Aridul Tower - Antarctica City
9 Bamx 2228 - 0100 Hours
Moments before departing the mainland, the broadband-orb given to her by Bam Yuxi came alive with a myriad of frantic messages: intense light witnessed between the poles; deep tremors felt throughout key base points; Uralskey Island destroyed, Sky Sister responsible; Primary in route from Utama.
Koba monitored communications on her rush back to Antarctica City. Waiting for her at the studio was a small crew of loyalists who’d listened as she detailed everything she’d learned about the incident.
Acting ambassador Velto Wram had annihilated the Slavic Empire. The younger staff members had demanded to know why, while Koba and her fellow Tenth were more concerned with how. If Wram had commandeered an orbital cannon using her credentials as the Tenth Gen’s incoming Third Office, how did she do it without the help of a recognized Primary in Waiting?
When the orb in her pocket started vibrating, Koba had brought it out so everyone could hear the message: TCS Orcinus notified Orta Harbor Patrol that a shuttle carrying Velto Wram was currently inbound.
Koba had quickly ordered Fer to the Prime Connection Terminal in Orta, and now, two hours later, she was on her fifth bottle of honey tea.
“Remote crew is on the scene,” said Ribx, a Tenth Gen engineer.
“Finally,” Koba stood. “Bring her up,”
On the many screens floating above them was Fer, out of breath with her voluminous black hair disheveled, dabbing concealer on the pink spots in her azure hide. The lovely view came courtesy of Pax Gib, one of Koba’s best Digicast Operators, whose viewpoint swung right when raised voices caught her attention.
“They’re shutting everything down,” Fer whispered as the walls of the marine terminal lowered in the distance. “What do we do?”
“Those sharks want a media lock-out.” Koba adjusted the communications link around her ear. “Get in there before it closes!”
The playback jarred violently as operator Pax took off, pulling Fer by the hand. The bizak slid under the sinking wall, turning her head to film Fer, whose podgy figure rolled beneath it with seconds to spare.
A young Fleeter ran at them.
“You’re not authorized to be in here!”
Fer and Pax ignored her and sprinted toward the central shuttle pool, where a crowd of uniforms huddled tight.
“Do your open right here,” Koba said over the communicator.
Fer stood before the gathered, tidied up her subati, and faced the digicaster. “Hey Ramaxia, it’s me, Fer Holix, coming to you live from Orta’s Prime Central Terminal. Hours ago, the Steller Kryonic Yaw System, known to us as Sky-Sister, let loose a destructive blast upon Uralskey Island, home of the Slavic Empire.”
“Fer, you’re too on script,” Koba warned, then touched the screen after spotting two Cloister guards. “Pan right, Pax.”
Committee Member Lekada Wram made her way toward the pool, flanked by two uniformed Axyrn.
“She’ll have to pass us, Koba,” Fer whispered, touching her ear device.
“Get her to confirm Velto Wram did this,” Koba ordered.
Pax trailed after Fer as the zaxir butted into the hizak’s path.
“CM2 Wram,” Fer said, keeping her distance. “I’m Fer Holix of Channel Ramx.”
“I’m aware,” Lekada’s eyes roamed Fer’s hefty figure. “This area is restricted to the likes of you.”
“Is it true that Ambassador Velto Wram—”
“-Citizen Wram will answer for her reckless actions,” Lekada said, scowling at Pax’s screen while her Axyrn pushed Fer aside.
The young zaxir moved around them and again put herself in front of the elder hizak. “If there’s punishment in order,” she smiled sweetly, “then it’s true that Ambassador Wram activated Sky-Sister.”
“Remove yourself from my path,” Lekada said.
“One more question,” Fer said as her smile faded. “If Velto Wram exercises such power, does this mean she and the Komad who aided her are genetic inheritors?”
Koba couldn’t believe her ears; no one had mentioned a Komad.
After a lengthy pause, the hizak leveled her gaze.
“Koba Julo must enjoy you,” she mused; the older bruisers flanking her then pushed young Fer aside before guiding their charge toward the shuttle pool.
The mixed crowd of bizak and hizak parted when Fer forced her way through, with Pax at her back filming the pool as a shuttle began rising from its waters. Chatter gave way to astonished whispers when the docking clamps extended and locked onto the wet porch.
“Take us live,” said Koba.
The seated engineers stared at her in shock.
“I want Wram’s arrival on the interHive, now,” she barked. “Replay Fer’s intro over the live coverage in the corner screen.”
Koba pulled out her Filmark to ensure anyone with a handheld could see Orta Prime Terminal. Fer’s narrative about Sky-Syster and the Slavs played over the live feed until a personal message alert bubble popped up in the corner screen.
