Episode Two [Preview]

The rowdy Port Yukon offers up a sexy spy and reunites Sofita with the influential Eppis Banto. After a contentious encounter, Sofita learns a secret about her dead twin that changes everything.

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.

“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. She 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.


Cover: Femitokon Suffocation