ‘Foos,  find someone else,”

“You look like shit, this mourning your makodux, Sofita, it’s getting deadly,” Fusada stood over her. “I found out you resigned from Mynu Administration after I saw that you sold that fancy high-rise in Pikalit.”

In the depths, Sofita clenched her fist and closed her eyes.

“We can’t do this, ‘Foos!”

Fusada held the stone in her fist.

“It’s the only way!”

Sofita paced the paxicol.

“You need to find another way.”

“Everything we’ve worked for is in reach ‘Fita!”

“Merge stones aren’t safe, I don’t even understand them!”

“I’ll be fine,” Fusada knelt. “I was born first, I was sired by a male-”

“—you’re not the free-birth, Fusada!”

The waters around Sofita began to bubble, and her body glowed as she cleared that day in the paxicol from her mind.

Tylehibz glared, “You can’t join these trials, you’re not Marixi!”

The Shell’s transition forced air from her lungs as flashes of Kin Balru holding a struggling marixidoe invaded her thoughts.

“I thought you loved me!” angry and confused, Kin Balru came between her and her Ornith. “I thought you loved us!”

The Femitokon tore through her flesh, turning it silver as it climbed her frame.

Taking a moment to settle her mind, Sofita activated the propulsion jets on her boots and then barreled through the blue before breaking the surface a mile west of the Tasman Sea.

A lone ship sped past, its deck filled with Maori elite; the upper classes had their shortwave radios to warn them of the impending wave.

Sofita powered down to avoid being seen and swam the final hour of her journey without the Shell.

The sound of horns and shouting led her to the coast where news of the approaching tsunami had bred chaos in the local marina.

A gasoline powered vehicle rolled onto a dock. Packed with too many passengers and goods, it collapsed the jetty, sending clothes and sacks of goods into the water. A gunshot rang out as many fought over what was left floating.

Sofita swam the shallows unobserved while boats fled the pier at fuel-burning speeds, toward the direction of the wave zone.

Hiding under a boarded dock, Sofita couldn’t power up without drawing attention; one helovx claiming to see a silver-skinned farc made her a legend, but hundreds making that claim made her a fact.

Climbing a slippery metal ladder led Sofita to a rickety shed. It had seen better days, but the words ‘Docking Yard Business Center’ was freshly painted on a piece of driftwood nailed above the door.

Inside, strewn papers covered the floor, and kicked over file cabinets cluttered all four corners. The cash register was overturned and picked clean.

Sofita peered out a broken front window.

Pulling a pair of stretchy long-range viewing goggles from under her uniform belt, she placed them on the bridge of her nose to see the harbor without its water. Tapping the right lens caused the seafloor to go dark, and the erratic sea life glow.

Hazy shaded sands stretched out for miles; her mission target lay buried beneath five feet of sediment.

Focusing on her collection point, there was a minor tidal shift just two miles past the coastal-water mark. The water started moving away from the shore at a glacier’s pace; this time of the afternoon the tide should’ve been coming in.

Somewhere out at sea, the fracture zone had finished trembling. It created a hiccup of shaken water that just entered the South Australian Basin, sucking up the coastal water while racing toward land.

Newly empowered, Ikat must’ve utilized Sky Sister to rock the planet’s mantle, to make a wave large enough to aid Orta in taking out the Bass Plain Bridge.

Mynu taught that there were two types of tsunamis.

The first, what Hizak seismologists called a donational-wave, developed at the onset of a seaquake and came in low with a forceful push of water that inundated the coastal plains.

Donational-waves were often singular; worst-case scenario, they ushered in kermatic-waves.

A kermatic-wave was what the helovx called a mega-tsunami, and they grew large enough to cause TCS and PAC life-form vessels to steer clear of their projected path.

Adjusting the goggles for a long-range scan revealed the decaying remains of the HMAS Rankin.  Stuck under decades of shifting oceanic soil, the Collins-Class submarine had been last reported leaving the city of New Perth on August 4, 2184.

Sofita thought of Ubolitx.

Then a Ninth-Gen Hizak with a promising career in Surface Operational, Litx made the mistake of falling in love with a helovx.

Realizing the error of her ways, she killed that helovx and scuttled the Rankin. Despite knowing Litx had self-terminated, then Primepromad Fusakul went on to use the Hizak as an excuse to commit genocide.

When the shack’s door slowly creaked open, Sofita slipped back behind it.

A narrow Caucasian man in a torn shirt and jeans appeared with a knife in his fist.

Taking hold of his wrist, Sofita swung him about and slammed his body into the wall.

The man rebounded quickly to find Sofita’s palm aimed at his face.

“Dun’kill me!” his accent was local.

A siren roared in the distance.

“Christ, that’s a seaquake alarm!” his accent made the word alarm sound like alam.

They stood on western coastal Tasmania; the siren had to have come from one of the larger settlements heading east.

When the man sprinted for the door, Sofita yanked him back his shirttail. Grasping his short, unkempt hair, she drove his head into the door.

Sofita studied the skinny man’s tight musculature while he lay unconscious. His pigment was typical of a dock worker, but his hair was too clean. Forcing open his mouth, Sofita found teeth too healthy for a Tasman.

The shack began to rumble. Outside, the fleeing tide exposed a gleaming bay floor that went on for miles. Sofita had to make the extraction point before the wave’s pulling force drained the entire harbor.

Closing her eyes, Sofita returned to that day in the Primary’s sitting room, after she’d challenged her kerma’s decision to deny her rank.

“You think you’re entitled to rank because you got Shell working?” Fusa demanded while Orestes kept his sad eyes averted. “You hizzah-fuck! I earned my rank! Fusada earned her rank!”

Orestes startled when Fusa kicked over the chair beside him.

“You deserve nothing because you’ve done nothing!”

Sofita remained silent, her eyes fixed on the stain glass panel on the wall.

“You fucking hizzah,” Fusa stepped into her view and glared down at her. “I’m going to approve Gizul’s recommendation that you cycle through Toob and Brood training. Do us a favor, Sofita, and get yourself killed before your Final-Trial.”

Rage burned within her now, eating up every ounce of disappointment and bitterness Sofita could muster.

Wordlessly, Sofita saluted and marched out.

“I should’ve killed you before you could walk!”

Energy exploded at her feet.

Ryo Uym waited in the hall.

“You’ll perform one year per month Sofita,” Ryo called after her. “The Division needs you, but it must also mind its Primary. Keep your head, as they say, it’s your one true asset.”

Sofita’s pain ignited the Femitokon Shell.

Shooting out of the window, she ripped its frame from the body of the shack and moved so fast that no one in the marina caught sight of her.

In seconds she arrived at her destination. Hovering above the water with the Shell’s optical filters powered up, she saw through the buried wreckage.

Maruk is located, said the Shell.

Sofita dropped into the water and aimed her palm. The pulse she sent into the dirt kicked up a blinding cloud; the haze cleared and revealed a fully intact portion of the Rankin submarine’s pressure hull.

Finger pointed, Sofita drew a circle in the hull with kyrs-energy. A gentle tap dislodged her design, and removing the metal disc, Sofita found her target; a dark round ball, resting securely in the calcified hands of the long-dead Ubo Litx.

Sofita ran an affectionate hand over the Hizak’s skull.

Litx did all right in the end.

Seizing the orb, Sofita broke free of the water. Soaring high, she fired a blast of energy down at the extraction point, destroying what remained of the wreckage and the petrified remains of Litx.

Back in the shack, Sofita powered down.

The man lay where she’d left him, out-cold.

Kneeling, she activated the maruk, and from it came a projection of Litx’s head and naked shoulders. The Hizak was covered in blood and bits of flesh. Music played somewhere behind her, a guitar twang and a gravelly voiced female singing about falling into a funnel of love.

The North American tune, from the mid-century era of the twentieth, proved an oddly appropriate ballad for Litx; deep into the funnel of love, she tried to run and hide, but she couldn’t, it was bound to get her, someday.

“I’m a fool. I’m a stupid, dangerous, fool. I’ve killed them all. It wasn’t hard for me,” said the playback. “I believe we Hizak are the only caste capable of murdering the way our Marixi sisters do, with no remorse or hesitation.

“When I cut the power, they panicked. They fear the dark, some of them have killed each other.”

Sofita pitied the administrator.

“Crush depth for this vessel is two-thousand feet,” she said on the playback. “I don’t have time to sail for deeper water. I’ll blast through to the ballast tank when we get nearer to the coast. The release of pressure should punch a hole in the seafloor big enough to dig our grave.”

Sofita closed her hand around the maruk.

“My apologies, Ramaxia-”

—the detonation took only a second; a resounding spark followed by a wisp of smoke.

Sofita stood and then turned in time to catch the oar coming for her head. Snatching it from the man’s hands, she snapped it in two like a twig.

When the man grabbed a small fish bat off the wall and came at her, Sofita ducked when he swung high and jumped when he swiped low.

Anticipating his coming for her midsection, she got her fingers around the club as it struck her stomach. Seizing it, she yanked it from his grasp and tossed it over her shoulder.

