A note from WriterObscura

Episode Five - Tactical Pursuits

Vanda Island Estates
Vanda Exodome - Ramaxia
8 Bamx 2228 – 0530 Hours

The mansion poured down the cliff, its granite cantilever terraces turning with the curvy rockface. Glass walls overlooked a turbulent stretch of the Vand’takal, whose mighty waves roared through the rocky headlands.

Inside, nocturnal lily pads dulled under transparent floors. Long green blades and glowing palms crept out from beneath the foyer’s winding stairs, and rumbling softly behind their fat leaves sat a pond filled with tiny seashells.

Smooth yet imperfect cuts of light blue rock covered the floor, grouted thickly with golden coastal granite. Walls of water fell throughout the upstairs, a level divided into three living spaces, all decorated by the mistress of the house. Bright colors and bold tiling spoke highly of the home’s subak caretaker, but her visual feast ended at the third-floor stairs.

Past the black-glass door existed the black and white world of the houses prime hizak. Her domain, sporadically polluted by bits of stark gray, consisted of a sparsely furnished study, a long-neglected erotic couch, and a walk-in wardrobe bigger than the average starter apartment.

Eppis tucked the last loose hair up into her turban.

“Toligon, detail my agenda for the day.”

“It is the eighth day of Bamx. At seven-thirty hours you convene with Dome Financial to review Vanda Prime expenditures.”

Eppis tapped her robe pocket and located her Cloister Keycard.

“At nine-forty hours, you convene with Representative Qul Grik to discuss North Vanda District Five’s infrastructure development.”

Eppis entered her study and searched for her day-rise slippers.

“I have a new message from Ozbi.”

“Is she not here?”

“Ozbi remained overnight at the Lux Garden Club.”

Eppis felt her gashcol tighten. “Play the message, Toligon.”

“Eppis, this was low, even for you.” Ozbi’s voice filled the room. “You knew about last night. You should’ve come with me instead of choosing to make Acari pay for—”

“-Halt playback,” she slipped her feet into the pair of soft-soled shoes. “How many messages from Ozbi before this final communication?”

“Twenty and one.”

“All from the Lux Garden Club?”

“Negative,” Toligon replied. “Many originated from Lurata Commune—”

“-Acari owns a residence in West Toxis?” Down the stairs, she passed through the foyer and ignored the flowers agitated by her tension.

“Negative,” said Toligon. “Communications originated from Suite-Eight, owned by citizen Hib Perkad.”

Eppis pursed her lips. “Thank you, Toligon,”

Outside, the unseen ice shelf brought a subtle light to the subterranean darkness and the salt-scented bay thundered somewhere beyond the rocks.

Warixo Atiba emerged from the operator’s side of a double-bubbled transport and opened the rear compartment door. Settling into the back, Eppis opened her biv-tab as Toligon spoke anew.

“CR Banto, an update has been logged to the day’s schedule. At twelve-hundred hours, you are to dine at the Coralix Gardens with Fourth Office of the Committee, Tee Banto.”

Warixo, seated in the operator’s seat, eyed her in the rear view glass. “You’re going to dodge it, right, CR Banto?”

“To the best of my ability,” came her reply. She eyed the dim ridge with disinterest through her window, having seen the seaside too many times to count.

Warixo then veered them into a tube of dirtoxian glass, the paved road beneath guiding them north.

“Your nestor tapped the hood last night,” she said.

“Tapping the hood?” wondered Eppis. “Is that a euphemism for something sexual?”

“No, CR Banto,” the marix said, laughing.

Eppis spoke to the dark filigree disk tattooed on her driver’s scalp. “Where were you when this tapping occurred?”

“I was coming out of the Uzati Bakila Hut,” she said.

“This desire for deep-fried bakuti,” Eppis scolded. “One day, your heart will stop, and that tragedy best occur when I’m absent from this vehicle.”

The transport moved into a solid-coated tube before the world outside turned aquatic.

“She asked me if you credited Fezil’s meal account,” Warixo said.

Eppis sighed as they sped across the bed of Lake Utamx.

“Have I ever failed to meet my kermatic obligations?”

“No, you haven’t, CR Banto.”

“And still, she prompts me as if to suggest it’s my debut.”

The glider-channel emerged into the bold daylight of Utama metro, where pedestrians walked beneath hover traffic, confident in the invisible energy barrier above their heads. A few subaki walked the winding path beside the Utamx River; there were so many subaki in the workforce these days, all of them too young for Eppis.

