Episode Six

9 BAMX 2228 (II) – JULY 9, 2228 (II)

Cloister Square, Utama
Ramaxia – 17:00 hours

Midtown wound down in the hour before day-fall. Twilight’s cycle came late to Ramaxia’s political center because the local Utamati held no use the night.

Utama possessed one digicast-hall, and its lone transit station offered a smattering of hizix bars, foodaxi shops, and a couple of citbluz.

Sernatae-Second, Ixogizul, was found precisely where Eppis had expected in the hour before day-fall. Sitting at a table atop the Cloister lawn, boldly watching the Bizaki across the street.

Ixo’s penchant for Bizaki was no secret.

The paved Utama Gathering Yard was designed to host local Bizaki twice daily for their regular bizarix sessions. Attendance was highest at day-rise due to non-local Bizak being in Utama for work; the more intimate day-fall sessions belonged to the Utamati.

“PC Gizul?” Eppis said.

“CR Banto,” Ixo stood with arms open.

Eppis and Ixo shared a common destiny; each was coded since birth to serve as First Office of the Tenth Gen. Eppis’ sustained health insured that Ixo would never be the First Office, but genetics insisted she replace her kerma in Cloister.

“I received your message for a sit-down,” said Ixo. “I’ve yet to set an appointment date.”

“Disregard the request,” Eppis said. “We can converse here,”

“Regarding Obiz,” Ixo offered Eppis the empty chair at her table. “Your donation warned me you might seek to discuss her-”

“—Obiz’ career path is not my concern,” Eppis saw a flash of apprehension in Ixo’s eyes. “The delivery of that sentiment was poorly executed. I’ll always be concerned, but Obiz must make her own path.”

Ixo relaxed, “You were missed at the Paxodox last evening?”

“I don’t frequent such places,” Eppis said.

Eppisbanto,” Ixo laughed, “You were expected.”

“I’ve been notified of that fact,” Eppis grinned. “Repeatedly today,”

“What brings you to me, CR Banto?” Ixo asked.

“Sofita Kul,” Eppis cleared her throat. “Last month-”

“—when you engaged me in that touch of subterfuge regarding Vosk ISO?” Ixo asked.

“It is impossible to misdirect you,” Eppis said.

“I learned recently of your excursion between the poles,” Ixo shifted her gaze to the posing Bizaki. “If I’m aware then your kerma is aware,”

“Noted and proven,” Eppis said. “I’ve successfully misdirected Tee,”

Ixo paused, “Sofita’s aversion to Primaryship?”

“Ended it seems,” Eppis said. “Verified yesterday,”

Ixo leaned back, “Do we know what prompted such a reversal?”

Eppis was about to explain when Zerixjulo invaded their space.

A graceful bruise, her tempered disposition suited her in the service of the Axyrn. Before she came to command the primary Cloister Battalion, Zerix, and her brutal sibtox Ryoz, had been part of Fusada Kul’s inner circle.

“How’s your day going, Prime Gizul?” Zerix played at enthusiastic very well and brought a fist to her midriff when greeting Eppis. “CR Banto.”

“My day continues as always,” Ixo uncrossed her legs. “Is there something we need to discuss, Podpromad Julo?”

“We got a lone sentry in ISO that’s required to call in every seventy-five days. When she didn’t tag us before hibernating, we let it pass,” Zerix shook her head as if partaking in a jovial exchange. Smiling, the tall and burly Marix got down on one knee. “When she didn’t tag us after the new year started, we tagged her and got no reply.”

“Ominous,” Ixo nodded in agreement.

“A solitary assignment like that makes some bruisers eat their palm,” Zerix’ eyes shifted to Eppis while maintaining a flirtatious pantomime. “I pulled footage from ISO after we found her,”

Playing along, Ixo pointed at nothing across the street.

“I have an impending zishtilgul report?”

Zerix turned toward that nothing, “One that comes without footage,”

Eppis smiled, maintaining appearances.

“I found my Promad tucked into a service chute,” said Zerix. “Footage shows her taken on a divisional Komad and loosing. Naturally, I determined the footage damaged.”

Ixo played amused, “The solitary sentry was a Ninth Gen?”

“She was, Prime Gizul,” said Zerix, looking to the Bizaki as if prompted.

Ixo said, “Destroy all feeds for the month-”

“—already done,” Zerix noted.

“By whose authority?” Eppis demanded.

Zerix stood, ignoring Eppis, “Vostulak magnetic disruption-”

“—Indeed. The damaged footage reviewed by me clearly shows the Promad suffering from an interruption in hibernation,” Ixo shook her head, grinning. “Mental taxation lead to the zish’tilgul, but I shall process her demise as ramaxic’til.”

“CR Banto,” Zerix glanced at the holographic timepiece on the top of her hand as if being asked the time. “Kul’s presence in ISO is problematic,”

“The word you’re looking for is discerning,” Eppis said.

“We’d like a meeting with Kul,” Zerix smiled. “Somewhere on the surface?”

“We?” Eppis turned from Zerix and grinned at Julo. “Primepromad Julo, you inform Bamyuxi that any chance of her gurz in my chair died with Fusada Kul. If your cabal needs assurances, then I shall meet with Yuxi on Sofita Kul’s behalf.”

“PC Gizul, CR Banto,” Zerix saluted the pair with a smile.

“Thank you, Primepromad Julo,” Ixo said.

After Zerix jogged back to the Cloister, Ixo eyed Eppis.

“Yuxi continues to stand as a leader among Fusada’s chosen,”

“The temerity of sending Zerixjulo to inform me of her tacit awareness that somethings afoot,” Eppis snapped, arms across her chest.

“You must admit Fusada chose well in Yuxi,” Ixo grinned. “Though I never understood Iba’s attraction,”

“Iba was a relentless hizmaroxer, be it Bam or anyone with muscle,” Eppis smiled. “Our shared space in Mynu was covered with casti of half-naked brooders,”

“I recall her spontaneous presence in our tribe,” Ixo laughed. “After Fusada began calling on Sofita,”

“Fusada brought one brute or another to Mynu, and I anticipated her visits as they rid me of Iba for the day,” Eppis said. “Youthful discontent aside, I miss Iba greatly,”

Ixo nodded, “Iba was a good citizen, Eppis,”

“Iba was a brilliant citizen, and her death was Ramaxia’s loss.” Eppis tried to focus on the Bizaki in the park. “I find myself asking why. What was she thinking? Taking a risk on that surgical procedure when her donation wasn’t walking yet.”

“Grief distorts our life choices,” said Ixo.

“A decade had passed since Fee’s death at Igitat,” Eppis said. “Iba’s insane decision to undergo that procedure was-”

“—I continue to struggle each day,” Ixo said. “At least once weekly I entertain leaving my position in the Cloister and retiring my offices in Orta, to acquire a position at Igitat.

“I hope that by surrounding myself with the Bizak energists still assigned there, I might catch a glimpse of Prido’s soul in their eyes.”

The luxury of grief had always alluded Eppis.

“It’s preposterous on its face, but such is the insidiousness of grief,” Ixo added. “It cripples the mind, Eppis, it’s as incurable as the hizaxikogatix Iba so desperately tried to overcome.”

“Forgive me, Ixo,” said Eppis. “I hadn’t appreciated the depth of your pain.”

“My support of Sofita is absolute,” Ixo declared. “I shall be your observer behind the closed doors of the Sernatae.”

“You’re in an ideal position in Orta,” Eppis said.

“I will not be your liaison in Orta,” Ixo shook her head. “If Sofita is to be Primary, she must contend with Fusada’s Chosen. When the Tenth ascends, they will be the ones to rule Orta.”

“Thank you,” Eppis stood with arms open.

Embracing her, Ixo whispered, “There’s a word around the Cloister that you’re seeing a desire therapist,”

“Gossip continues to cycle faster than the 23-hour day,” Eppis said.

“If your rumored ailment is a ruse, I encourage you to consider another disorder,” Ixo said. “Your rumored condition does not evoke pity amongst our caste.”

“I appreciate your concern,” Eppis tugged at the hem of her suit jacket. “I’ve lived long viewing others from a position of superiority. It’s high time I learn what’s it like being looked down upon.”

North Pannonia Wall
Slavic Empire – 5:30 PM

The strange shining bird frustrated Yuri.

It glided on the air with seamless wings that suggested somewhere within its small fuselage beat a heart that pumped blood.

Perched now with wings tucked, it was a lifeless silver-coated statue, giving no indication of its rumored bio-organics.

Yuri shook the handheld portion of his scanner, but its screen remained blank.

“This pre-impact garbage is useless,” Yuri said, after waving the wand over the flier’s triangular wing produced no result.

“It’s designed to map a whale’s insides using sound,” said Boland, his second.

The silver flier’s elongated head was turned down, and its compact body displayed none of the brilliant light they’d seen when it landed.

“I’ve been told that you can understand when someone speaks to you,” Yuri spoke kindly at it, while his four comrades laughed. “I’m asking you to open up, and let me in.”

“It doesn’t speak our language,” said Boland.

Yuri shook his head, “Why design a thing to fly our skies, but not understand our words?”

“Maybe you don’t know the magic word,” the deep voice of the Commander-farc gave them all a surprise.

Two of his men set their weapons down when she passed. Another slung his gun over his shoulder, hiding it behind his back.

Boland moved closer to Yuri, weapon pointed at the ground and his hand over the trigger loop.

“Ornith, board mode,” she said.

The silver machine sprang to life.

Straightening up on its hind legs, it lifted its head to the sky and presented its belly. When the faint outline of a hatch door appeared, the strangely shaped farc-commander came up beside Boland; though a foot taller than his tallest man, she had hair and a big muscular ass.

“Why are you scanning my Ornith?” she asked in their language.

“It came from an elevation we’re trying to study, my scan is external you see,” Yuri explained, smiling. “You wouldn’t happen to have air quality readings inside, would you?”

The farc crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him with those lifeless black eyes.

Yuri looked to Boland only a second, and that’s when she snatched the scanner from him.

“It’s an Ottawa model,” she said. “Ultrasound device,”

“We get so few scientific things here,” Yuri said. “I acquired this a long time ago, it’s the first time I’ve used it.”

“Don’t you read English?” she pointed at the tiny type on the device’s outer casing.

Yuri asked, “What’s this, English?”

“It’s the language spoken by those living in the North American Union,” the farc-commander put her thumb on the screen and held it there until the device came to life. “It’s also spoken on Northern Island of the African Trisect, and in isolated parts of Aotearoa,”

The farc-commander then said something in her language that made the outline of the flier’s hatch door pulse with light. As it opened, she turned to him.

“You want to come in, Kotko?”

Yuri eagerly stepped forward, and when Boland fell in behind him, the farc-commander halted their advance with a raised hand.

“Just you, Kotko,” she said. “Boychick stays outside.”

“Boland,” Yuri touched the scabbard on his belt. “I’ll be fine.”

“He’ll be fine, Boland,” the farc-commander added.

Boland stepped back and waved his arm, signaling his men.

Yuri stepped into the cabin, and as the hatch sealed behind him, a fist to the back of his head shook his skull.

A blinding pain came with a blow to his nose. His eyes burned wet, and opening his mouth to scream, he tasted the scanning wand. Yuri brought his teeth down hard to stop it going into his throat. Her grip found his neck, forcing his head to the metal floor, the rod pushed in deep enough to gag.

“You low-life human piece of shit!” she hissed, planting her knee into the small of his back, she palmed his bald head with her large hand and tore his trousers free of him with one tug at the waistband.

Yuri wriggled beneath her and dislodged the wand from his mouth.

Twisting onto him back, the strong farc plowed his face with her fists until the world behind his eyes began to spin. Forced back onto his stomach, she fell upon him with her full weight, trapping his arms beneath his chest.

“You fucking ape,” her knees forced his legs apart, “You want an internal scan?”

Fingers prodded between his buttocks.

Yuri flailed like a fish caught in a net, but the hard round-end of the wand found his anus. Its brutal invasion brought pain, and vomit drowned his cries. The farc bitch took pleasure in his humiliation, forcing the wand in and out despite his struggle to be free.

A moment’s reprieve came when she yanked it out. Hocking something up, the farc spit, and Yuri felt its coldness slide down his perineum.

The wand entered again, this time agonizingly deep.

Forced onto his back, the farc held his legs together tight and tucked them under her arm. Crying out, Yuri felt around beneath him for the wand, but this made the farc bitch laugh; she stood up straight, putting his violated flesh out of reach.

Yuri begged her to stop.

The farc dropped him, and pulling the wand from his ass, shouted something in her language that opened the hatch door.

He crawled out the exit and spilled out on the concrete half naked, his body torn and bleeding. Rolling onto his back, he found the farc-commander standing over him.

Landing a boot to Yuri’s stomach, she ducked a bullet.

Boland fired again, but the farc hopped up and came down, landing her fists to each of his shoulders. Poor Boland got turned around then, to serve as her shield as his own men exhausted their ammo.

Yuri stumbled toward the wall-walk.

The farc shoved Boland at Oleg, and when Oleg moved to avoid the dead man, he caught the heel of her hand on the bottom of his jaw.

Oleg’s head snapped back with a crunch.

Anton and Mikal pulled their sidearms and fired, but there was no piercing the prismatic energy that appeared upon her arms.

Anton stopped firing when the farc got close enough to strike. He tried to hit her in the head with the butt of but pistol, but she quickly side-stepped him. His back exposed, she delivered a blow to the nape of his neck that sent him to the ground.

Mikal howled out, and tossing his pistol aside, he charged to tackle her. The farc caught his head under her arm and grabbing his waistband, she hoisted him up and fell backward. Mikal’s skull was crushed as she came down hard upon the concrete.

Anton, sobbing with a broken back, caught the farcs attention. Kneeling, she pinched his nose shut and covered his mouth with the palm of her hand. Unwilling to watch his comrade die, Yuri ran down the wall walk.

Fleeing through the abandoned streets, Yuri was desperate to reach his room at the palace before the setting sun brought others to witness his humiliation.

He entered the palace through the servant’s quarters and charged up the stairs. He rushed past the armed men in the hall, and in the safety of his quarters locked the door behind him. Alone in the bathroom Yuri ran the water to scalding and lowered his abused body into it, feeling no pain but rage.

