New Warszawa – Uralskey Island
8 Bamx 2228 - 1430 Hours
Velto recalled her first visit to the Kul estate, its terraces curving above the mighty Utaru Falls. She’d seen the natural sky for the first time that day, dull light behind thick gray clouds. Miles out in Lake Utamx peeked Dome Utama’s orbicular top.
Lekada had deprived Velto of a visit to the metro, so she’d refused to climb the estate’s stone ramp like an obedient donat. Tired of the tension, little Zixas carried the struggling bizak up to the front door, a foreboding circle of thick subglacial pine.
It opened to a stark white foyer dominated by a polar jade stairwell. Two smooth-trunked trees grew out of the honey-tiled floor, each boasting a crown of deep red hanging blades. A long tapestry hung from the second-floor balcony, featuring the dead Fee Banto at her most stylish. Her hide was the sort of gray that appeared blue in the right light, and surrounding her perfect face was a thick head of black hair.
Down the stairs came her donations, a sparsely dressed marixidoe, and a scantily attired hizakidoe.
Once free of adult supervision, the marix led Velto and Zixas out to a vast nuxyard, its aligned rows bound for a towering mountain. The hizak had guided them through the maze of gnarled wooden vines, introducing herself as Sofita, and the marix as Fusada.
They’d come upon a teak bridge where two barefoot and brown hizak stood with their jackets discarded on the blackened bank below. Pitana Dag and Laxum Jyr had been dropping stones into the cold dark stream when Pitana spotted them and hollered out an invite. Lingering nearby stood a milky-white hizak named Eppis Banto; she greeted only Sofita. Laxum jogged over and embraced Sofita before offering her hand to Velto, who’d eagerly shaken it.
After a time, two bizak named Fyla and Orestes appeared from under the bridge. They’d trekked over from the Uym residence on the ridge, and Velto was thankful for their presence. Velto hadn’t seen Orestes again after that day, despite seeking her out in Pikalit as a youth. Teenage Velto had reconnected with Fyla in Mynu, and together, they socialized with Pitana and Laxum and skirted the tribal circles of elites like Sofita and Eppis.
The ice stayed smooth for all of them until the night of Orta Attack. Velto had picked up on the animosity between Fusada and Zixas, and the next day, as ‘Foos fought her way to last standing, Zixas proved her first casualty. Their kerma’s emotional meltdown after Zixas fell had tempered Velto’s disappointment for Zixas.
A true Wram, the entitled marix had turned angry, her relationship with Velto estranged when the bizak’s friendship with Fusada Kul deepened. A chaotic twentieth year had cost Velto her subak lover, leaving her too emotionally compromised to refuse Fusada’s entry into she and Ilo’s relationship.
Lekada, however, had been pleased by the match, eagerly hosting their tav’zikoltil. Zixas had been a no-show, of course, and things got worse after their kerma bonded to Crixal, the one zaxxy that cared for Zixas more than anyone. At the time, Velto couldn’t comfort her bruiser sib; she’d bonded to Fusada, whom Zixas blamed for destroying her military career.
Fuzo Dox stood by the window, the steel gray in her hide proof that Sofita had done more than mentor Zixas. Her blackened patches remained a mystery; no part of a birther existed in a fertilized donux that wasn’t hers, yet somehow Crixal had left an indelible stain on the Donmat.
Suddenly, the door opened, and in sauntered Ilo.
That’s when Velto saw Zixas in the young bruiser’s smile; Fuzo was the spitting image of Zix in happier times before the Kul twins unwittingly conspired to sacrifice her in the name of destiny.
“Citizen Cux,” the marix leered.
“I’m Citizen Wram, Donmat,” Ilo’s overt flirtatiousness was a symptom of something Velto hadn’t figured out yet. The zaxir’s resurgence had taxed Velto, but for a young marix, Ilo was too luscious to ignore.
“I’m sorry,” said Fuzo. “I don’t want to admit you’re bonded.”
Ilo touched that bald head. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Anything,” said the eager marix.
“I’d like you to stay out here,” Ilo walked her to the door. “No matter what you hear, don’t come inside. Can you do that for me?”
“You sure you don’t want me to join you?” Fuzo asked with a smirk.
Ilo sassed, “You couldn’t handle me, Pure Gen,”
“Don’t count me out,” Fuzo said. “I’ve had my share of Silent Gen bellies.”
Velto rolled her eyes.
“I bet you have,” Ilo said, laughing.
“Older zaxiri got experience,” Fuzo said. “I like experienced bodies.”
Velto barked, “Get walking, Brooder!”
Ilo closed the door behind her.
“We need to talk, Velts.”
“Go talk to Fuzo.”
“What’s boiling in that head?”
“That hizzah’s what’s boiling.”
