Episode One – 2


Surface Operational Housing Unit #3
Dirtox’takal [Lazarev Sea]
1 Yubol 2228 – 0630 Hours

Sofita Kul woke on the chaise to find the detective staring down at her.

“I heard you divisional barks were prone to bouts of sleep,” clad in a tight Citizen’s Guard uniform, Ziw Balru’s physique had held up well in the eighteen years since they last spoke.

Sofita sat up and stretched to lessen the stiffness in her arms. “What do you want, Podpromad?”

“That’s a lousy greet,” Balru skulked before surveying their surroundings. “You’ve chosen a shitty place to hide, Kul.”

Shitty wasn’t a fair assessment, but it was close.

Each apartment in SOHU3, a residential base for civilian laborers and their pods, looked out over an atrium that housed a shuttle pavilion, a communal pool, and a single market that sold more protein blocks for sustenance replicators than freshly grown foodaxi. It lacked the artificial skies that crowned the benthic domes on the mainland. Not that Sofita ever appreciated their majesty—like any hizak, she relied on others to describe how those indigo skies dulled to violet before a scheduled rain.

“Plenty of engineers, here, though,” Balru glanced the open-air patios above, each cluttered with potted subglacial plants and blooms, and spacious enough to accommodate the profoundly social bizaki-caste. “Still crave bizzies, Kul?”

Sofita ignored Balru’s leer since they’d met following Sofita’s seduction of Balru’s bizak sibling. Without awaiting a retort, Balru’s stout face hardened.

“Should your blaster be out like that?” she demanded, pointing her head at the stringy hand-unit clinging to the chaise.

Sofita eyed Balru’s bare right hand. “I assumed Guardia gloved at all times.”

“I’m no longer on the street, Kul,” Balru said, as if Sofita born yesterday.

She tossed her discarded workout pants over the blaster.

“Feel safer now, Podpromad?”

“The citizens on the other side of the pool do,” said Balru.

“Those breeders aren’t scared of me,”

Balru frowned. “Don’t call them breeders, Kul.”

Born with ilitux, Balru lived among the citizenry, unfettered by the aggression native to her caste. She drew clear lines in the snow when it came to zaxiri and subaki; one was for sex, the other raised you until you were eight—neither deserved blanketing with a crude term.

Sofita jammed the balls of her palms into her eyes.

“How have I earned a visit from you today, Podpromad?”

Balru pulled a duxpak from her uniform pocket.

Fingernail thin and pliable, a dux displayed digital documents without the need for a handheld device or a bivtop computer.

Sofita immediately recognized the subak pictured on its surface and felt the spheres within her body tremble. Inside each one was a phasic armor called the Femitokon Shell, and Sofita remained the only citizen capable of igniting it.

“That citizen has nothing to do with me,” she said, turning away.

Balru whispered, “She’s Fusada’s donation!”

“I don’t care,” she whispered back.

“You cared enough to finance that book of hers,” Balru accused. “The one that killed her career.”

“The Committee destroyed her career,” she argued. “Not me.”

Balru sat beside her on the chaise. “Tavo came into the precinct, Kul, concerned about her safety.”

“That subakidoe is no threat to the Primary,” she assured, softly.

“No, but you are, Kul,” Balru’s deep voice gained an edge. “When you published her book, you established a connection to her.”

“Fusada was next in line to rule, not me,” Sofita addressed the marix plainly. “Her being dead and my still breathing, doesn’t change that.”

“You and Fusada are one citizen in the eyes of the Collective,” Balru reminded.

Set breeding schedules and precise genetics had negated the existence of twins among the Femmar. The Kul sisters were an anomaly brought on by their maker’s carelessness before the abolition of Femarctic males.

Femtrux, the prime consciousness responsible for ensuring balance within Ramaxia’s vast psionic networks, rectified the twins’ existence by assigning them a single gen-code, adding an extra letter to designate their separate bodies.

“I think we can all agree,” Sofita studied Balru’s sharpened stare. “Femtrux needs her kyrsbrain replaced.”

“That’s not funny, Kul,” Balru then lowered her voice. “Our makers killed theirs to take control,” the subject of their bearers in the Ninth wresting control of Ramaxia from their makers in the Sixth was still too taboo for open discussion. “You want her to end up dead and discarded on the surface, like them?”

“She’s not my problem, Balru.” Sofita affirmed. “We’re stuck with the Ninth until the day we recycle. I’ve resigned myself to that fact. You should do the same.”

