1330 Hours – 1 Yulitat 2228
Water cascaded down the shimmering granite, distorting bits of light reflected from the ceiling’s dangling glass globe. Dress boots tapped over shiny tiles on their journey to the center room’s leather couches and plush chairs.
Obiz Banto felt out of place despite her pedigree in the penthouse suite hosting the election-watch party. Her bizak sib had advised against wearing an upscale suit, yet her bizak stylist insisted on rolling her hair into two neat tubes above the ears.
Fashionably late, scores of notable hizaki arrived, including elite politicians Cruzo Tegal and Qul Grik, adorned in front-window styles Obiz could never afford.
Her sartorial inadequacy faded with the arrival of Ryl Jyr. One of Utama’s most stylish denizens, Ryl sported an unadorned pantsuit, and like Obiz, her stylist made up for the shortcoming with an over-styled up-do.
Ryl emerged from the crowded room flanked by two Ninth-Gen zaxiri. Each plump beauty owned hides with patterns that contrasted in ways that captured the eye. Only the gorgeous caught Ryl’s attention; she’d been bonded to a Prime Citizen winner and rarely dabble in anything but the best.
Meeting the elder hizak had proven fruitful for Obiz, whose career seemed stalled before it even started. She’d applied to every Cloister-Aid prospect in Ramaxia without success until the esteemed politician struck up a conversation at the offices of the Sernatae Second. Revealing her intention to retire, Ryl elaborated on plans to support Velto Wram’s bid to succeed her. When she’d suggested Obiz oversee the bizak’s campaign drive among hizak Utamaxi residing in Vanda, the young hizak jumped at the chance.
Knowing that Eleventh Gen hizaki proved unmotivated without a gainful benefit, Obiz reached out to the National Bluzsh Owners Guild in West Toxis. She brokered a deal to offer free bluzsh lockers to Utama-born hizaki living in Vanda. Lockers remained the most expensive purchase at a cit-bluz, and with proof of their vote, these hizaki could indulge in a bit of post-hibernation vice on the cheap before returning to the rigors of management.
“Citizen Banto.” Ryl smiled and opened her arms wide, freeing herself from her zaxiri companions.
“Citizen Jyr,” said Obiz, stepping into them.
“Being termed a citizen is a melody that soothes,” Ryl said, then addressed one of her gorgeously plump companions. “This young Vandosh is responsible for Velto’s success among our young locals,”
“Vanda’s where all our brainers go if they aren’t interested in politics,” said the elder zaxir, her eyes on Obiz’s backswell.
“It’s where I should’ve gone,” Ryl muttered.
“These thin flat lines,” said the other elder zaxir, tracing one across Obiz’s cheek with her long fingernail. “You’re the prettiest hizak I’ve ever seen,”
The first one laughed. “This one is Tee Banto’s donata,”
“Now I see,” the other cooed.
“She’s also got that Banto backswell,” said the other, patting Obiz’s girsuzsch.
“Cease this instant. We’re not in the citbluz,” Ryl scolded playfully, and taking Obiz by the arm, she walked her to safety. “I took the liberty of informing Laxum of your stratagem, and she returned today to take advantage.”
Obiz started. “The Prime of Kuril Base is here?”
“Her departure point for OHA service found her assigned a vocational paxicol in Vanda,” Ryl said. “She’s unable to remain after today, pressing matters in Kuril.”
Obiz pouted. “I’d rather hoped to meet her,”
“Dressed like that?” one of the zaxir snuck up behind them.
“Pay her no mind,” Ryl pulled the chubby belly into her arms. “You’re suitably attired for the likes of Velto Wram.”
“Your look is a little tired,” cracked the other. “But that color does bring out these skinny green lines,”
Obiz flashed a flirtatious grin. “Perhaps you’ll allow me the pleasure of showing you how low these horizontal lines run,”
“It seems Laxum is here in spirit,” Ryl declared, and the zaxiri laughed.
Suddenly, Ryl’s escorts took an arm and pulled the elder into a group gathering around the BEBBLE. The oversized screen projected a three-dimensional rendering of the Cloister Prime Polling Center and a young zaxir newscaster named Fer Holix, surrounded by a crowd of boisterous Utamaxi voters.
