Utama Metro - Ramaxia
7 Bamx 2228 – 1040 hours
Eppis Banto found public urination distasteful.
Still, she trudged up to the row of gapirx, yanked her tailcoat aside, cursed her weak bladder, and pulled at the trouser snaps between her legs. Mounting its high porcelain saddle, she aligned her gurxil over the narrow opening and diminished the pressure.
After the last drop, an unwelcome blast of warm air followed, drying her before she could dismount.
“Leaking in the Lobby with the rest of the herd?”
Sofita Kul stood against the closed restroom door, suited neck to boot in a ghastly Orta-issued uniform. Indifference defined her as a soldier, but today her broad face displayed a scholar’s warmth not seen for many years.
“You’re still drinking too much at day-rise, CR Banto.”
Eppis refastened her suit pants. “Toxian tea remains habitual.”
The gape flushed as she studied her old friend in the mirror. Sofita’s hair had been lush and long when an administrator, but now she kept it cut above her ears, the longer locks pulled tight by a plain barrette upon her crown.
Eppis washed her hands and then punch-started every hand dryer in the room.
Sofita rolled her eyes. “They monitor the gapes?”
“Don’t wager against it,” warned Eppis.
“Before you inquire, yes,” Sofita joined her at the sink and submerged her hands in the trough’s flowing water. “I entered Cloister today through the front door.”
Eppis folded her arms over her chest. “You wouldn’t want the Ruling Platform ignorant of your visit,”
“I’m a divisional Komad,” Sofita wiped her hands on the back of her uniform pants. “I’m allowed to enter and exit the Cloister.”
Eppis eyeballed the muscled globes of Sofita’s girsuzsch.
“That attire is obscenely transparent.”
“Mandatory fashion aside,” the uniformed hizak said, cocking her head. “You believe me reckless today?”
“Nothing you’ve enacted this past month indicates you’re capable of caution,” said Eppis. “Your ill-timed visit aside, at Yukon, you spoke of plans reborn. I wasn’t aware that your strategy included risking exposure with visits to the Cloister.”
“Eppis, recall the day you, Pitana, and Lax, came to our estate.” Sofita moved in alongside her. “Fusa collected me by the neck and tossed me into the lake,”
“I have a pristine recollection of that incident.” It was the first time in her seven-year-old life that Eppis witnessed an adult behaving violently.
“What followed?” Sofita asked.
“Fusa rewarded Fusada’s violent counter with laughter,” she narrated shortly. “Then a punch to the gut,”
“Lax and ‘Pita jumped in after me,” said Sofita. “But not you, Eppis.”
“You remained submerged,” she said, nodding. “I suspected you’d swam to a safer shore, having been through similar encounters before my visit.”
“You trusted my tactics then. Where’s that confidence now?”
Eppis conceded with a sigh. “Why have you come here, Komad?”
“Why did CM Wram call Pitana to Cloister?”
“The deceased Empress of the Slavic Empire falsified the gender of her heir.” Eppis began fixing the buttons on her suit jacket in the mirror. “Anything regarding that particular helovx-nation falls under the purview of the Chamber.”
“Second Office doesn’t have blanket jurisdiction?”
“The Second Office cannot exercise sole jurisdiction because the Slavs are reliant on technology dispersed by Wram Constructs,” Eppis explained.
“Ah, consigned interest,”
“Indeed. You suggested at Yukon that she’d disguise her offensive against us behind a desire to rejoin Wram Constructs,” Eppis reminded her. “Involving the Chamber in a conflict of interest promotes this storyline.”
“Covert schemes aside,” Sofita spoke at her in the mirror. “The gender of Juliana’s heir liberates Ramaxia from supporting the Slavs?”
“Helovx males are problematic enough,” Eppis affirmed. “Dealing with one put in charge by others is near impossible.”
Sofita huffed a laugh.
“Extraction of Ambassador Wram to follow?”
Eppis shuddered at the thought.
