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Battle For Earth: Prologue
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Battle For Earth: Resistance

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Battle For Earth: Prologue

I was only four years old when the Qharr invaded our world. They rained death and destruction upon the Earth and when the smoke finally cleared those of us who survived lived to see ourselves fall under their rule.

Author’s Note: This was originally posted as a serial in various-sized chunks on the usual sites.

Although, it’s a bit ‘spoil-rific’ I feel I need to warn people that I do kill off a lot of characters throughout this series. I make no apologies as I believe in staying true to the story even if it means putting my characters through hell.

Thanks to the following people for pre-reading the story and helping with grammatical edits: Beyogi, Maggie Finson, Loki and Zapper.

 

Prologue

I remember when the Qharr invaded the Earth though I was only four years old when it happened. The United Earth Defense Fleet had been battling them in the skies above for days and I watched from the safety of our family home in wide-eyed fascination. It wasn’t until I grew older that I finally understood what those bright flashes of light in the night sky had been. Death. Humans ships exchanging fire with the Qharr invaders. The battle was an exercise in futility, everyone knew it except me. I was too young to understand what it all meant.

The Qharr were coming and no one that remained was safe not even my then four year old self.

“Jellfree!” my mother, Muriel Briggs, called my name as she appeared in the doorway of my room.

“Come on, honey. It’s time to go!” she called urgently.

I tried to protest, to ask my mother why, but she merely smiled sadly as tears cascaded down her face. She gently reached over to where I was sitting on my bed and picked me up. I started to cry. I didn’t want to go! I didn’t understand why we had to leave. My cries fell on deaf ears as she rushed me out of the house. My father soon joined us accompanied by my older sister, Rebecca . Mother rushed me into the family aerocar, a battered old Ford Vision, and my sister joined me in the back seat. My father, Lloyd, drove and took us out onto the nearest lane speeding into traffic with a velocity that reflected my own terror.

I didn’t understand what was happening, but I knew enough to sense that something had my parents and older sibling scared. Neither my sister or I spoke; instead we clung to one another with wide eyes. Our parents offered up reassurances from the front seat, but it was abundantly clear that they didn’t believe a word they said. They told us we were going somewhere safe, somewhere where the Qharr couldn’t find us. Over the last few weeks I’d heard my family talk of the Qharr, but I didn’t really understand the threat they posed. They kept speaking of invasion, but I didn’t know what that word meant.

My father let out a long string of curses and the car went veering off to the side of the road. I peeked out the window and noted that traffic was so packed it had come to a standstill. The car stalled and floated down to the ground. Becca and I exchanged glances and with faces glued to the window we watched in amazement as all the surrounding vehicles did the same. My parents started to argue, they’d been doing a lot of that during those last few days. One of them mentioned an EMP and while I’d heard that word a lot. I didn’t know the exact meaning. I did know it was some sort of weapon the Qharr had been using against us. Our parents seemed to come to a decision as they both undid their restraints and urged my sister and me to do the same.

Once we were out of the car we started walking. We traveled by foot for what seemed to be an eternity to my child’s mind. I started to cry, my feet were throbbing and I didn’t want to walk any longer. Mother attempted to sooth me, but it was too no avail. Instead of stopping, my father picked me up and put me up on his shoulders. This had always been one of my favorite modes of transportation and my father knew it. I quickly settled down and we resumed our journey through the city streets.

There wasn’t a soul out in the open, and it almost seemed as if the entire city was out stuck in traffic. It was an eerie experience walking through the empty streets and even to this day I remember it quite vividly. Once or twice we caught sight of vague outline of a person lurking in the shadows or group of people moving in the distance, but none of them came close enough to us for me to see them very clearly.

Our long walk came to a very abrupt end after rounding a corner. A large, almost insect like black monstrosity rested in the middle of the street blocking traffic going in every direction. I had no idea what the horrendous thing was, but I later became much more familiar with the god awful things. It was a Qharr J’narr class destroyer, but that was nothing compared to the horrible gray-skinned creatures that littered the street around it.

It was my first glimpse of our conquerors but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. We just stood there for a moment in complete shock, and then my father handed me off to my mother and reached into his jacket producing a phase pistol. We started running in the opposite direction as one of the Qharr called something out and two of them broke into a run behind us. My father shot his weapon haphazardly behind him as we ran, but the shots never landed home and our Qharr pursuers got closer and closer until they were right on our heels .

The shorter of the two grabbed my father’s arm as he reached back to fire and tore the gun out of his hand. My father spun around to punch at the Qharr with his other hand, but the alien caught his fist with the casual ease of a trained fighter.

We all stopped to watch in horror as the Qharr grabbed my father by the throat and lifted him from the ground.