The man fled, tripping over the door’s threshold before setting out across the marina. In the distance was the only visible stretch of high ground, a boulder-lined bulkhead.

A deafening roar signaled the arrival of the donational-wave.

It washed over the exposed harbor floor with disoriented marine life churning within and atop its surface bobbed the corpse of a sidelined freighter. Like a jostled toy adrift in pooled water, the massive tanker drifted toward Sofita.

Searching for the man, Sofita spotted him still running for the bulkhead and realized he wasn’t going to make it. Catching up to him, she slipped an arm around his waist as the tanker gained.

Water rushed in over Sofita’s feet as she advanced, carrying the lanky man under her arm. Swinging him around, she grabbed an arm and a leg and hurled the screaming man skyward with all her might.

Water rushed her legs as she passed under him, and somewhere above the man hit solid ground with a holler. Unable to look back, the floating vessel cast a shadow over her path as it bore down on her position.

Arms and legs pumping hard, Sofita visualized another time and place.

Nine-year-old Fusada jogged alongside.

“You can beat their time! Prove to them you’re not just some Hizzah!”

Five young Marixi passed them, laughing at Fusada; they’d told her that Sofita was no match for them. “You’re not just a Hizzah, you’re my sib, and we’re better than them!”

Energy wound up Sofita’s legs, burning her hide as it coated her in silver.

Fusada ran after the young Marix that had mocked them and tackled her to the ground. The others joined in, piling atop Fusada, they ignored Sofita as she ran past.

The Shell fully ignited, Sofita jumped free of the waist-high water. Twisting midair with hands out, she fired a low-level Kyrs pulse, establishing a buffer between herself and the freighter.

The water swallowed her torso as the Shell kept her from going under. Just inches from her hands, the freighter pushed against the swirling bumper shield, straining its form.

Above her, the frightened man’s head appeared, peeking out over the tanker’s edge, he seemed mesmerized at the sight of the Femitokon, and the pulsating energy that seemed to hold the boat at bay.

Destroying the ship with a blast would kill him and put the Shell in the center of the suck zone.

Suddenly, the man flew over her in a running jump, and landed on-

—the bulkhead was now directly behind her, ready to crush her against the ship. Focusing energy into her arms, Sofita pushed with all her might and repelled the tanker only a few feet, enough for Sher to fly up and get free of it and the bulkhead.

Yards ahead, the man’s arms pumped frantic while moving water caught up to his feet.

Backflipping out before impact, Sofita hit the ground running as the tanker plowed noisily into the partition. Metal screamed as the nose of the tanker crushed on impact.

The land did not give, forcing the long tanker up and over, casting a long shadow over them as they fled.

Sofita kicked up speed and overtook his position. Scooping him up, she flew free of the upended ship just seconds before it splashed down.

The man soon lost consciousness from the force of her advance, and arriving at Port Copeland an hour later, Sofita deposited him safely atop a parking garage.

Kermadec Ridge – Raxito`acarol
TCS Orcinus
1430 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Fyla remained blameless in Fusada Kul’s death.

An hour after Fusada had been pronounced dead in her paxicol, Ryo demanded an autopsy; the burn on Fusada’s hand didn’t match the blast pattern on her mouth.

Fusada had suffered a complete neurological death leading to heart and lung failure, and the eventual shut-down of her major organs.

Concerned for the future of the Femitokon Project, Fyla had altered her findings to show that Fusada’s heart gave out first.

Ryo saw right through it.

Her kerma had assured Fyla that nothing would blow back on the Shell because Sofita had been shrewd enough to make Fusada’s death look like zish’tilgul; just another damn occasion for Ryo to be more impressed with Sofita, than Fyla.

Sofita wasn’t capable of murdering Fusada, or so Fyla had thought until the Hizak arrived not less than a year later, demanding to be implanted.  Fyla realized now she’d thoroughly underestimated Sofita when the troubled Hizak confessed to bearing a donation.

Fyla knew the trauma of gestation and birth.

Unwilling to dwell on her own past, Fyla instead thought of her maker, a Ninth-Gen bizzy named Tavi Ukel.

Tavi’s DNA had created Fyla and her brother Orestes a year to the day she’d been declared dead by zish’tilgul.

When young Fyla transitioned to Mynu from the Bizaki Citizenry Center, she’d taken advantage of her newfound freedom to log onto the interHive there.

Various users of the infamous Digger Hole had detailed her makers’ alleged involvement in the predator and prey community.

Young Fyla had even found an image of twenty-year-old Ryo, hair in a turban, naked beneath her robe, tossing a drink at someone snapping a freeze. Wrapped protectively in Ryo’s arm had been the blue-hided Tavi. Clinging to her master Ryo, she wore a seal-restraining collar around her bony hips.

The interHive contained a wealth of information on Tavi’s suicide. One article claimed that the Bizak had endured counseling throughout her life because of an abnormal desire for pain and domination.

While working in the offices of Ukel Systems, sixteen-year-old Tavi had entered willingly into the predator and prey scene. At age twenty, the demure Bizak came under the ownership of an advocate named Ryo Uym.

Ryo being the genetic inheritor of Opix Uym, no one in Line Ukel had questioned the affair, and the pair’s predator and prey relationship had remained a private embarrassment until Ryo ran for the Citizenry seat of Utama.

Ryo’s competitors flooded the media with reports of her abusing a willing Tavi. To save face, Line Ukel had filed a Citizenry-Restraint order against Ryo after a particularly vicious beating put Tavi in the hospital.

Testimony from the Guardia assigned stated that Tavi expressed a desire to leave Ryo. The victim, as they’d called Tavi, claimed that she didn’t want donations, and had communicated this decree in a way that had dissatisfied predator-Ryo.

Ryo had fought the order by arguing that the Guardia Committee had no right to exercise restraining orders against sexually involved citizens unless one of those citizens was the one filing.

Witnesses had also testified that Tavi Ukel was always a willing prey when it came to Ryo. The Zaxir sexually involved with Tavi claimed she had instigated the beating that night and had even asked for more.

The restraining writ vacated, Ryo had collected Tavi in the courtroom and escorted away from the members of Line Ukel right in front of the broadcast media.

A week later, and one year before the production of the Tenth Generation, Tavi Ukel took her own life at age twenty-four by jumping from Ryo’s high-rise balcony.

Oligax had destroyed Tavi’s patches; no damaged citizen could produce.

In an article retroactively banned by the Committee, Ryo had allegedly paid an unethical Prime Lab geneticist to harvest cells from the dead Bizak’s makodux before turning her body over the ramxkul in the Cavern.

Fyla had learned years later from that very geneticist that Tavi’s body was taken from the pavement where she’d fallen by Line Ukel before Ryo could claim it.

They’d privately endured the Ramxtikon only to have Ryo ascend to the Committee and then forcibly seize the teeth of the ramxkul from the Ukel estate.

The geneticist revealed that Ryo had possessed a wealth of Tavi’s DNA from her erotic room and from it ordered the donuxi made to be implanted into one Citrixhol.

Citrix Hol birthed Fyla and went missing after bearing Orestes.

The geneticist had confided that Citrix agreed to another implantation after Fyla because Ryo promised her bondship—the belly had genuinely loved Tavi, but when it came to Ryo, it had been purely a love for Ryo’s wealth.

One nasty legend on the Digger Hole told of how Ryo had held Citrix captive at the Uym estate until Orestes was born.

Ryo had told Fyla that Citrix died birthing him, yet Fyla was unable to find any record of the Zaxir having recycled.

Ryouym consumed everything she hungered for, including her donations.

Fyla’s first encounter with Ryo’s appetite occurred at age five. She’d come to Ryo’s private room and found some Bizak house servant with her face buried in Ryo’s gash.

Seeing Fyla at the door, Ryo had ordered her to join them; Fyla fled.

At age nine, the week Fyla departed for Pikalit to caste train, Ryo had brought her into that same private room and stripped her out of her bizarix tights. Standing before the mirror, Fyla had endured Ryo’s roaming hands until she couldn’t any longer.

Bringing her arms up to stop it, Ryo had slapped them down.

I made you.

Fyla had stared at Ryo’s reflection in the mirror. They shared the same eyes, lips, and nose, but when naked, her kerma didn’t have Fyla’s blue streaks. Being a donat, Fyla naively pointed this out.

Ryo had laughed and taken hold of Fyla’s narrow waist. Moving Fyla’s hips playfully she said, you know how icy you are, don’t you?

Ryo had whispered in her ear and moved her hands up and squeezed Fyla’s undeveloped fronts.

You’re exquisite, just like your mako.

Fyla had turned her head away, ashamed of the pleasure she felt.

Never look away from me.

Ryo’s fingers dug deep into her bony hips and petrified, Fyla stared back as ordered.

Never remove your gaze from anything that yours, Fyla. I lost sight of your mako, and they took her from me.

Two years after the first time Ryo had raped her, Fyla found her mako.

Tavi Ukel had considered herself damaged and wanted no part of propagating her genes; she’d feigned death to escape Ryo Uym.

