Any hope Eppis had about clandestinely gathering allies on the road to rule is quashed after Velto and Sofita discover the truth about the Slavs.
North Pannonia Wall
Slavic Empire – Uralskey Island
8 Bamx, 2228 – 1850 Hours
Blood smeared along the bulkhead led Velto to the broken bodies strewn around the Ornith. Three were young Kotko’s flunkies, but the bony one, Boland, answered to Boris.
Sofita sat with her big girz spread upon the concrete, her sleeveless undershirt covered in red flecks, and her arms dotted with welts.
Velto stepped up beside her. “What happened, Komad?”
“They got handsy with my bird,” she said, medicinal injector in her trembling hands.
Velto took a breath. “What’re you doing with that pinch?”
“It’s a pheromone blocker,” she struggled to slip the sheath onto her index finger. “Ilo’s got my gash swollen, and my logic adjourned.”
Velto snatched it from her. “Tilt your head, hizzah.”
Sofita obliged, showing off the bruises peppering her chest.
The hizak’s mood was impossible to read, just as it had been at her tribunal. Velto had paid a visit to her holding cell that day, needing assurances that Zixas dying wasn’t part of some plan cooked up without her knowledge.
It hadn’t gone well.
“Bullets do sting, don’t they?” Velto asked, slipping the sheath onto her index finger.
Thumb pressed to her middle finger, she jerked her forearm downward and slapped the sheathed digit against her thumb. When the casing turned purple, she put it beneath Sofita’s ear and felt her finger spasm as the injector shot its contents.
“Ilo’s resurgence?” Sofita asked.
“Not a clue. She wants to ride every hour of the day,” Velto tossed the spent injector back into the Ornith. “She’s killing me, but I love it.”
“What about you? Any changes?”
“I haven’t eaten since we got here.” Velto moved away from the bodies. “I’m operating on zero nourishment, but the daily sleep helps.”
Sofita stood. “Where’s Ilo and—”
“-Did you think I wouldn’t see that bruiser and not know?” Velto had spent years believing Sofita murdered Zixas intentionally; then young Dox appeared.
“There are more pressing matters, Ambassador.”
“You haven’t had a pressing matter since your tribunal.”
Sofita swallowed hard. “You wish to confront me?”
“Damn right,” Velto snapped. “I spent years hating you.”
“Zixas was my friend,” Sofita said softly. “She understood my fall from prominence more than anyone.”
“You mean, she knew what it was like to fuck herself out of everything?” Velto allayed. “I wasn’t shocked by your friendship, but clearly—”
“-We weren’t sexually involved,” said Sofita.
“Obviously,” Velto scoffed. “You might’ve had her back if you’d been riding her.”
Teeth bared, Sofita snatched her collar.
Velto showed no fear; she’d been knocked around by bruisers bigger than some hizak playing at one. When Sofita then released her, she put some distance between them.
“Zixas was the bully our kerma raised her to be. She reaped what she sowed,” Velto shrugged her shoulders to fix her shirt. “You changed her, Sofita. You brought back the bruiser she used to be before my kerma fucked her up.”
“If I could do it all again—”
“-Well, you can’t, so, spare me the woulda-coulda.”
The long silence brought comfort until the dead men’s stink invaded their moment.
Velto pushed Sofita aside and entered the Ornith.
“What’s got Ilo resurging?” the hizak asked, joining her.
“I got no idea,” said Velto. “Ilo says that Shell’s affecting you like it did Fusada.”
“I’m fine, Velts,” Sofita said, closing the hatch door.
“We’re back to first names again?” Velto stepped into her. “Explain why you bailed on us, Sofita.”
“I had my reasons,” she said calmly.
Velto’s hands formed into fists.
“You don’t get to walk away.”
“I was never truly part of it,” she cried.
“That’s crap,” Velto yelled back. “How Fusa treated you was the reason Fusada planned all that fucked up shit, and like an idiot, I put Ilo’s life in danger, making her a party.”
“The plan hasn’t died,” said Sofita.
Velto gave a start. “Say that again?”
“Ascension must hap—” Sofita took Velto’s fist without surprise.
“You gurxhole,” she shouted, cradling her sore hand. “While we all dealt with having our destiny ripped out from under us, you spent the last twenty years laying low?”
“That wasn’t my intention!”
“You abandoned us, and now you’ve changed your mind?” Velto taunted. “Am I supposed to kiss your girz and tell you how grateful I am you’ve come to your senses?”
