Stories

Expulsion of the Sixthborn – Heather Fogotti

Chasmo awoke before dawn to find his mother, Saya, sleeping with her arm around him. He had turned thirteen three weeks before and would be expelled from the citadel that morning with all the boys his age.
        The citadel was bound by a high wall enclosing a space large enough for billions of women to live comfortably amid beautiful buildings, sprawling parks, and lush gardens. It was said to be founded, designed, and built in ancient times by the goddess who separated men and women and established their laws and customs. In fact, according to some researchers, it had been the result of a long ago successful effort to train more women in science and engineering. Females soon dominated and innovated their fields, and then society. They tried to reform and enlighten males, but failed. So they founded their own sustainable walled megacity, to which all women were welcome and flocked, and from which all males over thirteen were expelled monthly.
        Due to extensive automation, the citizens enjoyed a great deal of leisure, spending most of their time pursuing arts, study, pastimes, and invention. But there were also some career opportunities for the more ambitious, mainly in the administrative bureaucracy. Families were tight-knit, multiple generations commonly sharing the same home. Some families would merge with others, or grew so big they established houses and sisterhoods that carried on familial names, stories, and traditions. Most laws were sensible and required little enforcement. Life was largely tranquil and orderly. The citizens were generally cordial and content.
        The citadel was run by a myriad of agencies, committees, and experts whose authority was delegated to them by an elected queen. Queens reigned for at least two years, no more than sixteen. Any citizen was eligible for the office as long as she had a different lineage than the last queen and current king beyond the citadel’s walls. But most queens belonged to the same few prominent houses.
        Saya was now queen, near the end of her final term. Hers had not been a prominent family house until recently, gaining notoriety through her great aunt’s many inventions and discoveries. Her mother had taken the opportunity of their new status to promote her young daughters’ talents, grace, and intelligence to everyone. Saya’s older sister’s manifest elegance and competence in so much made her a clear choice for queen. She was soon elected and served for six years. Four years later, Saya was elected at twenty-four years old.
        Chasmo got out of bed and stretched. Saya’s eyes fluttered open and she sat up, smiling at her son. Then her face sunk and her eyes watered as she remembered what day it was. All mothers cared for their sons, were sad to see them go, and would miss them when they did. But that was why most mothers tried to maintain some emotional distance between themselves and their boys, who would often be managed more by nannies and servants as they grew, then sent to boarding schools after a few years.
        But Saya had always been deeply attached to her first-born son, and had dreaded this day from the first time she held him. She spent as much time with him as with his sisters, and took special care that he would be prepared for life beyond the wall, securing him the best eunuch teachers of martial arts, weaponry, and survival skills. She also taught him how to impress and interact with people as she had learned from her own mother, aunts, and grandmother.
        Saya stood up. She tried to behold her son’s visage through her watery eyes but gave up and walked over to hug him. “My beautiful boy is now my beautiful man.”
        Chasmo frowned and looked down. “I wish I could stay. But I will follow your instructions.”
        “No one is above the goddess, my dear son. Some things are chosen for us all. Remember this even among men. Today is sad. But for you it should also be hopeful. You must have level eyes and vigor when you meet your father.”
        Chasmo finished packing and closed his trunk. It contained gold, knives, photos, gizmos, and letters from his family, addressed to him, the king, and others.