“My nestor is still stunning, isn’t she, Warixo?”

“Yes, she is, CR Banto,” the marix nodded. “What’s it like?”

“Come again?” asked Eppis.

“Last night makes twenty years, CR Banto.” Warixo eyed her in the rearview. “That’s a long time to be bonded.”

Eppis felt her day-rise protein drink crawl up to the back of her throat; last night was low Eppis, even for you.

Twenty years ago, yesterday, had been her ceremonial Tav’zikoltil. Pitana Dag had brought Hib Perkad to the post-party. Sofita had attended with Laxum while Fusada accompanied Ilo Cux. The pair came without Velto; bonding to Ozbi had proved the last shard between her and Eppis.

“Was Ozbi accompanied by—?”

“-Acari,” Warixo nodded. “She asked if I was bringing you.”

Eppis knitted her brow. “To her citbluz party?”

Warixo presented her profile. “When she told Ozbi you’d forget, I said you had plans last night, some shopping.”

“Admirable tactic,” said Eppis, gratified someone gave a care about covering her backswell.

Her marital relationship with Acari Tol had been contentious since day one, and she continued to struggle with the affluent zaxir for financial primaryship in their bond.

“Citizen Tol was hot about it. You think she’d be happy with it being her night, too.” Warixo finally turned to face her as they sat in traffic. “You forgot, didn’t you, CR Banto?”

Eppis glared, defiant. “I’ve managed bondship this far without you, Podkomad Atiba,” she then slammed her foot down, activating the transport’s privacy screen.

Toligon’s voice filled the backseat. “I have confirmed your appointment with Doctor Ebival Kul at the Greater Vanda Generational Bluzsh.”

Eppis frowned at the time scheme on her handheld.

“My initial appointment is a ninety-minute session?”

“Yes, CR Banto.”

Warixo’s voice came out from the speaker beside her.

“CR Banto, I know it’s none of my business—”

“-Correct, it’s none of your business.”

“That subbie Doctor,” the marix pressed. “She’s a Pure-Gen, right?”

“Doctor Kul is young, and still, none of your business.”

Warixo’s silence spoke volumes; a tame bruise, she possessed five bond partners with seven donations among them, all subaki.

“My appointment is therapeutic,” Eppis volunteered. “I’m not engaging Doctor Kul sexually.”

Good,” said Warixo.

Eppis sulked. “Let me out here, please.” Then, when the transport slowed, she stepped out without bidding Warixo a good day.

Sauntering down the crowded pedestrian walk, she found herself the lone hizak among scores of bizaki. Disturbed by their attention, she crossed the street early and walked to a lopsided building called the Fitzrutak.

A gashcolic atrocity, the Fitz housed some of the best salons in Ramaxia, its ground-floor windows filled with styled mannequins posing in the rigors of daily management. Each possessed intricately molded hair and donned the best footwear. Fitat Fashion House, on the top floor, catered to hizaki with no regard for what things cost.

Automatic doors parted to a world of melodic music.

An amiable Ninth Gen bizak approached with her hand out for a shake. Rumor had it that she’d once dressed the Sixth elite until the Sister Suicides depleted her clientele. She spoke of the day’s weather cycle while leading Eppis over mosaic tile scored with water-filled coils. Wide-seated chairs flanked a line of ornately framed mirrors, where, on busy days, bizaki stylists scurried about like polar uraxi, pollinating their seated hizaki blooms.

An elevated pad lifted them to the wardrobe deck, where cord-strung shards of glass dangled from the ceiling and cast twisted shadows upon the thick striped walls.

Eppis’s twice-weekly visits often began with a wardrobe fitting. Her tailor, a bizak named Kel’r Sok, who’d been dressing Eppis since her Cloister debut, appreciated her desire to downplay her hefty backside. Among hizaki, a large girsuzsch indicated a skilled mind, but she felt it poor taste to advertise one’s mental prowess in the workplace.

There would be no visiting Kel’r today.

Eppis needed her hands and feet done, and the salon’s mani-pedi deck afforded an unobstructed view of the Cloister building. Dozens of hourglass tabletops encircled a noisy geyser of warm water. Each station contained one side loaded with manicure tools and two chairs: a padded, wheeled stool for the kaltzin, and a wide-cushioned high back for the client.

Eppis sat across from her kaltzin of eight years, Egat Su.

