Episode Four [Preview]

After his Empress dies, Duke Boris Kotko plans to end the Slavic Empire’s reliance on the femmar. Meanwhile, back in Ramaxia, Sofita confers with Eppis Banto, whose life will be turned upside down if the Tenth Generation plans to ascend.

Skody Palace, New Warszawa
Slavic Empire – Uralskey Island
7 July 2228 – 4:45 AM

Gaslight flickered behind rosy glass while grander flames danced inside a tiled hearth. Light filtered through the ornate fireplace mantle, giving life to the birds painted upon the coffered ceiling.

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,” he held her cold hands in his and longed to take her place. “Don’t leave this world distressed.”

The radiation haunting their bones was Elohim’s punishment.

When the world ended, their ancestors ensured their continence through cruelty that lasted long after eastern Europe had drowned. The Slav descendants of Judean Kings had built a concrete wall atop Ural’s highest peaks, barring all others seeking safety.

“You must tell Kasi,” she struggled to lift her head.

“No stress,” Boris whispered, kissing her hand.

Juliana groaned in pain. “She must remain the way she was born,”

“You cannot get worked up over Kasimir,” he regretted saying that name when Juliana lapsed into a fit of coughing. He pressed a gentle hand to her translucent chest and eased her back onto the pillow.

Before this bout of cancer took hold, she’d been one of the few rotund women left in their world. Blessed with stocky arms and an ample bosom, Juliana possessed a regal moon-shaped face that Boris saw in his dreams, both good and bad.

Suddenly, her sullen gray eyes came alive with the passionate spark that once aroused him when they coupled. “You’ve entertained her nonsense long enough,”

The only nonsense entertained was their reliance on Antarctica.

Boris and Juliana had grown up watching Ramaxia’s unsentimental Ninth crush their parent’s dignity. Primary Kul and her poisonous Committee held little regard for the humans responsible for waking them to the world.

Emperor Mikel Kotko, a great-great-grandfather, had dispatched his daughter, Sashonna, to seek the Fifth Generation of farcs out at their established dam in Greenland. Finally, 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 farcs, had survived the chaotic seas in a small metal boat before his collection by the Russian Navy’s last commissioned ship. Exposure to the pole’s frosty extremes destroyed his hands, yet he’d dictated his life among the femmar to a trusted secretary. He’s spent his last days in comfort, dying before the Kamen meltdown that would poison those not yet born.

Evoking his name earned Sashonna an audience.

She returned free of her severest mutations and with laborer farcs that purified their water. The farcs introduced a means to grab moisture from the air and freeze it; within decades, ice caps had reformed in the highest mountains, and air quality improved.

Infant mortality declined, and teratogenic mutations degenerated. As a result, Boris and Juliana’s generation were the first delivered without brittle bones and failing organs. But their road to recovery had ended when Ramaxia’s Sixth came to power.

Relations cooled when their Primary expressed discomfort with aiding human nations ruled by men. Loath to lose Antarctica’s assistance, Emperor Mikel gave his throne to Sashonna. Bedridden after years of troublesome pregnancies, Empress Sashonna Kotko had died bearing her third son.

Unsatisfied with Maxim Kotko’s crowning, the Sixth Gen returned to Uralskey and attempted to remove the water filtration technology. Boris’s grandfather, 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 carrying a weapon.

Concerned yet ambitious, Anya Mikołaj, his great-uncle Oleg’s wife, struck a deal with the warrior farcs. After arranging the deaths of the Kotko Dukes and her Emperor, she placed herself on the throne. She’d outlived her four daughters, but not her grand-baby, Juliana.

Just a boy, Boris had abandoned all thoughts of rule. Instead, he spent his teens building up his body for a day when the farc warriors might return. Once a Duke, he vowed to protect his Empress with his life, and yes, Juliana was his Empress.

She’d blossomed into a plump, lovely woman, and after capturing her heart, seventeen-year-old Boris became her most trusted advisor. He enjoyed this elevated status until the Ninth’s ascendancy in Antarctica.

A brutal regime, their leader Fusa Kul had destroyed the Australians before wresting control of her nation from the Sixth. Her new foreign affairs administrator, Lekada Wram, reassessed their relationship with the Slavic Empire.

The wily thinker convened with Juliana, demanding a reason why Ramaxia should care for a people that offered nothing in return. Juliana reminded Wram that the Slavs had liberated the southern polar femmar from Vostok.

Belligerent by nature, the haughty Wram reminded them that the femmar awakened themselves and suggested that the Russians were merely in the wrong place at the right time. She delivered further insult by scolding them for their pride in a whore.

