Coralix Fine Gardens
Vanda Prime - Ramaxia
8 Bamx 2228 - 1230 Hours
Eppis had arrived an hour early, a tactic upon where she’d exit before Tee Banto appeared, then predicate her absence on the pretense that her kerma misunderstood their actual meeting time.
Traces of her mid-day meal lingered on the plate; Vandoshi crab salad stirred with axonnaise and served on a cushion of tigoz purée. Never one for gluttony, she found herself taking in the room to stop from picking at the tasty remains.
The original subjects had blasted apart massive colonies of polar-sea coral in their quest to anchor Vanda’s first habitable domes. These dislodged skeletal reefs left deep footprints that entrepreneurs turned into basement businesses.
One such cellar was the Coralix.
The upscale foodapaxo housed three rock-walled chambers, each connected by honeycombed passages filled with glass-bottled wines. Falling water surrounded the dining room, where coral shell lights dangled from a suspended louver ceiling.
“Acari said I might acquire you here.” Laxum Jyr stood curtained by two Eleventh Gen marixi that eyeballed the room as if it were their first day on the planet.
Eppis rose to embrace her.
“How did you get these two past the hostess?”
“Vyx, Acari, go imbibe,” said Laxum, and when the two stared at her, confused, she let out a sigh and spoke flatly. “That means, go get a drink.”
The pair smiled at one another as Eppis addressed the taller one.
“Tuso Vyx?” she said. “Your maker is Iluz?”
“CM Banto,” the bruiser saluted with her eyes averted.
“Eye contact is essential to communication,” Eppis scolded.
Vyx said, “My mak told me things about you, CR Banto.”
Zaxiri often engaged in sexually unsuitable dialogues with their marixidoe; undoubtedly, Eppis proved an exciting tale.
“Dismiss yourselves,” she snapped.
Laxum watched them depart with a foolish smile on her face. Fat-heeled shoes exaggerated her height; elevated footwear and high-styled hair were parcels to the warped fashion sense hizaki employed amongst marixi.
Eppis returned to her seat without offering a chair.
“Since you won’t invite,” said Laxum. “I shall intrude.”
Seating herself, she rapped the tabletop and skimmed the long menu that appeared on its glassy screen. After tapping out her order, she pulled a handheld from her pocket and placed it face down in the middle of the table.
Eppis surveyed the room before retrieving it, and when a thumb swipe triggered a film of two tiger sharks tearing into a thin helovx youth, she canceled it out and set it back where she found it.
“Sofita allowed me to dispose of my toy.”
Laxum grabbed a roll from the untouched basket and shoved the entire mass into her mouth.
Eppis gasped. “The demise of your table manners is appalling.”
Rolling her eyes, Laxum helped herself to Eppis’s water.
“Dining with marixi makes one forget the fundamentals,” she followed her words with a closed-mouthed belch, and upon pilfering another roll, tore off small bits, taunting Eppis with each dainty nibble.
“What are you doing in Vanda?” asked Eppis.
“I’m bound for Utama,” she answered. “Where I must validate Sofita’s report on the Bumo Investigation.”
“An investigation she claims you initiated,” Eppis rapped her nailset against the tabletop. “I’m confident you relayed gratitude, as that falsehood saved you from disciplinary action.”
“Inventing my involvement wasn’t your idea?”
“I’m not that emotionally invested in you, Laxum.”
“Content to see me tumble through the ice?”
“Some days are better than others.” Eppis watched as Laxum took a plate of food meant for another patron from a passing bizak waitress. “Today isn’t one of those days.”
Laxum sighed. “What have I done to you now?”
“Did you enjoy the revelry last night?”
Laxum considered it. “Possibly,”
“It wasn’t enough to engage Acari on our bonding day,” she charged. “You relived the glorious event on its anniversary.”
“Your anniversary,” Laxum seemed shocked. “That explains Ozbi’s presence.”
Eppis sat back, unamused.
“Witnessing her at the citbluz,” Laxum extolled with a smirk. “I thought her one of those ice-brained subbies. The sort who become physically unfulfilled at home, so they venture out into the world, greedy for sex like they’re twenty again.”
