Ninety-East Ridge – Raxito`acarol
9 Bamx 2228 – 0430 Hours
Sofita’s pheromone-induced violence on Uralskey had resulted in Dox being under the knife; she’d not only failed as a Komad, but she’d fallen short as a parent. Memories of Fusada’s words then haunted her: hizaki are incapable of guilt.
Footsteps revealed Bo Kilvx, a broad-shouldered marix with muscular legs thicker than Sofita’s backside.
“Connie missed her sync with Orta.” The Promad looked everyone in the eye when speaking to them; everyone except Sofita.
“Promad Kilvx,” she asked. “Is there a problem?”
The marix kept her attention on Uym through the glass. “You brought an ambassador on board my ship with a dead bond partner—”
“-The Ambassador was here less than thirty minutes—”
“-The same Ambassador who ordered Sky-Sister to roast the Slavic Empire to a crisp.” Kilvx continued without looking at her. “Helovx are on edge enough around us. Now their governments are shitting themselves.”
“Promad, you’re genetically engineered for confrontation,” Sofita moved her fist behind her back. “Organized groups of helovx making trouble shouldn’t be a cause for concern.”
Kilvx did an about-face and moved toward the exit.
“Thanks for the reminder, Marixi Administration.”
“I earned this uniform,” Sofita said after her.
“No, Kul,” the Promad said on her way out. “You killed for it.”
Enraged, she followed Kilvx into the corridor.
“You and Ambassador Wram didn’t just attack the Slavs,” Kilvx stepped to her and whispered. “You two rang the dinner bell for the Committee five years shy of our ascension.”
Sofita masked her surprise. “We remained cognizant that our actions might intimidate the current Ruling Gen,”
“Might intimidate?” Kilvx eyed the area to ensure their privacy. “Taking over Sky-Sister forces Femtrux to—”
“-Invalidate Fusada?” Sofita asked.
Kilvx furrowed her brow.
“Fusada’s validity died with her, so don’t make this about me resenting you. I don’t know you well enough to give two shits about your life, Kul, but I believed in what Fusada fought for, and now that you do too, you need to act like it.”
Sofita followed close behind the marix. Life inside a Toxis Class was a tight fit; one walked with her back straight under the high ceilings, but the narrow passageways allowed for only single-file movement.
“You remain adept at avoiding my face,” said Sofita.
“I knew Fusada had a twin,” Kilvx spoke over her shoulder. “I thought you’d be—”
“Every helovx twin I’ve ever seen is identical,”
“Foos’ had the Primary’s face,”
Kilvx huffed. “She’d kick your gurz for saying that.”
Outside the bridge, Sofita hesitated.
“I didn’t thank you for taking us aboard, Promad.”
Without warning, Kilvx shoved her against the wall.
Sofita reeled with a fist ready but then saw the small drive-plug tucked between the fingers of the Promad’s raised hand.
Topside, ocean sprays saturated the air.
Calm waters flanked Connie’s long hide-deck, where dozens of blue whales competed for the massive lifeform’s attention. Alone on the sea deck, Kilvx extended her hand, and when Sofita shook it, she retrieved the drive-plug.
“Before Fusada died,” said the marix, eyes on the sea. “Yuxi backed up all of her private journals.”
Sofita said, “When soldiers die, Pentox purges—”
“-Yuxi’s bond, Ukel. She knew this paxum assigned to Ortosk Azi,” said Kilvx. “She got that hizak to delete every entry Fusada ever made.”
“To what end?”
“Yuxi wanted insurance,”
“Insurance for what?”
“In case that experiment with you during hibernation failed.”
Anger welled up within Sofita. “Experiment?”
“Fusada never gave me the details, but Yuxi suggested she remove everything related to her life in case things went wrong.” Kilvx stared at her. “Why are you acting like this is all new to you?”
“I wasn’t in on any plan,”
“No,” Kilvx shook her head. “Fusada wouldn’t—”
“Risk my life without telling me?”
“She wouldn’t do that to you,” said Kilvx.
“Somewhere along the line,” said Sofita. “I became expendable.”
Sofita knew that precise moment.
She’d been mentoring with Ryo Uym, and one week before she and Fusada’s usual hibernation, old Ryo had treated her at one of the finer Utama establishments.
Ryo had ogled the wispy bizak waitress and caught Sofita’s gaze lingering on her as well. She’d asked Sofita if she admired the bizaki form, to wit Sofita replied that she admired its possibilities.