Velto Wram had been a bioengineering prodigy when she transferred to Mynu from the Bizaki Citizenry Academy as a youth. Enrollment in political science put her in Sofita’s social circle. However, her conceptual design talents found her in classes alongside Eppis, where her confrontational nature kept them at constant odds.
After graduating from Mynu, the cantankerous bizak had developed a revolutionary protein re-sequencer that changed food production throughout Ramaxia. She’d tossed this accomplishment aside for a political career and went on to represent East Toxis. Velto had delivered Eppis her lone political failure in Cloister, wresting citbluz ownership rights for zaxiri away from the hizaki.
“Velto needs to come home,” Sofita insisted softly.
“How do you intend to secure her participation?”
“You’re my CM One,” Sofita deflected. “They’re your committee, not mine.”
Relief washed over her; Fusada Kul had refused to accept Eppis as her First.
“We can be certain that Velto’s exile has nothing to do with being Lekada’s heir on the committee,” Eppis said. “She’s in love with a monogamist.”
Sofita aimed a stern gaze. “Are you judging Ilo?”
“I judge no one,” said Eppis. “I merely state the obvious.”
Sofita folded her arms. “You’re aware that Ilo admitted her planning with you in acquiring Velto. She confessed it to Ozbi while delivering Fusada’s donation,”
“A laboring zaxir will say anything,” said Eppis.
“Ozbi didn’t seem to care when she heard it,” Sofita arched an eyebrow. “Interesting what citizens in love with monogamists put up with,”
Eppis frowned at the observation.
Velto had appeared in their dorms one day with a voluptuous subak who introduced herself as Ozbi Tis. Her braided hair bragged of a Vanda upbringing, and unable to discern the beauty’s hide color, Eppis focused on the light stippling along her hairline and how it darkened when she laughed.
Noting the subak’s lingering gaze, Eppis attempted conjugation.
By then, her partialism for facades had matured into a desire for eye masks, and she couldn’t stop fantasizing about the petite beauty wearing an exquisite domino mask. Overcome by lust, she’d even entertained grouping up with Velto for access to Ozbi.
Eppis quickly abandoned the scheme after visualizing Velto naked.
“Recalling Velto is unwarranted at this time,” she declared.
Sofita shook her head. “She’s no threat to your bond, not with Ilo around.”
“I never considered her a threat, thank you,” Eppis countered. “Uncontrollable, yes. A sexual rival, no.”
A romantic opportunity had emerged when Velto moved to Toxis. Anticipating Ozbi’s relocation, she’d procured a residence near Wram’s penthouse; but sold it when her domineering kerma insisted she remain in Mynu. Compliance with her kerma then proved advantageous after Ozbi opted to stay another year in Mynu.
Despite this development, Eppis’ access to Ozbi remained limited due to Velto’s constant visits.
Then came Ilocux.
A corpulent beauty, the zaxir had won the nation’s Prime Citizen pageant, then captured Velto’s over-sexed heart. Waxamists carried a sense for one another, and it wasn’t long before Ilo approached Eppis with plans to divide and conquer.
“I wonder how Ilo’s faring on the precipice of her vitality.”
“Midlife is upon us,” Sofita mused. “We cannot avoid it.”
It wasn’t for lack of trying; fear of turning forty-four kept Eppis from hibernating some years.
“Resurrecting Fusada’s plan will make things problematic for you, Eppis,” Sofita added.
“Navigating the problematic is a skill I’ve mastered.”
“Our advantage rests in them believing they know us,” said Sofita. “I’m defeated, Lax indifferent, Velto, a ball of rage, Fyla forever a victim—”
“-and me, forever beneath the thumb of her kerma,” Eppis said with a frown. “That leaves Pitana as the heir they trust. I’ve not spoken to ‘Pita in years. How is she?”
“She awaits Velto’s extraction order,” Sofita replied.
“Come again?” Eppis said. “The severance occurred two hours ago. She should’ve been notified by now,”
“Pengon.” Sofita tapped at her lapel. “Display the Divisional Assignment Board.”
Illuminated data danced upon the hizak’s eyes.
“Are those ocular implants?” Eppis inquired, moving in close.
