Utamx Paxicol North
Soktulo District, Utama
0600 Hours – 1 Yulitat 2228
Fuzo opened her eyes, and the perfumed subak vanished.
She lamented that this fantasy lover always took the form of the one who ran away—her first and only subak lover, Tavo Ex. There’d been many zaxiri since that night, but none of them haunted her dreams like Tavo.
Outside the sleeping compartment’s hatch door came the harmonic whine of a kyrs-b’do. Bare feet thumped down the ladder rungs near the exit hatch, causing her filmark in the overhead mesh to tremble; those in top-tier billets cared little about disturbing the late arrivals beneath them.
Fuzo slept her full twenty, despite being laid up in a medical bed on the Orcinus for several weeks. She’d spent that time serving on Connie’s navigation team under the command of Promad Kilvx. The day before her hibernation time, Kul arrived to retrieve her. Finding Fuzo too exhausted for the slider ride to Pikalit, she enrolled her at this citizenry paxicol in Utama.
Suddenly, wake-up shouts bellowed from outside with barefooted kicks on her hatch door. One newly risen voice ordered her out by name and punctuated her command with a fart.
Sitting up in her elongated box, the world around her began spinning. Fingers sought the scar on her brow and traced its jagged imprint. A vision of Ilo Cux flashed behind her eyes, a cerulean beauty with salty spots and a hide that smelled of tangy glacial melt.
Fuzo tapped the button on the hatch, popping the square door open and ushering in the faint stink of Col-Tan. On her hands and knees, she crawled out and found the tile floor still damp from the stuff. At first glance, the marixi wing at Utamx Paxi felt no different than her assigned unit in Pikalit.
A long stretch made her lightheaded, but once her bearings returned, Fuzo descended a narrow ladder and found herself on the gapirx deck. Dozens of units surrounded the central wash pool, each flushing noisily after being used.
Fuzo blended in with the herd of naked marixi, stepping gingerly to her chosen unit. Straddling its porcelain top, she urinated several minutes, wondering if the hizzahs and bellies waking elsewhere in the building liked to talk during a leak.
Then, a familiar bruiser straddled the gape opposite her and stared hard before curling her lip.
“What are you doing here, Dox?” she grumbled. “This bit of World Oceans real estate is for Utamaxi.”
Fusat Holix always looked angry, even on her happiest days. The green and patchy white bruiser was eighth standing in their Final Trial, not that Fuzo had been awake to see her fall to the wily Vyx and Acari.
“I was sleeping, Holix.” Fuzo yawned. “My Komad brought me here,”
“Kul?” Holix pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “Why didn’t she take you to her pod’s paxicol in the hills? The dressing room in that thing is the size of my kerma’s entire house.”
Hushed laughed came from those around them.
“You been there, have you?” Fuzo asked.
A passing bruiser named Wuzi teased. “Holix goes there when the Primary needs her gash munched on,”
“I’m her favorite muncher,” Holix bragged.
Wuzi straddled the gape alongside, the yellow in her red striped hide still dark from sleeping. “I heard you ranked up, Dox,”
“Just made Dokomad,” she said.
Holix gave a quick nod. “What happened to your face?”
“I got shot,” she answered.
Wuzi frowned. “You going to get it fixed?”
“Thinking about it.” Fuzo tapped her foot against the base of the gape to flush it and rose to her feet after a blast of warm water rinsed her gurx.
“Don’t get it fixed,” Holix called as she walked away. “Scars are badass, Dox.”
Muscled bodies of every color crowded the dressing room, and when their numbers thinned, Fuzo removed her back from the wall and stepped to her locker. Pressing her palm against its narrow door prompted a greet from Koltrix.
Inside hung a new gray uniform without darkened cuffs and collar. Also missing was the infancy seam that ran down the front of her old Donmat uniform. Ignoring the new ranking emblem stitched on the arm, she fixed her communicator pin to the uniform’s thin lapel and dropped her Filmark into the left boot.
Orta had cycled Fuzo up despite citizen Cux’s demise. Even now, she struggled to honor her promise to Promad Kilvx to never blame herself for doing the best she could in a no-win situation.
Naked, she passed under the ‘Marixi-Only’ sign leading to the filotax pools. Back in Pikalit, hizzah civilians often washed with the bruisers, but this place contained zaxiri, so there were better places for the brainers to bathe. Not many zaxiri slept in the Triad, but Utama maintained loads of zaxxy’s, along with a mandatory segregation rule since those rotund beauties often woke with amorous feelings.
Sandstone glowed green and gold under the hot mists. One long pool wrapped itself around a central rock formation where heated water fell noisily into tiny hills of foam.
The steaming water soothed Fuzo’s hide as she swam a lap. Catching her reflection in the water, she studied her scarred forehead. A leafless tree with a chopped trunk, its longest branch splintered between her eyes.
Badass? More like dumbass.
Fuzo sat upon the rocks and slid the dull edge of her koxtax along her shin. When a light residue showed on its curved metal, she cursed her oily hide. After a full body scrape, Fuzo walked through the nearest cold falls before stretching out on a chaise in the wind room.