The older hizak then admitted to a partiality for bizak, praising the delights of sexual violence. When Sofita volunteered nothing of her interests, Ryo had reminded her that conversation was a two-way enterprise. Sofita had admitted to enjoying penetration, and penetrating others.
Ryo leered in that elegant way she’d mastered and said: ‘You would’ve enjoyed the bluzsh of my day. So many males to partake, little need for a bizak to strap on a clasper. ‘
The conversation had shifted to the unwillingness of bizaki to accommodate the vilest of perversions. Grooming bizaki for a life of ownership was a delicious enterprise, Ryo had said, before casually admitting her abuse of Orestes and Fyla.
Sofita had made the mistake of relaying the exchange to Fusada in their shared paxicol.
“She said she rode Fyla?” Fusada stopped undressing. “You’re okay with knowing that?”
“I’m not comfortable with abuse of any sort,”
Fusada grimaced. “You didn’t call her out on it?”
“What purpose would that serve?”
Fusada flung her discarded OA’s across the room. “Are hizaki capable of shame?”
“We feel shame,” said Sofita.
“There’s a difference between embarrassment and shame,” Fusada said, shaking her bald head. “What you feel when you look stupid or wrong? That’s not shame. Shame requires guilt.”
“I assure you,” Sofita stared at her. “I do feel guilt.”
Fusada paced the length of their narrow paxicol. “I’ve never met an hizak willing to own it when they’ve hurt someone,”
“Every punch Fusa delivered onto you pains me,”
Fusada bent over and put her face in Sofita’s. “I took plenty of beatings for you, ‘Fita, that was my choice.”
“I instigated, you intervened, I ran away,” Sofita reminded. “Every scar you have haunts me.”
“Yeah,” Fusada’s eyes shone with amusement. “But you never felt guilty afterward. That’s why it kept happening.”
Kilvx’s voice pulled Sofita back to the present.
“That drives got every journal she ever made, and Term Sabo’s still looking for it. Every couple of months, me, Polvix, Tis, the Julo’s, Gwo, and even Yuxi, our stalls get tossed.”
Sofita held the drive tight.
“You kept this on your body all these years?”
“Only place safe from a surprise inspection,” she said with a shrug.
Impressed, Sofita moved closer. “Is Orcinus monitored?”
“They got portions of her tapped,” said the marix. “Connie told me the SOD planted trackers last year during her annual inspection.”
“Connie admires you.”
“I suppose she does.” Kilvx smiled. “She streams prerecorded feeds in the place of things we don’t want Orta to know about.”
“My Ornith employs a similar loyalty,”
“They started monitoring me last year,” the marix became pensive. “Yuxi thinks it has something to do with Doctor Uym using the Orcinus for her dives.”
“Yuxi’s correct,” said Sofita. “They’re not taping Connie to find these journals. It’s Ryo Uym keeping tabs on her bizakidoe.”
The Promad closed her eyes. “So, what Fusada told me about Uym and her kerma? That shit is true?”
“Fyla is Ryo’s victim, not her lover.”
“None of my business, I guess,” Kilvx then seemed to struggle. “Kul, about Zixas Wram—”
“-Zix was my ally in Orta.”
Kilvx nodded. “I saw the footage.”
“She wasn’t in control on the fighting ice that day.”
After huffing another sigh, the marix changed the subject.
“After Fusada died, Yuxi told me where to get the drive.”
While the marix explained, it dawned on Sofita that she’d been referring to Fusada by her given name. Yuxi had burdened the reserved Kilvx with keeping Fusada’s journals because she knew they’d been lovers.
Kilvx eyed Sofita’s hand. “There are private things on there,”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Promad,” she put a hand on Kilvx’s shoulder, careful to keep her at arm’s length. Like zaxiri, the warrior caste interpreted physical contact differently than most citizens; non-combative contact with more than one hand was a sexual invitation.
Kilvx tensed her jaw. “I guess he told you about me, right?”
“He?” Sofita asked.
Kilvx stared at her, eyes hardened.
“I didn’t kill Jal Bos,” Sofita declared. “Can you tell me about him?”
Kilvx stared out at the ocean.
“When Fusada didn’t come back, it crippled him.”
“I understood Jal to be damaged before meeting—”
“-You of all citizens know that males weren’t damaged until we made them that way,” said Kilvx. “When she saved him from being raped that first time, he ran away. Fusada said, ‘My sib says male victims of violence remain in a combative state after altercations. He’ll come back when he feels safe enough to relax.’”
Kilvx did a decent parody of Fusada’s voice.