Eppis tempered her rage while putting her thumb to the waitress’s pad and paying for the stolen meal. The bizak pretended to ignore Laxum and thanked Eppis, but she smiled upon eliciting a lustful gaze from the visiting hizak.
“Bizaki age so beautifully, don’t they?” said Laxum.
Eppis asked, “How was Acari’s performance?”
“If you must know,” Laxum began, pulling a thin rectangular box from her jacket and setting it on the table. “Zaxiri never motivated me beyond my twenty.”
Eppis snatched up the gift, and removing the crisscrossed ribbon, pulled the lid free. Inside lay a half-mask, its dark calligraphical lace promised to appear as if ink drawn on its wearer’s face.
“You’re welcome,” Laxum said before lowering her voice. “I was toying around with that boy because I’d long written off any future on the Committee.”
“Situations change,” said Eppis, transfixed by the mask.
“Last month, Orta petitioned Vyx and Acari to author weekly reports on my activity,” Laxum disclosed. “Instead, they came to me.”
“The Eleventh are devoted to us, more so than we were to the Ninth.” Eppis put the lid back on the box and then slipped it into her suit jacket. “On that subject, what are your thoughts regarding their Primary-in-wait?”
Laxum stopped chewing. “Whom do you speak of?”
“Fusada’s bruiser,” Eppis stated point-blank.
“Fusada Kul donated no marixidoe,” Laxum assured. “Polluting the subject further, I refuse to believe that Sofita’s abandonment of us was anything but intentional.”
Eppis rested her chin upon her folded hands. “You doubt her insistence that this rekindled plan is new?”
“No one perseveres like Sofita,” she said, nodding. “Her endurance rivals a glacier’s. No matter what the trigger, we must convene—”
“-Your conversation won’t transpire today,” said Eppis.
“Wram’s extraction order?” Laxum asked.
The waitress returned and set a steaming plate of pickled mussels down in front of the visiting hizak. Each aromatic glob sat upon thin logs of pointy helovx-grown carrots.
“Velto’s assignment was a mistake,” Eppis said. “A citizen of Velto’s talents should never be allowed to leave Ramaxia.”
“Ilo’s companionship protects Velto,” Laxum used her rounded fork to mix her food into a ghastly mash. “She’s on Velts like a tumor on a Slav.”
Eppis fought her smile. “That’s a horrid association.”
“Bonding is a horrid association,” Laxum said, mouth full.
“Habitual companionship brings stability,” Eppis countered. “You’ll appreciate such intricacies when you’ve matured enough to consider it.”
“Velto’s not bonded,” Laxum countered. “She’s in bondage.”
“On the subject of bondship,” Eppis lowered her voice. “Dyb Kul broke hers to Ebi Tat and now resides with Hib Perkad.”
Choking, Laxum reached for her glass of water.
“I must inform my nestor,” she said after clearing her windpipe. “She’s desperate for Pitana and Hib to reconcile. Dyb Kul rather sweetens the lure,”
Before Eppis could formulate a witty response, Laxum leaned over the table with her eyes down.
“Do not pass gas in here, Laxumjyr,” she hissed quietly.
The hizak then spoke without moving her lips.
“Your kerma’s walking this way.”
Eppis tossed down her napkin.
“She inquired of the hostess,” Laxum continued to speak clandestinely. “Then shifted her attention to us.”
Tee Banto glided through the dining room as if she owned it. A month shy of sixty-four years, impeccable genes gave her a full head of hair and a dolphin-smooth hide that never blemished.
Laxum rose and embraced the older hizak; Eppis did not.
“Ambassador Jyr, I wasn’t aware of your return,” Tee sat in the chair brought for her by the subak hostess. Then, she eyed Eppis while peeling off her gloves. “I thought our mid-day was for twelve-thirty?”
“Eleven-thirty,” she said. “I dined without you.”
Laxum’s hand covered a smile, catching Tee’s attention.
