SOD Code Three
Bass Plain Bridge
9 Bamx 2228 – 1900 Hours
The Bass Plain stretched along the Mount William shoreline before extending fifty miles into the horizon. Its suspended deck, a two-lane paved highway, had been fastened to slender towers by gigantic cables. At the first-mile marker on Clarke Island, Sofita employed the Shell’s optical filters to examine the bridge’s mighty span.
“Holy shit, ‘Fita, this thing is a mini-Erebus.”
The Erebus Gate was a series of suspension bridges built atop the coastal Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Its had connected Ramaxia’s first geothermal stations, its spans surviving dozens of earthquakes and two polar tsunamis before the discovery of kyrsat made it obsolete.
“How’d the United Tribes get hold of the design?”
“The Erebus’ schematics are on the InterHive.”
“People between the poles have access to the Hive?”
Sofita adjusted the Shell’s internal scanners and studied the knotted cable attached to the hook platform. Strands of tharspin snaked through the steel rigging.
“This tharspin weave restricts horizontal movement between the bridge column and the surface deck,” she said, each blink capturing a detailed image. “No matter how strong a tsunami’s pull against the bridge’s downstream side, these enforced slabs on the upstream will hold.”
“Explains the epic fuck-ton of tharspin they got in here,” the Shell said, employing one of Fusada’s favorite helovx euphemisms. “Old Wram didn’t allow this, ‘Fita, and I know Rasa’s a friend to the helovx, but no way she gave them this much tharspin.”
Without prompt, the Shell patched into the Tharspaxi Consortium’s central database. A login screen appeared in Sofita’s eyes, the three-prong Pikalit Triad logo spinning above the form field. Before she could think of entering her gen-code, the chipper voice of subhive Coligon sounded off in her mind.
“Komad Kul, welcome.”
‘Greetings,’ Sofita thought back, ‘Tharspin license check, Bass Plain Bridge.’
“No license exists for any project by that name.”
Sofita thought, ‘Index term search, Aotearoa, and Connector.’
“Tharspin export for the Tasmantis Connector contains a total of eighteen thousand cubic tons of tharspaxi, license numbers in order by date of bid, are—”
“-Index registration search for the Tasmantis Connector,” Sofita said. “Parse material requests for projects with the keywords: Bass Plain, Plain, Bass Plain Connector, Tasmania, Tasman, and Aotearoa.”
“One moment, please,” said Coligon. “No registered licenses exist for projects within those named parameters.”
After a beat, Sofita spoke. “Request connection to Calsotax.”
No other hive in the Collective begat more subhives than Calsotax, the psionic overseer of the bizaki caste. The neural lifeform monitored everything from citizenry transport to the atmospheric shells that regulated life within the domes; this meant strict delegation to her subhives.
“Primada approval is required.”
“Code PRY one-zero-zero-one.”
Within seconds the Collective-Interface in her eyes morphed into a glowing shroud around her head. The low-level scan of her body made her hide tingle.
“It has been a long time, Sofita Kul,” Calsotax’s casual timbre entered the bubble. “How is life under Pentox?”
“Thank you for speaking to me,” she said, humored. “Orta’s been interesting.”
“I see you reunited with your twin,” the lifeform observed. “You two and Velto Wram made quite a mess yesterday.”
“I’m on a mission,” she said, smile fading. “I’m looking for raw tharspaxi sold outside the Consortium’s official export database.”
“I have no license issued outside the Tharspaxi Consortium’s export season for the United Tribes of Aotearoa,” Calsotax assured. “There are plenty of sublicense requests for repair materials relating to the Tasmantis Connector. Eight deliveries within the date range of 2200 to 2228,”
“Calsotax, were any of those flagged for review?”
“Of course,” said the lifeform. “I am unable to reveal by whom and why.”
She chuckled softly. “Of course not,”
“You have an incoming request from Orta,” Calsotax warned. “It is not Pentox, so I recommend you play dead for a bit.”