***

A royal escort met the group of expelled boys outside the southwest tower of the citadel, where they had been lowered on a lift extending from its outer wall. None of the other boys who had been born in the past month and were being expelled along with Chasmo would likely ever meet their fathers; and if they did they would never know.
        Every boy’s belongings were searched for forbidden weapons and technology. Chasmo’s electronics were placed back on the lift with everyone else’s.
        Beyond the citadel walls lay a wasteland stretching almost to the horizon. The boys were grateful to have some protection from the lurking predators in the distance, who would have been the first ones to greet the expelled had the escort been delayed, as it sometimes was.
        A week before, a bright red flare hovered far above the citadel, shining all the way to the king’s castle in the west, to signify the pending expulsion of a new prince wearing an officially embroidered purple sash.
        Chasmo sought out and found the commanding officer of the escorting troops, Captain Kolsteel. Two other boys wearing purple sashes also approached the captain, claiming to be the new prince. Kolsteel admitted that one of them resembled the king; but he could tell their sashes were counterfeit. He had the two impostors ridden far to the south and abandoned.
        The escort had brought carriages and carts pulled by horses. The Prince was offered a seat; but he chose to walk so he could better look around and back at the gleaming chrome walls of the citadel in which he was born and raised and to which he would never return. The other boys tailed behind the armed retinue. They crossed the sparse plain on a bumpy beaten path. Nothing grew in the shadow of the citadel. Toward the west, a few shrubs, strands of grass, and dead brush appeared where the flat desolation broke up and sloped into hills. Far beyond, jagged mountain peaks cropped the sky. Strewn throughout the desolation in the citadel’s shadow were human bodies, most of them decayed.
        Kolsteel saw Chasmo noticing the carnage and explained, “Many invade the citadel’s outer territory, perhaps aiming to get back in somehow. Of course, it’s all in vain. An act of despair. Sometimes, whole groups sent out by suicide cults charge at full speed, aping like they’ll scale the walls. They never make it far.” He gestured to a heap of rotting corpses tangled up with ropes, ladders, and battering rams. “The turret guns take them out in one shot usually. Very clean, efficient way to go.”
        Chasmo knew about the laser cannons embedded in the towers and the walls surrounding the citadel. They were run by advanced intelligent software. “The goddess decrees respect for her citadel’s perimeter,” he intoned.
        “The god above decrees it too. As you’ll soon learn. These men were heretics, cowards, or atheists mostly, living in defiance of the god’s code and his king’s law.”
        When Chasmo asked about “the god,” Kolsteel replied, “I will try to leave that teaching to your father.”
        “What will happen to the others?” Chasmo asked, motioning toward the boys behind them.
        “Most should make fine soldiers for the king if they can make it to training camp.” Kolsteel looked back. “Not sure many will. Few do. The trek is hard. The weak must be left to the wild.”

***

As their path began to wind, dip, and rise, Chasmo spied creeping figures behind distant dunes. A few horsemen ran them farther away, then turned back to the rest of the caravan. Kolsteel identified the fleeing band as “wranglers,” those who snatch expelled boys for slavery or military service in the “outer lands” around the kingdom.
        “Why do we need so much protection, Captain? I thought my father ruled everywhere outside the citadel.”
        “The king sends escorts for the expelled because otherwise even the most promising would likely be captured, butchered, or starve out here on their own. The kingdom of men would die out and be overrun by the vicious tumors that dominate these regions. The King does claim authority over all lands outside the citadel; but his only subjects are the soldiers of his vast army. His word and name are recognized only in the upper foothills, mountains, and valley beyond. We are over a day from your father’s eastern farms and gardens where his subjects live. As we go, things become more predictable, but no less safe. On the outskirts of the foothills are the sun and star cult plantations. They will often attack travelers if provoked by any defect.”

