Episode Two finds Kul at the rowdy Port Yukon where she meets a human spy with a talent for sex; her investigation catches the eye of old friend and politician Eppis Banto.
Bu Tidal Gardens
Phan Xi Păng Coast – Jungwa
2 Yubol 2228 – 0600 Hours
Shenzhen Harbor’s inhabited crags received five hours of air before the sea submerged it for five days. Coastal helovx called these twelve-foot soars ‘five-by-fives’, lending to the term, Mind your Fives.
Orny had failed to mind his fives, and now the rising tide hindered their access to Zhang’s residence.
“Going forward,” Sofita scolded. “I insist you adjust your tidal clock.”
“Still plenty shallow, Komad,” Dox defended. “It’s not like Orny knew we’d be coming here, right?”
“He serves Surface Operational,” Sofita countered. “Where anticipating the—”
“-unexpected is the first rule of Orta.” Dox blurted, then turned away, apologetic.
Sofita pulled off her jacket.
“Tell me about your Bumo excursion.”
“I met a lesbian,” Dox relayed but then shriveled under Sofita’s stare. “They’re women, sexually attracted to—”
“-I know what a lesbian is, Donmat.”
Dox dropped into her chair and swiveled around to the forward array. Onscreen was a damaged window, bandaged with a latticework of warning tape.
“Kul, what are we doing here?” she asked.
“Secondary mission parameters are clear.” Sofita dreaded the sinus pain that came with shallow dives. “Acquire information on Zhang’s research, and obtain any biographic material about him.”
“We’re Femitokon,” she said. “Why are we involved in this?”
Sofita opened Orny’s belly hatch. “Zhang’s a hybrid,”
“That man’s a hybrid?” she said, wide-eyed. “He looks like any other helovx,”
“Hybrids are like their Femarctic fathers in that they don’t stand out until they’re naked,” Sofita gazed at the water inside the open hatch. “That’s why hiders excel at hiding.”
“There’s no more hiders or freebirths,” the young marix said. “When’s the last time someone was born outside a scheduled production?”
A time known as the Free-Birth Era came about when femmar created a sub-routine called Generational Code Transition that applied the gen-codes of citizens who’d died while birthing to their newborns. Soon, there were enough coded orphans born to qualify as a Seventh Generation.
Seeing no need for a scheduled production, the Sixth canceled patch collection, and the Fifth controlled Chamber allowed it.
Femtrux underwent her prime evolution a year later, and during an inventory of the Collective’s interface modules, she unearthed the GCT sub-routine and took Oligax offline.
After advisement on how a ‘citizenry-made generation’ would upset the social and political balance, Oligax eradicated all Code-Transition options.
Femtrux went one further and purged every generational code assigned with it, leaving thousands of free-born Seventh without means to interact with the Collective.
Cloister politicians tried to reverse the chaos, and twelve years later, they succeeded, but the Fifth would sacrifice an Eighth, and the Sixth would create a Ninth.
“I’m a free birth, Dox.”
Dox turned her chair around. “You’re one of the Eight?”
“What do you know about the Eight?”
“Eight freebirths got registered before Oligax put the smackdown on it,” Dox seemed puzzled. “How did you and the other seven get registered?”
Sofita fought back her smile. “Wox Dag found a loophole.”
“CM Dag?” Dox’s eyes widened. “Ambassador Dag’s not a free-birth.”
“A zaxir didn’t birth the Ambassador,” Sofita said. “Pita Dag had donated her patch knowing she’d be off-world during the next production. Before departing for that final mission, her bond partner, then Wox Banto, pulled that patch.”
“Is that why CM Dag got suspended?”
Sofita nodded, “Doctor Banto implanted herself.”
“How did she survive the birth, Kul?”
“She designed a serum,” said Sofita. “Scheduled injections of it built a temporary makzol.”
“That’s way up inside of you, right?” she balked at Sofita’s silent judgment. “I don’t have one. I know nothing about them.”
“I’m aware,” Sofita murmured, wishing Orta taught their brooders more about reproductive anatomy. “Oligax doesn’t attach gen-codes to donations with dead birthers.”
“That much I know,” said Dox. “We get our code at Donational Health.”