“I witnessed you, Ambassador, at our celebration.” Tee referred to everything Eppis owned and experienced, as ‘ours.’ “Where were you, Eppis?”
“Engaged elsewhere,” she said.
“Acari implored Ozbi to remain, yet she said nothing of joining you upon her departure. Acari pinged her Filmark,” Tee slid her finger over the tabletop menu, racing past the shellfish in her quest to reach the entrées. Then, her face soured, “She found her at Hib Perkad’s.”
“Acari should’ve called Dyb. She’s plenty free these days.” Laxum’s rakish leer withered under Tee’s stare. Fiddling with her napkin, she noticed her discarded handheld and glanced at Eppis.
“Ibur informed me,” Tee paused to smile at the waitress delivering her warm glacial water. “That you’re spending time in that insignificant Utama residence.”
Laxum eyed Tee, then glanced again at the handheld.
Eppis snatched up her empty glass and began chewing the ice left in it. “How did the subject of my residence enter the conversation?”
“When your absence at a party given to honor your bondship was noticed,” Tee elucidated. “Acari bore you two donations, Eppis. You might’ve attended.”
Eppis gathered her napkin into her fist as Laxum snatched a glass of ale from the tray of a passing waitress.
“Ozbi nor I frequent the citbluz,” she said, tossing the napkin onto Laxum’s handheld. “Acari is aware of this and should’ve considered it before planning the festivity. Ozbi ignored her calls last night for obvious reasons,”
“You spoke at length with Dyb Kul this morning at the Fitat,” Tee’s eyes shifted to Laxum before focusing on Eppis. “Does Dyb know you’re entertaining young Ebival?”
Laxum’s confusion found Eppis.
“We spoke of my impending appointment, yes,” she said.
Tee spoke as if addressing the room. “Doctor Kul is a therapist,”
“Kerma,” she nipped. “Your insensitivity—”
“-I’m well, Eppis,” Laxum raised a hand. “My nestor remains tied to young Ebival, so I’m aware of her vocational focus.” She then aimed a bold stare at Tee while speaking to Eppis. “Given your tendency to entertain those your age, I’m confident your connection with Ebival is a professional one.”
“I’d never engage a subak that young,” Tee lied, of course, yet followed it with a truth: “But I’ve entertained her mako many times in the past.”
Ebi Tat’s fondness for elder hizaki began after meeting Tee Banto, an hizak with a partiality for seducing the inexperienced.
Eppis grew up sheltered from her kerma’s infidelities by her nestor, a career-minded who took her hizakidoe with her whenever she left the house. Her bondship with Tee and two other zaxiri had been a mistake, but the subak had been careful to keep such truths from Eppis.
Tee’s lips formed into a self-serving grin.
“Tenth gen subak excel at keeping secrets.”
Laxum remained cold. “Unlike our zaxiri,”
Eppis couldn’t help but find amusement in the dig.
After zaxir Pitasa had learned of Ebi’s affair with Tee, she’d urged Dyb to eject her from their bond. Determined to work things out, Dyb persuaded Pitasa to forgive, and peace reigned until that first production year. Pitasa had discovered that Ebi had set her implantation appointment for a donux containing no part of her or Dyb.
Tee ordered her meal and, after the waitress departed, she volleyed her eyes from Laxum to Eppis. “What’s this?” she asked, removing the napkin from the handheld.
“Playback from last night,” Laxum explained. “Stationed at Kuril, I don’t get to engage zaxiri. When I come home, I stock up on the memories.”
“‘Don’t get.’ ‘Come home.’ ‘Stock up,’” Tee scowled, leaving the handheld untouched. “Your vocabulary suffers in service among marixi.”
Eppis smirked. “According to Dyb, you invoked many stimulating memories last night, Laxum.”
“I’m a Jyr,” Laxum bragged. “Stimulation is our expertise.”
“Our anniversary,” said Tee, again stoking Eppis’s anger. “Should’ve been spent with all our partners, not one.”
Laxum wagged her finger. “That’s right, Ilo.”
Tee chuckled at the sass until Eppis stood.