The farc had turned him into a weak woma-


Yuri turned off the water. Kasi spoke just beyond the door; the blasted guards must’ve unlocked it.

“Yuri?” Kasi called. “I was told you came in, without pants.”

When the handle on his bathroom door turned, Yuri pulled the curtain around him. It wasn’t his friend and lover Kasimira expressing concern; tits bound tight beneath a man’s uniform, this was the stranger, Kasimir.

“What’s happened to you?” Kasi asked through the curtain.

“Nothing!” Yuri said, and grabbed a towel from the inside tub rack.

Kasi pulled the curtain aside.

Yuri was on his feet, wiping his backside and legs.

“You’re bleeding,” said Kasi.

Yuri stepped out of the tub and shoved Kasi aside.

“Does that make you hungry?”

“That’s a horrible thing to say, Yuri!”

“We’re all horrible, aren’t we Kasimira!”

“I told you not to call me by that name!”

“You were born Kasimira!” Yuri growled, following as Kasi fled the room. “Do I not speak the truth?”

“Cover yourself!”

“I thought you liked me this way?” Yuri invaded Kasi’s space and relished in the new empowers discomfort.

“That’s enough Yuri!” Kasi cried.

Yuri screamed, “I decide when it’s enough!”

“I don’t like you when you act like this,” Kasi said, running for the door.

Yuri grabbed Kasi before he could exit and hauled him over to the bed.

“Stop this now!” Kasi screamed.

“Stop what?” Yuri yelled into his face and forced Kasi’s protective arms down. “I should stop being who I am? Like you?”

“I have always been who I am,” Kasi glared defiantly. “You cannot change because you’re the monster my mother has made!”

“That’s right,” Yuri nodded. “We’re monsters!”

Kasi stared at him, distraught.

“I thought I loved you, Yuri,”

Flashes of the farc commander violating him attacked Yuri’s mind. Powerless, all he could claim in this world was the affection of someone that refused to be the woman he always wanted.

Yuri’s hands found Kasi’s neck.

Tendons hardened beneath his touch, and delicate muscles twitched in his grip. Pleading eyes begged for mercy, as wine-scented retching came with the battering fists.

The blows to Yuri’s arms became enfeebled slaps, urging him to squeeze until something inside the flesh cracked. The skin surrounding Kasi’s lush lips glowed pink. The overflowing pools within those dead eyes reflected Yuri’s reclaimed power.

Outside his door came the familiar tapping of his brother’s boots. Dragging Kasi’s corpse from the bed, Yuri pulled it into the bathroom and locked the door behind him.

“Yuri!” Boris shouted.

Yuri dropped the body in the tub, sending up a splash that flooded the floor.

“There’s no time for bathing, Yuri!” Boris said on the other side of the door.

Yuri called out, “The farcs are leaving,”

“I know, get out of there and collect the wife of Wram the Younger,” said Boris, accentuating his point with a kick to the door.

Confident Boris had gone, Yuri heaved a sigh.

“You will accompany me, my Emperor,” Yuri stared at the body of his former lover as it floated face down in his bathing tub. “My men and I will find you in the pool, and I’ll tell them the farc commander didn’t like your newfound manhood.”


The smear of blood along the length of the bulkhead prepared Velto for the trail of broken bodies that lead her to the Ornith.

“Why are these men dead?” Velto asked.

“They got handsy with my bird,” Sofita sat on the opening of Orny’s hatch. Her hands trembled as she struggled to slip a formed sheath over her finger.

“What’re you doing with that pincher?” Velto demanded.

“It’s a pheromone blocker,” Sofita snapped. “Ilo’s got my gash swollen, and my logic adjourned.”

Velto snatched it from her, “Tilt your head, hizzah,”

Sofita did as ordered; her hide covered in sweat.

Velto slipped her index finger into the sheath and then fixed her thumb to her middle finger. Jerking her hand, she slapped her index against her thumb and caused the sheath to turn purple. Pressing her covered digit beneath Sofita’s ear, the injector shot its contents through Sofita’s hide.

“Ilo’s put her weight back on, she’s juicy again,” Sofita said.

Velto tossed the spent injector into the Ornith.

“I know, she wants to ride every hour of the day,” Velto tapped her dress shoe against Sofita’s boot. “She’s killing me, but I love it.”

Sofita relaxed, “What about you? Any changes?”

“I haven’t eaten since I came here three months ago,” Velto eyed the cloud cover. “I’m operating on zero nourishment, but the daily sleep I learned to endure helps maintain my physical stamina.”

Sofita calmed enough to stand.

“Sofita,” Velto said. “Did you think I wouldn’t look at that marixidoe and not know?”

Sofita sighed, “There are more pressing matters, Ambassador,”

“You haven’t had a pressing matter since your tribunal,” Velto struggled to remain calm. “I spent these years hating you because I thought what you did to Zixas was intentional-”

“—Zixas was my friend,” Sofita snapped. “She understood my fall from prominence more than anyone.”

“You mean, she knew what it was like to have everything until she fucked herself over,” Velto said. “I wasn’t shocked by your friendship, ‘Fita. What shocked me was how it ended.”

“We weren’t sexually involved, Velto,” Sofita added.

“Obviously,” Velto snapped. “You might’ve had her back if you’d been riding her,”

Sofita snatched Velto up by her collar, then released her.

“She didn’t deserve what she got from me,” said Sofita.

“Zixas was the bully our kerma raised her to be. She reaped what she sowed,” Velto said. “You changed her, you brought back to the bruiser she was before my kerma fucked her up.”

Sofita said, “Velto if I could do it all again-”

“—well, you can’t,” Velto spat. “So, spare me the woulda coulda shoulda,”

The long silence between them provided comfort.

Sofita said, “What’s got Ilo resurging?”

“I got no idea,” said Velto. “She’s not the only one out sorts. Ilo says that Shell’s affecting you like it did Fusada,”

Sofita walked into the Ornith, “I’m fine, Velto.”

“We’re back to first names again?” Velto followed her inside. “Good. Explain why you bailed on us.”

“I had my reasons,” Sofita said calmly.

Velto’s hands formed into fists, “You don’t get to walk away Sofita!”

“I was never truly part of it!” Sofita said.

“That’s crap!” Velto cried. “You were the reason Fusada planned all that fucked up shit, and like an idiot, I put Ilo’s life in danger making her a party.”

“The plan hasn’t died, Velto,” Sofita whispered.

“What did you say?” Velto demanded.

“Ascension will transpire-”

Sofita took Velto’s fist with no surprise.

“—you gurxhole!” Velto cried, cradling her sore hand. “While the rest of us dealt with having our destiny ripped out from under us, you spent the last twenty years laying low?”

“Not my intention!” Sofita barked.

“No?” Velto taunted. “You intentionally abandoned us, and now you’ve changed your mind? Am I supposed to kiss your gurz now and tell you how grateful I am you’ve come to your senses.”

Sofita’s body language changed; raising her eyes to the ceiling, she brought her arms in frustration, “Oh, come off it, Velts!”

Fusada had uttered those exact words with the same physical histrionics after Velto confronted her at a party for embarrassing Zixas.

“Look at me, right now,” Velto demanded, studying Sofita’s face. “That phasic energy inside of you, is it the same energy that was in Fusada when she died?”

“What are you asking me, Velto?”

“What’s the last thing you just said to me,”

“I said, that’s not what happened,”

“No,” Velto said. “You griped at me, in Fusada’s voice,”

Sofita’s expression hardened.

“When Fusada died,” Velto said. “Did that thing retain their time together?”

Sofita swallowed, “There was retention,”

“It thinks it’s Fusada?” Velto asked.

Sofita crossed her arms over her chest.

“How long has this thing been entering your consciousness, untriggered?” Velto asked.

“There have always been incursions,” said Sofita.

“That’s what Ilo sensed when she was talking to you!” Velto said.

“My ability to control the Shell’s operative energy faltered last month,” Sofita said. “I utilize internal vision techniques to purge it from my waking consciousness.”

Velto’s eyes widened, “Where’s Fyla?”

“Unavailable at this time,” Sofita narrowed her eyes.

“No shock there,” Velto quipped. “Do you activate it the same way Fusada did?”

Sofita nodded, “I tap into my anger,”

“You pull up a memory that torks you off,” said Velto. “Usually something that involves Fusa?”

Sofita turned as if struck, “Incidents of its conscious incursions are strongest after activation with memories of Fusa,”

“If Fusada activated it in the same way-”

“—that’s proof portions of Fusada’s operative energy remain,”

“No, that’s crap!”

“Is it, Velto?”

“When you die, your op-en dies too,”

“Does it, Velto?”

“You believe in that axuki crap?” Velto demanded. “If operative energies didn’t die, they’d be in our bivels, BEBs, and Filmarks trying to communicate with us!”

Sofita nodded, perceptively.

“Let’s focus on reality, ‘Fita,” Velto said. “What I meant was, the Shell’s using its retained memories of Fusada to communicate with you.”

“Memories of Fusa trigger whatever aspect of Fusada it has stored in its operative matrix,” Sofita added.

Ilo’s laughter interrupted their breakthrough.

“Is this an Ornith?” Ilo called, stepping over the corpses of Yuri’s men. Ilo pressed her upper body against Orny’s hull. “Velts, she’s alive, I can hear her heart!”

“His name’s Orny,” Dox said, then turned to Sofita, “What happened Komad?”

“They were trying to scan the Ornith,” Sofita replied.

“It’s a he?” Ilo laughed. “That’s adorable, ‘Fita.”

Velto smirked, “You going to take him to termination processing?”

“What were they scanning him with?” Dox asked Sofita.

Velto searched the area around them and finding the smashed unit, kicked the discarded wand toward Dox.

“Donmat, don’t touch it,” Sofita said, as Dox moved to pick it up. “Trust me.”

“What’d you do?” Velto scowled.

“Ugh, ‘Fita,” Ilo caressed Orny’s wing. “You and your insertions.”

“Ilo,” Velto scolded. “Not in front of the donat,”

Dox started, “Donmat!”

Ilo took Dox’ arm and led her away.

“If I tell you a secret Fuzo,” she whispered. “You promise not to say anything to anyone, not even your Komad.”

Dox was putty in Ilo’s hands.

Sofita whispered to Velto, “Are you sure you want to take her back like this?”

“I survived our twenty,” said Velto. “I can survive this.”

“You know my birther?” they heard Dox ask.

Velto looked at Sofita, “I’ll stop this-”

“—thank you,” said Sofita.

“Ilo, come here!” Velto barked.

Sofita tapped Velto on the shoulder, “I’ve got something to show you, mission-related,”

Following her inside, Velto sat in the chair by the operation panel.

“This seat’s the widest. It’s yours, isn’t it?” Velto said with a grin.

Sofita shut the hatch when Ilo and Dox came inside.

“Protein blocks ceased shipping to Slavs a week after you arrived,” Sofita said.

“I ordered them stopped,” said Velto. “Just before the Empress died,”

“The markets below remain stocked with fresh perishables,” said Sofita.

“Proving that they’ve got their own processor,” Velto said.

“I had Orny scan the surface area within a hundred-mile radius of the wall,” Sofita said.

“You won’t find it near the Wall,” Velto said. “It needs a water source.”

“A water source sits eight miles south of here, but that’s not what I’m about to show you,” Sofita touched the control panel and brought up a holographic interface, “Orny carried out soil scans going two miles deep. What troubles me is what he didn’t find.”

The results of multiple soil readings appeared on the floating screen, and Velto noticed immediately what concerned Sofita.

Swiping through various images of dead trees, empty fields, and dry riverbeds, Velto felt something harden in the pit of her stomach. Contaminated earth sat upon the bedrock, with nothing in it but the petrified bones of decaying wildlife, and clusters of crushed twentieth-century settlements.

Velto kept her composure.

“Why would they, Sofita?”

“I do not know,”

“I need proof before I go to the Committee.”

“I can get it.”

“Let’s hope we’re wrong.”

“How can we be?”

Velto took a breath.

“Your scans went two miles down?”

“Nothing’s grown,” said Sofita. “Or been buried in the ground, for decades,”

“Not even around their religious centers?” Velto asked. “That’s where they tend to-”

“—nothing,” Sofita said, walking to the hatch.

“Sofita,” Velto stood. “Fusa-free activation. Surely there’s other shit you can get worked up over that doesn’t involve her.”

Smiling, Sofita stepped out of the hatch.

“Keep your live feed on!” Velto called after her. “I want to see what you see.”

“Yes, Ambassador!” said Sofita from outside.

Ilo got down on her knees and hugged Velto’s legs.

“Velto, talk to me,” she said. “What’s wrong?”

Velto touched her face, “Nothing serious, it’s just political problems that we’re no longer part of,” she looked up at Dox, “Escort Ilo back to our rooms, quietly get her things, and then bring her back here.”

“Yes, Ambassador,” said Dox.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Ilo declared, standing up. “You’re lying to me, Velts, I can feel it.”

“Ilo, we’re being extracted, there’s always an element of danger involved in that. I’m just stressed,” Velto took Ilo’s hands in hers and kissed them. “When we’re home I’ll talk to you about it. After that, we’re going to Brasilia.”

Ilo’s eyes lit up, “Are we?”

“It’s my next duty-station,” Velto said. “I’ll get you a parrot, one that tells you how pretty you are.”

“Really Velts?” Ilo jumped excitedly, bouncing her large front for the Donmat. “Let’s go get my things, Dox!”

Velto tapped Dox on the arm.

“Just one bag and keep your head.”

The Donmat saluted before exiting.

Velto tapped the external view panel and watched Ilo disappear beneath the bulkhead with the tall Donmat at her heels.

Sofita stood on the walls extension.

Velto’s mind wandered to the day of Sofita’s tribunal. Sofita’s first words to Velto upon her arrival to Sofita’s holding cell in Orta had been to assure her she never meant Zixas any harm.

“I cared for Zixas,” Sofita said, “I’d never hurt her.”

“You said she was expendable, remember that?” Velto spoke to Sofita through the energy field. “Those words came out of your mouth, back when you cared about things that mattered!”

Velto had wanted to believe Sofita but couldn’t. The Hizak thought things through, she left no risk uncalculated. How could she not have seen how dangerous the situation had become in those barracks? Meeting young Dox revealed that Velto had been wrong.

On the wall, Sofita clenched her fist and began screaming.

“Fusada’s ambitions died with her!” Sofita cried.

