Badlands – North American Union
December 3, 2228 – 5:30 AM
Adam reached the crossroads at dawn and found the communications shed vandalized.
A converted portable toilet covered by wood planks, someone had torn free the antenna and then smashed the 2-way radio inside.
Farther down the road he came upon the remains of an L-shaped motel.
A sign in the broken office window read ‘no vacancy’ and none of the eight cabins held a door.
Adam noticed fresh oil drips in the grass-cracked parking lot.
Out back, two empty chairs sat in the baking sun. On the small table between them sat two cups filled with what smelled like fresh water.
He drained both cups and smelled a cigarette burning under one of the chairs; ash end long, it smoldered atop a curved piece of familiar bone.
Behind the chairs was a tow-truck and on its hitch was the news van.
Pistol in hand, Adam returned to the motel office. Back to the wall, he cleared the first few rooms until coming one upon with an awful stench at its doorless entry.
On the floor inside, a man and a woman rummaged through what remained of Angie and Mickey’s personal belongings.
A line of blood ran along the carpet led to an unmade bed and sitting upon it was the severed head of Hattie McCord.
The bitch saw him first, and the bastard followed her gaze.
Adam fled without firing a shot.
Past the tow truck he came upon a fenced in pool; if he could get them in water, he’d drown them both.
He climbed the diamond-shaped weaving and dropping down to the other side he found the pool contained no water.
Filled with skinned corpses, a hum resonated from the parched and gutted remains.
The howling man and woman reached the fence and as they set about climbing, Adam raced to the opposite gate.
Before climbing to freedom, he fired a shot into the muddle of bodies. A cloud of flies swarmed, moving in on the pair of killers.
While they swatted for sight, Adam made it up and over the fence, only to hear an engine gaining on him.
He printed over the brush, looking back to find a muscular pink-haired woman on a motorbike. Machete in hand, she demanded he fall to his knees and accept his fate.
Adam snatched up a dead tree branch.
When the shadow of her bike appeared beside him, he slid into the dirt and jabbed it into her back wheel.
The cycle upended, sending her through the air where she collided with something unseen.
Walking to where she lay, Adam stepped over her body and extended his arms. His hands soon encountered something flat, then his fingers found an edge.
Dazed, the woman rose to her feet.
“Interloper!” she cried, charging at him.
Adam side-stepped her and palming her head, shoved her at the invisible wall.
Visibly struck, she fell onto her discarded machete, punch-drunk. The weapon in hand, she jumped to her feet and charged until a bolt of energy snaked out and struck her in the chest.
Adam knelt to examine the cauterized wound and noticed that beside her there was a deep impression in the sand.
He reached for the indented ground and again encountered something a hard surface.
Cloister Square District
Utama – Ramaxia
3 Yulitat, 2228 – 0600 hours
The comb raked through her thick hair and reminded Obiz of youthful mornings with her maker.
Ozbi’s nimble fingers were the first to fashion Obiz’ hair; styling it now was a Bizak her mako’s age named Wibal.
Wubal had pulled most of her long hair to the right and after tucking a few unruly strands up into the curved weave, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror.
“You’re going to slay, today,”
“Considering the cost of this style-session,” said Obiz. “Someone had better die,”
Satisfied with her up-do, Obiz returned to the first floor for a proper dressing.
The pantsuit Bam Ukel had provided the night before did indeed require a higher shoe; luckily, the Hizrutaki carried a vast inventory.
Outside the style-house, she took a moment to collect herself. High nerves were expected the first day, but this much tension threatened to upset her stomach.
These doubts were unnecessary; Obiz had worked hard to earn this position, she deserved to be here.
The moment she pushed through the Cloister doors, her Filmark began vibrating with a message from CR Wram.
I need you up here in ten minutes.
An informal gathering was planned to send off the scant few who’d served Ryl Jyr.
Purging the incumbent staff was the way of things when a Tenth replaced a Ninth; since most of Jyr’s team were Tenth-Gen, the severances would be few.
Boarding the vertical alone, she lamented missing out on the usual rush of arriving admins. An hour from now, these vacant lifts would be full of well-dressed Hizak chattering about their projected day.
Obiz tapped the number ten on the control pad.
Each city was set in the Cloister by their importance and Utama sat highest.
Topping the building was the Session Hall. Underneath it was floor Twenty, was the offices of the Primary and beneath her on Nineteen was the First Office.
The remaining Committee levels followed, and under them were the courtrooms of the Ramax Guardia.
Floors Twelve and Eleven contained the administrative offices of the Axyrn and the chambers of presiding Serxtaxa, respectively.
Utama rested on level Ten, while Vanda’s three domes operated on the floors under it.
The Toxis levels were next, followed by the offices of the Pikalit Triad.
Obiz stepped out of the vertical to find a uniformed Axyrn at Utama’s entry doors.
The tall bruise opened one of the doors for Obiz but didn’t respond when Obiz passed her by with a greeting.
A maze of empty bubble-topped cubicles filled the room. Soon, each would be filled with new faces, most hand-picked by Obiz.
Velto had demanded a diverse team, limiting Obiz to hiring no more than four Hizak.
The remainder of the prime staff contained highly recommended Bizaki. The administrative team were filled with mature Subaki who were reentering the workforce now that their donations were living lives of their own.
Beyond the cubicle-yard stood a tall glass wall and on the other side of it were three office suites, each elevated higher than the next by at least two feet.
The small ground-level office contained the makings of a severance meeting; food and drink on a table with a few tokens of sentiment gift wrapped as ordered.
What would become of this room, Obiz couldn’t fathom because Velto refused to have a Publicity-Advocate.
Up two steps to the next office, Obiz paused to admire the door.
Etched upon it in dark letters were the words, ADVOCATE PRIME; in smaller letters beneath it were the words, OBIZ BANTO.
Entering activated the lights.
“Good Morning CA Banto,” Toligon sounded much more pleasant here, than in the mailing room on Vanda level.
Obiz took a breath, “Good morning,”
“May I please access your Filmark and sync the day’s agenda?”
“Thank you, Toli,” said Obiz.
The comforting scent of salt water drifted in from the waterfalls along the far wall.
The desk was a tall counter model with a clear tharspin veneer. The lean-chair beside it was set precisely to the height of her girsuzsch.
“Toli,” Obiz stared at the long black wall behind her desk. “Cease exterior canopy,”
The shade lightened to reveal Jyrtax Terminal amidst Utama’s southern district.
“I can’t believe I’m here,”
“You are located on Utama Ten of the Cloist-”
“—thank you Toligon,” Obiz laughed.
Someone knocked on her door, but letters upon it didn’t allow for a clear view. Straightening her jacket, she moved in behind her desk.
“Come!” she said.
The visitor knocked again, and this time when her call went unheeded, Obiz huffed a sigh and marched to the door.
A wave of strong cologne wafted in when she opened it. Her eyes fell to the V-neck of a richly patterned blouse where a beautiful line of uzx ran between two sizable suzsch.
Styba Balru grabbed the back of her neck and shoved a small gabishol into her mouth.
“You miss me, old friend?” Styba asked, shoving Obiz inside, she closed the door.
Arm forced behind her back, Obiz was walked to the only privately walled portion of her room; the gapirx-closet.
Styba shoved her into the small space and slammed the door. Obiz pulled the gabishol from her mouth and threw herself against it.
“Styba, cease this attack!”
Laughter came from the other side, “Sucks to be trapped, doesn’t it?”
“I concede,” Obiz cried. “Styba please, this is my first day of employment.”
“I heard,” Styba said. “You mako’s so proud of you,”
How did Styba know that?
“Styba please,” Obiz pleaded. “Let’s behave like adults,”
“It was real adult of you to lock me in that broom closet,” Styba said. “I didn’t know you ran with Dox. I would ask why, but I don’t know if I care anymore,”
“I’m running with no one,” Obiz heard the door handle crack. “You’re going to pay for that!”
“Welcome to Utama, Obiz,” Styba’s voice faded and Obiz heard her office door open and then close.
She grasped the handle and when nothing worked, she tried pushing against the door. After several moments, she brought out her Filmark and tapping at the tiny keyboard.
CR WRAM ARE YOU AVAILABLE?
Velto’s words appeared on the tiny screen.
‘WHERE R U OBIZ?’
I’VE BEEN CONFINED IN MY-
‘WHO WAS THAT OFF-DUTY BRUISE IN UR OFFICE?’
Velto’s kermatic text took a humored turn.
‘SOME OF THOSE ICY SUBBIES U HIRED [[THANKS BTW]] ARE IN THE VERTICAL RIGHT NOW GOSSIPING ABOUT IT.’
Obiz promised to explain when liberated.
A moment passed before the door opened to Velto, with every member of the new support staff standing behind her.
“Are you and that Balru seeing someone?” Velto asked, instigating whispers and smiles. “She can’t be coming up here dressed for the citbluz, Obiz.”
“We’re donational peers,” Obiz declared for the onlookers. “We had an altercation after hibernation, and she felt a retaliatory prank was in order,”
Velto collected the gabishol from the floor and bit into it.
“Don’t look at us like we should mind our business,” Velto said. “How were we to know what was going on, she wasn’t exactly dressed for payback,”
One of the Subak lightly scolded Velto with a tap on the shoulder.
“Thank you all for your concern,” Obiz hoped to retain an ounce of dignity.
She walked to her office door and opened it, arm extended, she guided the group out.
“I assure you all there’s nothing sexual occurring between Dokomad Balru and myself,”
Everyone laughed as they lingered out.
“That bruiser’s maker owns the Balrupaxo,” Velto remained, hands on her hips.
“I made the mistake of aiding a nemesis of Styba’s at the paxicol,” said Obiz. “Today she carried out what Orta denizens call, a payback,”
“Bruisers are worse than hizzahs,” Velto said.
Obiz nodded, “If I’d known that she and Dox were enemies-”
“—Dox?” Velto motioned for Obiz to follow her out. “Fuzo Dox?”
“Yes,” Obiz trailed after her, “We met after waking,”
“Dox was with us on Uralskey,” Velto said. “She was also second-standing of the Eleventh,”
Obiz knew of that tumultuous Final Trial but hadn’t been privy to the name of the brooder who almost cost Styba everything.
“CR Wram,” she watched her look in at the at the far office. “What time’s the severance meeting?”
“Twenty-minutes,” Velto said. “I want it to be a party, not a recycle ceremony,”
“Understood,” Obiz said as Velto studied the room.
“The set-up in there looks good, Obiz,” Velto stepped past her. “I want to talk to about our start and stop times,”
“Any word on your inuta status,”
“The word is, we need to counter any attempt to render me as such,” said Velto.
Newly-elected Representatives were barred an entire year from making motions or acting upon the proposals of the others; this status was vacated if the newly-elected representative was a former Cloister legislator that won her seat in the month of Yulitat.
“I’ve got too much Cloister service to be treated like a toob,” Velto groused.
CR Wram fit the criteria, yet her victory had shifted the balance of power in the Session Hall; her transition would surely meet resistance from Ninth Ruling Platform.
“I’ve already filed a Writ of Intention with the First Office,” Obiz said. “I made sure to include the Sernatae-Second in my correspondence,”
“Good thinking!” Velto said, entering her office. “Let them duke it out,”
“My thoughts exactly,” said Obiz.
Though their view was the same, Velto’s office was grander and equipped with a noisier waterfall.
The Bizak had filled the corners with potted foliage and procured a state of the art digital-drafting table kept a few feet from her desk.
“Before the workday starts,” Velto closed the door behind her. “You need to pick me up every day at the Zikad Tower,”
“The Zikad?” Obiz asked.
“I’m living in Laxum’s old place,” Velto frowned. “Come and get me after my dararix,”
“You won’t be at the Cloister Gathering?” Obiz asked.
Velto said, “Why would I be there?”
“The Gathering Yard serves as the locals arixi-yard,” Obiz said. “You might consider joining the morning stretch,”
Velto became lost in thought, “Every single Bizak in Utama vote for me,”
“You did express an interest in being seen more as a Bizak,” Obiz said, nodding.
Velto asked, “Does your gen consider me a bizhiz?”
“I certainly don’t,” Obiz sat on one of the two chairs in front her desk. “What’s wrong with being considered-”
“—that term implies I’m trying to be something I’m not,” Velto spat.
“You’ve chosen to extend your lifestyle beyond what’s expected of your caste designation,” Obiz said. “Such pursuits are admirable and should never be criticized.”
“You’re right,” Velto said. “Meet me at the Gathering Yard at oh-four-thirty,”
“The morning session starts at zero-five-hundred,” Obiz raised a finger. “I can meet you afterward-”
“—oh no,” Velto shook her head. “You’ll be extending your lifestyle beyond your caste designation and stretching with the rest of us bizzies before the workday.”
“I’m aware of the basic poses, having joined my sibox,” Obiz stood. “But I was a donat then-”
“—You’re a donat, now,” Velto said. “I’ll see if Pel’s got a suit you can have, she stretches nights in Pikalit.”
“Pel Jyr?” Obiz asked.
Velto sat at her desk, “What other Pel would I know that’s Hizak?”
“Forgive me,” Obiz said. “I’m a bit charmed when it comes to the current Representatives roster,”
“They get they hair pulled up just like you do, Obiz,” Velto tapped away at her desk’s surface.
“I’ve a dararix suit, already,” said Obiz.
Velto glanced up, “I thought you haven’t stretched since you were a donation?”
“I was invited to stretch recently by my bizritux,” Obiz said.
“You hang out your stylist?” Velto asked.
“I visited her to collect my style schedule,” Obiz said. “She’ll be joining us in the morning if that’s acceptable?”
Velto shrugged, “What’s her name?”
“Bam Ukel,” Obiz replied.
“Bamukel?” Velto seemed surprised.
“I’m styled at the Hizrutaki,” Obiz boasted.
“Acari paying for that?” Velto asked.
“Yes,” Obiz said. “She is,”
Velto raised her thumb and shimmied it.