Years would pass before the Bizak felt safe enough to approach young Fyla. The best advice Tavi gave had been telling Fyla the only defense against the Ryo’s of the world was to become powerful; power meant autonomy, and autonomy was protection.

“Doctor Uym?”

Bo Kilvx interrupted her meditative stretching.

Fyla unfurled and stood up.

“Long surgery tires me,”

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” Kilvx smiled, and left Fyla to look in on the Donmat.

“No trouble,” Fyla called.

Kilvx hid her chiseled physique within a Promad’s loose uniform, and those thick muscular thighs came from years of squat-thrusting Sword Fighters into their launch chutes. Her hide was a rich reticulation of dark gray webbing over a milieu of dull gold; Fyla imagined it was glorious underwater.

“I’m going back to the bridge,” Kilvx returned. “Let me know if anything changes,”

“Will do,” Fyla said, smiling.

Fyla disguised her attraction to Kilvx with benign indifference, but her desire for the Promad wasn’t born of her reputed lust for muscled bruisers.

After cloaking their patches in the Catalogue, Fyla had traced her blind makodonic patch to a design bin in Toxis. Scouring Oligax’ inventory assignments, Fyla had discovered her patch joined to the kermadonic patch of one Bo Kilvx.

When young Dox stirred, Fyla came in and checked her vitals.

“Can you hear me, Fuzo?”

She remains deeply sedated, Doctor Uym.

“Thank you, Connie,” Fyla whispered and stared at the dimpled temples; these were her brother Orestes’ eyes—and if she noticed it, so would her kerma, Ryo.

Young Fuzo being a Marix made it difficult for Fyla not to see Fusada in her; belonging to Sofita though, the twins’ similar traits were reflected.

House Kul prided themselves on those rich gray hides that made them look like white sharks beneath the water.

The Donmat’s dark sheen set her apart and made Sofita’s claim that Crixal Dox was only her carrier, suspect; that belly’s hide was black like volcanic sand.

Ozbi Tis had been the head nurse on duty at Vanda Prime ZHC the day Crixal had been wheeled into the birthing room. The Subak hadn’t anticipated the storm about to blow through her delivery ward.

Lekada Wram had invaded with a private physician and her own Cloister Guard.

Crixal had just delivered when the Hizak pushed Ozbi Tis aside and ordered the staff out of the room. Ozbi had countermanded her, ordering the staff to stay put, and reminded Lekada that she had no authority in any birthing center.

Lekada had reminded Ozbi Tis to mind her place before ordering her Guard to remove the screaming marixidoe and have it terminated. Crixal had begun screaming, so Lekada demanded her physician sedate her.

Ozbi followed the Cloister Guard out of the room and had snatched the marixidoe from her arms. Determined to follow Lekada’s command, the Guard chased Ozbi through the ward but lost her.

 Fos Tis had arrived and assured the Guard that the donat was terminated but to prepare for her sib filing a grievance with the Axyrn. The Guard had cared little if some subbie filed a complaint.

Fyla knew about the rescue of the mythical marixidoe, but she’d never imagined it was also Sofita’s. The ploy was rather ingenious; Crixal was the last belly Ryo would suspect of ever bearing a Kul heir.

Knowledge of Fuzo Dox’ existence gave Fyla a power over Sofita, one she always longed to for; she owed the Kul twins nothing and remained undecided as to which of them had hurt her more.

The Femitokon Shell had been Fyla’s whole world until Fusada came in and co-opted it. Fusada took Fyla as a lover and then tossed her aside after the spheres had been implanted. Sofita, however, had usurped Fyla’s position as a savior in her brother’s life, only to abandon him to Fusa.

Sofita’s leaving Mynu for Orta made Ryo’s efforts to transform her into Ryokul melt like ice into the sea. Ryo had expressed to Fyla that Sofita would undoubtedly cycle out due to her physical limitations, yet Sofita overcame all Orta had to throw at her.

Ryo’s frustration had delighted Fyla, but Sofita’s bringing the Shell to life was bittersweet.

Fyla had put Sofita through all the same neural tests as Fusada and found that Sofita’s amygdalae contained only a fraction of the non-functionality of Fusada’s.

“Connie?” Fyla asked.

Yes, Doctor Uym?

“I need a neuroimaging scan, Level-Five,” said Fyla. “I want to focus on the left and right amygdalae, to see if they’re identical,”

I have performed only eighty-seven of these tests, and in all of them, the right side is always more significant in this caste-designation.

Fyla pulled a long robe over her bizarix tights, “Some citizens are born with functional anomalies associated with abnormalities of the amygdalae.”

Yes, Doctor, gene-borne abnormalities of the amygdalae stem from the original subject Femitokon, and her sibling, Fusofitakil.

“You studied the genes of the original subjects?” Fyla asked as a grid appeared over the Donmat’s head.

I have an extensive and marixicentric database, Doctor Uym.

A band of yellow light crisscrossed Dox’ skull from neck to crown. The large inter-dimensional display of Dox’s brain filled the room and showed that young bruiser’s amygdalae were normal.

“Why lie to me, Sofita?” Fyla whispered.

Would you like to see the Donmat’s scans before I initiated repair?

“Repair?” Fyla asked.

Another image of the Donmat’s brain appeared showing that the left side of her amygdalae was severely undeveloped; just as they’d been in Fusada.

You see Doctor Uym, my patient’s amygdalae are now standard for her caste-designation.

Fyla sat down, “Yes, Connie, thank you.”

Is there something wrong, Doctor Uym.

“No, Connie,” Fyla smiled. “You did just fine,”

Connie had inadvertently eliminated the genetic condition of konkilitux by repairing the sufferer’s brain with her own neural tissue.

Is everything all right, Doctor Uym?

“Someday it will be, Connie,” Fyla sighed.

Logging this success would reveal Dox’ connection to the Kul’s, but Fyla would study the young Marix to see if the repair withstood the redesign.

“Doctor Uym,” Komad Atix appeared at her door. “Pardon my interruption, but we have a situation developing on the bridge.”

“Connie, delete findings, purge from active memory,” Fyla followed the tall Tenth-Gen out. “What’s going on?”

“We retrieved Ambassador Das,” Atix sighed.

Podas was a Ninth-Gen diplomat ingrained within the social circle of Tee Banto; as an OHA envoy she was known to condescend to those she felt were beneath her. On Base Kermadec, Po had been surrounded by disciplined Fleeters ordered to obey her every whim.

“She left her cabin against orders,” Atix spoke carefully; Fyla was a member of the Prime Lab, and not an Orta employed civilian “Now she’s on the bridge giving the Promad a hard time.”

 “A hard time?” Fyla laughed.

 Po Das’ voice carried out of the bridge.

“We must get back to Ramaxia now, Promad Kilvx!”

Kilvx remained relaxed in her chair, her eyes trained on the large forward screen and its footage of a growing kermatic-wave. Various scenes of mild coastal devastation caused by a donational-wave were playing out on the smaller screens around, the larger.

“Ambassador Das,” Fyla stepped up behind the Promad’s chair. “It’s been a few years, how are you?”

“Secondary Uym,” Po said. “Finally, someone with some sense.”

The crew looked to Kilvx and saw no reaction to the insult.

“We must abandon this portion of the ocean,” Po said to Fyla.

Fyla touched Bo’s shoulder, “That sounds reasonable,”

“Promad Kilvx,” Po glared down. “Refuses to do so!”

Fyla stepped to Po and gently took her arm.

“Perhaps her orders are such that she can’t go into detail about why she remains.”

Po pulled at her shirt-tail, “I’ve been briefed with information on this incident that none of you are allowed to know.”

“Ambassador Das,” Kilvx kept her voice steady. “You should get back to your cabin, so none of us run the risk of finding out what you know.”

Every Eleventh-Gen Marix on the bridge hardened her gaze.

“You must be thirsty, Po,” Fyla took the Hizak by the arm and led her from the bridge, “Let’s visit the commissary-”

“—I’ll not be taken from the room like a donat!” the Ninth-Gen Hizak broke free of Fyla out in the corridor.

A Komadon standing nearby moved in to take Po by force until Fyla put up her hand and smiled.

“You’re on board the Orcinus, Po,” Fyla whispered. “This ship and her crew see Promad Kilvx as their leader. You disrespecting their leader isn’t going over well.”

“Are you suggesting they’d harm an Ambassador?” Po demanded.

“I’m suggesting you stop telling their Promad what to do,” Fyla looked into her eyes. “You’re surrounded by Fleeters here, this is their world, not ours.”

Po’s expression softened.

“Now Promad Kilvx would never encourage such a thing as anyone bringing you harm,” said Fyla. “But why court hostility with her crew?”

“We cannot be this close to Tasmania, Secondary Uym,” Po said.

“The Orcinus is the fastest in the fleet,” Fyla walked Po back to her cabin. “It’s tracked the wave this far and will have us out of harm’s way before you can blink.”

Ambassador Das seemed content when deposited to her room. When Fyla returned to the bridge, the crew weren’t smiling.