“Patch it through, please.” Sofita laughed. “Thank you again, Calsotax.”
The sphere around her head pulsed before fading.
“Komad Kul.” The cold kermatic voice of Pengon sounded off in her mind. “Identify and report on Classified Information Recovery Eight-Zero.”
“Code PRY-one-zero-zero-one, Komad Kul, Femitokon Division,” Sofita sounded off. “Reporting CIR Eighty complete, uploading playback.”
“Affirmed, Komad Kul.”
“SOD Code Three, engaging,”
“Confirmed and authorized, please report.”
“Violation, Helovx Code Twelve, uploading documentation.”
“Affirmed, Komad Kul.” Pengon droned. “Please wait...”
A low resonant beep ushered in the mighty Pentox; never one for spoken dialogue, the hive’s words floated in Sofita’s eyes.
HELOVX VIOLATION 12.
UNAUTHORIZED USE OF THARSPAXI.
CALLING ORTA 2…
CALLING ORTA 2…
ORTA 2 RECEIVED.
FEMITOKON PRIME: ENGAGE IN REMOVAL PROTOCOL.
OPERATIVE ASSIGNED, FUSADAKUL.
Sofita gave a start. “Pentox, confirm. Sofita Kul. Komad, Femitokon Division.”
FEMITOKON PRIME: ENGAGE IN REMOVAL PROTOCOL.
OPERATIVE ASSIGNED, FUSADAKUL.
“Pentox?” she said, again. “Confirm, Sofita Kul. Komad, Femitokon Division.”
DISCONNECT, OPERATIVE SOFITAKUL.
“Pentox!” Silence bred frustration as the energy around her head vanished. “You’ve convinced the hives that you’re Fusada,”
“I don’t speak with the hives,” came the Shell’s retort. “I speak with my host.”
“Yes, and please do less of that,”
Sofita held up her hand, and when a ball of energy materialized above it, she tapped the holographic command pad on the inside of her arm.
“Removal Protocol, engaged.”
The ball expanded in size and drifted away from her.
“Estimated time for removal?”
“You have seven hours—”
“-Thank you,” she snapped. “Estimated time kermatic-wave hits our position?”
“It’ll be here in six hours, forty-eight minutes—”
“-Thank you, that is all, she said, clearing the holographical panel above her arm with a swipe. The gleaming sphere hovered at her side as she climbed the rafters to a spot beneath the deck.
Chaos reigned above as desperate helovx filed past her position; the bridge to Australia seemed a safer alternative to Mount William’s inland causeway.
Drifting out from beneath the surface deck, she rose unseen to the tower’s highest pinnacle. The span disappeared into a misty horizon, and packed upon its road were people desperate to get somewhere high.
Below, a treaded vehicle barreled through the crowd, killing two and injuring many. Angry throngs rushed the car, rocking it off its tires and smashing its windows to get at the driver. The retaliatory group beat him to death before tossing him and his car keys over the side of the bridge.
“I thought my caste were the hot heads,”
“You are not a marix,” said Sofita. “You are a sentient energy.”
“Love you too, ‘Fita.”
Long-range view brought Deal Island into focus. The rocky dot of land was Bass Plain’s official mid-point, and it housed four massive fortifications, each cradling a giant roll of suspension cable.
“They replicated Erebus’s central-weight system.”
“What does that mean?” the Shell asked.
“What that means is,” said Sofita. “Even if struck full-on, this thing will retain forty percent of its build.”
“There you go,” the Shell said. “The helovx do have access to the Hive.”
Sofita wondered why Femtrux would allow it.
“Hold up,” said the Shell. “You think Femtrux controls Intragux?”
“Get out of my thoughts and close in on the deck.”
The image on her eyes brought the span into focus, where a few aimless tread vehicles crawled along a paved surface with no lane markers. Having no lines to guide them, some drivers collided with each other while others careened into the barriers.
“It gets worse,” the Shell said.
A magnified view of the deck at Hogan Island appeared, its support towers skeletal without their metal shutters. Ten miles out, the road contained no tarmac.