Polls had closed twenty minutes prior, with votes still incoming from locals living in Vanda, Toxis, Pikalit, and Orta. Obiz envied Utama’s hizaki for being the first of the Eleventh to take part in a vote. Naturally, they behaved like raucous donats.
Climbing the spiral stairs to an open loft, she approached the untouched sweets and beverages table. She’d never been one for cream-filled baked goods or helovx-inspired pastries, but her sib lived for them.
Bizaki loved helovx junk food, consuming more of it than any other caste—stay for zaxiri.
A voice came from the terrace. “Okay, Ilo, it’s go time.”
Velto Wram entered through a glass sliding door, her height far smaller than Obiz anticipated. Her hide lacked any discernable markings, and her petite figure and saucer-shaped eyes made her seem donational. The older bizak tugged at the collar of her designer pantsuit, its embroidered jacket concealing her flat chest. She flicked her hairtail from her shoulder and whisked past Obiz on her way to the railing.
“Would you get up here,” she yelled at someone below.
That someone lounged content between two Tenth Gen zaxir before grudgingly fleeing their affections when summoned. Bounding up the stair, she passed Obiz and grabbed hold of Velto’s outstretched hand.
“That’s the Fer Holix you’re riding?” asked Velto, thumb pointed at the BEBBLE projection below.
“Indeed, it is,” she grinned.
Velto scowled. “What’s the matter with you, Koba? She’s Pure Gen,”
Koba Julo, in the flesh, Obiz could barely contain herself. The brilliant media mogul had designed Wram’s campaign against Ninth Gen hizak Z’pol Ubat.
“She’s anything but pure,” the bizak laughed, winking at Obiz. “The gash wants what the gash wants, right?”
Obiz nodded knowingly with her hand up for a shake but stepped aside when Koba brushed past her, grabbing a sweet roll from the table.
“Eat,” she said, handing a sweet roll to Velto. “You look like shit.”
Velto took a bite, made an unpleasant face, and then resumed chimping into it. Obiz retrieved a cold milk bottle for her, but Koba took it and handed it to the short bizak.
“You realize,” Velto said, her mouth full. “If I win, you’ll no longer have a job.”
“Channel Ramx is solvent these days,” Koba bragged.
“I take it Eppis made back her investment, too?” Velto asked.
“Two years ago, last month,” Koba revealed. “It was her idea to air exclusively on the interHive.”
“I remember Ilo telling me,” said Velto.
Koba grinned. “She said Intragux was the ultimate protection from Tee.”
“They can both go ride for all I care,” Velto said, frowning.
Obiz cast her eyes down in disappointment. She knew nothing of her kerma’s financial involvement with Channel Ramx and hoped the animus with Wram had dissipated with time.
Then, the guests below went quiet.
The election’s final tally appeared behind Fer Holix and the group around her. Results broken down by caste indicated that Utama hizaki residing in Vanda were the last votes counted.
“Eighty-three percent of the hizzah vote in Vanda,” Koba laughed. “That hizakidoe Ryl hired sure came through,”
Obiz straightened her back, ready for an introduction.
“Those Pure-Gen brainers that don’t give a shit about Cloister politics,” Velto smirked. “I’m shocked as shit they even voted.”
“Get this.” Koba glanced at Obiz before whispering. “Ryl says this hizakidoe got the citbluz guild to offer up free suit-lockers for the Utamaxi hizzah’s voting in Vanda,”
“That’s fucking brilliant,” Velto declared before downing her milk.
“I know,” Koba laughed. “Laxum slept home just to take advantage.”
Koba took Velto’s empty bottle and handed it to Obiz.
“Is this hizakidoe here?” Velto asked.
Obiz cleared her throat as a flattering freeze of Ubat, Velto’s opponent, appeared below behind Holix. Beside the Ninth Gen was an older freeze of Velto, fresh out of Mynu.
Koba groaned. “I sent them a current image,”
“You didn’t expect Tee Banto to use it?” Velto huffed. “She hates me as much as Eppis does,”
Koba nodded. “I’m pretty sure Eppis hates you more,”
“Both Banto’s can all ride the top of my hand,” Velto cracked.
Obiz stepped back again, her stomach in knots and her hands balled together tight. The crowd around Holix grew rowdy on the projected display below.
“I cannot believe those donats act like this,” Velto said.
“It’s our virgin vote,” Obiz blurted.