“Are you and this Bam?”
“Oh no,” Obiz shook her head. “She’s my stylist, nothing more.”
“You prefer bellies?”
Obiz shook her head, “I’m inclined toward Subaki,”
“I figure that out when you hired the best-looking ones of my gen to work up in here,” Velto said. “They’re all stacked too, you got a thing for frontals?”
“I prefer not to discuss such things,”
Velto frowned, “Fess up,”
Obiz eyed the closed door.
“I’m fond of large suzsch,”
“Ilo’s got huge,” Velto paused. “Ilo was stacked, and our friend Pitana would just stare at them like they were one of her helovx museum exhibits,”
“You’re speaking of Ambassador Prime Dag?”
“You know her?” asked Velto.
“I know of her, everyone does,”
“To me, she’s ‘Pita the Fondle-pus,” Velto said. “Those long fingers of hers are like tentacles when she gets around big fronts,”
Obiz pressed her back to the chair.
“I’m not meant to know these things,”
“Fair enough,” Velto said. “Is there anything else going on this month that doesn’t involve the Cloister?”
Obiz pulled out a duxpak from her jacket.
“There is something I wish to discuss,” she said, handing it to Velto. “The annual trictan harvest begins next week in Pikalit,”
“It begins next month,” said Velto.
“It’s being orchestrated now due to early flooding,” Obiz watched as Velto tapped at her own Filmark. “My sib informed me of the schedule shift,”
“I haven’t taken part in a tric-harvest since I was fifteen,” Velto set down her device and smiled. “After I got moved to Mynu, I made sure to go back every Dubol, so I could run the nets,”
“My sib stated that it would be epic if you participated,” Obiz said.
Velto laughed, “I’m too old for that shit!”
“Cruzo Tegal partakes every year,” said Obiz.
“That’s because ‘Kroos is bonded to a bizzy farmer and a subbie jeweler,” Velto said. “Where they go, she goes,”
“You expressed a desire to curb intrusive media,” Obiz said. “Taking part in events typically covered by these news outlets ensures that you control how you’re depicted, and when,”
“You want to turn a time-honored institution into a publicity stunt?” Velto asked.
“What better way to reaffirm your connection to the basic Bizak,” Obiz said.
Velto glared at her.
“It’s not easy being a Bizak from a wealthy clan who is not employed in one of the traditional labors,” Obiz declared.
“Understand our struggle, do you?”
“My sib insists on working in sanitation,” Obiz nodded. “Despite her artistic talents and the Banto name offering many more desirable opportunities,”
“Your kerma lets her work for the domes?”
Obiz paused, “My kerma supports my sib in all her endeavors,”
“I’m her genetic-heir,” Obiz said without hesitation. “Once born, her task was complete,”
Velto rose and walked to her window.
“If I’m going to Pikalit for the tric-harvest, so are you,”
Obiz smiled, “I wouldn’t ask you to partake if I wasn’t willing to be there with you,”
“That’s a good answer, Obiz,” Velto regarded her with those large round eyes. “I want you to write some letters of recommendation for those Ninth that are leaving,”
“I did this last night on conference with Ryl Jyr,” Obiz said. “I’ve placed them all on dux-plugs and put them by your seat in the meeting room.”
“Really?” Velto mocked. “What am I wearing tomorrow, Obiz?”
Obiz smiled, “While we’re on the subject-”
“—You’re not dressing me!” Velto snapped.
“I wouldn’t dare, but,” said Obiz. “Bam does wish to know your bizritux,”
“Bam Ukel doesn’t need to dress me,” Velto said. “She’s dressing enough of the Cloister,”
“She wishes only to coordinate our styles,” Obiz said.
“Give her Ilo contact-” Velto realized her error and sat down. “I don’t use a style house, Obiz.”
“Understood,” Obiz said, quietly.
“I go to Iloxi in Toltag Park,” Velto folded her arms over her chest. “My stylist is the owner, Tirgat Lux,”
Obiz walked to the door.
“I’ll order no interruptions until the meeting, CR Wram,” she said.
“Obiz,” Veto said. “Thank you,”
Badlands, North American Union
3 Yulitat, 2228 – 0830 hours
Crouched with her wrists tied and bound to her calves, Sofita calculated the distance between her boot and the thirty-foot drop-off.
On the edge of an outcropping, she glanced at the others.
Wedged between the rocks was a makeshift prison of shunted iron bars, and behind them were three women and little girl.
The one called Eli Red, cartwheeled onto the ledge and observed Sofita through darkened wrap-around sunglasses. His graceful acrobatics weren’t for her benefit; he remained intrigued by the young Marix delivered unconscious within the last hour.
Sofita closed her eyes.
She smelled the lanky man called Utahraptor as he moved into her space.
Eli’s voice demanded he take care when he got close to Sofita’s face.
“Peaceful,” Utah’s high-pitched inflection sounded almost tender. “She’s stone and I’m the elements,”
“She carries the silver shark inside of her,” Eli whispered.
“I better watch out,” Utah mocked. “It might come out and eat me!”
“Mind yourself,” Eli warned. “Those jaws come for me, she comes for you,”
Sofita’s mind whispered to the Shell.
‘Has this Eli ever appeared in the Void?’
How would I know?
‘If you’re Fusada, then you know your form in the Void,’
I never chose that form!
“Don’t get so close,” Eli whispered.
“You worry too much my sweet,” Utah said.
Sofita felt his breath on her face and opening her eyes she shouted, “Utah!”
The gangly man stumbled back. They’d all been jarred by her sudden outburst. Utah laughed maniacally and crawled right back to her.
“I fear so little in this world,” he bared his pointed teeth in a smile. “You scare me, my polar monster!”
Eli frowned at Sofita, “You relish in the fear you bring!”
Sofita stared long at her reflection in his circular glasses.
Tired of her attention, Eli pulled the long shawl from his shoulders and tossed it over her head. A moment passed before he turned his back on her.
“I can still see you, Eli,” Sofita spoke through the fabric.
Eli scurried over to where Utah sat upon his throne of bones.
“I don’t want her here,” he pleaded. “Be rid of her!”
Footsteps approached before the shawl was yanked from her head.
“I know who you are polar monster!” Utah kept his distance this time. “You killed my brothers, and I’m going to-”
A tow truck barreled into camp.
Flipping backward off the ledge, Utah landed on his feet and marched toward it.
“His adrenaline makes him bold,” Eli shouted.
Utah nodded up with glee, “Then his blood will taste better!”
“Is he fond of killing those he needs?” Sofita asked Eli.
Pain seized her skull.
Komad, I need to ignite!
‘Not now!’ Sofita shouted in her head.
“I’ve held back from hurting you because I’ve heard your name in the place where we all dream,” Eli spoke without facing her. “You’re being used by those you know, and those you never knew.”
The truck’s driver wore blood-stained overalls and emerged brandishing an ax.
“You idiots attacked them news people!” he shouted, pushing his way through the crowd. “One of those news fucks made it to the hotel, and your pink haired nut went after him!”
Without warning, Utah ran his bladed claws across the man’s throat.
Retracting them, he snatched the man up by his arm and leg and spinning about like a top, he coated his flock in the man’s blood.
Sofita watched the man’s corpse sail over her.
“Death comes to all interlopers!” Utah shouted up to her.
“Are you an interloper, Utahraptor?” Sofita asked.
Stop trying to get in his head, Komad. Power up and let’s kill this fucker.
“I will be rid of you tonight,” Utah pointed up at Sofita. “You time will end polar bitch, when the moon comes,”
“Ten Ounce is here,” Eli fell to his knees as a poorly tuned motorbike entered the camp. “She’s afraid, so much fear!”
Dox had opened her eyes but remained still. Tied up like Sofita, she slowly tested the strength of her ropes.
“Dokomad,” Sofita warned. “The less you say, the more you know,”
Ten Ounce was a petite girl whose multiple piercings were infected by her use of ochre. Free of the cycle, she came dragging a long bag with something struggling inside.
Two men seized it from her and hauled it up to Utah’s position beside Sofita.
“This interloper bitch killed Gin Fizz!” Ten Ounce said, moving to embrace Utah.
The gangly man pushed her away.
“We will drink her blood!” his robust declaration brought deafening cheers.
“Let’s make a stew of her brains!” Ten Ounce dropped to her knees before him.
“She tries so hard,” Eli said. “Pay attention to her, Utah,”
Utah shook his head at the girl and stepped over her to open the bag. A woman spilled out that Sofita recognized from Holy Cross.
Enraged, Dox rolled to get at her.
Unnerved, Eli took hold of Dox and pulled her bald head to his chest.
“You’re better than your design dictates,” he whispered.
Suddenly, Dox became freakishly calm.
“You are better,” he added.
This male is why Utah’s hasn’t killed everything in sight.
Hybrids came in two forms; highly sensitive and brilliant, or raving mad and violent.
‘If he’s a full-blooded pure-gen,’ Sofita thought. ‘His telekinetic prowess is what’s containing this chaos.’
The dark-skinned woman fought fiercely against the men trying to tie her up.
Instead of gutting this new arrival, Utah retracted his claws and grabbed a bat.
“You will settle down, piglet, or you will die,” he began striking the woman until ceased to struggle.
After tying her up, Utah and Eli led the men off the rock. Left alone, Dox fell to her side and rolled again at Whitley.
“You piece of shit!” Dox growled. “Your recklessness got Angie killed!”
“You’re the one that killed Angie!” she cried.
“Another guiltless negro dies on your watch,” Sofita taunted. “Excellent work, Whitley,”
Legs and arms bound tight, Whitley lunged at Sofita and inadvertently put herself within reach of Dox.
The retrained Marix hopped up on her feet and trapped Whitley against the rock. The woman struggled to get out from under Dox, who took hold of the woman’s face with her boots.
Dox snapped Tara Whitley’s neck with her booted feet, incurring the attention of the light-headed Eli.
The male sobbed as he clamored onto the rock and him fretting over Dox was beginning to bother Utah.
“Eli’s hurting,” Sofita shouted at him. “You can’t even stop it!”
Utah jumped up with them and then punched Sofita in the face.
“Shut up, beast!”
“Your violence is nothing, but our violence hurts him!” Sofita taunted. “He’s not human, and you’re not a farc!”
“He and I are one!” Utah cried.
“You could never take care of him the way he needs to be taken care of, Utah,” Sofita raged. “You’re inadequate!”
Utah shrieked, “Stop talking!”
The pressure in Sofita’s sinuses spread to her temples as Eli tried to silence her. The male’s hold on Utah sanity was wearing thin; his hands on the Dokomad’s head, he whispered his wishes to calm the Marix.
“Utah!” Sofita caught up with the pain. “You’re the shit in the afterbirth of some dumb human bitch too lazy to douche herself after fucking Caro,”
Utah howled in fury.
Unable to snatch her up like he did to the man in the mechanics uniform, he drove his head into hers, hoping to render her unconscious.
His neck in reach, Sofita sunk her teeth in deep, breaking the skin.
The foul Utah shrieked. Desperate to be free of her, he pushed her over the precipice.
Eli stood over Utah and stretched his arms out to the flock. “Everyone!” he whispered until they all dropped sleeping to the ground.
Taking Utah into his arms, the male pressed his shawl against the bite mark. The people below began to wake. The largest of them hurried to the rock where Eli rocked their master like a baby.
“Retrieve the body of the farc!” Ten Ounce screamed.
“Where’s Gin’s body?” said Eli.
“I don’t know,” Ten Ounce replied.
“Then how do you know this interloper killed her?” Eli demanded of the dead woman.
Ten Ounce scowled, “I don’t have to tell you shit!”
“Be gone,” Eli whispered.
The girl flew from the rock as if pushed and landed hard into the crowd below.
“I didn’t mean it, it wasn’t me, sister, please!” Eli dropped Utah.
Closing his eyes, he clasped his hands together.
“I’m sorry sister, it wasn’t me. I’m not the devil, please, believe me, I’m not the devil!”
“You’re not a devil,” Dox spoke to Eli. “You’re femmar.”
Eli pulled off his glasses to display his dark Femarctic eyes.
“All this violence,” he whispered. “It’s contagious.”
Adam Pierce had finally found his Ornithocheirus.
Hands moved along every angle and curve. His memory conjured the drawings he’d procured from witnesses. Certain he found the hatch door, he stepped back and spoke aloud in Ramaxi.
“Ornith, let me in,”
A rectangular window appeared and in it was another room. Heart racing, Adam stepped inside and pulled a small cassette recorder from his pocket.
“The date is December third, twenty-two twenty-eight,” Adam said after pressing the record button. “It’s approximately nine in the am, and I’ve located what appears to be a cloaked Ramaxian Ornithocheirus, two miles west of Lackland settlement in the Badlands.”
Adam turned the navigation chair around and sat upon it.
“Despite the outward suggestion of a tharspin-coated biologic, the vessel’s interior contains no visible cyber-organic components. The walls, the floor, the seating, are all synthetic.
“The interior cabin seats a pilot, co-pilot, and four passengers. There’s a swivel chair for the pilot, and another chair located posterior. There’re two long bench seats at the rear of the craft, which likely convert to two upholstered bunks.”
Touching a flat panel produced a holographic display.
“The navigational console is a standard floating interface, and like all Ramaxian interfaces, it’s made of light.
“There’s open space between the front of the cabin and the back, but there’s a square in the floor that indicates a mobile work station of some sort, perhaps activated remotely with a foot press or audio command.”
He ran his fingers along the surface of the bench.
“This Ornith is capable of hosting hibernating operatives. There is an icon of hive Faltrix that when touched reveals a compartment containing a blanket sealed in a clear cloth coating.”
Adam inhaled deeply.
“This Ornith is equipped with oxygen recyclers. Though there are personal drawers beneath the bunks, I can find no toilet facilities. These drawers are locked, and I can find no unlocking mechanism.”
Adam walked back to the front.
