Trixitat Bakuti House
15 Bamx 2228 – 1820 Hours
Utama’s modest metro was surrounded by the sprawling estates of Ramaxia’s political elite. Line Jyr remained a local favorite, and its most notable member, Laxum, made it a point to come home at least once a month. Koba was always included on her list of visitations; they’d been close as donats and continued to socialize well beyond their academic years.
Most of the esteemed Ambassador’s time home, however, was set aside for her nestor. Pel Jyr hailed from the renowned Clan Ru, but the subak had taken on the name Jyr, as was Femarctic tradition when a Clan, Line, or House legally adopted a spouse. The aging Pel fussed over her hizakidoe during these weekends home, but her spouse Rasa was typically absent; that’s how it had always been since Laxum was a donat.
Picking up the kermatic slack was Rasa’s sib, Ryl Jyr. Once bonded to her generation’s Prime Citizen, the pragmatic Ryl possessed a keen wit and the enviable visage of a bruiser. The former logistics director displayed a talent for managing others, and despite being a Ninth, she proved socially and politically moderate.
All the younger Jyr’s and Julo’s loved Ryl, and that’s why Koba had eagerly joined them for a local Utamaxi favorite: deep-fried bakuti.
The southern polar chicken came from various Ameraucana breeds scavenged from South America. Prized for its tender white meat and double-yoked makutz, hatcheries throughout Pikalit produced thousands of the aggressive birds by the week, and most ended up in the fry-houses of Utama. Hizaki never dined on deep-fried foods in public; they opted to preserve their expensive suits by ordering in at home, but Line Jyr didn’t produce typical hizak.
All three wore oversized bibs, their fingers greasy from gobbling juicy pieces of crunchy coated bakuti. Koba’s guilty pleasure was its traditional side-dish, seared tobaks, a dark green dumpling filled with mashed white patotok. Stuffed to capacity, she emptied her glass of cherry cola while Laxum wiped her hands with the last of the wet towels.
Elder Ryl cleaned golden breading from her manicured nails with a cuticle pick and then pointedly addressed Laxum.
“Deep in thought?” she asked.
The green-suited hizak focused on the table’s empty baskets, their grease-stained liners drying under the bright overheads.
“My thoughts are of you, elder,” said Lax.
“If my Daka sat between us now,” said Ryl. “She’d ask if you were thinking of me when you left Utama.”
“I might’ve dined with CM Jyr if I desired insult,” she pouted.
Koba volleyed her eyes between them and grinned. “It’s always best when the tension isn’t about me.”
“I love you, Lax.” Ryl’s smile then turned stern. “As does your kerma, whom you will refer to as ‘kerma,’ and not her given name as if she were a stranger.”
Laxum held a passionate dislike for her kerma, and as far as Koba was concerned, it was well earned.
Before her election to Cloister, Rasa and her lover, Pel, had bonded to space pilot Pita Dag and socialite surgeon Wox Banto. After Pita’s death, Wox severed her bond to Rasa and Pel, or so it seemed. After their ascension, Rasa and Wox had maintained a sexual relationship, one rumored to be still ongoing.
“How’s life at Kuril?” Koba asked.
Before Laxum could answer, Ryl spoke again.
“You recall my words when you fled?” she asked, tossing the cuticle pick into her empty tea glass. “You spoke of returning to politics when your anger abated.”
Laxum sat back and let loose a sigh.
“You’re cognizant I’ve no plan to return,”
“You’re a brat. I’ve been cognizant of that, for years. I’ve indulged you because you resemble my nestor.” Ryl shifted her gaze to Koba. “Neither of you ever met your eldermak.”
They shared an elder in their makers’ nestor, a Sixth Gen subak who’d succumbed to a brain aneurism. Details of her salacious demise lingered in mystery due to their pod’s unwillingness to discuss that she’d died during an intense burxol.
Laxum leaned in and addressed Ryl. “I never thanked you for stepping up when I retired,”
“Retired?” Koba uttered with a laugh.
Ryl chuckled in agreement.
Laxum leaned back. “Politics isn’t for me,”
“Is that so?” Ryl wondered. “I cannot fathom your sitting inert in ‘32?”
Koba tapped her straw against the table while Laxum unbuttoned her suit jacket. Neither wished to overplay their interest in the possibility of a Tenth-Gen ascension.
“Rasa made it clear the Eleventh should ascend over the Tenth,” said Laxum. “I’ve no qualms with that,”
“She hasn’t discussed such things with me,” Ryl said.
Koba stabbed at the ice in her glass with the metal straw.
“Did she discuss her ascension with you?”
“If you must know, yes,” Ryl replied to Koba, then lowered her voice. “When an avalanche begins, one doesn’t stand in its path shouting ‘Stop.’ The day Ryo and Lekada learned they weren’t ascending, they goaded Rasa into supporting Fusa as Primary. She remained hesitant until they brought Wox up on charges.”
Laxum rolled her eyes, but Koba sucked her tongue; the powerful bizak remained a sour subject.
“We all fell in line after Tee dragged Ixo’s name through the slush. We consumed the rumors and considered them true,” Ryl’s lips tightened as she gazed at Koba. “The Eleventh are nothing like us. They abide no ill-tales of you Tenth.”
“They hold strong sentiments,” said Lax.
Koba hummed. “The Pure Gen are reluctant to push us aside, no matter how silent we remain.”
“Your silence speaks volumes,” said Ryl, “and your donats hear every unspoken word.”
Laxum snatched Koba’s straw away, tired of her fidgeting.