“You have a donation,” she muttered. “Is this what you want for her?”

“It’s not my job to want for her,” Sofita said. “It’s her job to want for herself.”

After a moment of silence, Balru leaned closer.

“Our paths crossed in this life because of him,” her lips barely moved as she spoke. “I’ll always be grateful that you brought Kin home, but I don’t like how you’ve just dismissed—”

“-I saved Kin, and Kin owed me,” Sofita whispered. “I collected on that debt, and in return, he got his precious donation.”

“That precious donation is in Divisional now,” Balru’s voice lost its edge. “They assigned her to TermSabo, Kul.”

“Styba’s the best Orta produced,” Sofita spoke as if bored, though inside her stomach turned thinking of Styba Balru serving Terminal Sabotage. “They’ll do with her as they see fit because that’s how World Oceans works.”

Balru remain unmoved.

“You might at least give young Tavo some—”

“-that citizen in that file is not my problem!”

“She’s gone to the Cit-Cat, Kul!”

For every donation created from a mutually combined patch, and then raised by her biological makers, at least one was born with no knowledge of who made her. Loving strangers collected those formed from blind-patch combinations, but the uncollected entered the care of a caste-center.

Tavo Ex, the young citizen in Balru’s file, had acquired her makers identity the same way all former caste-center donats did, the Citizen’s Catalog. Balru’s concern rang true; the subak being Fusada’s only offspring meant the Catalogue automatically notified the eldest living Kul—the ruthless Primary of Ramaxia.

Tired of the tension, Sofita changed the subject.

“What is it with the Eleventh, and this need to know their makers?”

“Most times it’s about sex,” Balru slipped the duxpak back into her uniform and rose from the chaise. “Twenty-six percent of the Eleventh is pre-bonded. No one wants to find out she’s riding her sibox.”

“What is it with you orcas and your statistics?”

“Statistics created by you brainers in Mynu?”

“You revel in reminding me I’m not marixi.”

Femarctic castehood was a genetic non-negotiable. Born hizak and engineered to manage or educate, Sofita’s choice to retire from intellectual life and train in the military remained unprecedented—as did risking her life bearing a donation for Kin Balru.

“They’re nothing like us,” Balru cracked the stress from her neck. “Even though we raised them.”

“I haven’t raised anyone,” Sofita reminded.

“You did more than donate a patch, Kul,” Balru’s words tickled the scar above her gashcol. “Washing your thighs of Styba must’ve been easy for a hizzah like you,”

“Styba’s better off without me, Balru,”

“You should’ve told her the truth when you crossed paths were her in Orta,” Balru scolded. “She was young, but she would’ve understood.”

“Why didn’t you tell her, Balru?”

“I’m a Tenth-Gen,” Balru said. “Speaking up isn’t our strong suit.”

Sofita narrowed her eyes. “Being lectured about my life choices isn’t my strong suit.”

Balru didn’t disguise her disillusionment.

“I’ll leave you to your anonymous life, Kul.”

Watching Balru depart, Sofita called out, “Ziw?”

The marix turned with a puzzled look on her face; bruisers didn’t employ their given names unless speaking to or of lovers and family.

“I’d never collect Kin,” she assured softly.

“I’m aware of that, Kul,” Balru huffed with a nod. “You saved Kin back when you cared about something other than yourself.”

The beefy detective exited the pool, waving politely to the bizak attendant at the gate.

Don’t let it hurt your brain, ‘Fita. 

Fusada often said this whenever something bothered her; today, that voice sounded close enough to be real.

Sofita cleared her mind of the past and snatched up her axico, determined to lose herself in some literature. Regrettably, she still wasn’t alone.

The rocks surrounding the darkened water hole had been filled corpulent zaxiri lazing about in the frosty artificial wind, and the whispers started the moment Sofita stepped out of her pants.

“Why is her undershirt still on?” “Her fronts are too big, and what’s wrong with her backswell?” “Is that hair on her head?” “That axico isn’t real. Bruisers can’t read.”

All that remained of the gossipy herd now were two half-naked zaxiri, one young, the other, a mid-lifer like herself. Neither bothered hushing their thoughts on Sofita’s heated exchange with Balru.

Between them, concealed in a modest pool-robe, sat a subak, presumably Sofita’s age.