Laxum vacated her chair, eager to depart.
“Contact me,” she whispered, stepping into Eppis’s arms. “Acari has my locater.”
Tee pointed her head at the handheld.
“You mustn’t forget your exploits, Ambassador.”
Laxum snatched up her Filmark and held it out before Tee.
“Want to watch?” she asked.
Frowning, Tee shook her head.
Laxum departed with a wink as Eppis sat back down.
“Explain this appointment with young Kul,” said Tee, “and reiterating boundaries is futile. I care little for what you regard as private.”
“I suggest you leave my boundaries intact,” she warned. “Unless prepared to clarify the details of my nestor’s death,”
Tee’s gaze never wavered. “Your mako drowned—”
“-Her name was Debo Tol,” Eppis reminded.
“I know her name,” Tee said coolly. “You brandish it like a dultax and bludgeon me with it whenever it suits you.”
“My therapeutic relationships never piqued your interests before,” Eppis didn’t miss a beat. “Why this sudden curiosity?”
“Full disclosure is paramount.” Tee seemed eager to avoid the subject of her dead bond partner. “As you recall, after Pitasa caused all that trouble, poor Ebi turned to me for emotional support.”
Eppis found her blameless simplification galling. “Ebi’s pregnant zaxir discovered her infidelity with you and acted upon it. The true strife cannot obscure the result.”
Tee’s sinuous lips spread as the waitress set down her plate; grilled faxuto sliced thin overtop a bed of aromatic keltavi.
“My awareness of your nature,” she said, inhaling the dish before retrieving her cutlery, “indicates you’re not one to seek fulfillment outside your bonds.”
Eppis narrowed her eyes.
“Your awareness isn’t as compact as you believe.”
Tee twisted a piece of shaved meat onto the rounded fork, and with her fat-paddled knife, pushed some dark grains of rice onto it. “There’s truth in that statement. I never anticipated you foolish enough to leave the mainland.”
“That bit of trifle,” Eppis did her best to sound bored. “You might’ve inquired of it while Laxum was still present.”
“Laxum wasn’t at Yukon Beach.” Tee paused from eating and stared hard at Eppis. “You’ve not conversed with Sofita Kul in many years,”
“My presence was requested,” said Eppis.
Tee picked up her water glass, waiting.
“I booked that passage,” Eppis then clarified, “sharing with Administrator Gizul my itinerary and intentions.”
Tee feigned surprise. “You spoke to the Sernatae-Second?”
“You’re aware of my journey and its reason, kerma,” Eppis politely accused. “CM Wram, no doubt, shared the details.”
Tee tilted her head.
“Lekada spoke nothing of your leaving Ramaxia.”
Eppis forced a smile. “She did speak of her inquiry into Laxum’s alleged investigation?”
Tee dabbed at her mouth with the napkin.
“You suggest there’s something more to it?”
Eppis crossed one leg over the other. “The more to it, relating to my Port Yukon excursion.”
Tee’s lust for gossip got the better of her.
“Hide nothing,” she begged.
Eppis leaned in, exhilarated at the old hizak taking the bait. “You’re aware the remaining bonds of Wulitat Dox have scheduled their ceremonial cit’tilgul?”
“I’d heard rumblings,” said Tee. “Have they finally determined their zaxiridoe’s inheritance?”
Since its inception, Dox Pharmaceuticals ignored medicinal advancement to focus on the lucrative citizenry market. After dozens of erotic and wellness products made them wealthy, Clan Dox came under the reign of Wulitat, a Ninth-Gen hizak whose talent in real-estate outweighed her ability to design synthetic lubricants.
When the yet-to-be-elected Velto Wram promised to put bluzsh ownership back into the hands of the zaxiri, Wulitat sold off all her citbluz holdings in East Toxis and purchased five square blocks surrounding the dome’s Kyrtabi Station.
After Toxis Prime lost its bid to build a Citizenry Transit terminal under their dome, her investment proved advantageous. Kyrtabi had become the exclusive entry and exit port for all three Toxican domes; Clan Dox earned more credit in real-estate rents around the station than it ever did in traditional pharma.