“If you had half the honor ‘Foos did,” Velto declared. “You’d be joining her.”

“You want to punish me for Zixas, fine,” Sofita snarled. “You make sure that’s why you’re really asking for Rodn’til because I’m not giving my life over just because I destroyed Fusada’s big plan!”

Sofita’s yell abated when a flash of light burst at her feet.

A ribbon of energy whirled up her legs and past her torso, curling around her until nothing remained of her Fleet-issued uniform. Covered in a skin silver, Sofita rose from the stone and hovered a few moments before speeding off into the horizon.

Tavitax Citizen’s Bluzsh
Grand Terminal Avenue, Pikalit
Ramaxia – 1950 hours

Spent from her session at the genbluz, Eppis sat alone in the back of the transport dressed in a lounge robe with her damp hair tucked up tight in a turban.

Warixo Atiba emerged from back door the citbluz with a tiny towel around her muscled waist that barely covered the line of her unaroused gashcol.

Slung over her shoulder was a half-naked Kobajulo.

Unlike the Velto’s and Fyla’s of the world, Koba’s status among Hizaki came without the prerequisite superior intellect. Koba’s coverage of the Sister-Suicides made her an icon amongst the citizenry, defining a movement, she’d enraged Tee Banto.

Koba had made a career of crossing the Fourth Office, and her deadliest act was defying Tee’s edict to turn over her copies of the censored Cloister footage of Laxum Jyr’s resignation; Koba chose instead to air the audio in its entirety on the interHive.

Exiled vocationally to Antarctica City, Koba had sought seed credit to finance a broadcasting enterprise called, Ramaxi Entertainment.

Ilo Cux invested and had convinced Eppis to do the same. The channel initially struggled due to Tee’s influence on the mainland barring it from obtaining a broadcast license; Eppis advised Koba forgo the BEB and broadcast her channel’s content exclusively through Intragux.

The transport door flew open, and Warixo tossed Koba inside.

Eppis crossed one leg over the other and straightened up, but her effort at composure was lost on Koba. In a panic, Koba moved to the opposite window, her robe parting gave Eppis an unwanted view of her shapeless figure.

Seeing Eppis, the fear in her eyes faded.

“I need a moment,” Koba put up her hand. “I thought I was getting raped,”

“You wish, bizzy,” Warixo slammed the door and remained outside.

Koba’s eyes roamed, “This isn’t a Cloister Transport,”

“No, it’s an hourly rental,” Eppis said. “Procured for this meeting,”

“You want out of Channel Ramx, is that it?” Koba’s robe inadvertently opened, again.

“No, Koba,” Eppis averted her eyes and reaching over she closed it. “I’m here to inform you that the Tenth Generation is ascending.”

“We’ve got no Primary,” Koba’s reaction was underwhelming.

Eppis eyed her, “Femtrux says otherwise,”

Sofitakul?” Koba laughed. “The same Sofita who told us to fuck off after she got Fusada’s armor working? The same Sofita who said Ramaxia isn’t worth dying for just let them give it to your donats?”

“The situation is changed,” said Eppis.

“Sofita dropped us like we burned her hands!” Koba said.

“I’m not here as a courtesy, Koba,” Eppis said. “Your committee needs you,”

“My Committee?” Koba sat up and put her arms on her thighs. “My Primary died in twenty-two twelve, and her back up was killed by Sofitakul!”

“We’ll continue this discussion when the disrespect ends,” Eppis said. “I’d like to engage in a mature discussion, one I recognize you’re capable of.”

“This was Sofita’s plan all along, wasn’t it?” Koba combed her fingers through her long black hair. “I should’ve seen it,”

“There’s no intended plan here,” Eppis said.

“I don’t believe that,” Koba said.

Eppis stared at Koba without speaking.

“Sofita’s so damn calm, so collected,” Koba explained. “Distancing herself, so no one gave a shit about her anymore, moving up the Orta ranks toward eligibility?”

“Sofita’s change of heart is recent and not part of a grand scheme,” Eppis declared. “My respect for you Koba, and my fellow peers on the incoming cabinet, is unmatched. I wouldn’t have taken part in such long-term subterfuge,”

“Let’s say I take your word for it,” Koba studied Eppis’ face. “What changed Sofita’s brilliant mind?”

“No one’s certain-”

“—you must know!”

“Koba, we need you,”

“What could you possibly need from me?”

“That which Fusada needed,”

Koba grinned, “Embarrass the Committee every chance I get,”

“It’s a talent you’ve exhibited prior,” Eppis said.

“I’d kill to accommodate, but,” Koba laid back. “The sources I had in Cloister have moved on, and anyone that used to talk to me in Orta now treats me like I live on Tharso.”

“I’ll supply you a source in Cloister,” Eppis said.

“What about Orta?” Koba asked. “I can’t keep up with the shit storm without access to the shit.”

“Orta is irrelevant,” said Eppis.

“Politics isn’t her plan, it’s always been about Orta,” Koba said. “She cut off Zixas Wram’s head to get into Orta!”

“Whatever allies Sofita seeks in Orta will be hers to make,” said Eppis. “My campaign centers in Utama and yours will be the media,”

“Orta is ground zero for any Primary’s ascension,” Koba said. “I’m no good without an ear in Orta, Eppis.”

The door of the transport abruptly opened, letting in a cloud of agreeable cologne.

A lofty bruiser moved in beside Koba, her identity defined by the striped bull stingray etched on her scalp. It was a cranial stain Eppis had seen once at a citbluz years ago; a single eye on its back, and a barb that ran the length of its owner’s spine all the way down to her chiseled girsuzsch.

Bamyuxi was still handsome for a bruise.

“Citizen Julo,” Bam’s eyes drifted to Eppis. “You’re keeping some interesting company these days.”

“I got tired of waiting for you outside,” Koba said.

Bam smiled, “Citizen Banto desires you make the Committee your chew toy?”

“Same thing you wanted, yes?” Koba asked.

Eppis glared at Bam.

“Cloister is the frontline, Julo, but you’ll need ears in Orta,” Bam handed Koba a small palm-sized orb. “It’s an old untraceable model put into service before the communicatory overhaul in 2212,”

Koba seemed to recognize it.

“This belonged to-”

“—it was Kul’s,” said Bam. “You get caught with it you claim you’ve had it since Kul helped you infiltrate Femitokon Holding,”

Examining it, Koba grinned.

“This picks up the Prime Chair’s band signal,”

Bam moved her legs aside, “Dismiss yourself, Julo.”

“I have a question,” Koba watched Eppis before focusing on Bam. “Fusadakul had one donation, a Subak, right?”

“Kul’s donation is a Subak, yes,” Bam said.

Koba eyeballed Eppis again, “She didn’t have any other donations?”

“Kul had no other donations,” Bam said.

“I want to believe this, but Bam, you logged volunteer hours at a Caste Center in Pikalit,” Koba’s attention shifted between them. “You mentored a donation there, a marixidoe put there by Fostis.”

“The marixidoe covertly placed in Caste Center Five was that of Crixaldox,” Eppis said. “This was done on behalf of Ozbi. Ozbi delivered the donation and refused to terminate it.”

“I met this bruise,” Koba spoke to Bam. “She’s not Crixal’s.”

“Crixal birthed her, Julo,” Bam said.

“Is she Fusada’s?” Koba asked.

Fuzodox is not Fusada’s donation,” Bam said. “Julo, we need you to focus on the task at hand.”

Koba took a breath.

“It’s really happening, isn’t it?”

“We’re not to see each other again, Koba,” said Eppis, as Koba made a hasty exit.

Bam extended her muscled arm and pulled the transport door closed; Eppis pushed the transports communication button.

“Atiba’s taking Koba back inside,” said Bam.

Eppis said, “I relay orders to that bruise, not you,”

“You relayed orders to my Zerixjulo loud and clear,” Bam said. “You wanted my attention Banto, here I am.”

“Remove yourself from my transport,” Eppis said.

Bam sat back, “I told your kerma about the visit to Yukon,”

“Voluntarily?” Eppis asked.

“I speak to no committee member unless compelled,” Bam sat beside Eppis. “You’re looking good, all wrapped up and nowhere to go,”

“Remove yourself from my space,” Eppis faced her. “Promad Yuxi.”

Bam moved back into the seat opposite.

“I shall treat you as hostile,”

A well-oiled machine, Bam’s prominent fronts sat in the unbuttoned V of her silk shirt, yet her pants weren’t tight enough for the citbluz.

“We can sit here and stare at each other all night, but,” said Bam. “I get one day a month to return home, and I prefer to spend it with my donation,”

Sofitakul is not your concern,” said Eppis.

“Kul killed a Ninth-Gen Promad breaking into ISO Secondary,” Bam said. “If I hadn’t ordered Zerixjulo to wipe the footage-”

“—I’m not privy to why Sofita was in ISO,” Eppis said.

“That’s an untruth,” Bam wagged her finger. “Bumo was a straight up Jungwa-related assignment until you put Sofita in ISO Secondary,”

Eppis jerked her knee from Bam’s grasp.

“When you noticed some dumbass Donmat trying to hack your bivelox last month, you traced the hack to an Ornith in North America,”

Bam grabbed her knee again and held it.

“You studied the queries and found what she was looking for in your database. You opened the unread message from Nazca, and you saw the name, Jal Bos.”

“Take your hand off me,” Eppis warned.

Bam released her.

“You took it upon yourself to visit Sofita.”

“Interesting narrative,” said Eppis. “But ridiculous,”

“Three hours before departing you pulled Fusada’s brain scan logs from the Project Femitokon archive,” Bam’s eyes found hers. “You dangled Jal in front of Sofita because you knew the Shell would react.”

“Let’s assume such a paradigm occurred,” Eppis crossed her legs and sat back. “Given the results of my alleged manipulation, I have questions,”

“I have answers,” Bam leaned back with her legs parted. “But you haven’t earned them, Eppis.”

“There was a spike in neural-activity the day Fusada died,” Eppis said. “The narrative privately spun by Fylauym states the Shell chemically interfered with Fusada’s emotional state. Her failure to ignite it became too much to bear in this unstable condition.”

“Fusada’s wasn’t used to failing,” Bam shrugged.

“Yes, but did she fail?” Eppis demanded.

Bam’s eyes narrowed, “What’s going on with Sofitakul?”

“Not relevant to you, Promad,” Eppis said.

“Here’s a bit or relevance,” Bam said. “Kul doesn’t have what it takes to kill the Primary,”

Eppis countered, “Our path to ascension will be fought in the Cloister,”

“Do you have what it takes for that?” Bam asked.

“Don’t bet against my resolve,” said Eppis.

Ryouym isn’t like all the other Hizaki in the world, is she, Eppis?” Bam leaned in and kept her eyes focused on Eppis. “You match her intellect but outwit her too many times, and she’ll physically beat you until you can’t walk anymore.

“While you’re trying to crawl home to that estate you got outside of Vanda, Ryo Uym will have gotten there first, to cut your subbie’s throat and rape your bizakidoe.”

Eppis felt her heart pound in her ears.

“If by some gift of fate CM Uym is removed from your Cloister stratagem, that leaves the Primary. Fusakul without Uym’s guidance is an out of control bear. She won’t step down without a physical confrontation,”

“The Shell awards Sofita a fighting chance,” said Eppis.

“If you know this, so does CM Uym, and if she knows this, so does the Primary,” Bam said. “What happens when Uym get the Primary a Shell of her own?”

“We’ve anticipated this scenario,” Eppis said quickly.

Bam smiled, “That’s what I wanted to hear!”

“Remove yourself from my transport,” said Eppis, relieved.

“One more thing,” Bam raised a finger. “We need to work on this tribal bullshit you think extends to those of us that put our swells on the line for Fusada.”

“I’ve made your position in this endeavor quite clear,” Eppis said.

“Let me clarify my position for you, CR Banto,” Bam said. “The Tenth cannot put an Hizak in the Primary-chair without the support of the Orta elite. Sofitakul needs Polvix, Tis, Gwo, Wex, myself, and the Julo’s.

“She knows this, it’s why she became one of us and left her tribe behind. The sooner you accept the reality of sharing Sofita with us, the better things will be for all involved.”

“I’ll take it under advisement,” said Eppis.

“Going forward, we’ll not speak again, CR Banto,” Bam said. “If you must pass a message, do it through Tis.”

“I don’t associate with Fostis,” Eppis said.

Bam reached for the door.

“If you plan to take on CM Uym and your kerma, then you’ve already calculated a means of protecting your pod. Breaking your bond is the smartest move, and when you do it, Tis won’t take kindly to some waxamist tossing her sib to the side.”

“She’ll confront me at every opportunity,” Eppis said, nodding.

Bam smiled, “Covert communication is a beautiful thing,”

“Yuxi,” Eppis said, “I too have met Donmat Dox.”

Bam opened the door.

“I believe Dox is in the Femitokon Division, yes?”

“Does she belong to Fusada?” Eppis asked.

Bam exited the transport.

Manaraga Peak, Usa District
Slavic Empire – 2030 hours

Sofita flew high above the mountains.

Crossing hundreds of miles within minutes the Shell’s dermis-shielding lessened the gravitational force that moved against her.

Snow-covered peaks surrounded by desolate ground divided a fascia of barren valleys, and hugging the treeless hills was a newly paved road. Upon it, moving north were four diesel trucks, and when they entered a tunnel, Sofita flew ahead to ascertain their destination.

Over the mighty snow cap lay a grassy range fed by a melting glacier cirque. In it, a stone-laid peninsula housed a large facility with the words ‘Usa Water’ stenciled across the exterior.

Velto’s voice rang out in her head.

That’s not a water treatment plant.

Sofita thought back, Are you sure?

What water treatment needs a hydro-turbine?

Only a bizzy saw the working parts through the complete structure.

I can hear your thoughts, Velto groused. Instead of waxing poetic about my caste, why don’t you just scan the structure!

Hand aimed, the Shell’s scanners revealed what slept underground. There were no subterranean aqueducts to lead water to a population center, and it lacked pipes and pumps native to water purification.

If they’re doing what we think they are, said Velto in her head. There’ll be a sizable waste-water drainage pool.

Hovering to the back of the facility, Sofita found a large square puddle.

This doesn’t smell like wastewater.

It’s a seepage pit for the toxic by-product. Velto’s voice explained. The processors finishing program leaches all impurities used to form the newly created sustenance.