“No, they’re my eyes,” she said. “The Shell’s optic interface functions without my needing to ignite it fully.”
Eppis pursed her lips. “Is it wise to allow this semi-sentient armor access to your anatomy when not activated?”
“Divisional received an Ambassador Extraction notice assigned to Primekomad Yilaz in Terminal Sabotage.” Sofita let loose a frustrated sigh. “Yilaz is a Polluted Gen eel who hasn’t worked a mission in over a decade.”
Eppis pondered the rank and file. “Those assignments are subject to retrieval from Komad’s and above, correct?”
“I’m impressed, CR Banto,” Sofita’s lips twisted as her flitting eyelids changed the floating text behind them. “I’m contacting Promad Ergat in dispatch, letting her know it’s an assignment error.”
“I’m acquainted with that name, Ergat,” said Eppis.
“Erg’ attended your tavzkoltil,” Sofita paused, “with Lax.”
Memories of her bonding day ached like a dying tooth.
Eppis and Ozbi had been cohabitating in Vanda following their twentieth year when her kerma confronted them about why they were still a duo. Tee Banto insisted on a social date with two citizens of her choosing; Ibur Grik, a famous bluzerie designer with a partialism for wanton bellies, and her lover, an uninhibited zaxir named Acari Tol.
Acari and Ibur had visited for drinks, then dinners, and before long, the debauched zaxxy and her germ-phobic hizak had made things sexual—with Ozbi. After months of avoiding the three on the couch, Eppis relented. It hadn’t been an unpleasant experience due to Acari’s appreciation of her desire for masks, but witnessing Ozbi pleasured by Ibur was a struggle.
Being subak, Ozbi had insisted on bondship.
A lavish ceremony occurred with House Tol outspending Line Banto at every turn. However, Acari had sullied the day by engaging Laxum and that bruiser Ergat in the back of their ceremonial transport.
“You associate with Ergat after her lewd behavior at my tavzkoltil?”
Sofita droned. “Sex at a bonding reception is normal,”
“Normal between the guests of the bonded, afterward,” Eppis retorted hotly. “Not with a member of the bonding party immediately following the ceremony.”
“Your anger lies with Acari, not with Ergat,” Sofita reminded her, closing the data in her eyes with a blink. “Ergat kicked the order back to Pengon, who deferred to Toligon seeing how it’s a coded OHA mission.”
Eppis frowned. “Laxum and Ergat should’ve refrained,”
“Why?” Sofita asked, stone-faced. “I didn’t.”
“You engaged Acari Tol before our bonding?”
“No,” the hizak shook her head. “I bounced Ozbi.”
Eppis soured. “Orta wit doesn’t suit you.”
“Pitana will tailor a new request,” she said, laughing. “Pengon will assign a new operative that, by default, serves between the poles.”
“Bearing in mind the ill-will Velto continues to hold for you,” Eppis warned, “it might be safer to allow an assassin like Yilaz her due?”
“Cloister humor doesn’t suit you,”
Eppis checked the time on her handheld.
“Heading out for your midday?” Sofita asked.
“Heading out?” Eppis scoffed.
Sofita pushed air out her nose.
“Bruiser verbiage remains habitual.”
“Leave before me, please,” said Eppis.
Beneath the mezzanine, the lobby’s fountainhead tumbled over a mound of broken rocks. Through its calming roar came the chimes of parted vertical doors, followed by the thundering of thick-heeled shoes. A herd of young and smartly attired hizaki drifted into view on a cloud of pungent cologne. Among the cacophony of disconnected voices came the confident drawl of Eppis Banto’s firstborn, Obiz.
Young Obiz had been a year shy of leaving for Mynu when Eppis first brought her to Cloister. The hizakidoe had made a dive for the fountain pond, her little hands snatching up pieces of ice to take home to her nestor, Ozbi. Now eighteen, Obiz whisked past the fountain without a glance, clutching at ice long replaced with the procuring of diamonds for lovers that pleased her in ways her nestor never could.