***

By midday, the procession had reached greener and hillier tree-speckled fields with hunting parties and wanderers in the distance. The last glint of the massive citadel eclipsing the horizon glistened behind them, soon to be lost to the hills ahead.
        Captain Kolsteel told Chasmo about his father, King Martu, and his elder brothers. The stories were long and flattering to their subjects. Chasmo condensed each in his mind into digestible chunks.
        King Martu had received far fewer sons from the citadel than most prior kings who had lived as long.
        His first son, Prince Renard, born to Queen Renna, was not expelled until the king was thirty-six years old. Renard died in battle at age twenty.
        The second son, Prince Alzo, born after many daughters, was expelled two years after Renard’s death. Four years after that, a third son, Prince Tarudo, was expelled. Both Alzo and Tarudo were born to Queen Azla.
        Alzo was disowned and exiled to the outer lands when he was twenty-five for heresy and debauchery.
        Tarudo was captured when he was fifteen by a warlord and held for ransom. The king led a rescue mission; but Tarudo died in the attempt.
        The fourth son, Prince Galtus, born to Queen Mava, was expelled when the king was fifty-three years old. Mava was Chasmo’s Aunt.
        The fifth son, Prince Valius, born to Queen Valaha was expelled five years after that.
        Galtus died at age nineteen when he fell off a cliff while on a family hunt. Now, at eighteen, the fifth-born son, Valius, was heir to the throne. Chasmo was second-in-line.
        Kolsteel also recited the king’s ancestry, naming legendary heroes of whom Chasmo had never heard; who, Kolsteel claimed, were themselves descended from demigods and gods, begot by the first-born of the god and the goddess. But he stopped himself from elaborating on the divine origins of the royal line, recalling his vow to avoid such matters.
        By the time Kolsteel had finished his account, the rough road had widened. Most of the scenery was now raw, dense woods broken up by heaps of rock. They were approaching the foothills. They passed a few fortified farms and ranches tended by various cults.
        “The sun falls low,” Kolsteel observed. “We must encamp and post sentries soon.”
        Chasmo looked around, then looked ahead. “Let’s try to get as far as we can before we stop.” He climbed aboard a wagon, took the reins, and urged the horses over the next few hills until he reached a treeless plateau. Kolsteel agreed that the spot was a better camp site than they could find in the hills ahead or woods behind. He ordered his horsemen to take shifts patrolling the flat barren field around the wagons. The other boys jogged far behind, catching up to the encampment at dusk.

***

That evening, soldiers told gruesome tales of bloody battle, honor, and glory to the boys sitting around the campfires until everyone tired out. Among those who sat agape listening to the soldiers were the maternal twins, Eblioli and Mendi. Eblioli had always been sensitive and sheepish, while Mendi was rambunctious and cunning. Mendi was taller and huskier than Eblioli, who seemed short and scrawny by comparison. Mendi and Eblioli did everything together growing up. Mendi had always looked out for Eblioli. Eblioli had always depended on Mendi’s boldness, toughness, and savvy in dealing with others.
        As the day of expulsion approached, Mendi planned to disguise herself and sneak out with Eblioli as an extra boy, so she might protect him from hardship and danger outside the citadel. She did not want to leave. But she also could not let her brother die trying to fend for himself for the first time in his life. She was unsure it would work; but there turned out to be few protocols in place to prevent it. Mendi cut her hair and wrapped herself tight, then snuck into the crowd of thirteen year old boys after they left their mothers to enter the antechamber of the expulsion lift at the top of the outer wall.

***

The boys retired while the soldiers took shifts guarding the edge of the campfires’ glow. Horsemen continued to patrol in the distance. As the boys shuffled away to their tents, Mendi took the opportunity to introduce her brother, and herself (as “Uloyo”) to the Prince. Chasmo invited the twins to join him in his tent. They traded stories about their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts until they fell asleep.

***

The knights of the Perfected Order attacked after midnight, first taking out the patrolling horsemen and guards with blow darts. Flaming arrows then lit up the encampment. Archers pierced most of the soldiers rising in alarm. The knights rushed in to hack up the surviving ones who hadn’t scattered, including Captain Kolsteel.
        In the midst of the tumult, many boys fled. Some were killed. The rest were seized and bound, along with Prince Chasmo, Uloyo, and Eblioli.

***

King Martu grieved when he received word from surviving soldiers of his son’s kidnapping by an unknown, unseen enemy force who seemed to see in the dark, made no noise, and missed no shots. Still, he tried to convince everyone around him and himself by his words and demeanor that they might somehow rescue or ransom the prince. He sacrificed a goat to the god and prayed for his son’s safe recovery.
        Prince Valius volunteered to track and attack the wranglers to save his brother. The king approved, but insisted they postpone. “We should know more of what we are facing before rushing ahead,” he reasoned.