“Secondary Uym?” teased Kilvx.

“I’m Second Chair of the Prime Lab,” Fyla shrugged.

Kilvx’ grin put her crew at ease, “Explains how you requisition my ship whenever it suits you,”

“Promad, may I call you Bo?” Fyla asked quietly. “I think I should be able to call you that by now,”

Kilvx stared up at her.

“Bo,” Fyla whispered, “We need to get clear of here,”

“I’m waiting for Kul,” Kilvx spat.

“I can appreciate that,” Fyla watched as Kilvx returned to ignoring her. “Look at me, please,”

Kilvx sighed, “Secondary Uym, please,”

“Did you just address me, dismissively?” Fyla snapped.

The crew turned from their monitors as Fyla marched off the bridge and they smiled when their concerned Promad jumped up to follow.

“Fyla, wait,” Kilvx followed her into the corridor.

“Bo, you don’t know Sofita,” Fyla said.

The Promad crossed her arms over her chest.

“I’d like to think I do.”

“Well you don’t,” Fyla turned, “There’s a reason Fusada couldn’t make the Shell work. She lacked a sense of self-preservation.”

Fyla hit a nerve by mentioning Fusada.

“Sofita will put the mission above all things,” Fyla said.

“If a soldier dies on a mission, then that’s a logical part of the mission,” Kilvx said. “That’s how a soldier operates,”

“Not Sofita, she has the sense to protect her own life,” Fyla stepped to Kilvx and whispered, “She knows what’s at stake and what her future means to our generation.”

Kilvx looked past Fyla for eavesdroppers before leading Fyla into her office.

“She’s smarter than a bruise,” Fyla said. “But braver than a brain.”

Kilvx nodded, “You’re right, Doctor Uym, but-”

“—Fyla,” she said. “We agreed on first names,”

“When did we do that?” Kilvx asked.

“We must get out of here now, Bo,” Fyla said. “We run the risk of being monitored by Aotearoan emergency ships and the Chinasian media covering the wave.”

“I’m aware of this, and we’re swimming deep,” Kilvx said, closing her office door.

“If we remain here and we’re seen, we’ll have to explain why,” Fyla said. “World Oceans has enough on their plate right now with this Slavic Empire thing.”

“I can’t just leave Kul behind,” Kilvx said.

“She’s our Primary, Bo!” Fyla grabbed both Kilvx’ shoulders. “I know it’s hard for you, it goes against everything you’ve ever been taught, but please, getting away from here, it’s the smart thing to do right now.”

Kilvx’ eyes lingered on Fyla’s hands, still on her shoulders, “Why are you touching me, Doctor Uym?”

Fyla lowered her hands, “I’m trying to get my point across,”

“Your point?” Kilvx remained calm.

Fyla cleared her throat, “Don’t get the wrong idea, Promad.”

“I did, for a second,” Kilvx said, smiling.

“As if I could ever score a Promad as icy as you,” Fyla smiled, and rolling her eyes, she exited the office.

Back on the bridge, Fyla stepped aside to allow the Marix room to pass and felt the Promad’s eyes do an inventory of her body before returning to her chair.

“Komad Atix, take us out of here,” Kilvx said. “Run silent, until I say otherwise.”

Bass Plain Bridge
Cape Portland – Tasmania
1450 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

From her position beneath a stiffening girder, Sofita appreciated the ingenuity of the bridge’s design.

The Maori natives had paid attention when Bizaki engineers were building their floating Connector, but this structure exceeded any helovx design capability.

A massive bridge, it extended into the horizon with dozens of towers holding up a winding road that was suspended by thick stayed cables.

The sole purpose of it was to repopulate Australia, and the last thing World Oceans wanted was for helovx to discover Kulixa Station, the Ramaxian Interstellar Organization’s prime launch center.

Engaging the Shell’s optical filters, Sofita scanned the underside of the stiffening girders and saw why it felt so familiar; the Bass Plain was a smaller version of the Erebus Gate.

Built by the True Generation, the Erebus was a majestic series of suspension bridges that joined the long-abandoned geothermal stations along the coastal Trans-Antarctic Mountains.

The Erebus had withstood dozens of earthquakes and a massive polar-tsunami just a decade after its construction.

Could they have gotten the Erebus plans?

Sofita closed her eyes, “Those diagrams are Second Gen,”

We limit what we share, I know, but the Gate’s blueprints are posted on the interHive. Does Aotearoa have access to an internet?

Sofita adjusted the Shell’s internal scanners and aimed them at the cables hook-platforms. Woven into each steel suspension cable was tharspin; this bridge would withstand the push-up force of any mega-wave.

“These cables are designed to restrict horizontal movement between the bridge-column and the surface deck.”

What does that mean?

“No matter how strong a tsunami’s pull against the downstream side of the bridge, the enforced slabs on the upstream side will hold against the initial force of the wave.”

There’s too much tharspin here, Komad.

The Shell was right; CM Rasa Jyr wouldn’t allow any helovx-nation access to the amount of tharspin used here.

Sofita closed her eyes and ordered the Shell to contact the Tharspaxi Consortium’s central terminal in Pikalit.

The friendly voice of subhive Coligon greeted her, Femitokon Prime, welcome.

“Tharspin license check, Aotearoa, Bass Plain Bridge.”

There is no license for any project by that name.

“Index the registration for Aotearoa, Connector.”

The Aotearoa Connector contains a total of eighteen thousand cubic tons of tharspaxi, license numbers in order by date of application are-

“—index registration for Aotearoa Connector, parse all sublicenses and check for extension materials for projects titled Bass Plain, Plain, Bass Plain Connector, Tasmania, Tasman, or Australia.”

One moment, please.

There are no registered licenses for any project within those named parameters.

“Connect to Calsotax, clearance code PRY one-zero-zero-one.”

The Shell’s Collective-Interface came to life and surrounded Sofita’s head in a sphere of light.

Suddenly, the casual drawl of hive Calsotax invaded the bubble.

It has been a long time, Sofitakul.

“Thank you for speaking to me, Calsotax,” said Sofita.

How is life in the world of Pentox?

“I’m currently on a mission,” Sofita said. “I’m looking for raw tharspaxi sold outside the Consortium’s official export database.”

I understand, Komad Kul.

No licenses were issued outside the Tharspaxi Consortium’s export season for the helovx-nation of Aotearoa.

I have parsed licenses for repair materials relating to Project, Aotearoa Connector. There are eight delivery markers within the date range of 2200 to 2228.

“Thank you Calsotax.”

You have an incoming request from Orta.

“Patch it through, please,”

Affirmative, and keep your head, Komad Kul.

Sofita grinned as the sphere around her head pulsed followed by the cold robotic voice of subhive Pengon.

Komad Kul. Assignment Classified Information Recovery Eight-Zero. Please report.

Pentox sent subhive Pengon because as the main hive she was keen on plausible deniability and wanted no logged involvement on this mission, or she remained justifiably annoyed at Sofita for allowing Velto Wram to commandeer Sky Sister.

“Command Clearance, code PRY-one-zero-zero-one, Komad Kul, Division Femitokon. Reporting CIR Eighty is complete, uploading playback.”

Thank you Komad Kul.

“Command Clearance, code PRY-one-zero-zero-one, Komad Kul, Division Femitokon. SOD Code Three confirmed.”

Confirmed and authorized, please report.

“Violation Helovx Code Twelve, uploading scans.”

Thank you Komad Kul.

Please wait as I process these scans.

The beep indicated a connection to the mighty Pentox; not one for verbal communication, the hive’s words appeared as floating text.





“Pentox, confirm, Sofitakul, Komad, Femitokon Division.”




Sofita attempted to reestablished contact but failed.

Pentox is done talking, so Pengon has left the building.

“You’ve convinced the hives that you’re Fusada,” Sofita shook her head in frustration.

I don’t speak with the hives, I speak only with my host.

Sofita held up her hand, and a ball of energy appeared above it. Tapping the holographic pad now on her arm, she guided the ball away from her.

“Removal Protocol, engaged,”

The suspended energy ball grew larger.

“Estimated time of removal?”

You have 55 minutes, 28 seconds, 27 seconds, 26 seconds-

“—thank you!” Sofita snapped, then stared out at sea. “Estimated time kermatic-wave will hit thirty-nine degrees eight, south?”

Kermatic Wave will engage our position in 58 minutes, 48 seconds, 47 seconds 46-

Sofita willed the Shell silent and cleared holographic panel by wiping it from her arm. The energy ball followed her as she climbed up through the rafters and onto a support tower.

From the top of the tower, Sofita saw the masses fleeing Tasmania.

Everyone one of these fucking idiots will die.

The highway southbound to Crown Hobart was no safer; a kermatic wave would surely bring the Tasman Sea into the canals and swamps that dominated the coastal plains.

Higher ground was the lure of Australia.

Unfortunately, no tarmac existed on the deck’s quarter end portion; that part of the Bass Plain remained unpaved.

The Shell’s long-range view closed in on some jammed traffic at the midpoint; there were no lane markers on the road and swerving vehicles hammered each other while others careened off the side.