Sofita sat to remove her boots.
Don’t let it hurt your brain, ‘Fita.
“Under normal circumstances, a gen-code gets assigned the moment a birther stands up in the birthing trough,” Sofita said. “The bottoms of her feet signify she’s completed her task.”
Dox turned her chair around.
“What does that birthing pool look like?”
Sofita lifted her gaze.
“What makes you think I know?”
“You were there, right?”
“There where?” Sofita demanded.
“There when your donats were born,”
“What makes you think I have donats?”
“You’re a hizzah badass,” Dox’s cheeks and scalp went dark. “You probably had bellies lining up for a chance to carry your genes.”
Patch collection was a hectic time, with some citizens in demand more than others. That first year, Sofita received hundreds of requests, ignoring all but one. Luckily, hive Oligax limited patch-pulls to six, ensuring the passage of everyone’s genes.
“Why are we named at our first check-up?” Dox asked. “Why not name us when we get our code?”
“Unlike birthing, naming is a bit more intimate,” Sofita clarified. “Many makers wish to take part since not every maker attends the birth,”
“How did Ambassador Dag get a code?” Dox blurted. “How’d you get yours?”
“Staff members at the Ambassador’s first check-up witnessed Doctor Banto assigning her newborn a code. After she departed, four nurses registered their sib’s free births,” Sofita retold the story. “When Doctor Banto returned with Fusada and me, my sibox received her code since our birther had died. Oligax scanned me, though, and choked on the genetics.”
“What happened?” asked Dox.
“Oligax deferred to Femtrux.”
Dox sighed. “Femtrux, always fixing what’s broke.”
“Femtrux altered Fusada’s code to include a letter,” Sofita couldn’t help but smile. “I received the same code but with a different letter.”
“After that,” Dox said. “No more manual registrations?”
Sofita nodded. “The option to manually register the donations of deceased birthers disappeared from every clinical terminal in Ramaxia.”
“Komad, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but Fusa didn’t give her patch to make you, right?” Dox folded her arms over her chest. “How are you considered her gen-heir?”
“Technically, no,” Sofita glanced again into the open hatch and studied her reflection in the water. “Yet, I’m as much House Kul as the Primary.”
“If you’re a free birth,” Dox reiterated. “Some male got your mak pregnant, right?”
“There’s an interHive site called Kulateral Damage, containing many nasty things about House Kul,” Sofita stepped out of her pants. “Ten years ago, they revealed that my maker, Fee Banto, and Fusa, shared the same mako.”
The Donmat’s mouth fell open.
“Fee was a freebirth born of the same zaxir whose patch made Fusa,” Sofita stripped naked and crouched by the hatch. “They fell in love with the idea of riding each other, and that turned into a bondship.”
Sofita began deep breathing to prepare for her dive. “During the production of the Tenth, they employed an unethical patch-designer to create Fusada’s donux,”
“She was already pregnant?” Dox whispered.
“Yes,” she said. “By the male donation of Ixo Kul.”
Dox pinched the bridge of her nose.
“He was related to Fusa, but not Fee,” she determined. “Was he your mak’s lover?”
“Love didn’t conceive me,” Sofita said.
Dox softened. “Did that male hurt your mak?”
“My sire was her victim,” she clarified. “Primary Ixo saddled Fusa with a command post in the AC. Due to their bond being considered waxam, Fee couldn’t cohabitate with Fusa outside the mainland.”
Dox lost focus at the very mention of monogamy.
“Angry at Ixo, Fee devised a vengeful plan to hurt Ixo’s most cherished donation. Fee called him, claiming that Fusa assaulted her. He rushed to her location, but he found Fusa and Gid Ikat waiting when he got there. Fee arrived later and joined the assault.”
Sofita lowered herself into the water.
“Fusada is the donation of Fee Banto and her bond, Fusa Kul,” she said. “I’m the donation of Fee Banto and her victim, Fitax Kul.”
“Komad,” Dox appeared over the hatch, her bald head bordered by the light. “Your makers being damaged doesn’t make you damaged.”
“If only such truths were that self-evident,” Sofita mused.
Sinking into the warm shallows, she stroked out from beneath Orny, shadowed by a swarm of curious mackerel. She closed her eyes to the probing fish and conjured a painful moment from her past.