Sofita descended, the smell is unusual.

It’s ripe enough to gag a penguin, ‘Fita.

A sexual encounter invaded Sofita’s senses.

Polar night blackened the surface, and tundra winds stiffened her uzx. At her feet in the crux of a snow dune, the young sinewy body of a Bizak stretched back over the belly of a fat Zaxir. Presented with the blooming flesh between the bizzy’s narrow hips, she sunk to knees.

Velto’s voice called out Sofita’s name.

Velts? the Shell spoke in Sofita’s voice. Remember that night on the surface near that penguin watch center?

I remember everything about the first time I rode Fusada, Velto’s voice sounded agitated. I cannot believe she told you about that, Sofita.

Sofita growled, her eyes clamped shut.

Sofita? Velto’s voice echoed. What’s going on?

Sofita turned every memory she had of Fusada into a pile shoes; some were in tatters, many were stylish, and others too obtuse to be worn. Packing them neatly into a deep tharspin box, Sofita carried the box to a hole in the ice and dropped it in.

What’s wrong? Velto’s voice boomed. Answer me!

The intrusive sensations began fading as Sofita came closer to the ground.

—I’m going in. Sofita said, shaking her head to clear it. I need to terminate our auditory connection. I can’t risk it getting picked up by low-level frequency radio.

Keep your head, said Velto.

Sofita sighed, keeping my head is what I do best.

After an imposed moment of silence, Sofita landed on the roof and powered down.

Five vents lined the building’s center flat. Popping the casing on the largest, Sofita tore free its protective netting and then lowered herself inside.

In the darkness, she made out the hollow of a ventilation duct.

Legs in first, Sofita descended faster than anticipated. For the first time in decades, she was thankful to be an Hizak as the cheeks of her girsuzsch caught the walls of the duct and provided enough traction to slow her down.

Exiting the chute, Sofita caught its curled frame with her fingertips and avoided a sloppy free-fall into open space below. Dangling over a maze of aluminum-coated ductwork, Sofita let go and landed upon a flat of concrete.

Distant voices echoed.

Crouched over a checkered grate, Sofita peered through its netting and found herself overtop a warehouse. Poking her fingers into the lattice, she tore the cover from its pane, and then lowered her head through the opening.

Underneath her, a thick iron water pipe ran the length of the ceiling, coupled every few feet by fat-bolted mating rings.

Upper body out of the opening, Sofita got her palms onto the pipe and walked her hands along its cold surface until she could go no further.

Torso stretched, she embraced its girth and pulled hard to dislodge her thick rump from the four-sided opening. Suddenly free, Sofita tucked her knees to avoid slamming them against the pipe but landed her boots upon it with a resounding clap.

Curled up tight, she listened for the voices below to fall silent.

When the muted conversation continued without a beat, Sofita straightened up and pivoted on her boot heels. Reaching back up and into the opening, she got hold of the cover and returned it quietly to its frame.

The scent of natural gas came from a narrow tube along the ceiling. It was bracketed every foot or so with a dangling fixture that secured its long burner head, and along its underside burned a robust line of flame.

Dozens of cots lined the floor below.

Sickly nurses no older than twelve shuttled among them like ants scurrying between the grooves of a tree. Occupying the beds were pregnant women. All heavy in their final trimester, they varied in age from young to mature.

Clicking footfalls ushered in four elderly women in lab coats. Damaged by inherited hyperautophagy, their cratered scalps lacked hair, and the scars on their faces stretched while they whispered to themselves.

The women stepped onto an erected stage at the far end of the room, and when one of them tapped the microphone, the chatter among the patients and nurses died down. The speaker was a darkly blemished woman. Lacking height and severely underweight, she whispered to her colleagues before addressing the room.

All those born in the Sanok District,” she said. “It’s time.”

The child-nurses swarmed, making their way to the last rows they rousted the chosen women from their mattresses with comforting words and charitable smiles.

Sofita walked the pipe and found it ended in the rockface.

A parallel girder extended beyond the bedrock and overtop a cluster of rooms that were separated from the warehouse by a concrete wall.

Sofita dove from the pipe and landed on her hands upon the girders tapered surface. Curling out of the handstand, she came down straddling the beam and swung her legs forward to twist into a standing position.

Sofita collected her balance before proceeding along the truss.

Beneath was a labyrinth of walled-in exam rooms, each with a door. There were beds with stirrups, and sheets stained in various degrees of past trauma.

In the obstetric quarters, faceless cabinets carried chloroform bottles, and wire mesh storage bins packed tight with cloth-banded rolls of gauze.

There were no post-operative centers here; nor were there newborn nurseries.

Sofita’s mind to her to the paxicol she shared with Fusada.

Nineteen years ago, just days after bearing her marixidoe, Sofita was confronted by Fusada. Naked in their hibernation room, Fusada had demanded an explanation. Fatigued and desperate to sleep, Sofita had tolerated the scolding.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Fusada cried. ‘You could’ve died, Sofita. That would’ve fucked up everything!’

“Yes, because nothing is greater than the plan!”

“That wasn’t my what I meant!” Fusada said. “Why’d you do this?”

“I have my reasons,”

Fusada knelt before her, “This is about that donux you gave to Crixal last year, isn’t it?”

Sofita refused to elaborate.

Fusada answered for her.

“No, Fusada, I let that shit go because pursuing it is stupid,” Fusada pushed her finger against Sofita’s temple, accentuating the point. “And Sofitakul isn’t stupid!”

Sofita purged her mind of the past when noisy goings-on beckoned in the darkness beyond. Peering past the beam, she counted four personnel in swivel chairs. The men say at a control board, and on their glass screens were readings written in Ramaxi.

Moving silently past, Sofita encountered her first ceiling.

Testing its weight, she stepped onto it. At the porthole hatch in its center, she found a narrow rectangular tube that bent at a ninety-degree angle, away from the trap.

The finger-thin tube stretched into the belly of an overhead tank, and

painted upon it were the Ramaxi letters HZB.

Hlzbol was an engineered caustic derived from the stomach acids of sea predators. In its natural state, it softened bone and dissolved cartridge. Velto’s initial design was a behemoth built to process large volume bulk material restaurants, cyber-marine galleys, and orbital stations.

The size of the tank indicated that the Slavs had created a replica of the SK-Prime. Velto would need evidence for the Fourth Office, not only to prove the Slavs ability to tailor their technology but show what they were using for biomaterial.

Sofita fought down her disgust and popped the hatch. The stench assaulted her senses. Holding her breath, she dropped her upper body through the hole.

“Orny, enable CVM,” she gasped.

The patch materialized on her temple as she reached down and poked a finger into the gelatinous mix. Determined to get a sample onto a safe portion of her uniform, she curled up and felt her hips roll past the lip of the opening.

Her thighs slipped past the edge as Sofita raised her upper body up in time to grasp the collar of the hatch. When the hatch-lid suddenly tipped forward, Sofita let go and landed hard on a bed of sticky pulp.

Going up on all fours and standing caused the slop to close in around her boots. Sofita struggled toward the wall as the swamp of flesh swallowed her feet.

Fetid air invaded her lungs. Vomit exploded from her mouth and nose, and she fought to keep from sinking. Chest deep in the mix, Sofita’s boot touched bottom.

Suddenly, air shot out from the middle of the room, followed by a short tremor that shook the floor beneath her boots. The mire began churning downward, spiraling toward the center as a circular spigot descended from a chute in the ceiling.

Sofita was about to be doused with hlzbol. The acidic spray would soften her bones and melt her flesh to soup, making her one with this mass of umbilical cords, tiny limbs, and undeveloped torsos.

Fighting anew for a higher position against the wall, Sofita stretched her upper body as far as she could from the deadly juice that rained down upon the muck. Siphoned through a hole in the floor the mix caved in the middle and began pulling her down into the jelly of tiny bones and skulls.

Sofita opened her mouth to scream, inviting the putrid ooze past her teeth.

Head under, the Femitokon Shell came to life.

Its power encased Sofita’s body, purging the invading sludge and deriving it out of her esophagus. Palms charged, Sofita let loose successive blasts, driving gobs of the discharge against the ceiling.

A shot hit the tank’s lining, burning a sizable hole that deposited Sofita into a vestibule along with hundreds of pounds of aborted flesh and bone.

Desperate for air, Sofita inhaled deep. Jumping to her feet, she unleashed a volley of destruction. Balls of the energy collided with anything in range, singing holes in those unwise enough to appear in the hall.

Screams echoed as emergency alarms blared.

When the Shell warned of an incoming bolt of plasma energy, Sofita hovered to avoid it and twirling about she blasted the head off each man in uniform. Strapped to their arms were Second-Gen pulsars.


Sofita blasted a hole in the roof, and soaring through it, raced back to New Warszawa.


There was a rugged beauty to Fuzodox.

“When a belly looks at me like you are right now,” said Fuzo. “That’s how I know she wants to bounce,”

“You’re such a little shit!” Ilo laughed at her. “I was thinking about your birther,”

“How could you possibly know my birther?”

“You got her orneriness,” said Ilo. “I can see it in your eyes.”

Fertility specialist assured potential makers that their birther had no biological impact on the donux they carried, but the hints of black throughout this young bruiser’s hide told a different story.

The black-hided Crixaldox had inevitably seeped into this marixidoe like ink from a naughty squid. The deadly gray hinted to Fuzo’s pedigree, but those soulful eyes promised kindness to anyone willing to forget her genetic line.

“She’s still out there, kicking up the ice?” Fuzo asked.

“Nope, she’s been tethered,” Ilo said.

Living at the Wram high-rise in their early years, Ilo bore witness to Crixal’s imprisonment. The bond had been forced on her by way of her kerma, who’d allowed Lekada her due because the hizzah eel had something on elder Dox that Crixal wasn’t willing to talk about.

After patch-collections began for the Tenth, Lekada decreed that Crixal wasn’t to birth a donation. Ilo insisted that she and Velto leave the Wram high-rise after that so Crixal wouldn’t have to see Ilo pregnant every day.

Naturally, Crix hadn’t been inclined to follow Lekada’s edict.

It was a sordid tale with an unhappy ending due in part to the adorable marixidoe now desperate to hear the story. Old Lekada thought she had feisty Crixal under foot until she’d found out about the pregnancy.

The old eel had traced Crixal to the birthing center where Ilo had delivered all her donats. Lekada arrived just after the marixidoe was born and threatened everyone in the room with ruin. She ordered Crixal’s makodux tossed out like discarded meat, and then demanded the attending nurses euthanize the marixidoe.

Fuzo Dox standing here now meant that someone out there had been brave to risk old Lekada Wram’s wrath.

“She’s brave, I can tell you that,” Ilo said.

Fuzo stood, “Is she in an abusive relationship?”

“It’s nothing she can’t handle, doe,” Ilo smiled warmly. “Like ‘Fita says, Zaxiri are just fattened up Marixi,”

Fuzo smiled, “How did you meet her?”

“Sofita?” Ilo pursed her lips. “I was fifteen, it was in Mynu,”

“Not the Komad,” Fuzo shook her head and smiled. “My birther,”

“I suppose there’s no harm in telling you a little bit about her,” said Ilo. “Her name’s her business though, I can’t tell you that,”

“I could go the Cit Cat,” said Fuzo.

“Then you do that,” Ilo declared.

“Come on,” Fuzo opened her arms. “Until I met you, I thought my birther died.”

“Why’d you think that?” Ilo asked.

“I’m a caste center doe,” said Fuzo.

“Doesn’t mean your birther’s dead,” Ilo said.

“I was the only donat in my group who never got a wellness visit from some strange Zaxir,” she said. “Everyone’s birther showed up at least once before they left for caste-training, mine never did.”

“I’m sorry, Fuzo.” Ilo pouted. “I can’t tell you her name,”

“Okay, no names,” she said. “How’d you meet her?”

“Let’s see, it was right after hibernation in 2199,” Ilo said. “I started modeling for this casti-taker in Toxis,”

Fuzo began helping Ilo pack.

“She was a Ninth Gen Hizzah that specialized in dark hided bellies,” Ilo grinned. “My blue was darker in those days.”

“It’s blue enough now,” Fuzo grinned.

“Anyway, she was a real loser,” Ilo said. “I was cover material, and on many covers back then but had no credit to show for it because she paid shit.”

“How long were you her model?” Fuzo asked.

“My first month sitting for her was my last,” Ilo said. “I met your birther the day I walked out. She came in with this young brooder,”

“How’d she get a brooder out of Orta?” Fuzo asked.

“You took classes outside of Orta, right?” said Ilo.

“I did,” Fuzo replied. “I never went to Toxis though, that’s bold.”

“Bold is one way to describe Zixaswram,” Ilo said. “Zix was from Toxis, and her kerma being the Second Office, she had wide latitude for getting into shit,”

Fuzo’s eyes went wide, “So you met the Ambassador’s sib before you met the Ambassador?”

“Something like that,” Ilo said. “So, your birther comes in and points out the hizzah and tells Zixas that the eel rode her, took freezes of her during it, and then sold them without her permission.”

Fuzo cried, “Was it true?”

“I don’t know,” Ilo shrugged. “This hizzah was a real scum though. Long story short, Zixas wailed on that brainer!”

“You were friends after that?” Fuzo asked.

“Yeah,” Ilo said. “She took me out and about. Scored me a great doctor at a ZHC that I couldn’t afford, until I made Prime Citizen,”

“There’s was a Dox in the competition,” Fuzo said. “Crixal?”

“Was there?” Ilo asked.

“You know her,” Fuzo laughed. “She’s bonded to the Ambassador’s kerma.”

“She didn’t bond to Lekada Wram,” Ilo said, coldly. “She was forced,”

Fuzo rose from the bed, “I never knew any of that,”

“I’m not going talk her business, either,” Ilo snapped.

“Is my birther related to Crixal?” Fuzo asked.

“Do you know how many bellies there are with the name Dox?” Ilo said.

Fuzo nodded, “Yes I do,”

“Were you and Crixal friend with my birther?” Fuzo asked.

“We were thick as subbies,” Ilo then lost her smile. “Until my nature got the better of me. I got jealous, I pushed Crix away, and none of my friends were happy with it,”

“You’re a waxamist,” Fuzo said. “Ambassador Wram knows about you, right?”