“I never knew about ‘Foos and Jal,” Sofita divulged. “I agree with your sentiment, Promad, but I’m getting to know you and must remain guarded.”
“When we heard about Jal’s termination,” said Kilvx. “Yuxi saw your name on the file and said you couldn’t have done it. She said you were never a Dokomad.”
“This Yuxi is rather privy to my life.”
“Yuxi knows everything about everybody,” Kilvx ran her hand over her scalp. “If you didn’t take Jal to the Cavern of Death, then who did?”
“I’ll ask him next time we meet.”
Kilvx looked struck. “He’s alive?”
“Your all-knowing Yuxi didn’t tell you?” Sofita regretted her tribal shift, but she felt threatened and couldn’t suppress it. “Bos has been in Vosk ISO for years.”
Sofita sat alone in the Ornith gazing at the file stick in her hand. Behind her eyelids, she conjured the wind-beaten remains of Vostok Base. Abandoned centuries ago, one room had kept its walls, protecting a wooden table, petrified by the deep cold.
Tundra winds beat against the structure, bringing a chorus of labored creaks and short whistles. Then, the blinding gusts then faded with nearby knocking.
“Who is it, Orny?”
“It is Doctor Fyla Uym.”
Sofita began to undress. “Let her in, Orny.”
The hatch opened to the lanky bizak, fashionably dressed as always. Uym’s kerma had insisted on dressing her bizakidoe, ensuring Uym’s bizhiz status before she’d entered the Bizaki Citizenry Academy.
Uym stood beside the closing hatch, hands in the pockets of her medical jacket. “Were you internally visualizing?”
“Not today,” said Sofita.
“Since there are no more free births,” Uym said. “You might be the last hizak capable of internal vision,”
“How’s my Donmat?”
“I removed the bullet fragments,” Uym went to sit on the rear bench, her eyes studying the space around it.
“Connie’s sanitation team cleaned up, Fyla.”
“When the swelling goes down,” she said, still cautious, “Connie can repair the brain tissue.”
Sofita grabbed a fresh uniform from one of the floor lockers.
“You look strange with muscles,” said Uym.
Sofita pulled on her pants. “Connie replaced footage of you treating Dox with something prerecorded,”
“Orta’s watching Kilvx?” asked Uym.
“Term Sabo’s watching you.”
Uym breathed an exhausted sigh.
“I’m used to Ryo spying on me.”
“Kilvx isn’t used to it,” said Sofita. “It’s freaking her out.”
Uym’s voice gained an edge.
“When did you talk to the Promad?”
“When we went topside.” Sofita pulled on an undershirt, caught in the bizak’s suspicious gaze. “I didn’t ride her while you were saving Dox’s life.”
“None my business if you did,” she said quickly.
Sofita stared. “Sounds like you want it to be.”
“Dox will have a permanent scar on her forehead, stopping at the nose bridge,” Uym then spoke with clinical detachment. “Connie will repair any brain damage with her own biomaterial.”
“Thank you,” said Sofita. “I mean it, Fyla.”
“I didn’t check Dox’s information in the Cit-Cat.” Uym rose and moved to the cabin door. “If I had, I imagine it lists her birther and no one else.”
Sofita pinched the bridge of her nose.
“When she gets back home and decides to go in for a skin patch,” Uym warned. “Oligax will run a search for her maker information.”
“I’m certain she’ll keep the scar.”
The bizak concurred, spreading her thick lips in a smile. “Bruisers think scars make them look icy,” then that smile faded. “If you kept Dox from me for this long, you must have a plan to keep her from the Cit-Cat.”
“Passive-aggressive as always, Fyla,”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I kept you in the dark because I don’t trust you.”
Pain flashed in Uym’s slim eyes.
“I showed at your tribunal,” she said. “I saved your life, after everything that you did with Orestes, and you, don’t trust me,”
“You told Ryo where to locate us that day!”
Shock masked Uym’s face. “Ryo was looking for Nephis—”
“-Don’t say that name to me!”
Nephis Uym had been a free birth born of Orestes, and whatever zaxir Ryo talked into engaging him. Hidden from the world, the male subak possessed his kerma’s eyes and nose; perhaps that’s why Sofita had given him too much latitude.
“Look at me,” Uym gave her a moment. “I had no idea Orestes was with you when Neph—he called me,”
“The past is gone,” she whispered. “Talk about something else,”
“Let’s talk shop,” said Uym. “This testing you ordered at Holistics—”
“-The Shell speaks to me.”