Elder Ryo is coming to collect her for Mynu, but Fusa finds her first. Snatched up by her hair, she kicks free of the brute and flees into the nux yard.
The spheres with Sofita’s body trembled, scaring away the schooling fish.
The heady scent of fertilized soil dulls the ache in her bones. Vines rustle in the breeze. A ripe cluster of berries sways out of reach.
Sofita’s temperature climbed as heat bubbled the water at her feet.
Orestes finds her because, like Fusada, he knows her hiding places. Blood drips from her nose onto his arm, but he won’t wipe it clean. It’s her blood, he says, and he likes it.
Sofita cried out, enraged, as energy climbed its way toward her heart, salving her inflamed hide with the Shell’s uniform. Peace returned while studying a thick ribbon of bunched mackerel. An endless assembly of tiny tails worked to form one giant fish that drifted between her and the damaged residence.
One blink activated her aquatic lens, ridding the water’s dense microbial debris. A vein of cold water snaked around the submerged compound. She drifted closer until caught in its pull. Fish often rode these undersea rivers when in need of a rest.
Sofita imagined moving beyond the flow, inciting the Shell to emit a burst of energy from the soles of her boots. Covering miles within minutes, she wrenched free over a familiar drop-off where a faint glow from the depths gave shape to a known valley.
Sofita had exiled herself to Orta, while Laxum Jyr chose the Kuril Trench.
Nine months after Fusada’s death, Jyr, then-Representative of Utama, unleashed a political cyclone during a live broadcast of the Cloister Citizenry-Session. On a quest to dismantle the Balanced Citizenry Act, she put forward a motion to dismiss its creator, Fifth Office, Wox Dag, on the grounds of ethical ineligibility.
Met with a fierce rebuke from the Ruling Platform, Jyr proclaimed Dag emotionally unfit to draft law with an opening statement detailing the elder bizak’s underhanded dealings as Secondary Chair of the Generational Production Department.
Sernatae Yir Gizul reminded Jyr that CM Dag paid for those ethical missives during the Sixth’s reign. To this, Jyr produced a recording of Dag’s violent reaction to learning that Faltrix had halted her euthanizing males. Rounds of supporting whistles from the Chamber spurred Jyr to introduce another recording, revealing a secret division within World Oceans.
Jyr replayed an audio recording that featured journalist Koba Julo speaking to an operative from something called, The Femitokon Division, a covert group whose sole purpose was to terminate males outside the scope of Femtrux.
The operative’s revelation hadn’t been as scandalous as her detailing a transition from another secret unit called Terminal Sabotage; only the Primary, her First Officer, and select Orta chairs knew of the Sorority of Defense in those days.
Outraged, the Sernatae demanded an explanation.
Primary Kul and First Office Uym admitted to the existence of Terminal Sabotage yet denied knowing of any Femitokon Division.
When given a chance, CM Dag turned the tables on Jyr by challenging the recording’s validity. Fourth Office, Tee Banto, seconded her challenge and demanded access to the operative on record.
After a series of motions and counters, Jyr outed Komadon Fusada Kul to be the recorded agent. Sernatae Gizul ordered a Sessional Recess, and during this two-hour pause, issued warrants for all citizens working in this Femitokon Division.
Later in the day, the Cloister reconvened with Wox Dag delivering a prepared statement: ‘The Femitokon Division exists to enforce the Balance Citizenry Act. Divisional agents seek out males hiding amongst the citizenry and males that have fled Ramaxia for life between the poles. All males collected without incident face Isolation for their illegal existence.’
Unsatisfied, the Chamber demanded witness testimony.
Every member of the Femitokon Division, including civilians, testified to their operations in open Cloister. Not one agent, lifeform handler, or Primada officer would validate anything said by Fusada Kul. Division leader, Primepromad Tyle Hibz, claimed that no males existed anymore in Ramaxia. She went on record asserting Fusada Kul’s mental state compromised by an experimental shell-energy in her body.
Sernatae Gizul dismissed Jyr’s motion to remove Dag. Post-session, the press confronted Fourth Office Rasa Jyr about CR Jyr’s accusations against CM Dag. Rasa responded by declaring her Tenth-Gen heir unfit for political office.