“Muriel dammit, don’t just stand there! Run !”

We started running again, but I peered over my mother’s shoulder and watched as the Qharr snapped my father’s neck and cast his body aside with casual disdain. I screamed out in terror and I felt my mother’s tears splatter against my neck as I bounced in her arms. She didn’t utter a word, but her weeping was indication enough that she knew my father’s fate. His demise only distracted them for a few short moments before they were right back after us. It didn’t take them long to catch up to us and I think my mother finally realized that fleeing wasn’t doing us any good because she stopped just as they were nearly on top of us.

She calmly set me down then she stepped in front of my sister and me facing the Qharr with both fists planted on her hips and head held high in defiance. “I won’t let you harm my children!” she screamed.

The very same Qharr who had killed my father stepped forward and regarded my mother with a trio of unblinking pale yellow eyes then abruptly he raised his hand and struck her in the throat. Mother gasped for breath and clutched at her neck, but soon collapsed dead to the ground. Becca tugged at my arm screaming at me to run, but I fell to my knees and wrapped my small hands around my mother’s corpse.

“Mommy!”

I’d never known death before, but instinctively my child’s mind knew that my mother was gone. I felt a massive hand lift me up, and I clenched my eyes shut and waited for the Qharr to do to me what he had done to my mother and father, but my death never came. My eyes flew back open and watched as the other alien lifted my sister into his arms. The two aliens carried us off and we began our new lives as slaves…

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As my other stories this is a work of fiction and as such any resemblance to real life individuals, events or locations is purely unintentional. Only Fictionmania, Bigcloset Topshelf, & tgstorytime.com have permission to host this story and my previous works unless I state otherwise.

Battle For Earth: Resistance

I had been a slave to the Qharr nearly my entire life, but one fateful day
everything changed. I joined up with a group of rebels, and through a twist of fate,
no one could have ever foreseen, I became the woman I am today…

Author’s Note: This was originally posted as a serial in various-sized chunks on the usual sites.

Although, it’s a bit ‘spoil-rific’ I feel I need to warn people that I do kill off a lot of characters throughout this series. I make no apologies as I believe in staying true to the story even if it means putting my characters through hell.

Thanks to the following people for pre-reading the story and helping with grammatical edits: Beyogi, Maggie Finson, Loki and Zapper.

Chapter One

Rich violet blood splattered my face as I stepped out into the practice yard. I brought a hand up to wipe it off and just barely managed to duck out of the way as the body of a Qharr soldier flew over my head. For a brief moment he simply lay there on the ground, but then he jumped back to his feet and rushed his opponent with his g’th stick whirling in a furious blur of motion. Corrector Duvak Nakyrr blocked the young soldier’s blow and swept his own weapon in a wide arc which his opponent nearly didn’t block in time.

The young soldier knocked the Corrector’s g’th stick out of his hands and sent it flying through the air. The soldier swirled his stick around aiming at the Duvak’s left side. He easily dodged the blow then brought his right foot around in a round house kick that smashed into the other fighter’s chest with an audible thud. The soldier fell backward and landed on his back, giving the Corrector just enough time to retrieve his weapon. The other Qharr was soon back on his feet and the two were once more locked in hand-to-hand combat.

The Corrector was quite short for a member of his race, but despite being both smaller and much older than his opponent he cut through each attack with ease. The two of them battled back and forth for another ten minutes and Duvak managed to knock the young soldier off his feet three more times before finally felling him for the fifth and final time. Duvak coughed and threw his g’th stick off to the side with an almost disdainful flick of his wrists. In the five years that I’d served within the compound I’d only been invited out to the practice yard a few dozen times and even then I doubted I’d seen Duvak duel more than half a dozen times. Never once had I seen him go up against an opponent who even came close to matching him in skill. I might have wondered why he bothered if I didn’t understand the bastards’ mentality. As commander of the facility it was his personal responsibility to make sure that his men received proper training which apparently meant kicking their asses on a routine basis.

I stood silently off to the side and waited for my master to take notice of me. To the Qharr I was just an honorless and lowly human slave and speaking to Duvak without permission was a good way to get myself beaten or, on a bad day, killed. I hated them with every fiber of my being, but if I let myself show that hatred I’d be dead in seconds. I’d seen what our masters did to humans who disobeyed them and I didn’t want that to happen to me. So I played the part of the obedient slave, and did the very best I could to survive. Which had worked out pretty well for me, I was only twenty-eight and had one of the most important jobs a human slave could ever be tasked with.

“Ah, Master Cook Briggs,” Corrector Duvak said his three eyes locked on me halfway across the compound.