Obiz had inherited Ozbi’s darkened streaks, but along with Eppis’s snowy white hide came Line Banto’s driving ambition. Fresh from Mynu, the young hizak had attained placement in Vanda Prime’s financial office.
Fearing favoritism, leader Eppis consigned Obiz to the Communications Room, yet while there, she’d earned a promotion that put her in Eppis’s offices on Level-Nine.
The youngest Banto then acquired a Governance Degree and had wasted no time posting her resume to the Cloister Aid Forum.
A cloister-aid was second in command of her dome administration, and she sat behind her Representative in the esteemed Session Hall. Vanda Prime’s secondary slot had become vacant following Luta Sok’s abrupt resignation.
Though she’d served alongside Eppis since her first day in office, the mild-mannered Luta chose to end their working relationship after Eppis failed to elaborate on why she’d journeyed between the poles to Port Yukon. Luta provided Eppis a list of candidates to replace her, and finding no Tenth Gen among them, Eppis was resigned to choose an Eleventh.
Fibo Endiz was a young hizak whose kerma’s processed logistics data for the Bizakaxi, but her pedigree wasn’t as crucial as her pliability; a staunch micromanager, Eppis needed a subordinate that wouldn’t operate outside her purview.
Before her covert visit from Sofita, Eppis had informed Obiz of her decision, opting to tell her face-to-face. After hearing the news, however, Obiz departed without an embrace, nor any thanks for the opportunity to apply.
“Kerms,” a voice boomed from below.
Her second-born ignored the escalator and bounded up the central staircase, the elaborate hide stains on her spindly arms garnishing looks from the passing hizaki. Though white-hided like her kerma, Fezil Banto’s jade mottling was native to her nestor’s pod. Clad in a grubby sleeveless jumpsuit, she earned her citizenry scrubbing Vanda’s exterior dome, a vocation that disturbed her powerful elder Tee to no end.
Fezil extended her hand and eyed her kerma’s suit.
“Do I have to dress up for a mid-day?”
They often shared an evening meal twice a week, but Eppis changed the plan to accommodate a late afternoon appointment.
Eppis grinned. “No, you don’t need to change your attire.”
Together, they took the escalator, Fezil’s long hair tail swinging between her shoulders as she descended the moving track as if it were stationary.
“I apologize for being unable to collect you.” Eppis came alongside her as they crossed the lobby. “I’ve had a busy morning.”
Fezil opened the front door, and together they stepped into the cold Utama breeze.
“Sky Tables,” asked Eppis. “Or Rakuta Bakuti?”
“The Sky Tables,” Fezil said, smiling. Then, her narrow eyes widened. “Wait, should I change?”
Eppis took hold of her reedy arm. “Not if you’re with me.”
An oblong bubble-shaped transport hummed to life along the curb. As its round partner hovered into place beside it, unseen magnetics drew the two-seater longways, bringing it flush with the smaller sphere.
When the door of the round unit opened, out came a muscular Podkomad named Warixo Atiba. Assigned to Eppis years ago, Warixo, a fellow Tenth, tapped the oblong two-seater’s top, causing its glass casing to vanish.
“Atiba,” Fezil exclaimed. “How they hanging?”
Podkomad Atiba delivered a salutatory nod.
“Hanging high as always, citizen Banto,”
Laughing, Fezil fell into one of the swiveling bucket seats.
Eppis glanced at the unappealing lumps set upon Warixo’s chiseled chest. Hanging indeed. Her tight Axyrn uniform was as unattractive as Sofita’s Orta-assigned monstrosity, yet both improved over what bruisers wore off duty.
Ortosk Style was a prime example of what too much mitokux hormone did to one’s fashion sense.
At least Sofita refrained from wearing the tight flares or those garish blouses that made hizak appreciate their colorblindness. Sadly, bruisers often wore those flimsy shirts opened enough to frighten seals back into their spyholes.
She tapped at the cabin controls inside the transport, returning the glass and darkening it before pressing the com-button.
“We’re going to Sky Tables,” she said, releasing it when Warixo’s voice affirmed.