“An operational array appears when I sit. Its commands are in black, the color of the world around them. Holistic functions are in blue, indicative of their blood. This proves that Balantin was correct. What is red for us is blue for them.”
The keyboard tempted him, but farc interfaces responded only to Femarctic DNA.
Touching the panel anyway, he was stunned when a small floating screen appeared before him.
“I’ve somehow managed to activate primary controls. Defensive operations are in white, the color of the surface that protects them from the rest of the world,”
Adam read through the menu before tapping at the armament index.
“The Ornith has plasma-blasters, one on each tip of its wings. There are two forward mounted Kyrsat-cannons, each with a marked standard range of eight miles.
“This Ornith carries a standard set of twelve magnetic-ion clusters, with a roaming radius of 300 miles. According to this outlay, they’re equipped with targeting sensors that can be taken off-line at the discretion of the pilot.”
Adam turned off the recorder.
“Ornith, are you assigned to the SOD?” he asked in Ramaxi.
Text appeared on the screen before him.
WE ALL SERVE THE SORORITY OF DEFENSE.
“How many of you are there?”
I AM THE FIFTH OF SIX.
“Is your commanding officer Fusada Kul?”
FUSADA KUL IS DECEASED.
Adam pressed the red button on his recorder.
“The Ornith responds to voice commands from within the ship, via text on a screen. There’s a line on the bottom left of this screen that reads Vox-Off. I believe it can respond vocally.”
Suddenly, the Ornith came alive.
Adam fell out of the chair as the cabin rocked and the dark paneling above became a window. Outside, the landscape rolled by quickly and slowed near a decaying water tower.
Sensing the Ornith touch down, Adam crawled to the front and tucked himself under the foreword console.
From his position he saw the hatch open and a pair of shining silver boots walk by. The deep familiar voice of Sofita Kul spoke the Ornith is Ramaxi.
“Show me the files from Facility T-1,”
A floating holographic screen displayed the operational schematic of Texas-One.
Smaller windows popped up alongside with staff files, information on their families, and a master grid of the town.
Serenity-Now was latest in the Union’s efforts to develop a water-born hallucinogen capable of hindering the femmar.
Kul reviewed the names of the men in Banff overseeing the project and with her finger, highlighted the new formula’s unintended side-effect; it curbed human aggression to a degree that it rendered some incapable of conflict.
Adam bumped the seat beside him and watched as those silver boots morphed into a pair of Orta standards.
Eyes closed, he waited until her fingers found his leg. Jerked from his hiding place, he was lifted off the ground and tossed out of the hatch.
“How’d you get on my bird, brown-eyes?”
Adam didn’t answer.
He hit the ground running and whne Kul’s screams came with a flash of white, he picked up the pace.
Legs pumping fast, he felt her hovering overhead as a burst of pressure knocked him off his feet. Landing hard, he recovered and tried to land a foot to Kul’s face.
Kul caught his leg and drove a pointed hand into his solar plexus.
Robbed of wind, Adam hit fell with his knees tucked to his chest.
His face in the dirt, he felt his wrists brought together and pressed into the small of his back. Her fingers locked into his waistband and yanked his pants off with just one tug.
“No underwear, in this heat?” Kul said. “You’re an odd one,”
“Same to you, Doctor Kul,”
“How’d you get on my Ornith?” Kul asked, sitting on his back.
Adam tried to wiggle free.
“Get your big ass off me!”
Kul stood she pulled him to his feet.
Wrists held tight, he fell limp when she ripped off his shirt. One the ground he rolled and sprinted for the Ornith.
A dozen yards closer, a force of wind struck him back and sent him flying into its silver hull.
Adam woke naked in the Ornith.
Kul was somewhere outside, talking to herself.
He inched over to the controls and ordered the Ornith in Ramaxi to delete all files pertaining to Facility T-1.
The Ornith required an Orta clearance code. Adam knew only one farc code, he’d learned it when a child.
“Kavo. Ten. Eighty-Five. Eight, zero, one.”
A few moments later, the Ornith spoke.
I’m sorry, this generational code was purged from the Collective in 2186.
“What?” he whispered.
Something struck the back of his head.
This time Adam woke tied to a kitchen chair.
He sat near a door across from an ice-box that hummed too much for his liking. Dirty pans were piled high on range while a tower of soiled plates was stacked neatly in the sink.
Kul sat at the kitchen table, cutting into a grilled steak that had a bright red middle.
At the table with her were the corpses of two armless children. Dressed up nice for dinner, their gaping mouth were open to reveal their missing teeth.
“You speak my language well,” Kul said.
Adam struggled to keep his eyes open, “I think I have a concussion,”
“What you have is a dead citizen’s gen-code,” Kul said. “How did you get Femarctic fingerprints grafted onto your fingers?”
Adam fought the urge to vomit while counting the exit points.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,”
“When I take you back to Orta,” Kul said. “We’ll see how many more interesting things there are about you, Pierce,”
“I’ll be dead before we clear the ice,”
“Your records indicate a remarkable propensity for pressure tolerance,” Kul poured some wine into the water glass beside her plate. “You’ve dived deeper than most humans,”
“Yes?” Kul said.
“Go fuck yourself,”
“Pierce,” Kul laughed. “Why are there no flies in here?”
“You know we’re underground,” Adam said. “You saw the control file. You know what this place and why it is so quit playing conversational games.”
“Our observers tell me you like games,” Kul was enjoying her steak. “The games you like to play when visiting Yukon are legendary,”
“Ride shaming,” Adam sighed. “Now you’re a subbie and a bruised hizzah?”
“I’m enjoying every minute of you, Pierce,” Kul said, smiling.
“We don’t have to be on opposite sides here,” Adam said.
“I’d like to be on your side, Pierce,” Kul downed the last of the wine. “Your sexual talents have changed some Fleeters lives.”
“Stop fucking with me,” Adam said.
Kul held up his tape recorder and crushed it to bits in her hand, “You’ve been fucking me since the day we met,”
Water began beating hard against the kitchen windows.
“You’ve got the sprinklers on?” Adam asked.
“On a motion sensor,” Kul lowered her knife and fork.
A hulking man appeared in the doorway. Raising his hatchet, he fixed his jaundiced eyes on Kul and bared his pointed teeth.
Kul sipped her wine.
“Don’t do it, Green,”
Confused, the man stared at her.
Kul pushed one of the corpses from a chair.
“Sit down Green, let’s talk,”
He wavered, unsure of what to do.
Kul barked, “I said sit, Green!”
The man fell into the chair.
“Are you hungry?” Kul asked.
When the man’s eyes fell to her steak, she brought her hand up and fired.
The blast severed his head from his neck and when it smashed through the window behind him, she got up from the table.
Taking his arm, she dragged the headless corpse outside.
Kul retuned a few minutes later and sat back down in her seat.
“Pierce tell me about-”
“—I know nothing about Serenity Now-”
“—that is an untruth-”
“—I know what you know,” Adam said. “Its name and location,”
“I don’t believe you,” said Kul. “I believe nothing that comes out of your mouth,”
“Are you Doctor Kul, or Komad Kul?” he asked.
Suddenly, a man stormed into the kitchen, firing his guns in every direction.
Adam averted his eyes against the debris while Kul calmly covered a slice of cheesecake with nearby plate.
Out of bullets, the man set his eyes on Kul. A lumbering fetid sort, his fangs were just like Green’s.
“Soylent, join us,” Kul crossed one leg over the other.
He sat as ordered while Kul used a fork to pick at her cheesecake.
“You were in a house like this before you met Utah and Eli,” she said. “The people that own houses like this, they’re not very nice, are they?”
Kul’s command of the situation aroused Adam enough to make him sweat.
“You lived in their basements, like an animal,” Kul said. “Until they made you leave-”
“—I was there before them!” Soylent screamed.
The skin around Adam’s wrists became slick.
“How many times did your mother take you to the shelter?” Kul asked.
Adam felt his hand slip through the binding.
“Over forty-two times,” Soylent sobbed.
“What happened that last time you ran away from the shelter?” Kul asked. “Did you go back home?”
“Her man broke my legs,” Soylent’s face hardened as he nodded.
Once hand free, Adam undid the knots binding his legs to the chair.
“You’re a demon from white land, ain’t ya?” Soylent asked. “Eli said you’d come for Utah, but the great white inside of you wants to eat Eli all up.”
Adam undid the last knot and caught the loosened rope before it hit the floor.
Soylent began sobbing again as Adam slipped off the chair and snuck backward out of the room.
Out the kitchen door, he searched the yard for a possible weapon.
The grip of a handgun peeked out from beneath a puddle of intestines. Retrieving it, he wiped it clean and checked the magazine.
One bullet remained.
Kul’s screams came with a flash of light.
When she emerged covered in silver and dragging a crying Soylent by his shirt, Adam jumped into her path with the gun trained.
“What are you going to do with that?” Kul demanded, giving Soylent a quick jerk to break his back.
Adam fired just as Kul pitched a small silver ball at him.
It enlarged into a round nebulous mass that covered him and the incoming bullet like a blanket.
The gelatinous shroud forced Adam to the ground and dissolving instantly, it left him paralyzed.
“I’m neither a Doctor nor a Komad,” Kul ran a silver finger across his face. “I don’t know who I am these days, Colonel Pierce, any more than you do, I suspect.”
Cloister Level Ten
Utama – Ramaxia
3 Yulitat, 2228 – 1200 hours
“CA Banto!” this Subak’s voice was music to her ears and her aging fronts and thick braids were a feast to the eyes.
“How can I assist you…?”
“Zid Pol,” she said, smiling bright. “We got a prob with internal correspondence. Toligon keeps assigning CR Jyr’s name to everything, even though we’ve asked her nicely to stop.”
“Call me Ziddy,” she said.
“Ziddy, we’re in what’s known as a transition phase,”
“Oh!” the hourglass beauty hugged the biv-tab to her chest. “That means CR Wram’s not really in charge yet, even though physically, she is,”
“Sorry to bother you, I know you’re so busy,” she smiled. “I knew your mak back in caste-training,”
Obiz felt her desire wane.
“You can never bother me enough,”
“Bothering her is my vocation,” said Fibo Endiz. “This is where you’ve gone, Ziddy. You disappeared from Vanda Prime, I was concerned,”
“I got a better offer from Utama,” the Subak smiled at Obiz. “I’ll see you around, CA Banto,”
“The door to my office is always open,” Obiz eyed the room. “For all of you,”
Fibo stepped into her line of vision.
“CA Banto, will you be joining us for lunch?”
Obiz grinned, “CA Endiz, let me get my jacket.”
“I’ll be at the Balrupaxo,” Fibo lowered her voice. “CA Wex will be dining today, without CR Das,”
“Cracked ice?” Obiz asked.
Fibo remained mindful of her volume.
“Current rumor alleges that one the CM’s bonds discovered that Wex resides in the actual high-rise unit procured by the CM in her youth,”
“Not necessarily salacious,” Obiz said. “My kerma retained her post-Mynu residence here in Utama,”
“Yes, but she’s living in it-” the young Hizak caught herself.
“It’s fine, Fibo,” said Obiz. “I’m aware of my kerma’s situation,”
“Apologies all the same,” Fibo said. “You needn’t have it brought up,”
Obiz opened her arms, “I’ll meet you across the street,”
After embracing Fibo, she returned to her office where she picked up on a familiar scent just outside her door.
“It’s been a long time Velts,” said the voice of her maker, Obzi.
The glass around Velto’s office went black. Curious, Obiz stopped short of the door and peered through the crack.
“How’ve you been?” her maker appeared wearing an extremely form fitting suit. Her braids were thicker than usual, and they hung loose down her back.
“I’ve been well,” Velto said, then cleared her throat. “What are you doing here, Ozbi?”
“I came here to thank you,” she smiled. “For taking on Obiz,”
“She was my most qualified applicant,” Velto said quickly.
“Will you relax, Velts,” Ozbi exclaimed. “You’re being so uptight right now,”
“Ozbi,” Velto said. “Does Eppis know you’re here?”
“We aren’t on speaking terms this week,” Ozbi took hold of Velto’s ponytail and pulled it over her shoulder. “Besides, Eppis isn’t my kerma,”
Velto swung her chair toward her desk.
“You should go, Ozbi,”
“I’m here as a friend,” Ozbi said. “Nothing more,”
Velto sighed, “I’m sorry if I assumed something else,”
“You should be,” Ozbi sat on the desk and touched Velto’s hair again.
Velto stood and grabbed Ozbi’s hands.
“We’re not strangers,” Ozbi laughed.
Velto relaxed, “I hear you’re working again?”
“I returned to administration,” Ozbi replied, moving into the chair in front of Velto’s desk. “I wanted to extend my condolences. If there’s anything I can do for you, Velts, please don’t hesitate to ask,”
“Thank you,” Velto said.
Obiz watched her maker move in on Velto with the same look she often gave Eppis when she was feeling amorous.
“Whatever you’re thinking of doing right now, Ozbi, don’t,” Velto said, finger up and pointing.
“Velts, stop being like this” Ozbi scolded.
“We’re not strangers, I heard you,” Velto glared at her. “You made your choice, Ozbi,”
“And Ilo made hers,” Ozbi said.
“You left because you chose Eppis,” Velto said.
“Eppis and Ilo are one and the same,” Ozbi said, coolly. “Neither of us had much of a choice, did we, Velts?”
“You’re right,” Velto said. “I’m sorry,”
“I won’t apologize for choosing Eppis,” Ozbi said. “Not when Ilo took you away for keeps,”
Obiz wanted to vomit.
Ozbi sat on the desk, “I’m so sorry, Velto,”
“I’m not,” Obiz stepped into the doorway. “And coming here wasn’t suitable, mak,”
Storming down the hall, Obiz pushed past the front doors and ran for the vertical. She stepped onto it hearing Ozbi call her name.
At the Balrupaxo, Obiz masked her confusion and anger by engaging in a lively debate about the merits of Garden Clubs remaining exclusionary.
