4 Skody Palace, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – Uralskey Island
7 July 2228 – 4:45 AM
Gaslight flickered behind rosy glass, giving life to the birds painted upon the coffered ceiling. Larger flames danced within the tiled hearth, pushing light through its ornately carved mantle and casting shadows on fittings created when the Tsars still ruled.
Duke Boris Kotko had been a boy when he learned that without a vagina, he would never rule. This reality came without bitterness. Unlike his mother, he understood that a Slavic Empire ruled by Juliana Mikołaj ensured Antarctica’s continued support.
“Boris?” Juliana whispered from her bed. “You must tell Kasimira—”
“-Sleep, my love, don’t leave this world distressed.” Boris sat beside her failing body, holding her cold hands and longing to take her place.
The radiation haunting their bones was Elohim’s punishment for their ancestors’ cruel actions when the world ended. While eastern Europe drowned in a Baltic Ocean’s birth, the Slav descendants of Judean Kings isolated themselves atop Ural’s high peaks. Safe behind a mighty concrete wall, they’d barred all others seeking safety.
Juliana groaned in pain. Before this bout of cancer took hold, she’d been one of the few rotund women left in the world. Stocky arms and an ample bosom, she possessed a regal moon-shaped face with thick lips and bright gray eyes.
“You must tell Kasi,” she struggled to lift her head.
“No emotions,” Boris whispered, kissing her hand.
She set her eyes upon him. “She must remain the way she was born,”
“You cannot get worked up over Kasimir.” Boris regretted his words as Juliana lapsed into a fit of coughing.
His palm pressed against the translucent skin on her chest as he eased her back onto the pillow. Sullen eyes came alive with the passionate spark that once aroused him when they coupled.
“You’ve entertained her nonsense long enough!” she gasped.
The only nonsense left in this world was their reliance on the farcs.
Boris and Juliana had grown up watching Ramaxia’s unsentimental Ninth Generation crush their parent’s dignity. Primary Kul and her poisonous Committee held little regard for the Slavs, the people who first awakened them to the world. The Fifth Generation had appreciated their worth without question with benevolence for all to ensure humanity’s survival.
Emperor Mikel Kotko, a great-great-grandfather, had dispatched his only daughter, Sashonna, to seek the farcs out at their erected dam in Greenland. After many arduous weeks over shallow seas, Sashonna reached her destination, and speaking archaic Russian, gave the farc guards a name: Ivan Balantin.
Balantin, set adrift by the original generation of farcs, had been collected by the Russian Navy’s last commissioned ships after surviving the chaotic seas in a small metal boat. Exposure to the pole’s frosty extremes took his hands, but he’d dictated his life among the femmar to a trusted secretary, observations handed down to those living atop the Urals. Their pre-impact Moses spent his last days in comfort, fortunate enough to have died before the Kamen meltdown poisoned everything within the wall.
Sashonna soon returned to the Empire, visibly free of her severest mutations, and accompanied by a Committee Member named Laxum Wram.
Laborer farcs arrived later to removed contaminants from their water and introduced a means to grab moisture from the air and freeze it. Decades passed before ice caps reformed in the highest mountains, improving air quality throughout Uralskey Island. Infant mortality declined, and teratogenic mutations degenerated, with Boris and Juliana’s generation born unhindered by nausea, brittle bones, and failing organs.
Unfortunately, the Slavs road to recovery had ended with the ascension of Ramaxia’s Sixth Generation. Relations cooled when their Primary expressed discomfort with assisting a human nation ruled by a man. Unwilling to lose Antarctica’s assistance, Emperor Mikel gave his throne to Sashonna. Bedridden after years of troublesome pregnancies, Empress Sashonna Kotko had then died having borne three sons.
Unsatisfied with Maxim Kotko’s crowning, the Sixth Gen farcs returned to Uralskey and attempted to remove the water filtration technology. Boris’s father, the Empire’s new leader, sent soldiers to stop the laborer farcs, but those unfortunate souls met their end under the boots of the brutal warrior caste.
Like the ancient Joshua around Jericho, the bald musclebound farcs set up camps along the Ural Wall, murdering any man spotted carrying a weapon.
Concerned yet ambitious, Anya Mikołaj, his uncle Oleg’s wife, struck a deal with the warrior farcs leader. She’d arranged the Kotko Dukes and their Emperor’s deaths, not only guaranteeing freshwater and food shipments but a throne for her newborn daughter, Juliana.
Boris had abandoned all thoughts of rule after his family’s denouement. Spared as a toddler during the murderous purge, he’d matured and built up his body for a day when the farc warriors might return.
Made a Duke, he’d vowed to protect his Empress, and yes, Juliana was his Empress. She’d blossomed into a plump and stunning woman. After capturing her heart, seventeen-year-old Boris became her most trusted advisor and enjoyed this elevated position until the Ninth’s ascendency to power.