Sofita was the reason Zix had mended her relationship with Velto. The reason Zix learned to read and took the tests and earned another chance at rank. But she’d also been the reason Zixas was dead.
“That shit needs to be plated and served,” said Ilo. “Something is wrong with her,”
“You’re figuring that out now?” Velto looked into Ilo’s gorgeous black eyes and noted the concern. “I’m supposed to care about Sofitakul and that fucking Shell?”
“It’s infected her,” she said. “She doesn’t feel like Sofita.”
“The way it infected Fusada? Good.” Velto then scoffed. “Sofita’s always been a little off,”
Ilo followed her into the bedroom.
“I know about these things, remember.”
After Fusada underwent surgery to implant the spheres, Ilo noticed a change. She’d told Velto that Fusada now had a shadow no one could see.
“Sofita chose implantation,” Velto fled to the bathroom, a space too small to accommodate the mouthy belly. “She can live with the side-effects.”
Ilo forced her way into the cramped space by standing in the tub.
“Our friend is in trouble,”
“She’s not my friend.”
“She’s always been your friend.”
“She killed Zixas!”
“Zixas killed Zixas,” Ilo shouted.
Velto pointed at her. “Stop baiting me, Ilo,”
“This anger for Sofita,” Ilo railed. “It’s not about Zixas—”
“-I said, don’t bait me,” Velto left her in the bathroom.
“It was never about losing Zixas,” Ilo stalked her like a seal on the hunt. “You want ‘Fita dead because she didn’t take up where Fusada left off.”
“It’s about Zixas,” she rebuked. “Nothing more.”
“You and Lax and ‘Pita,” it was Ilo’s turn to point. “You three thought her enlistment was part of some bigger plan!”
“Shut up, Ilo.”
“Eppis accepted that Sofita gave up,” the zaxir moved into Velto’s space. “But here you are, still angry about ascension.”
Velto’s palm caught Ilo’s cheek, stinging her fingers. That pain didn’t compare to Ilo’s fist belting her square in the jaw. The white dots upon her azure skin muddled in humiliation.
“You don’t put your hands on me in anger,” she railed, fists at her sides.
Velto sat up, her chin throbbing in time with her heart.
Fuzo appeared in the doorway.
Velto yelled, eyes wet. “Get out of here.”
“I called the Komad,” the marix said, staring down at her.
Ilo giggled. “That’s adorable.”
“Go wait in the hall,” Velto barked.
When Fuzo turned to exit, Sofita entered.
“I heard it all, Komad,” she said after her.
“Did she hurt you?” Sofita asked Velto. “If you want to make a partner-abuse complaint, I’m authorized to take one.”
Velto couldn’t help but smile when Ilo started laughing.
“You’re authorized to kiss my backswell, Komad.”
“I’ve been doing that since I got here,” Sofita said.
Velto reached for her. “Help me up,”
Sofita pulled Velto to her feet.
“We need to extract you and the SR.”
Ilo whined. “I like it here.”
Fuzo slipped her arm around Ilo’s waist. “Policy dictates that we don’t give aid to, or conduct any relationship with, an helovx nation with males making law.”
“You don’t have to touch her to talk to her, toob-shit,” said Velto.
The Donmat detached, and Ilo walked to Sofita.
“Velts never got the parts from her SR-I,” she said.
Sofita turned to Velto, wordlessly demanding an explanation.
“I ordered it disassembled,” Velto explained. “They presented me with parts in a factory outside the city, but none of those parts are essential to its function.”
“How are they feeding themselves?” the hizak demanded.
“They’re still using the replicator,” Velto replied.
Ilo moved in on them, sensing the growing hostility.
“Where’s the sustenance replicator now?” Sofita demanded.
“I don’t know,” Velto said through her teeth.
“Wram,” Sofita’s bark prompted Fuzo to step closer. “You’re a representative of Ramaxia. You should’ve forced the issue and demanded access.”
“Without backup?” Velto waved her arms as she spoke. “The OHA dropped us here alone.”
The hizak shook her head. “Your kerma would’ve had them on their knees by now, with the parts in their hands.”
“Is that right?” Velto nodded, enraged. “Well, your sib would’ve rendered the need for my kerma, obsolete by now.”
Sofita’s face twisted into the same painful mask worn the day Velto proclaimed them no longer friends.
Snatched up by her collar, Velto kicked at the muscular hizak’s shins when her feet left the floor. The young Donmat grabbed both Sofita’s arms and pulled her back, and as Velto fell from her grasp, Ilo caught her before she hit the floor.
“She’s been looking for it, but they’ve hidden it,” she held Velto like a donat on her hip and braced her forearm against Sofita. “When you quit acting like Fusa, we can talk!”
Sofita snarled. “Fuck you, Ilocux!”
“Go cool off, ‘Foos,” Ilo shouted.
The hizak stared at her in horror before storming from the room.
