Surface District, Ramaxia
10 Bamx 2228 – 1830 Hours
Hizaki embraced the eastern ice for its uncertainty, while the marixi used the white to test their endurance. Subaki dreaded the tundra winds, an enticing menace that killed them for just breathing. Bizaki had no use for the surface, yet of all the castes, theirs was the most familiar with it.
For zaxiri, the white was where they first turned on each other.
The Femmar’s first effort to reproduce had caused the deaths of five thousand zaxiri and eventually led to the subjugation and death of hundreds of subaki. Embittered by their treatment, the breeding castes came together and abandoned the others.
Social decline soon hindered those left behind.
After exhausting all avenues to bring their breeders back, an appointed judge chose a primary and committee to resolve the issue. Use of force was dismissed, since losing their agency had been what pushed the breeders away from the start.
They’d agreed that more time was needed; zaxiri would be the first to give in to their urges and return. Yet, after finding the bodies of two zaxiri exposed on the surface, hizak-leader Fusofitakil accepted that the breeder elite would never allow those hindered by sentimentality to derail their efforts.
Long after the breeders’ return and long after producing a generation, zaxiri began presenting their newly deceased to the white in an Exposure Ritual, atonement for failures unrealized or apparent during the Lonely Time.
Ilo Cux had chosen such a ceremony.
Though weary from crying, Velto found peace in the chilling polar night. Ilo’s faded blue corpse lay before her, daring the bizak to move on with her life.
“Citizen Wram,” said the green-hided subak beside her.
Velto looked at the young citizen. “Are you safe up here?”
Beneath her sympathetic eyes were tiny yellow dots that faded when she smiled. “I’m inoculated, Citizen Wram.”
Ilo’s firstborn had been a subakidoe named Woxas.
The donux belonged to comedienne Yam Julo, a subak who’d bonded to a pair of bizaki engineers bound for the AC. Back then, Velto served West Toxis in the Cloister, and upon hearing news of Ilo’s first delivery, she’d rushed to the birthing center to hold the little subakidoe.
Woxas had been rose-colored, with bits of blue on her nose and tummy, and when she opened her eyes and smiled, Velto fell in love.
Ten days after arriving in the AC, baby Woxas succumbed to fematicolixa. Though she’d had other donats, Yam plunged into despair, as did Velto, despite her having no genetic connection to the subakidoe.
After learning a vaccine therapy got withheld from the citizenry due to politics, Velto cracked enough ice to reverse its trial status. Once released, physicians dispensed the serum to every newborn subak in the Eleventh, and this sweet and patient Recycle Clerk proved a testament to its success.
“We’re going to take her below now,” the subak pulled Velto up with her when she stood. “Would you like to witness her recycle?”
Velto was ten when she’d witnessed her nestor’s recycle. Elders had escorted her and her sib into an observation room where they saw Hal Wiv’s body materialize within a transparent chamber.
Zixas had stood alongside her, hands and forehead pressed to the glass.
A purple cloud filled the enclosure and shrouded their maker from view, yet when the mist cleared, nothing remained but internal organs, slick and loose amidst a purple-coated skeleton. Light blue dust exploded under the glass, followed by a flash of bright yellow light that burned away any trace of biology until only clean bones and loose hair remained. A mighty hum shook the chamber, and as it trembled, a blinding white light had forced little Velto to avert her eyes.
When she could finally look, nothing remained of her deceased mako, except a fine pale dust.
“I’ve seen too many femmar that I love, recycled,”
“You don’t have to witness the procedure,” the subak put her arms around Velto. “Today and forever forward are better memories to enjoy.”
Touched by the rehearsed sentiment, Velto embraced her.
“Preparations for the delivery of her shishitav are—”
“-Ilo made plans,” Velto interjected; years ago, the zaxir had organized what she called an epic recycle-ceremony. “I need to get some things done,”
“It’s all done,” said the clerk. “Citizen Banto arranged everything.”
Velto stared at her.
“Citizen Banto brought Ilo’s guidelines to us, and we’ve followed them to the letter,” she assured. “Should you decide to witness the recycle, Citizen Banto asked that we make sure you arrive in Toxis on time for the goodbye ceremony.”
The Generational Production Department looked like a cluster of purple quartz rooted in blackened rock. The white grassy court surrounding it was split into portions by red stone paths, all of which led to a monstrous geyser in the center.
Velto stepped out of the transport and gave her reflection a look in the window. The white cloth stripe placed upon the part in her hair was the same one she’d worn for Fusada’s goodbye ceremony. Ilo had been by her side that day, keeping her sane despite the insanity surrounding the marix’s death.
Distant voices rose from the opposite grounds.
Thousands were gathering to pay their respects, so many citizens dressed in white reminded her of the last visit she’d paid to the Gathering Hall. Decades before, the Ninth controlled Chamber had sided with the Ruling Platform and canceled patch collections among the Tenth. Widespread protests from the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh soon followed.
On the tenth day of 2207, hundreds of elder zaxiri planned a march on the white grass court, but they’d given their younger caste-sisters the wrong arrival time. Ilo and the other Tenth-Gen zaxiri had arrived to find their elders dead, having overdosed on igaltopurn, a liquid cocktail of pure saline. The dazed zaxiri swarmed the yard, preventing the Axyrn from removing the dead.
Koba Julo had been there capturing it all, including Velto’s attempt to corral Ilo. She’d almost had the dazed zaxir in the transport when Lekada and Wox Dag emerged from the front doors of the Gathering Hall. Ilo broke free of Velto’s grasp and had marched up to Lekada, slapping the elder hizak’s face and crying: Look what you’ve done.