I felt rush of hatred and anger as the Corrector studied me. Here standing before me was the one responsible for my enslavement, the same soldier who had carried my sister and I off more than twenty-four years ago, after murdering my parents. As the one who had captured me I’d been given into his care to serve him until the day that I died. For many years lived as his slave, and I had all but given up hope of ever being free, but then I met Kaya and she reawakened my passion and hatred for those grays-skinned bastards. I still served my oppressor as I had for nearly my entire life, but I only did so because I saw no other choice. If the Qharr ever realized that I felt the way I did they’d kill me without a moment’s hesitation.

“Corrector, I am honored to once again be allowed to bask in your presence,” I said, with a bow of my head and fake subservient smile.

I didn’t say a word as Duvak came over to me and placed his massive six-fingered hand on my right shoulder in a Qharr gesture of greeting. I brought my left hand up and lightly gripped it around his second and third digits then withdrew it sliding my open palm across my chest as was expected. Duvak nodded–a human gesture he had picked up from all his years working with our kind–then drew his hand away and coughed loudly.

As I mentioned before the Corrector was actually quite short for a Qharr standing at just a little over 1.9 meters tall, but to a human slave he cut an imposing figure nonetheless. Like all of his kind his skin was a glossy dark gray and had a segmented almost insect-like quality to it. As any Qharr soldier my master had a tattoo extending from his left shoulder in the shape of circle overlapped by the Qharr symbol for unity. There were two arrays of tattoos branching out from the symbol. One extending downward, displaying his exploits in battle with a long array of Qharr characters and the other extending toward his right shoulder showing his rank. He had a thick mop of black hair that ran just past his shoulders. Like humans, our masters stood on two legs, and while their proportions were similar to ours there was no mistaking them for one of us.

“An important day approaches, young Jellfree,” Duvak said, staring at me with all three of his eyes. His lip-less fang-lined mouth seemed to be a frowning, but I knew it was just the natural set of his features.

“If you say it, it is so, great one,” I said injecting the expected amount of reverence into my voice.

“It is so, human, in three days Overseer Jahal Tkyr will arrive to visit the compound,” he intoned pacing back and forth in front of me.

And I understood why the Corrector had summoned me. The Overseer was a high ranking Qharr official and it was customary to greet the arrival of such an official with a feast. As the compound’s head cook I would be expected to prepare a meal appropriate to the occasion.

“I understand, great one, I will prepare a meal that shall bring the Overseer’s praises heaping down upon you.”

Duvak coughed and brushed at my chest with the back of his two middle fingers in an expression of amusement. “Good. I am told that the Overseer is quite fond of canine meat. I have placed a large order of it and it shall arrive on the morrow see that it is prepared in jum’kar juices.”

“Yes, great one.”

The Corrector did not respond instead he stared at me his head titling from side to side as if he were trying to size me up. He coughed again then turned away. “Leave, slave.”

I swallowed hard and quickly scurried out of the practice yard. I don’t know why, but I got the impression that Duvak was worried about something. I’d spent a lifetime around the Qharr and I understood them as well as any human could. Duvak had displayed behavior that was odd even by his people’s standards. Something had him on edge and that didn’t bode well for anyone least of all a slave like me.

“Jellfree!” Kaya Brzezinski said spinning around with a large wooden mixing spoon in hand.

A small bit of sauce from the spoon splattered my face in almost exact place where I’d been hit with Qharr blood just a little time before. Kaya was one of the cooks who worked under me, and was one of the most attractive women I’d ever known. Like me, her life was one long sad tale, and I’d heard enough variations on the same story that I could recite hers by heart. About six months ago I found her waiting in my room after we’d both worked a long shift in the kitchen and the two of us had been together ever since.

She bit her lip and stared up at me apprehensively, “What did the Corrector want?”

I wiped the sauce off my face then I reached over to yank the spoon out of her hand and pulled her close. “The Overseer is coming.”

“How long?” she grimaced and reached at empty air as she made several futile attempts to snatch the spoon back out of my roving hand.

“Three days,” I said, spinning the spoon around, and then tossed it from hand to hand before holding it out for her to take.

She yanked it from my outstretched hand and shook it in front of my face. “Three days?! And how, the fucking hell, are we expected to prepare a welcome feast on such short notice!? It would be nice if our Masters would have given us a little more warning!”

“Kaya! You shouldn’t talk like that! What if one of the guards heard you!?”

I loved Kaya dearly, but there were times that I feared she’d get us both killed. She was impulsive and she nearly always spoke her mind. Honestly, I had no idea how she’d survived so long as a slave. Few Qharr were as tolerant as Duvak and even the Corrector had his limits. He’d proven on more than one occasion that he could be every bit as cruel and ruthless as any other member of his race.