“You zoned out on me when we boarded the Orcinus.”

Let’s eat some tharspin, Komad.

Sofita aimed her hand at the glowing ball of rotting agent, pushing it at one of the pylons. Colliding with the metal, it bled through and began eating its tharspin; it would eventually make its way to the Bass Plain’s anchorage blocks just in time for the wave’s arrival.

“Tell me about Kilvx,”

Focus on the mission, Komad.

Sofita smiled and powered down out of spite.

Running up the suspender cables, Sofita left behind the blaring horns and screaming, only to traverse the tower-point and slide her way back down to the noise.

Climbing and falling, she eventually reached the mayhem of the midway point.

“Hello there, brown-eyes,” Sofita held no concept of the color brown, but she’d seen it used on an identification card to describe the eyes of a woman she’d killed in the African Trisect; her eyes matched those of the man she’d left on the other side of Port Copeland.

Brown-Eyes moved with ease through the glut of cars on a motorbike.

A larger man jumped from his stalled truck and attempted to knock Brown-Eyes off the bike. Brown-Eyes lifted his leg and with precision kicked the larger man’s chin, snapping his head back and breaking his neck.

Brown-Eyes then moved on as if nothing happened.

Despite the absence of blacktop, he kept moving and ignored terrified onlookers with no way of getting their four-wheeled automobiles any further. He advanced over the squared webbing of struts as the weight of his bike caused the rebar holding them together to sag.

Sofita slid down the suspension cable, keeping pace with Brown-Eyes and staying well ahead of the rotting agent; the solvent wouldn’t catch up with her until she was in sight of the Australian coast.

Just four miles from land, Brown-Eyes hit a snag. The dozens of helovx that had abandoned their cars back at the mid-point were now crawling slowly over the narrow tresses on foot, blocking his bike’s path.

A few of them struggled for balance while stepping gingerly atop thin metal beams. Some tipped off every few feet, and when one fell, others followed.

The determined ones didn’t care if they made someone else fall because they intended to reach Australia at all costs; these were the most dangerous, and Brown-Eyes knew it.

A siren shrieked in the distance.

They all paused to listen before collecting their senses. Like frightened animals, the number of determined increased, and frantically took out the unbalanced.

Brown-Eyes moved his bike to the far side of the bridge and peered over the edge. His reaction gave Sofita pause to do the same; the waters of the Tasman Sea were rapidly rushing past.

Brown-Eyes idled up to a foot-wide edging on the bridge’s surface deck and started guiding his bike over a thin metal rafter that was barely the width of his wheels.

Sofita leaped down and landed on the back portion of his seat. The bike tilted, almost sending them over the side until Sofita’s boot caught an opposite beam.

Once balanced, her hand found his throat, “You know what a digger can do to a human neck?”

“Please, dun’kill me!” his thick accent begged.

“Drop the bullshit,” Sofita said. “You’re no local brown eyes,”

“I’m a policeman,” he choked out. “I was undercover at the marina. In the boathouse, I thought you were a looter.”

“Move ahead and stay as straight as you can,” Sofita’s lips found his ear. “Don’t watch your wheels it’ll just fuck with your perception.”

Brown-Eyes swallowed hard before doing as he was told. Moving steadily forward, they made enough progress to see the high cliffs of Australia’s coast in the distance.

The bike swerved when Brown-Eyes encountered some children crawling their way over the narrow beams.

“Focus brown-eyes!” her voice got his attention. “Don’t worry about them!”

 Nearing the end of the bridge’s deck, they came across gangs of helovx fleeing the Australian side. All were on bikes just like Brown-Eyes, each desperate to make it across to Tasmania.

Sofita moved her hand from his neck and aimed her palm. Firing pulses of electromagnetic radiation, each bike fell from the bridge, taking their operator with them.

“Stop it!” Brown-Eyes yelled.

Sofita returned her hand to his neck just as the platform beneath them abruptly lurched.

Glancing back, Sofita saw the middle of the bridge collapse and the surface deck fall from view like a pulled thread.

Hooking an arm around his waist, Sofita reached up and grabbed a suspension cable just as the ground under them fell away, taking the bike into the mist below.

Sofita struggled to hold on as the tower above began to buckle; the rotting agent had caught up. The tower foundation in the rock below was concrete and judging the distance, it was less than a mile down.

Multiple car lights flashed in the torrent of the outgoing sea, and within that bedlam danced hundreds of punch-drunk sharks.

The water sloshed the large fish about, driving them against floating vehicles. Taking bites where they could, they sank their teeth into each other and into the drowned bodies that flailed among them.

A set of lights remained stationary; a car wedged between two high rocks.

Taking a breath, Sofita released the cable, while Brown-Eyes emitted an ear-piercing scream as they fell.

Wrapping her body around him, she forced them into a ball determined to hit the vehicle first; human spinal columns were fragile and a broken back often meant death.

Landing hard on the hood of the car, Sofita deftly rolled onto her knees and shaking off the pain, she tucked Brown-Eyes under her as the fast-moving water roared around them.

Screams filled the air as massive portions of the bridge rained down from above and threatened to dislodge the vehicle.

A writhing tiger shark slammed into the car, clamping its jaw down upon a portion of the roof for support. When Sofita brought her fist down onto its snout, she noticed Brown-Eyes hadn’t screamed.

Turning him over she found him unresponsive.

Barely feeling a pulse, she pinched his nose shut, tilted his neck back and forced her breath into his mouth. After a few moments of compressing his chest and breathing air into him, Brown-Eyes’ cold, slick lips came to life.

Sofita turned him over so he could vomit up air.

“What the hell are you doing,” he screamed. “What’s going on?”

Another shark plowed into them with jaws open, and its serrated teeth dragged noisily over the metal skin of the car as it passed.

Brown-Eyes shrieked and climbed onto her shoulders.

Sofita kicked out instinctively, landing a blow to its snout with her boot.

Falling into a stew of dazed sharks, it was blindly attacked; frenzied tiger sharks were more dangerous than an armed helovx.

“If we can get to the rocks on the shore,” Brown-Eyes panted in her ear. “We can climb our way up to the top.”

“Are you going to swim through that wall of sharks?” Sofita tilted her head back and touched her cheek to his, she felt his pulse surprisingly steady and calm.

“I thought you lot and sharks, have some sort of understanding?” Brown-Eyes’ voice was unnervingly calm.

“That’s mythology, Brown-Eyes,” Sofita said. “I can outswim a shark, though, can you?”

“Don’t leave me here, Christ!” he clutched the front of her uniform, pinching the side of her fronts. While it annoyed her, she remembered that playing the part of a Marix required a reaction; just swiping at a bruiser’s suzsch made them wince.

Sofita pushed at him for effect.

 “Sorry,” he said. “I forgot those are your-”

“—do not say balls, brown-eyes!” she snapped. “They’re not testicles.”

Sofita needed to activate just a portion of the Shell without going full-throttle and igniting it fully. The Shell started on its own when the tanker nearly killed her earlier; she just needed time to meditate and make contact, to ask about focusing its ignition-

—Sofita raised her arm and concentrated on it

Closing her eyes, she returned to a day at the docking bay pool in Orta when she was seven. Fusada had boasted she could outswim the four marixidoe that loitered nearby.

Sofita coasted well ahead of the Marixi, stroking hard toward the finish, she needed to prove that her sibling was right.

On the platform, Fusada’s cheers brought a crowd of elder Marix.

Keeping her emotions in check, Sofita blocked out the cries for help around her, and as the vehicle was hammered by the rapids, she felt Brown-Eyes release her.

Standing among them was the Prime Chair, Uli Zag.

“What’s happening to you,” Brown-Eyes whispered. “You’re burning up,”

Sofita touched the end of the pool and brought her head above water, knowing from the cheers that she was victorious. Fusada wasn’t smiling, though. Running toward Sofita, she was ready to fight.

Sofita concentrated on her arm, and nothing else.

A hand came down on Sofita’s head.

Dunked under, she looked up through the murk and saw Fusa above the water grinning down at her manically, keeping her under as she struggled.

 Fusada appeared at Fusa’s shoulder having jumped upon Fusa back. The monstrous Marix just pulled Fusada into a headlock.

Sofita stopped moving and remained still until Fusa thought it safe enough to ease up and release Fusada. Sofita made for the bottom, but she was too slow; Fusa got hold of her hair and held her tight.

“What’s happening!” Brown-Eyes shouted out.

Sofita growled in pain as her arm turned smooth and morphed into a long blade. Her bones trembled, and the heat in her shoulders died down when the metal ceased just past her bicep.

Rising to her feet, she leaned over the edge of the vehicle.

“Don’t taunt them,” said Brown-Eyes. “There’s no time for farc posturing!”

A sizable shark rushed toward the vehicle, and Sofita stuck it violently through the head. The blade pulsed, driving deeper into the beast. When fully impaled, Sofita hauled the flailing fish from the water and slammed it down onto the car.

“What’re you bloody doing?” he screamed as the shark’s tail nearly knocked him into the water. “There’s barely enough room for us up here!”