***

The Order took their captives to their compound and locked them up, five in a cell. Uloyo made sure not to get separated from Eblioli. As they huddled together in the cold and tried to sleep, Chasmo snuck to their cell door and let them out with a key he had gotten from a guard. Chasmo freed all the boys and led them back toward the foothills.
        By sunrise, the group had found a trail that eventually met with the road to the kingdom that they were on before. It became more even and tread as they ascended. Many fell behind or collapsed along the way.
        At noon they reached an outpost of the Kingdom and the eastern ranches, vineyards, and farms of the king. As they entered the foothills, barracks emerged behind thick brick walls flanking the road. The commanding officer of a patrol unit stopped the group and identified the Prince. The patrol led the surviving boys the rest of the way up the mountains to training camp, then accompanied Chasmo, Uloyo, and Eblioli to the King’s castle, a large stone structure straddling the peaks, mounted around a network of caves and tunnels.

***

The King was delighted to meet Chasmo soon after receiving word that he was free. The entire court was pleased and amazed by Chasmo’s harrowing account of how he outsmarted and overcame the guards during his interrogation, killed his captors, then retrieved his possessions and companions. Chasmo introduced his new friends, Uloyo and Eblioli; who he said had helped him find the way out of the cult’s convoluted compound and take their mules and wagons.
        Martu introduced Chasmo to Valius. He then led him to the western side of the castle to view the kingdom’s valley, criss-crossed by scattered rows of barracks and armories between farms, ranches, and fields. Small settlements emanated from a dense cluster of larger buildings and dwellings around a tower at the center of the valley.
        Chasmo marveled at the extent of peace and order in the western valley and lands around the castle. But he pointed out that his father’s official authority, over all men outside the citadel, did not seem to match his actual power’s reach. He was unable, for instance, to prevent his own son’s abduction.
        King Martu nodded. “For us to remain worthy in his sight, we banish many of the unruly and wanting. But there must be bounds to a kingdom for the possibility of such mercy: a place they can go and we can let be. The god’s code forbids subjugation or total annihilation of the ousted, for our own edification and vigilance.”
        The king noted that when he had led an extended expedition in the the outer lands, his troops seemed to adapt the feral ways of the inhabitants, corrupting the Kingdom. “You always end up absorbing the worst of what you conquer. Best to keep the deviant and defiant at bay, apart. We maintain and patrol the roads to the citadel for Expulsion and Tributary. Otherwise, the outer lands serve as a lawless refuge for the rejected, who are excluded from our rites and ceremonies. Most of them are unfit to serve the Kingdom. The others are outlaws, derelicts, or traitors, and the youths they kidnap or recruit. Of course, their numbers grow too large over time and they must be dealt with. Warlords rise up, proclaiming their own rule, and attack our lands. Even now, there is a growing cousin clan that raids our northern settlements. Valius will soon lead a force to put them down. It might be good for you to observe.”
        “I am sure it will. Perhaps I can partake. I will need a horse and training to ride it,” Chasmo declared, then reflected on his father’s words and asked, “What is Tributary?”
        “You know that every full moon, boys are expelled from the citadel. Every new moon is Tributary. You will witness it for yourself in twelve days.”

***

After a celebratory sacrifice and meal, the King taught Chasmo the Kingdom’s religious history. “The goddess has a husband,” he divulged. “The god, father and king of all gods and mortals for all time.”
        Chasmo was leery of men’s religious beliefs. He had heard stories of spirits and ghosts in the citadel, but everyone there knew the goddess was the one and only divinity.
        The king saw Chasmo’s eyes narrow. “Do not think it blasphemy, son. It is the full truth about the godhead – the secret portion of the truth known only to men. The god’s code is our birth-rite and honor to bear as his descendants. Especially us, his direct heirs. His royal offspring have long maintained the command of his code in the valley and eastern highlands.
        “You have learned the mother goddess separated men and women and wrote the holy laws of purity. In truth, it was the father god who proposed the idea and she who agreed to it. He loved men and women, but loved humanity more. He came upon the idea as the only way the sexes could ever properly co-exist. It was he who separated males and females, along with himself and the goddess, forbidding all physical interaction for the sake of mankind’s harmony and serenity. He bestowed to us our code and instituted our ways and practices in coordination with the goddess. The goddess will always be with us. But she knows, out here, among men and beasts, only the god who hardens us with his regimen of adversity and code of honor can help us.”