Despite the irony of her maker’s past desires, Obiz felt Subaki deserved a socio-sexual haven without the intrusion of other castes.
Long after everyone departed, Obiz remained.
The Bizak owner, Kin, approached her booth.
“I know you,” she said.
“I wish I knew me,” Obiz sighed.
“You know what’s good?” she said. “Mushroom milk.”
Obiz grinned, “You do know me,”
“Still like it warm, Obiz?” she asked.
Obiz nodded, “Does my kerma still dine here?”
“Not as much as she used to,” her eyes examined Obiz’ suit, “I like the green, reminds me of Laxumjyr.”
“Am I as handsome?” Obiz asked.
“You’re more beautiful,” she winked. “You got your kerma’s face,”
For the first time, Obiz didn’t resent the comparison. The mushroom milk had brought back memories of her joining Eppis in Utama.
The adults would engage in talkative commutes and share biv-tab screens while Obiz sat beside her kerma, silently watching.
When did maturity drive a wedge between them?
Obiz spent another hour in the booth. After consuming two mugs of milk and eating half a loaf of warm bread, the thought of returning to Cloister seemed futile.
The front door opened to Velto; she entered the deli and exchanged a nod with Kin.
At Obiz’ booth, the short Bizak removed her jacket and tossed it into the opposite seat.
“Your mak’s looking for you,”
“I believe she seeks you,” Obiz said.
Velto shook her head, “You don’t get to judge her, or me,”
“I disagree,” said Obiz. “I retain respect in all things related to our working relationship, but your past with my mako isn’t something I accept gracefully,”
Kin locked the front door and disappeared into the kitchen.
“What do you know about ascension, Obiz?” Velto asked.
“I exist so my kerma can achieve it,”
“Your kerma didn’t need you,” Velto said. “She could’ve easily just blind-patched her way to an heir,”
“I don’t think my elder would’ve approved,”
“Your elder hates Ozbi,” Velto snapped.
“My elder cares for my mak,”
“Your elder forced your kerma to bond with Acari and Ibur in return for being allowed to keep Ozbi,” Velto declared. “Ozbi means everything to Eppis,”
“Why move out of the estate?”
“Eppis is slated to serve as our First Office,” Velto tapped the table top with her finger. “Do you think Ryo Uym’s ever going to step down for her?”
Obiz felt her face warming.
“You intend to ascend,” she whispered.
“You’re going to resent the shit out of your kerma,” Velto fixed her large eyes on Obiz. “You’re going take your mak’s side in all this and you’re going distance yourself from Eppis because that’s the masterplan,”
Obiz took a breath.
“Ozbi has no idea,” she said.
“She can’t have an idea,” said Velto. “If she thinks for a second that Eppis is playing at pushing her away-”
“—she’ll confide in Acari,” Obiz said. “Who still rides my elder,”
“You’re not as stupid as I thought,” Velto said.
Obiz looked into her eyes.
“Would my elder allow anything to happen-”
“—your elder organized a rape party for my mako,” Velto said. “My mak killed herself two weeks later, her kerma’s mak, no one knows really what happened to her that night.”
Obiz felt tears welling up in her eyes.
“I’m unaware of these happenings,”
“Like you said earlier, Obiz,” Velto said. “There’s things you’re not supposed to know. Your kerma can’t know that I told you about any of this, you hear me?”
“Ryo wouldn’t think twice about hurting you, Fezil, or your mak,” Velto said. “Your kerma, and your elder Fos, are very aware of this,”
“Fos is part of this?” Obiz sat up and thought about her mako’s sib. “It is my understanding, Velto, that the Tenth have no Primary,”
“That’s what our elders thought, until Uralskey,” Velto said.
“Sofita Kul?” Obiz said. “Is that why she killed Zixas?”
“That’s not a conversation we’re going to have, Obiz,” Velto hardened. “I retain respect in all things related to our working relationship, but the subject of my sib’s death is off limits,”
“That was highly insensitive of me,” Obiz said, apologetic.
“You’re reacting, not acting,” said Velto. “I’ve been there,”
“Were you and my mako, in love?” Obiz asked.
“When I met Ilo, I was involved with your mak,” Velto explained. “It hurt to lose her, but Ilo was the first belly I ever met that reminded me I had a gash.”
Obiz smiled, “You told my mak you would’ve left her,”
“Hindsight has nothing to do with what’s done and happened,” Velto shook her head. “Your mak was different for me, Obiz, from day one,”
“More than a ride?”
“My feelings changed for her,” Velto nodded. “We were fourteen and she was my first. It was at one of those socials. We hooked up again Mynu, we talked about having donats, things were going really good.”
“The Ilo came along?”
“No,” said Velto. “It was just before I met Ilo. One day Ozbi says to me, I want an hizakidoe that’s pretty like Eppis Banto.”
Velto added, “It would be so nice Velto, she can grow up and be in Cloister and change things.”
“Forgive me for finding joy in what is obviously a very painful thing for you,” Obiz said.
“I’m not going to lie and say me and your kerma are friends, Obiz. I hate her, but I do know that she would die for Ozbi, for you, and for Fezil,” Velto said. “I would die for you too,”
Obiz softened, “I don’t know what to say,”
“Don’t get weird,” Velto said. “You and Fezil, you’re like the donats that I always wanted to have to Ozbi. I would’ve left Ilo for a shot at a pod,”
“You should have told my mak this, Velto,”
“Are you insane?” Velto demanded. “Obiz, I’m going say something that’s going to make me sound like a bizkerbatic gurxhole, but you need to learn given how much you like subbies,”
“I love Subaki, they’re the glue that holds Ramaxia together,” Velto declared. “But mark and remember, Obiz, never give a Subak too many choices because if given multiple options to pursue, they’ll fuck that shit up every time!”
Badlands, North American Union
3 Yulitat, 2228 – 1530 hours
Sylvania departed with eight of his followers to search for the Komad. His braided partner, Eli, remained distanced from the others.
“You’re thinking of me,” Eli joined Fuzo on the outcropping.
Bringing a pail of water with him, he sat down and removed his glasses.
Black eyes smiled as he removed his waist-corset.
Emptying the bucket over his shoulders, the rush of water cleared the ochre from his back. His hide was a brownish-pink with beige flecks dotting his arms and back.
Scar tissue lined his chest.
“Did the orphanage do that to you?” Fuzo asked.
“My nipples were strange, so they cut them off,” his thin beige lips formed into a sad smile. “To know of orphanages is to know cruelty,”
“I’m sorry, Eli,” Fuzo said, making eye contact.
“I sense your sincerity, Fuzo,” Eli said. “The polar beast blocks my mind from seeing the true one,”
“The true one?” Fuzo asked.
“The polar beast carries not only the silver shark,” Eli dunked his braids into the pail and then brought them up with a splash. “She and the shark become one when they hunt, but the true one continues to halt my knowing,”
“Can you speak, Ramaxi?” Fuzo asked.
“I can read it,” Eli shook his head, apologetic. “I’m not good at speaking it.”
Fuzo smiled, “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,”
Eli cast his eyes down, “If you tell yourself to believe the lie, it’s still a lie,”
“I’m not lying to you,” Fuzo said.
Eli crawled over to where she still squatted, tied up tight.
“Tell me something you don’t want me to know,”
Fuzo shrugged, “You scare me,”
“Like your overseer, I too can smell fear,”
“Your turn,” Fuzo softened, “Is your name Elliot Redman?”
“Your first one didn’t count,” he said. “I know you’re afraid of me,”
“I just want to know about you,” said Fuzo.
“They named us in the orphanage,” his lips parted to reveal teeth like her own, but his dentils were dull from years of inadequate care. “They found us in the California’s.”
“What happened to her?” she asked of Fizz’ corpse being cut up by the blue-eyed girl.
“She’ll become part of us,” Eli said.
“Who’s the butcher?” Fuzo asked.
“That’s Ten Ounce, she used to belong to Gin,” Eli soured. “She loves my Utah and plans to kill me one day and take my place beside him.”
“How do you know these things, Eli?”
He grinned, “I hear everyone’s hopes and dreams when they sleep.”
“When do you sleep?”
“Your overseer vexes me,” Eli frowned. “I feel her, then I do not. She moves in and out of this world, like a ghost.”
“Can you read my thoughts?”
“Not all the way,” he confessed. “I could, but that would hurt you,”
“You’re right about my overseer,”
His eyes lit up, “She’s carries the shark but is also carried!”
“Intelligent, and beautiful,” Fuzo smiled. “You deserve better than this, Eli,”
“Stop saying these things to me,” he turned from her.
“Why should I?” Fuzo demanded.
“Because you don’t mean them,” he declared.
Fuzo looked out over the flock.
“Why is everyone so agitated today?”
“Two were missing,” he replied. “They’re home now,”
Utah and his team rolled over the ridge, dragging three body bags behind their cycles. Two carried pieces of the dead, but the one inside the third was very much alive.
It was Colonel Adam Pierce.
“That’s one of them newsies!” Ten Ounce cried.
Fuzo eyed her, “Utah didn’t bring him for you,”
“Shut up!” she snapped as Utah joined them on the ledge.
“The polar beast cut up Soylent and Green,” Utah fell to knees before Eli. “She nailed pieces of their bodies to our territory poles, she shaped them into a cross.”
Eli petted Utah’s bald head.
“She’s trying to scare you, baby,”
“This one was tied up,” Utah yanked Pierce forward. “She put Soylent and Green’s dicks into his mouth.”
Fuzo laughed as Eli grabbed Pierce’s chin.
“She knows not what you are, and neither do you,” Eli sniffed Pierce and whispered, “How is it that you are breathing when you appear to be without breath?”
Utah addressed his gathering flock.
“The day of reckoning is upon us!” he cried. “The polar beast has come!”
“Polar beast,” Pierce mumbled. “She’s just a farc!”
“You will silence yourself deceiver,” Eli warned him. “You are a lie, created by liars only to witness and deceive.”
“Yeah, shut up,” Fuzo added.
Pierce turned to Eli, “What the fuck are you?”
“Our bodies burn their flowers,” Eli raised a finger. “But our bodies also upset the balance!”
After hog-tying Pierce, Utah tossed him next to Fuzo and descended the ledge with Eli on his arm.
The vagabonds gathered around them and following a noisy huddle, many began collecting wood while others set about sharpening their knives.
Pierce inched closer to the precipice.
“It’s a long way down,” Fuzo warned.
“I can see that, thanks,” he said.
Fuzo watched as some of them began stacking the wood, “Nice to finally meet you, Colonel,”
“Kul tell you all about me?” he asked.
“You’ve been shadowing our Ornith for years,” said Fuzo.
“You weren’t assigned to it when I first came looking,” Pierce said, snide. “You were duking it out on the surface, beating the shit out of your sisters to make rank.”
“Your performance in Australia entertained the hizzahs in administration,” Fuzo curled her lip, “You know you have oppositus?”
“You know you can suck my dick,” Pierce countered.
Fuzo flinched, “I’d rather eat my palm,”
“Why is there so much anger up here?” Eli appeared and stepped between them.
When neither answered him, he knelt before Fuzo.
“Please be nice to him, ‘Foos. I know you don’t like him, but be nice to him, for me.”
Fuzo softened, “I can be nice for you,”
Eli put his hands on Fuzo’s head.
He didn’t smell like these fetid humans; his touch carried the promise of a Subak’s love and affection. His breath was salty and strong, like that of a belly who’d kept her mouth open too long during sex.
When Utah shouted Eli’s name, the male detached from Fuzo and cartwheeled his way down to the growing tower of sticks.
“What the fuck is he?” Pierce demanded.
Fuzo replied, “His name is Eli,”
“He’s not a hybrid,” Pierce snapped.
Fuzo turned to him, “What do you know about hybrids?”
“I used to think they were the product of human men and breeders. Now that I know about Caro Cristi, I suspect that Eli is a farc male, like him,”
Pierce reacted to her silence.
“Where the fuck is Kul?”
“I don’t need rescuing,” said Fuzo.
“Speak for yourself farc,” Pierce said.
“I just did,” Fuzo said, her eyes on the setting sun. “Call me farc again, Colonel, and you’ll end up like Ensign Whitley,”
Pierce didn’t speak again until night fell over the camp.
The bonfire below was now a blazing inferno. Utah joined his horde around it, waving his bladed fingers he danced, casting gruesome shadows upon the rock.
Ten Ounce appeared on the ledge. Ignoring Fuzo and Pierce, she freed the women prisoners and hauled down toward the fire.
Utah came for the child.
Too dazed to put up a fight, her body bounced on his shoulder as he carried her down.
Later, Utah raged on his pulpit.
“They built their city where the sun never shines! We took first their water and then we took their blood!”
“Texas-One?” Fuzo asked.
“You’re well informed for a Dokomad,” said Pierce.
“Their deaths are a result of your government trying to develop a hallucinogen that lasts longer than five minutes,” Fuzo said.
Pierce sat up, “Whitley got you, huh?”
“Whitley’s dead,” Fuzo said.
Below, two of Utah’s cronies brought one of the women before him and stretched her out upon the rocks. The woman’s screams ended when Utah ran his bladed digits over her throat.
The cheering crowd drowned out the screams of his next victim. Punching his sharp digits into the new woman’s chest, Utah pulled out her heart and tossed it to Ten Ounce.
The maniacal girl kissed the bloodied organ before lobbing it into the fire.
The third woman met a more horrifying fate; her breasts were sliced off and tossed into the fire by Utah himself.
All that remained was the little girl.
Naked and covered in ochre, Utah escorted into the fray. Petting her tightly braided hair, looked to Eli and shouted.
“For you my love!”
Eli kissed Utah passionately.
“Oh brother,” he said, genuinely touched. “She’s mine?”
The listless child stood at Eli’s side while the flock below danced wildly about the fire.