Sofita pierced the beast in just the right place, killing it, and when the blade disappeared, her arm reemerged. Sitting down with legs spread, Sofita fixed a bootheel deep into each side of its gills, and then put her hand to his nose.

Blasting a hole in it, Sofita pulled its torn nose open wide. Thrusting a hand into its jaws, she blasted another hole up into its hyoid, then reached in with both hands and grabbed the underside of the wound.

Sofita pulled with all her might, anchoring her boots for leverage. After dislodged the jaws with a resounded pop, she slid them out and hurled them into the water.

“What the hell are you thinking?” Brown-Eyes shouted.

“We’re getting inside and rolling into the water,” said Sofita. “The sharks will attack the carcass, and their attacks will drive us to the rocks.”

Brown-Eyes shook his head, “What’s to stop them from getting to us before we make the rocks?”

“That’s a non-issue, get in,” Sofita said.

“No!” he replied.

Sofita knelt and pointed.

“I’m in no mood for a willful male.”

Fack you!” he cried and tried to punch her in the face.

Sofita jabbed him in the forehead with a fist, rendering him unconscious.

Holding him tight, she shimmied boots first into the shark’s mouth until they were snug inside and her head was clear of its broken maw.

Rocking the beast, Sofita rolled them off the car.

Water rushed in, and as the other sharks attacked, they were jostled up and out of the water.

Through its torn mouth the rocks came closer.

Suddenly, they hit dead weight.

Fusa’s hand was gone, but Sofita was too exhausted to make the surface.

Strong hands slipped into her armpits and pulled her from the water.

Fusada struggled in Fusa’s arms. Her little feet high off the ground, she kicked and punched at her laughing kerma.

Searing heat transformed Sofita’s arm into a blade once more. A punch out and slice down freed them from the shark’s carcass. Frenzied sharks clouded the water with fleshy debris. Clamping the man between her thighs, she stroked her way toward the surface.

‘You could’ve killed her Kul!’ Zag pulled Sofita from the water and held her tight.

Breaking the surf, Sofita filled her lungs with air before a sudden tow pulled her and the man back under.

Fusa’s laughter rippled through the pool room.

‘She’ll live Zag, that little hizzah fuck always lives.’

Sofita pushed her arms out and struggled against the pull of the ocean. Air on her face, she pulled herself onto a rock. Dragging him out with her as the water moved with an intense power, taking the sharks out with it as it lifted away to expose the seafloor.

Tears ran down Fusada’s face.

‘Don’t you cry,” Zag whispered. ‘Don’t you ever let her see you cry.’

A massive wall of water emerged, high enough to block the day.

‘Walk over there to that shuttle,’ Zag stood Sofita up. ‘Don’t even look at her, don’t let her know she hurt you, never show her that.’

Sofita screamed out as a flash of white burst forth at her feet. Coating her in silver as it spiraled to her head, Sofita took Brown-Eyes by the belt and soared skyward. Upon the crown of a massive cliff, Sofita sailed over the precipice and tossed him onto the ground.

The kermatic-wave tore through the canyon, its crest just inches from her boots, its thick mass swallowed everything in its path, wiping the canyon clean like a rag across a tabletop.

A portion of its crest spilled over the cliff and rushed into the flat, but the woken man couldn’t run; he fell to his knees, mesmerized by its majesty.

Sofita landed beside him and taking hold of his hair, she pulled him into position behind her legs. Arm raised against the oncoming flow, the Shell surrounded them with a protective province, forcing the water away from them as it crawled over the highlands.

The sphere rose out of the torrential path and when Sofita snapped her fingers, the bubble burst.

Falling, Brown-Eyes howled out.

Sofita paused to watch the waters engulf the grasslands before swooping down with seconds to spare and collecting the man before he hit the water.

TCS Orcinus
Perth Basin – Raxito`acarol
2020 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Fuzo opened her eyes and saw the barrel of a gun. A spark of heat, a pinch of pain, then darkness and the sound of a crying Zaxir.

You are going to be okay, Fuzo.

Eyes open again, Fuzo saw only light.

“Dox?” Vek Wog stood over her, smiling. “I think she’s awake, Ubil!”

Donmat R’il Zex appeared and next to her were fleeters Pelarag Xan and Pibo Kalig. Fuzo hadn’t seen any of them since her brood years, except for Wog, who she’d last seen in Holy Cross.

“Are we in Holy Cross?” Fuzo whispered.

“No Dox!” Wog laughed.

“You’re on board the Orcinus,” said Zex.

Wog and Zex donned uniforms denoting their specific stations, while Xan and Kalig were clad in fleeter black.

“They’ve been coming here every day during my shift,” Pita Ubil wore the gray and blue uniform of a medic. “Just in case you woke up, Dox.”

Xan chimed in, “We wanted you to wake up with friends.”

“Shot between the poles,” said Zex. “That’s badass, Dox!”

Xan added, “That scar’s going to be wicked icy.”

Zex stopped smiling and stood at attention.

“Promad Kilvx in the room!”

All came to attention around Dox’s bed.

“Stand easy Donmat, enlisted,” Kilvx said as she entered.

Stained on the Tenth-Gen’s head were stalks of colorless seaweed and there were bubbles of air over her brow and along her neck.

“Donmat Dox,” said Kilvx. “Welcome back.”

Fuzo said, “Thank you, Promad.”

A Tenth-Gen bizzy in blue filed in after the Promad; it was Doctor Uym from Femitokon Holistics.

“I appreciate that you’re all happy to see the Donmat awake,” said Uym. “But I need privacy, please. Dokomad Ubil, you’ll remain with me.”

Ubil said, “Yes, Doctor Uym.”

What was Doctor Uym doing aboard the Orcinus?

Doctor Fyla Uym was partaking in a diving excursion when called to duty.

Fuzo sat up, startled by the makodonic voice in her head,

“What’s wrong Donmat?” Uym asked.

“Did you hear that?” Fuzo demanded.

Ubil said, “I didn’t hear anything.”

“Is her head okay?” Kilvx whispered to Uym.

“It’s Connie,” Uym smiled, and then eyed the wall over Fuzo’s head, “Connie, I need you to enact disengagement-protocol, gamma-four.”

Connie’s voice, the same one in Fuzo’s head, filled the room.

Doctor Uym, Protocol-Gamma-Four would disengage psionic-synaptic contact with my Citizen.

“Aw Connie,” said Ubil. “You don’t have a Citizen.”

That is your opinion, Dokomad Ubil.

Kilvx laughed aloud at this.

“Connie, I’m sorry to ask such a delicate thing of you,” Uym said, “I know what I’m asking of you is very difficult, but you must understand that for the patient to utilize her new tissue growth, she must make it her own.”

After a long pause, Connie said, I understand, Doctor Uym.

Fuzo felt a sudden, painful, pressure in her sinuses.

Ceasing all synaptic contact with the implanted cells. DisengagementProtocol-Gamma-Four enacted.

Uym looked down at her, “Got a headache?”

“You could say that,” Fuzo grimaced.

“Connie’s no longer stopping the pain,” said Uym. “Let’s give you a sedative so you can sleep it off.”

“I’ve been hearing her, in my sleep,” Fuzo winced.

“You won’t anymore,” Ubil said, checking Fuzo’s vitals.

“She feels responsible for you,” Uym added.

“Thank you, Connie,” Fuzo said.

For what Citizen Dox?

“For saving my life,” Fuzo said.

It is my duty, but I appreciate your sentiment.

The pain in her head was overwhelming when she tried to lay back down.

“Easy, Dox,” Ubil put another pillow behind her head.

“You got your head stained,” said Fuzo.

Dokomad Ubil had stained her bald scalp with a black and red doily-like pattern, with a light blue center to brag of her position in Orta medical.

“It’s been a long time since you’ve seen me,” said Ubil, “I got bonded, too,”

“You’re not even twenty yet,” Fuzo said.

“Remember that Bizak that made us drinks at the Kordat during Orta Attack?” Ubil asked.

Fuzo closed her eyes and nodded, “I remember her,”

“We hooked up,” Ubil said. “We bonded to a belly,”

“A belly from the Kordat?” Fuzo asked.

“No, a Tenth-Gen, we met her when I was on leave in Pikalit,” as Ubil explained, Fuzo noticed Promad Kilvx and Doctor Uym look to one another in shock; the Komad told her once that most Tenth frowned upon riding younger or older citizens.

Fuzo looked around, “Where’s the Komad?”

Doctor Uym became anxious, “Sofita is-”

“—she was called out on a mission Donmat,” Kilvx said.

“A mission?” Fuzo said. “This soon after extracting Ambassador Wram? Wait, where is Ambassador Wram and citizen Cux?”

“I need you to relax,” Uym hovered over her.

“You don’t understand,” Fuzo cried. “The Slavs have energy weapons!”

Kilvx stepped in, “Stand down, Donmat!”

Fuzo glanced around the room.

“You’re aboard the Orcinus, and the Slavs were dealt with,” Kilvx added.