Engrossed in an axico, she was every bit as top-heavy as a zaxir, but her caste lacked those flabby arms and the hanging, dimpled belly that marixi loved pawing at when everyone’s clothes were gone.

The lone appeal of any subak was her suzuk. Braided hair advertised a subbie’s origins, and the beauty across the water wore a single rope, indicating she’d grown up in Toxis. No subak ventured out without her hair woven in suzu, nor would she deliberately flirt with anything resembling a marix, sexual opportunists that didn’t understand the nuances of consent.

While a teen, Sofita and her hizaki peers attended socio-sexual parties where the attending zaxiri always knew what she wanted and boldly expressed what they expected in return. Subaki, however, required constant coaxing with no guarantee of a ride.

Despite their complicated nature, Sofita’s thighs had bounced their share of subaki. Even now, her mind conjured ways to pleasure the aloof chunk of ice across the water.

Suddenly, the subak brought up her head and fixed her eyes on Sofita’s side of the pool.

“Komad Kul?” came a familiar tenor.

Pitana Dag approached with arms open.

Unusually lean in her fashionable pantsuit, the long-faced Dag changed little since their teenage years, wearing her thick hair molded into seven neatly fashioned cylinders that formed a single row from her brow to her neck.

Zaxiri interest was a given since hizaki were sexual partialists that kept things exciting, but the subbie’s hungry stare felt strange; hizaki were too self-absorbed, and their compulsive use of sophisticated vocabulary put off even the most unpretentious of subaki.

“You’re a long way from the helovx-hotel,” Sofita rose from the chaise and entered Dag’s embrace. When the breeders across the pool began whispering, Sofita couldn’t help imitating their murmurs. “That color brings out the brown in your hide.”

Never in on the joke, Dag examined her jacket sleeve.

“My stylist claims this the color of helovx blood,” she cast an inquisitive eye. “Does the phasic enhancement in your anatomy eradicate your hizaxikogatix?”

“No Ambassador,” Sofita became the proper hizak. “If it altered my physicality, I wouldn’t be obligated to sustain this musculature.”

“I’ll refrain from commenting on your physique,” Dag pulled a small brush from her trouser pocket and began dragging it over her suit jacket’s front. “That swimsuit is atrocious, Komad.”

Hizaki abhorred cosmetic simplicity; refined sartorial choices were strategic as appearance influenced judgment. Their congenital color-blindness enslaved them to hairstylists and fashion designers. Dag’s clothier demonstrated considerable talent by endowing the willowy hizak with a noticeable girsuzsch. Beyond her donational years, the lanky Dag’s buttocks had failed to achieve an ideal prominence; for hizaki, the bigger the rump, the better the brain.

“I’m not a conveyance clerk, Komad,” Dag adjusted her long legs to sit upon the chaise. “My presence here is punishment for a perceived tardiness in delivering pertinent information to CM Wram.”

Since elevation to Ambassador Prime, Dag resided full-time in a sea-floor facility built to house helovx diplomats; the lone drawback to this esteemed position was answering to an hizak elder named Lekada Wram.

The infamous Second Office of the Committee, the only thing old Wram despised more than helovxi was Sofita Kul.

“Spite is one of her better endowments.”

“I attempted to acquire you in Orta, but your superior directed me here,” Dag’s thin lips pursed as Sofita sat beside her. “Primekomad Hibz is a miserable bruise.”

A young zaxir’s arrival interrupted their conversation, her plump flesh stuffed into a sheer bluzerie that left little to the imagination. Long black hair curtained two bulbous fronts, each covered with spots that curled like a ribbon across her chest.

“Sorry to disturb you,” her sugary smile exposed two rows of perfectly cusped teeth. No other creature on the planet possessed teeth like a femmar—the closest had been the crabeater seal, and they were extinct.

“Is that an ambassador service pin?” she asked.

Dag’s hand moved to the medallion on her collar.

“I begin classes in Mynu this week,” the young thing aimed a casual finger toward the two older breeder’s poolside before letting loose a barrage. “My nestor is a burxol therapist, my other mako, she’s an intimacy counselor, with the Zaxiri College.”

Sofita and Dag craned their necks for a look.

This round beauty was far too young, but an educated zaxxy and a sub trained in orgasmic therapy were worth more than a fleeting glance.

The young thing’s voice rose an octave.

“Did you go to school in Mynu?”

Dag’s attention rebounded.

“May I inquire after your name, citizen?”