A brutal regime, their leader Fusa Kul had destroyed the Australians before forcibly taking control of her nation from the Sixth. Her new foreign affairs administrator, Lekada Wram, quickly reassessed their relationship with the Slavic Empire.
The wily thinker convened with Juliana and demanded a reason that her nation should care for a people that offered nothing in return. Juliana respectfully reminded Wram that the Slavs had liberated the southern polar femmar from Vostok.
Belligerent by nature, the haughty farc reminded his Empress that the femmar awakened themselves, suggesting that the Russians had been in the wrong place at the right time. Wram delivered further insult, telling her that the Slavs took too much pride in a whore like Balantin.
Unable to hold his tongue, Boris defended Balantin before being arbitrarily dismissed by Juliana. Retreating from the room that day, he’d heard Wram opine that men, slaves to emotion, remained ill-suited for diplomacy. Juliana retorted that she too loved her whores and found it best to send them out of the room when emotionally compromised.
Her words stung, but Boris realized her sexist dismissal had garnished respect from Wram. She begged the condescending farc to consider her unborn daughter, the Slavic Empire’s next ruler, before making a clean break. Pleading this imaginary child proved successful; Wram left Uralskey with the freshwater technology intact and the assurance of continued food shipments. And, like a suitable whore, Boris had set out to give his Empress, a daughter.
“Kasi’s to remain a she if we are to survive,” whispered Juliana.
Synagogue bells had proclaimed Kasimira’s birth, yet the child’s refusal to adhere to ‘his’ feminine body remained closely guarded.
“Kasi knows what is expected,” Boris assured, leaning over to kiss her forehead.
A bead of sweat dripped from his bald scalp and fell upon her bottom lip. She grabbed a kerchief from his uniform pocket and brought it to her sharpened smile.
“Borisov, my strong man, with eyes like the sea,” she whispered.
Her last breath danced between them before her mouth went slack, and her eyes lost focus. When Boris clutched her wrist and felt no pulse, the dull ache plaguing his head exploded like a bomb.
Standing, he pulled the hem of his uniform jacket down over his belt and turned away from his men, then bit down on his fist until the skin broke. Pascha, his most trusted servant, wrapped a cloth around his wounded knuckles as the older women tending to Juliana dropped to their knees and began wailing.
Every man standing bowed his head, except one.
“Is she dead?” asked his younger brother, Yuri. A stunted version of Boris, he was a petulant man who’d inherited the Kotko baldness, but little else.
“Our Empress is gone,” Boris spoke at him over the wailing crones. “You will tend to the Duke.”
Yuri’s face twisted into a mask of displeasure.
“Let Pascha go to the Duchess,”
The morbidly thin Pascha snapped to attention.
“I will gladly serve, Duke Kotko!” he spat, prepared to do anything asked of him.
“Pascha will see to the servants as they must prepare for tonight’s obituary feast,” when Boris stepped to Yuri, the men around him stepped back. “You’ll go to the Duke, and you’ll comfort him.”
“Must it be me that goes to her?”
“The Empress is dead,” Boris flicked some imaginary dust from Yuri’s shoulder. “The Duke will now live as the man he is, and we will respect this because he is now our Emperor.”
“If he’s a man, why can’t he like girls?”
“The problem lies not with his desires, but yours,” Boris scolded. “A true cock loves only the hole to be fucked, not the ornamentation around it.”
Every man except Pascha chuckled.
“Kasimira makes me uncomfortable,” Yuri blurted. “Choose someone else, brother.”
The women began wrapping Juliana’s corpse up in her sheets. After a moment of observing them, Boris smiled at his brother and opened his arms. Yuri, grinning inanely, walked into his older brother’s knee as it jabbed him in the testicles.
Yuri collapsed to the floor, choking.
Boris knelt beside him. “Is that uncomfortable, Yuri?”
Tucked into a ball, the younger Kotko nodded fiercely.
“We all must endure some discomfort,” Boris rose and addressed the room. “My Empress is gone, and I’ll never be comforted again.”
Boris led his men into the waiting hall, suddenly sickened by the dark blue walls framed in white plaster molding. He ignored the paining of his sallow-faced grandfather and fixed a wary eye on the clock. The short arm, a delicately molded sea turtle, hovered over the five while the long arm, a galloping fox, inched past twelve.
“Mark the time of her death,” Boris turned to find Pasha missing; the man likely stayed behind to help wrap Juliana’s body.
“Of course, Duke Kotko,” Tatiana Karel approached from the far end of the hall, a raven-haired beauty too thin for his tastes.
“Inform Wram the Younger that our Empress is dead,” he added before lending a thought to their other farc guest. “Inform her lovely wife, Miss Ilo, that she’s to dine with us after sundown, to mourn our Empress.”
“Yes, Duke Kotko,” said Tatiana with a bow.
“Take my Pascha with you, Tati,” he said. “A gift for your service.”
Tatiana bowed again, smiling. “Thank you, Duke Kotko.”