“Of course, I told her up front,” said Ilo.

“Was it hard, telling her?” Fuzo asked.

“When you’re a monogamist you got to admit what you are to yourself first,” Ilo said. “After that, telling your lover is easy.”

“When did you tell Fusadakul?” Fuzo asked.

“I didn’t,” Ilo smirked. “That was Sofita.”

Fuzo eyes widened, “The Komad?”

“Sofita was a social octopus in her day. Not like she is now with all that silence. If there was shit worth knowing, Sofitakul knew it,” Ilo said. “Fusada needed Velts in Cloister. ‘Fita warned her about my politically unpopular orientation.”

“The citizenry loves you,” Fuzo shook her head.

“They citizenry loved me,” said Ilo. “Until I came out,”

“My opinion never changed,” Fuzo declared.

Ilo teased, “No one cares what you think, brooder,”

Fuzo laughed, and that’s when Ilo saw it.

“You should skip the Cit-Cat, doe,” she said.

“I don’t have time,” Fuzo shoved Ilo’s dress pile into the carryall. “I was going to make an appointment, but every time I do the Komad has a mission for us,”

Sofita Kul remained ever resourceful.

“How did Crixal Dox end up with CM Wram anyway?” Fuzo asked.

“Lekada was always on the prowl for the most beautiful breeder,” Ilo said. “She tried hawking on me once, but I shut that mess down.”

“She must’ve been hot when Velto brought you home,” Fuzo grinned.

“Yeah,” Ilo laughed. “It was a shit sandwich I enjoyed watching her eat,”

Dox asked, “Why’d you bond to the Komad’s sib?”

“She was my friend,” said Ilo. “Met her the day I met Velto,”

“Really?” Dox laughed.

“Yeah,” Ilo said. “We’re all a bunch of close-knit weirdoes,”

Fuzo stepped to Ilo and sat on the back of the chair.

“Komad says that she didn’t kill herself because of you,”

“That was Lekada’s story,” Ilo said, bitter. “I cared for ‘Foos,”

Fusada had been the one to stop Ilo from procuring the digger with which to kill Lekada. After what she’d done to Crixal and her makodux, Ilo went to Orta and visited Fusada’s office at Femitokon Holding. Fusada had walked in on Ilo looking for the weapon, and when thwarted, Ilo attempted to convince Fusada to murder the hizzah.

Luckily for Ilo, Fusada’s cooler head prevailed.

“Are you sure I can’t take all my things?” Ilo said, mourning her many bottles of skin cream.

“We can’t appear to be extracting you,” said Fuzo.

“I’ve got so much I want to take,” Ilo pouted.

“What’s this?” Fuzo held up a bottle of something green.

Ilo shook her head, “Can’t remember where I got that.”

“Then it can stay,” Fuzo said, firm.

“Listen to you, getting all Sofita on me,” Ilo teased. “I bet you’re a good time at the citbluz,”

Fuzo shook her head, “I usually stick to the genbluz,”

“Why would you do that?” Ilo cried. “You’re too good-looking,”

“I went to Daxakil’s before this mission,” Fuzo said.

“I know that place,” Ilo said. “Lots of Pure Gens,”

“I had to go,” Fuzo said. “I got suspended from the genbluz,”

“Wait a minute,” Ilo pulled Fuzo down to sit beside her. “Why were you going to the genbluz anyway, brooder?”

“It’s my problem,” Fuzo rose from the bed.

“Talk to me,” said Ilo. “I’m mak-mak Ilo,”

Fuzo laughed, then folded her arms over her chest.

“I don’t like grouping up. I can do it, and I burn and all, but I prefer one on one,” Fuzo said. “I get attached, and when I see or think about a lover with someone else, it weirds me out.”

“Orta prescribed a citbluz visit?”

“I’m supposed to get thumbprints of all the Zaxiri I ride,” Fuzo shook her head. “It’s so humiliating,”

Ilo touched Fuzo’s bald head.

“Why didn’t tell me sooner,”

“I’m not like you,” said Fuzo. “I’m not comfortable with myself,”

“Waxam is an ongoing process,” Ilo said. “None of us ever fully accept ourselves, and if they say they do they’re lying.”

Fuzo grinned, “I’m going to get help,”

“Why?” Ilo felt her heart sink. “I mean, if you think you want it,”

“That’s the thing though, a part of me feels like I don’t need help,” Fuzo said. “Then another part of me really likes Subaki, and they’re not into monogamy.”

Ilo reached into her dress and lifting her right frontal, retrieved the handheld she stashed underneath it.

“I’m sending you the address of a counselor that specializes in monogamists,” she said. “It’s a support group with a few subbies in it,”

“Citizen!” Fuzo cried. “What’re you doing with a Filmark?”

Before Ilo could confess that she smuggled it past the OHA bruisers by slipping it into her guzshlix, there was a knock at the door.

Fuzo moved closer to it, raising her hand up to silence Ilo.

“Velto never knocks,” Ilo whispered.

Fuzo peeked through the spy hole before stepping back.

“Do the helovx ever visit in large numbers?”

“No, it’s always just our escort,” Ilo said.

Fuzo gently took her arm, “Let’s go, please,”

“What wrong?” Ilo allowed herself to be pulled along. “You’re scaring me.”

Miss Ilo,” it was young Miri, speaking Sladdish. “I need you to open the door now. I need you to let me in.”

“Miri brought men to my door?” Ilo asked.

Fuzo’s hand went instinctively to her hip where her palm-blaster should’ve been strapped and dangling. Calmly, she pulled Ilo to the window, and opening it, motioned for Ilo to join her.

“Citizen Wram, we’re going out this window, and up the fire stairs.”

“Is there a fire?” Ilo asked.

“Please,” Fuzo smiled, but Ilo could see the tension tighten her scalp.

Stepping out the window and onto an iron staircase, Ilo waited for Fuzo to join her before being gently nudged to climb the steps.

“Aren’t you going to fight them?” Ilo asked.

“I can’t engage armed helovx with you this close,” Fuzo said when they reached the roof. Eyeing their surroundings, she added, “Once you’re safely out of range, I’ll confront them.”

“We should talk to them,” Ilo peered down over the roof’s edge, and when an helovx emerged from the window with a gun in his hand, she ran into Fuzo’s arms. “They’re coming!”

“It’s going to be fine,” Fuzo took hold of Ilo’s arms. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You promise,” Ilo tried to laugh, but it came out wrong. Fuzo nodded, and then stalked to the back of the roof.

“We’re jumping to this building back here,” Fuzo scooped Ilo up off her feet and hoisted Ilo over her shoulder.

Facing down, Ilo watched alley below fly by as Fuzo jumped across. Set back on her feet, Ilo’s hand was in Fuzo’s as the Donmat pulled her toward the roof’s access door.

While Fuzo forced the knob free, four men emerged over on the roof they’d just abandoned, each brandishing a knife and a gun.

“They’re going to kill us!” Ilo exclaimed before being pulled into the stairwell.

“I’m going to get you out of here,” said Fuzo.

Ilo followed the Donmat down four flights.

The door at the bottom opened into a dark and empty clock shop.

“Disgusting,” Fuzo groaned. “I smell mold, blood, shit, and urine,”

“Can they shoot us with those guns?” Ilo cried.

“Ilo,” Fuzo walked to the front windows. “Tell me about Brasilia,”

Ilo blurted, “Did you know that in Brasilia they don’t use clocks?”

“They don’t?” Fuzo rubbed a spot clean in the window’s dirty glass.

Ilo reached for her, “They don’t believe in keeping track of hourly time.”

Fuzo took Ilo into her arms.

“They must be a very relaxed culture,”

“They are Fuzo,” Ilo nodded. “I’m going there when we get out of here.”

“That sounds nice, you and the Ambassador will love it,” Fuzo said, as dozens of shadows appeared on the other side of the glass.

“Are they outside?” Ilo whispered.

Fuzo remained calm, “Come with me,”

Taking Ilo behind the counter, Fuzo felt around the floor with her boot until she tapped upon something hallow. Leaning over she pulled up a trap door, and then gently pulled Ilo down with her into the small opening.

“Should we be going down?” Ilo asked.

“I can’t separate from you right now,” said Fuzo. “But I need to reduce the open space around us. I must limit access to you and engage them one at a time. If there’s a storage basement under here-”

“—where’s your digger?” Ilo cried.

Fuzo took hold of her, “I don’t need it, Ilo.”

Her confidence assured Ilo until they stumbled into the darkness below. Here, the level-headed Donmat lost her composure.

“Shit!” she shouted.

“What’s wrong, Fuzo?” Ilo asked.

“There’s too much open space!” Fuzo looked at her. “You stay here, I’m going up.”

The hiss of sparked gas made Ilo jump.

Lights shone bright, giving life to the empty stone cellar. Boots clopped down the stairs, and Fuzo put herself in front of Ilo and pushed her to the farthest wall.

Yuri Kotko appeared in the light, a grin on his face.

“Take the Zaxir,” he said.

Feverish, Ilo’s hide went wet, and the tension boiling within caused her head to throb.

The two men behind him rushed in.

Fuzo stuck an elbow to the throat of the first man before thumping the other in the heart with her fist. Two other men jumped into the fray, and Ilo, unaccustomed to such violence, whimpered with each blow.

Fuzo grabbed Yuri by the throat as a blast of blue-white energy cracked the floor at their feet. Letting Yuri drop, Fuzo moved into position as a shield before Ilo. Fuzo’s glare was fixed on the loft overhead.

“That’s enough!” Boris Kotko held his arm out and aimed it.

Yuri jumped up from the floor, “They killed Kasi!”

“That’s a lie,” Ilo cried up to Boris.

“We must kill them!” Yuri screamed.

“You’ve murdered my son,” Boris aimed at Fuzo.

“That’s not true Duke Kotko!” Ilo shouted. “The Donmat’s been with me for hours, and we never saw Kasi!”

“Quiet, Ilo,” Fuzo whispered.

“You finally did it, didn’t you Yuri!” Ilo hissed over Fuzo’s shoulder. “You hated him for being a boy, you even said so to your flunkies!”

“Shut up, farc bitch,” Yuri lunged, but Fuzo struck him down.

A flash of light and young Fuzo howled out in pain.

Wetness covered Ilo’s foot, spilled by the gaping tear in Fuzo’s thigh. Ilo got her arms around the young bruise and was determined to keep her standing.

“Get down on your knees, farc,” Yuri growled.

“Not going to happen,” Fuzo gasped, wincing from the pain.

Yuri bared his sharp teeth and fixed the tip of his gun to Fuzo’s forehead.

“Step aside farc,” Boris’ voice demanded from above.

“Not going to happen,” Fuzo said again.

Ilo jumped at the resounding crack.

Warm blue sprayed over her chest and face, and Fuzo became too heavy for her to carry. Dropping her to the floor, Ilo heard Crixal Dox shouting like she had the first day they met: No one steals from Crixal Dox!

Every inch of Ilo’s hide burned as tears of rage streamed down her face.

Yuri stepped back and shouted, “Take her!”

“I don’t want to hurt anyone, so please stay back,” she sobbed, her hands up and her palms facing forward.

The men laughed nervously.

“She’s a breeder,” Yuri laughed. “She cannot hurt you!”

Two of the men entered Ilo’s space, and in that instant her hands moved, boxing each man’s ear, she brought their heads together, crushing their skulls on impact. The next man got hold of her hair, but Ilo dug her fingers into his face and drove it into the wall.

The strobe blinded Ilo, bringing a searing punch to her gut and forcing her back against the wall. Crippling pain spread through her stomach. Her fronts were slick with blood, and her thighs cramped. Falling to the floor, she landed on her face.

Handsome Fuzo lay with eyes closed, a gaping hole in her forehead.

“I’m so sorry Crixal!” Ilo cried out.

Flashes of white brought screaming and the sound of dead weight hitting the floor. The air became heavy with helovx, and somewhere she could hear the familiar cry of an angry Fusada Kul.

Ornithocheirus Five
Slavic Empire 2130 hours

Velto took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose, “Open a channel to home, Office of Helovx Advocacy,”

The communications panel came to life, a glowing yellow pulse that chased itself around in a circle.

“Patch me through privately to Ambassador Prime Dag,” Velto said.

I have made contact, said the male voice of Orny.

“Use my direct-channel code,” Velto added. “CM one-zero-four-one,”

Communication halted by order of subhive Toligon.

Communication rerouted-

“—rerouted?” Velto snapped. “By whom?”

Water fell noisily from the walls around her as a filigree of canals materialized beneath her feet. The cabin of the Ornith had become the black marble office of Committee Member the Fourth, Lekada Wram.

“Ambassador Wram,” Lekada sat at a white stone desk, her eyes fixed upon its bivelox surface screen. “I expected you returned to Ramaxia by now,”

“CM Wram,” said Velto. “I was in the middle of contacting Ambassador Prime Dag about our situation.”

“What is our situation?” Lekada asked, bored.

Velto said, “We need a complete severance of diplomacy with the Slavic Empire,”

“She’s a male, yes?” Lekada asked, sullen.

Velto cleared her throat, “They violated Law Five the Ramaxi L’uxial.”

Lekada lifted her head.

“Are you telling me these helovx dined on Ilo?”

“No CM Wram,” Velto said. “They’re feeding on themselves.”

“They’re animals Ambassador,” Lekada sighed. “They’ve not farmed in decades, and such cannibalism was anticipated,”

“CM Wram,” Velto choked on anger. “Were we aware that no sustainable life was maintainable when supplying them with sustenance technology?”

“The experiment is over, Ambassador,” Lekada studied her well-manicured nails, “Seize the technology, and return home.”

“CM Wram,” Velto kept her voice steady, “They have a basic understanding of the technology, and have replicated it.”

“I’m sorry Ambassador,” said Lekada. “But that’s a non-issue,”

“A non-issue?” Velto cried, “Kerma!”

Lekada’s eyes went wide, “Proper etiquette Ambassador!”

Velto struggled to calm herself.

“—once you’ve finished your tantrum, Ambassador,” Lekada said. “I’m certain Pitanadag will be interested in any suggestions you have for dealing with this non-issue.”

Velto said, “I’ve access to a Komad and her Ornith-”

“—too reactionary,” Lekada snapped.

Velto cried, “Orta needs to send troops here-”

“—you’re irate Ambassador,” Lekada snapped. “They’ve corrupted your precious invention, and now you’re an angry bear.”