“How long has she been acting like a bruiser?” Ilo asked Fuzo.
The marix shrugged. “All her life, I think.”
The spherical beast revealed nothing of its rumored bio-organics. It sat stationary with its glass face aimed at the sky, seamless metallic wings wrapped around its globular fuselage in a self-embrace.
“My name is Yuri, and I’m told you understand when someone speaks to you.” His feigned civility humored his four comrades. “I’m asking you to open up and let me in.”
He passed the wand again over its hardened gray plates and, getting no reading, shook the handheld portion of the scanner in frustration. “This pre-impact garbage is useless!”
“It’s designed to map a whale’s insides,” said Boland. “Don’t waste your time, Duke Kotko. It doesn’t speak our language.”
“Why make a thing that flies human skies,” Yuri lamented, “but does not understand human words?”
“Maybe you don’t know the magic word,” the deep voice of the Commander-farc caught them by surprise.
Kul’s uniform bragged of being a soldier, but her hair and huge muscular ass said otherwise. Boland moved closer to Yuri as she approached, his gun pointed at the ground and his hand over the trigger loop. Two of his men set their pistols down. Another slung his rifle behind his back.
“Ornith,” Kul spoke Ramaxi. “Board mode.”
The silver sphere hummed to life, its round front window dropping to face them as its paneled wings unfurled. When the clicking stopped, its plates turned leathery and flapped, kicking up a gust before punching its pointed tips into the concrete.
When the hatch door’s faint outline appeared at the rear, the farc-commander appeared beside Boland. A foot taller than his tallest man, her gray and ivory hide bore a resemblance to the great whites they fished for sport.
“Why are you scanning my Ornith?” she spoke perfect Sladdish.
“It landed here from an elevation we’re trying to study,” Yuri explained. “You wouldn’t happen to have air quality readings inside, would you?”
Indifferent to his tale, the farc crossed her arms over her bulbous chest. Yuri glanced at Boland, and that’s when the farc snatched the scanner from his grasp. All five men were startled, but none raised a weapon.
“It’s an Ottawa model,” her deep voice diagnosed. “Twenty-first-century ultrasound device.”
“We have so few scientific things,” Yuri said with a smile. “Someone acquired this a long time ago.”
“Don’t you read English?” she leveled a squared fingernail under some small type on the scanner’s outer casing. “It turns on with a touch.”
Yuri tilted his head. “What’s this, English?”
“It’s a language spoken by those living in North America,” the farc-commander put her thumb on the screen and held it there until the screen flashed green. “It’s also spoken on the Northern Island of the African Trisect, and in Aotearoa.”
Holding the device, she murmured something in her language that made the flier’s hatch door pulse with light. As it slid open, she asked, “You want to come in, Kotko?”
Yuri stepped forward, but she raised a hand when Boland made to follow.
“Just you, Kotko,” she said. “Boychick stays outside.”
“Boland,” Yuri touched the sheathed dagger on his belt. “I’ll be fine.”
“He’ll be fine, Boland,” she assured. “I won’t eat him.”
The guard’s blue eyes blanched; the farc knew nothing, but Yuri’s heart quickened as she studied the men’s reaction.
“He’s to protect me at all times,” he raised an arm, and wisely, the man backed off and joined the other three on the wall. “If anything happened to the little brother of Duke Boris Kotko, his head would be on a plate.”
“After you,” said the farc.
Yuri entered, but as the hatch closed, something struck the back of his head. His skull throbbing, he confronted the farc’s fist when it came for his nose.
Pain flooded his eyes, and when he opened his mouth to scream, the scanning wand invaded. He clamped down upon it, halting its advance with his pointed teeth as the farcs large hand gripped his neck and drove his body down.
Kul’s palm pressed to his bald head, jamming his cheek against the floor. “You piece of helovx shit.” She planted her knee into his back and tore free his trousers with one tug at the waistband.
Twisting around brought a storm of fists that blunted the tether between his brain and his body. Forced again onto his stomach with his arms trapped beneath him, he felt the farc move over him like a weighted blanket.
“Lowly ape!” Her knees forced his legs apart. “I’ll show you an internal scan.”
Panic seized him when thick fingers prodded between his buttocks. Flailing like a fish in a net, he couldn’t stop the wand’s round-end from taking him. Its brutal invasion brought pain and vomit-soaked cries, a moment’s reprieve coming when she yanked it out.
Kul cleared her throat and spat.
Something cold oozed down his perineum before the wand entered again, this time agonizingly deep. Yuri sobbed like an infant, but undefeated, he freed an arm and struggled to grasp the invading stick.
The violation ended after many agonizing moments. Kul withdrew and shouted something in her language that opened the hatch door. Yuri felt her grasp on his wrist and ankle, and then the room swirled as she tossed him out like trash.