Uym thrust her hands into her pockets.
“The Shell has always done that—”
“-Without being prompted,” Sofita interjected. “You neglected to tell me that the Shell undergoes determinative evolution. Why wouldn’t you tell me about that?”
“The Shell is a new construct,” she defended herself. “I’m as in the dark as you when it comes to any newly exhibited behaviors.”
Sofita took a breath.
“What happened the day Fusada ignited it?”
“She went out on the ice, as you did, and—”
“-Her method differed from mine—”
“-Stop!” Uym snapped, and then calmed. “Stop interrupting me, please.”
Sofita folded her arms and listened.
“There was no outpouring of anger,” the bizak’s eyes shifted in memory. “The emotional response was just as strong, though.”
“You witnessed it, up close?”
“I left the control room when ignition began,” she affirmed with a nod. “I was beyond thrilled. I ran out there to hug her,”
“How did she do it?”
Uym hesitated. “I think she burned.”
“Explain that, please?”
“Internal vision,” she declared, arms out. “Fusada said you showed her how.”
Sofita returned to her day in the birthing room.
Fusada watching her visualize through that difficult labor wouldn’t have been enough to master it, much less employ it. Physical and genetic factors came into play, yet somehow, her marix twin had managed something similar.
“Whatever her methods,” Sofita said. “Fusada’s mind imprinted on the Shell’s consciousness.”
“You keep saying that, but—”
“-The Shell thinks it’s Fusada!”
“Have you spoken to it?”
Uym pouted. “You know I can’t, ‘Fita.”
“Take these spheres out of me,” she goaded. “Put one inside of you.”
“I can’t do that.” The bizak stood.
“You won’t do that,” she charged. “Because if you did, you’d have to hear it ask you, in Fusada’s voice, why you didn’t tell her about the konkilitux.”
Uym’s mouth opened.
“Her journal notes,” Sofita held up the drive-plug given to her by Kilvx. “She asked you if her konkilitux blocked the Shell from entering her brain in the injector cloud.”
Uym turned eerily calm.
“The Shell refers to itself as Fusada?”
“In conversations, yes,”
“That’s not an operative-energy mimic.” Uym cleared her throat. “We’ll run a diagnostic on its matrix.”
“What does that entail?”
Uym bit down on her thumb. “We pull the energy from the spheres and rejoin it to the prime-sphere in Holistics.” Then, after a moment of silence, she hugged herself. “How did you get Crixal to tell you where Dox was?”
Sofita tried to relax.
“Crixal still believes Lekada killed her marixidoe.”
“How’d you find her?” Uym swallowed hard when Sofita glared at her. “Considering her kerma is Orestes, I deserve to know.”
“Like I deserved to know about Jal Bos?”
Uym averted her gaze.
“That’s right, Fyla, say nothing like always.”
The bizak pointed a finger.
“I don’t deserve this shit from you!”
After a beat, Sofita gave Uym her answer.
“I became part of the College.”
Uym fell into Sofita’s chair, her eyes twinkling like a donat listening to a hibernation story. “You can’t get into the College without a birther code. Tell me Ilo didn’t give you hers?”
“I found Dox after acquiring access to the Donational Placement Database,” Sofita ground out. “After her Final Trial, I made sure Orta assigned her to me.”
Uym shook her head. “You planned to ascend all along.”
“That’s an untruth,” said Sofita.
Uym went on, “You made such a show of not caring.”
“It wasn’t a show,” Sofita argued.
“I believed it,” Uym exclaimed.
“I didn’t care about ascension, Fyla!”
“Then why keep Dox so close?”
“What of Fusada’s donat?”
Guilt flashed in Uym’s eyes.
“How could you partake in such a scheme?” said Sofita.
Uym glared at her without a reply.
“Did ‘Foos threaten to collect Orestes?”
“What would you have done if she had?” Uym said.
“I would’ve come to me, Fyla!”
“You?” the bizak laughed bitterly. “You couldn’t even stand up to Ryo when she took my brother away from you,”
“Orestes went willingly,” she snarled.
Uym backed up against the wall.
“Let’s end this discourse, please, Fyla.”
“Fine, we’ll return to our original discussion,” said Uym. “I have a hard time believing anyone in the College handed you a birther code.”
“I got implanted, Fyla,” Sofita said. “I gave birth.”
Uym turned away as if robbed of words.
“I stayed with a pair of lovers in Utama,” Sofita confessed, relishing in the freedom of finally telling someone; anyone. “Then I delivered in the second season.”