Velto felt like a donat again, sitting in a Mynu office being lectured by Lekada in front of some fat backed hizzah about her unwillingness to utilize restraint.

Lekada had insisted Velto be returned to Pikalit and study with her own caste, but the Bizak in charge of the bio studies program had disagreed and reminded Lekada, and the administrator presiding, that Velto had too much to offer the citizenry.

Velto never returned to the anonymous ranks of Pikalit; she had made strides to temper her aggressive nature.

“Please refrain from interrupting me, CM Wram,” Velto said, coolly. “Troops must be sent to exterminate-”

“—exterminate?” Lekada said. “Who do you think you are Ambassador, the Primary?”

Velto said, “Convene with CM Uym about this-”

“—who do you think allowed them use of the technology?” Lekada’s eyes smiled. “The First Office was aware the Slavs lacked no proper protein source.”

“May I ask what the purpose of the experiment was, CM Wram?” Velto felt her face burning. “Surely the Second Gen got enough behavioral analysis on helovx cannibalizing each other during the Mormon Incident.”

“Tell me,” Lekada asked. “Have you dined with them?”

“I’ve not had one bite of their food,” said Velto.

“How is Ilo feeling these days?” Lekada asked. “No doubt she’s dined plenty.”

Velto’s stomach turned; the cause of Ilo’s resurgence was clear.

“Ambassador,” said Lekada. “I’m uncertain how Komad Kul acquired assignment to this extraction, but do put that anger of yours to good use and remember-”

“—Zixas?” Velto asked.

Lekada narrowed her eyes.

“If Sofitakul fails you in any way, you must demand Rod’ntil,” she said. “Sofita remains indebted, Velto, she cannot deny you twice.”

“I’m sorry CM Wram,” Velto said. “Recompense for the death of your donation is a non-issue.”

Lekada snapped, “Excuse me, Velto?”

“Maintain etiquette, CM Wram,” Velto said. “Or I’ll be forced to cease this conversation.”

Lekada stood, “How dare you-”

“—you’re irate, CM Wram,” Velto said. “You’re an angry bear because Sofita Kul took away your precious Primary candidate.”

Lekada walked from behind her desk, “Velto Wram!”

“Close channel, Ornithocheirus!” Velto ordered.

When the screen went blank, she stood up and pulled at the hem of her shirt.

“Ornithocheirus, do you have a kerma?”

I do not, Ambassador Wram.

“Cherish your circumstances, they’re enviable.”

Glancing the cabin, there was no place for Ilo to rest her legs.

If Ilo had no place to put her legs up, she’d gripe about it the entire trip home. Energized by the stress, Velto built a makeshift recliner by taking down a storage trunk from the overhead shelf and placing it beside a cushioned bench.

“Ornithocheirus,” Velto said. “Lower temperature by eight degrees.”

Temperature adjusted, Ambassador.

“Ornithocheirus,” Velto said. “I want you to send a playback of my correspondence with CM Wram, to Ambassador Prime Dag.”

Communication is coded Cloister Confidential.

“Un-code it,” Velto said. “and then send it.”

Yes, Ambassador.

The cabin’s emergency lights flashed as the seating area she’d worked so hard to arrange was swallowed by the floor and replaced with two medical beds that descended from the ceiling.

“Ornithocheirus, what’s wrong?”

The hatch flew open, and Sofita stumbled in powered down and stinking of charred fat and blood. Pushing past Velto, she carried the Donmat’s lanky body under one arm, and Ilo’s bulk over her shoulder.

“Ornith activate triage,” she gasped. “Level severe!”

Pulling Ilo off Sofita, Velto saw the craterous wound in Ilo’s belly.

“Ornithocheirus,” Velto cried. “Connect port-side to triage code Mainland-Terminus, Toxis Central Unit RHC number Fourteen.”

Ilo woke when laid out on the medical bed.

“Velts!” she garbled, spitting up blood.

Holographic monitors blinked to life as a blanket of light materialized over the wound. Velto took a towel from the bedside tray and wiped Ilo’s face clean.

Maximum signal strength.

Connecting to Mainland Terminus.

Connection established.

The stern voice of Oligax filled the cabin.

Initiating remote-triage, level severe.

Velto moved aside as scanning beams crisscrossed Ilo’s torn midsection. The floating screens overtop Ilo’s head displayed her vital signs, and unable to watch anymore, Velto found Sofita trying to apply a manual intravenous patch to the Donmat’s arm.

“What are you doing, ‘Fita?” Velto said, “Connect her to MT,”

“No,” Sofita shook her head.

Nicking the bruiser’s arm drew blood.

Sofita quickly slapped the patch down upon it, and when the blue sticker pulsated, it doubled in size and began to beat in time with the Donmat’s artery.

“Sofita,” Velto said, “We need to connect her-”

“—negative!” Sofita pulled a clear bottle of rixpurn disinfectant from under the triage bed, broke its cap with her teeth, and poured it over the Donmat’s head wound. The gaping hole over her eyes was a blackened purple that promised to only get worse.

“Mainland Terminus can fix-”

“—she’s mine too, Velto!” Sofita growled, falling to her knees.

Velto whispered, “You’re going to get her killed!”

“Not today!” Sofita calmed herself. “Not today.”

The monitor tracking Ilo’s vitals began beeping wildly.


The patient is too damaged to proceed.

“What’s going on?” Velto cried, rushing to the side of Ilo’s bed as the irradiated cloud over her wound faded until it was gone.

Connection to Mainland Terminus disconnected said the Ornith. Patient Ilocux is too damaged to proceed.

“No!” Sofita was at Velto’s side. “Force reconnect, override code-”

“No, ‘Fita!” Velto grabbed her shoulder. “You use your inheritor code to override a hive-decision, and it’ll get parsed.”

“Not a concern, Velto!” Sofita cried.

Velto put herself between Sofita and Ilo.

“It gets parsed, Femtrux cycles it and recognizes you officially as next in line to rule,” she spoke with her eyes on Sofita’s. “All this hands-on shit you’re doing to save Fuzo will be for nothing!”

“You can’t do this to Ilo,” Sofita said.

“I did this to Ilo the day I bonded to Fusada,” Velto said.

Ilo coughed up a torrent of blackened blue upon her chin and chest.

“Ilo, I’m right here,” Velto took her hand.

Ilo’s eyes opened and exposed her blood-stained teeth in a smile she sputtered, “Velts—Tenth Gen needs to ascend more than you need me,”

“I love you, Ilo Cux,” Velto pressed her lips to Ilo’s, and tasted the blood.

“Waxami,” Ilo whispered, closing her eyes.

Velto whispered, “Ilo?”

Ilo’s chest no longer rose and fell.

“Ilo wake up,” Velto demanded, eyes drowning. Prying open one of Ilo’s eyelids with her thumb, Velto found it clouded in white.

Sofita sank to the floor with her head in her hands.

“I didn’t get there in time,”

Velto wiped the blood from Ilo’s chin with her sleeve.

Veltowram, for the harm that I have caused you and yours,” Sofita stood above her, offering Rod’ntil. “I offer anything to you, though I know it will never be enough to replace the life that you have lost, because of my actions.”

“I will ask of you, Sofitakul, to make amends,” Velto never cared for ceremony. “Does your Ornith have a connection to Sky Sister?”

“It’s capable of remote-connection,” Sofita said, unsure.

Velto walked to the Ornith’s command panel.

“You’re going to give me that special inheritor code.”

“Why wouldn’t let me use it to save her?” Sofita demanded.

“Oligax disconnected because Ilo was too far gone!” Velto exclaimed. “You really think entering your code and ordering Oligax back here was going to make her do a better job?”

Sofita’s shoulders fell in defeat.

“You’re not Fusada,” Velto growled. “Be smarter, not harder.”

“That’s right, I’m not Fusada,” Sofita growled, head shaking. “Initiating ascension again, trying to step into her boots, this was a mistake from the-”

“—Fusada’s dead!” Velto cried. “Fusa’s still in her chair because Femtrux knows you’re the legitimate heir. It is time tell that fucking prime-hive she’s right!”

Sitting down, Sofita closed her eyes.

“Zixas is gone,” Velto said. “Lekada’s only means to stay in power is me being alive.”

“She can put you in ISO,” Sofita said.

“My secondary inheritor code was recognized as prime when Uvi Tol died at Igitat,” Velto said. “I can exercise remote primada access to Sky Sister.”

“To what end, Velto?” Sofita asked.

“I’m going to engage Sky Sister to wipe these fuckers off the face of Ramaxicon,” Velto put a finger to Sofita’s chest. “I need your code as my incoming Primary to back me up!”

“She can put you in ISO,” Sofita said. “You do this, and she will,”

“Ilo was eating them, Sofita,” Velto growled. “She was eating their flesh!”

Sofita’s face twisted upon realizing the cause of Ilo’s resurgence.

There are fourteen armed helovx closing in on our location.

“Orny, move out over the Mediterranean Ocean,” Sofita kept her eyes on Velto’s. “Take us forty-one degrees north at the fifty-fourth line and twelve degrees east to the twenty-ninth.”

Yes, Komad Kul.

“I know you already got a plan to save Fuzo in that head of yours,” Velto accused. “If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have offered to enter your code to save Ilo.”

“Initiate a remote connection to Sky Sister,” Sofita said.

The words ‘Connecting Sky Sister’ flashed on Orny’s forward array before it went black, replaced by the blinking words of ‘Clearance Required.’

Velto typed: OHA Emergency Band 5. Veltowram CM1041.

Connection to Sky Sister initiating…



Connection to Sky Sister established.

The cabin around them transformed into a darkened platform. A large screen appeared in the place of Orny’s forward monitor, and a holographic keyboard floated before them.

Velto touched it, bringing up a new keyboard of operative symbols.

I AM SKY SISTER in bold text appeared on the screen.

Velto typed: Display Operations Menu.


Velto again typed OHA Emergency Band 5. Veltowram CM1041.

Red lights appeared followed by a donats voice.

Inheritor CM1004 is detected on the recycle docket for the unproduced Generational Twelve.

CM1041 is identified as living and an operational member of Surface Operational under the authority of Orta Prime.

Identification confirmed, and access granted.

The floating screen displayed a bulleted list of operational headers. Velto went to touch the words Energy Cannon Interface, but Sofita swiped her finger over Global Strategic.

The sphere of Ramaxicon appeared with its continents and oceans outlined. Every inhabited settlement between the poles pulsed as a potential mark.

Sofita typed: Initiate Command Menu.

A long list of commands filled the screen.

Velto typed in ‘Chemotaxic Phagocytosistation’ and moved her finger to a position over the Slavic Empire.

Tapping the map twice highlighted all four quadrants within the wall.

This radius exceeds standard Chemotaxic Phagocytosistation parameters.

Sofita typed: ‘Display maximum radius, Chemotaxic Phagocytosistation.’

The globe unfolded and became a flat map. Uralskey Island far exceeded the program’s maximum coverage area.

Velto tapped out of the Global Strategic, returning them to the Full Commands list.

“What’s Horizon Annihilation?” Velto asked, tapping it.

“That’s under the Tharso header,” Sofita replied, head shaking. “You can’t make her aim a beam that’s meant to wipe out mountains on Tharso, toward Ramaxicon.”

Velto glared at Sofita, “I can make her burn a wart off my gurz if I want to,”

Velto then keyed in the coordinates of Uralskey Island.

Horizon Annihilation protocol activated.

Velto typed, Initiate Full Soil Burn.

Veltowram, inheritor code CM1041.

Full environmental burn is designed exclusively for use on Tharso in a controlled environment that is cleared of all life forms.

Engaging this procedure in the designated coordinates will destroy one-thousand eight hundred twenty-three helovx life forms.

Velto typed her request in again.

Veltowram, inheritor code CM1041, is it your intention to keep the current parameters for a full environmental burn?

Velto typed her affirmation.

Veltowram, inheritor code CM1041, please verbally engage.

Sighing, Velto cleared her throat.

“Initiate full soil burn.”

The moment of silence dragged.

Veltowram, inheritor code CM1041, you are not authorized to engage this command.

Primada level authorization must accompany this request.

Sofita stepped in and typed: Primada Identifier PRY1001B, Sorority of Defense. Engage Horizon Annihilation. Initiate Full Soil Burn.

Inheritor PRY1001A is detected on the recycle docket for the unproduced Generational Twelve.

PRY1001B is identified as living and an operational member of Ramaxian World Oceans under the authority of Orta Prime.

Initiating peer connection to Pengon…

Pengon is transferring to Pentox…

Pentox is elevating to Femtrux.

Velto and Sofita exchanged soulful looks as the program went up the Collective’s chain of command.

Identification confirmed, and access granted.

Sofitakul, PRY1001, please re-enter your Inheritor Code.

Sofita typed as ordered, leaving off the letter B.

“That’s it?” said Velto. “One fucking letter,”

“For me, yes,” said Sofita. “For Sky Sister, no.”

“What do you mean?” Velto asked.

The red lights went black, and text appeared.



“Clearance?” Velto cried.

“We’re asking her to commit a serious ethical violation that involves taking helovx lives,” said Sofita. “Add on the issue of inter-gen politics, and she’s got no choice but to play it smart and request permission from a Prime Chair.”

“Hives are like hizzah’s, they love taking hostages,” Velto spat. “What’s the point of having your inheritor-code if you can’t use it?”

“I’m a Komad, not a Primepromad,” Sofita said. “Primepromad’s the only rank I can use my code without authorization from a Prime Chair, or the Primary.”

“Anti-coup maneuvers?” Velto laughed.

“Fusa used Pentox to take control Orta, and Ryo used Tolitat to seize the Cloister. Femtrux won’t let that happen again,” Sofita said. “We’ve got one advantage, the Prime Chair in Orta will get this request before Uym or the Primary.”

Velto howled in frustration.

“You do realize,” Sofita said. “We’ve now engaged in this enterprise longer than what’s allotted for an irrational emotional response defense?”

“I’m a Wram,” Velto said. “Our irrational emotional response is everlasting.”


At fifteen minutes to midnight, urgent whispers outside her office prompted Prime-Chair Ulizag to investigate.

Uli found both of her Tenth-Gen Promad in the watch-room, debating quietly instead of minding their screens.