Kaya looked like she wanted to scream, but instead she swallowed hard and slowly nodded. “You’re right, Jellfree.”

I kissed her lightly on the forehead then whispered in her ear. “Come on, we’ve got work to do.”

Kaya’s sleeping form was sprawled on the bed-pad beside me and I stared down at her in amazement that such a beautiful woman would want anything to do with me. She deserved better, not just from me, but from life. She would never know anything but the life of a slave, yet I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was meant for so much more. Before I’d met her I had pretty much given hope of ever being free, but her free spirit had started to rub off on me and I’d begun to let myself hope again.

It seemed ridiculous, I know. What was there to hope for, really? The Qharr had slaughtered billions of our kind and there were more of them living on earth than humans . Our masters seemed perfectly content for humans to exist as a slave race and I doubted that they’d ever let our species die out, but there had to be more to live for than just serving Duvak! It hadn’t been too long ago that man had roamed the stars. Perhaps someday we’d transverse the cosmos again.

Kaya had a passion for life that I’d never seen in another slave, it was why I loved her so much, but it was also why I feared for her. It was relatively easy to hide things from the Qharr. They showed their emotions with complex body gestures and few of them cared to learn human facial expressions well enough to understand what they meant. Even so, they weren’t stupid, and Kaya wasn’t very good at hiding her emotions. There would come a day when her defiant attitude would come back to bite her in the ass, and I would probably be caught in the crossfire. Even so, I wouldn’t trade my time with her for all the world.

“Good morning,” Kaya muttered softly her eyes fluttered open as she let out a loud yawn.

“Morning.”

We’d spent dozens of nights together, but each night was as precious to me as the last.

“We probably ought to get down to the kitchen,” Kaya said suddenly sitting up and letting out a long sigh.

Duvak was considered quite lenient for a Qharr Corrector, but if either of us were late for our duties we would be severely punished, particularly if we were late on such an important day. I let out a sigh of my own and lumbered out of bed. We both dressed and shared a brief kiss before separating to make our way to the showers.

“Jeck, is the spotted g’tck dripping?” I called out over my shoulder.

He let out a loud yelp and I winced as a loud high-pitched wail filled the kitchen. “Not yet!”

I hated preparing g’tck of any sort, but spotted g’tck were particularly troublesome as they were harder than hell to kill. And I didn’t particularly like that in order to properly prepare g’tck you had to boil one alive. It was a cruel way to kill the creatures, but if you killed them any other way they’d release their stench pouches and make their meat all but inedible. Well really, only the Qharr could eat the stuff, it was toxic to humans. When a g’tck started to leak it meant the poor thing was dead and its stench pouch was properly boiled out.

I turned my back and went back to whisking the large vat of murr cream and did my best to block out the foul smell. I wasn’t particularly fond of Qharr cuisine, but according to Duvak I had a talent for preparing their food that few humans shared. Most human cooks tried to make the food more palatable to human tongues, I just cooked it the way I knew the Qharr would like it. I boiled the cream until it turned a sickly bluish-brown then switched the burner off and moved to check on the next dish which happened to be dog meat marinated in jum’kar juices.

I spent the better part of the morning dashing around the kitchen, and trying to get everything ready for the Overseer’s visit. By the time it was all prepared to my satisfaction I was both mentally and physically exhausted, but my day was far from over. After a second trip to the showers, I got dressed and made my way to the meeting hall where Duvak along with a select group of slaves and Qharr would await the coming of the Overseer

Chapter Two

“Kaya,” I whispered between gritted teeth and tugged at her arm. “Who is this guy? What happened to Jeck?”

He certainly looked harmless enough, standing there holding a tray of food peering off into the distance with a look of disinterest. He was short, shorter even than most women, and my first impression was that he was only a teenager, but on closer inspection I realized he must have been at least in his mid twenties. He had dark circles under his eyes, a goatee growing from out his chin like a little bush, and despite his appearance his presence set me on edge.

Kaya bit her lip as cast her eyes down to the floor. “He… uh got into an accident and broke his leg. I had to find someone to replace him at the last moment.”

I didn’t like it, I loved Kaya, but I knew when I was being lied to. I didn’t doubt Jeck had broken his leg, but I knew Kaya well enough to realize she was probably the one responsible for breaking it in the first place. The two had never really gotten along and if Jeck had provoked her she may have let her temper get the better of her. It wouldn’t have been the first time that she’d attacked him.

I sighed and shook my head. “Just makes sure this new guy knows what’s expected,” I said releasing my grip on her shoulder.

She smiled nervously and nodded. “Oh, he knows.”

I got the distinct impression that Kaya was keeping something from me, but I had no time to find out what it was. I doubt even had I known, I could have prevented what followed.