Laxum Jyr was many things—unfit for politics wasn’t one of them. However, on the last Cloister Session of 2213, Jyr executed an administrative temper tantrum by stepping down as CR of Utama. At that time, citizen opinion polls blamed Rasa for speaking ill of her donation, but their discontent was short, and the regal hizak’s standing would rebound.
Wox Dag’s reputation never recovered. Her legacy as the first bizak to serve on a ruling-gen committee was forever tarnished by the Femitokon Division; to this day, citizens still referred to her as Clasper-Killer Wox.
“There she is, Orny,” Fuzo cried. “Been over a fucking hour. You’d think with how hung up she was on the tide going out, she wouldn’t go wandering off.”
“I agree,” said the Ornith. “Should we inform the Komad of our sentiment?”
“No, that’s between you and me, Orny.”
Onscreen, the Komad paddled her way into the damaged apartment.
“May I inquire something of an unofficial nature, Dox?”
“Depends on how unofficial.”
“Have you ceased liking me, Dox?”
Fuzo glanced at the ceiling.
“Who says I don’t like you?”
“Your recent behavior indicates an active dislike.”
Fuzo swallowed hard.
“You have my back, and I got yours, right?”
“We are mission partners.”
“That’s right,” Fuzo barked. “Friends until death, or reassignment.”
Kul’s voice filled the cabin. “Burn it, Donmat,”
After the Komad swam clear of the structure, Fuzo enacted the Chemotaxic-Cytosizer. The water outside fizzed as microscopic cells devoured every spec of organic debris. Behind her, Kul splashed up from the hatch, sans her silver uniform.
“Cell-toaster says ninety-eight percent disintegration.”
“The shark took most of him,” Kul pinched her nose before pushing air out it. “Bumo absconded with the rest, leading me to believe there’s a connection to this shark attack.”
Fuzo avoided looking at Kul’s naked torso.
“Your middle toe is the largest,” she noticed.
“My toes proportionately descend from the middle,” Kul used that middle tow and tapped the circular pad on the floor, causing a free-standing operations console to rise.
“Like Femitokon and Fusofitakil?” she asked.
“Like Fusada Kul,” the Komad’s heavy suzsch bounced when she waved her muscular arm over the rising console. Orta training built up her chest muscles, making her large fronts prominent, but Kul wasn’t a marix, and her uzxi lines ran distractingly over each globe. “What are you staring at now, Donmat?”
“When you get punched in the fronts,” she stammered. “Does it hurt?”
Kul leveled her gaze. “Not as much as it’s going to hurt you if you keep gawking at mine.”
Fuzo crossed her arms over her chest; marixi fronts were tender lumps of muscle, not fatty tissue. When a donat, she often butted heads with a mouthy bizak at her caste-center. One day, after the bizzy made her angry and six-year-old Fuzo shoved her to the ground, she shot up and punched Fuzo’s right frontal, sending Fuzo to her knees in blinding pain.
“Why are we born with our most vulnerable parts out in front of us?”
“So that the rest of us can protect ourselves,” Kul’s eyes found hers. “Are you finished lamenting the sum of your parts?”
Fuzo stepped to the holographic grid floating between them. “Permission to ask you a question, Komad?”
“As if you’d wait for an answer, Donmat,” Kul observed, flattening some paper bits from the flooded apartment onto the console’s scanning grid.
“You got instant Division getting the Shell to work. Why’d you cycle through Orta caste-training?” Fuzo moved closer. “Why waste your time folding shirts and building forts with Toobs or taking shit from losers in the Secondary program?”
After a beat, Kul answered her.
“I activated the Shell and spent a year training in it, but the Primary refused to sign off on my earned advancement. When she gave no reason for the refusal, I challenged the decision.”
“You challenged the Primary?”
“She was out of line,” Kul shrugged. “Marixi Administration agreed to hear my case, and the Primary sent Ryo Uym acted in her stead.”
“She blocked your rank but wouldn’t say why?” Fuzo asked, ignoring the holographic paper bits gloating in the grid between them.