Orta had dictated Uli’s administrative staff be Hizaki, but brainers made her uncomfortable, so she used a loophole that allowed her to staff her Pengon watch teams with Mynu educated Marixi.

“We have a Primary, and a Committee,” said the first., “Don’t you see what this means?”

“It’s not possible,” the other one said. “Kul’s donation’s dead,”

“If the Primary had no donat, she wouldn’t be Primary,” the first one countered.

Uli barked, “What’s the talk?”

The pair came to attention in front of their screens.

“We have an identifier-verification request from Pentox-”

“—by way of Sky Sister,”

“Sky Sister?” Uli stepped between them studied their screens.

“It’s a Tharso command function,” the first one said.

“Is it coming from Tharso?” Uli asked.

“It’s from an Ornithocheirus assigned to the Femitokon Division,” said the other.

“The hizarix comes out of hiding,” Uli whispered and smiled wide.

“Excuse me PC Zag?” the first asked.

As a youth, Uli never liked Fusakul.

Kul’s sadistic streak as toobs extended to her only once, and after she’d stood up to the gray-hided bully, Uli was considered an ally.

Uli’s displeasure grew over time with each new incident and accident. Her hatred for Kul burned brightest the day Kul usurped her command during the Perth Incident.

Uli hadn’t stood up for herself that time because there were too many lives under her care to risk it. Her reward for refusing to blame Kul for forcibly taking her command and using her TCS to murder thousands of helovx had been Kul asking her to take part in the Yulitat Coup.

Uli’s decision to help Fusa Kul seize Orta earned her control of the World Oceans, but it had cost her Kasko. Following the genocide, the lifeform slid into functional-depression.

Minor systems failed first before Kasko developed a total disregard for her crew. Once diagnosed, Kasko was decommissioned for treatment. Uli visited often, but Koko’s handlers couldn’t bring her out of it. Kasko was put on a termination list; killing her beast had been the first order Uli carried out as Prime Chair of Orta.

Primary Fusa Kul had carried out many reprehensible since Perth, and Uli being her Prime Chair was compelled to keep them quiet.

The murdering of helovx between the poles, the raping of countless citizen’s, most of them males, and covert terminations of citizens deemed an enemy to the Ninth Ruling Gen. All those paled in comparison to Kul’s treatment of her twins.

Uli had witnessed Kul’s verbal and physical abuse of Sofita.

The hizakidoe was problematic even for Uli; she looked too much like her sire, Fitax, a male that Uli had admired, respected, and possibly loved. What Kul and her wretched belly did to Fitax was a rumor proven by the birth of Sofitakul.

Uli was the Primary’s ally in position only.

Swallowing her rage over the loss of Kasko and Fitax, Uli relished the small victories; the death of the Fusada and the pain it caused, and Sofita stepping into the armor and making it work. The hated Hizak doing what the cherished Marix could not delighted Uli and it had been worth the beating she received at Kul’s hands for allowing the young Hizak to enter Orta, and train as Marixi.

Uli eyed the first one, “Primada requested?”

“Yes, PC Zag,” she replied.

“What’s the generational code of the Primada?”

The other one said, “PRY1001,”

“PC Zag,” the first one said. “Mainland Terminus indicated a citizen fatality aboard the Ornithocheirus just before Sky Sister was accessed,”

The other one added, “Perhaps they’re in a skirmish-”

“—verify and validate,” Uli said, walking away.

“Prime Chair?” the first one called.

“I said,” Uli savored the joy in their eyes. “Affirm the verification and validate the comment request.”


The operations room of Sky Sister came to life within the Ornith.

Prime Chair of Ramaxian World Oceans recognizes Primada Identification. Command Request is Affirmed.

Sofita jumped up from the floor.

Sofitakul, PRY1001, please enter your Inheritor Code and verbally verify your command request.

“Engage Horizon Annihilation,” Sofita said, typing. “Initiate Full Soil Burn”

High above in orbit, Sky Sister’s long tharspin frame turned away from Tharso and toward Ramaxicon.

Blooming like a flower with petals of glass, its center carpel pulsed. Energy shot from it rear stabilizers to ensure its anchor. The blinking lights ceased, and Sky Sister trembled. When the shivering stopped, and the panels slowly folded inward.

Two-hundred thirty-five thousand miles below a massive clap of thunder boomed as a beam of particle energy cut through the planet’s atmospheric layers.

The clouds over Uralskey disintegrated as a wall of yellow-tinted haze flooded the skyline. The mighty wall came up by its roots and disappeared into a destructive wave that singed every living thing it touched.

The island buckled, its broken shards sucked up burned to dust. Thousands of miles from the blast zone, the Ornith bobbed.

Inside the cabin, Velto crawled onto Ilo’s deathbed and held her corpse tight.

Sofita walked to Fuzo; the young Marix’s chest barely moved, and the gauze covering her open wound was now choked with blood.

Opening the cabinet below the triage bed, Sofita found field dressing kits, arranged in order by the severity of their purpose. Reaching into the back, she fished out the largest medical pack.

Velto got up watching Sofita as she pulled the gorged gauze from the Donmat’s head and popped open another bottle of rixpurn. Dousing young Fuzo’s head exposed the torn flesh, now traumatized to the point that its hue was now black

“You can’t operate on her,” said Velto, “You’ll kill her.”

“I can’t connect her to MT,” Sofita tore open the medical pack.

“She’s important to all of us, ‘Fita,” Velto put her hand on Sofita shoulder. “You can’t put her life at risk by digging around in her skull. You don’t have the skills.”

Crying out, Sofita threw the pack’s contents across the cabin.

Velto sat down.

“What was your plan before Ilo passed?”

Sofita stirred, “Orny, give me the location of Doctor Fyla Uym.”

Doctor Fyla Uym is on the TCS Orcinus, current location sixty degrees south by one-hundred-twenty degrees east.

“The Raxito?” Velto asked.

“Orny,” Sofita stepped to the navigation array. “Plot a course and inform Orcinus we need her to surface for civilian collection,”

Komad Kul, such a request will require an explanation.

“You’re a divisional Ornith in need of assistance,” Sofita handed Velto a blanket. “You have a murdered civilian on board,”

Promad Kilvx is not a difficult citizen, however-

“You inform the Promad of the Orcinus that she will surface her vessel at its current position,” Velto said. “As ordered by Ambassador Velto Wram, from the Office of Helovx Advocacy.”

Affirmative, Ambassador Wram.

Velto took the blanket given to her and went about covering Fuzo.

“That was for Ilo,” Sofita said.

“Ilo’s not the sort to cover up,”

Komad Kul?

“What is it Orny?” said Sofita.

Why do I not sense Donmat Dox?

“Doesn’t he hear us?”

Sofita shook her head, “Fuzo turned off his social auditory program before we landed. He hears only operational commands,”

“Orny?” Velto stared at the ceiling. “The Donmat got shot in the head by a metallic projectile, and we need to get her to the Orcinus.”

Sofita and Velto lost their balance as Orny increased speed.

Velto grabbed Sofita’s arm, “Dedicated Ornith,”

“I think he cares for her more than he does me,” Sofita mumbled.

“Ilo and Fusada talked about you being at the birth center,” Velto said. “They always clammed up when I came in the room. I never thought, ever, that you’d do something like give birth to a donation. Why, Sofita?”

“I had to find Fuzo,” Sofita replied.

“You could’ve gone to Crixal!” said Velto.

“Crixal doesn’t know she’s alive!” Sofita said.

Velto pointed at Fuzo, “You put her life at risk, collecting her from Orta!”

“She’s not just mine,” Sofita buried her head in her hands. “You cannot tell anyone about this, not even Eppis.”

“Where’s the donat you bore?” Velto asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Sofita.

“You can’t just ignore her existence,” Velto shouted. “You going to treat her like Fusa treated you?”

“She’s with her kerma,” Sofita glared, standing. “She doesn’t know about me or any of this, and I want to keep it that way.”

“You see! She matters,” Velto pointed and then walked to Ilo. “We got donations back home, ‘Fita. Ilo’s contacting, well, she was going to contact them.”

Velto fell to her knees and began to scream.

BAMX 10, 2228

Ramaxi Entertainment
Aridul Tower, Antarctica City
Ramaxia 0100 Hours

Moments before her departure from the mainland, Koba Julo had learned of the Slavic Empire’s destruction.

The broadband-orb given to her by Bamyuxi had begun emitting a myriad of messages, starting first with surface scouts witnessing a light amidst a rush of resonant tremors.

The voice of Pengon abruptly silenced all communications to proclaim that Sky Sister had been activated and aimed at Uralskey Island.

Ramaxia’s dealing with any helovx-nation fell the auspices of the Office of Helovx Advocacy; its official announcement stated that the Fourth Office, Lekada Wram, never ordered such action.

In transit back to the AC, Koba had continued to monitor garrison communications out of Orta. Following the crumbs, she’d discovered the bread; the future Fourth Office of the Tenth, Veltowram, had commandeered Sky Sister with the help of her incoming Primary.

No one in Orta would say the name Sofitakul.

At Ramaxi Entertainment’s studio, Koba’s small news crew had convened and listened as she conveyed what she’d learned; telling them nothing of the orb.

Koba’s detailed recount evoked no reaction from her Pure Gen staff, but for her Tenth-Gen engineers, the world was changed.

Young Fer Holix had doubted the story, reminding Koba that Fusadakul was dead, so the Tenth-Gen has no Primary.

Lovely Fer, discovered by Koba at a Genbluz in Mynu, was an exceptional listener; when told that the Primary’s other donation was an active Komad in World Oceans, the young belly blinked several times while processing the ramifications.

Koba had excused herself during the briefing when the orb in her pocket began vibrating; Orcinus had notified Orta Main that a shuttle carrying Velto Wram was inbound.

Rushing back into the room, Koba had dispatched Fer to Orta’s Prime Connection Terminal, and ordered her best Digicast Operator, Pax Gib, to tag along.

“They’re calling in Koba,” said Ribx, a Tenth Gen engineer.

“Bring her up on the screen,” said Koba.

Fer appeared before them, speaking at Pax Gib’s caster screen.

“They’re shutting everything down!” she cried, the walls of the marine terminal slowly lowering behind them. The OPC Terminal was open to the citizenry all calendar year; Orta was enacting a media lock-out. “What do we do, Koba?”

Koba tapped at the screen, “Get in there!”

The playback jarred violently as Pax followed and filmed Fer sliding under the dropping wall with only a few feet to spare.

A young Fleeter standing nearby marched over to their position, “You’re not authorized to be in here!”

“Then let us out,” Fer said.

The Fleeter stood aside rolling her eyes as Fer and Pax whisked past her and sprinted for the group of uniforms crowded around the central shuttle pool.

“Do your open right here,” Koba said over the channel.

Fer stopped, and with the group behind her, she fixed her appearance and took a breath before looking into the digicaster. Suddenly, the blue standby light reflected in her eyes stopped blinking.

“Hey Ramaxia, it’s me Ferholix, coming to you live from Orta’s Prime Central Terminal,” she said. “Hours ago, the Steller Kryonic Yaw System, known to us as Sky-Sister, let loose a blast of destruction over Uralskey Island, home of the Slavic Empire.”

A few Ninth-Gen uniforms walked briskly from the digicast scene.

“We’ve confirmed that orders to destroy the helovx-nation came from Ambassador Veltowram,” Fer stepped back and extended her arm toward the crowded pool. “The Ambassador is scheduled to arrive, at any moment,”

Koba spoke, touching the screen.

“Pan right, Pax,”

Pax did as she was told to catch Committee Member Lekada Wram making her way toward the pool. Flanking her were two of her Cloister guard.

“She’ll have to pass us, Koba,” Fer whispered, touching her ear device.

“Get her to confirm Velto did this,” said Koba.

Pax trailed close as Fer walked boldly to the elder Hizak.

“CM2 Wram,” she said. “I’m Ferholix of Channel Ramx!”

I’m aware of you,” Lekada spat. “This area is restricted,”

Koba smirked and said, wrinkled old hizzah; her crew of Tenth Gen engineers chuckled.

“Is it true that Ambassador Velto Wram-” Fer paused when Lekada pushed her aside and then glared at Pax’s screen.

“Ambassador Wram will answer for her reckless actions,” said elder Wram.

“If there’s punishment in order then it’s true, Ambassador Wram is responsible for activating Sky-Sister,” Fer stepped in front of the elder Hizak again, smiling sweetly. “My knowledge of Orta procedure is limited, but I believe only Primada members of the citizenry have the power to operate Sky-Sister.”

“Remove yourself from my path,” said elder Wram.

“Just one more question,” Fer’s smile faded. “If Ambassador Wram exercises such power, does this mean she and the Komad that aided her, are genetic inheritors?”

The Cloister guard pushed past young Fer, moving Lekada toward the shuttle pool.

“Follow her,” Koba ordered.

Fer forced her way through the crowd of Fleeters, with Pax filming over her shoulder.

A shuttle rose slowly out the water and after locking its docking clamps to the wet porch, Koba gave her engineers the order to go live.

All three stared at her in shock.

“I said go live, get this on the interHive, now!” Koba demanded. “Replay Fer’s intro over the live coverage in the corner of it.”

Koba pulled out her Filmark to make sure the live feed was active; anyone with a handheld device could see the Orta Prime Terminal while Fer’s narrative about Sky-Syster and the Slavs played out over the live coverage.

Koba’s personal communicator hummed.

Out of habit she tapped it, “I’m busy right now,”

“Are you insane?” shouted Zerixjulo.

Koba disconnected to take an incoming call from Gila Bodz, the elder Bizak who’d fired her from Pikalit Showcast.

“I’m not insane, Gila, if that’s what you’re wondering.” Koba watched as the pool’s walk extension connected to the shuttle door.

“Whatever’s going on here, you can’t broadcast live out of Orta,” Gila cried. “It’s forbidden by Third Office!”

“Tee Banto, right?” Koba teased. “Hizak that eats Program Directors like you for lunch.”

“Koba, don’t do this!” Gila said. “Banto’s authority here supersedes-”

“—Tee Banto’s not my CM-three!” Koba tapped it silently and returned to monitoring the staff on scene. “Get into a better position, Pax, we need to see Velto Wram when she comes out.”

“Are we sure she’s still coming?” Fer asked. “Why come back if there’s punishment waiting for you?”