Eli put his hand on the child’s head and whispered. The child’s legs folded, and her body fell sleeping at his feet.
Eli spread his fingers, lifting the child from the ground. Arm raised high, He guided her through the air and to the fire where she hovered only inches from the flame.
The child began spinning when Eli closed his eyes. Suddenly, her body exploded, sending blood and bits of bone down onto the howling crowd.
Utah jumped into the fracas, his sharp talons slicing those unfortunate enough be within his space.
Eli hugged himself and rocked.
Later, he sadly gathered up what remained of her braids, some of which were still attached to her scalp. On a distant ledge he sat alone, rocking himself.
“No one ever taught you to contol it,” Fuzo whispered.
“What?” Pierce asked.
Utah sought him out.
Eli obliged him with a kiss until the hybrid wanted more. Pushing him away made him angry enough to grab hold of Eli’s arm.
His hands to Utah’s ears, whispered words put the lanky hybrid to sleep.
The fires faded with the night.
Eli appeared on the ledge with a blanket draped around his shoulders. His fleshy stomach bounced when he dropped to his knees before Fuzo.
Hide washed clean, his unbraided ran long over his chest. “I want to kiss you,” he pressed his lips to hers.
Fuzo didn’t reciprocate.
“Do you know what division I work for?”
“I don’t understand,” he said, tenderly touching her head.
“Do you know what division I work for?”
Eli’s palm touched her ear. Pain ripped through her, forcing her to gag.
“Why do you do this?” Eli recoiled. “Why do you murder my kind?”
Fuzo looked into his eyes, “It’s the law,”
“That law is foul and evil,” he scolded.
“Foul and evil is what you did tonight,” Fuzo countered. “To those innocent people,”
Eli pulled the blanket tight around him.
“We’ll kill your overseer,” he said. “Then I will fix you,”
Fuzo whispered, “I’m not broken, Eli,”
Eli reached again into Fuzo’s thoughts, bringing more pain that made her cry out.
“You don’t like what you do,” he whispered.
Fuzo gasped, “You’re a male of my gen, you’re strong, an asset, not a liability,”
Eli lips touched the scar on her forehead, sending a jolt of pain through Fuzo. The male fell back as her memory of being shot in Uralskey, invaded his mind.
“You encountered eaters of men,” Eli’s blanket had parted to expose his nakedness.
He quickly covered his clasper, ashamed.
“My body sickens you,”
“I don’t like your body,” Fuzo panted. “That doesn’t mean you should die,”
Eli crawled to her and touched her face. “You will make a noble leader one day, Fuzodox,”
“Eli,” Fuzo said. “You must get away from here,”
The male stared down at Fuzo before cartwheeling from the rock.
“Unbelievable,” Pierce’s voice did little to quell the headache. “Kul would’ve ridden him and killed him by now,”
“Shut your mouth,” Fuzo said.
“If Caro Cristi had that kind of mojo, he’d have used it against the authorities in Banff,” Pierce said. “Is Cristi’s gen the first to have males?”
“Fuck off Pierce,” Fuzo snapped.
“They get stronger with each gen,” Pierce rolled away to avoid Fuzo when she made to attack him. “Why kill them?”
“You’re dying tonight,” Fuzo said. “What you know isn’t shit, Pierce, so it doesn’t matter what you think.”
“Males aren’t new, are they?” he asked. “Each new generation is more powerful than the last.”
Fuzo said nothing.
“Utah’s not a full blooded femmar, he’s a half-breed, though Zhang preferred the term, hybrid,”
Pierce smiled when Fuzo looked at him.
“I had no proof other than Zhang, that’s why I never reported him to my superiors. Zhang never acted like a psycho, though. What’s wrong with Utah?”
“I’m not trained to speak on the subject of mental illness,” Fuzo said.
“You have mental illness in the citizenry?” he asked.
“We have bad childhoods, bad marriages, and yes—mental and emotional illness,” Fuzo hoped talking would end her headache. “The difference between our societies is that we fix individuals with problems.”
“Unless they’re male,” he said. “Those poor bastards get hunted down in the name of Femitokon?”
“The male gender ceased production before my generation was produced,” Fuzo eyed him. “Those remaining continue to be eradicated,”
“Unless they conceal themselves or get away,” said Pierce. “Like Caro?”
Fuzo closed her eyes.
“I’ve said too much already, Pierce,”
“You think I won’t survive this?” he demanded. “That’s why you’re being so chatty.”
“If I don’t kill you, Kul will,” said Fuzo.
“Kul chose not to kill me,” Pierce said. “That’s why I’m here right now,”
“You better pray to whatever God you were raised to revere,” Fuzo said. “That you’re not around me when I get loose.”
“You’re not attacking me because if you do, red boy Eli will be back over here with his powerful touch,” Pierce said. “I guess he never learned to sleep,”
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” Fuzo asked.
“In helovx English,” Pierce declared. “The words breeder and brooder are interchangeable with the swap of only two vowels,”
Fuzo frowned, “Read that in a book somewhere?”
“Reading’s not my thing, it’s from a lecture I heard once,” Pierce said flatly. “The Socio-Sexual Symbiosis of Zaxiri and Marixi. Doctor Sofita Kul, Gender Symposium Mynu, twenty-two oh eight.”
At morning’s light the rumble of a big rig truck woke some of the camp.
Eli walked to the blocky vehicle with three bald men trailing behind him.
“He took your advice,” Pierce said. “He’s bugging out,”
Utah roused from his slumber.
“You’re sending him to Kul,” he said. “How did he not pick up on that when he raided your thoughts?”
“We’re trained,” Fuzo whispered. “We’re trained to believe our own lies,”
Eli took one last look at Fuzo.
‘I wish I could take you with me,’
The male’s thought transference revealed his position.
Sofita ceased her invisibility and crouched into a sprinting position.
Energy bled from her heels and elbows as the Shell sent her flying over the desolate wasteland. Faster than light, she caught up the heavy-load truck on the highway.
He’s inside, Komad.
Not that it matters, but the five people with him are all armed.
Sofita guided the Shell’s thrust to intercept.
Hovering in the rig’s blindsight, her silver skin began to tingle when the Shell’s sensors detected the male’s telepathic energy.
Eli’s head popped out of the passenger side window, his wrap-around sunglasses reflecting the sun.
Sofita veered right to avoid being seen and then moved left when the male crammed his neck out of the driver’s side window.
After that, they picked up speed.
He senses us, but another male is nearby.
‘Are you sure?’
My prime purpose is to detect and terminate all male femmar.
Sofita matched the truck’s speed and moved alongside the driver’s window.
We should distance ourselves and blast the vehicle from the sky.
The filthy idiot at the wheel noticed her and when she smiled at him, he smiled back. Punching through the glass, she grasped the back of his neck and drove his face into the steering wheel repeatedly before yanking him out.
Pain seized her brain and pounded through her spinal column.
We’re no match for him, Komad!
The Shell commandeered Sofita’s body and moved them away from the swerving rig.
Eli scrambled out from the back of the cab and jumped into the driver’s seat. Taking hold of the wheel he moved large truck side to side before steadying it on the road.
‘We must engage him,’ Sofita’s thoughts were shouting.
The Shell kept its distance and blasted the truck’s connecting hitch. The front of the cargo trailer dropped to the pavement, while disconnected cab spun out of the control.
Up on two wheels, the cab tipped over, kicking up sparks as it slid noisily over the asphalt.
Eli emerged from the toppled cab and jumped from the window. He fled into the brush as Ten Ounce hopped out next and followed him.
The Shell was intent on pursuing.
Sofita closed her eyes and initiated an internal-vision. As she imagined dropping the spheres in hot lava, the Shell’s hold on her body began to fade.
Her mind on Fuzo, she aimed her palm at the rig’s gas tank.
An explosive plume of smoke billowed on the horizon and turned Utah’s camp into chaos.
The smartest ones hopped on their cycles and cleared out; the worthless and weak ran to Utah for guidance.
He assured his faithful that Eli was attacking the interlopers and the explosion was proof of his victorious strike. Machete in hand, he climbed the outcropping to confront Fuzo.
“Utahraptor, right?” Pierce called out to him. “My name’s Kyle Southern, and I want to tell your story, whatever it is. I have cameras. I can give a voice to whatever you’re trying to accomplish here.”
Utah laughed at Fuzo, “Are you going to beg for your life too?”
Fuzo offered no words.
Utah’s face hardened but his eyes remained crazed, “Speak to me!”
“You’re nothing,” Fuzo said.
Utah bared his claws, “I’m everything!”
“Eli’s everything,” Fuzo countered. “Eli is everything and he’s not coming back for you. He’s going to meet me on the shore of the Utah Bay. I’m his salivation. I’m his way home,”
“Eli is mine,” Utah seethed.
“Look at you,” Fuzo said. “You shaved your head, stained your skin, but you will never be Marixi. I’m the real deal, I’m what Eli wants,”
“You’ll kill him!” Utah gasped. “He knows this!”
Fuzo narrowed her eyes. “Before I do, I’m going to ride his clasper and pass him around to all the fleeters in my barracks.”
Utah bared his teeth, “I’ll kill you!”
“Utahraptor,” Pierce pleaded. “I can help you tell the world where you came from and what you are. My name is Kyle-”
“—you’re name ain’t Kyle,” Utah pointed a bladed finger at Pierce. “Eli saw under your skin. My father will too, that’s why he wants you alive.”
“Your kerma’s a whore in human skin,” Fuzo snapped.
Utah took a swipe, dragging his long claws along her stomach.
Fuzo’s hide burned as it split.
“I’m going to kill you,” he said to Fuzo. “I’m going to kill all of you,”
Teeth ground tight, Fuzo jumped to her feet and shed her binds. She kicked out, planting a foot his chest she felt his ribs crack under her boot.
Utah fell back over the edge.
When Fuzo peered over after him, Pierce cried out. Utahraptor jumped high. Coming down upon her, his tharspin claws were ready to strike.
Fuzo caught him midair and threw him to the ground. The hybrid rolled free of her boot and sitting up, dug his bladed fingers into the back of her thighs.
Her hands around his hips, she lifted him over her head and pitched him past the precipice.
The hybrid’s resolve was endless.
He leapt out of the abyss again. Landing on the rock, he circled her wavering form, intent to keep hacking at her until she lost enough of the blue to fall.
Just then, the fiery cab of a truck rained down from the sky. Demolishing the bonfire, the force of its impact scattered his flock.
“Stand your ground,” Utah screamed. “The polar beast will not defeat us!”
Fuzo lunged while his back was turned but missed her chance when he sprung up and flipped backward over her head.
Coming down behind her, Utah sliced her back with his bladed fingers.
Uniform shredded, Fuzo’s hide was ripped open above the cheeks of her girz.
The faithful began climbing onto the ledge as Fuzo fell to her knees. Grabbing the blaster hidden in her boot, she slid it over her hand.
Kul soared in low, catching the hybrid’s attention. Utah hopped high to snag her with his claw, but falling short, he landed on the bedrock and gave chase.
Pierce got free of his binds as Fuzo picked off the last of the vagabonds. Pain crippled her senses until she could take no more.
When she lowered her blaster to cradle her stomach, Pierce boldly peeled the weapon from her hand.
A beastly man lumbered onto the ledge baring a mouthful of sharp tharspin teeth.
Fuzo panted, “Give me my digger,”
“This won’t work unless I’m a farc,” Pierce fled the rock, leaving Fuzo to face the monster alone.
Knees on the rock, Fuzo fell over and rolled toward the ledge.
The beast followed and latching onto her shoulder, sank his teeth into the small of her back.
Crying out, Fuzo fell over the precipice, taking the man with her. Fingers grasping a protruding crag, she hung there and watched as the man’s head bounced from the rocks as he descended lifeless into the abyss.
Sofita hit the ground running.
Closing the distance between them, she brought her arm up and clotheslined Utah with enough force to break his back.
“Eli said you’re a pretender,” the paralyzed hybrid smiled up at her through blood stained teeth. “A contender to a throne that you do not want,”
“You’re a hybrid,” Sofita knelt and placed her hand around his neck. “You’re nothing, Utah,”
“Kerma…” he whined as the bones in his neck buckled under her strength.
Sofita fell to her knees in agony; it was a pain she’d felt only once before.
The Shell dampened its effect long enough for Sofita to stand and take aim at Utah’s corpse. She fired at his neck and caught his head when the impact blasted it upward.
Dox stumbled toward them.
Her injuries aren’t life-threatening, said the Shell. We need to take out that young male, Komad.
‘Where is the other male?’
Closing in on us, Komad.
‘Who is he?’
You know exactly who he is, ‘Fita.
Sofita closed her eyes and soared back the amusement park and followed the scent of the helovx girl to a battered funhouse.
Ear to the door, she heard Eli chanting Utah’s name. When she touched the door, the chanting stopped.
Sofita stepped to the decaying fuse box beside the structures rotting stairs and with a finger, emitted a bolt of electricity into long dormant cables.
Lights flickered, and music hiccupped as the power struggled to come back on inside.
“The polar beast is here,” shouted Ten Ounce.
Eli whispered, “Calm down,”
I’ve isolated his neuro frequencies.
‘What’s his output?’ Sofita thought.
Off the scale. I can block so long as he doesn’t go higher than he knows he can.
‘Life or death situation may push him to his limit?’ Sofita thought back.
If so, we’re fucked, Komad.
Sofita walked to the front door.
Before we die, I wanted to say that you were wrong, and I was right.
‘What are you talking about?’
He’s an anomaly you said. His abilities have nothing to do with his age you said. I tried to tell you different, and you ignored me because of your precious Orestes.
‘I know what I said,’
You were wrong, and I was right.
She closed her eyes, ‘You’re not Fusada,’
And you’re not going to be Sofita if we don’t kill this male before he lets loose with everything he’s got.
Sofita opened the door to find a room covered with small flecks of light from the mirrored ball spinning on the ceiling.
Her targets were found in the mirror along the back wall, cowering behind opposite counters.