“Hako,” she declared.

Sofita interjected, “What’s your nestor’s name?”

Hako bent over to focus on Dag’s other pins, putting her bulging fronts on full display. Unnerved by the view, Dag stood and began removing the tiny medallion from her lapel.

“Hold out your hand, Hako.”

Hako beamed, “You’re going to let me touch it?”

“She sure is,” Sofita leered.

Dag cautioned Sofita with a glance before placing the pin in Hako’s palm. “They provide me with many of these on Ramaxia Primada,”

“Base Thirteen?” Hako gasped. “You work with helovx?”

Sofita asked, “Does your nestor work by appointment?”

“I don’t know bruise,” Hako’s nostrils flared. “You should go ask her.”

Dag cleared her throat. “You can keep that Hako,”

“I can’t take this,” Hako purred, clutching the pin strategically to her cleavage.

Dag’s hiziburx centered on large suzsch, and if this zaxxy had met her twenty years ago, Dag would’ve sought quiet permission to grope and fondle. Today, she remained the stolid elder with her eyes fixed to Hako’s face.

“Consider it a gift,” she lifted a hand to Sofita, “In our day, there were so few zaxiri seeking education in Mynu.”

Hako’s eyes shifted furtively.

Strange hair notwithstanding, her muscular arms, rude behavior, and that stringy blaster peeking out from under those pants proved Sofita was an idiotic bruise—and bruisers didn’t go to Mynu.

Hako slipped into Dag’s space.

“Can I ask you something?”

Dag took a step back.

“Inquire of me anything, citizen,”

“I want you to call me, Hako,” she tapped a flirtatious finger to Dag’s bottom lip.

Dag stiffened, “You may call me, Ambassador Dag,”

“You’re Pitanadag?” the young thing’s face flushed darkly. “It’s an honor to meet you, Ambassador, I’m taking part in the Helovx-Initiative,”

“You’re bound for the Office of Helovx Advocacy,” Dag’s disposition quickly improved. “Do you have a particular field of interest?”

“I have a particular field of interest,” Sofita threaded her fingers behind her head and reclined on the chaise. “Does your nestor make room calls?”

“Not to thick-backed bruisers wearing shitty hairpieces,” Hako seethed, then aimed a saccharine smile at Dag. “I’d like to stay polar, Ambassador. Maybe service on those Helovx-Care Floats, in the Ramaxic’acarol,”

“Now Hako, when in Helovx Studies, you must refer to that body of water by its helovx name, the Arctic. Your instructor will make an example of you,” Dag continued to mind her distance. “What was your inquiry, Hako?”

“Yes, my question!” the zaxxy laughed before turning serious. “Helovx women have trouble birthing. Do you think, someday, citizens like me could live between the poles, and help them?”

“They’re fragile,” said Dag, “But they’re also formidable.”

“I hear some are worse off,” Hako’s large eyes shone like a playful seal. “My kerma says that helovx breed with their donations. If a child is born genetically damaged, like, if they can’t walk or talk, the parents eat them.”

Dag and Sofita exchanged knowing glances; Hako’s kerma, likely a bizzie, seemed desperate to discourage her zaxiridoe from leaving the mainland.

Sofita had encountered a few incidents of inbreeding, typically among those isolated at sea, while cannibalism remained rare. Over thirty thousand humans lived between the poles, nearly dying out in the years following the Yosemite eruption. Before that, they’d endured a drastic culling by the Eros Impact Event.

“Perhaps, in the future,” Dag placed a platonic hand on Hako’s shoulder, “Citizens like you will help them.”

“Thanks, Ambassador,” chimed Hako.

“Your makers up for a group?” Sofita jerked her head toward Dag. “The Ambassador’s not due back to the Helovx Hotel just yet.”

“Sofita!” Dag admonished.

“If you’re looking for that sort of thing, soldier,” Hako put her hands on her fleshy hips. “Go visit the citbluz.”

“My room can be our bluz,” said Sofita.

Hako huffed in revulsion before walking away.

Not all zaxiri worked the massage parlors, dance clubs, and erotic rooms of a Citizen’s Bluzsh; some aspired to more than rent-free boarding and daily orgasms.

Across the pool, Hako relayed Sofita’s rude offer. The subak sucked her tongue and glared, but the older zaxir smiled in delight before embracing Hako on a flirtation well done.

Dag aimed a sour expression at Sofita.