“Sofita Kul’s neither weak nor naïve,” Ryl added softly. “She and her First Office labor to build a majority wall in Cloister as we speak,”
“Eppis Banto?” Koba sputtered.
Laxum smiled wide. “She and Sofita no longer speak.”
“I’m no fool,” Ryl said. “Things will change now that everyone knows Citizen Kul is the genetic heir,”
“Sofita’s hizak,” Koba protested. “She can’t be Primary.”
Ryl murmured, “There’s precedent.”
“When was there an hizak in charge of Orta?” Koba asked.
Laxum answered. “One mustn’t disregard Fusofitakil.”
“That part of history is rather quiet,” Ryl mused, glass raised.
“That’s about to change,” Koba said, nodding. “According to Digicast Monthly, three works featuring the life of Fusofitakil are coming out next season.”
“I’d heard rumors that Sofita’s gol was in development,” said Ryl.
Koba shook her head. “Up on the Ice is in developmental limbo thanks to the Fourth Office’s concerns,”
“What concerns?” Ryl asked.
“The implied sexual relationship between Fusofitakil and Femitokon,” said Koba.
“Implied.” Laxum frowned. “There’s not one shred of dishonesty in that gol,”
“Sofita cited Balrusok’s journals,” Ryl agreed.
“CM Banto considers those journals to be,” Koba then imitated the older hizak, “private thoughts cultivated from misinterpreted observations.”
Laxum scoffed before noticing something beyond them.
Koba followed her stare to Velto Wram. The bizak stood at the hostess table, still wearing mourning white. She was somewhat early, considering the time she, Lax, and Koba planned her arrival.
“Velto’s dining alone again,” Laxum spoke her line.
Koba rose from her chair as rehearsed. “At least she’s getting out,”
“Invite her over.” Ryl covered her bone-filled basket with a napkin. “I paid my respects at Ilo’s goodbye service, but I wish to say more.”
Dutifully, the bizaki approached one another, having planned their surprise encounter days ago. Koba took hold of Velto’s presented hand and pulled her in for an embrace.
“You’re punctual,” she whispered.
“Ryl Jyr is one of the few hizzah’s I like,” Velto said, following her to the table where the elder stood waiting.
“Veltowram,” Ryl shook hands with the bizak.
“CR Jyr,” Velto gave a nod. “How’ve you been?”
“Call me Ryl please, we’re not in Cloister.” Ryl limited her haughty vocabulary when speaking to non-hizak.
Laxum embraced Velto before offering her seat to Koba, and as each shifted a chair, Koba couldn’t get over how grief had paled her old friend’s honey-colored hide.
“How have you been feeling?” Koba asked.
“Lonely,” Velto said. “The house in Toxis, it’s too quiet.”
“When I lost my Daka, I sold our Highrise,” Ryl offered.
Koba never knew Daka Zil.
The zaxir from Utama had won the title of Prime Citizen after besting Toxis favorite Uvi Rabat. Like her Tenth-Gen replacement, Daka had been a waxamist, but unlike Ilo, she’d kept it hidden right up to the day she’d died giving birth to Laxum.
“When we love a monogamist, we become so used to it,” Ryl spoke softly. “When they’re gone, it’s both liberating and strange.”
“Thanks for coming to Ilo’s goodbye.” Velto seemed genuinely touched. “If anyone in Ramaxia understands, it’s you.”
An older subak at a nearby table overheard, and turning to her friends, placed a sympathetic hand to her chest. Subbies gravitated to widowed citizens like seals to clams. Velto even caught the eye of a few zaxiri, who saw her as a lover willing to kill for taking the life of one of their own.
Their waitress, a slim bizak in a snug uniform, collected the baskets and napkins before eyeing Velto cautiously. “Can I bring you anything, Citizen Wram?”
“I’ll have a shot of tirg,” she said. “With a tall glass of ale.”
“A tirgol drinker?” Ryl asked, eyes aglow.
Velto smiled. “You don’t grow up with Lekada Wram without developing a taste for the hard stuff.”
The waitress delivered an enchanting thin-lipped smile that captured Laxum until Koba’s foot struck hers under the table.
“What are your plans?” Laxum asked, jolted.
“Will you return to Wram Constructs?” added Koba.
“I’ve been banned from offering tech to the helovx,” Velto sulked.
“How you manage to escape censure stymies me,” Laxum said.
Koba laughed. “I thought anyone using the term, hizzah, around Gizul would’ve been ground to dust.”
“She does let me get away with a lot,” said Velto.
Ryl gave her a gentle pat on the arm. “You’re a mirror of Hal.”
“Sernatae Gizul knew my maker?” Velto asked.
“Smitten from the moment they met,” said Ryl.
Koba leaned in, eager for any story about the Ninth.
“Yir never shared her kerma’s taste for dark interiors, so she had the entire living space under Cloister redesigned,” Ryl spoke as if lost in memory. “She hired Debo Tal to infuse some life into those apartments with her signature glass and greenery.”
“Eppis Banto’s maker?” Koba asked.
“Hal had been Debo’s assistant,” Ryl said, nodding. “Those two worked wonders together, and their work was much in demand. One studio had offered them a remodeling program, back when those shows were unheard of,”
“I didn’t know that shit,” said Velto.
“They were closer than sibox,” said Ryl. “Debo was beside herself when your kerma insisted on implanting Hal. She was there when you were born, Velto. Debo held you for a moment and then handed you over to her.”
“Were you there?” Koba asked.
Ryl nodded, but then the joy faded from her eyes.
“Daka and Hal shared a birthing suite,” she said softly.