“He better, if he doesn’t he could get us all killed!”

When the Qharr had conquered Earth they’d re-purposed many human structures to suit their needs. The research compound in which we all worked was one such building, but standing there in the meeting hall I never would have guessed that the place had been built by my kind. Most of the compound clearly showed signs of human style architecture, but the meeting hall had been completely rebuilt to give it that distinctive organic look that the Qharr favored. The walls had no corners giving the room an almost egg-shape, and were coated with the sort of black hardened resin that our gray-skinned masters used in nearly all their constructions. Then there was the smell, it wasn’t one I could easily describe. Whenever I stepped inside the meeting hall my nostrils begin to tingle and I got whiff of something faintly spicy that reminded me of gilish grinds.

The doors to the chamber flew open and a quartet of barely-clothed female slaves appeared in the doorway, swaying into the room as if they were moving to some unheard melody. The slaves glided to a halt in the center of the chamber and spun around on the balls of their feet to face the doorway. In marched a tall Qharr woman who was trailed by a pair of guards who were each a good foot shorter than their charge. Gray-skin females tended to be taller than their male counterparts, but their bodies weren’t nearly as bulky and like human women they were on average physically weaker than their male counterparts. The alien woman that stepped into the room looked to be an exception to the rule. She was nearly eight feet tall and her stone-gray body was ripped with muscle.

Her blue hair marked her as a member of the Edant K’teth, an order of elite soldiers whose exploits were legendary among the Qharr. I’d never seen one before that day, but I’d heard the guards within the compound speak of them. Whenever the topic came up they spoke of the Edant K’teth in hushed tones filled with awe and reverence. I didn’t put much credence to any of the stories, but many claimed that members of the order had special powers that enabled them to do amazing feats some of which were said to defy the laws of physics.

“Duvak!” she bellowed with a deep guttural and almost masculine voice, that was typical of a gray skin woman.

The Corrector appeared from the opposite set of doors and walked quietly through the meeting hall before stopping in front of the newcomer. He tapped on his left elbow three times, then brought his right hand and placed an open palm against the flat of his neck. “Valk Bysk, Baend!”

The Qharr woman brushed at Duvak’s chest in amusement and let out several terse coughs. “Now there really is no reason to be so formal, Duvak. We have known each other far too long for that!”

“As you wish Jahal,” Duvak said with a loud cough of his own.

I looked over at Kaya and noted an all too familiar half-crazed look on her face that sent cold chills down my spine. The last time I’d seen that expression on her face she managed to enrage Duvak and nearly got us both killed. As if to affirm my fears, the whole chamber went dark, and everything went to hell.

Bright flashes of light pierced the darkness as a loud angry roar escaped from the throat of one of the Qharr guards. I dove to the ground when I realized what was happening. Someone had decided to fight against the gray skins and I’d been caught in the middle of it. I started crawling toward the door, but I’d only made it a few feet when I felt a hand on my shoulder. There was just enough light from the passing phase blasts that I was able to make out Kaya’s shadowy form kneeling next to me.

“Going somewhere, Jellfree?” she whispered staring down at me with that all too familiar manic look on her face. She was holding something in her hands and I had to do a double take when I realized that it was a phase pistol.

All the pieces fell into place as I let in a sharp intake of breath. “You’re a rebel!?”

She nodded and held the weapon out to me. “The way I figure it, Jellfree, you’re either with us or against us.”

It was insane! Kaya a rebel? There hadn’t been a resistance group large enough to post a serious threat to the Qharr in almost ten years! And yet… even with Kaya holding a gun in front of me I still loved her. It sounds nuts I know, but love had made men do some pretty crazy things before. Defy my masters? Just a few hours ago the very thought of it would have been inconceivable to me. Don’t get me wrong, I hated the Qharr, but defying them was a pretty sure way to get yourself killed.

“Jellfree!” she yelled dropping the pistol as she spun around and extracting a second and much smaller weapon from her shirt sleeve and began firing into the darkness.

I reached out to grab the gun, not to use it. Not really. I didn’t know what I planned to do with the damned thing. The lights flicked back on and Kaya dove to the ground just as a bolt of energy fizzled past where her head had been. I felt my jaw drop as I looked around at all the corpses scattered throughout the room most of them were Qharr, but there were quite a few humans among them. A group of about ten rebels stood in a circle surrounding Duvak and the Overseer, the only surviving gray-skins, and they all had phase pistols trained on their opponents.

“So, this is how it’s going to be, Jellfree?” Duvak called from across the room.