Solitary moments reminded her that Connie no longer had access. The lifeform’s cells had jump-started regrowth in her damaged brain, and though Doctor Uym assured her none of Connie’s brain existed within her own, subtle improvements abounded. Reading without headaches was nice, as was her newly diminished social anxiety. Still, she missed her acute sense of smell.
Back at her locker, Fuzo pulled on fresh OA’s, the blank tank and tight shorts-like briefs the same color black as everyone else suiting-up beside her. At the end of the bench stood Hibat Kil. Clad in a Donmat’s uniform, her armband indicated service aboard the TCS Chironex; the brown and black-hided marix served under Fuzo’s donational mentor, Promad Yuxi.
Beside her was Bakidon Kirgo Su, who slammed her locker when dressed. Suited up for the Axyrn, she delivered a friendly nod, despite their contentious communication exchanges during the Bumo mission. Marixi didn’t hold grudges, but when the orange and black striped Su stepped clear, the lofty Styba Balru appeared, reminding Fuzo that there was an exception to every rule.
Clad in the same Dokomad’s suit assigned to Fuzo, the lofty bruiser shifted her inquisitive eyes to Fuzo’s arm.
“Dokomad Dox,” she said.
Fuzo returned the gesture. “Dokomad Balru.”
Kil came between them.
“Dox, I didn’t know you were born in Utama,”
Balru grinned. “Dox hails from Pikalit,”
“What happened to you?” Su grimaced at the scar, then laughed, “Kul finally get tired of your swell and palm your head?”
“A Slav unloaded a gun in my face,” Fuzo replied.
All three lost their grins.
“You protected Ilo Cux?” Su asked.
When Fuzo nodded, Balru said, “That’s how you made Dokomad?”
“What did you do to make Dokomad?” Kil asked Balru.
“If I told you.” The thickly muscled bruiser preened in a nearby mirror. “I’d have to terminate you.”
Su and Kil chuckled, but Fuzo, knowing the truth about Terminal Sabotage, wondered who Balru might’ve murdered to make rank. Pulling her uniform from the locker and closing the door found Balru standing beside her. Unstartled, she allowed the muscular bruise to take hold of her head and chin.
“That’s a badass wound Dokomad.”
“Zaxxy’s love scars,” Su added. “Gets them icy,”
“You should keep it,” Kul chimed.
“You can let go of me now,” Fuzo demanded politely.
Grinning, Balru released her, but before Fuzo raised her arm to block it, the larger marix’s fist collided with the side of her head. The pain was negligible, as Balru intended only to knock Fuzo off balance and into the clutches of Su and Kil.
“This is an Utamaxi paxicol,” Balru declared over her shoulder, leading the way as Su and Kil hauled a struggling Fuzo out of the locker room. “Since this is your first time hibernating with us, it’s no surprise you’re unfamiliar with our traditions.”
Kul and Su shoved Fuzo against the balcony grate, and peering over its edge, calculated a three-story drop to the civilian pool.
“Let me go!” she growled.
Balru barked at her underlings. “Up!”
When Su and Kil raised Fuzo over the railing, Balru retook her chin.
“You have a nice swim Dox,” she said, stepping aside as Su and Kil hurled her over. “Try not to get any scars on the way down!”
Fuzo fell past decks of concerned onlookers before belly-flopping into the hot shallows of a filotax pool.
The force stung her fronts and robbed her of a breath only a few seconds before she curled to avoid striking the bottom. Standing in the waist-high water, the way her sopping wet OA’s clung to her muscular hide elicited smiles from the naked zaxiri lounging poolside.
“Styba, you imbecile,” shouted a turbaned young hizak. Staring angrily up from where Fuzo had fallen, the striped faced hizak stood with hands on her wide hips and her little fronts exposed.
Balru appeared over the railing, a smile spread across her face.
“Let me come dry off those thick cheeks, Banto?”
The hizak shook her head. “Your amateurish flirtations fail.”
“Come on, Banto, give me a chance,” yelled Balru.
“If you and I were the last two femmar on Ramaxicon,” Banto’s nasal drawl came out through smiling lips. “I’d be seeking pleasure from a mound of ice.”
Balru took delight in the insult. “Your gash would melt in my mouth,”
“That visual is a crime,” Banto said, grimacing.
Laughing, the thick bruiser vanished from view.
Fuzo remained sunk to her chin in the water for several moments until her anger faded. Resurfacing, she found the white-hided brainer poolside, her parted robe displayed those horizontal stripes that at first seemed black until Fuzo got a closer look. Hair thin, her hide-lines were a dark green, and ran perfectly across her face and mouth as if drawn.
“Is this your Utama hibernation debut?” Banto offered a towel. “Let’s return you to dry clothes.”
Fuzo followed the hizak out of the civilian pool area, her eyes on the fattened cheeks bouncing under Banto’s robe. Having seen Kul naked too many times to mention, hizaki bodies longer possessed a mysterious allure, but Fuzo couldn’t look away from the garment’s red veneer.
The hizak turned and regarded her with curiosity.