A solemn silence followed, one that Laxum was desperate to quell. “Pity their comradery didn’t pass to their donats,” she enjoyed teasing Velto, who leveled a sour glance. “Will you be limiting your involvement in Wram Constructs?”
“I planned on it,” said Velto, quickly. “I can’t stay in Toxis anymore.”
“After Daka passed,” said Ryl. “I chose to relocate.”
Velto became lost in thought before snapping out of it.
“I’m thinking of settling in Utama,” she said. “I’m glad I found you here, Ryl.”
“I can recommend some excellent dwellings.” The elder femmar fished her Filmark out from the suit jacket on her chair. “Be warned, two years from now, Utama will develop a sheet of slick ice.”
Velto snickered, as did Koba and Laxum.
“So many Elevenths reside here for Cloister work,” Ryl explained. “You’ll need to ensure your search centers on residences unwilling to lease to them.”
“I spent my twentieth year in Toxis,” Velto assured. “I can take it.”
“No one will be immune when our young zaxiri and subaki begin making irrational choices.” Ryl continued in a hushed tone. “Bizaki will revel in their short time of being the most wanted citizens on the couch.”
“Velto was much wanted during our twentieth,” Koba teased.
“You got no business complaining,” said Velto.
Laxum raised her glass. “We all benefitted from your popularity.”
“I want to ask you something, Ryl,” Velto focused on the older hizak. “I don’t want to insult you,”
“I’ve no qualms about discussing my twentieth,” Ryl assured.
Laxum and Koba broke out laughing.
Even Velto smiled before shaking her head. “Laxum says you’re not fond of Cloister service.”
Ryl set her handheld face down. “I know what you’re going to ask, and I must tell you, I’ve not managed citizens in over twenty years. I’d be lacking at Wram Constructs.”
The waitress returned with the shot of tirgol and a tall glass of ale.
“I appreciate the offer, but when I exit Cloister Service, I’ll be retiring from vocational life altogether.” Ryl then glared at Laxum. “Cease searching for the undergarment line on our waitress’s backswell.”
The waitress laughed.
“I could use your leadership in restructuring our research and development,” Velto pressed. “Shifting away from systems tailored for helovx—”
“-I can imagine,” said Ryl. “There’s plenty of competition in the citizenry market. You’ll have your work cut out for you,”
“Not the citizenry market,” Velto lowered her voice. “I was thinking, off-world.”
Ryl’s eyes expanded. “Tharso?”
“Ramarixicon,” Velto whispered back.
Ryl played at being unaware of her sibling’s ongoing quest to colonize the Jovian system, but even Koba knew of Rasa’s plans for Ramarixicon. Rasa’s obsession with space began as a donat; not even serving on the Committee could sideline her involvement in the Ramaxian Interstellar Organization.
“I don’t believe the Ninth intends to pursue that sector of space,” Ryl spoke carefully as not to tip Rasa’s hand.
Laxum rolled her eyes as she always did when her kerma’s name came up. Velto dropped the tirg filled shot-glass into her ale and then chugged it.
“Maybe they won’t, maybe they will,” she said, belching. “Either way, I’d like Wram Constructs to be ready.”
“Elder,” Koba said. “You’re familiar with RIO’s administrative side.”
“Cloister service has primed Ryl with a talent for drafting contract requests to the Committee,” Laxum added.
Ryl pursed her lips. “You have comparable experience, Laxum,”
“Yes, but sexual harassment suits are common amongst the Pure Gen,” Koba said with a grin. “I’d limit any exposure by avoiding Laxum.”
“I have an ulterior motive.” Velto’s nature of getting to the point served her well around an hizak like Ryl. “I’d like to strike for the Utama seat.”
Ryl sat back as if struck.
“I hope you’re sincere. I very much desire to exit politics, but those offering to take my place don’t care about Ramaxia, much less Utama,” she said. “Ninth Gen flatterers promote the Committee’s interests, Tenth-Gen candidates are few and far between, and too many of the Eleventh lack experience.”
“No young upstarts?” Laxum asked as the waitress returned with separate checks; she handed over her payment card and made sure to touch the cute bizak’s hand.
“Eppis Banto’s oldest, Obiz,” Ryl answered. “She reminds me of you, Lax, in some ways best not mentioned.”
“Acari bore an hizak?” asked Koba.
Velto stared into her empty glass.
“Young Banto cares about governance. It shows in everything she does. It’s a pity her kerma refuses her the opportunity to mature,” Ryl handed her card to the waitress. “Young Obiz applied to every office outside of Vanda, except mine. No one will give her a chance for fear of Eppis. Her nestor came to me, as I don’t have a Cloister Aid. There’s nothing I can do for the young hizak if she doesn’t apply.”
“She can accompany me to Kuril,” Laxum said.
“Ozbi would love that,” Velto said suddenly. “Her oldest, between the poles?”
“Life between the poles suits Laxum,” Ryl observed as the waitress returned with their cards. When the bizak touched her handheld to Laxum’s, the elder hizak sighed. “Distance enables the problematic to remain unproblematic.”
Laxum ignored their stares.
“If you’re serious about striking for my office,” Ryl said to Velto. “I’ll endorse you and aid your run by stepping down.”
Koba soaked in their victory.
“I don’t want to push you,” said Velto. “I really need your expertise at Wram Constructs.”
“I’m certain Laxum’s told you of my plans,” Ryl said, laughing.
“I don’t talk to Lax much.” Velto raised her voice to pull the green-suited hizak’s attention away from a different bizak waitress. “She’s too distracted these days.”