“Must you continually perform?” she asked.

Sofita’s time among the marixi required regular displays of crudeness; performing, as Dag intimated, was essential to assimilating.

“Are you aware, Ambassador,” Sofita said. “That twenty-six percent of the Eleventh is pre-bonded?”

“None of those bonds will survive their twentieth,” Dag rejoined her on the chaise. “I barely survived my twentieth, dedicated lovers intact.”

At age twenty, the bodies of subaki and zaxiri released high-level hormones that set off latent pheromones in the castes around them. These surges within hizaki, bizaki, and marixi lessened the breeding castes’ romantic standards, setting off a period of promiscuity dubbed Twentieth Year.

Dag looked up as if struck by an epiphany.

“There are two years of the Eleventh!”

Unlike previous Ramaxian generations, the Tenth produced two years in a row. Pitana might’ve remembered this had she produced more than once. A generation’s twentieth year also affected their makers, reviving long dormant desires and drives.

“We all work with at least one of them,” Sofita teased. “Prepare for a resurgence, ‘Pita,”

“I’ve been solitary so long, I wouldn’t know what to do with a new group of lovers,” Dag, like Sofita, approached midlife without bond-partners. Gazing across the pool, she added, “Hako’s lovers will be a fortunate lot.”

“Careful,” Sofita grinned. “Hako might be your donation,”

“You persist in crossing the line, Sofita!” Dag’s lip curled. “Your infantile disposition rivals Laxum’s,”

“No one’s as bad as Lax.” Sofita declared. “She’s been twenty, for over twenty years.”

“How did you acquire this twenty-six percent statistic?” she asked.

“A Guardia mentioned it,” Sofita volunteered nothing more.

“I passed a Guardia upon my arrival,”

“Ziw Balru visited me today.”

“I recall Guardia Balru having a bizak sibox,”

“Kin Balru operates the clan’s eatery, in Utama.”

Dag nodded, “I recall your acquaintance with a Kin Balru,”

“I was acquainted with her, yes.” Sofita counted the coils in Dag’s hair.

“I found her a courteous bizak,” Dag turned. “Why didn’t you stay—?”

“—it didn’t work out.”

“On the topic of the Eleventh,” Dag cleared her throat. “A young citizen visited my offices last month, claiming to be my donation,”

“How did she find you?” asked Sofita.

“She confessed to forgoing the catalog after her birther admitted to choosing a donux because it contained my patch. When I assured her such a scenario was impossible, my assistant, Doka, accompanied her to Toxis,” Dag’s long face came to life with amusement. “Upon review, she discovered that her kermatic maker is Pitana Zag.”

“P-Zag!” Sofita’s declaration provoked a strange look from Dag. “What’s wrong?”

“That’s what Fusada called her,” Dag said softly.

No one broached the subject of Sofita’s dead twin anymore.

“Citizen Zag resides in Vanda,” Dag went on, quickly. “She’s the Gutenberg Project’s prime curator, part of the Helovx Historical Literature Department by the Museum of Pre-Impact History.”

“You must’ve been concerned for a moment,” Sofita said with a smile.

“My initial reaction mirrored yours,” Dag affirmed. “I contacted Fyla immediately.”

Doctor Fyla Uym, the revered Secondary-Chair of the Generational Production Department, was also a genetic-heir and the third bizak ever to inherit a seat on the Committee of Five. Back when Fusada’s ambition to rule had been superlative, she’d tasked Uym with hiding their parental connection to their Eleventh-Gen donats.

Dag had agreed to the plan, despite her maker, the current Fifth Office, showing little concern that Dag would someday usurp her.

“I must confess to being a bit envious of citizen Zag,” Dag folded her thin arms. “The young hizakidoe is a graduate of the Mynu School of Design. She’s entered vocational service with a secondary level position at Acari Glide.”

Dag’s only donation had been born of her favorite lover, a zaxir patch designer named Hib Perkad.

“Have you heard from your donation?”

“I’m unaware of her location,” Dag’s brow bent. “Nor am I privy to the whereabouts of her maker.”

“You know where her maker is—”

“-Figurative communication,” Dag snapped. “Do you no longer recognize the emblematic, Sofita?”

“I’m trying to ascertain why you’d incorporate it,” Sofita accused. “When speaking about your life’s love.”