I clenched my hands around the pistol and let out a long string of curses under my breath. A lump formed in my throat and I fought down the urge to scream. There wasn’t any going back, Duvak thought I was with the rebels and once the Corrector made up his mind nothing would convince him to change it. Even if he were killed there would be an investigation once the Qharr Ascendancy caught wind of Kaya’s little rebellion. So that was it, I really only had two choices as shitty as they happened to be. I could either join the rebels or wait around for the Qharr to come and kill me.

“Yeah, it’s how it fucking is. I’m done being your spineless slave!” I spat glaring at Duvak.

Damn, that felt good. All my life I’d been holding myself back, keeping myself from saying anything that would get me killed and now to finally be able to speak my mind… It was liberating!

“I-I think it’s time we get out of here, isn’t it?” A soft, yet masculine voice said from my side. It belonged to Jeck’s replacement, Jaysen.

“Not without our dear friend Jahal here,” Kaya said with grim smile as she raised her pistol.

The Overseer let out a long booming cough then she leapt high up into the air. Kaya cursed raising her pistol and traced the path of the Qharr female’s ascent, but didn’t shoot. The other rebels didn’t show the same restraint and opened fire pelleting her path with phase bursts. “Stop firing! We need her alive, dammit!”

“Fools! You have no idea of what I’m capable of!” The Overseer’s voice boomed through the chamber just before she leapt back to the ground and landed with a loud thud that shook the whole chamber.

Someone screamed out in sudden pain and I turned to watch as Duvak slammed into the nearest of the rebels. I was tempted to raise my gun and fire, but I’d never used a phase pistol in my life and I knew I had almost no chance of hitting my former master. I didn’t dare fire for fear of hitting one of my new allies. Not that I was particularly overjoyed with them, but if I stood any chance of getting out of that predicament alive, I’d need their help.

Duvak leapt at another rebel even as gun fire whizzed all around him and the rest of the chamber. After finishing his second opponent, the Corrector’s eyes locked on mine and I fought down my panic as he came tearing across the chamber toward me.

Still grappling to fight down my terror I raised my gun and swallowed hard then fired. Duvak leapt out of the way and the phase bolt splashed harmlessly against the wall. Before I could fire another shot, he leapt in front of me. His gigantic hand wrapped around my throat and he lifted me from the ground. My mind flashed back to my father’s death and in a very strange way it seemed fitting that I should die the same way and by the very same hands.

I clutched at my throat and gasped for breath clawing at Duvak’s flesh as I fought to free myself from his iron grip, but my efforts were in vain. As my life slowly drained away my thoughts turned to my sister, Becca. Was she still alive? It had been almost ten years since I’d seen her and yet in that moment the pain of separation was as deep as it had been when they’d forced us apart. Anger swelled inside of me and as my consciousness began to fade away I remembered the phase pistol that by some miracle was still gripped in my hand. My strength had been almost completely drained away, but I fought against my weariness and managed to raise my hand and pull the trigger.

The resulting flash was so brilliant it temporarily blinded me, but it seemed to have done its job because I collapsed to my knees. Air flooded back into my lungs and once my vision cleared I was able to make out Duvak’s inert form beside me. I didn’t know enough about Qharr physiology to check for signs of life so with I tired sigh I climbed back onto my feet and staggered away and back into the fight.

While I’d been busy with Duvak the Overseer had killed four rebels and left another to die. She went from crawling across the ceiling to leaping all over the damn place. She moved fast and gravity appeared to have no hold on her as she scurried about the walls and ceiling, and worse still the phase fire of the panicked rebels seemed to have no effect on her. Shit, maybe the stories about the Edant K’teth were true after all…

“We need her alive!” Kaya screamed repeating her previous protests with growing futility.

Since the phase fire from the others didn’t seem to be doing much of anything I tucked the pistol into my waistband and spun around looking for something I could use for a weapon. If the Overseer couldn’t be killed with phase weapons maybe a low-tech solution was the answer or at least that’s what I told myself. I didn’t care about Kaya’s plans. I just wanted to get out of this mess in one piece. I found a splintered leg from one of the buffet tables on the floor a few feet away and snatch it from the ground as the screams of another rebel filled the chamber.

I spun around with makeshift spear in hand, adrenaline rushing through me, and caught sight of Overseer who was speeding across the chamber toward Kaya. My fatigued was all but forgotten as I let out a blood-curdling scream and went peeling across the chamber in a mad rush to intercept the gray-skin. The Overseer was nearly on top of her by the time I arrived and I did the only thing I could think to do, I slammed into Kaya and flung her out of the way. I held the table leg out in front of me, clenched my teeth and waited for the her to come barreling into me.