Koba and Velto waited at the curb of the valet station while Laxum handed her transport information to a couple of svelte bizaki valets.
“Look at her,” said Velto. “She thinks she’s the greatest thing since air,”
Koba was still grinning when the hizak rejoined them.
Laxum’s four-seater lacked the sleek sophistication of Eppis Banto’s rental. The squarish Glide, clearly designed for narrow metro streets, possessed round corners that reminded Koba of those tiny back-massagers. As the valet hovered it into position beside them, the four yellow spheres beneath its smooth body began to glow.
Koba tapped the car door, and before it could slide sideways, she slipped into the backseat swivel chair. Velto entered the passenger side while Laxum pulled aside her jacket-tails before sitting down in the operator chair.
“That was painful,” Velto grumbled.
“She’s old,” Laxum said, pushing the steer-stick forward, “but means well.”
“I was referring to you,” Velto clarified. “The waitress wasn’t there five minutes, and you’re putting the moves on her.”
“Did you get her contact info?” Koba asked.
“Absolutely,” said Laxum, tugging the brake-lever back to lessen their speed. “Do you deny that she was exquisite?”
“I don’t look at other bizak,” said Velto.
“Reconsider your stance,” said Laxum, raising their transport above the unseen buffer that separated the glide corridor from the pedestrian walk below.
“She just lost her partner,” Koba scolded.
Velto stared. “A citizen that I promised to grow old and die with.”
Laxum offered no apology as she sped out of the metro and onto the carrier grid.
In the waters outside, a pack of xenacanth gathered in preparation for an attack, one that involved charging into a massive school of miniature semionotus near the tube. Disturbed by something unknown, one of the eel-like creatures wildly flapped its four belly fins and fled, its venomous head spike bouncing as it vanished into the murk. This time of night found the tubed-highway empty, and as Laxum began tapping at the central console under the dash, the Glide started weaving.
“Mind the line, hizzah,” said Velto.
“Who’re you calling?” Koba asked.
“I’ve attempted to contact Sofita,” said Lax. “She’s not responding to my messages.”
“She’s not on Base Three anymore,” Velto said.
Laxum looked up from her contacts. “Since when?”
“Since the Primary asked where she lived, in open Cloister.”
Koba gasped. “The Sernatae allowed that?”
“That whole session was an exercise in punching my fronts.”
Laxum’s eyes fell to Velto’s flat chest.
“Where’s Sofita residing now?” she asked.
“You’re an ambassador, trace her Gen Code.”
“Since Bumo, I’m under constant observation.” Lax rolled her eyes. “Pitana decreed that when off-duty, I’m to refrain from taking part in any dubious behavior.”
Koba brought out the communications orb.
“I’ll find her.”
“Where’d you get that?” Velto demanded, swiveling around to face her. “That was Fusada’s,”
Koba triggered its interface hologram with a tap and accessed the Surface Operational command page. “Had it since ‘Foos took me through the Sorority of Defense.”
Laxum eyed her suspiciously in the rearview.
“Found her,” said Koba. “She’s at Femitokon Holistics.”
“And she can remain there,” said Laxum.
“That’s where we’re going.” Velto swiveled back to facing front. “Drop your attitude, Lax, and get moving.”
“Can that device locate Fuzo Dox?” Laxum asked. “Vyx and Acari expressed concern having not seen her on liberty in Toxis since Uralskey,”
“Who’s Vyx and Acari?” Velto asked.
“They are my protection detail at Kuril.”
“I never got guards,”
“Pitana claims Ilo refused them.”
Laxum then seemed to regret mentioning the zaxir.
“Dox is at Orta Medical East,” Koba said, clearing the tiny holographic display with a touch. “Info says she got there yesterday.”
Outside, digitized text on the oval signage indicated the Marixitak Channel exit. Laxum steered the transport right, and once in the northbound tube, let the autopilot drive them toward Ortakal Bay.
“Lax,” Koba began. “Femitokon Holistics is Fyla’s lab.”
Laxum sighed. “I’m capable of being civil.”
“On that note,” Velto interjected. “If Sofita’s got us back on Fusada’s big plan, the donation Fyla made with your patch—”
“-Is my gen-heir,” the hizak droned. “I’m aware, Velto.”
“Then grow up and be more than civil,” said Koba.
“Yeah,” Velto added.
Lax let loose a cynical huff. “Yes, because you and Eppis set the standard for civility,”
“Our kermas expect us to be at each other’s throats,” Velto countered. “That is the part we play in this crap-trap.”
“Perhaps Sofita’s trap should be better scripted,” said Laxum.
“You keep up this silent treatment with Fyla, and you’re going to freak her out,” Koba warned. “We need that head case to be one-hundred percent,”
“Yeah,” Velto added.
“I’m the aggressor?” Lax charged. “Fyla betrayed my trust.”
“I’m not excusing what she did,” Koba said. “She’s damaged,”
Velto swung her chair sideways. “So were you back then, hizzah, spreading your genes all over the place.”
Tenth Gen zaxiri had been obliged to deliver four donations between the years of 2210 and 2211. Oligax had expanded patch-collection minimums to four per citizen, yet Laxum accommodated more than four. After her sixth patch-pull request, Oligax locked down both her makodonic and kermatic patches.
Furious at the overreach, Laxum accosted Fyla, then a high-level administrator in the Prime Lab. Desperate to evade the lifeform, she’d goaded the weak-willed bizak into pulling her kermatic patch one last time for a blind mix. At Fusada’s recycle presentation, Fyla had pulled her aside and confessed to mixing Laxum’s patch with her own, prompting the hizak to shove Fyla in front of the other mourners.