“You don’t have to listen to the silver shark inside of you,” Eli’s voice trembled. “You are the means to her end, and her means will end you,”
“Do you see her,” Sofita asked. “Do you see her in the void, Eli?”
Komad, do not engage the male!
“She’s imprisoned in the endless sea,” Eli put his finger to his lips, warning Ten Ounce to be quiet.
Sofita sighed, “You’re wrong, Eli, that’s me,”
She pitched Utahraptor’s head between the counters, causing Ten Ounce to jump from her hiding place, screaming.
The single blast severed the girl’s midsection before bouncing off the mirror. Pockets of kyrs-energy flew in all directions, scalding Eli’s face and eyes.
Confused and in pain, Eli unleashed enough power to cripple the Shell.
Sofita fell to her knees, screaming as the assault on her senses was unlike anything she ever experienced.
Stumbling from the Funhouse, she blindly followed the sound of his sobs.
His untamed psychokinetic energy bled out in all directions as Sofita struggled to reengage. Waves of psionic force rippled through the Shell, crippling its higher functions.
Blinded, Sofita sought him with her hands and finding his head, she pulled him to her.
“It’s going to be fine, Eli,” she cried, cupping his chin she dragged him down with her onto the rocks.
Fingers laced in his braids, she twisted his head and snapped his neck.
“I’m so sorry,” Sofita whispered, her body aching.
Covering his face with her hand, Sofita kissed her hand.
“Don’t move, Kul,” Peirce’s voice was close.
Sofita opened her eyes and saw the man standing there, a blaster attached to his palm.
“You don’t have the DNA to make that thing work,”
Pierce jerked his thumb and fired off a blast that kicked him back over the sand.
The flesh on Sofita’s upper thigh erupted blood as silver appeared and immediately covered the wound.
Sofita stumbled to where Pierce lay in the sand, “You fuck, you shot me!” she howled, bringing a silver fist down onto his head.
The man’s skull refused to give, no matter how many times she struck it. Pierce’s bruised face faded and become someone she knew in another life. She closed her eyes, but opening them again, she found him still lying there.
Naked, bruised, and bloodied, Orestes Uym pleaded with her to stop.
“I had to go with Fusa,” he cried. “You never loved me!”
On her hand and knees in the sand, Sofita vomited. Forcing her eyes open, she spotted a dark figure on the ridge.
A kick to the stomach knocked Sofita onto her back. Caro Cristi stood over her, a pulsar-rifle in his hand.
The Shell reactivated and flying into the air, it set Caro in the sights of her blaster.
Invisible hands dragged her back down and slammed her into the earth. Hurled up high again, Sofita couldn’t defend herself from the kicks and punches of an unseen attacker.
Any attempt by the Shell to counter found Sofita slammed back onto the rocks. The last time she hit into the ground, her kidney ruptured.
The Shell’s protective measures faded.
Ribs broke, and extremities snapped. Urine soaked Sofita’s upper thighs as something inside her bladder was torn.
She worked through the pressure in her concussed brain and internalized Fusada as the Shell. In her mind, Fusada was one with the Shell’s energy, but rather than fight the male on the hill, the Shell suspended Sofita’s nervous system, disconnecting her natural pain receptors.
“Caro, we need to go,” the young male spoke Ramaxi. “Red Eli is dead and the shrouded one has run off into the sands,”
Caro screamed, “She’s killed every child I’ve ever made!”
“You can have others!”
“Fusa will pay for what she did to me,” Caro glared down at Sofita. “Someday, so will you.”
Sofita mustered all her might to speak.
“Fusa said, you were a lousy ride,”
“Caro don’t do it!”
Sofita’s eyes were swelling shut.
“Ryo said, Sizix deserved better,”
Caro raised the rifle and fired, tearing a hole into Sofita’s abdomen.
“Caro! You will obey me!”
“Jal says, fuck you!” Sofita choked.
Enraged, Caro took aim again, but this time the pulsar fell from his hands.
The helovx-skinned male twitched, his eyes rolled over white as drool dripped from his lips.
Trembling, his body rose from the ground. His head exploded, sending pieces of his brain onto Sofita’s crushed body.
Fingers parted an eye lid to confirm her greatest fear.
The Bizak male stood over her no longer the fourteen-year-old hiding in her barracks as a caste-off.
“You’re still alive Sofita, you’re not alone though, I can feel her in there with you,” his swollen lips, native to House Uym, twisted into a grin. “Remember when she wanted to kill me? You stopped her?”
Sofita closed her eyes.
“I didn’t kill my brother,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. “That was you,”
The darkness came as consciousness faded.
Utama Gathering Yard
4 Yulitat, 2228 – 0840 hours
Stretching matt under her arm, she arrived enthusiastic, having studied the basic poses involved in the dararix. The controlled breathing and low-threshold stretches were tame in comparison to intensive ramixi Fezil employed.
Obiz stepped from her transport as Velto arrived and the look on the older Bizak’s face was troubling.
Taking her arm, Velto whispered, “If you want to leave, you can,”
“Is there a problem?” Obiz asked.
A Bizak passed by them, another Tenth Gen.
“Oh yes!” she leered, matt slung to back.
“Hey,” Velto pointed. “I know you, and she’s young enough to be your donation!”
“Yeah, but she’s not!” the Bizak laughed, setting off the others with her.
Humiliation wasn’t native to Hizaki, yet Obiz became rapidly conscious of the many eyes stealing glances at her backswell.
“Hizbacks aren’t made for arixi-pants,” Velto said, eyeing her backside.
“I disagree, CM Wram,” Styba Balru stepped between them, escorting her mako, Kin.
“It’s good to see you here, Velts,” Kin shook Velto’s hand.
“Thank you, Kin,” Velto said.
“Oh no,” Styba leered at Obiz. “Thank you,”
Velto stepped into her, “Shouldn’t you be in Orta?”
“Yes, she should,” Kin frowned. “Goodbye Styba!”
“I got an hour to kill,” said Styba.
“Among other things,” Velto mumbled.
Uncomfortable, Kin’s attention drifted.
“I’ll be on the benches with the subbies,” Styba declared, giving Obiz’ rear a slap. “Enjoying the view,”
“You’ll get to Orta,” Kin snapped.
Obiz forced a smile, “I’m used to Styba’s crudeness,”
“She wasn’t raised to be crude,” Kin frowned Styba. “Kiss me and go,”
The bruiser kissed her mako on the head but before departing, she stared down at Velto, “CM Wram, is that a donational sized matt?”
“I don’t know, are those subbie sized fronts?” Velto asked.
The Bizaki around them began laughing, even Kin was smiling.
“Get moving, toobshit,” Velto said. “Or you’re going to feel a donational size foot up your girz,” Styba patted Velto on the head and then sprinted off when the older Bizak moved to strike her. “We’ll stretch back here,” Velto declared.
Kin said, “There’s some space up front,”
“We’re trying to minimize our presence,” Obiz said.
“Then you shouldn’t have dressed the part,” Bam Ukel appeared beside Obiz with her slender figure covered in a hide-tight suit like Velto’s. Extending her hand, she introduced herself to the older Bizak.
“I knew your makers from Mynu, the dead ones,” Velto said.
Kin started, “We know your kerma, too,”
“Oh yeah, how is she now?” Velto asked.
“She’s still in the Ramaxatae,” Bam said, eyeing the back of Obiz. “You need looser pants,”
Obiz nodded, “But I love feeling naked outside the citbluz,”
“It’s got a gash pad,” Velto said. “No one can see your bloom,”
Bam took Obiz by the arm, “I’ll stand behind you,”
“That won’t help,” quipped the young Hizak beside them.
“Crix Utabi?” Obiz exclaimed.
Crix smiled, “How’re you doing, Obiz?”
“Another friend of Fezil’s?” Velto asked.
Obiz shook her head, “Crix and I shared a course in court procedure,”
After some pleasantries, Crix wandered to her usual spot.
“She’s an advocate?” Velto gave her the once over. “You think she’d be better dressed,”
“Orta assigned,” Bam said, under her breath.
“World Oceans Legal?” Velto frowned. “Is she that bad?”
“Crix placed higher than I in Mynu’s overall placement index,” Obiz said.
“She chose Orta legal,” Bam said. “We all tried talking her out of it,”
“You know what’s worse than an inept citizen?” Velto said. “An exceptional citizen who chooses a career where everyone around her is inept,”
“Like, Koba Julo?” Obiz teased.
Velto laughed, “Exactly like Koba!”
A gong sounded, prompting everyone to unfurl their matts as the arixitux, a Tenth-Gen bizzy of considerable height, appeared in the center of the yard. An amplification collar around her narrow neck, she unfurled her matt and welcomed everyone in a soothing voice.
“Let close our eyes and inhale. Now exhale,” she said. “Inhale, exhale. Five more times and hold on number five.”
Obiz performed as asked, feeling her body begin to relax.
“We are strong, we are healthy, and Ramaxia needs us,” she said. “Let’s raise our arms above our heads. Reach for the top of the dome. Open your hands. Spread your fingers. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.”
Obiz felt the wind penetrate the fabric of her suit.
“Feel the soles of your feet against the stone,” the arixitux paused. “Feel your stomach rise and fall as you breathe with me, and feel your fingers rising to the sky.”
Obiz felt herself rising from the ground and floating on the wind like a sheer scarf freed from the neck of a beautiful Zaxir.
The hum of a vibrating Filmark invaded her calm. Opening an eye, she caught Velto tapping at the handheld. An alarmed look flashed across her face. Velto broke formation and quietly moved toward the street.
Bam and Kin were too relaxed to notice Obiz slip silently away from them. Across the street Velto passed the Bizakask Building and disappeared into a Citizenry Rest Stop. Inside were four hand washing stations, each with a mirror and automated hand-dryer, and four closeted gapirx.
“CR Wram?” Obiz called out.
Velto emerged from the first stall, “What are you doing here?”
“Is something wrong?” Obiz noticed she’d changed out of the suit.
“You’re dismissed for the day,” Velto said, slipping out the exit.
“Dismissed?” Obiz followed. “What’s happening?”
“You cannot come with me,” Velto crossed the walk and marched toward Jyrtax Terminal. “Go home, I’ll call you,”
Obiz failed to heed, “You’re highly agitated,”
Velto ignored the identification kiosk inside and attempted to push through the turnstile without swiping her card.
Obiz produced her card and slid it over the reader, pulling Velto with her as she pushed her thighs against the bar.
“You cannot come with me,” Velto’s eyes searched the platform. “If you don’t want to go home, then go get your hair molded and get back to Floor Ten,”
“I’ve no intention of letting you board a Slide when you’re this manic,” Obiz said.
Velto turned on her, “Did you just call me crazy?”
“Your behavior indicates such,” Obiz said.
“Get out of here.” Velto pointed. “Or you’re severed!”
Obiz watched Velto pass the boarding platform. Following from a distance, she joined Velto on the conveyor bound for the transport lot, ignoring the pair of Subaki that stopped to snap a freeze of an Hizak in an arixi suit.
Velto stood alone on the top level of the transport park, her eyes trained on a private transport descending toward her position. The vehicle stopped at boarding height and idled up to Velto.
Obiz darted out and pushed Velto into the opened door.
“What the fuck are you still doing here?” Velto hollered.
“As I’m unemployed,” Obiz replied. “I’ve got free time on my hands,”
The transport took off fast, prompting Velto to slap the privacy curtain.
“We need to turn around!” she cried.
The screen disappeared to reveal Warixo Atiba.
“No time, CR Wram,” Warixo’s eyes found Obiz.
“Good morning, Podkomad,” said Obiz.
“What’s she doing here?” Warixo demanded.
Velto shook her head, “That’s why we need to turn around,”
“There’s no time,” Warixo slapped her dash to reengage the dark screen.
“Damn you, Obiz,” Velto growled. “You keep your head down and your mouth shut. Say nothing to no one,”
“Can you tell me where we’re going?” Obiz asked.
“No, Obiz,” Velto said. “I can’t!”
Neither spoke a word until the transport slowed.
“Leave your bag,” Velto snapped as the door opened.
“Let’s move-” the uniformed Axyrn paused upon seeing Obiz. “What the fuck is she doing here?”
Velto shook her head, “Don’t ask,”
The Tenth-Gen ran a hand over her bald scalp.
“Velto, she has to stay here,”
“I’m not leaving CR Wram’s side,” Obiz declared.
“I’ll take her back,” the Marix said to Velto.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Obiz stepped into her with the same determination Velto had shown Styba at the Gathering Yard. “We’re wasting time,”
“Damn Wram,” the bruiser shook her head. “You love slicing your hide open and dangling it over the shark tank,”
“If I wanted your opinion, Zerix, I’d look you up in the bowels in the Cloister,” Velto said, pushing past her. “Come on Obiz,”
The bruiser grabbed her arm, “Keep your eyes on Wram and don’t look around like it’s the first time you’ve ever been here, understand?”
“Thank you,” said Obiz. “I’ll manage,”
“You’re certainly managing those pants,” she grinned.
Obiz caught up to Velto.
The boney exterior of the Sorority of Defense resembled an exposed fossil trapped in onyx. There were no windows along its smooth face, and no door appeared until triggered by their presence.
Inside the dark foyer, there was no reception desk. Water churned where the walls met the floor and high above on the ceiling was a flattened map of Ramaxicon; every helovx-nation was outlined in light and their cities were shimmering dots.
Velto led her over a descending corridor, passing through a gauntlet of statues, each depicting an important Marixi from generations past. A cargo-vertical without doors waited at the end of the hall, and standing upon it was her maker’s sib, Fos Tis.
“Before you state that I don’t belong here, don’t,” Obiz said.
“Are you fucking out of your head?” Fos demanded of Velto as the vertical began its descent. It fell even with a dimly lit corridor where they followed Fos to the only door present.