Chapter Three

The Overseer flew at me with terrifying speed, but just as she was almost on me she coughed, her nostrils flared and I knew that I’d caught her off guard. I think she must have scrambled backward, but she already had built up an incredible amount of forward momentum and she just slid across the floor and kept on coming. I thrust my weapon at her chest and closed my eyes as she went soaring into it. I tried to resist the sudden urge to fling myself aside, but it really didn’t matter, the overseer was on me too fast to do anything but stand there and take the full brunt of her attack. She hit me with so much force that I was thrown back into the wall then collapsed under the weight of her body.

I opened my eyes and groaned. Everything was dark, I couldn’t see a damned thing and my whole body was throbbing. My chest burst with sudden a nd brilliant pain, but it faded away so quickly that it left my wondering whether or not it had been real. Light flooded my vision and it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me and I realized that’s exactly what had happened. I watched a group of rebel’s lift the Overseer and cast her dead body aside. Kaya’s face appeared seemingly as if from nowhere and I thought it must have been the most beautiful sight in the world.

“Holy Hanna!” I exclaimed latching onto Kaya’s hand and staring up at her panting heavily.

“Jellfree? Shit, are you okay?”

“I hurt like hell.”

I was no stranger to pain, having been beaten by Qharr guards on several occasions, for reasons real or imagined, but it had been a long time since I’d been so badly injured. My head was pounding and, there was this odd feeling in my chest as if thousands of tiny insects were crawling around under my skin . It wasn’t painful exactly, but it certainly wasn’t a pleasant sensation. It was almost strong enough to keep my mind off the pain… almost.

“What happened?” I asked.

Kaya smiled down at me, “You killed the Overseer and probably saved my life. I don’t know why, but phase fire didn’t do a thing against her. Well so much for taking her prisoner.”

“I did what?!”

“Do you think you can get up? It’s time for us to make an exit,” she said kissing my hand and smiling fondly.

I groaned and tried to push myself up, but howled in agony and fell back to the ground as my right arm and shoulder flared with sharp unbearable pain. I gritted my teeth and tucked my fractured appendage against my chest–which brought further flashes of pain–then climbed to my feet. My whole body was throbbing and there didn’t seem to be a single square inch that wasn’t hurting. It really was a wonder I hadn’t broken more bones. The Overseer had been moving at inhuman speeds and our collision should have resulted in much more severe injuries on my end.

I glanced over to my side where the Jahal’s body rested and saw that the table leg had been thrust cleanly through her chest and I shuddered at the sight of all the blood. I looked down at my chest and hands and shuddered anew, much of the Overseer’s blood was all over me. The table leg had made a much better weapon than I’d expected and I wondered if she had been moving any more slowly if my weapon would have been nearly as effective. Then there was the question of her resistance to phase pistols, it seemed so strange that she’d be able to shrug off energy weapon blasts, but not a simple broken-off piece of wood.

Amid all the chaos only one of the Overseer’s personal slaves survived the attack, she was in the corner curled up in a fetal position and no matter how much Kaya’s group of rebel’s tried to coax her she wouldn’t move.

“Damn crouchers,” one of the rebels growled stepping away from the woman in disgust. A croucher was a slang term for a human slave that eagerly served the Qharr because it was said they always waited in a crouched position, ready to serve. I didn’t blame him for using the term, there were few things I disliked more than a croucher. Of course, just a few days ago those same rebels would probably have labeled me one as well even though nothing would have been further from the truth.

Kaya turned to look in the direction of the hysterical slave and planted her hands on her hips. “Leave her, if we bring her along she’ll be a liability and the longer we stay the more likely we’re going to get caught.”

I grabbed Kaya’s shoulder with my left hand and spun her around, “Just where do you think we can go?! The compound is heavily guarded we can’t just waltz out of here!”

Kaya grinned, patted me on the cheek then turned away and started walking toward the set of doors that led out. “Relax Jellfree, we’ve got it covered. Come on, it’s time for us to get going.”

“SHIT!” Kaya yelled and jumped back, a moment later, as a bolt of phase energy splashed against the wall in the space she had just vacated.

I pressed my injured arm against my chest, raised the phase pistol in my other hand and with slow movements peaked around the corner. A half a dozen guards were blocking our path out and I mouthed a dozen of my more choice curses before turning back to Kaya.

“What do we do?” I mouthed the words not daring to utter them out load.

Kaya pecked me lightly on the lips then raised her phase pistol, dove around the corner firing blindly and yelling at the top of her lungs. Jaysen, stared at me with wide unblinking eyes, took in a deep breath, shrugged and dove after her. I watched in utter disbelief as every single one of the rebels went tearing with reckless disregard around the corner after her.

“They’re all nuts it’s the only explanation!” I muttered under my breath, hesitated for just a moment then threw my body into the foray and prepared myself for a fight only to find that the Qharr had already been taken care of.