The bizaki faced her as if noticing for the first time they weren’t alone.
Koba elbowed Velto. “Do you remember our first vote?”
“Rux Acari, a citbluz owner with no Cloister experience.” Velto grinned at Obiz. “Our elders thought we were insane.”
Koba winked. “West Toxis was wild back in our day,”
“The final count is in.” The crowd around Fer Holix fell silent. “Z’pol Ubat finished with 1,975 votes, while Velto Wram pulls in a whopping 3,475!” Cheering riotously, the group forced the zaxir to shout. “Velto Wram is our new Citizenry-Representative, Utama.”
The room was still applauding as many Tenth hugged one another.
“Velto Wram is the victor tonight, despite earlier polling predictions released by the Fourth Office. I don’t know who’s doing the counting over there, but I think CM Banto should send them back to Mynu.”
A few ill-spent words about her elder spread amongst the guests while the projection of Holix tempered her tone.
“I should note that Vanda’s huge turnout of young hizaki born in Utama vastly affected the late afternoon tally. Once they hit the poles, it was smooth sailing for Velto Wram.”
Within moments, the young hizaki present in the penthouse suite ascended the stairs to wish Wram well. Hand out, the Tenth Gen bizak appeared anxious, confident they would insist on embracing her.
“Pardon us.” Obiz stepped in front of Velto. “Citizen Wram needs a moment to decompress. Her success is our success.”
These words brought a hearty cheer. Familiar with many of them, Obiz hugged each one before turning to find Koba and the winning bizak vanished. After cordially fending off a few citbluz invites, she ventured to the adjacent door off the mezzanine.
“I got some bellies lined up for us,” said Koba. “Let’s end this night right.”
“I’m not ready for that,” Velto snapped. “I’m also tired of explaining that I’m not ready.”
Obiz lingered and spotted Velto inside the room, sitting on the desk and pulling at her collar. “I also hate her being gone,” Velto added, her short legs swinging as they didn’t touch the floor.
“You’re right,” said Koba. “That was insensitive of me.”
“I want to meet this hizakidoe.” Velto gave the bizak’s arm a gentle tap. “She’s the reason I won.”
“It would be nice to thank her,” Koba agreed.
“I also need a Cloister-Aid,” she said. “I got no time to be interviewing a bunch of hizzahs brats I don’t know. At least I know this one’s on board with me.”
Koba pulled out her handheld. “Ryl said she applied,”
“You got her application on there?” asked Velto, hand out.
“Excuse me,” Obiz said, entering.
“This room’s off-limits,” Koba said.
“I’m the applicant you seek.” Obiz extended a hand. “From Vanda,”
“Get in here.” A smiling Koba shook her hand vigorously. “Should’ve known it was you by the way you handled that crowd out there,”
“You have Cloister Experience?” Velto asked, shaking her hand.
“It’s an honor to meet you, CR Wram,” said Obiz. “I’ve no session time logged, but I have legislative proposal experience. I’ve also worked in the Cloister for over a year.”
“She doesn’t use too many complicated words,” Koba said, grinning.
“That’s a plus, believe me,” Velto teased.
“I have a Degree in Governance,” Obiz added. “There’d be no need to sponsor a test,”
“Even better, uh…” Velto glanced at the application for a name and, finding it, her large eyes narrowed.
Obiz sputtered. “CR Banto has nothing to do with me.”
“You’re rebelling.” Velto tossed the digital reader to the floor. “Is that it?”
“Rebelling?” Obiz said. “My task was getting you elected, Citizen Wram. I took on that task without question not because it paid well but because I respected everything you accomplished in the West Toxis seat.”
“What’s the problem?” Koba asked.
Velto pointed at the door. “You need to get back to Vanda, Citizen Banto.”
Koba started, then stared at Obiz with her mouth ajar.
“Whatever tribal conflict exists between you and my kerma,” Obiz proclaimed. “It has nothing to do with me,”
Koba tried to ease the tension. “Listen, Obiz, is it?”
Obiz stepped around the tall bizak to confront the shorter. “I may be stuck with her pretty face and fat gurz, but I assure you, I’m not Eppis fucking Banto.”
Koba sucked in her lips and took a step back; not only did Obiz employ a slur, but an helovx slur at that.