***

After dinner, Prince Chasmo unpacked in his quarters. From a compartment inside his trunk, he retrieved a vial of clear liquid and a small remote transmitter that he had gotten from his captors. Chasmo twisted and pressed some knobs and buttons inside the compartment to turn on the trunk’s built-in radio, microphone, and speakers. He contacted the queen and told her he had arrived at the king’s castle as planned.
        The Perfected Order was comprised of goddess-worshipping eunuchs who denied the god’s existence and were loyal to the queen alone. Every year, after a thorough screening, a few eunuchs were received back into the citadel to serve its citizens. And a large portion of those allowed to return belonged to the Order. Many of them worked for the leading houses of the citadel. And some returned to the Order with technology, instructions, and promises from Chasmo’s mother.
        The Order had been directed to capture the prince, arm and advise him on the ways and pitfalls of the king’s court and domain, then send him off with keys to free the other boys and meet his father as a hero.

***

Mendi’s mother, Lady Evia, of a prominent house on the north side of the city, distraught over her daughter’s disappearance, beseeched Queen Saya. The queen’s security secretary confirmed that the daughter had snuck out with the boys. Saya told Evia that Mendi was likely already dead, which was the best fate in her circumstances. But the government would use their satellites to search for any sign of her.
        “It has been a long time, but this has happened before. She has disobeyed the most sacred law. But, if she lives and can ever find her way back somehow as part of the next eunuch reception, I will do all I can to see that she redeem herself and rejoin us. There are ancient rituals by which she could be purified, so she might be spared any rehabilitating penance.”
        Evia thanked the queen and returned home to pray.

***

King Martu and Prince Valius prepared Chasmo for battle over the next two days. He would accompany Valius and his troops over the Northern mountains to defeat the clan that had been poaching livestock on the kingdom’s edge. The infantry would ambush the raiders’ encampment and drive them through the canyon they occupied, into the oncoming cavalry. Chasmo would take a position with a crossbow along with archers perched high on the walls of the canyon. Valius would lead the mounted forces to surround the retreating enemy.
        Chasmo requested that his new friend, Uloyo, who seemed eager to gain the royal family’s favor through battle, could join them. The king agreed.

***

They rode north for three days. Chasmo’s horsemanship improved on the way. At camp, Valius told Chasmo about their brother, Renard, who had lost a horse in a skirmish with a warlord horde on the outskirts of the kingdom. This brought him great shame and dishonor. Later, he led his troops to encircle and burn the horde’s camp in the outer lands and caught sight of the warlord riding the stolen horse. Renard chased him through the woods. When he came to a clearing, Renard found himself surrounded by the enemy and was slaughtered.

***

Valius’s forces killed most of the canyon clan, taking few casualties of their own. Unlike cults, slavers, and warlords, the kingdom took no prisoners.
        Chasmo and Uloyo impaled many raiders when they were still sleeping, then even more as they fled the horsemen, who chopped up and trampled the stragglers. Chasmo found the brief massacre, decided by their side’s overwhelming numbers, cavalry, and superior weapons, dull and unsatisfying. He wished to have been able to fight with a sword and shield, but against a larger, well-armed enemy.

***

On the way back to the king’s castle, Uloyo designed a system of small, fastened pulleys that would make loading and shooting crossbows easier and faster. She showed her design to Chasmo, who showed it to his father. King Martu was reluctant to commission its production, fearing that the advanced weapon or its design might fall into the wrong hands, fostering crime and vice – the reason most technology and innovations were forbidden in the Kingdom. But after hearing of Uloyo’s valor in battle and her eloquently expressed desire to kill more enemies in less time, he allowed her and Chasmo to take the plans to the royal engineers and smiths in the valley’s central village.