Ilo’s assault had set off an onslaught of thrown shawls, shoes, and other objects. The Cloister Guard around the Ninth-Gen pair had appeared too dumbfounded by the dead to get control. Orta had dispatched divisional operatives to disperse the crowd, and when Fusada appeared, she’d took Ilo by the arm and shoved her at Velto.
Velto stood before those same violet glass doors now and felt a numbing calm come over her.
Inside, dozens of black lantern-like canopies floated in the lobby’s high-ceiling, each a giant replica of the miniature lanterns new parents released into the air to announce their zaxiridoe. Gone were the visitor chairs and tables, and without their clutter, the dull pink planks of the subterranean timber floor were too numerous to count. Fountains churned where the wall touched the floor, filling the expanse with a calm clatter.
From the mezzanine hung a giant tapestry, a casti of Ilo smiling bright, her voluminous hair lush and perfect, her black eyes promising delights. Upon the makeshift stage were three chairs, two draped in white. Next to the chair meant for Velto was a small round table, and on it sat Ilo’s shishitav.
The sculpture made of Ilo’s bone dust depicted her iconic victory-strut down the Prime Citizen runway, naked with her flabby arm raised high; the figure included a tiny ribbon for her bonding sash.
Overcome, Velto ran for the first door.
The icy Toxican wind soon cleared her head, but as she passed the tall hedge, she found Laxum Jyr and Pitana Dag standing under a trellis of gnarled orange vines. Frozen in place as if caught misbehaving, the muddy-toned hizaki had abandoned their colorful attire for the whites of bereavement.
“Velts,” Laxum softened and opened her arms. “I grieve with you.”
Velto embraced her before stepping into the arms of Pitana.
“We all grieve with you, friend.” Misty-eyed, the lithe brainer kissed her head.
Velto cleared her throat. “Where’s Sofita?”
“Komad Kul is hiding at the moment.” Eppis Banto declared, emerging from another door.
Unsure of what to say, Velto avoided the well-dressed Eppis and walked to Koba Julo, who emerged from the same door.
“Citizen Banto, you look naked in white,” said the towering bizak. “At least the black spots break up the monotony,”
Eppis rolled her eyes. “Your candor isn’t appreciated, Citizen Julo.”
Koba stepped to Velto.
“I grieve with you,” she whispered, shaking both of Velto’s hands. “Let’s get inside,” she put an arm around Velto’s shoulders. “We have an old friend to see off.”
“I won’t be joining you,” Eppis declared.
“Eppis,” said Pitana, brow furrowed.
Eppis spoke to Velto. “I cannot appear aligned with you socially or in grief,”
“We’re not strangers, Eppisbanto,” Pitana snapped.
Clearly, the hizak knew nothing of Sofita’s rekindled ambition.
“Let’s go,” Koba muttered, following as Laxum led Pitana inside.
Alone on the balcony, Velto turned on Eppis.
“I could’ve carried out my bond’s last wishes.”
Eppis put her hands behind her.
“You would deprive me of an owed opportunity?”
Velto sighed. “What did I do to you now, hizzah?”
Eppis stepped into her, not unusual given their history.
“How can someone with your intelligence be so ignorant?”
Velto spoke through her teeth.
“I’ve got a few things on my plate right now.”
“You’ve complicated things considerably,” said Eppis. Pulling out her Filmark, she spoke into it. “Toligon, who’s the Incoming Primary of the Tenth Generation?”
“The Candidate of Primaryship for the Tenth Ramaxian Generation,” said the lifeform. “Is citizen Sofitakul.”
Velto exhaled in frustration.
“Whose brilliant idea was it to send ‘Fita?”
“Procuring your involvement required reconciliation,” the hizak whispered. “Sofita had to be the one to rescue you.”
Velto shook her head. “After all these years,”
“None of this is Sofita’s doing,” she countered.
“No shit,” Velto said. “That energy inside of her thinks it’s Fusada.”
“If that’s the reality of our situation—”
“-it’s not our situation, Tee,” Velto mocked. “Sofita’s life is in serious danger now.”
The hizak’s elegant nostrils flared.
“Sofita’s problems are our problems.”
Velto tempered herself. “Ilo sent you a message.”
“I received it,” said Eppis. “I’ve yet to read it.”
Velto noted the pain in her eyes.
“Don’t fuck up like I did,” she whispered. “Don’t get Ozbi killed.”
Eppis turned on her. “You didn’t do this to Ilo,”
“Someday,” Velto’s nose burned. “I’ll believe that.”
Eppis pulled out her suit brush and began dragging it over Velto’s shoulders. “You’re expected to—”
“-I’m not going inside,” Velto shook free of her, “until I hear that message.”
“You have the temperament of a donat,” Eppis declared, tapping Ilo’s name on her message queue. When Ilo’s lovely face appeared on the screen, Velto moved in close.
‘You owe me four-thousand credits for those uniforms, but Ozbi’s going to look like a chunk in them when she goes back to work this year,’ Ilo raised a long-nailed finger. ‘You owe me for the cake too.’
Water pooled in the hizak’s eyes.
‘I knew you’d forget your bonding day, but this day matters, Eppis.’ Ilo pushed at her bouffant, a habit when lecturing others. ‘You give waxamists a bad name.’
Velto backed off when a tear fell along Eppis’s snowy cheek.
‘You need to remember what’s important,’ said Ilo on the screen. ‘Okay, you magnificent hizzah, I’ll let you get back to your tactical pursuits.’
Eppis brought the handheld to her lips, and when she broke down sobbing, Velto retreated to join the others before she too lost control.