1 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.
“Going forward,” Sofita scolded. “I insist you adjust your tidal clock.”
“Affirmative, Komad.” Orny had failed to mind his fives, and now the rising tide hindered their access to Zhang’s residence.
“It’s still plenty shallow, Komad,” Dox defended. “It’s not like Orny knew we’d be coming here, right?”
“He serves Surface Operational,” Sofita countered. “And 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 material related to his person.”
“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 exclaimed. “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 laughed. “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 endeavored to reverse the chaos, and twelve years later, they succeeded, but the Fifth would sacrifice an Eighth, and the Sixth would reluctantly 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 explained. “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 illegally 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!”
“Only breeders have them,” 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,” she quipped. “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 spoke, softly. “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. To ensure the passage of everyone’s genes, Oligax limited patch-pulls to six. That first year, Sofita received over seven-hundred requests, ignoring all but one.
“How did Ambassador Dag get a code?” she asked. “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 and deferred to Femtrux.”
Dox laughed, “Femtrux, always fixing what’s broke!”
“Femtrux altered Fusada’s code to include a letter,” Sofita grinned. “I received the same code but with a different letter. Afterward, the option to manually register the donation of a deceased birther disappeared from clinical terminals throughout Ramaxia.”
“Kul, 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, I’m not her genetic heir,” 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?”
Sofita stepped out of her pants.
“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,” stripped naked, Sofita crouched beside the hatch. “They enjoyed riding each other, and that turned into a bondship. During the production of the Tenth, they employed an unethical patch-designer to create Fusada’s donux,”
“She was already pregnant?” she whispered.
“Yes,” Sofita affirmed. “By the male donation of Ixo Kul.”
“This male was a relative of Fusa, but not Fee,” she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Is that why he was your mak’s lover?”
Sofita began deep breathing to prepare for her dive.
“Love didn’t conceive me, Dox.”
“Did he hurt your mak?” she asked softly.
“My sire was Fee’s victim,” Sofita explained. “After falsely declaring herself a waxamist, Fee found herself exiled from Utama when the Primary saddled Fusa with a command post in the AC.”
Dox lost focus at the very mention of monogamy.
“Fee devised a vengeful plan to hurt Ixo’s most cherished donation. She called Fitax to the West Islands, claiming Fusa assaulted her. He rushed to her location to find Fee waiting, with Fusa and Gid Ikat.” Sofita lowered herself into the water. “Fusada is the donation of Fee Banto and her bond, Fusa Kul. I’m the donation of Fee Banto, and her victim, Fitax Kul.”
“Komad,” Dox appeared over the hatch, her bald head bordered in light. “Just because your makers are damaged doesn’t mean you’re damaged.”
“If only such truths were that self-evident,” Sofita mused.
Episode 2 of the Suffocation arc has been collected for eBook release and available for free with Kindle Unlimited.