She expressed a desire for a new nailset; disenchanted with its darkness, she wanted something lighter, something akin to what she’d seen on the toes of those dark helovx women at Holy Cross.

Lacquer stylus in hand, Egat removed the old and applied the new with just a tap to the nail.

An hizak, Eppis saw only the dark replaced by light.

“What color is this?”

“Sassafrux,” said Egat.

“Is this green like helovx sassafras?”

“No, it’s a pale yellow,” Egat said. “Like subglacial sassafrux,”

Sassafrux didn’t exist in Ramaxia until the Second Gen brought sassafras back from between the poles. The pale tea made from its roots was tasty, but Eppis didn’t press her amused kaltzin further on the shade when she began buffing her new set.

Afterward, Egat led her up the incline to the foot-soaking stations. Utama’s impressive skyline stretched outside the loft’s glassed-in deck, and Eppis thought herself alone until she spotted Dyb Kul at the last station. Immediate discomfort set in, and not because Eppis was due for scheduled sexual therapy with Dyb’s subak donation.

In their youth, Sofita Kul had gone out of her way to meet Dyb; even Eppis was curious about encountering a normal Kul. However, during their Level Two years, Dyb fell in with a rival tribe headed by Tib Brigitat. Though Tib established an adversarial relationship with Sofita, the shrewd Dyb remained cordial while sharing a residence cube with Pitana Dag.

All their Mynu resident clusters were three-cube units; Eppis and Iba Ukel shared a room beside Sofita and Ixo Gizul; both sat opposite Pitana and Dyb’s. At age fourteen, they’d visited a hospitality center in Toxis to socialize sexually with a zaxiri clutch. For youthful hizaki like Eppis, part of this entailed intimidating others with contemptuous glares. Nevertheless, the absence of adults led to exciting experiences.

Like a typical hizak, she avoided the physicality of sex by instructing the teenage zaxir on how to engage the oversexed bizaki in attendance. After one of these exciting excursions, a sexuality counselor convened a dozen of them and spoke of a zaxir who bragged about being with two hizaki from their group.

The elder hizak detailed that the two had become so aroused by one another that they engaged while partaking with the zaxir. That story should’ve led to a discussion about healthy sexual interest in other hizaki, but it didn’t. Instead, Eppis and her peers only wondered who among them was strange enough to lust after one of their own.

Days after the counselor’s visit, Fee Tat barreled into Eppis’s room to retrieve her best friend, Iba, and swore she’d witnessed Pitana and Dyb kissing as she passed their room; ironic that Fee would spark such a rumor, given her hidden love for Iba.

Still, they had spread the story throughout Mynu, forcing Pitana and Dyb to endure whispers, snide remarks, and outright rude requests for reenactments. The amorous pair had emerged socially unscathed; Pitana was now Ambassador Prime of Ramaxia, while Dyb’s talents saw her overseeing Ramaxi Prime Credit.

Eppis considered the social integrity of joining Dyb on the foot-soaking deck, but never one for deep self-reflection, she requested the seat beside her.

Dyb Kul’s genial façade vanished.

“If your intent is confrontation,” she began.

Eppis interjected, “Explain why I’d desire a confrontation?”

“I assure you,” Dyb’s gaze met hers. “Nothing erotic transpired.”

“I assure you, Citizen Kul,” Eppis sat and spread her toes. “I do not care, nor did I ever, about your coital pursuits in Mynu.”

Dyb set down her bivtab and measured Eppis with curiosity. “Ozbi accompanied Hib home to dine,” she said. “Nothing sexual occurred.”

Eppis couldn’t wait to tell Sofita of Dyb’s link to Hib Perkad, a zaxir that everyone knew to be Pitana Dag’s greatest love.

“Unless you went with Ozbi to the Lux, I believe you,” said Eppis, slipping her feet gradually into the roiling hot water. “This awkward start aside, it’s good seeing you again.”

Dyb hummed, guarded.

“If you must know, I trust Ozbi.” Eppis sat back to relax. “I wasn’t aware that Citizen Perkad cohabitated with you and Ebi.”

Dyb used a stylus to scratch at her turbaned hair.

“I severed my bond to Ebi last year,”

“I was unaware of this,” Eppis sat up, eyes wide. “I apologize.”

“Speaking again on last evening,” Dyb lifted her feet from the soaking tub. “When you hadn’t appeared, Ozbi suspected Acari of not inviting you.”