Sofita raised her eyes to the ceiling and brought her arms up in frustration. “Oh, come off it, Velts!”
Fusada had uttered those exact words with the same physical dramatics after Velto confronted her at a party for embarrassing Zixas.
“Look at me, right now,” she demanded, studying Sofita’s face. “What’s the last thing you said to me?”
Sofita blinked as if awoken.
“I said, that’s not what happened—”
“-No,” said Velto. “You griped at me, like ‘Foos used to gripe at me.”
Sofita’s face hardened.
“When she died,” Velto asked. “Did that thing retain their time together?”
Sofita hesitated. “There was retention…”
“Are you shitting me?”
Sofita crossed her arms over her chest without answering.
“Has this thing accessed your consciousness?”
“There have always been incursions,” Sofita answered. “But my ability to control those incursions faltered last month.”
“Control?” Velto gasped. “Has it always been talking to you?”
“Internal vision techniques purge it from my waking consciousness,” said Sofita.
Velto groaned. “Where’s Fyla?”
“Unavailable at this time.”
“No shock there.” Velto understood those bio-synthetic spheres better than most; when their designer, Fyla Uym, failed to answer Fusada’s questions about them, the marix had turned to Velto.
“Do you activate it the same way Fusada did?”
Sofita shook her head. “I tap into my anger.”
“You think of shit that torks you off,” Velto said. “Like memories of Fusa?”
Sofita turned to her, stricken. “The conscious incursions are strongest after internal visions of Fusa.”
“You did not internally visualize to activate that thing,” Velto scolded, eyes wide. “There’s no way Fusada activated it the same way,”
“She told Fyla she could,” Sofita paused. “If she did, then it proves portions of her operative energy remain.”
“That’s faxucrap,” Velto said. “When you die, your op-en dies too,”
“Does it?” asked Sofita.
The Shell’s operational consciousness was identical to the natural operative energy found in every living brain. Helovx called this operative energy a soul; always pragmatic, the femmar felt that when the brain ceased to function, so did its operative energy.
“Do you really believe in that axuki crap?” Velto asked, then realized she hadn’t seen a scary film in years. “If operative energies didn’t die, ‘Fita, they’d be in our bivels and BEBs, or trying to communicate with us every day on our Filmarks.”
Sofita nodded perceptively.
“Let’s focus on reality,” Velto said. “You internally visualize memories of Fusa. These rehashed realities trigger whatever aspects of Fusada that thing keeps stored in its operative matrix,”
Ilo’s laughter sounded off outside the cabin.
“Is this an Ornith?” The blue-hided zaxir stepped over the men’s corpses and laid hands on its rounded fuselage. She pressed her upper body against the flier’s hull and smiled when Velto and Sofita emerged. “I can hear her heart beating against my fronts.”
“His name’s Orny,” said Dox.
“It’s a ‘he’?” Ilo laughed. “That’s adorable.”
Dox shifted her eyes from Ilo’s rear to the dead men.
“What happened, Komad?”
“They were trying to scan the Ornith,” said Sofita.
“What were they scanning him with?” asked Dox.
Velto searched the area around them and, finding the smashed unit, kicked the discarded wand toward the marix.
“Don’t touch that,” Sofita warned as Dox moved to pick it up.
Velto’s lip curled. “What’d you do?”
“Ew,” Ilo traced her name out on Orny’s plated wing. “You and your insertions, ‘Fita.”
“Ilo,” Velto scolded, “not in front of the donat.”
“Donmat,” Dox hotly corrected.
Ilo took Dox’s arm and led her away.
“If I tell you a secret, Fuzo,” she whispered. “You promise not to say anything to anyone, not even your Komad?”
Sofita whispered, “Are you sure you want to take her back like this?”
“I survived our twenty,” Velto reassured. “I can survive this.”
“You know my birther?” they heard Dox ask.
Velto frowned. “I got it—”
“-Thank you,” said Sofita.
“Ilo,” she barked. “Would you come here?”
The zaxir appeared like an obedient donat and followed Velto to the opened hatch.
Dox asked after them. “Are we just going to leave these men?”
All three took wordless inventory of their surroundings before entering the Ornith without answering.
“Why am I not shocked,” the young bruise whispered. “Silent Gen say and feel nothing.”
END EXCERPT – EPISODE SIX