“Distance on that last stretch is almost forty miles.”
Sofita waved her hand at the floating ball beside her and sent it into a pylon below. The shimmering orb sizzled on impact, bleeding through the plating to feast upon the tharspin inside. A blink brought numbers to her eyes that began counting down.
“You need to move, ‘Fita,” the Shell warned. “Most of the tharspin here will be history when that wave arrives.”
Sofita swallowed her anger.
“If you’re Fusada,” she said. “Talk to me about Kilvx.”
“Focus on the mission, Komad.”
“Tell me about Kilvx, or I power down.”
“Kilvx is a Promad in Ramaxian World Oceans.”
“Did you love her, ‘Foos?”
“Did you love Jakix?”
Sofita didn’t hesitate. “I loved Ergal Jakix, yes.”
“More than Kin Balru?”
“No,” said Sofita, “my love for Kin wasn’t as strong as yours is for Jal.” Unexpectedly, her pale plated uniform faded, and she dropped like a stone.
Landing hard onto the spire’s ledge, she rose to get feet with a smile on her face. No time to waste, Sofita flexed her hands and then performed a few stretching breaths before jumping. She touched down upon a suspender cable with her boots turned sideways, and slid along its gnarled length at top speed.
Horns and human screams gained volume the closer she came to the support deck. Unseen by the crowd, she cartwheeled onto the opposite cable and sprinted up its steep length. Another running jump over the spire sent her descending once more, boots skidding down corded metal. After hours of this climbing and falling, she arrived at Hogan Island and found parked vehicles idling for miles.
A crowd gathered where the blacktop ended. Without warning, the indecisive onlookers parted for a grumbling motorbike.
“Hello there, Brown Eyes,” Sofita parroted the Shell.
No longer the frightened dock worker, he coasted through the crowd until a man eager for the motorbike jumped him from behind. The hulking attacker took a kick to the chin that sent his head back and broke his neck.
Brown Eyes ambled the bike up to the exposed rebar, and balancing his narrow wheels over their thin struts, moved steadily forward. Emboldened by his advance, heavier vehicles plowed ahead, but their tires got caught in the large squares.
Sofita jogged up and slid down the suspension cables, keeping pace with Brown Eyes and staying well ahead of the rotting agent.
Just four miles from land, the man lost his footing as the weight of the cars far behind him began sagging the hashed struts. People now walked the rafters; when one lost their balance and fell, others followed.
A siren shrieked in the distance. Like grazing faxuto, the walkers paused with their heads raised. Panic seized the sharper ones, who then doggedly charged onward, tipping over the unbalanced without remorse.
The man swerved to the side of the bridge. Revving his cycle, he peered over the edge; down below, the sea began swiftly rushing out. He idled up to the concrete barrier and, with calm deliberation, steered his wheels onto the slender curbing.
Sofita jumped without preamble. Landing hard on the back of his seat, she tipped them onto the side grate before her boot caught the rail. Balanced, she wrapped her hand around his throat.
“You know what a digger can do to a human neck?”
“Please, dun’kill me,” his thick accent begged.
“Move ahead and stay the course,” she continued speaking his language. “Don’t look at your wheels. It’ll just fuck with your perception.”
Brown Eyes swallowed hard before doing as ordered, and after many miles, Australia’s coastal cliffs appeared in the distance. Abruptly, the motorbike stopped for as dozens of rickety cycles approached from the Australian side.
Children crawled along the beams, blocking their path. Releasing his neck, Sofita aimed her palm and blasted them, each child screaming as they tumbled.
“Stop it,” he cried.
Suddenly, the platform under them lurched. The surface deck many miles behind dropped from view, and when the grid beneath her boots unthreaded, she got an arm around the man’s waist and grabbed hold of a low-hanging suspension cable. The hashed metal beneath them fell away, taking the motorbike from between his legs.