“Did you use the Sealer?” Uym asked.
Sofita nodded, “Most of the pregnancy.”
“The donat you delivered,” Uym pressed. “Does she belong to Orestes?”
Sofita shook her head. “He was with the Primary by then,”
“Yes, of course, I’m sorry,” Uym said. “Who’s the kerma?”
Sofita hissed in anger. “Ascension isn’t my destiny.”
“When you entered your code and gave Velto access to Sky-Syster,” Uym reminded, “you allowed Femtrux to say otherwise.”
“I owed her,” Sofita’s voice broke. “My actions against an helovx led to Ilo’s death,”
Uym took a moment to process Sofita’s admission.
“Ryo will look for our heirs now,” she said, suddenly panicked.
Sofita snatched the bizak up by her jacket collar.
“Why didn’t you tell Fusada that the shell-injection module wouldn’t implant her due to the konkilitux?”
“Because I couldn’t prove it,” the bizak cried.
“You’re a liar,” Sofita released her. “You and I both know she used a male merge stone to lure that energy inside, and once she got it there, it was useless.”
“The underdeveloped lateral nuclei blocked adhesion,” Uym stood there, her lab coat disheveled. “I never expected the Shell’s energy to bypass her brain. It was completely out of its designated scheme when it entered the spheres, instead. I needed to see what would happen.”
Sofita leveled her gaze.
“Was that before or after, she threatened Orestes?”
“Fine,” Uym hollered. “I denied her condition when she asked about it.”
Sofita sat in her chair and spoke softly. “May I ask why?”
“To punish her.” Uym shook her head and then pointed. “No, to punish you.”
Sofita crossed one leg over the other.
“I took him away from Ryo,” she said. “You’re punishing me for that?”
“You took him because you wanted him.” Uym gnashed her teeth. “It was bad enough you stepped into my place with Ryo,”
“If you wish an argument on the appropriation of makers,” Sofita countered, “I recall you designing the Shell initially for Fusa.”
“Fusa is not your kerma,” she raged. “Don’t pollute the subject,”
Sofita groaned. “What is the subject, Fyla?”
“You had no right to save Orestes,” she cried. “That was my job.”
Sexual abuse had tainted life within the House of Uym.
Raised in an estate made entirely of dirtoxian glass, privacy didn’t exist for the Uym donations. Objectification by their kerma was the norm; even the bizaki house staff worked in the nude. Somehow, Fyla had emerged from that glass cage with her free will intact. Orestes wasn’t as lucky.
“The thought of saving my brother kept me breathing every day,” she said. “When the Primary wanted her armor, I jumped at the chance. It was my only way out from under Ryo.”
“What motivated you regarding Fusada’s donation?”
Uym gaped at the sudden change of conversation.
“Fusada made me augment her patch with some unknown DNA,” she said. “I did as she asked. I always did as she asked.”
“Whose makodonic patch did you fuse it with?”
Uym steeled herself. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“I could ask Jal Bos,”
“Fusada’s pet caste-off? He’s in ISO.” Uym regarded her without emotion. “Who do you think removed his eyes?”
Sofita snatched hold of Uym’s collar and dragged her to the floor. Her fist ready to strike, she found the bizak grinning up at her.
“That’s right,” Uym goaded. “Let me have it, hizzah.”
Sofita released her and stalked to the forward array. “I wouldn’t waste such violence on you,” she mumbled. “You love it too much,”
“I allied with Fusa to keep tabs on Orestes.” Uym crawled to the hatch. “When he came into your room and told you what Ryo wanted, you should’ve said no.”
“What do you want from me, my makodux?” Sofita cried, “it’s gone.”
Uym lowered her eyes as if lost.
“My not loving Orestes,” Sofita added. “Cancels out what you did to Fusada.”
Uym’s hands formed into fists. “What I did?”
“You knew Fusada would never make the Shell work. You knew it and said nothing because she walked away from you for a caste-off male!”
“Komad,” Orny’s voice invaded. “You have a call from Orta.”
The lifeform’s interruption brought them a calm moment.
“Is this the male Ornith?” Uym wondered.
“Orta Command pinged for my location two hours prior. I responded that we were over the Malay Atoll.”
“Orta Main, or Divisional?” Sofita asked.
“It is a Divisional communication from the Prime Chair.”
“What’s the message, Orny?”
“What’s the order?”
“Femitokon Prime,” Orny relayed. “You will rendezvous with the TCS Orcinus for your next mission call.”
When Uym began laughing, Sofita couldn’t help but smile.