In the second production year, Dag had accepted a position in the Office of Helovx Advocacy. Hib Perkad opted to remain a patch designer at the Zaxiri College. Dag voiced her expectation that Perkad cease working after birthing their donat, and Perkad disagreeing had fractured the relationship.

“We all make choices that disappoint us upon reflection,” Dag confessed, and averting her eyes brought an end to the subject.

Sofita pushed air out her nose.

“How long have you lived on Ramaxia Primada?”

“Four years this Yulitat. I yearn for the mainland. I didn’t exile myself from it as you did.” Dag paused. “Apologies, Sofita, that was a discourteous thing to say.”

“I’ll survive discourtesy,” said Sofita. “I don’t recall us engaging in such contentious exchanges. It’s as if I’m conversing with Eppis Banto.”

Another gen-heir, Banto appeared to enjoy life as the only donation of the powerful Fourth Office, Tee Banto. It was the hizak’s feigned willingness to heed the mighty Tee’s every whim that afforded Banto the luxury of raising her donats and living with her bonds.

“Let’s set aside talk of the past,” Dag said. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Now you truly sound like Eppis,” Sofita teased.

“Komad,” Dag pulled a duxpak from her suit jacket. “You’re traveling to Yazhou.”

“I’ll send Lax salutations,”

“You’re not to communicate with Kuril Base,” Dag declared. “You’re to have no contact with Ambassador Jyr until the mission’s complete.”

“What’s Ambassador Jyr done now?”

“I’m unable to explain,” said Dag. “And as you’re fond of saying, I don’t care too,”

“Excuse me?”

“Your indifference is legendary, Sofita,” said Dag. “I’m shocked you haven’t shaved your head again and stained your scalp with the words ‘I Don’t Care.’”

“That’s not fair, ‘Pita.”

“What happens to you, happens,” Dag delivered words spoken by Sofita many years ago. “Fusada’s gone, as am I.”

Sofita sat there robbed of a retort.

“Moving on,” Dag frowned. “I was tasked with consulting with the Jungwanian ambassador about a man named Pym Zhang.”

“Did your task entail social dining?”

“That meal found me on the gape, for hours,” Dag scowled.

Sofita glanced up at her old friend, amused. “I thought the toilets on Base Thirteen were designed for helovx?”

The first Femarctic toilets had been thigh-high mounds of ice, topped with circular openings that one straddled, as one might a glide-cycle. The gapirx had since evolved into settable porcelain units, for a more hygienic age.

“Spare me your enlightenment, Sofita. I’m aware of the helovx custom to squat,” Dag’s face twisted in disgust. “How does a species evolve without a single gurx for urinating and defecating? Urinating from an orifice located beneath the rydok? It’s unsanitary.”

“An helovx female doesn’t have a rydok, she has a clitoris,” relishing Dag’s discomfort, she added, “Their cunts are as thick as our goozers, and if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter the wrong one, it will stink of a beached seal,”

“Do you lecture in Orta?” Dag spoke, unmoved. “The base terminology you’re employing must entertain the lowest of marixi.”

“Helovx males stand up straight and aim the penis.”

Dag raised a hand for silence, but then curled her fingers as if holding something. “Have you had occasion to handle a penis?”

“We’ve both had the pleasure,” said Sofita. “Helovx anatomy, Mynu, fifth year.”

“Manipulating interactive images isn’t equal to handling actual flesh,” Dag argued. “I’ll never experience it since CM Wram forbids helovx males on Ramaxia Primada.”

“When you met with Jungwa’s Ambassador,” Sofita began tapping through the dux files. “Did she have any advice on handling the penis?”

“It was laborious enough having to dine with her,” Dag groused. “Sorkhaq Tani is an agreeable woman, but Jungwanian cuisine is too diverse. None of it digests properly. Each bite promises misery.”

“What helovx cuisine do you prefer?”

“I adore whipped potatoes from the African Trisect, topped with the sauce they call, brown gravy. Thinly sliced cheese from North America is also favorable,” Dag paused to clarify. “Not the Texan variety they claim is orange, like feces. I’ve tasted only white. It’s enchanting.”

“Helovx fecal matter isn’t orange like ours,” Sofita quipped. “It’s brown, like their gravy.”

Dag took a breath and refrained from scolding.

The identification file depicted a dark-eyed man with his long black hair tucked behind his shoulders. He wore a colorless lab coat with the letters BUMO etched across the chest pocket.

“Pym Zhang was a geneticist,” said Dag.