Sofita’s grip strained as the cable bowed and the towers buckled. Far below her dangling boots, cars sloshed in the outgoing seawater, their headlights casting wildly through the frothy torrent. Within the watery chaos swam hundreds of punch-drunk sharks, their teeth clamping down on anything that moved.
A set of lights sat stationary; a car wedged between two high rocks.
Sofita released the cable, and as they dropped, Brown Eyes let loose a long yell that droned long as they approached the water. Mid-air, she wrapped her body around his torso, forming them into a ball so that she would strike the vehicle first.
Screams echoed within the retreating surf just before her back landed hard on the hood of the car. Winded, she rolled onto her knees and protected him from what came next. Massive portions of the bridge splashed down around them, jostling the vehicle, and crushing anything caught in the moving water.
Pulled by the receding sea, a writhing tiger shark clamped its jaws onto the hood, and without hesitation, Sofita drove her fist into its snout.
Behind her lay Brown Eyes.
Feeling a faint pulse, she pinched his nose shut, tilted his neck back, and forced her breath into his mouth. After a few moments of compressing his chest and forcing air into him, his slick lips came to life.
“Waz’going on?” he choked.
There was little time to ponder why she saved him as another shark sailed past, its serrated teeth dragging down the vehicle’s metal.
Brown Eyes climbed onto her shoulders, howling in fear.
“You need to calm down,” she yelled.
Then, his heavy accent warmed her ear.
“If’n we can get to those rocks,” he said, “we can climb our way up to the top,”
Sofita studied the craggy shore; the water racing between them wouldn’t be easy to traverse. She tipped her head back, touching her cheek to his. “Are you going to swim through these overstimulated sharks?”
The man spoke calmly, given their circumstances.
“I thought you lot and sharks have an understanding?”
“That’s mythology, Brown Eyes,” she’d almost regretted keeping him alive, but the Shell’s suspicions started ringing true when she felt his slow heartbeat against her hide. “I can’t outswim a shark, can you?”
“Dun’leave me here, Christ,” he dug his fingers into the side of her fronts and then quickly recoiled. “Sorry, I forgot those are your—”
“They’re not testes!”
After a beat, he asked, “What happened to that shiny uniform?”
Without replying, Sofita wondered if meditation could allow her to access specific engagement commands. She extended her arm and returned to that day in the Orta docking pool; seven-year-old Fusada had boasted to some nearby marixidoe that her hizak twin could outswim them.
Coasting well ahead, she strokes hard toward the finish.
Fusada’s cheers bring a crowd of elder marix to the platform, one of them is elder Uli Zag.
Seeing Zag standing there makes her swim faster.
The vehicle shook as thinning rapids hammered its undercarriage.
She brings her head above water at the pool’s edge.
Cheers signal her victory until Fusada’s smile fades.
Strong fingers grasp her hair and shove her back in the water. Through the murk, she struggles and looks up to find Fusa grinning.
Concentrating on her arm, Sofita imagined a long blade. Brown Eyes detached, mesmerized by her pulsing arm.
Fusada appears on Fusa’s shoulder, her screams muted by the water invading Sofita’s lungs. The monstrous marix pulls Fusada into a headlock, smiling with delight as the little marix fights viciously.
Head still under, Sofita ceases her struggle.
Pain seized her forearm before her hand morphed into a smooth tharspin blade. On her feet, she leaned over the edge of the vehicle, and when a sizable shark rammed into it, she stuck it through the head. She hauled the impaled fish out and slammed it onto the hood between them.
“What’re you bloody doing?” he yelled as the flailing shark’s tail almost knocked him into the water. “There’s barely enough room for us up here!”
Sofita yanked the blade out of its head and then pierced its frontal lobe, killing it. Painfully, her sword-like appendage reformed into her arm.
“What the bloody hell are you?” Brown Eyes whispered.
Sofita sat and fixed her boot heels deep into each side of its gills.
Blasting a hole in its nose, she felt around for the beast’s nasal bridge. Firing through its hyoid, she seized the underside of its maw and tugged at the cartilage until a loud pop dislodged its jaws.