“Forgive my unsolicited belligerence, CR Wram.” Obiz struggled to keep her hands in view. “I haven’t resided under my kerma’s roof in years,”
“Wait,” Koba interjected. “Are you even old enough to be on your own?”
“Shut up, Koba,” Velto said, her eyes fixed on Obiz.
“Despite our differences, I respect my kerma enough never to speak ill of her.” Obiz looked Velto in the eyes. “I’m also not the sort to game my kerma or mak’s emotions by acting out.”
Koba broke the awkward silence. “How is Ozbi?”
“She’s returning to administrative nursing,” Obiz replied, shifting back to Velto. “She anticipates our production year.”
“Why do you want in the Session Hall?” Velto asked. “And don’t tell me what you think I should hear. Why do you want to be in Cloister?”
“My vocational goal is to follow Laxum Jyr’s example,” Obiz answered. “Ambassador Jyr enacted brilliant policy at an age when many hizak are still muddling through career choices.”
Velto wondered, “You want my Utama seat?”
“When you ascend,” Obiz nodded. “I wish to have it, yes.”
“Wouldn’t the Vanda seat be more appealing?” Koba blurted.
“The Tenth isn’t ascending,” Velto said, eyes on Obiz.
“Your reentry in politics says otherwise.” Obiz countered. “Sofita Kul is now an official heir to the Primaryship, and frankly, the thought of an hizak ascending to Primary fill me with boundless delight.”
Koba’s eyes widened.
“You share shit delight with your kerma or elder?”
“My kerma resents my ambition, so we have little to discuss these days.” Obiz then smiled. “And as I don’t tolerate Tee’s thoughts on my mako, I’m not tolerated.”
Velto put her hands on her hips.
“Is this your first application outside of Vanda?”
Obiz sighed. “I’ve applied to every office outside of Vanda,”
“What’s the problem?”
Obiz put her hands behind her back.
“None will employ me fearing that I represent CM Banto’s interests,”
Velto glanced at Koba on her way to the bar.
“Apologies,” Obiz added, forcing her hands into view. “My mak convinced me to apply with Utama first, knowing my career aspirations. When I finally got around to following her sage advice, Ryl Jyr announced her retirement.”
Velto filled two shot glasses with bozkul.
“Ozbi’s going back to nursing, huh?”
“Administrative nursing,” Obiz took the tiny glass handed to her. “She hopes to establish new career roots in the GDP.”
Velto tilted her head back and downed the shot.
“You drink boz, hizzah?”
Obiz emptied the glass in turn, keeping steady as the liquor stewed on its way down.
Koba handed Obiz another glass. “Where’d you learn to shoot boz?”
“I’m close to my sib.” Obiz drained the second glass. “She’s employed in Vanda sanitation. They hold the best bizaraks.”
Koba grinned. “What’s her name?”
“Fezil.” Obiz noticed the corner of Velto’s lips curl up. “I’m unaware of its meaning. My kerma named her.”
Koba smiled wide. “Feeling less nervous now?”
“Tremendously.” Obiz’s throat burned from the bozkul. “I tend to misspeak and spend considerable time struggling to correct misconceptions obtained from my ill-spoken words,”
“How does a hizzah struggle with what to say?” Velto asked.
“It’s a mystery,” Obiz said, downing another shot of bozkul. “And considering the Banto’s skillful mastery at verbal intercourse, I’d doubt my genetics if my maker weren’t the honorable sort.”
Koba smiled at Velto. “She speaks her mind when she shouldn’t,”
“It all just comes right out,” Velto agreed with a grin.
Koba murmured, “Reminds me of somebody else,”
“Obiz Banto.” Velto extended her hand. “You’re my new Cloister-Aid.”
Koba’s head pivoted. “Wait, what?”
“CR Wram.” Obiz shook that hand. “I won’t let you down.”
The short bizak stepped to her. “If you’re in my office, you’ll tell me everything your elder and kerma are doing. Understand.”
Feeling a bit drunk, Obiz overplayed her shock.
“What makes you think I’d do that?”
“Your kerma,” said Koba. “She’d do that,”
“I’m not my kerma,” Obiz said. “And spying involves socializing with my elder, and that’s not something I wish to do.”
Velto smiled wide. “Glad to hear it, Obiz,”
“A test?” Obiz gasped.