“Living in Orta hasn’t eliminated my ability to read, Ambassador.” Sofita swiped her finger over the photo, bringing up a detailed account of his death. “Do we have this shark attack on file?”

“Processed to your mission-queue, Komad.”

“Why is he of concern to Ramaxia?”

“Zhang’s projects centered exclusively on our bio-sciences,” Dag replied.

Sofita shifted her eyes. “Our medical and tech manuals are off-limits to helovx,”

“The need for official sanction is unnecessary. Most helovx can’t interpret Ramaxi,” Dag explained. “Zhang was capable of reading our language.”

Sofita gave a start. “His date of birth?”

“The summer of 2192,” said Dag.

Sofita studied Zhang’s face, searching for a hint of the male that sired him.

“He’s one of Cristi’s,” she whispered.

Dag blinked. “No one is certain of-”

“—you’re here because Wram’s certain.”

Caro Cristi, a Ninth-Gen male designated zaxir, had been apprehended in Sofita’s youth for murdering his bond-partner, an hizak employed in the Antarctica West Islands. While awaiting termination for his crime, he’d somehow escaped custody.

“Komadon Kul’s pursuit blocked his ability to establish roots,” Sofita recalled. “Later, he underwent cosmetic surgery to alter his hide and eyes. He lived as a helovx man named Carl Crystal.”

Three years following Fusada’s death, Crystal had been imprisoned by the North American Union after his sect tried to blow up a homosexual registration office in the capital city of Banff.

Sofita turned to find Dag staring at her oddly. “Why am I catching the mission, Ambassador?”

“You’re Femitokon,” Dag collected herself. “A hybrid is involved.”

“There’s no hybrid to terminate, Zhang’s dead.”

“Are hybrids weaker than their male sires?”

“You’re polluting the subject, Ambassador,”

“No,” Dag insisted. “I’m taking the conversation adjacent to the subject.”

Sofita conceded. “Femarctic males aren’t weak.”

“You share my maker’s opinions?” Dag queried. “Her claim that each new generation delivers males capable of greater extrasensory-”

“—her opinions are required reading in the Division.” Sofita reminded.

“I’ve glanced her dissertations, as have you,” Dag said, dismissive. “I’ve no bias against bizaki rising above the routine, but their expositions lack the objectivity to substantiate principle in fields of science and medicine.”

Sofita smiled. “You suggest that being a bizzie renders CM Dag incapable of detaching her feelings from what must always be impartial viewpoints?”

“A theory not exclusive to me,” Dag defended with a smirk. “Laxum emphasized such in proving her emotionally unfit.”

“Laxum suggested no such thing,” Sofita laughed. “She predicated her case on your maker being merely Wox Dag, a citizen lacking any sanity that might substantiate principle.”

Dag giggled like a donat.

“You want to know if she’s is right?” Sofita tallied. “I can speak only of hybrids. They have no extrasensory or telepathic power. Either they hold exceptional intelligence, or they’re emotionally impaired.”

“What of their physical strength?”

“None have been tough enough to take me out.”

Dag’s eyes drifted to Sofita’s body.

“The energy in your blood guarantees this?”

“Are you suggesting that without the Shell,” Sofita bent the duxpak into a tube. “I can’t take out a male?”

Dag’s face hardened as her eyes set upon the rolled-up document.

“Relax, Komad Kul.”

Sofita’s aggressive physicality had always tainted her intellectual prowess. Hizaki sparred verbally, never bodily; the twin of a marix, she continued to struggle with this principle.

“When finished reviewing that file,” Dag rose from the chaise and smoothed out the wrinkles in her pants. “Dispose of it in a divisional pak-bin, not of one those citizenry street units.”

Sofita stood and snatched up her training pants.

“That’s a dreadful design,” Dag pinched the fabric between her fingers. “What material is this?”

“Jaxol fiber,” she answered. “Soaks up the sweat.”

“How often do you perspire?”

“When I’m running or lifting weights?”

Unnecessary physical exertion made Dag shudder.

“Fusada almost acquired Cristi, yes?” she asked.

“Komadon Kul might’ve acquired him,” Sofita stepped into her pants. “If CM Dag hadn’t pulled her from Term Sabo.”

“That’s the second time you’ve referred to Fusada as Komadon Kul,” Dag admonished. “She’s not a stranger, Sofita.”

Unwilling to elaborate on the rift that had developed between Sofita and Fusada before her death, she walked through the exit gates, holding them open for Dag.