He tumbled over the concrete half-naked, with his ass torn and bleeding. More pain came when Kul’s boot punched into his stomach. Then, the farc dodged a bullet.
Boland fired again as Kul came down and landed a fist to each of his shoulders. His unconscious body became a shield as his men exhausted their ammo. First, she shoved poor Boland at Oleg, but when he moved to avoid his dead comrade, the heel of her palm caught the underside of his jaw, sending his head back with a snap.
Anton and Mikal continued to fire their pistols, but nothing pierced her farc skin. She slipped into Anton’s space, evading the butt of his gun, and delivering a chop to the nape of his neck. A crack broke out before he folded to the ground, his terrified eyes set upon Yuri.
Crawling toward the wall-walk, Yuri heard Mikal baying like an angry dog. The hotheaded man tossed his spent pistol aside and, bearing his sharpened teeth, charged the farc with his head down like a battering ram.
Kul trapped his neck in the crook of her arm, grabbed hold of his waistband, and hoisted him from the ground. Falling back, she landed upon the concrete, crushing Mikal’s skull.
Anton, numbed by his broken spine, sobbed as the farc returned to where he lay. She knelt, pinched his nose shut with bloodied fingers, and then covered his mouth with her palm.
Yuri stumbled down the wall walk, the grainy stone nipping at his bare legs. Barreling through abandoned streets, he reached the palace before the setting sun brought witnesses to his humiliation. Through the servant’s quarters, he limped up the stairs and found the kind fates had left no watch-guard outside his apartment.
Safely inside, he locked the door behind him and tumbled over the furniture. He dragged himself along faded chintz wallpaper that depicted red vertical ribbons twisting through the horns of stag heads. From his gilt-bronze bed as a boy, he’d given every deer in the trellis pattern a name.
Yuri yanked at the black steel knobs above the clawfoot tub in the bathroom before faltering to the toilet and resting upon the seat. Gas escaped his torn flesh as shame-filled tears blurred the millwork above him. Steam clouded the red plated hanging lantern, and as its wrought-iron braces began to sweat, he forced himself up and grasped the thick embroidered cord over the tub.
Slowly, he lowered his abused body into the water. Rage blunted the scalding heat as Yuri turned gingerly onto his side and then pulled apart his buttocks.
Disgrace tore through him like a bullet.
The farc had used him like a woma—
“Yuri?” Turning off the spigot revealed Kasi’s voice beyond the door. “Galina said you came in without pants.”
The door handle turned, but it wasn’t Kasimira that looked in on him through the steam; it was the stranger, with tits bound tight beneath a man’s clothes.
“What’s happened to you?” Kasi asked.
Yuri stood without answering and snatched the towel offered to him.
“Does that make you hungry?” he demanded.
“That’s a wretched thing to say, Yuri,”
Out of the tub, he shoved Kasi aside. Skin itchy from the heat, he raked the towel over his legs and backside. “We’re all horrible, aren’t we, Kasimira,”
“I told you not to call me by that name,” Kasi yelled.
“You were born, Kasimira,” Yuri followed when Kasi fled the bathroom. “Do I not speak the truth?”
“I thought you liked me this way?” he growled, invading Kasi’s space.
“I decide when it’s enough,” he yelled, yanking Kasi back from the door.
“No,” cried Kasi. “Stop this right now.”
Yuri hauled his flailing lover to the bed.
“Stop what?” he raged, forcing Kasi’s arms down. “Stop being who I am? Like you?”
“I have always been who I am!” Kasi glared defiantly. “You will never change, Yuri. You’ll always be the monster my father made you.”
“We’re all monsters,” he seethed.
Kasi stared at him, distraught. “I love you, Yuri.”
Flashes of his violation returned.
“Why can’t you be the woman I want you to be?”
Yuri’s hands found Kasi’s neck. Tendons hardened, and delicate muscles trembled. Pleading eyes begged for mercy before wine-scented retching followed battering fists. Kasi’s body bucked beneath him, legs kicking as a knee tried striking the one place capable of stopping any man.
Blows became enfeebled slaps.
The whites of Kasi’s eyes turned red after Yuri lessened his grasp. He kissed his dead lover’s enflamed lips before dragging the corpse from the bed and into the bathroom. He locked the door behind them when the familiar tapping of his brother’s boots echoed on the other side.
“Yuri!” Boris had entered his bedroom.
Kasi’s lifeless body splashed as it hit the tub.
“You have no time to bathe, Yuri,” Boris scolded through the door.
Yuri called out, “The farcs are leaving,”
“Go collect the wife of Wram the Younger,” Boris accentuated his order with a kick to the door before exiting.
Yuri collected himself before staring at the body floating face down in his tub. “You will accompany me, my Emperor,” he whispered. “My men and I will find the farc commander that drowned you in the pool...”