“Acari invited me, calculated on her part, as she’s aware I would never patronize the citbluz,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Any chance to depict me in an unfavorable light makes her life complete.”

Dyb laughed before changing the subject.

“You appear rather accomplished today,”

“Do I appear more capable than usual?”

“You’re more congenial,”

She hesitated. “I’m quite stand-offish, aren’t I?”

“Politeness maintained,” said Dyb, “you are a Banto.”

“Insulting me now?” Eppis teased.

Dyb grinned. “Conversational delicacy escapes me,”

Craving a beverage, Eppis motioned for the bizak attendant.

“The single most important helovx contribution to this world is the roasted coffee bean,” she ordered a latte with a double shot of vanilla syrup and extra sugar. “I pervert this achievement by inundating it with things that disguise the taste.”

Dyb remained cordial as they discussed things related to the Cloister and finance. Eppis then inquired of citizen Perkad.

“Our interactions remain platonic,” said Dyb.

“I recall you and Iba Ukel being notorious hizmarox,” Eppis fell silent when the attendant returned. Then, after the young bizak set down her steaming mug and departed, she apologized. “That was discourteous of me, Dybkul.”

“Discourteous and partially true,” the hizak said, nodding. “Dearly departed Iba was the true marixi addict. I dabbled for social purposes.”

Eppis brought the steaming cup to her mouth.

“Are you aware that helovx call our sexual desires, kinks?”

“That term implies a bend in what should be a straight line,” said Dyb.

“The temerity,” Eppis declared, savoring the beverage’s heat as it moved into her throat; nothing compared to that first swallow of hot coffee.

“Speaking of the excitable, Laxum Jyr inquired after you last night.” Dyb lowered her voice. “The esteemed Ambassador brought you a gift from between the poles. You will marvel at its exquisiteness.”

Eppis pursed her lips. “Did Pitana Dag attend the festivities?”

Dyb failed to respond.

“That was not tribal,” Eppis assured. “I inquired because of Laxum, and of course, Hib.”

Dyb hesitated before answering. “I’ve not seen Pitana since our annual pilgrimage to Pitasa’s zikolit.”

Dyb and Ebi had bonded to the wealthy socialite Pitasa, sibox of Laxum, and half-sib of Pitana. The zaxir, diagnosed axibosal, had undergone early labor during the second birthing season. Panicked and in a bipolar state, Pitasa got behind the controls of Dyb’s glide and collided with a bulkhead on the Triad Expressway.

“Forgive me, Dybkul,” Eppis set aside the cup, stepped from the water, and faced the hizak. “You mentioned Laxum and Hib, and I thought of Pitana.”

Dyb stared up at her. “I didn’t suspect calculation,”

“Nonetheless, I’ll depart before provoking further melancholy,” she allowed the bizak attendant to dry her feet before addressing Dyb once more. “Freedom from Ebi Tat suits you,”

“Thank you, Eppis,” Dyb’s eyes returned to her handheld screen. “Send my regards to Ebival. Her appointment with you this evening cancels our weekly meal.”

For hizaki, contention and conversation were interchangeable; her discourtesies during their brief exchange had warranted a dose of retaliatory pomposity.

Once seated elsewhere, Eppis enjoyed a relaxing foot rub while a young stylist refreshed her current hairstyle. Impressed by the simplicity of Sofita’s curl on the crown, she requested a clean part down the middle, curtained by two round bumps on each side. Afflicted with her kerma’s subakesque beauty, the stylist gave her two thin tails over each ear, their length serving to draw the eyes away from her face.

Outside, Eppis cursed Calsotax when high winds threatened to dismantle her new hair. The Collective’s proverbial bizak, Calsotax controlled dome weather cycles; if Tolitat ran things, no hair-altering gusts would exist anywhere hosting more than one hizak.

Eppis trotted across the Square and slipped unnoticed through the Cloister’s busy lobby. However, when vertical doors parted, the hizaki packed tightly within all lifted their eyes to her mildly ruffled hair.

“If younger than me,” she railed, thumb pointed. “Exit.”

The well-dressed group fled like unschooled fish, revealing an amused Yegi Das. Beside Das stood her curvy subak Cloister Aid; illicit rumors abounded about the young subbie’s hiring, yet the Tenth Gen hizak cared little for what others thought. Unlike Eppis with her delicate features, the handsome Yegi’s broad nose and thick lips gave her a marix-like ruggedness. Acari had once complimented Yegi’s brown and cobalt hide, but neither hizaki could comprehend the accolade.