“Sofita’s on her way back,” Uym said, quickly. “We’ll be rendezvousing with her when you’re feeling up to it.”

“It’s nothing to worry about Donmat,” said Ubil.

Fuzo tried to sit up again, “Citizen Cux!”

“Hey, lay down,” Uym ordered.

Fuzo demanded, “Where’s Citizen Cux?”

“She’s been taken back to Ramaxia,” Uym said.

Ubil glanced warily at the Doctor.

Kilvx stepped in then and leaned over Fuzo, “Citizen Cux succumbed to her injuries, Donmat,”

Fuzo lost her voice, “What?”

“You were shot protecting her life,” Kilvx said, stern. “Ambassador Wram wanted me to thank you for your service.”

Fuzo’s eyes watered up, “They weren’t supposed to have energy weapons, Promad.”

“I know that,” Kilvx said. “You performed above and beyond, and when you’re up and around, you’ll be promoted in rank.”

“Promoted?” Fuzo shook her head. “She’s dead because I failed to protect her!”

“She lived long enough to say goodbye to her partner,” Kilvx tapped Fuzo’s chest with her finger. “Do you know how important that was for Velto Wram? Answer me, Donmat,”

Fuzo nodded slowly, “I guess,”

“Do you know how important that was to Veltowram?” Kilvx demanded.

“Yes, Promad,” Fuzo said as Uym administered the sedative.

“You did what you needed to do when you were needed,” Kilvx said. “Velto Wram wants to be there when you’re promoted to Dokomad,”

“I don’t deserve it,” Fuzo whispered.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Dox,” Kilvx said. “Komad Kul made a bad call keeping your weapons stowed on the Ornith.”

“She didn’t get promoted?” Fuzo leaned back, feeling dizzy.

“You took a bullet for a citizen,” said Kilvx. “That’s why we exist, Dox.”

Fuzo’s eyelids became heavy.

“Where’s the Komad?” Fuzo asked.

“She’s removing some tharspin from a bridge,” Kilvx whispered.

“They’re finally taking out Bass Plain?” Uym huffed as Fuzo struggled to keep her eyes open.

“Shouldn’t they have done that, eight years ago,” Ubil said, tucking Fuzo’s sheet around her legs.

“We’re talking about the Ninth-Gen Committee,” Uym’s voice began fading away. “There’s no fun in destroying it until the helovx are almost finished with it…”

Wilson’s Tide – Australia
2240 Hours – Bamx 10, 2228

Sofita forced him to walk in front, and when he fell behind, she took him by the arm and returned him to the desired position.

“Your strides are too wide,” he groused in his thick Aotearoan accent. “I can’t keep from falling back,”

“My stride’s going to make you wider,” Sofita warned. “If you don’t keep moving,”

Brown-Eyes never offered his name, but he aroused her curiosity.

Helovx couldn’t see in the dark yet Brown-Eyes sidestepped large rocks in his path and avoided walking into the moths.

When he stopped suddenly, Sofita followed his fearful gaze to a group of tiny lights on the horizon.

It was a swarm of Mag-IO Clusters, and they trickled on the wind like fireflies, waiting for something to destroy; even with the Shell ignited, Sofita wouldn’t survive a direct impact.

“Remnants of your genocide here?” he whispered.

“Stand still and don’t move,” Sofita warned him.

The jiggling lights lingered, getting smaller the farther away they traveled. Sofita’s relief was short-lived when a vehicle bounded up over the hill behind them, one headlight shining brightly.

“Oh shit,” he whispered. “A Tazzy beachcomber,”

Sofita asked, “What the fucks that?”

“He’s not from Zealand, he’s a nomad,” said the man.

The Clusters zeroed in on the movement, emitting a deathly whistle as they speedily surged to engage and destroy.

Sofita clenched her fists and clamped her eyes shut.

They were alone under the nux vines. She touched his face, where his light hide was covered with specs. She kissed his neck and felt his pulse racing in her lips. Why was he suddenly frightened of her?

When Sofita screamed out, Brown-Eyes took off running.

Alone in her room at Ryo’s, he removed his robe.

‘She’s watching,’ he said, pulse racing. ‘She wants to see you ride me,’

The Shell’s power coiled up Sofita’s body and enclosed her in a silver skin. Fully powered, she sailed over the grass and snatched up Brown-Eyes. Splashing down into a deep puddle of standing water, she folded herself around him as he struggled against her, making sure she covered every exposed part of him.

The Clusters detonated upon contact with the moving vehicle. Ionized energy billowed out in all directions, scorching everything within a mile and vaporizing the water that protected them.

Sofita stood and felt the tightness of burned skin on her back. Brown-Eyes stumbled out from beneath her, disoriented. Sensing the Shell gone, Sofita sank to her knees.

Orestes body fell onto the ground, morphing into a seal as it cracked through the ice. Surrounded by tundra and snow, Sofita stood in the familiar realm of the Femitokon.

Walking to a hole in the ice, she stepped into it and looking up in the cold black water, the hole above her head vanished, replaced by-

—Brown-Eyes ran was now several yards ahead of her. Catching up to him, she tackled him to the ground and then slugged him for good measure.

Walking out ahead, Sofita let him trail behind, turning on occasion to find him observing her shirtless torso in the dark.

“Is my back burned?”

“I dunno,” he said. “It’s black as pitch out here.”

Brown-Eyes no longer saw in the dark.

Over the hill, they walked a dirt road between the reeds and came upon another bounding set of headlights. This truck was bigger than the last one, and it slowed on sight of them.

The driver was a narrow-eyed man with pale skin and graying hair.

Peering at Brown-Eyes as he passed, the man stomped on the gas pedal when his headlights captured Sofita’s eyeshine. Charging into the reeds, the truck tipped onto two wheels as it tried to go back the way it came.

Sofita ran alongside, caught up to the truck, and climbed onto the footstep.

Punching her fist through the driver side window, she got hold of the gray-haired man and yanked him out.

Brown-Eyes sprinted for the truck now veering out of control.

Sofita followed the gray-haired man as he rolled down over the grass. When he came up brandishing a handgun, he fired it repeatedly. Sofita dodged his poorly shot bullets and upon reaching him, snatched the gun from his grasp and tossed it into the night.

The gray-haired driver raised his hands in surrender.

Sofita palmed his face and brought his head down upon a rock, cracking his skull.

Brown-Eyes ran into the ditch after the truck and inside found an armed woman with a crying infant strapped securely in a makeshift car seat.

“I’m not here to hurt you, please,” he raised his hands.

Sofita appeared at the passenger side, reached in and with a quick tug, snapped the woman’s neck. Grabbing the woman’s pistol, she aimed it at the screaming infant.

Brown-Eyes shouted, “No!”

Sofita fired, and the crying stopped.

Coming around the driver side, Brown-Eyes hurled himself at Sofita, enraged. He slapped at her with weak punches until she slammed him hard enough against the truck to knock him out.

Sofita drove the truck all night to the coast and onto the land bridge that once anchored the mighty Bass Plain. All the remained were the large tower formations, its cables gone and laying somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

Brown-Eyes woke at sunrise.

“You didn’t have to kill them,” he said, glancing the blood-stained baby seat.

“There’s no helovx more dangerous,” said Sofita, “Then a female protecting her child.”

“She lowered her weapon,” he argued. “She wasn’t going to hurt me.”

“She wasn’t going to hurt you until she shot you,” Sofita said.

“You think you know human nature, you only know how to kill us,” he snapped. “You’re a fucking animal, you had no right to kill that baby!”

Sofita’s arm snaked out.

Her fist caught his face and knocked his head against the window.

“Shut your mouth brown-eyes, or I’ll kill you right here.”

Brown-Eyes turned his attention to the window. He remained silent most of the day until Sofita attempted to drive them over tight spots; his stress and fear came only because he constantly second-guessed her depth perception.

A few inches of water covered the rest of the land-bridge along the higher crags, but within sight of the Tasmanian shore, the truck ran out of gas.

Sofita climbed out.

“We can walk the rest of the way to Copeland,”

“No, Port Cope’s underwater,” he declared.

Sofita surveyed the landscape and then noticed Brown-Eyes hadn’t gotten out of the truck, “Move it, now.”

“I’m not walking through that shite,” he said.

“You get out here brown-eyes,” Sofita said, menacing. “Or I’ll fist your ass until you black out, and then carry you to Copeland.”

“Why dun’you leave me?” he whined from the truck. “Just go!”

Sofita smiled, “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Ugh, dun’smile, akay?” he grimaced. “You’re right ugly enough as it is,”

They walked in silence toward the highest ridge on the horizon. Arriving back at the harbor, the corpse of the tanker remained beached where they’d left it, and the tiny marina was gone, the roof of the shed peeked on the water’s surface.

Port Copeland proper was submerged; it’s four tallest buildings the only things visible in the late afternoon sun.

“We’ll jump in from here,” Sofita pointed to the closest structure. “Swim to that building there,”

“I’m not getting back in there,” his accent made ‘there’ sounded like thay.

“Quit crying brown-eyes,” said Sofita. “There are no more sharks.”