Never one to be outdone, Lekada Wram placed a bid on some of those Kyrtabi properties in 2208, and Wulitat countered with a proposed ‘partnership’ between her zaxir donation, Crixal, and Lekada’s bizak donation, Velto. Hizaki were atypically aggressive in the bonding choices of their zaxiri and subakidoe. Matching the former model and business maven Crixal to a successful bizak like Velto, suited Wulitat’s goals.
Unfortunately, negotiations ceased after Velto bonded to Ilo Cux and the Primary’s heir, Fusada Kul. Desperate, Lekada offered her marix donation, Zixas. The offer wasn’t unconventional since Zixas and Crixal had engaged throughout their twentieth year, but Wulitat refused to consider it; Zixas was, after all, worthless due to falling in the first hour of her Final Trial.
Lekada then made a heftier offer for the properties, and as an incentive, submitted herself as a bond to young Crixal. Outright insulted, Wulitat closed negotiations. However, after the Sister Suicides, Wulitat abruptly reversed her decision, giving Crixal to Lekada, an hizak twenty-three years her senior.
The whole affair had played out like a typical intra-clan business deal. Crixal, the sole inheritor of her Clan’s assets, bonding to a citizen of equal financial status, ensured her inherited holdings would benefit the bond’s primehand, Lekada.
Wulitat Dox had failed to show at the bonding ceremony. The hizak had committed zish’tilgul hours beforehand, and authorities processed her body before Crixal signed herself over to Lekada. Illegal suicide barred Wulitat’s flesh from recycle and negated her power to pass anything on to Crixal.
Clan Dox’s fortunes went to Wulitat’s surviving bonds, leaving Lekada with a willful belly who’d defied her at every turn.
“Lekada’s attainment of their precious zaxiridoe remains tainted by her subterfuge,” Tee sucked her teeth. “Shrewd as Wulitat was, her zaxxy whores proved better.”
Eppis leaned over the table. “Wulitat’s zaxiri instituted stipulations regarding Crixal’s inheritance. She acquires nothing if she remains bonded to Lekada.”
Tee’s laughter garnished looks.
“When they die,” Eppis added, “the properties go to the shareholders of Dox Pharmaceuticals.”
Tee covered her mouth but continued laughing.
“My friendship with ‘Kada keeps me from viewing her outside the scope of proper discourse. She’s certainly no fool.” Amused beyond measure, she then waved herself with a napkin. “She’ll offer Crixal a bond break in return for all the assets she desired by bonding to her in the first place.”
Eppis lifted her shoulders. “If Crixal accepts the bond-break.”
“Imagine being contingent on the whims of a belly whose makodux you had removed.” Tee then mulled Lekada’s situation. “She’s desperate to reacquire her standing at Wram Constructs. For this, she requires capital. Her plan justifies the move against Laxum—”
“-But why did I journey to Yukon?” said Eppis, and Tee stared without blinking. “After Fusada’s demise, Sofita acquired her shares of Wram Constructs.”
Tee knitted her brow.
“Sofita owns a third of Wram Constructs?”
“Sofita owns half of Wram Constructs,” Eppis corrected, “along with Laxum’s share, as she sold them to Sofita before joining the Office of Helovx Advocacy.”
“Laxum desires her shares back,” Tee rapped her knuckles on the table. “To wager with Lekada should another indiscretion arise at Kuril.”
Eppis smiled to prove her kerma triumphant.
“And Sofita’s response?” Tee asked.
“Sofita was unwilling to acquiesce without conditions.”
“Forcing you onto an Ark to Yukon Beach.”
“Amusing, yes?” said Eppis.
Tee beamed. “Immensely.”
“If I may be candid,” Eppis took the ruse further. “I’ve washed my hands of Sofita.”
Tee studied her. “So close to your generation’s ascension year?”
“Fusada’s dead,” Eppis said, frowning. “I convinced Sofita to speak with Laxum. It was her willingness that caused their investigations to collide.”