Inside the cramped room Obiz saw Ambassador Prime Pitana Dag and Ambassador Laxum Jyr exchanging words with a Promad.
The Promad addressed Velto when they entered.
“Promad Kilvx,” Velto extended her hand, and the Promad took it.
“CR Wram,” Kilvx nodded. “We’re going to Elizabeth,”
“Is the Primary aware of the situation?” Velto demanded.
“The Prime Chair nor the First Office have been informed,” said Fos.
“How did you find her?” Velto asked the Promad.
“The Dokomad, she’s got some connection to my TCS,” Kilvx said. “Connie took us to the coast against orders, claimed the doe needed her. That’s where we found her, Kul, and the Ornith,”
“She’s alive” Fos whispered.
Kilvx nodded, “She’s fucked up, but still breathing,”
Pitana Dag sighed in relief.
Laxum Jyr stared at Obiz, “Who’s this, Velto?”
“Ozbi’s donation,” Fos said.
Laxum and Pitana eyed one another before addressing Velto with looks that questioned their friend’s sanity.
“I’m due back at Fleet,” Fos bid them farewell and pulled Obiz aside. “You followed Velto and don’t act like it’s your first day on the planet,”
“Understood,” Obiz pulled Fos close and whispered, “You and I need to dine with mak, take her out for the evening so that everyone sees how alone she is,”
Fos stared hard at her a moment, then nodded slowly.
“Next week,” Obiz embraced Fos before following the others out,
Kilvx led them to another vertical. Laxum remained tight-lipped when Pitana inquired after a Doctor Fyla Uym. Kilvx explained that Secondary-Chair Uym was already on sight and had the situation in hand.
The vertical doors opened to gusting winds.
In all her years as a Ramaxian, Obiz had only visited the surface to visit the Fairgrounds.
Velto ran for the transport, leaving the three Hizaki behind.
Locking arms with Pitana and Laxum, Obiz made her way across the ice and boarded the transport; her arixi-suit proving woefully inadequate. She gazed at the whiteout beyond her window, hugging herself tightly in the hour it took to reach their destination.
The transport slowed outside a structure on metal stilts. An helovx-made remnant of pre-impact Antarctica, a battered snow-covered called it, Base Elizabeth.
“You got your surface legs?” Kilvx asked. “You’ll need them here,”
Obiz didn’t appreciate the sentiment until she stepped out of the transport. The winds here pushed at the back of her legs, nearly lifting her from the ground. This time Velto joined the three of them in hooking their arms together.
Past the metallic stilts was an elongated circle clear of packed snow. Joining the others in standing upon it, Obiz felt her stomach jump before they began sinking.
As the platform lowered them into the earth, Obiz thought again of her desire for new life experiences; working for Velto had certainly delivered.
The rattling lift ground to a halt in a concrete room. Following the line on the floor brought them to a bright corridor.
It reeminded Obiz of the emergency medical center she visited as a donation.
Fezil had used the isurus board their mak Acari bought, in the house, and like their maker warned, had ended up falling and breaking her arm. Fezil had been patched up quickly, but not before six-year old Obiz got to wander through triage reception.
Beyond two panel doors was a dimly lit observatory.
On the other side of the glass lay a bloodied and beaten Hizak, her face swollen and bruised, she wore a Komad’s uniform that was ripped to tatters.
Laxum, Pitana, and Velto stood at the glass, horrified. A jagged bone pointed out of her upper right arm; another poked through the hide of her lower leg. Eppis entered the observation room but didn’t stand with others.
Bizak attendants gingerly cut off the uniform, revealing a burned and weeping wound just above her gash.
A tear ran down her kerma’s face.
Obiz put a hand to her shoulder.
Eppis regarded her with eyes wide.
“What are you doing here?”
Before Obiz could answer, Eppis pushed her aside and lunged at Velto. Kilvx became a shield, coming between them.
“You brought her here,” Eppis cried. “After everything I’ve done to separate her from all of this!”
“You brought me into this,” Obiz exclaimed, “When you decided to breed!”
“Stop this, all of you!” Pitana Dag’s booming voice quieted the hostilities. “This isn’t the time, Sofita’s near death!”
Eppis paced back to her side of the room, “What happened?”
“A Pure-Gen male is what happened,” Kilvx said.
Obiz stared at the Promad.
“The Shell is designed to counter such attacks?” Eppis asked.
Laxum scowled, “The Shell isn’t designed to take obstacles that don’t exist,”
“There are no males in the Eleventh Gen,” Pitana said.
“Reality says otherwise,” Eppis countered. “We know who did this,”
“Does Fyla?” Velto asked, arms folded.
Dokomad Fuzo Dox barged through the doors. Failing to acknowledge anyone, the young Marix fell to her knees in front of the glass.
Doctor Fyla Uym appeared, suited up for surgery.
An Hizak with the name Gwo on her uniform grabbed an overhead spigot and washed Kul’s naked body free of grit and debris.
Kul’s torso was covered with punctures. The bruising was so extensive there was no way to determine the number of individual injuries, except for the crater above her gash.
Doctor Uym cradled her head, pulling the hair tie from it.
“Sofita,” she spoke loudly. “If you’re in there, give me a sign!”
The fingers on Kul’s hand spread.
Everyone in the observation room gasped.
“Get her up!” Doctor Uym shouted.
The room went black as the Hizak’s broken body hovered above the gurney. The young Hizak pushed to the gurney free as the circular pad upon the floor began to glow.
The patient’s body slowed to a stop high above them and began to spin.
“Map and locate!” Doctor Uym’s voice boomed in the darkness.
Beams of light cross-crossed Kul’s hide.
Dozens of holographic screens popped up with endless images of damaged flesh. The light from their vivid displays revealed Gwo at a narrow stand-alone kiosk.
The beam-grid disappeared.
“Triage engaged,” Gwo called out.
Kul’s body spun at high and low intervals, her lifeless form twisted up and down and around as nanites set about repairing her wounds.
Eppis stood beside Fuzo, “What happened to the Shell?”
“It failed!” she screamed.
“Fuzo,” Obiz knelt beside her.
The Marix’ eyes found hers, “Banto?”
“Dokomad,” Eppis snapped. “I need more details,”
“Fuck your details!” Fuzo snapped.
“Cease,” Obiz looked up at Eppis. “You’re not our First Office, yet,”
On the other side of the glass, Doctor Uym shouted.
“Shell removal in three, two, one-”
Kul’s stitched up body levitated higher, unresponsive until a line of energy pierced her head. Her eyes snapped open and body seized up. She shrieked out in pain when the beam pulsed brightly and then faded. No mark could be seen upon her head as she fell unconscious to the ground.
Dokomad Dox punched the glass.
“Fuzo, examine the screens,” Obiz whispered. “Her vitals are stabilizing.”
“She’s strong,” Fuzo nodded, doing as Obiz asked. “She’s Hizak, did you know that?”
“Every hizzah knows Sofitakul,” Obiz smiled. “She’s the best of us,”
“That’s right, she’ll live through this,” Fuzo pointed her finger at the glass. “She’ll live through this because she’s badass!”
Kilvx smiled, “That she is, Dokomad.”
Obiz turned to the Velto, Pitana, Laxum, and her kerma.
“We all know she’ll live through this,”
“That’s right,” Velto stepped to the glass. “Sofita’s been down before, she always finds a way up,”
Obiz touched the bandage on Fuzo’s neck.
“She’s going to be all right,”
The Dokomad stood and eyeing the others warily, she pulled Obiz with her to the door, “You tell Gwo that I’ll be back to check on the Komad,”
“Of course, Fuzo,” Obiz said, nodding.
“She’s got a change of clothes at Marixi Admin,” Fuzo said. “Ask Prime Gizul, you know her, right?”
“I’ll make sure she walks out of here dressed in style,” Obiz said.
“Good,” Dox spoke softly. “That’s important to her, Banto,”
After the Dokomad departed, all eyes were on Obiz.
“How do you know Fuzo?” Velto demanded.
“We’re acquainted,” Obiz turned to Eppis. “Kerma, I’m going to leave the acquisition of Kul’s clothing to you, since I’ve never met our future Primary.”
Laxum and Pitana shared a concerned glance.
“I’m aware of Kul’s place in the Tenth,” Obiz added.
Velto sighed, “Listen to me, Obiz-”
“—I don’t envy the lot of you, having to face our elders and their unwillingness to cede control. You face a dangerous time ahead, but I’ve faith in all of you,” Obiz looked to Eppis. “Even those of you who’ve no faith in me,”
Ortosk Plains, Ramaxia
4 Yulitat, 2228 – 1830 Hours
The Yakortol hot-springs sat a mile under the Marixitak’s lowest valley. One of many balmy caverns situated under the bedrock of the eastern ice-sheet, this one housed the Cavern of Death.
Veins of red and yellow ran through its black onyx walls and natural gas burned within elongated wells on the floor.
Primepromad Hibz paused at the mouth of the cave.
“Komadon, I can do this for you-”
“—I’m fine,” said Fuzo. “I can see it through to the end,”
Inside, the naked body of Eli Red lay on a tall marble slab.
“When you’re through here,” Hibz said. “I expect an update on the Promad,”
“Kul’s finally earned an advancement,” said Fuzo.
“Not even PC Ikat can ignore the collection of Carocristi,” Hibz said.
Fuzo pointed her head at Eli’s body, “Is Cristi being-”
“—the Primary stood witness to his Ramxtikon,” Hibz frowned.
Fuzo hid her disdain, “Thank you, Primepromad,”
“Doctor Utat will join you when its time,” the elder bruise looked Fuzo in the eye. “You’ll be joined by the physician who carried out the autopsy.”
“Autopsy,” Fuzo asked. “We know how he died,”
“His brain’s been removed,” Hibz said. “Also, you’ll be asked to strip naked if you intend to stand witness. It’s not required, but Doc Utat’s a colossal pervert,”
“We’ve met,” Fuzo frowned.
“Like her or not, these are her fish,” Hibz said. “Utat raised them from pups, so these rituals are as unpleasant for her as they are for most,”
Fuzo brought her a fist to her stomach in a salute.
After Hibz departed, Fuzo moved closer to the slab.
Eli’s hair was washed and braided tight. His hide was scrubbed, and someone had removed every shard glass from his eyes and face. The scars where his uzxi had been were now coated in an ointment, all the way down to his soft hanging clasper.
“I brought you home,” Fuzo whispered. “Just like I promised,”
The door opened behind her, “Where’s Kul?”
“Not on the surface today Utat, cruising for victims?” Fuzo snapped.
Utat held a clipboard in her fully-fingered hand.
“I asked you a question-”
“—she’s obviously not here!” Fuzo said.
“Kul’s in recovery,” the voice the Riltav Gwo came between them. “The Komadon and I will be standing witness,”
“Komadon?” Utah sighed. “Listen, what happened on the surface, happened,”
“That was you?” Gwo’s lip curled in disgust.
“I didn’t know you were Femitokon,” Utat said.
“Does such a condition matter?” Gwo asked.
“Not to her,” Fuzo frowned.
“Get over yourself, bruiser,” Utat said. “I got a job to do right now, and it isn’t performing recompense on your violated soul,”
“This is my first disposal,” Fuzo said.
“Obviously,” Gwo mumbled.
“You’ll need to strip down,” Utat said.
“That’s not mandatory,” Fuzo argued.
“You didn’t have that scar on her head before,” Utat said. “What happened?”
Gwo stared at Fuzo and swallowed.
“I was in Uralskey,” Fuzo said. “With Velto Wram,”
Utat seemed troubled, “I hope Kul’s going to okay,”
“She’ll get through it, she’s strong,” Fuzo said, undoing her jacket.
Utat pointed her head at the body on the slab.
“Intake crew didn’t give me a name,”
“Elired,” Fuzo said.
“He was born between the poles,” Gwo added. “Bio-markers indicate Ninth-Gen makers,”
Utat used a pen to write on the page attached to her clip board.
Gwo continued, “Freeborn status combined with his year of birth means-”
“—he’s one of us,” Fuzo said. “A little older maybe,”
“Komadon Dox,” Gwo said. “He’s male and therefore non-existent,”
Fuzo saw the empathy in Utat’s eyes.
“Dox, don’t let anyone outside this room hear you speak of males as if they matter,” she said. “In here it’s okay, depending on who’s standing beside you,”
Fuzo frowned at Gwo, “Understood,”
“Not being a Tenth means he’s a new type of male,” Utat said. “Did Eli Red have any of those mind powers that CM Dag claims he should?”
“Fifth Office make you ask that?” Fuzo said.
“I don’t represent Wox Dag,” Utat said.
“I do,” Gwo spat. “Let’s remain civil,”
“Why are you writing shit down with utensils?” Fuzo asked Utat.
“There’s no Collective here,” Gwo said.
“No network of any kind,” Utat added.
“Wouldn’t want Femtrux finding out exactly who gets disposed of here, now would we?” Fuzo said, eyeing Gwo.
“I didn’t draft the Balanced Citizenry Act,” Gwo said. “Nor did I collect and terminate this male.”
Fuzo said, “Kul terminated him,”
“No shit,” Utat shoved the clipboard into the back of her pants and then pulled a white sheet out from under the slab. “Never thought she’d do it,”
“He was injured,” Fuzo said. “His mental abilities were out of control. It was kill, or be killed,”
“Kul’s a Femitokon,” Gwo said. “Surely terminating a male isn’t beyond her moral comprehension,”
“She’s a Kul,” Fuzo peeled off her uniform. “Nothing’s beyond her moral comprehension,”
“Disrobing isn’t mandatory,” said Gwo.
Utat smiled and unfolded the wrap over Eli’s body. Pulling it back until its far edge barely covered him, she tucked the edge tight under his corpse and began turned him rapidly until he was wound up tight.