Velto turned her chair back.
“Life’s too short to stay angry, Lax.”
“Says the shortest, angriest citizen in Ramaxia,” said Laxum
Koba chuckled as they entered the arched tunnel, emerging outside the encased tube and onto an open highway. Though transport culture began with the Second Gen, the Fifth had covered the continent with a network of magnetized roads. Their wanderlust had enabled anyone with a glider to access the expansive landscapes spread out beneath the ice sheets.
Every weekend until she was eight, Koba’s elders gathered her and the Julo bruisers up, sometimes bringing Pitana and Laxum, and in their group-glide took overnight trips to the Dirtox River Valley. They’d passed prairies of subglacial flowers that glowed in an endless palette of bold colors, before camping around rocky waterfalls loaded with tumbled ice.
“We’ve all ridden each other over at one time or another,” Velto’s voice invaded her memories. “That’s what friends do, Lax.”
Koba noted the gleam in Laxum’s eye and just knew a tribal dig was coming.
“I witnessed Fusada bouncing Fyla at a citbluz once,” said the hizak.
Velto recoiled. “Please feel free not to share!”
“Did you and Fusada ever—?”
“-None of your business, Laxum!”
“Such rebuke,” she balked, her eyes smiling back at Koba.
Koba shook her head.
“Why even ask that question?”
“I’ve always been curious about our group’s intersexual dynamic,” the hizak answered. “We heirs are rather inclusive.”
Velto creased her brow. “You need a hobby that doesn’t involve your gash.”
Along the Ortoko Highway, the mountains lost their splendor and became dull hills covered in tall frosty blades of polar fescue. Cruising through barren plains, Laxum pointed at the higher formations on the horizon.
“Are these rocks cerulean and amaranth?”
“Do you even know what those colors look like?” asked Velto.
“They’re pink and blue,” Koba said of the Ortoko Range.
Laxum wondered, “Are those shades typically unattractive?”
“No,” Velto struggled to explain. “There’s something weird about the ‘Orts.”
“They’re creepy, not pretty,” Koba said.
Laxum slowed on the plateau overlooking the Ort’takal, a vast bay that encompassed the vale and shrouded Orta Main’s dome within its choppy depths. Banking its pebbled beaches were the Marixitak, their highest peaks stabbing into the ice sheet above.
Suddenly, the natural world became a concrete wall. Several moments of darkness reigned as they sped through the Northern Marixitak Tunnel. They emerged curtained by stifling cliffs where barracks clusters grew out of the slope like shards of boxy gray crystal.
They drifted over a winding path until reaching an open-air traffic circle. Taking the first turn off the roundabout, Laxum sped past a massive white lawn before slowing at one of the three sentry posts. Each represented a checkpoint to different destinations, and the Sorority of Defense’s check-in station looked deceptively benign.
A black-uniformed Donmat waved them along after reading Laxum’s ambassador credentials, glowing on the front windshield glass. After parking the transport, the trio walked to the empty forecourt, Laxum’s heels clicking over the colorless marble.
When they passed a couple of ranking Komad discussing the merits of hibernating in the nude, Koba cracked wise, “Imagine living among marixi on purpose.”
“I’d rather eat a blaster,” said Velto.
Inside the Sorority of Defense’s empty lobby stood a glass tank containing a colossal iceberg. A small part of the sculpture’s pointed white top peeked above the dark polar water, a symbolic representation of the warrior caste’s unseen strength.
“You know why the ‘Orts is so colorful?” Velto spoke as they passed the tank. “Because the military quarried out every inch of white marble for lifeless shit like this.”
As they approached the watch desk, an older, thickly built Promad moved in behind the young Donmat on duty, her scalp tattoo too dull to decipher under the skylights. Though taller and blessed with more muscle, her subordinate wasn’t old enough for a ranking stain.
“Donmat,” said Velto. “Where are the verticals to the Femitokon’s?”
“Are you expected?” the Promad demanded.
Velto furrowed her brow. “I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Ambassador Laxum Jyr, Citizens Velto Wram, and Oba Ru,” Laxum cast her credentials from her handheld into the space between them.
“We’re friends of Doctor Uym,” said Koba.
The Donmat showed interest in Velto, but the Promad remained unimpressed.
“Call it down,” she ordered.
Velto’s golden hide darkened; a temper bomb set to explode.
The Donmat ignored the short bizak’s agitation and tapped on the panel before her.
“Cleared,” she announced, smiling.
“Fifth vertical, Ambassador Jyr,” the Ninth Gen nodded.
“Thank you, Promad,” Laxum said.
Koba quickly followed after Velto, who’d walked off without thanking the officers, and when Laxum caught up to them, the bizak began grousing.
“Is that wrinkled old bruise serious?”
“You’re in Orta,” Koba reminded. “There’s a rank and file.”
“Fuck her ranking file.” Velto allowed Koba and Lax to enter the vertical first before stepping in and pushing the lone button going down.
“You recall our physics advisor in Mynu?” Laxum asked. “She ejected you from class due to your authority issues.”
“She kicked me out because I told her to lick each of my authorities,” Velto grabbed both her minuscule frontals. “That hizzah hated having a bizak in her class.”
A noisy clanging rang out as the vertical slowed.
Velto asked, “Why does every lift in Orta sound like someone’s outside pulling the cables by hand?”
The doors parted to a world of round cubicles.