“Velto’s never backed down from anything,” Koba whispered. “Make this good Fer, you’re running live,”

Fer collected herself, “Hello again Ramaxia, Ferholix here reporting live from Orta’s Prime Central Terminal. We’re waiting for the emergence of Ambassador Velto Wram, fresh from her destruction of the Slavic Empire.”

“No,” Koba said. “Don’t lead with that, it makes Velto Wram sound like a villain.”

Fer rolled her eyes and turned to the shuttle. Crying out, she fell to her knees as silence blanketed the terminal.

Pax followed through to reveal Velto Wram emerged from the shuttle. Face smeared with dried blue, she carried in her arms the corpse of her bond partner. Blue-stained arms and legs dangled lifelessly, long black hair was encrusted with blood, and darkened dead veins cross-crossed Ilo Cux’ slacken face.

In Koba’s control room, a few of her youngest engineers began to cry.

Ilo had been the face of their favorite educational programs—the shows their nestors sat them down to watch before being whisked off to caste-training.

When older enough, they discovered there was more to Mak-Mak Ilo than just her comforting voice. Images of Ilo’s days as a sex symbol still flooded the interHive, put there by her sisters in the Tenth that sat today with their mouths open in shock.

“Fer?” Koba tapped the monitor, but the reporter was too shaken to respond.

Pax remained fixed on Velto Wram as she carried dead Ilo like an offering, over the walking deck extension.

Velto stopped in front of Lekada.

“CM Wram,” Velto’s voice shook until she cleared her throat and steeled it. “I hope the Committee’s experiment with the Slavs has given you all you needed. The cost of it was quite high.”

Lekada Wram kept her eyes locked on Velto’s.

“They killed my partner!” Velto screamed as tears welled up in her eyes.

A Marix standing nearby whispered, “Citizen, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Her admission set off more of the same, and sobs echoed throughout the terminal.

Lekada Wram dropped her eyes, and turning around, marched out of the terminal with her guards in tow.

“Fer get it together,” Koba said urgently. “I want to you repeat after me, say every word you hear, got it!”

Pax panned to Fer, now standing poised and ready.

“It’s me Ramaxia, Ferholix,” she sniffed before speaking the words Koba dictated through her earpiece. “We’re going to end our broadcast this night, out of respect for Veltowram.”

Fer hardened then and cleared her throat.

“A preeminent Bizak of the Tenth Ramaxian Gen,” she repeated Koba’s words as if they were own. “Velto Wram reacted in the face of helovx barbarity and chose a course of action that will likely haunt her for the rest her days.”

Koba kept talking.

“My thoughts on this?” Fer wiped a tear from her eye as a crew of Pure Gen bruisers crowded behind her. “Mak-Mak Ilo is dead, and the helovx that killed her got dealt with!”

The bruisers were getting worked up.

“Unlike our Primary’s choice to destroy the helovx of Australia before I was born,” Fer was not off script, angry and crying. “Future Committee Member Velto Wram’s decision to annihilate the Slavic Empire has my full support!”

One of the bruisers held Fer tight, while the rest began chanting ‘Wram’; anger was a braver release of grief than tears on a live broadcast.

Koba sat back, pleased.

“You’ve just destroyed this station and her career,” said Dizo.

The arrogant Ninth-Gen line assistant had barged into the control room while Koba spoke through Fer.

“I’ll make sure she comes out unscathed,” Koba said.

“The seeds of discontent you’ve just sewn with this broadcast will be your undoing,” Dizo said. “Neither Velto Wram nor that bone of yours Laxumjyr can save you.”

“What you call discontent,” Koba shoved her hands into her pockets. “I call hope.”

After a beat, they were interrupted by Koba’s telecast clerk.

“Our interHive band’s just been blocked by the Third Office,” she said, panting. “All our licenses are suspended for 22 hours.”

“Fer needs me,” Koba said, pulling on her jacket, “I suggest we should all go home and prepare for coverage of Ilo’s recycle.”

“You think you’ll still be around for that?” Dizo asked.

“We’ll be back up within the hour because we’re not a BEB affiliated network,” said Koba. “Intragux will remove the block when she sees it causes no immediate harm to the citizenry, and since I’ll have exclusive rights to Citizen Cux’ goodbye, yes, I’ll still be around.”

BAMX 12, 2228

Dirtox Surface Platform
Pikalit, Ramaxia – 0800 hours

Each caste held a different view of the Ramax Prime, and these collective perceptions of the vast expanse came from shared experiences.

Marixi woke challenged by the white, the only thing strong enough to test their strength and endurance. Hizaki embraced the chaos of the tundra, an experience savored best when the hair was down, and the clothes discarded.

Bizaki housed an ambivalence; the surface didn’t need them, yet of all the castes theirs was the most familiar with it.

Subaki dreaded the mighty winds as they were the only thing on Ramaxicon willing to kill them for no reason.

The Ramax Prime taught Zaxiri the bitter taste of otherness. It was a place of exile and solitude. One didn’t visit the white unless with friends and lovers, or when one’s body was presented in death.

Velto couldn’t take her eyes off Ilo’s corpse. A night spent beside Ilo’s faded blue nakedness didn’t help contemplating life without her.

Weary from the tears, Velto found peace.

“Citizen Wram,” asked a voice on the wind.

Velto opened her eyes, “Is it time?”

“We’re going to take her below now,” the young Subak put a kind hand on Velto’s shoulder. “Would you like to witness her recycle?”

A golden hided youth, light spots of green grouped together on her cheeks and along her hairline.

“Are you okay being up here?” Velto asked.

“I’ve been inoculated, Citizen Wram,” the Subak smiled, forming dents in her cheeks. “You of all citizens should be aware of that,”

“I forget sometimes,” Velto said, forcing a smile.

The first donation Ilo bore to the citizenry was a subakidoe she named Woxas.

Comedienne Yam Julo had fallen in love with a couple of Bizaki shipping engineers, and though bound for the AC, she talked Ilo in carrying their donux.

Velto had just won a second term as CR of West Toxis, and upon hearing news of the delivery, she rushed down to the birthing center in time hold the little subakidoe before Yam could collect her.

Woxas was rose-colored, with bits of blue on her nose and tummy. She opened her eyes and smiled, and Velto fell in love.

Ten days after arriving in the AC, Woxas succumbed to fematicolixa. Yam had been devastated, and despite other donats being born after Woxas, she never got over the subakidoe dying.

Velto couldn’t get over it either.

Learning that a subcolaxic therapy had been developed the year before, Velto discovered it was being withheld from the citizenry due to generational politics within the Prime Lab. Velto raised enough stink to get its stalled status lifted.

The Corrective serum was then administered to every Subaki born in the Eleventh. The smiling young Recycle Clerk standing beside her stood as a testament to its success.

“You don’t have to witness the recycle if you don’t want to,” she said, gently. “Preparations for the delivery of her shishitav to-”

“—Ilo made plans,” Velto said; Ilo had painstakingly designed what she called an epic recycle ceremony. “I need to get that all done,”

“It’s been done, Veltowram,” she said. “Citizen Banto arranged everything,”

Velto stared at her, “Eppis?”

“Citizen Banto brought Ilo’s instructions to us, we followed them to the letter,” she said, nodding. “Should you decide to witness the recycle, Citizen Banto asked that we make sure you arrive in Toxis on time for the goodbye service.”

Velto looked into the young Subak’s eyes and found them to be very similar to those of her maker.

The first recycle Velto ever witnessed was that of her maker and birther, a Subak named Hal Wiv.

Escorted into an observation room at the Recycle Center in Toxis, ten-year-old Velto watched as her nestors body materialized within a transparent tube.

Zixas stood beside Velto that day, her hands and forehead pressed to the glass as a purple cloud filled the enclosed chamber, shrouding their maker from view.

When the cloud cleared, nothing remained but her internal organs, slick and loose amidst her purple coated skeleton. Light blue dust exploded under the glass and no sooner had it appeared, a flash of bright yellow light took it away, leaving only their nestor’s bones and hair, coated now with gobs of gooey purple.

“Why is mak in there?” Zixas asked.

“Ask kerma,” Velto replied, close to tears.

“Is that why kerma’s not here?” Zixas asked.

Before Velto could reply, a might hum shook the chamber, and as it trembled, a white light erupted, illuminating the chamber’s glass windows so brightly that Velto had to avert her eyes. When it faded, the lid of the tube popped open, and nothing remained of their nestor except an inch of fine ivory dust.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said again.

Velto shook her head.

“I can’t anymore,” she whispered. “My maker, Zixas, and Fusada, I’ve seen too many femmar that I love in recycle chamber.”

“You don’t have to, Veltowram,” the Subak put her arms firmly around Velto. “There’s nothing wrong with not wishing to see her recycle. There are better memories to have,”

“Thank you,” touched by the sentiment, Velto embraced her.

“We’ll take care of Ilo now,” she whispered.

In the transport to Toxis Prime, Velto remembered Fusada’s goodbye ceremony. Twenty years ago, Ilo had been by her side, to keep her sane. Once again, Sofita had been a no-show.

Stepping from the transport, Velto caught her reflection in the window.

Adjusting the white stripe covering the part in her tightly cinched hair, she realized her white mourning suit was the same from Fusada’s goodbye ceremony.

A chorus of murmurs came from the direction of the park. Thousands were gathering to pay their respects because Ilo had touched so many lives among the Tenth and the Eleventh.

There were elder Zaxiri lingering in the crowd. Ilo had planned this goodbye ceremony where her infamous meltdown happened on live broadcast during the Sister Suicides.

On the tenth day of 2207, thousands of older Zaxiri from the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Gens had convened in this very square with their hearts set on self-termination.

Ilo and the others had been told by the Zaxiri elite that their march on the GPD would be an organized protest, but the elders gave the Tenth-Gen bellies a false arrival time.

On a BEB screen driving into Vanda, Velto had watched helplessly as Ilo, and hundreds of other Tenth-Gen Subaki and Zaxiri arrived on the square to find the elders dead or convulsing. They’d overdosed on igaltopurn, a liquid cocktail of pure-saline meant to infuse the waters of tanks holding cloned sea life.

Velto had arrived the same time as a uniformed Fusada. Taking hold of an enraged Ilo, Velto tried to reason with her, to move her out of the way so that the divisional officers could help the Axyrn tend to the dead.

Velto almost had Ilo in the transport until Lekada and Wox Dag emerged from the front doors of the Prime Hall. Ilo had charged at Lekada, landing a slap to the elder Hizak’s face and crying, look what you’ve done, you killed them!

Ilo’s assault had released an onslaught of shouting, the throwing of shawls, shoes, and other objects. The Cloister Guard’s assigned to Lekada and Wox was too dumbfounded by sight of their dead elders to protect them.

Fusada had taken control by shoving Ilo at Velto and demanding Velto take Ilo home. Fusada then shuffled Wox and Lekada back through the doors of the Prime Hall.

Passing through these doors now, Velto found the Prime Hall of the Generational Production Department was now a shrine to Ilo Cux.

Hanging from the ceiling was an enormous casti, one Ilo’s favorites; her smile was bright, her voluminous hair lush and perfect, and her black eyes promised many delights that only her body could deliver.

Beneath the grand image was a freshly made shishitav.

The sculpture made of Ilo’s bone dust depicted her iconic victory-strut down the Prime Citizen runway. Flabby arm raised high, she was naked like the day she won but with one noticeable alteration—a bonding sash crossed her very pregnant stomach.

Overcome, Velto fled out the back door.

Under the canopy stood Laxum Jyr and Pitana Dag.

“Velto, I’m sorry,” said Laxum.

The muddy colored Hizak had abandoned her usual greens for the whites of bereavement.

Velto embraced Lax before stepping into Pitana’s arms.

The brown and striped Hizak kissed Velto’s head, a comforting habit since their years in Mynu.

“Where’s Sofita?” Pitana asked.

“Hiding, for now,” Eppis Banto had joined them.

“Clad in white, you appear naked,” Laxum laughed at Eppis’ pale ivory hide.

“The black spots help,” teased Koba Julo, climbing up the Hall’s stone sided stairs.

Eppis rolled her eyes, “Your candor isn’t appreciated, Koba,”

“Let’s get inside,” Koba put an arm around Velto’s shoulders. “We have an old friend to see off.”

“I won’t be joining you,” said Eppis.

“Eppis,” Pitana scolded.

“I cannot appear aligned with you socially, or in grief,” Eppis said.

Velto, Laxum, and Koba understood.

“We’re not strangers, Eppisbanto,” Pitana said.

Laxum pulled Pitana along, following Koba inside.

Alone on the balcony, Velto turned on Eppis.

“I could’ve carried out my bond’s last wishes.”

Eppis put her hands behind her, “You would deprive me of an owed opportunity to annoy?”

“What did I do to you now, hizzah?”

“You’ve complicated things considerably,” Eppis glared, and pulling out her Filmark she spoke into it. “Toligon, who’s the In-Coming Primary of the Tenth Generation?”

The Candidate of Primaryship for the Tenth Ramaxian Generation is citizen Sofitakul.

Eppis looked down at Velto, “A Term Sabo agent was assigned to collect you and Ilo from the Empire.”

“Is that why ‘Fita came to rescue me?” Velto asked.

“Ensuring your involvement in our upcoming ascension required reconciliation,” Eppis explained. “Sofita had to be the one to bring you in,”

Velto shook her head, “Ilo sent you a message,”

“It’s on my Filmark,” said Eppis. “I’ve yet to read it.”

“It’s about your bond anniversary,” Velto snapped. “Don’t fuck up like I did, Eppis, don’t get Ozbi killed,”

Eppis stared at her, “You didn’t do this to Ilo,”

“Someday,” said Velto. “I’ll believe that,”

Alone on the balcony, Eppis lifted her Filmark.

Tapping Ilo’s name on her message queue brought the lovely Zaxir’s face to the screen:

Eppis, you owe me four-thousand credits for that uniform collection. They don’t make those anymore!

Ozbi’s going to look like a chunk in them when she goes back to work this year! You owe me for the cake too! I knew you’d forget your bonding day, you always do, but this one matters! You’re so inconsiderate, Eppis. You give us beautiful citizen’s a bad name.

Eppis felt her eyes clouding up.

Okay, I’ll let you get back to your tactical pursuits.

Sobbing, Eppis brought the handheld to her lips.