Unable to hold his tongue, Boris hotly defended Balantin, forcing Juliana to dismiss him from the room. Retreating that day, he’d heard Wram opine that slaves to emotion, men were ill-suited for diplomacy. Juliana said that she, too, loved her whores and found it best to send them away when they got emotional.

Her words stung, but they’d garnished respect from Wram.

Juliana begged the pompous farc to consider her unborn daughter, the Slavic Empire’s next ruler, before making a clean break. Pleading this imaginary child was successful; Wram left Uralskey its freshwater technology and ensured continued food shipments.

Then, like a suitable whore, Boris set out to give his Empress a daughter. Synagogue bells had proclaimed Kasi’s birth, yet his refusal to adhere to his feminine biology remained guarded.

“Kasi knows what is expected,” Boris assured.

When he leaned over to kiss her forehead, s bead of sweat from his bald scalp fell upon her bottom lip. He grabbed a kerchief from his uniform pocket and brought it to her sharpened smile.

“Borisov, my strong man, with eyes like the sea,” her last breath danced between them before her mouth went slack.

“Juliana?” he whispered as her eyes lost their focus.

He clutched her wrist and, feeling no pulse there, the dull ache plaguing his head exploded. Rising to his feet, Boris pulled the hem of his uniform jacket down, turned away from his men, and bit down on his fist.

Pascha, his most trusted, wrapped a cloth around his wounded knuckles as the older women tending the Empress dropped to their knees, 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.

“Our Empress is gone,” Boris spoke at him over the wailing crones. “You will tend to the Duke.”

Yuri’s face twisted in displeasure.

“Let Pascha go to the Duchess,”

The gangly Pascha snapped to attention, 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 the young Duke stepped back. “You’ll go to Kasi, and you’ll comfort him.”

“Must it be me that goes to her?” he groaned, eyeing the women wrapping Juliana’s corpse up in her sheets.

“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,” said Yuri. “Why can’t he want girls?”

“The problem lies not with his desires, but yours,” Boris admonished him. “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.

Boris smiled at his brother and opened his arms.

Sheepishly, Yuri walked into his older brother’s embrace, but his grin died when the man’s knee jabbed him in the testicles.

Boris knelt beside him, collapsed on the floor, choking.

“Is that uncomfortable, Yuri?”

Tucked into a ball, the younger Kotko nodded fiercely.

“We all must endure some discomfort,” Boris led his men into the waiting hall. “My Empress is gone, and I’ll never be comforted again.” His wary eye noticed the clock, its short arm, a molded sea turtle, hovered over the five while the long arm, a galloping fox, inched past twelve. “Mark the time of her death,”

“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,” said Boris, lending a thought to their other farc guest. “Inform her wife, Miss Ilo, that she’s to dine with us after sundown to mourn our Empress.”

“Yes, Duke Kotko,” said Tatiana with a bow.

Boris turned to find Pasha had remained to help wrap Juliana’s body.

“Take my Pascha with you, Tati,” he said. “A gift for your service.”

The lanky woman bowed again, smiling.

“Thank you, Duke Kotko.”

Cloister Building
Utama Metro – Ramaxia
7 Bamx 2228 – 1040 hours

Tiled rooms fostered pleasant echoes, yet Eppis Banto found public urination distasteful. She trudged up to the row of gapirx, yanked her tailcoat aside, cursed her weak bladder, and pulled at the trouser snaps between her legs.

Mounting its high porcelain saddle, she aligned her gurxil over the narrow opening and diminished the pressure on her bladder. After the last drip, an unwelcome blast of warm air followed, drying her gurx before she could dismount.

“Leaking in the Lobby with the rest of the herd?”

Sofita Kul stood against the closed restroom door, suited neck to boot in a horrendous Orta-issued uniform. Indifference once defined that broad face, but today her eyes displayed a warmth not seen since their youth.

“You’re still drinking too much at day-rise,” she added.

Eppis refastened her suit pants. “Toxian tea remains habitual.”

The gape flushed as she studied her old friend in the mirror while washing her hands. The hizak’s hair, lush and long when younger, was now cut above her ears, the longer locks atop her crown pulled tight by a plain barrette.

Eppis finished washing her hands before punch-starting every hand dryer in the room.

Sofita rolled her eyes. “They monitor the gapes?”

“Don’t wager against it,” said Eppis.

“Before you inquire, yes,” Sofita joined her at the sink and submerged her hands in the trough’s flowing water. “I entered Cloister today through the front door.”

Eppis folded her arms over her chest.

“You wouldn’t want the Ruling Platform ignorant of your visit,”

“I’m a divisional Komad,” Sofita wiped her hands on the back of her uniform pants. “I’m allowed to enter and exit the Cloister.”

She eyeballed the muscled globes of Sofita’s girsuzsch.