Dozens of young subak and older bizak moved about in tight-fitting Orta medical uniforms, each glancing at the trio of visitors as they passed. Beyond the administrative maze loomed a world of red metal walls. Gold neon strips marked the floor and outlined a large round pad in the room’s center, where two curvaceous subaki walked together toward another exit, their long narrow braids swinging as they moved.
“I know that backswell,” Koba mumbled.
The younger subak, a blue spotted beauty with a crown of Pikalit style cornrows, touched the arm of the older, whose gray and red hide flushed when she saw them.
Yulata Gizul’s thick lips twisted into a bright smile.
“Koba,” the subbie bounded toward them, the temporary badge on her fancy subati listing her from Makzolic Services.
Koba opened her arms. “Bring it to me, ‘Lat,”
Velto eagerly stepped in for a hug.
“How are these stripes darker now than they were in your twenty?” asked Koba.
“Gizul’s don’t fade,” she bragged before addressing Velto, concerned. “How are you, doe?”
“Getting better every day,” Velto assured her.
“The good times,” she said, nodding. “Let those haunt you.”
“What’re you doing down here?” Koba asked.
“Seeing a patient,” she said, guarded.
“You’re still tending patients at your age?” Laxum blurted.
The subak’s thick lips flattened with her voice. “Hello, Lax.”
“What kind of shit question is that?” Velto demanded.
“Why is it that when a subbie turns forty, she gets asked why she’s still working?” Yulata shook her head. “Nobody asks a bizzy or a hizzah over forty why they’re still working.”
“You’ve misconstrued my intent,” Laxum said, defensive. “I thought your elevated status ended your days as a practitioner.”
Yulata was the Secondary of Makzolic Services.
“Nice recovery, Lax,” Koba said, then turned to the subak. “You’re still tending to goozers, huh?”
The subak laughed. “I have one regular patient.”
“How’s Ixo?” Velto asked.
Yulata smiled. “Bond broke and happy,”
“What?” Velto asked.
Laxum interrupted, “Where is Doctor Uym?”
“She’s in her studies room,” Yulata said, kissing Velto and then Koba on the cheek before turning back to the younger subak. “Last door after the fountains.”
“I don’t get a token of affection?” Laxum pouted.
Yulata called out over her shoulder, “You’re lucky to be walking away without a slap upside your head.”
The younger one smiled, a handheld between her chin and shoulder.
“That one’s too young, Koba,” Velto warned.
“You think her patient is Sofita?”
“Possibly,” said Laxum.
Hizaki needed minor treatment for their private parts; bizzy’s and bruisers didn’t bother with their privates until something itched or began to hurt.
They walked around tiered waterfalls and entered a bright corridor. A door bearing Fyla’s name opened to a room with two standing desks and one hanging interface screen. On the far sealed door, a digital marquee read: STUDY IN PROGRESS.
Velto tried to push through with Koba on her heels, but the door would not give way. After stepping back, the cheery voice of Targon filled the room.
“Good evening, Veltowram,”
“Let me in Targon,” said Velto.
“I am unable to allow access to the citizens standing behind you,” said the subhive. “Facial features indicate the first is Koba Julo, and the other is former CR of Utama, Laxum Jyr.”
Laxum smirked. “Have you notified Pengon?”
“Good evening Ambassador Jyr,” said Targon. “No, I am never to report anything that occurs within Phasics to Pengon without authorization from Doctor Fyla Uym.”
Laxum and Koba shared a grin.
“Inform Doctor Uym that I don’t wish to be here,” said Lax, “but citizen Wram insisted.”
Koba added, “Tell her I don’t even have my Filmark.”
“One moment, please.”
“If you weren’t such a pain in the backswell, I could take you places,” Velto said to Koba, then shifted her attention to Laxum. “Your clasper-loving girz is still enemy number one with these Femitokon’s.”
Laxum raised a confident eyebrow.
Koba half expected she and the hizak might return to the transport, but then the door unclicked, followed by the syrupy voice of Targon bidding them good night. Single file, they entered a small split-level space whose single light source was a large monitor displaying a silent sexual encounter with an helovx.
Velto announced their presence.
“Viewing icers on Orta time?”
“I have better taste than this shit,” came the voice of Fyla Uym.
A uniformed Sofita Kul hopped up to greet them. Two young hizak in lab coats stood near the screen, along with Promad Bo Kilvx.
“Where you been?” Bo asked, shaking Koba’s hand.
“Working in the AC,” said Koba.
Sofita embraced Laxum.
“I didn’t know you were home,”
“Don’t get too close,” Velto warned. “She’s been to the fry house.”
Laxum smiled. “The breast pieces are getting bigger each year,”
“How is Ryl?” asked Sofita.
“Ready to retire,” Velto shook Sofita’s hand. “Just like you thought.”
Koba assumed Laxum and Velto had decided to approach the old hizak together; she should’ve known Kul was behind it.
Onscreen, the sexual encounter intensified, all from the point of view of an unseen femmar. Then, Sofita’s gloved hands appeared in the film.
“Promad Kilvx.” Velto remained on the high level, reaching down to shake the Promad’s hand before snapping at Sofita. “Is this through your eyes?”
“The Shell recorded it for posterity,” said the hizak.
“He’s posturing all right,” Koba mumbled.
“How are you, Citizen Julo?” Sofita asked.
“Grateful for the permission to air my footage,” said Koba. “How is Dox?”
“She’s recovering,” said the hizak.
Onscreen, Sofita’s fingers penetrated the man’s anus.
“Now that is an helovx violation,” said Laxum with a smile.
“You like that, Ambassador?” Kilvx laughed.
Laxum smiled wide. “Like isn’t stout enough a word, Promad.”