Out of habit, she tapped it. “I’m busy right now.”
“Are you insane?” asked Gila Bodz, her former manager at Pikalit Showcast. The live coverage continued with the moonpool’s walking extension attaching itself to the shuttle door. “You can’t broadcast out of Orta. The Fourth Office forbids it!”
“Fourth Office,” Koba huffed a laugh. “You mean that hizzah shark that eats Program Directors like you for lunch?”
“Don’t do this,” Gila pleaded. “Her authority here supersedes—”
“-Tee Banto’s not my CM Four.” Koba shoved her handheld back in her jumper pocket and focused on the broadcast. Tapping the communicator in her ear, she said, “Get into a better position, Pax. We need to see Velto Wram when she comes out.”
“Are we sure she’s still coming?” Fer asked on the screen. “Why come back if there’s punishment awaiting?”
“Velto Wram’s never backed down from anything in her life.” Koba’s observation brought smiles to her bizaki engineers. “Make this good, Fer. You’re running live.”
Fer collected herself and adjusted her tone.
“Hello again, Ramaxia, Fer Holix here reporting from Orta’s Prime Central Terminal. We’re waiting for the emergence of Ambassador Velto Wram, destroyer of the Slavic Empire,”
“Don’t lead with that!” Koba grumbled. “It makes Velto sound like a villain.”
Fer rolled her eyes. “Isn’t she, though?”
Before the zaxir could say another word, she saw something at the pool that made her cry out. The scene swung to the shuttle, where Velto Wram emerged, her face smeared with dried blue.
In the bizak’s arms was the rotund corpse of Ilo Cux, her eyes rolled over white. The dead zaxir’s blue hide was webbed by darkened veins, and her thick blood-stained arm bounced as Velto stepped onto the extension.
“What the fuck?” gasped one of the engineers.
“Fer,” Koba said, but the reporter was too shaken to respond. “Pax, keep the focus on Velto,”
The bizak walked to Lekada, her dead bond in her arms like an offering.
“CM Wram,” Velto’s voice remained steady. “I hope CM Uym’s experiment with the Slavs was worth it.”
Lekada Wram kept her eyes focused only on her donation.
“The cost of it was quite high,” Velto added through her teeth.
“Fer,” Koba whispered forcefully.
A Tenth Gen marix standing nearby whispered to Velto, “Citizen, I’m so sorry for your loss.” This admission set off similar sentiments that echoed throughout the terminal, forcing old Lekada into retreating with her guards.
“Fer, get it together!” When the zaxir snapped to and faced the digicaster, Koba said, “I want you to repeat after me, say every word you hear. You got it?”
Still shaken, Fer nodded.
“Ramaxia, it’s me, Fer Holix,” she sniffed before speaking Koba’s dictated words. “We’re going to end our broadcast out of respect for Velto Wram.”
Fer hardened and wiped her nose.
“A preeminent bizak of the Tenth Ramaxian Gen,” she repeated Koba’s words as if they were her own. “Velto Wram reacted in the face of helovx barbarity and chose a course of action that will haunt her for the rest of her days.”
Agitated, the zaxir wiped a tear from her eye.
“My thoughts on this?” she said as a crew of Pure Gen bruisers crowded behind her. “Mak-Mak Ilo is dead, and the helovx that killed her got what was coming to them.”
The young marixi surrounding her grunted in agreement.
Ilo Cux had been the face many Eleventh-Gen watched on educational programs as donats. But, when old enough, they’d discovered there was more to Mak-Mak Ilo than a comforting voice and smile.
Fer remained on-script but grew angrier by the minute.
“Unlike our Primary’s choice to destroy Australia, future Committee Member Velto Wram’s decision to annihilate the Slavic Empire is fully justified!”
Two of the bruisers hoisted Fer up while the rest chanted Wram’s name; anger was a braver release of grief than tears.
Koba felt pleased with herself until Channel Ramx’s studio supervisor burst into the room. She’d hired the arrogant Ninth Gen hizzah to meet the requirement for broadcasting on the interHive, another example of how hizaki crafted laws to remain relevant.
“You’ve destroyed this channel and her career,” she railed.
“I’ll make sure Fer comes out unscathed,” Koba assured.
The hizak shook her head. “The seeds of discontent you’ve sewn with this broadcast will be your undoing,”
“What you call discontent,” Koba said, shoving her hands into her pockets, “I call hope.”
The hizak pressed her thick lips together tight. “Neither Velto Wram nor that bone of yours, Rasa Jyr, can save you this time.”