“That attire is obscenely transparent,”

“Mandatory fashion aside,” Sofita cocked her head. “You believe me reckless today?”

“Nothing you’ve enacted this past month indicates you’re capable of caution,” said Eppis. “Your ill-timed visit aside, at Yukon, you spoke of plans reborn. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that your strategy included risking exposure with a visit to the Cloister.”

“Eppis, recall the day you, Pitana, and Lax, came to our estate,” Sofita moved in alongside her. “Fusa collected me by the neck and tossed me into the lake,”

“I have a pristine recollection of that incident,” it was the first time in her seven-year-old life that Eppis witnessed an adult behaving violently.

“What followed?”

“Fusa rewarded Fusada’s violent counter with laughter,” she narrated shortly. “Then a punch to the gut,”

“Lax and ‘Pita jumped in after me,” said Sofita. “But not you, Eppis.”

“You remained submerged,” she said, nodding. “I suspected you’d swam to a safer shore, having been through similar encounters before my visit.”

“You trusted my tactics then. Where’s that confidence now?”

Eppis conceded with a sigh. “Why’ve you come here, Komad?”

“Why did CM Wram call Pitana to Cloister?”

“The deceased Empress of the Slavic Empire falsified the gender of her heir.” Eppis began fixing the buttons on her suit jacket in the mirror. “Anything regarding that particular helovx-nation falls under the purview of the Chamber.”

“Second Office doesn’t have blanket jurisdiction?”

“The Second Office cannot exercise sole jurisdiction because the Slavs are reliant on technology dispersed by Wram Constructs,” said Eppis.

“Ah. Consigned interest.”

“You suggested at Yukon that she’d disguise her offensive against us behind a desire to rejoin Wram Constructs,” Eppis reminded her. “Involving the Chamber in a conflict of interest promotes this storyline.”

“Covert schemes aside,” Sofita spoke at her in the mirror. “The gender of Juliana’s heir liberates Ramaxia from supporting the Slavs?”

“Helovx males are problematic enough,” Eppis affirmed. “Dealing with one put in charge by others is near impossible.”

Sofita huffed a laugh. “Extraction of Ambassador Wram to follow?”

Eppis shuddered at the thought.

Velto Wram had been a bioengineering prodigy when she transferred to Mynu from the Bizaki Citizenry Academy as a youth. Enrollment in political science put her in Sofita’s social circle. However, her conceptual design talents found her in classes alongside Eppis, where her confrontational nature kept them at constant odds.

After graduating from Mynu, the cantankerous bizak had developed a revolutionary protein re-sequencer that changed food production throughout Ramaxia. But, she tossed this accomplishment aside to represent East Toxis. She then delivered Eppis her first political failure in Cloister, wresting citbluz ownership rights from hizaki to zaxiri.

“Velto needs to come home,” Sofita insisted softly.

“How do you intend to secure her participation?”

“You’re my CM One,” Sofita deflected. “They’re your Committee, not mine.”

Relief washed over her; Fusada Kul had refused to accept Eppis as her First.

“Velto’s exile has nothing to do with being Lekada’s heir on the committee,” Eppis said. “She’s in love with a monogamist.”

Sofita aimed a stern gaze. “Are you judging Ilo?”

“I judge no one,” said Eppis. “I merely state the obvious.”

“You’re aware that Ilo admitted her planning with you in acquiring Velto,” Sofita folded her arms over her chest. “Confessed it to her while delivering Fusada’s donation,”

“A laboring zaxir will say anything,”

“Ozbi didn’t seem to care when she heard it,” Sofita arched an eyebrow. “Interesting how citizens in love with monogamists are blind to the obvious.”

Velto had appeared in their dorms one day with a voluptuous subak who introduced herself as Ozbi Tis. Her braided hair bragged of a Vanda upbringing, and unable to discern the beauty’s hide color, Eppis focused on the light stippling along her hairline and how it darkened along her neck when she laughed.

Noting the subak’s lingering gaze, Eppis attempted conjugation.

By then, her partialism for facades had matured into a desire for eye masks, and she couldn’t stop fantasizing about the petite beauty wearing an exquisite domino mask. Overcome by lust, she’d even entertained grouping up with Velto for access to Ozbi but quickly abandoned the scheme after visualizing Velto naked.

“Recalling Velto is unwarranted at this time,” Eppis declared.

Sofita shook her head. “She’s no threat to your bond, not with Ilo around.”

“I never considered her a threat, thank you,” Eppis countered. “Uncontrollable, yes. A romantic rival, no.”

A romantic opportunity came when Velto moved to Toxis.