Moving through Utama, Fezil spoke of her transfer back to Pikalit, warning Eppis not to tell her nestor yet. Eppis agreed; Ozbi wasn’t ready for Fezil to leave the estate still fresh from art school.
At the elegant Sky Tables, a sugary Ninth-Gen subak embraced Eppis and shook Fezil’s hand. Then, she led them to the tavern portion, where a host of well-tailored bizaki packed the bar stools.
Once seated, their server appeared. Another bizak clad in a one-piece jumper, she exchanged pleasantries before taking their drink order. After she departed, Fezil began explaining the advantages of living in the Triad.
Fezil then stopped talking, rose from her chair, and stepped into the path of a well-dressed bizak.
“Shake my hand, Bam,” she said with a smile.
“Fezil Banto,” the young bizak performed a furtive inventory of the room before obliging. “It’s been a few years,”
Eppis stood, arms open. “Citizen Ukel,”
Bam stepped into her embrace. “CR Banto,”
“I didn’t know you knew each other,” said Fezil.
“Her maker Iba was my cube mate in Mynu.”
Generations of brilliant hizaki had built Line Ukel’s tech empire, but their Eleventh-Gen progeny consisted of two zaxiri and four subaki, positioning lone bizak, Bam, as a reluctant heir apparent.
Eppis returned to her seat.
“Are you still employed at the Hizrutaki?”
“I accepted a house position,” Bam boasted. “Proprietor Tux graciously allows me time to develop my signature line.”
“Still dressing brainers, huh?” Fezil asked.
“Good to see you dressed these days,” said Bam.
An avowed Sixer, Fezil belonged to a subculture that celebrated the daily nudity of the original subjects.
Bam remained genial. “Forced to endure clothing is one of the hassles of growing up.”
“I used to scrub algae off the dome, so the seals don’t care if I work naked,” Fezil sat back down and ran her eyes over Bam’s body. “Collective Maintenance, though, they might frown if I show up without clothes.”
Eppis gawked at her youngest; Fezil wasn’t transferring to another janitorial department; she’d earned elevation to Collective Maintenance.
Bam also showed a genuine interest.
“Are you assigned to a specific sect?”
“I can’t say,” Fezil said, guarded. “So, are you and Pik living in Utama?”
Bam hesitated. “I haven’t seen Pik in over six months.”
“Damn,” Fezil gasped. “I thought for sure you two would have picked out some subbie or bruise by now.”
“Do you still perform?” Bam asked quickly.
“Ortosk circuit mostly, outside of Vandox,” she replied, pulling a card from her pocket. While caste-training, teenage Fezil bought a b’do and formed a band. “You need to come and hear me play.”
“A night with a bunch of drunk bruisers.” Bam considered it, taking the card. “It was good seeing you, Fezil,” she then turned to Eppis. “CR Banto, enjoy your day.”
The meal arrived with Bam’s departure, and while eating it, Eppis schemed to inquire of Fezil’s transition to Collective Maintenance.
After the prime lifeform, Femtrux, created the Collective, citizens of the Second Gen built cathedral-like facilities to house their physical forms. Tending to the neural beings’ biology were individuals called paxumal. Paxum continued to live alongside the subhives, their isolated habitats maintained by a select group of citizens.
Fezil was on her second helping of fried keltavi when she gave a rumination on Bam Ukel. “I cannot believe Pik Utat let that go.”
“Why does that name sound familiar?”
Fezil chugged her juice and belched. “Remember all those times you and mak came to Pikalit for a sit-down?”
“Those sit-downs were called Disciplinary Reviews,”
“Pik was the one I was always scrapping with,” she continued between bites. “She and Bam shared a room, and everybody knew they were riding.”
A couple of hizaki stared at them from the bar. Mandated socials with other castes often led to teenage intercourse within one’s own. Among hizaki and marixi, however, such attachments remained taboo.
“I had art classes with Bam, and I’d flirt with her to make her smile,” Fezil told the story with a twinkle in her eye. “One day, I walked right up to her and Pik during meal assembly and thanked Bam for tutoring me after class.”