“Uym stated that I had an advantage over other marixi due to the Femitokon Shell,” Kul said. “My synthetic benefit discriminated against those forced to make rank through traditional training, and thus, I did not warrant the same reward,”
“I can see her point, Komad.”
“The new Prime of Marixi Administration, Ixo Gizul,” Kul smiled. “She decreed that if I were sincere in my desire to operate as an armed ranking officer, then partaking in a mandatory caste program was required.”
Fuzo laughed. “Prime Gizul made you do it?”
“She mandated I cycle through a condensed version, with my brood years spent in the Secondary-Trialist program,” Kul’s smile faded. “CM Uym reminded her that due to my possessing the Shell, I still owned a benefit.”
“Wait,” Fuzo interrupted. “They took the Shell out?”
“Doctor Uym removed the spheres so that I could build forts and take shit from losers.” Kul pointed her head at the floating scans. “The mystery of the shark remains, Donmat.”
Fuzo had other questions, but they could wait.
“If Zhang has our male blood in him,” she asked. “Then he can make fish do stuff,”
Kul shook her head and flashed that hizzah smile that meant Fuzo was either wrong, stupid, or both. “Sharks hunt using their amxbuta, what the helovx call, the lorenzini ampullae. Tenth-Gen males manipulate bio-electrical currents. When one governs what those electroreceptors detect—”
“-That’s not mind-control,” Fuzo blurted. “That’s the strings of a puppeteer.”
“Precisely,” Kul placed her elegant hands on the console. “No femarctic male can make a biologic stalk a man and eat him.”
“What about our fleet beasts?”
“They’re sentient organics cyberized to carry out specific tasks autonomously,” Kul shook her head. “Their technopathic ability comes from having brains connected to the Collective.”
“What if a lifeform got tired of us, like in that digicast, Breathe for Me,” Fuzo was still spooked by the film, having seen it last year. “This Bakiprime makes her Delphic kill a rival striker pilot, and then the Delphic goes crazy and starts killing other pilots.”
“Our cybermarine constructs can’t hurt us,” Kul rejected the theory. “Nor would they allow us to use them to hurt each other.”
“Unless Femtrux tells them it’s okay.”
“Femtrux wouldn’t harm us,” Kul uttered a pointed sigh. “She’s too invested.”
“Did you see that digicast where Femtrux falls in love with these bizaki and locks them in her paxum on the surface? She molests one of them with these tentacles…” Fuzo confronted Kul’s stare. “I know, Femtrux doesn’t have tentacles—”
“-Are you finished?” Kul demanded.
No, thought Fuzo, anticipating her next liberty where she planned to watch an alt-world feature depicting a Ramaxia without hizaki.
“Lifeforms can’t hurt each other, right?” she said instead. “If Femtrux is responsible for that instinct in them, why don’t we have it?”
“Femtrux doesn’t house our operative consciousness. We’re shitty at will, Donmat,” the Komad tapped at the ops-con’s surface, and the grid pulsed as it cleaned up the scans. “We live, we love, we kill.”
Kul had killed at her Final Trial.
Exact details had faded with time, but every fresh bruise knew that during the Tenth-Gen’s secondary final, the interloping hizak beheaded a fierce surface walker named Wram.
“Permission to ask another question, Komad?”
Kul focused on the scans.
“If it’s about Zixas Wram, no.”
“Why did Wram try to kill you?” Fuzo let slip. “The hearing playback cuts out testimony from the doctors,”
“You observed my tribunal?” asked Kul.
“You’re my assigned prime,” Fuzo said. “I thought I should.”
“We’re all capable of murder,” Kul said. “Genetics can’t engineer it out of us.”
“I feel like marixi have a handle on our violence.”
“Balrusok would beg to differ,” Kul said.
“I read this gol about Balrusok, and I think she wrote it.” Fuzo set her forearms on the console. “You know how Femitokon and Balrusok fought, and Balrusok died by accident?”
Kul stared at her without speaking.
“That’s not what happened,” Fuzo said. “Want to know what happened?”
“Continue to waste valuable time, Donmat,”
“A week before that all went down, Femitokon found out that Balrurok rode Fusofitakil,” Fuzo said. “Balru found out that Femitokon found out, and she thinks Femitokon might have a sex thing for Fusofitakil.”