***

Eblioli joined his sister and the prince on their journey to the valley. On the road to the village, they passed barracks, farms, and open fields used by soldiers for training and games on horseback or in the mud. The village was composed of a few markets, bathhouses, taverns, and many factories and workshops full of busy artisans and craftsmen, arrayed around a sprawling stone building with multiple wings at the base of a large tower, serving as a temple and library. After Uloyo explained her crossbow design to an arms engineer, the three stopped by the plot designated for the new monument being sculpted for Captain Kolsteel, then visited the temple library and viewed many of its scrolls, filled mostly with histories. When they returned to the castle, Eblioli requested a royal appointment helping the monks preserve and study the scrolls.

***

King Martu, his sons, and some other royal family members traveled for two days northeast from the castle to the outer lands, not far from the citadel’s northwestern tower, to attend and commence Tributary. They were followed by a throng of pilgrims from throughout the kingdom. The king told Chasmo how his own father, King Toron, died beside him in battle while making the same trip. A warlord had united factions in the area and led an army to attack the royal cavalcade, hoping to usurp the throne. Reinforcements soon arrived and Toron witnessed the enemy begin to get overwhelmed and wiped out just before he was slain, Martu reported. “Since that clash and the purge, this passage is quieter.”

***

Before the royal family feast on the night before Tributary, Chasmo poured the fluid from his trunk into Prince Valius’s wine. Queen Saya blamed Valius for killing her nephew, Prince Galtus. She had told her eunuchs to smuggle the fluid and remote transmitter developed at her household lab out of the citadel and to the Perfected Order. The weaponized concoction was designed to be absorbed into the body like water.

***

The festival was held in a wide and shallow gorge at dawn. Subjects filled it, forming a profusion of long lines spoking out in every direction from a large gold bowl. Chasmo sat with the royal family atop a platform overlooking the crowd. Above the bowl hung a crude statue of a shapely female form dangling from a crane. The King delivered a short speech about the joys and gravity of Tributary. He introduced Chasmo and announced Valius’s participation in the ceremony, then sacrificed a ram. Everybody applauded and musicians played. A bonfire was lit at the far side of the gorge, wafting dark, fragrant fumes toward the citadel. The huge crowd howled, drank, danced, and chanted. Valius got in the back of one of the long spiraling lines.
        The men at the front of each line stood atop a deck surrounding the bowl and began to masturbate. Many of them dutifully stared at the statue above. The others longingly looked at the other masturbators. After ejaculating into the bowl, each man moved aside and joined the lively feast, celebration, and games, letting the one behind him take his turn.
        Many revered the sacred religious ritual and often went weeks without ejaculating in order to increase their contribution to the communal collection. Few of even the most devoted attended every Tributary; but all subjects were required to line up at least once a year.
        After all the participants had ejaculated into the bowl, it was to be covered with a lid. Priests would put it on a cart and singing enthusiasts would pull it to the edge of the citadel’s perimeter. The king and the high priests would take the bowl the rest of the way, to an extended lift on the citadel wall, onto which the clergy would load it. The king would place exquisitely crafted, ornate glass flasks containing the ejaculate of contributing dukes and barons, along with his own, into padded canisters attached to the lift, his offering intended for the queen, the others distributed on a rotating basis to elected officials and prominent houses in the citadel, to be used, sold, or traded. The bowl itself would be drained into bottled doses for the use of any citizen seeking pregnancy. Much would go unused, but some might be repurposed. The empty bowl would be returned to the perimeter on the same lift.
        When almost all the men had gone through the lines, Prince Valius stepped to the edge of the bowl amid applause and masturbated to the crowd’s encouraging cheers. Before he could ejaculate, a lightning bolt struck his head and shot out his leg to the gold bowl when Chasmo flipped the switch on the transmitter hidden in his cloak. Valius stopped breathing and fell into the bowl, dead.