“You would like this shit,” Velto cracked.
“Tell me he’s not deceased,” said Laxum. “Tell me he’s in custody somewhere.”
“Don’t be disgusting,” Fyla called out in the dark.
Laxum emitted a sigh before addressing Sofita.
“Does this piece of prime girsuzsch have a name?”
“His name is Colonel Adam Pierce,” said Sofita.
Laxum wondered, “Why does that name sound familiar?”
“He was the North American conversing with Zhang,” said Koba, and when both hizak stared at her, she explained, “I got a transcript of the Bumo session from a friend.”
Laxum’s attention shifted to the playback as the man’s penis entered the folds of Sofita’s gashcol.
Velto remained by the door as if being farthest from the playback made her less complicit in viewing it. “Your gash is better looking than your face, ‘Fita.”
“That’s why no one ever looks at her face.” Koba cracked.
Sofita smiled in that sinister way of hers and stepped to Koba. “Can you still take a punch, Julo?”
“From you?” Koba laughed, but when the hizak’s fist jabbed her in the solar plexus, she doubled over and began wheezing.
“His response is unique for an helovx.” Fyla walked to the playback and, touching the screen, made his skin disappear, showing his body fluids in a thermal display.
Laxum sucked her tongue. “You’ve ruined it.”
Bo appeared beside Koba.
“Stand up straight. Helps with the pain.”
Koba did as advised, but the ache remained.
“His physiological response is what’s unique,” said the tallest of the younger hizaki. “Perhaps he’s engineered to—”
“-Engineered to do what, Gwo?” asked Sofita.
Gwo touched the screen, removing Fyla’s anatomical view to display the man’s organs, body fluids, and musculature.
“Studying his response,” she used her stylus to magnify the area around his crotch. “The blood flow’s heaviest above his clasp.”
“Helovx term that, the cock,” Koba offered.
“The technical term,” Fyla rectified, “is ‘penis.’”
“I’m aware of this, Doctor Uym,” Gwo said as Laxum stepped between them. “In the average helovx male, Doctor Kul—”
“-Komad,” Sofita corrected.
Gwo cleared her throat. “Blood flows into the penis, making it erect. Here, the amount passing into the proper area isn’t enough to maintain this level of arousal.”
Velto spoke up from the back.
“Where’d you get such a large ryd, Sofita?”
“I was born with it,” said the hizak.
Koba made a fist and stuck her thumb between her index and middle finger. “It protrudes like a turtle’s head.”
“My rydok is inferior until I pump it,” said Laxum.
Gwo turned. “There’s a means to pump it?”
“Bellies have ryd pumps,” Koba said.
“Helovx women have clitoral pumps,” said Sofita.
“How does one acquire them?” Gwo inquired.
“Import-Export in the AWI,” Koba said.
Gwo deflated. “Not a clitoral pump,”
“Must we pervert my staff?” Fyla droned.
“That’s an impressive ryd, ‘Fita,” Velto noted again.
“Fusada’s was bigger,” said Bo.
Velto laughed. “That’s the truth,”
Fyla’s eyes widened in horror.
Koba formed a fist with her middle knuckle out, “When ‘Foos bounced blue at the bluz, it was like, boom!” she said, her middle finger popping out.
Velto nodded. “It stayed that way, too, even after she doused you.”
Fyla stepped to the back of the room.
“I fell victim to her aim once,” Koba turned to Bo. “Kulateral damage.”
The marix laughed, along with the hizak beside her.
“Doctor,” Sofita walked to Gwo. “Would his oppositus have anything to do with these strange readings?”
“Is that why everything’s on the wrong side?” Velto asked.
“His situs inversus is intriguing,” Fyla said.
Bo turned, “Doctor Uym?”
“I told you to call me Fyla,” she smiled.
Koba and Velto exchanged curious glances.
“Fyla,” Bo faced her. “His situs-whatus?”
“Situs inversus,” the bizak said, laughing.
“Is that common?” Bo asked.
“No,” said Fyla, dolling out the charm. “Pre-impact percentages of those born like this were at zero-point zero-one.”
“One in ten thousand?” asked Bo.
Gwo and the other hizak exchanged impressed looks.
“Some bruisers do read,” Koba scolded. “Some have actual degrees in things.”
“Considering the bottle-neck that occurred during the Dark Years,” Gwo stepped from Koba’s line of sight, “A case like this is-”
“-Statistically improbable,” Laxum said, touching a finger to the playback. “Sofita, did you order the Shell to—”
“-No, Lax,” the hizak crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t order the Shell to unmask my gashcol.”
“Why’s his peencock so red?” Velto blurted.
“Helovx blush in red,” Fyla said. “Capillaries near their skin get more oxygen, makes the blood rushing into them, turn red.”
Gwo and Laxum stepped closer to the playback.
“No matter how hard you hizzah’s squint,” Velto said, “you won’t change your genetic engineering.”
Laxum turned again to Sofita.
“Does the Shell allow you to see color?”
Sofita shook her head.
“That’s unfortunate,” Laxum sighed.
Fyla tapped the screen, returning it to the skinless scan.
“This is where you take him to the mattress.”
“Handling him like a subbie doll,” said Koba, leering.
Velto complained. “Can you turn off the sound?”
“There’s no audio on this,” said Fyla.
“I was talking to Koba,” said Velto.
“Where is the audio, Sofita?” Koba pouted. “Riding noise is the best noise.”
“I must say, Komad Kul,” Gwo closed out her tablet screen. “I’m impressed you knew well enough to employ an orgasmic surge.”