“You have the authority to herd them,” Eppis said to her as the doors closed.

“Irada missed you last night,” Yegi spoke of her second bond partner, a zaxir Eppis had tangled with in her youth.

“How was the atmosphere?” she asked, adjusting her hair in the verticals mirrored wall.

“I didn’t arrive until late.” Yegi’s words made the young subak uncomfortable, and when the doors parted, she hastily exited.

Eppis looked after her. “Have I warranted an offense?”

A sigh slipped from Yegi’s dark lips.

“Your kerma filed a Vacate Request against her.”

“On what grounds?” Eppis then read Yegi’s expression. “CM Banto behaves as if subaki in Cloister is the worst thing to befall the Cloisax’Ramax. Her lack of self-awareness amuses me.”

Yegi laughed before embracing her.

Eppis arrived at her office on Level Nine and found Qul Grik waiting. The moon-faced hizak hoped to revitalize an abandoned North Vanda bloom community by enlarging the existing homes. She then planned to join them with a neighboring shell district that had been abandoned since the Suicides. Every dome contained large swaths of empty neighborhoods; the Sister Suicides had wiped out over twenty-three thousand citizens in two years.

The map floating between them displayed rehabilitated storefronts and parks meant to service the joined neighborhoods that converged on a refurbished high-rise located behind Tiskol Terminal.

“Where are the projections?” asked Eppis.

Qul handed the axico over, its files containing purchase parities and habitation statistics on the newly employed Eleventh Generation.

“Ozbi looked lovely last night,” said the hizak, her gaze catching Eppis’s new nailset. “Acari turned sour when she departed.”

Eppis closed the map with a swipe of her finger. “No doubt CM Banto was there to elevate her mood.”

“Not to offend,” hedged Qul, “I was relieved when Ozbi departed.”

“Subaki have no business in a citbluz,” Eppis said, sympathetic.

“If your kerma ran Ramaxia,” Qul grinned. “Subaki would never leave the house.”

Eppis shook her head.

“I learned of her attempt to oust Yegi’s aide.”

“Kil Wex is more than qualified and quite ambitious,” Qul threw one leg over the other. “One can expect no less from a donat of Iluz Vyx.”

An educated zaxir, Iluz had been enamored with Eppis as a youth in Mynu. The ravenous zaxir eventually moved on to lesser hizaki, yet when they’d last spoke, Iluz, now Secondary of Zaxiri Registration, had invited Eppis onto her couch.

“Citizen Vyx’s superlative status recognized,” Qul said further, “I believe CM Banto’s poor impression likely involves the other half of young Wex’s pedigree.”

Eppis disagreed. “Line Jyr merits heavy with my kerma. The fault likely lies with young Wex being confident enough to steer clear of CM Banto.”

“The young subak is ignorant of her kermatic maker,” Qul said with a grin and shifted the subject to avoid insulting the elder Banto. “Shocking when one considers how Laxum made no effort to disguise her excessive patching.”

“Citizen Jyr exists in a constant state of excess.” Eppis waved her hand. “Unpolluting the subject, CM Banto’s discontent centers solely on Wex being an uninhibited subak.”

Qul chuckled. “The Ninth are set in their ways,”

“Ramaxia evolves, Qul.” Eppis sat back and folded her hands in her lap. “The Ruling Platform would do best to appreciate such a reality this close to an ascension year.”

Qul gave a subtle start. “Our generation lacks a Primary.”

“If that’s true, why is Fusa Kul still on the Ruling Platform?” Eppis caught herself and stood. “I’ll review these plans, Qul.”

“Thank you, Eppis,” the hizak sounded unsure as they embraced.

After Qul’s departure, Eppis gazed through her office wall at the clerks in their spheres. “Toligon? Who’s the Incoming Primary of the Tenth Generation?”

“Presently,” the subhive replied. “No citizen is recognized, CR Banto.”

A note from WriterObscura

Hey there, another of those day in the life scenes - this time it's Eppis Banto. I wanted to display the typical hizak routine, and of course, establish that the Collective have no recognized Sofita Kul as the Primary of the 10th Ramaxian Gen.

*A note about the conversation with Dyb Kul - it could've been removed since I excised the scene where Eppis visits arousal therapist, Ebival Kul. That scene was deleted and posted at because its very sexual in nature and added nothing to the overall story line.

Thank you for reading.

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