“An helovx witness testified that Cristi, in the summer of twenty-two fourteen, kept a younger male close to him,” she slowed so Dag could catch up. “The witness said that he could control sharks and alter helovx moods.”

Dag surveyed the area before whispering, “Did our males have such abilities?”

“Only a Tenth-Gen male’s capable of temperament manipulation,” Sofita replied quietly. “Ninth Gen males sense only dispositions. They can’t alter them.”

“Then, my mak’s summations are correct?”

“It’s beyond debatable now,” Sofita’s mind drifted to some unpleasantness in her past. “There are no males beyond the Tenth to prove her theory,”

“Did you acquire this male of Cristi’s?”

“Never found him,” she said with a shake of her head. “One of the women claimed they killed him before our agents raided his boat-city, she said he wasn’t an angel, like Cristi, but a demon.”

“The ideology of being controlled by an imaginary higher power,” Dag mused.

“Cristi appealed to that archaic belief,” Sofita added. “Calling himself an Angel of this God.”

“I recognize the convolutions of helovx religion. You composed enough work on the subject in your conventional days,” Dag caught herself. “That was discourteous of me, Sofita.”

She let it slide. “Witness said this demon killed all of Cristi’s daughters.”

“Hybrid females?” Dag whispered.

“I’ve yet to find a hybrid girl,” said Sofita. “The witness stated the two other angels turned on the demon, and that’s the only fragment of the woman’s account, I believe. No helovx is skilled enough to kill a male femmar. Not one capable of fucking with their psyche.”

“Don’t say that word, fuck.” Dag brooded. “I appreciate that you bruisers have appropriated that helovx expletive, but I find it distasteful.”

“So,” she teased. “I’m conventional, for a marix?”

Dag furrowed her brow. “I apologized for being discourteous.”

“I’ve yet to apprehend this Tenth-Gen male,” Sofita said with a grin.

Dag surveyed the area again for passersby.

“Perhaps he’s hiding in the skin.”

After the ratification of the Balanced Citizenry Act, it became illegal for males to exist in Ramaxia. Those at large lived undetected by taking on the gender identity of an ordinary citizen.

The BCA also made it illegal to house, or hide, a male.

A detective like Balru, with access to subversives capable of doctoring files, turned her male sibling, the one Sofita liberated from a Retraining Center, into a female named Kin.

“Sofita,” Dag paused at the shuttle bay entrance. “I haven’t communicated with Laxum since her last evaluation,”

“Lax must know about Zhang,” Sofita assured.

“Zhang worked for the Bumo Corporation,” Dag stayed hushed. “Ensure nothing remains of his body for autopsy-”

“—and acquire all things related to his work.”

Dag smiled at her before entering the noisy embarkation bay.

The polar water reeked of briny kelp and seals hopped upon the wet porch’s platform, their barks echoing as they slid playfully into the bizaki assigned to oversee arrivals and departures. Her shuttle, a bland inorganic model marked with an OHA logo, bobbed in the moon pool’s choppy water.

“What do I do if I encounter his research?” Sofita asked.

“Proceed as if Ambassador Jyr is Prime on this mission.”

Laxum’s airy tenor sounded off in her thoughts: destroy everything connecting him to Ramaxia and terminate anyone familiar with his name.

“Sofita,” Dag took hold of her arm. “It’s said that the Shell activates with rage,”

“I ignite it by channeling my conscious anger,” she explained. “The sudden change in my limbic system is what draws the energy from its spheres.”

“Perform activation,” Dag ordered.

Sofita shook her head, “The Shell’s classified, Ambassador,”

“Fusada would’ve activated it for me.” Dag pouted.

“No, she wouldn’t,” she quipped. “Because she couldn’t,”

“That’s a discourteous thing to say.”

“Komadon Kul’s not here,” she reminded. “If she were, she wouldn’t be so sensitive to take a fact, as an insult.”

“That’s the third incidence, wherein you’ve spoken of Fusada as if she weren’t your bone!” Dag’s hands disappeared behind her back. “Be they virtuous or corrupt, those in our past are the ingredients that form us.”

“Fusada’s contribution to my life?” she cracked. “Her demise.”

“That’s offensive, Sofita Kul,” Dag strode onto her shuttle’s extended deck, without offering a goodbye embrace.

Don’t let it hurt your brain, ‘Fita.