“My sib did it once,” Sofita said, eying Fyla.
Laxum faced her. “I was unaware she ever ignited it,”
Sofita sped the playback forward to the end.
“He climax’s here,” she said, turning it to the infrared. “When helovx orgasm, their blood rushes into the sexual organs. Why isn’t there a heat signature in the testicular region?”
“This was my point,” said Gwo. “The blood builds in his thighs, buttocks, and over his…penis. The tissue is engorged, but the temperature falls.”
“He’s burning cold,” Bo whispered.
“Like us,” Koba said, mesmerized.
Bo stepped to Kul. “Is it possible they engineered this man to have sex with us?”
“Helovx don’t have that sort of biogenetic technology,” Velto said. “They can’t even clone preexisting organics.”
“You never witnessed those Bumo sharks,” Laxum said.
“Did they engineer real sharks?” Bo asked, bewildered.
“The hybrid created shark-fused children,” Fyla said.
“Vai Zhang,” Sofita explained. “A female humanoid created by a hybrid to morph into an elasmobranch lifeform.”
“He used our genetic processes?” Gwo asked.
Fyla shook her head. “Nothing of concern.”
“That means classified,” Bo translated.
Fyla giggled like a donat.
“How did this Zhang pull that off?” Koba asked.
Sofita responded. “Hybrids are born capable of reading our language.”
“Where the fuck were you, Prime of Kuril?” asked Velto.
Laxum frowned. “I remained covert during the investigation.”
“Covert enough not to notice the investigation,” Koba muttered.
Gwo address Sofita. “I won’t speak further on a classified subject. However, I’m going to request that you sexually engage this helovx again and have the Shell perform an endothelial scan.”
“I think you should acquire him,” Fyla added.
“He’s NAUSIS,” Sofita glanced at the Promad. “Acquiring him isn’t an option.”
“Dead or alive,” Gwo said. “We can still determine his make-up.”
“Preferably alive, Sofita.” Laxum then nodded. “Process him through Kuril.”
Koba smiled. “That might lead to an Helovx Violation, Ambassador,”
“Next time, I’ll bring the digicast,” Laxum said, rewinding the playback to where the man climaxes. “Look at the distance.”
“It hit his face,” Koba laughed.
Gwo stepped to Laxum and whispered.
“Did our males ejaculate this way?”
Laxum’s eyes remained on the screen.
“Our males swelled inside of you during a burx. When they burned, juices bled from every pore on their clasp. If fortunate enough to burx simultaneously,” she shifted her eyes to the enraptured Gwo. “The experience was pure pleasure undefinable by words.”
Koba stepped up behind the young hizak.
“Dual burning with a male gets you pregnant.”
Disturbed, Fyla barked, “Can we change the subject?”
“From every pore?” Gwo asked, her head pivoting from Laxum to Koba.
“Their claspers expand and contract,” said Laxum. “The ejaculate bleeds out.”
“Sadly, Pure Gen,” Koba patted Gwo’s shoulder. “You’ll never know the experience of manipulating a real hanger.”
“Strapping-on is nothing like the real thing,” Sofita added.
Gwo became visibly uncomfortable.
“You’re both nasty,” said Velto.
“I was born with my tongue out,” Laxum stated. “I’ll never change.”
“Doctor Gwo,” Fyla said. “Please destroy the playback.”
“You can’t destroy this,” Laxum cried.
“I won’t be complicit in your perversions Laxum,” Fyla exclaimed. “Nor will anyone in my office.”
Laxum pointed at the young hizak. “Gwo, refrain.”
The young hizak sighed. “Apologies, Ambassador.”
Sofita raised her hand, and when Laxum saw the thumb drive between her fingers, she shook it, slipping the drive into her pocket. She then studied Sofita’s head. Years ago, the hizak had been bald; now, her hair was shoulder-length, pulled back by a rectangular barrette with a neat curl on her crown.
“Do you prefer your hair this way?” she asked.
“What’s wrong with it tied up in the back?” Koba asked.
Gwo uttered, “It’s uninspiring,”
“It’s uninspiring,” Laxum aped.
“You should see it when she powers up,” said Velto. “Turns into a noose.”
“How does it do that?” Koba wondered.
Sofita looked to Fyla. “The Shell does it on its own.”
“Sofita?” Laxum lowered her voice. “Can the Shell engage you sexually?”
Koba began laughing as Fyla pushed her way between them.
“If she and the Shell could do that, you pervert,” she scolded. “Sofita wouldn’t need to commit an helovx violation to reignite.”
“Refrain from calling me a pervert,” Laxum warned.
“Name ring too true, Lax?” Fyla goaded.
Laxum stared her down. “What’s the term for a citizen that uses another’s patch without her permission?”
Mortified, the doctor fled the lab.
“Nice,” Bo mumbled, following her.
Sofita moved in on Laxum. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I tire of her judging me,” she said.
“We all judge you,” Velto called from the door. “You make it easy.”
Sofita said, “Lax if you’re still angry with Fyla—”
“-I’m beyond it, thank you,” she huffed.
“Faxucrap,” said Koba.
Velto appeared beside Sofita. “You can’t come in here on her turf and start throwing the past up in her face.”
Gwo slipped out of the room with the other hizak.
“Get over it, get past it, and stop holding it against her.” Sofita took Laxum by the arm. “She’s the reason you’re going to ascend.”
“You wish me to go thank her?” Laxum demanded.
Sofita didn’t hesitate. “Maybe I do.”
Laxum refused to cower.
“Then, you’ll wait an eternity, Sofitakul.”