“You’ll be called in when we’re ready,” Utat stared at the mummified figure. “You going to keep all your scars, Dox,”
“I’ll get these patched up,” Fuzo eyed the fading slashes on her hide. “I’m keeping this one though,” she tapped her forehead. “Someone I got to know and like very much died when I got it, so I’m keeping it for her,”
Gwo cleared her throat, “Doctor Utat, I’m sorry,”
“Sorry for what?” Utat snapped.
“You’ve lost two today,” Gwo said.
Utat relaxed, “Thank you,”
“I’m sorry, Utat,” Fuzo added.
“It’s not your fault,” Utat said, exiting the room.
“You’re unaware, aren’t you?” Gwo asked.
“Unaware of what?” Fuzo said. “You should strip, out of respect for the ramxkul,”
“I’ll not get in the water with those things,” Gwo declared, then softened. “You realize that Doctor Utat is the donation from Utat v. RDS,”
“Is that a digicast or something?” Fuzo asked.
Gwo rolled her eyes, “Why Kul chose you will forever elude me!”
“Instead of insulting me, hizzah, try explaining,” said Fuzo.
“Riba Nox, the former secondary of Orta Biologic,” Gwo lowered her voice. “She and Yulia Utat collected our Utat under the guise they were pre-bonded and cohabited. When Donational Services found out, they attempted to remove our Utat from Yulia’s home, a dwelling she shared with Rez Polvix.”
“I know that belly,” Fuzo said. “She’s in the icers,”
“Yes, the films you’re shown when you brutes learn how to masturbate,” Gwo nodded dismissively. “Yulia was able to keep young Utat because her birther was also her mako,”
“She stepped in for them,” Fuzo nodded.
“Yes,” Gwo said. “She was Ilo Cux,”
Fuzo took a breath, “Oh shit,”
“Something to that affect,” said Gwo. “Are you ready?”
“I’ve been ready,” Fuzo snapped.
Gwo led Fuzo to a cenote in a cooler part of the cavern.
Nothing dripped down from the stalactites above, making the water appear almost frozen. High over the waterline and etched upon a flat of stone were words written in Ramaxi:
She that Takes the Flesh First, Burns with the Flesh in Death.
“I’ll be in the observation room,” Gwo said. “We have a pool on which ramxkul will take the first bite,”
“Get away from me, Gwo,” Fuzo said.
“Gladly,” the young Hizak departed, giving Fuzo a few moments alone.
“Wake up, toob,” Utat slapped Fuzo’s backside. “Get over yourself, Dox. I’ve seen and had better,”
“Utat,” Fuzo decided against mentioning Ilo. “I’m sorry about your fish,”
“It’s fucked up, you know,” Utat whispered. “We breed them to devour the damaged. Without the damamged, there’d be no ramxkul. You think I’d be used to that,”
“Will you be in the water?” Fuzo asked, observing Utat was naked.
“Yes, for your protection.” Utat grinned. “They only eat the dead, but they know taking some bites out of you, will make you dead,”
“You ever been attacked?” Fuzo asked.
“By a ramxkul?” Utat said. “Nope,”
Fuzo stared at her hand, “You loose your fingers in your gash?”
“Pay attention, toob,” Utat turned serious. “You drop down from here, no diving, no jumping, just a standard glacial drop. Sink until your feet hit bottom and then you take hold of one of the rungs along the wall.”
“Understood,” said Fuzo. “Do I get a shock-stick?”
“Not in my tank,” Utat said. “Do not exhale with force, do not urniate in the water, do not let go of the rungs to swim in closer for a better look. If one makes eye contact with you, you do not smile, wave, speak, or try to communicate,”
“Understood,” Fuzo said.
“I mean it, Dox,” said Utat. “Bring no attention to yourself before one of them begins feeding, and certainly not after. The others will exit when the First Taker reveals herself,”
“When is the ritual completed?” Fuzo asked.
“The ritual ends when the First Taker fully consumes the damaged. After that, I lead her out, and when we’re gone, you can climb the rungs back up to here,” Utat touched Fuzo’s arm. “You don’t have to attend incineration,”
“Does Kul attend?” Fuzo asked.
“She comes to every one,” said Utat. “Collection of one tooth is mandatory for Divisional records. I take one for Orta Biologic, you’ll take one to be given to Hibz, Gwo takes hers for CM Dag.”
“What happens to the rest of them?” Fuzo asked.
“They go in the Damaged-Vault on the surface,” Utat said. “You’re not obligated to collect your teeth there, you can get them here, right after incineration,”
“Does the Damaged-Vault get many visitors?” Fuzo asked.
“There’s some shame attached,” Utat said. “But citizens visit the Vault because there’s no Collective and its private. No can see them retrieve a tooth for remembrance,”
Fuzo stared into the water, “Is it this way for all damaged?”
“Yes,” said Utat. “Except males, these days we rarely have anyone show up,”
“How many have you processed?” Fuzo asked.
“This is my third ritual,” Utat said. “First without Kul,”
“Kul bring in hybrids?” Fuzo asked.
“Hybrids are terminated in the field,” Utat shook her head. “Kul stands witness to every male that’s brought here, even if she doesn’t apprehend them,”
A voice shouted from above, “Go ahead and drop!”
Utat stepped off the paved ledge, hitting water feet first.
Fuzo followed and at the bottom she opened her eyes. Grabbing one of the many rungs attached to the rockbed, she spotted Utat stroking her way toward the rounded canal entry.
A wide figure drifted into the warm lagoon and cast a dark shadow over Fuzo’s position.
White ran the length of its belly, an evolutionary accent to the blackened blue of its dorsal hide. Triangular ridges over its eyes spoke of its origin; like Orny, the genetic stew that created this creature was long extinct.
A shift in the water signaled the arrival of another.
This ramxkul swam fast, hugging the boundary of the lagoon, she intercepted her larger sister and with a playful head-bonk, darted to her chosen side of the water.
Fuzo never saw the third ramxkul coming.
The massive fish cut through the middle of the lagoon without choosing a side. The crests along her brow surrounded her fin and extended down to her tail. There was nothing friendly about this one until it gave Utat an affectionate nudge.
Utat confidently pushed its mouth away before drifting into the center of the lagoon. Here, she clapped her hands together until all three ramxkul began to circle. Utat had lost some fingers while training these beasts when they were small; all three were big enough now that a friendly bite would surely kill her.
The Bizak dipped her head and curled her svelte body. Rolling backward, she performed a series of twists and arm gestures, provoking the beasts.
Speedy shot under Utat and raced around the canal entry while Fatty, with her snow-white belly, lumbered slowly out of sight.
Pointy circled Utat one last time before swimming right at Fuzo. Its tapering nose was smooth and unblemished; ramxkul didn’t have tiny sensory holes on their snouts like the sharks between the poles. It swung its head to the side so that its eye could examine what its snout couldn’t.
Fuzo stared at her reflection in its black eye. The beast wasn’t hungry, it was curious, but its menacing bravado did little to quell Fuzo’s anxiety. Her heart beat faster until she thought of the Komad and how she often withered under long gazes.
The myth of Sofita Kul sang of cleverness and brutality, ugliness and grace. Like the ramxkul floating before her, the Hizak incited dread in those she was created to serve.
A rumbling from above tore Pointy’s attention from Fuzo.
The wrapped corpse of Eli Red splashed down and sank amidst three circling ramxkul. Each fish took turns crossing its path. None would touch it. Driven by instinct, the beasts needed to be sure that the flesh within was without life.
Speedy whisked past Fuzo and came back around while Pointy darted behind Fatty as if afraid. The trio came together a few moments as if exchanging words. Fatty broke off the from huddle and moved to Utat for a gentle tap.
Without warning, Fatty twisted about and clamped her jaws down upon the linen-covered body. Rows of large serrated triangles peeked out as the loose flesh of her jaws flapped with each bite.
Utat dove quickly into the deep and stroke her way over the others. Slapping each hard on their sides sent them charging back into the canal.
Pointy paused to look at Fuzo one last time.
Uncertain if the ramxkul could hear her thoughts, she apologized for not being Sofita Kul. The beast eyed Utat warily before grunting at Fuzo. Turning about, she swung her powerful tail and propelled herself into the tunnel, as thick bars slid down to cover the opening.
The first to take Eli had devoured him in three bites and two swallows.
Fuzo didn’t witness their incineration, but she did visit the Damaged Vault.
An inhospitable cave on the surface, unprotected from the elements, she entered the winding passage and followed a path to the current years damaged. Colorless dirtoxian glass lined the wall and upon each panel were rows of round niches.
A tiny rectangular plaque was drilled into the glass. It summed up Eli’s connection to Ramaxia with cold indifference:
His name was Elired, a free-born male of no consequence.
Anger welled up within her; the femmar amputating citizens based purely on their gender-designation made them no better than the destructive tribal tendencies exhibited by the helovx.
Utat joined her, carrying a bowl.
“I hope you weren’t waiting long,”
“I’m fine,” Fuzo turned to her. “Sort of,”
“This cup is made of her bones,” Utat set the mug of teeth within the space above the plaque. “Recycle crew salvaged a lot of teeth,”
Fuzo took the largest tooth off the top.
“Is that normal?”
“Not always,” said Utat. “The bone crusher unintentionally pounds most of the teeth. If the damaged has a big pod claiming visiting rights, Gwo will extract the teeth first.”
“No one’s coming for Eli,” Fuzo said. “Can I take one?”
“Kul’s got plenty,” said Utat. “I do, too.”
“We should all have one,” said Fuzo.
“Is it true?” Utat whispered. “This male fucked Kul up without touching her,”
Fuzo put the three teeth into her uniform pocket.
“No, it wasn’t this male.”
Sofita stood naked on the ice and stared at the festering body of the Zaxiri.
In the valley between its thick legs, she bit into the flesh and then walked the stairs that appeared along the flesh of her thighs. The white room blinded her as always, but today Sofita wore the same purple suit she wore the day she’d defended Fusada against charges brought by the Fifth Office.
The color purple remained a mystery even here.
A few feet above her high-molded hair the black waters of the polar sea raged. On the floor in the distance rose the pulsing throne of the Shell.
Sofita stopped and with her hands behind her back watched as Fusada formed in the fluid upon the seat.
Clad in the uniform of a Komadon, Fusada rose and walked toward her. The replica of her sibling was enclosed in a glass booth when she tried to embrace Sofita.
“Are you dying?” she asked, her palms against the glass.
Sofita said, “Tell me about Jal,”
“My secret male has become your habit,” Fusada smiled. “That’s not very sibling like Sofita.”
“I guess Fusada and I were even in that respect,” Sofita said. “She had no right naming my donation.”
“A donation you had no business birthing,” Fusada countered.
“My business is not her business,” Sofita said.
Fusada pointed at her through the glass, “You’d lost your mind,”
“My sanity was questioned?” Sofita asked.
“You gave birth,” Fusada exclaimed. “You put your life at risk, without-”
“—without any appreciation for the chaos that such an enterprise entails,” Sofita said. “I thought I could outsmart my biology. The same way Fusada thought she could outsmart my soul.”
“Your years alone have made you paranoid,”
“The guilt reflected on that face tells another story,”
Fusada touched the glass again, “I died for you,”
“Fusada died because things didn’t go the way she planned,” Sofita said. “I became expendable the moment she felt me mentally instable,”
Fusada stood before her now, a marixidoe.
“You saved Kinbalru,” she said. “But not Orestes, why?”
Sofita closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she too was a young femmar.
“None of kerma’s males were ours to save, ‘Fita,”
“Bilo deserved better, ‘Fooz,”
“Kerma destroyed us both,”
“She’s not my kerma,” Sofita was an adult once more. “Fusada knows this,”
Fully grown again, Fusada stepped to the glass.
“Fusada’s attraction to victims supersedes her good sense,” Sofita said. “She mistook my identification with Orestes, to be love,”
“Polluting the subject,” Fusada smiled. “I’m good at that too,”
The water suspended above began to churn.
“When Fusada saw Jal being assaulted,” Sofita said. “Did it arouse her?”
“Yes, it aroused me,” she said. “How can I prove that what I speak isn’t something observed by the Shell? Okay, when I rode Fyla, I would make her tell me all about what Ryo did to her,”
“Every delicious detail?” Sofita asked.
“Fusa destroyed us,” Fusada said.
Sofita turned away, “As you were content to destroy me,”
“Destroy?” Fusada snapped. “I died for you!”
“No,” Sofita declared. “You lost your nerve at the last minute,”
A mist fell upon them from the choppy waters.
Fusada coughed up blood.
“Incurring second thoughts in the final throes,” Sofita shouted. “Doesn’t negate the fact that you had placed me on the chopping block from the beginning!”
“You need to fight this,” Fusada choked. “You can’t give up, ‘Fita.”
“If you failed to fuse to the Shell, you’d just let it consume me while you commandeered my brain,” Sofita accused.
“I refused to consider it!” Fusada fell to her knees.
“Contingencies weren’t something you were prone to consider,” the glass wall gone, Sofita stood over her as the water above fell like rain. “Whose idea was it to hijack my brain should your operative energy fail to contain the Shell?”
“This shit is irrelevant, ‘Fita,” Fusada stared up at Sofita. “You are always hung up on stupid shit that doesn’t matter!”
“I want a name,” Sofita said. “Who determined that I didn’t matter?”
Fusada screamed, “We were both needed!”
The waters collapsed.
Sofita held her breath, and as she floated to the surface, a strong and sudden cold forced her eyes open.
Blaster over her hand, she stood alone in the Fairgrounds arena wearing a Primepromad’s uniform. The wind howled through the unoccupied seats until a blink brought silent spectators.
Among the thousands of uncommunicative faces sat those that knew her best.
Laxum, Pitana, Velto, Eppis, Fyla, and those they cared about. Motionless they all watched her and waited for her to make a move.
Sofita turned to find Fusa standing behind her.
Bulky arms held a mirror up that reflected Sofita as an hizakidoe, beaten to a pulp. A silver light glowed behind her in the glass. As she aged on the mirror’s surface, it began to take form.
Fusa’s lips spread into a smile.