Eppis raised an eyebrow.
“When were you ever tutored?”
“I wasn’t. Not in anything educational,” said Fezil, leering.
Eppis nodded. “No doubt, this provoked a response,”
“You know it,” she laughed. “Pik beamed me with a palux when I walked back to my table. I grabbed a ball of pulled faxuto and nailed her upside the head.”
Eppis smiled; so, this was what instigated the infamous foodaxi incident. The altercation had erupted into a battle of thrown food and drink that involved everyone in the cafeteria. All cited Fezil and Pik as initiators, and when neither bizak would name the other as instigating, the Bizaxi Academy of Citizenry summoned Eppis and Ozbi.
At that time, Eppis had been unaware of young Utat’s pedigree. Born of Ilo Cux, the young bizak grew up with a tantalizing subak named Yulia Utat. Ozbi’s instant rapport with the flirtatious subbie conveyed that this incident hadn’t been the first to occur between their bizakidoe.
“I assume you mended your ways?”
“Pik transferred to Mynu after that,” Fezil said, shrugging. “Out of sight, out of fight.”
Eppis set down her fork. “Collective Maintenance?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it,” she sighed. “I mentioned it to Bam because she’s a chunk, and I want to impress her.”
“You’re attracted to Bamukel?”
“She smells nice, dresses nice, she’s got thick hair and big fronts,” Fezil lowered her voice. “Bam’s got great fronts for a bizzie.”
“I failed to notice.”
Fezil laughed. “Yeah, she wasn’t wearing a mask.”
Mortified, Eppis stared at her youngest.
“I’m not into big fronts. I mean, some hizaki look ice-cold with big fronts,” Fezil quickly steered the conversation. “There’s this brainer in Orta. She’s like a soldier, a real one, with a blaster and everything. Her fronts are big, and she’s ripped.”
Eppis emptied her glass for some much-needed ice.
“I bet you could be that ripped if you worked out,” Fezil rambled.
Eppis crushed the ice between her teeth and pointed her head at the elaborate design on Fezil’s shoulder. “That’s Wyltabi’s work.”
“It is,” she said. “What do you think of it?”
“I was unaware Wyltabi still stained.”
“She’s retired, but she did my stain for free.”
“Wyltabi does nothing for free,” said Eppis.
Wyltabi Mok was a Tenth-Gen artist whose sexual penchant for youth bordered on illegal.
“I didn’t ride her, kerms. She’s too old,” Fezil whispered as an older waitress whisked by their table. “Wyltabi told me that she studied with you. I didn’t know you went to the Ramaxian College of Design.”
“Art was a minor scholarship.”
Fezil shook her head. “Mak said you got a prime-degree.”
“How’s your staining coming along?”
“I quit the shop to keep up with the band,” she said.
An elder hizak warily regarded Fezil from the dining room.
“You no longer stain?” Eppis had purchased her a set of hide-staining needles when Fezil proved a skilled artisan.
“I stain by appointment now,” she said.
Eppis thanked the waitress when she refilled her juice.
“I’ve heard about a prime set of needles claiming to be ideal for staining zaxiri,” she said.
“They’re garbage, kerms.” Fezil cracked her knuckles against the tabletop. “Those new ones are for stainer’s that can’t work with a flabby hide.”
“I can’t imagine staining a zaxir is easy.”
“Steady hand’s all you need,” she bragged.
Eppis set down her glass. “Did you accompany Obiz to Acari’s for your birthing anniversary?”
“Obiz didn’t go, so I didn’t go?” Fezil noted the disappointment. “Mak Acari will be fine, Obiz said kerma-Ibur would buy her some new robes, and she’ll forget all about us not showing up.”
Eppis smiled brightly. “Perfect summation.”
“Hey, kerms,” Fezil leaned in, “why don’t we have any sibs?”
“Acari bore two,” Eppis chose her words carefully, “because your nestor felt it wasn’t healthy for her to deliver more than that.”