After a beat, they were interrupted by Koba’s telecast clerk.
“The Fourth Office just blocked our interHive band.”
“Fer needs me,” Koba said, pulling on her jacket. “I suggest we all go home and prepare for coverage of Ilo’s recycle.”
The hizak huffed. “You think you’ll still be around for that?”
“We’re not a BEB affiliated network, remember?” Koba said. “We’ll be back up within the hour when Intragux removes the block.”
Inside the high-rise lobby, Eppis rushed past the patterned chairs and tranquil fountains and stepped into the vertical. Turbaned for the night, she’d been reviewing payroll requests in the back of her transport.
Channel Ramx had been supplying the night’s ignorable background noise until the volume increased twofold with a live report from Orta.
“Warixo,” she’d whispered. “Drop me at the Towers.”
Warixo Atiba had blanched in the rearview.
“I need to head home after dropping you off, CR Banto,” she’d said.
Dazed, Eppis had nodded. “Of course,”
Reaching her floor, she emerged from the vertical to find Ozbi at her front door. Clad in a tight-fitting medical uniform like those she wore before their bonding, the subak trotted over to Eppis with a smile on her face.
“Where did you find these, in my size?” she asked, spinning around. “I didn’t think they made these uniforms anymore.” She brought her hands up, apologetic. “Now, I’m a little bigger than I was when I was twenty,”
“-I didn’t know you knew. I was going to tell you, one of these days,” Ozbi’s high-pitched voice soothed the soul. “I appreciate you supporting my going back to Administrative Nursing.”
“You should go back,” Eppis murmured. “Life is short,”
Ozbi grinned. “How much did this set of uniforms cost you?”
Eppis had no idea; she hadn’t bought them.
“Forget it. It’s the thought that counts.” Ozbi slipped into her space and smelled of intoxicating subglacial tulips. “Thanks for the anniversary cake too. I didn’t save you any.”
Her soft lips tasted of berries, but when her hands found Eppis’s turban, she stepped back with her glassy eyes averted.
“Acari’s been a real pain about my decision, Ibur too.” She forced a smile, eager to ignore signs that Eppis might’ve just left a citbluz. “They don’t think I should go back to work.”
All Eppis could see was Ilo Cux’s dead body in Velto’s arms. She pulled Ozbi close, her hands savoring every inch of solid flesh she could touch. Suddenly, her handheld vibrated.
Eppis whispered, “I must take this.”
Ozbi folded her arms.
“Cloister Business, this time of night?” she asked, and when Eppis nodded, the subak rolled her eyes. “Is she a Pure Gen?”
“Come again?” Eppis demanded. “I’d never engage a Pure Gen,”
“Oh, she’s our age?” Ozbi nodded, angry. “That makes it better.”
Eppis stared at her. “Are your hormone levels off?”
Glaring, the subak marched toward the verticals.
“Ozbi,” Eppis called out. “Ilo Cux is dead.”
Fury gave way to despair. “That’s not possible. I just saw Ilo on the BEB,”
“-It appears that the Slavs—”
“-Is Velto all right?” she asked.
Presented with her first opportunity, Eppis seized it.
“I tell you Ilo is dead, and your concern lies with Velto?”
Ozbi’s voice rose. “They’re always together,”
“Velto’s fine,” Eppis turned from her and walked toward her door. “She’ll be ripe for the picking once free to carouse.”
“You did not just say that to me,” Ozbi yelled. “Don’t you dare deflect your riding around tonight on my concern for Velto,”
“Pause,” Eppis raised a hand. “Your feelings for her remain?”
“Did you just whip a pause out on me?” the subak’s eyes burned with fury. “I’m not one of your underlings, you gurxhole.”
“Yes,” Eppis countered. “I suppose I am a gurxhole for bonding to a subak still in love with the first bizzy to burn her.”
Ozbi closed her mouth and marched to the vertical. Once inside, she turned with tears lining her cheeks. “Send my thanks to the belly with the best mask on tonight!”
Eppis resisted the urge to toss her buzzing handheld across the hall and run to Ozbi before the vertical door closed. Instead, she remained in place, watching what remained of her bond slowly fade away behind a sliding panel. Tapping her handheld’s surface, she listened as her young aid, Fibo Endiz, informed her that Velto Wram had used Sky Sister to destroy Uralskey Island.
“Toligon?” Fear coursed through Eppis. “Who’s the Incoming Primary of the Tenth Ramaxian Generation?”
“The Genetic Inheritor for the Retention of Primaryship as it relates to the current Primary of the Ninth Ramaxian Generation is, Sofitakul.”