“Says you,” he countered. “If you lot can’t talk to sharks like they say, I’d rather take m’chances not going in the water, thanks.”

“You can jump in,” Sofita turned. “Or I can throw you in.”

Brown-Eyes swam fast for a human.

Sofita reached the intended building first and after waiting for him to catch up, allowed him to use her body as a ladder after he claimed to be too short to reach the roof. From there they jumped the rooftops, most covered by shallow water until they reached the tallest building with its top three floors well above the water line.

He jumped in without being wheedled and swam to the exposed window at the water’s edge. Climbing onto its pane, his eyes scoured the water for predators while Sofita scaled past him to reach the window above.

Pulling Brown-Eyes up to join her, they discovered the building to be a pre-impact hotel. Carpeted floors sat beneath a foot of water, and at the end of a seaweed littered hallway sat a salt-water crocodile that hissed on sight.

When Brown-Eyes cried out, it rushed at them.

Sofita jumped onto its back and got her hands under its head.

Holding its narrow jaws shut with one hand, she landed a hard tap on its head with the other. When released, the croc fled into a flooded stairwell.

“Stop upsetting the wildlife,”

“That thing charged,” Brown-Eyes cried.

“She wouldn’t have chahj’d,” Sofita mocked. “If you didn’t yell at her. She was warning us to keep off her end of the hallway.”

“You farcs don’t yab to sharks,” he said. “But you yabber to crocs?”

Sofita punched him in the gut.

“Farc is a slur,” she said as he struggled to breath. “Lose it from your vocabulary for the rest of our time together.”

Sofita climbed ascending dry stairwell, and in the hall, stepping gingerly over the dozens of disoriented snakes. The man’s jittery gait kept rousing the larger aggressive ones.

“You need to relax,” Sofita whispered. “They’re just snakes.”

“Says you, I don’t have thick shark skin,” he said. “They bite me, and I bleed.”

“I don’t have shark skin,” Sofita held out her arm. “Touch my hide.”

“I’m not touching you,” his lip curled.

“Touch me!” Sofita shouted, startling the snakes.

“What the bloody hell!” he whispered quickly. “I got normal skin, okay, they bite me those fangs go through!”

Sofita picked him up hoisted him over her shoulder.

Past the snakes was a small set of stairs that took them to the top floor. Sofita kicked in each door she passed until she reached the last one.

Opening the door slowly revealed a small room with dark walls, tile floors, and a hotplate on top of a chest of drawers.

The bed was big enough for two, and there was a fireplace next to the bathing room door. Calling it a bathing room was presumptuous; there was a sink, a toilet, and a shower stall with a wood bench for sitting.

Ramaxian gaztenx were designed for hourly visits, while gazteen hosted extended stays; both contained superior washing accommodations.

The man got on his knees before the fireplace, and after a quick inspection, hissed in defeat.

“They’re decorative logs, they just light up, no heat.”

“It’s just not your day, is it Brown-Eyes?”

“No thanks to you!” he griped. “I coulda made it across the ditch!”

“Sure, you could,”

“You lot don’t need heat,” the man complained. “I’m going to freeze my ass off when the sun goes down.”

“Don’t worry brown-eyes,” Sofita leered. “I won’t let your ass get cold.”

When Brown-Eyes’ face twisted in disgust, a gun popped off somewhere outside.

“Nothing like a natural disaster to bring out the best in humanity,” Sofita walked to the window. “I guess farcs aren’t the only animals on this planet.”

“Is it true,” he asked, joining her. “You lot don’t kill each other?”

Sofita didn’t answer. Instead, she brought out the gun she took from the helovx woman in the truck and aimed it at him.

“Take off your clothes.”

Fack you!” he cried.

Sofita pulled the trigger, and Brown-Eyes jumped though nothing happened; water had made the gun useless. Outraged, Brown-Eyes slapping at her head with his poorly formed fists.

Sofita tried not to laugh as she grabbed his punches.

Tired of the dance, she took hold of his arms and forced them behind his back. Shoving him to his stomach wasn’t easy; the man kicked and screamed until she had to bounce his head off the floor, keeping him conscious yet manageable.

Ripping his shirt from his chest, Sofita pulled his jeans down past his legs and turned him over. Brown-Eyes pushed free of her after she paused to find not one strand of pubic hair.

“You groom yourself brown-eyes?” Sofita asked.

Glaring, he covered himself with his hands.

Brown-Eyes’ penis had been circumcised.

What remained of the former light-skinned New Zealander resorted to mutilating themselves in various ways, yet this sort of mutilation was common only among the religious men of the African Trisect; it had also been the norm among the Slavs.

Sofita stepped from him and walking to the window.

Pulling down the curtains, she tore them into strips and bound the struggling man’s wrists first before tying them to his ankles. After his pleadings got him nowhere, he struggled fiercely against the bindings.

“Sorry brown-eyes,” said Sofita. “Naked, you have less incentive to go roof to roof without me.”

“Since when did I become your prisoner?” he demanded.

Sofita picked Brown-Eyes’ bound body up from the floor and tossed him onto the bed. Back at the window she busted through the glass and stepped out.

“Try not to miss me,” Sofita said.

Fack you!” he cried. “Dun’leave me like this!”

Sofita dove into the water, and after failing to ignite the Shell, she assessed the submerged town with her own eyes.

Through streets of displaced ocean, she found familiar signage and stroking her way through an alley, she broke the surface upon finding a hunting shop and pharmacy.

The hunting shop’s roof was dry and its highest window just an inch above the waterline.

Submerged, she busted through the glass to get inside and found only a foot of space between the water and the ceiling. Out of the water, Sofita latched onto a long ceiling light and walked hand over hand to a wall of hanging pistols and shotguns.

Getting her backside onto a high shelf for leverage, Sofita found that none of the firearms she retrieved were loaded. Soaked ammo boxes and bobbing shells floated in the debris. Setting the guns back on their hooks, she slid back under.

Swimming down behind the counter, Sofita located a safe beneath the register. After struggling for some time to get the heavy thing to the surface, she managed to hoist it onto a high shelf and get its door clear of the water.

Sofita heard the revving of a motorboat engine.

“We’ll get weapons here,” said a man. “Some dry ammo in Crown,”

“Then we hit the bank,” said another man. “Go back to Aotearoa in style!”

Flashlights cut through the darkness, and when one of them came upon Sofita squatting on a hanging light fixture, the two men each yelled an expletive before opening fire.

Something pierced Sofita’s hide, sending a wave of pain through her body. Losing her composure, Sofita set upon them, tearing into their flesh until consciousness fled her senses.


Bright white filled the endless horizon.

“Femitokon?” she asked.

A melted path appeared in the snow, and a naked Sofita followed until it ended at the icy shore of a dark sea.

Turning back, she found the melted path gone, replaced by a sullied snowfield dotted with hundreds of headless male corpses.

“Femitokon?” she asked again.

A structure loomed in the distance.

Sofita stepped over the mutilated corpses as she made her way toward it. The closer she got, the more apparent it became. It was the festering body of the Zaxir with her huge legs spread wide.

Close enough to smell its decaying flesh, it was now the size of the Fairgrounds. Frozen waves of ice curled from the birthing wound cut into the flesh beside her ice-sealed gash.

A blue scab beckoned in its fleshy thigh.

Down on one knee, Sofita bit into its icy cold skin. Stairs formed along the leg and she climbed up to the opened wound and entered to find a wall of ice.

“Femitokon?” the ice melted instantly.

Sofita floated inside a raging sea.

Sinking into the black, her stomach jumped as the water vanished and her body fell through the air.  Slowing the closer she came to the white below, Sofita straightened her back and landed softly.

Her foot upon the ground, clothes formed over her body.

Doctor Sofita Kul now wore her favorite suit. Her young Bizak tailor claimed the jacket’s color was that of helovx blood; the shirt and trousers resembled wet mud, and the trim was gold like the mineral.

A turbulent sea churned many feet above her high molded hair.

Advancing with hands behind her back, Sofita stopped before a gelatinous bubble of floating silver.

“Why’ve you forced this interaction, Femitokon?”

The silver bubble twitched and expanded.

“It’s just a flesh wound, Femitokon.”

The silver bubble danced before coalescing into the form of a tall, muscular citizen. A bald head took shape, and the silver faded to become Fusadakul standing before her.

Sofita turned away, “I told you, not to take her face.”

“Her face is my face, ‘Fita,” it said. “We must talk,”

Sofita glared at the replica of her twin.

“You’re not Fusada.”

It spoke to her, with Fusada’s voice.

“I want to talk about Yuxi, and the day I died,”

Sofita narrowed her eyes.

“I need you tell me how to reignite.”

“There are more important matters at hand,”

“You are not Fusadakul,”

‘‘I wanted to apologize,” it said, head bowed.

The waters above began to quake.

“Tell me how to reignite,” demanded Sofita.

“I had no right to consider you expendable,”

“You’re not Fusada!” Sofita screamed.

The ice beneath her feet broke and through the hole she fell.