When Tee said nothing more, Eppis tapped the table. “Now, what’s that helovx saying, kerma? Quid pro quo?”
“I know few helovx sayings,” the older hizak nodded. “I do know that one.”
“Why this interest in young Ebival Kul?”
Tee asked, “What’s your interest, Eppis?”
“Tell me about her production.”
Tee chuckled like a lone seal in the shark-free stretch of ocean.
“You seek something to hold over young Ebival, should she have the audacity to demand you abandon Ozbi?”
“I’m not engaging her,” Eppis reiterated. “Our relationship is clinical.”
“She won’t cure your condition. She’s a monogamist herself.” Tee moved her chair closer, face hardened with tension. “You enrage me at times, Eppis. You truly do.”
“That’s the purpose of a donation, yes?” Eppis refused to feign surprise. “Now, auskunftserteilung, kerma?”
Tee brought the water glass to her lips without obliging.
“Ebi Tat introduced a donux of her own for Pitasa to carry,” Eppis pressed. “I recall this being the proverbial calving of the ice?”
“If you must know,” Tee studied her manicure. “Ebi convinced a well-connected hizak into patching up, as it’s called.”
Eppis felt sick. “You didn’t?”
“Worry not, Eppis, young Ebival isn’t mine. Pitasa refused implantation and then informed Dyb as to why.” Tee rolled her eyes. “Those Jyr’s thrive on frankness. Back then, I encouraged Ebi to detach from that insane belly.”
“Kerma, please,” Eppis whispered, eyeing those around them.
“My sympathies for Rasa were beyond measure.” Tee said. “Being encumbered with an axibosal zaxiridoe,”
Stares came and went at her kerma’s observations.
Pitasa’s axibosis had caused her much emotional instability, but never to the detriment of those that loved her. Even Fos Tis, Ozbi’s sibling, came to love the zaxxy’s extreme highs and lows.
“You wished to know Ebival’s pedigree?” Tee’s disclosure dripped with spite. “Pitasa and Dyb patched up with that Orta bruise whose no-name pod you saw fit bond our name with,”
Eppis disguised her astonishment with curiosity.
“You maintained a relationship with Ebi,” she asked. “Even after that tragic mishap with your donux?”
“Tragic mishap?” Tee hissed.
Pitasa had pulled Epi’s ill-gotten donux for implantation, only to emerge from the appointment without a pregnancy.
“The words you seek are senseless murder,” added Tee.
The incident had been private, yet somehow Hib Perkad ended up before an ethics board. After a short investigation, hive Oligax concluded that Ebi’s donux had failed to thrive.
“You reported Hib,” Eppis accused. “Your ego knows no bounds.”
“She stood by while that crazy zaxxy committed a crime—”
“-a crime against your vanity,” Eppis spat.
“She destroyed a donux!”
Tee’s tempestuous tone garnished attention.
“If Hib and that subak whore, Gizul, hadn’t played on Wox’s ambitions,” she added. “Both would’ve been in Isolation for that ilitux nonsense, and my donation would be alive and well in the Eleventh.”
Feigning sympathy, Eppis scooted to the opposite seat.
“Elder Wox is hardly Hib’s ally,” she reminded.
“That fat-fronted whale incurred the wrath of Wox yet still rose to a primada spot in the College.” Tee shook her head in disgust. “It sickens me how inadequate Wox is as Fifth Office.”
Eppis gave her kerma a moment to collect herself.
“At least none of Pitasa lives inside Ebival Kul.” Tee smiled then. “Surely, our Ozbi has revealed that much to you,”
“Her sibling rarely warrants conversation,” said Eppis.
Right on cue, the uniformed Warixo trotted through the dining room, her musculature garnishing stares on her way to their table.
“CM Banto,” she saluted Tee before addressing Eppis. “CR Banto, you’re needed back on Level Nine.”
“How are you, Podkomad Atiba?” asked Tee.
Before they could start an exchange, Eppis rose.
“Our mid-day has been fruitful, kerma.”
Tee stood with arms open, leaving Eppis no choice but to reciprocate.