“I’ve never seen Styba carry out such an elaborate prank. I assume you’re a former friend?”
“Look, Banto, is it?” Fuzo said, stopping in the corridor.
Fuzo stared at her. “Obiz Banto?”
“My reputation precedes,” boasted the hizak, the origins of her snowy wide hide no longer a mystery.
“I met your kerma,” Fuzo blurted.
“Reminding me of her is unnecessary.” Banto forced a smile that became sincere after giving Fuzo the once over. “Pull on a dry uniform. We’ll reconvene here.”
After being left alone in front of the marixi-only wind, Fuzo returned to the locker room. Peeling off her wet undershirt and shorts, she paid for a new pair from a vending machine dispursing Orta-Assigned undergarments. Once changed into her new uniform, she waited at the entry over ten minutes before trekking to the civilian dressing rooms.
Ten minutes for an hizak to get dressed felt ambitious enough; it took a hizzah more time to choose a pair of shoes than it took a subak to braid her entire head. When the hizak emerged with her hair in a turban and her thick rump stuffed into a dull walking suit, Fuzo discharged a frustrated sigh.
“You’re not even dressed,” she groaned. “What took so long?”
Banto scolded. “Post hibernation socializing is requisite,”
“That’s what a hizix bar is for,” she countered.
“Those establishments are tribal.” Banto’s thick inflection echoed in the stairwell. “After waking, conversation with those I’ve matured with is more a priority.”
“Revisiting donational peers?” Fuzo said, eyes-rolling.
Banto turned to face her. “Serving with the former Doctor Sofita Kul has honed your insights. And, before you inquire, yes, I watched the report on Kul’s involvement in Uralskey and the death of Ilo Cux.”
“The Slavs killed Ilo,” she said. “Not Kul,”
“Agreed.” Banto continued down and spoke over her shoulder. “Her facilitation of Wram’s deadly course of action felt warranted,”
“How do you know that much about what happened?”
“The interHive shows all,” Banto rang. “There are helovx sailing the oceans who’ve seen Velto Wram’s session in Cloister.”
“How did Wram do?”
Banto continued down the stairs. “Unscathed as expected.”
“Why aren’t we taking the verticals?”
“Less chance of encountering Styba,” said Banto.
“What do you got planned?”
Banto paused. “You’re not frightened of Balru, are you?”
“You’re a Banto,” Fuzo asked. “Why are you sleeping in Utama?”
“I’m from Vanda, it’s true,” she nodded. “Before going down, I acquired a paxicol here in anticipation of a career change,”
Fuzo caught up to the hizak. “Where you working?”
“In Vanda, for a Utama candidate,” she boasted. “If that candidate wins today, I intend to strike for a Cloister-Aid position in her office,”
“Utama?” Fuzo opened the last door for her. “What happened to Ryl Jyr?”
Banto led her into the colorless first-floor lobby, where dozens of newly woke citizens conversed under hundreds of hanging crystal lights. Each clear shard swayed in the raucous breeze captured by the opened doors.
“CR Jyr stepped down citing a disenchantment with politics,” she explained as they approached the verticals. “My goal was to convince local hizaki returning for sleep, to cast their votes this morning, instead of abstaining due to working outside Utama.”
“What’s your plan for Balru?” Fuzo asked again.
Without answering, Banto accosted a bizak maintenance worker with a request to unlock the utility closet. The bizak, an Eleventh like them, explained there was nothing inside but floor buffers. Banto politely asked her again to open it, and an ornery gleam in the bizzy’s eye reminded Fuzo of that pervert Utat.
Overcome with bad memories, Fuzo stepped to the hizak.
“If you got me here to rub you off,” she warned.
Banto’s mouth twisted. “I don’t engage marixi.”
“What are we doing in here?” she demanded, following her inside.
Banto raised her hand for silence and peeked out the door.
“There’s Styba,” the hizak whispered, stepping out and pulling the door too without closing it. “I’ll begin a conversation. You pull her inside.”
After a beat, Fuzo heard Balru’s arrogant voice.
“You still crying, Banto?”
“I shed no tears for you, Styba,” Banto replied as Fuzo inched the door open. “Though I suppose your kerma does plenty.”
Fuzo slipped in behind the taller marix and made to catch her arms until the bruiser saw Banto’s eyes shift. Twirling around, Balru attempted to shove her, but Fuzo grabbed her stout arm and yanked the hulking marix over the closet’s threshold.
Banto pushed the larger marix from behind as Fuzo stepped aside, and when the hulking brute toppled to the floor, Fuzo hopped out as Banto slammed the door shut.
A muffled voice cried out from the other side.
“I’m going to end you, Dox!”
“Balru,” the hizak scolded. “That’s conduct unbecoming a Divisional operative.”
“I’ll show you some conduct unbecoming, Banto!”
Fuzo raised her pinkie in victory, laughing.
“I suggest you flee,” said the hizak, smug. “This door won’t hold forever.”
“I won’t forget this, Banto,” Fuzo yelled over her shoulder, and as she departed, she heard Balru promising that she too wouldn’t forget.