Anticipating Ozbi’s relocation, Eppis had procured a residence near Wram’s penthouse; but she’d sold it when her domineering kerma insisted she remain in Mynu. Compliance with her kerma had proved advantageous when Ozbi opted to stay another year in Mynu. Despite this development, her access remained limited due to Velto’s constant visits.

Then came Ilocux. A corpulent beauty, the zaxir had won the nation’s Prime Citizen pageant, then captured Velto’s over-sexed heart. Waxamists carried a sense for one another, and it wasn’t long before Ilo approached Eppis with plans to divide and conquer.

“I wonder how Ilo’s faring on the precipice of her vitality,” said Eppis.

“Midlife is upon us,” Sofita mused. “We cannot avoid it.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying, thought Eppis; fear of turning forty-four kept her from hibernating some years.

“Resurrecting Fusada’s plan will make things problematic for you, Eppis.”

“Navigating the problematic is a skill I’ve mastered,” she said.

“Our advantage rests in them believing they know us,” Sofita added. “I’m defeated, Lax indifferent, Velto, a ball of rage, Fyla forever a victim—”

“-and Eppis forever beneath the thumb of her kerma,” she said. “That leaves Pitana as the heir they trust. I’ve not spoken to ‘Pita in years. How is she?”

“She awaits Velto’s extraction order,”

“Come again?” Eppis demanded. “The severance occurred two hours ago. She should’ve been notified by now, Sofita.”

“Pengon,” Sofita tapped at her lapel. “Display the Divisional Assignment Board.”

Illuminated data danced upon the hizak’s eyes.

“Are those ocular implants?” Eppis inquired, moving in close.

“No, they’re my eyes,” she said. “The Shell’s optic interface functions without my needing to ignite it fully.”

Eppis pursed her lips. “Is it wise to allow this semi-sentient armor access to your anatomy when not activated?”

“Divisional received an Ambassador Extraction notice assigned to Primekomad Yilaz in TermSabo,” Sofita uttered a frustrated huff. “Yilaz is a Polluted Gen eel who hasn’t worked a mission in over a decade.”

Eppis pondered the rank and file. “Those assignments are subject to retrieval from Komad’s and above, correct?”

“I’m impressed, CR Banto,” Sofita’s lips twisted as her flitting eyelids changed the floating text within them. “I’m contacting Komad Ergat in dispatch, letting her know it’s an assignment error.”

“I’m acquainted with that name, Ergat,” said Eppis.

“Erg’ attended your tavzkoltil,” Sofita paused, “with Lax.”

Memories of her bonding day ached like a dying tooth.

Following their twentieth year, Eppis and Ozbi had been cohabitating in Vanda when Tee confronted her about why they were still a duo. Tee insisted on a social date with two citizens of her choosing; Ibur Grik, a famous bluzerie designer with a partialism for wanton bellies, and her lover, an uninhibited zaxir named Acari Tol.

Acari and Ibur had visited for drinks, then dinners, and before long, the debauched zaxxy and her germ-phobic hizak had made things sexual—with Ozbi.

After months of avoiding the three on the couch, Eppis relented. It hadn’t been an unpleasant experience due to Acari’s appreciation of her desire for masks, but witnessing Ozbi pleasured by Ibur had been a struggle. Being subak, Ozbi had insisted on bondship.

A lavish ceremony occurred with House Tol outspending Line Banto at every turn. However, Acari had sullied the day by engaging Laxum and that bruiser Ergat in the back of a ceremonial transport.

Eppis scowled. “You associate with Ergat after her lewd behavior at my tavzkoltil?”

“Sex at a bonding reception is normal,” she droned.

“Between the guests of the bonded, afterward,” Eppis retorted hotly. “Not with a member of the bonding party before the ceremony.”

“Your anger lies with Acari, not with Ergat,” Sofita reminded her, closing the data over her eyes with a blink. “Ergat kicked the order back to Pengon, who deferred to Toligon seeing how it’s a coded OHA mission.”

Eppis frowned. “Laxum and Ergat should’ve refrained,”

“Why?” Sofita asked, stone-faced. “I didn’t.”

“You engaged Acari Tol before our bonding?”

“No,” the hizak shook her head. “I bounced Ozbi.”

Eppis soured. “Orta wit doesn’t suit you.”

“Pitana will tailor a new request,” she said, laughing. “Pengon will assign a new operative that, by default, serves between the poles.”

“Bearing in mind the ill-will Velto continues to hold for you,” Eppis warned, “it might be safer to allow an assassin like Yilaz her due?”

“Cloister humor doesn’t suit you,” she refuted as Eppis checked the time on her handheld. “Heading out for your midday?”

“Heading out?” she scoffed.

Sofita pushed air out her nose. “Bruiser verbiage remains habitual.”

“Leave before me, please,” she said.

Amused and undaunted, Sofita exited the lavatory.