“Up On the Ice isn’t a biography, Donmat.”
“Balrusok wrote it,” said Fuzo.
“How did she author it if she dies in it?”
“I know who wrote it,” she pointed at Kul. “You got a relative, right? A Doctor something, she wrote that creepy gol about the Femaki’xirpaxul going crazy.”
Kul fixed her gaze on Fuzo. “Did you watch Maker-Killer at the digicast hall?”
“I read Maker-Killer, my second year as a brooder,” she bragged before explaining. “You’re in the mind of the Femaki’xirpaxul, programmed to wait for a total global freeze before restarting the Femati. The impact happens, waking up the femmar, and you roll with it until they start making more femmar.”
“Where did you learn to read, Dox?”
“Marixi can read,” she grumbled. “The letters look weird to us, and we get frustrated. I learned to relax and memorize the words.”
“Memory aided your perception, a mastery of emotion enabled your comprehension,” Kul said, walking to her gearbox. “Self-taught?”
“This officer used to visit me at the caste-center,” she said.
Kul pulled out an undersuit. “A volunteer?”
Fuzo eyed the paper scans. “So, this shark stalked and attacked Zhang?”
“Dox, your ability to pollute the subject is exceptional,” Kul leaned against the navigation panel and crossed her arms over her fronts. “Did you develop this skill to avoid questions about your monogamist tendencies?”
Fuzo strode around the console. “You made it clear to me in the jungle, Kul, that despite being mission partners, opening up about our lives wasn’t going to happen.”
“Have I not attempted to amend that condition by sharing with you the details of my conception and the nature of my makers?” Kul countered.
“Talking to you makes me feel like I’m an idiot,” she blurted, then aimed an angry finger. “Also, for the record, I’m not a waxamist.”
Kul held Fuzo in that blank gaze of hers as she pulled a sleeveless shirt over her head. After adjusting her fronts so that her uzxi were parallel, she grabbed a dry pair of undershorts from the floor compartment beneath her chair.
“When a shark senses blood or struggle, she swims to the bottom and comes up for an attack,” Kul said, stepping into her shorts. “This behavior is born of natural hunting instinct.”
“No shark sits in the middle of the ocean and thinks, I want a helovx today. I’m going to swim to the coast where they live and get me one,” said Fuzo, wondering where Kul got a pair of OA’s big enough to fit her backswell. “This shark isn’t natural, though,”
“That’s undetermined,” said Kul.
Fuzo noted, “This shark would have pilot fish, right?”
Kul’s dull eyes came to life. “A shark that size would’ve had at least six dedicated pilots,” she slapped Fuzo on the shoulder. “Excellent observation, Donmat.”
“I still think,” Fuzo mused, half-serious. “It’s a dinosaur.”
“If it were prehistoric, possessing the higher intelligence we’ve seen,” Kul said, her eyes narrowed. “Wouldn’t this species have found a means of surviving the last evolutionary purge?”
“You can’t sway me with your brainer logic, Kul.”
The amused hizak shook her head. “Someone emptied Zhang’s safe.” She touched a finger to the larger image. “This was floating inside of it.”
“I can run it through a casti-cleaner,” Fuzo fell into the steerage chair. “We need to get Orny topside. Want me to lay in a course for Orta?”
Kul tapped the side of the ops-con, lowering it.
“Take us northeast,” she said. “Holy Cross.”
Fuzo turned, “You mean Port Yukon?”
“Same destination, Dox.”
“Holy Cross isn’t Port Yukon.”
Kul noticed Fuzo’s lips twisted in disgust.
“Ten-minute walk says otherwise—”
“-Yukon is loaded with whores.”
“Being assigned to Surface Operational,” she pressed. “You’re aware that interacting with helovx often leads to engagement?”
“Engagement does not mean sex, Kul,”
“In the hizaki lexicon, engaging is a primary synonym for sex.”
“Wait,” Fuzo’s stomach soured. “You and that admin from Holistics, always talking about engaging the bizzies in our cafeteria?”
“We don’t discuss the menu with them, Dox.”
Fuzo balked. “They serve me food, Kul.”
END EXCERPT – EPISODE TWO