Episode One – 2

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

“I heard you divisional barks were prone to bouts of sleep.”

Sofita Kul woke on the chaise to find the detective staring down at her. Bouts of sleep were all she had these days since hibernating at year’s end brought too many nightmares.

She sat up and cracked the stiffness from her arms with a stretch. “What do you want, Podpromad?”

“That’s a lousy greet,” clad in a tight Citizen’s Guard uniform, Ziw Balru’s physique had held up well in the eighteen years since they last spoke. “You’ve chosen a shitty place to hide, Kul.”

A residential base for civilian laborers and their pods, the apartments of SOHU3 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.

Shitty wasn’t a fair assessment, but it was close. There were no artificial skies like in 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, yet still spacious enough to accommodate the profoundly social bizaki-caste. “Still crave bizzies, Kul?”

Her muscular face hardened before pointing her head at the stringy hand-unit clinging to Sofita’s chaise. “Should your blaster be out like that?”

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

“I’m no longer on the street,” Balru explained.

Sofita tossed her discarded workout pants over the blaster. “Feel safer now, Podpromad?”

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

“Those breeders aren’t scared of me,”

“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?”

The marix pulled a duxpak from her uniform pocket. Fingernail thin and resembling a piece of manufactured paper, a pliable dux displayed digital documents without using a handheld or a bivtop. Sofita immediately recognized the subak pictured on its surface and turned her head.

“That subakidoe has nothing to do with me.”

“She’s Fusada’s donation!”

“I don’t care.”

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

“The Committee destroyed her career, not me.”

“She came into the precinct,” Balru sat beside her on the chaise. “Concerned about her safety given her pedigree,”

“She’s no threat to the Primary, Balru,”

“No, but you are,” she said. “When you published her book, Kul, you established a connection to her.”

“Fusada was next in line to rule, not me,” Sofita refused to touch the duxpak. “The fact that she’s dead and I’m alive doesn’t change that.”

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

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.

Balru lowered her voice. “Our makers killed theirs to take control, do you want her to end up dead and discarded on the surface, like them?”

The subject of their bearers in the Ninth wresting control of Ramaxia from their makers in the Sixth remained too taboo to speak of openly.

“She’s not my problem, Balru.” Sofita remained calm. “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 whispered. “Is this what you want for her?”

“It’s not my job to want for her,” said Sofita. “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 him home, Kul, but I don’t like how you’ve just dismissed—”

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

“That precious donation is a Donmat now.” Balru’s deep voice lost its edge. “They assigned her to Terminal Sabotage, Kul.”

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

Balru was unconvinced. “You might at least give young Tavo some—”

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

Balru made a fist. “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.

In Balru’s file, the young citizen, Tavo Ex, acquired her makers’ identity the same way all former caste-center donats did, the Citizen’s Catalog. Balru’s concern was warranted; the subak being her dead twins only offspring, the Catalogue automatically notified the eldest living Kul—the Primary of Ramaxia, Fusa Kul.

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 her risking her life bearing a donation.

“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 Sofita’s gashcol. “Washing your thighs of her must’ve been easy,”

“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, 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.