“Why ya’butchering this porker?”
“We’re getting inside and rolling into the water.” She tossed the toothy innards into the shallowing sea. “The carcass will ride the receding current to the rocks.”
Brown Eyes shook his head. “What’s to stop his friends from tearing us apart before we make land?”
“That’s a non-issue,” she said. “Get in.”
Sofita stood over him.
“I’m in no mood for a willful male.”
Brown Eyes took a swing at her head, but she caught his arm and struck him with his fist. Holding the unconscious man tight against her chest, she shimmied feet-first into the shark’s mouth.
Once situated snug with her head clear of its toothless maw, she rocked the beast and rolled them off the car. Water rushed inside, flooding the cavity, while outside, floating debris collided with their protective corpse.
Sharks soon latched on to it, jostling the dead fish up and out of the water. Sofita peered through the foam beyond its mouth and made out an outcropping of rocks.
Fusa releases her, but she’s too exhausted to surface.
The water in her lungs is heavy, too heavy. Suddenly, strong hands find her underarms and jerk her into the air.
“You could’ve killed her, Kul,” cries Zag, holding Sofita in her strong arms.
“She’ll live,” Fusa’s glee ripples through the pool room. “That little hizzah fuck always lives.”
Blistering heat took hold as Sofita’s arm again transformed. Thrusting her bladed limb out, she carved her way down and freed them from the carcass. Legs gripping the man’s torso like a vise, she stroked through the turbulent shallows with her viable arm.
The swift tow pulled them back until Sofita reformed her arm. The man still between her legs, she stroked hard as the ocean retreated with incredible force, dragging away the sharks, bikes, cars, and bodies. Standing upon the exposed seafloor, Sofita looked up at the growing mass of water closing in on her position.
Tears run down Fusada’s face.
“Don’t you cry, brooder,” Zag says. “Never let her see you cry.”
Zag stands Sofita up and takes her by the chin.
“Walk over to that shuttle, and don’t even look at her,” she whispers. “Don’t let her know she hurt you. Never show her that, you hear me?”
Sofita screamed out at the powerlessness.
A flash of white exploded at her feet and wound up her body, bringing with it that familiar uniform and the power to soar skyward.
Brown Eyes in her grasp, she shot over the rocky precipice, dropping him onto the high cliffs as the mighty wave’s crest passed beneath her boots.
It pushed through the cape as one solid mass, swallowing what remained of the bridge and flooding the coastal headlands. Its weakened crown spilled into the valley, a healthy siphon that rushed over the lower flats as if newly escaped from a broken dam.
Brown Eyes fell to his knees in the face of the surge.
Sofita touched down beside him and conjured a protective sphere. Water engulfed the land as she raised then above the deluge. An unprovoked smile spread across her face before she snapped her fingers and burst the protective bubble.
Brown Eyes dropped, howling.
Seconds to spare, a laughing Sofita swooped in and caught him before he hit the water.
The moon and stars had abandoned the midnight sky, yet Sofita’s captive continued to sidestep the larger ground rocks. She’d kept him in front while descending the bluff, and when he fell behind, she’d grabbed his arm and returned him to his rightful position.
“Your strides are too wide,” he complained. “I can’t keep from falling back.”
“My stride’s going to make you wide,” she warned, “if you don’t keep moving.”
Brown Eyes stopped when they reached even ground.
Sofita followed his frightened gaze to a grouping of tiny lights in the distance. Benign in their search for a moving target, the swarm of Mag-IO Clusters bounced like fireflies on the wind.
“Stand still and don’t move,” she warned; Sofita wouldn’t survive a direct hit from Mags, not even fully powered by the Shell.
“Remnants of your genocide here?” he wondered softly.
The lingering dots became smaller as they moved away. Before she could question him about his choice of words, a quad buggy bounced over the far bluff, its lone headlight jumping as it careened the rugged hillside.
Alerted by the movement, the Mags zeroed in on the vehicle, their speed heralded by a deathly whistle.
