Episode One [Excerpt]
After the death of a suspected Ramaxian-hybrid geneticist, Sorority of Defense operative Sofita Kul must determine if the deceased man dabbled in Femarctic bio-sciences.
Kuril Base North – Primada Sector
Raxuta`acarol (Pacific Ocean)
1 Yubol (June) 2228 0130 Hours
Unlike the other young men before him, he didn’t dive for a dark corner when she entered the room or collapse onto the floor sobbing.
Thick glass walls surrounded the room’s dark planks of polar tile. The circular bed in the corner remained untouched, its thick mattress covered with bleached sheets. Wu sat on the room’s lone bench, entranced by the ocean outside. Prone to tension, his species required intervals of analytical downtime to maintain mental balance. This need to calm their psyche proved their mastery at complicating an already perilous existence.
Laxum Jyr moved her fingertips over the climate-control pad. The oppressive heat no longer caught her unawares; red-blooded helovx ran cold under the sea, and this boy persisted in turning up the thermostat.
“How are you today, Wu?” she asked in his native Hamgyong.
She sat beside him on the bench and placed the bag she brought at his feet. The sea beyond the glass cast dull patterns over his naked body, and his angular face lifeless stay for the tear drops drying within his long lashes. She wrapped her hand around his upper thigh and relished how the skin pebbled beneath her touch.
Helovx males were stingy with their affections when it came to her kind, yet Wu proved more accommodating than most. Early in his captivity, he’d confided that her hide reminded him of the sharks that stalked his childhood houseboat.
Visible through her open robe, the impressive streaks inherited from her kermatic maker were a source of pride, but she didn’t know their hue. A femmar of the hizak caste, Laxum was color-blind.
Perhaps her hide did resemble the sea tiger, but the vilest folklore regarding the origin of her species claimed the femmar were sharks gone bipedal. A shark eliminated the weak and devoured the dead; it wasn’t sentient enough to warrant comparison to a Femmar.
“Our doctor informs me that you’re sixteen today,” she pulled a cloak from the bag and shook out the fold. “I’m a citizen of the Tenth Generation. I’m forty-three. If the next forty years are as eventful as the first, I’ll have no regrets.”
Wu stayed focused on the water outside.
“I’m aware of the chill you endure, this far down.” She draped it over his naked shoulders, her knuckles feathering the soft protrusions on his chest. “Tell me about the last birthday you celebrated.”
“I was twelve,” his voice pleased her. “My mother took us to the mountains,”
“Who is us?” asked Laxum.
“Me and my sister,” he said. “I was excited. I never saw snow. On the way home, we stopped at a roadside stand. A plane flew over our heads, and tiny balls of light chased after it.”
His cropped scalp tickled her palm.
“The lights moved so fast and whistled very loud. I covered my ears. It felt like someone blowing a whistle beside me,” Wu inhaled when she lifted his hand to her lips. “The lights chased the plane over the ridge. My mother turned to us and said, I want you both to know that I love you very, very much.”
Laxum detached, letting his hand drop between them.
“Clouds were sucked down over the ridge where the lights chased the plane,” his voice dulled to a whisper as his memory took hold. “The ground shook beneath my feet. This black ball of smoke shot up like a blooming flower.”
Laxum admired her new manicure.
“Who saved you from the impact wave, Wu?”
“A man dragged us down into a ditch…mother was screaming when the winds took her away,” Wu blinked as if woken. “Why am I here, Ambassador Jyr?”
Laxum stiffened. “My name isn’t enunciated as the English word, jeer. It’s pronounced like the English word, year. Repeat my name, Wu, and this time, do it properly.”
He corrected himself. “Ambassador Jyr, why—”
“—you were part of a team whose strategy entailed sinking an explosive onto our outer hull,” she tired of repeating this story. “Your team failed to assess the proper depth, and the pressure imploded your device before it could succeed.”
Wu petted the cloak. “This material is strange,”
“That material is called gwobix,” she smiled. “It’s like your silk.”
“From Antarctica?” he asked.
Laxum didn’t mind the boy using the helovx name for Ramaxia if he didn’t mind her refusing to call him human.
“It has a hole for my…” his voice trailed off as he lifted the front of it over his lap. “Is it for men, from Antarcti—”
“—no, Wu,” she asserted. “We femmar do not produce males,”
His eyes shifted to her open robe. “How are your babies born?”
Laxum loathed helovx curiosity. “Explaining the complexities of genetic engineering would be lost on the likes of you.”
“We make fish,” he whispered.
“Using our technology, yes,” she said. “You now have hatcheries,”
He closed his eyes. “We made you—”
Laxum palmed the back of his head and drove his frail figure to the floor.
“I’ve worked so hard in my resolve,” her shadow loomed dark across his bare buttocks. “I’ve progressed much in my attempt to interact with you, Wu, without resorting to abuse.”
Frightened eyes fixated on her hands.
Helovx males were masters at escalating verbal conflicts.
During her species outreach between the poles, their warrior caste, the marixi, displayed legendary physical cruelty. Fear the Fist was a term born from altercations between men and marixi; a clenched fist in the rectum quieted even the most argumentative.
“This obscene tale you perpetuate about creating us,” Laxum was no brute, but her kindness withered before ignorance. “Humanity was barely cloning cattle when the impact occurred.”
No longer content with his silence, she wedged her foot beneath his testicles and pressed her other heel into his back.
A soft cry came, an utterance of defeat.
“Rise, Wu,” she stepped clear and strode to the bed. “I don’t keep you alive to hurt you.”
The land-male lay dazed beneath the polar female; such was the world’s way, even on dry land.
The troublesome tingle in its snout dulled out of the trench the farther it swam from the structure. Calm ruled the shallows where brighter waters held nothing untrue.
High tides drowned the residences tucked within the flattened crags. Land kissed the sun only a few hours a day; that’s when the man it sought came here to escape.
A swipe of its tail brought it close enough that its snout sensed weak pulses coursing behind steel.
Footsteps drummed over a beating heart. Through the narrow window, a sudden turn revealed terrified eyes. The man dropped his luggage and fled, leaving behind a stench of palpable fear.
It rushed over the structure, forcing its heft through narrow paths until it found the man’s window. Snout inches from the glass, memory illuminated the darkened room.
Inside, the man’s heartbeat beckoned.
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 at the open-air patios above, each cluttered with potted subglacial plants and spacious enough to accommodate the 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 spoke as if Sofita was 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 belligerence 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 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 lone 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 countered. “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 said.
“No, but you are, Kul,” Balru’s deep voice gained an edge. “When you published her book, you established a relationship.”
“Fusada was next in line to rule, not me,” Sofita addressed the marix. “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 talks. “You want her to end up dead and discarded on the surface, like them?”
“She’s not my problem, Balru,” Sofita said. “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 motionless as she spoke. “I’ll always be grateful that you brought Kin home, but I don’t like how you’ve dismissed—”
“-I saved Kin, and Kin owed me,” Sofita whispered. “I collected on that debt, and in return, Kin 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 remained 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 donat created from a combined patch and 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 lone offspring meant the Catalogue had notified the eldest living Kul—the ruthless Primary of Ramaxia.
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 was 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 disappointment.
“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 said.
“I’m aware of that, Kul,” Balru said with a nod. “You saved Kin back when you cared about something other than yourself.”
The beefy detective exited the pool, waving to the bizak attendant at the gate.
Don’t let it hurt your brain, ‘Fita.
- Suffocation: The Femitokon Series Volume I