“Life in Cloister is always a test,” said the bizak. “Remember that.”
Before she could elaborate, the inebriated cry of Yegi Das invaded the room.
“Welcome back to the Cloister!” she said, arms opened wide. Behind her trailed a shapely subak whose hourglass figure appeared stuffed into an hizak’s stylish three-piece suit.
“How drunk are you, hizzah?” Velto laughed, stepping into her embrace.
“We’re pleased with your victory, Velto,” said Cruzo Tegal, sober as she pressed a bottle of tirgol into Velto’s hand.
“Second Gen tirg?” Velto scanned the bottle’s label before avoiding Koba’s reach and handing it to Obiz. “Where’d you get this?”
“Pel acquired it from a dealer in Pikalit,” she said, speaking of CR Jyr.
Yegi slid between them. “Our esteemed Pel has procured a floor for our amusement at the Rixitat Bluzsh.”
Velto’s large eyes blinked.
“CR Wram.” Obiz moved into their circle. “Your victory speech needs reviewing. Mainly portions regarding Citizen Cux. We must mention her to your constituents.”
Velto stared at Obiz, grateful.
“I apologize, Velts,” Yegi said softly. “We hadn’t considered-”
“—it’s fine,” said the bizak. “Take Koba in my place.”
Cruzo raised a finger to Obiz. “You’re Prime Clerk for the Sernatae-Second.”
“You work for Ixo Gizul?” asked Velto.
“My internship ended before hibernation,” Obiz assured. “Sernatae-Second Gizul allowed me the work-study required to obtain my Governance Degree.”
“I enabled a similar route for Kil,” Yegi slurred, raising an arm; the subak stepped into it like a well-trained seal.
Kil Wex wasn’t the first of her caste to enroll in Governance, but she was the first to gain an actual position with the Cloister.
“Who gave a subbie a Governance Degree?” Velto wondered.
The subak hardened. “The same morons that gave one to a bizak,”
Everyone laughed at this, except Obiz, whose apologetic expression didn’t go unnoticed by Aid Wex.
“I got a speech to review,” Velto said, still humored. “Everyone clear out,”
“Obiz Banto, my striped friend,” Koba said, cuffing the back of her neck. “You’ve earned your keep this night and shall be rewarded for it,”
Obiz lowered her voice. “I haven’t the funds for the Rixitat,”
“Put it on my tab, Koba,” Velto said over her shoulder.
Obiz didn’t protest as Koba pulled her along with the group. She followed behind the trio, keeping pace with Kil Wex.
Lovely by anyone’s standards, the shapely subak kept her eyes forward.
“I’m Obiz Banto,” she said.
Aid Wex walked ahead of her. “I know.”
Koba turned around and addressed her, walking backward.
“I hope your verbal game improves before we hit the Rixi,”
The subak shoulders tensed.
“Speaking with a colleague is not an attempt at engagement.” Obiz then lowered her voice. “On that subject, the Rixitat remains a Tenth-Generation establishment. They’ll not allow me admission,”
“You’re arriving with two Citizenry Representatives,” the patchy-hued subak spoke over her shoulder. “You’ll have no trouble gaining entry,”
Stepping into the vertical, Yegi put an arm around Koba before noticing the subak hadn’t joined them. “Kil, you’re not attending?”
“I’m tired, CR Das.” Her thin lips spread in a smile. “It was nice meeting you, Aid Banto.” The door closed before Obiz could respond, and the moment it did, the hizaki within felt comfortable enough to be themselves.
“Trouble on the couch?” Cruzo teased.
Yegi stiffened. “I’ve no sexual relationship with my Aid,”
“Unfortunate that she excused herself,” said Cruzo. “Wex is quite popular with the zaxiri.”
Koba raised an eyebrow. “A subbie hungry for the bellies?”
“Ravenous,” Cruzo said.
Yegi cleared her throat. “I hadn’t noticed.”
Seizing the moment, Obiz lifted a finger to Koba. “I’ll accompany you to the citbluz on one condition, Citizen Julo. You’ll not inquire anything about my kerma.”
Koba looked hurt. “Not one question?”
“Not one,” said Obiz.
Koba waved her arms in frustration. “Well, then you can’t go!”
Yegi and Cruzo laughed heartily as the tirgol in Obiz’s blood devoured what remained of her anxiety.