Brown Eyes sprinted from her side. No time to waste, she clenched her fists and closed her eyes.
She touches his speckled neck when they’re alone. His pulse tickles her fingers.
“She’s watching,” he whispers. “She wants to watch.”
Bright white burst from her feet and snaked up her torso.
“That was fast,” she mumbled as the Shell came to life.
Sensing the Mag’s, the Shell dimmed her uniform.
“The moment you fear for your life,” said the Shell. “I see what you see,”
“Is that so?” Sofita took off after the running man.
The tiny lights howled toward impact, going silent seconds before colliding with the vehicle. A boom shook the ground as Sofita charged out ahead of the ionized ripple. She snatched up Brown Eyes and came down into a puddle of standing water. Folding herself around his body, she shielded every exposed part of him.
“We’re fucked, Komad,” the Shell warned.
A destructive ribbon of ionized energy sailed over them and scorched the ground for miles. The blast wave vaporized everything in its path, including the Shell. Brown Eyes crawled out from under her, disoriented.
Sofita weaved in and out of consciousness, the skin on her back tight and unyielding.
Snowy tundra abounds.
His broken body lies at her feet. She reaches out to touch Orestes, but he morphs into a seal and melts through the ice.
Fully conscious, Sofita saw that Brown Eyes was gone.
Letting him go wasn’t an option as he was a lone witness to seeing the Shell. She took off after him, sprinting several yards to catch up. After tackling him to the ground, she struck him several times to discourage his flight response.
They exchanged angry words before continuing down the cliff, and this time, she allowed him to trail behind.
“Is my back burned?” she asked without turning.
“I dunno,” he said, “black as pitch out here.” Brown Eyes was now unable to see in the dark, though he still avoided large rocks underfoot.
They came upon a bulkhead banked by thick boulders.
The out-tide at Wilson’s Mount revealed an endless canvass of tiny ridges and shallow canals. Massive chunks of fractured surface deck sat atop the glistening sand, forming a disjointed line toward the rumbling surf.
From the darkness came a quick and steady thumping.
Over the ridge flew an old Calidus gyrocopter, its whipping blades buffeting as it came in low over their position. Its spotlight found Brown Eyes, who began waving his arms and jumping in place.
The gyrocopter swooped in closer, but when its spotlight captured Sofita’s eyeshine, it jerked left, catching a wheel on the bulkhead. Quickly, the pilot regained enough control and landed on a splintered section of the bridge.
“Leave ‘em be,” the man cried as Sofita vaulted onto the ruptured tarmac. Before the gyrocopter could rise away, she slipped under its moving blades. Grabbing the narrow propeller’s anchor ring for balance, she fixed a boot on the wheel mount and drove her fist through the dash glass.
The elderly pilot’s narrow eyes went wide in fright as Sofita tore away the broken safety glass. Grasping his jacket, she yanked him from the steerage seat and jumped free as the gyrocopter ground its way to a landing. An infant’s cries came from the cockpit as the pilot tumbled onto the broken road, grunting with each revolution until rolling onto his feet with a handgun aimed.
Sofita seized the gun and tossed it into the night.
The old pilot raised his hands in surrender, but she didn’t need another hostage. One kick crushed his sternum and sent him off the road. Below on the sand, his legs shuddered when his constricted lungs could no longer expand.
Brown Eyes stood at the gyrocopter’s mangled hatch; his hands raised high. “I’dun want to hurt ya, okay?”
The young woman, a screaming baby strapped to her chest, kept her revolver trained.
“You farcs all smell the same,” she growled in Hamgyong, climbing into the pilot’s seat.
Sofita slipped in behind her and cuffed the back of her head. She tugged the woman’s chin upward, breaking her neck, then caught the pistol and aimed it at the screaming infant.
“No,” the man cried as she fired at the newborn.
Brown Eyes hurled himself at her, landing a punch to her tender back. Sofita jammed the gun into her waistband before bouncing his head off the copter’s nose cone.