“It wasn’t because Acari and Ibur didn’t like us?”
Eppis covered her grin with a napkin.
After Acari’s implantation with Obiz, the glutton moved in with her and Ozbi, while the unclean aspects of production kept Ibur in Greater Vanda. Finally, following Acari’s second implantation a year later, the lonely Ibur begrudgingly relocated to the estate.
Soon, the toddling Obiz invaded Ibur’s space.
Shadowed by the crawling Fezil, the donats made playthings of the hizak’s many handhelds, applying germs that no manner of cleaning could restore.
Ibur’s anxieties had amused Acari, until Ozbi went donapxic.
The pair sat Eppis and Ozbi down and announced they were moving back to Vanda Prime. Ozbi’s lost libido, coupled with Eppis’s sustained indifference to the donats’ daily invasions, had proved too much.
Ever consular, Ozbi assured them of her love and understood that wandering spirits like them needed their own space. Eppis eagerly offered to pack Acari’s things and refund Ibur the cost of replacing her kyrstronics.
“Your makers adore you,” said Eppis. “Have you at least plotted with Obiz to purchase her something?”
“I don’t keep up with Obiz these days,” Fezil then performed an impression of her older sib: “‘Our peers are socially incompatible.’”
“Formulate a plan tonight when she returns,”
“If she returns,” said Fezil. “She’s apartment hunting in Utama.”
“Obiz plans to reside here?”
“Well, yeah, since she got the CA job,” said Fezil. “Nestor’s stoked about you two working together.”
Eppis pushed her plate away.
“I didn’t choose Obiz.”
“You didn’t pick her?” she gasped.
“The situation is complicated,”
“No, it’s not,” she countered. “Obiz tried for a spot in Greater-Vanda’s office last month, but you gave her a bad review.”
“I gave Obiz no review,” said Eppis.
“That’s as bad as a bad one,” she exclaimed, drawing stares. “Mak said you did it because you were going to make her your Aid.”
Eppis cleared her throat.
“There is a conflict of interest—”
“-Your pod is not an interest,” said Fezil. “It’s your pod.”
Eppis eyed the passing waitress before lowering her voice.
“Fezil, it cannot appear that Obiz earned her position for being my donation.”
“No one would ever think that, because you never give Obiz anything.” Tilting back in her chair, she scowled at Eppis. “Did you make Obiz just to have a gen-heir?”
Eppis felt her anger rising.
“That’s a discourteous thing to say,”
“Acari said it, and I’m starting to think it’s true,” she said. “Obiz never asks you for anything. You know why?”
“You suggest I’ve extended nothing to Obiz?”
“You extend her your opinions, just like elder Tee does to you,” she gulped down her juice and then took a moment of silence. “That was shitty of me to say, kerma, let’s drop it.”
When the waitress appeared with the bill, Fezil held her hand out.
“I can thumb my share.”
“I will cover our meal, Fezil,” Eppis said.
“Split the checks, please, Hegat,” said Fezil to the waitress.
“I will cover the meal!”
Eppis ignored the other diners’ disguised stares as the bizak pulled on her jacket and exited without waiting.
Silence reigned in the transport as Fezil sat with her seat turned away the entire two-minute drive to Jyrtax Terminal.
Eppis accompanied her into the station, and when Fezil extended her hand on the bounder platform, Eppis opened her arms.
“Inform your nestor of your promotion,” she said.
Fezil hugged her before pulling away. “I heard you arguing last night. Mak Acari says you got a ride on the side.”
“Another untruth,” said Eppis.
“That’s what Obiz says.” The bizak looked into her eyes. “I know it’s none of my business, but if you’re riding someone else—”
“-I’m not sexually involved with another.”
“Good,” she said. “Nestor wouldn’t do that to you.”
“I love her, Fezil, more than you know.”
Fezil boarded the Vanduel-Central and settled into a middle aisle seat, prompting a curious young marix to slither in behind her. Then, without warning, Fezil laughed at something the bruiser said.
At that moment, Eppis felt like the loneliest citizen in the world.