After, several minutes of sneaking and fighting our ways through the corridors of the compound we found our way outside where the Qharr Jadarr-class craft loomed above us. I swallowed hard as I looked up at the cursed thing. Though a mere transport ship the vessel had the look of a carnivorous beast. At any moment I half expect the fearsome thing to jump out at me and swallow me whole. Like every other Qharr vessel the ship had a streamlined design that from a distance gave it the look of a gigantic insect. When you got closer you could make out the mechanical components that gave the ship away for what it truly was. This particular ship was the Overseer’s personal transport and it was more than large enough for a group our size, but that didn’t matter because we’d never be able to use it.

“You can’t be serious!” I rounded on Kaya who was staring up at the ship with a smirk on her face and though she’d never stated her intensions I knew that look on her face well enough to guess at them.

“Why not?” she replied folding her arms across her chest and staring at me between pursed lips.

“You want to steal the Overseer’s ship! Everyone knows that Qharr technology is keyed to their physiology. It won’t allow for a human or any other species to use it!”

“Jellfree, this isn’t our first rodeo…” she muttered with a shake of her head and ran a hand across my cheek before stepping onto the ship’s ramp.

I watched her walk up the ramp and shook my head in confusion. What on Earth was a rodeo? Jaysen, scrambled up the ramp after Kaya and pulled out a handheld device that looked like that had been dug out from the trash. He lifted up a panel beside the entry-hatch and inserted a wire, fiddling around with his little computing device just a moment before the hatch slid open.

Kaya turned back to me and grinned, “See there’s nothing to it!”

I followed the remaining rebels into the ship and I fought down my sudden anxiety as I stepped inside the hatch. I had this feeling like I was about to step into the belly of the beast, and as the hatch slid shut behind me that feeling only grew more intense. A door opposite the hatch we’d just entered slid open and I scurried out of the confined space and followed Kaya and the other rebels–who took off down the corridor–to large open cabin which I assumed to be the ship’s control room.

Jaysen scurried over to a nearby control panel. “Good, good… the ship’s in standby mode. The Overseer must have planned for a short visit,” he mumbled under his breath scratching at his goatee.

“How long before we can be underway?” Kaya said taking a seat at a station a few feet away from him.

“Oh, I don’t know about five minutes, maybe.” He glanced at Kaya, frowned, and turned his attention back to the console.

“Well, now that we have a few minutes maybe someone can explain to me what the hell is going on!” I screamed suddenly feeling all my frustration and anger come to a boiling point.

Kaya eyed me and sighed, “Oh, Jellfree… There’s so much that I need to tell you, but I guess I can at least get the ball rolling.”

I stared at Kaya and shook my head she’d always had a fondness for strange expressions, but two in one day was unusual even for her. ‘It’s really not important,’ I thought irritably.

“So why exactly did you rebels come to the compound? To kidnap the overseer?”

She grinned then pursed her lips, “You call us rebels and I guess the shoe fits, but we like to think of ourselves as freedom fighters. As for our goals… Our group operated out of the compound, but when we learned the Overseer was coming we couldn’t let the opportunity pass by. If we could capture her and learn her secrets… Well, the things she could have told us would have been an incredible boon to our cause.”

“And I killed her and screwed everything up,” I muttered lowering my head in shame.

Kaya smiled sympathetically, stood up and grasping either side of my head and gently pulling it down so she could look me in the eyes, “Oh, I wouldn’t say our mission was a complete failure.”

I wanted to ask her what she meant, but whatever chance I might have had was lost when Jaysen called out. “Ready!” My teeth started to chatter as the entire ship came alive and blasted into the night sky.

“Shit!” Jaysen cursed just a few minutes into our ride.

“What!?” I asked. “What is it?”

“Qharr patrol ships! They want to establish a communications link!”

“What do we do?!” someone called out, Brendon I think his name was.

Kaya turned to Jaysen, biting her lips as she gripped her hands on the consoles edge. “Any chance we can fight them off?”

“I might be able to get one or two shots off, but I can only get this thing working on auto-nav it won’t accept manual input, at least not from any of us. We won’t be able to dodge their attacks,” he said staring across at Kaya with wide eyes.

“I told you this was a bad idea!” I hissed.

“Not now Jellfree!” she responded before turning to Jaysen and saying, “Open the com line maybe we can bluff our way out of this.”

“Glark bytenk grek menall!” A gruff Qharr voice boomed over the ship’s comm system.

Kaya winced and closed her eyes then yelled back. “Tryvet venn benarr!”

“Benarr!? Golgak stemm! Beyar ghel beet amar!”

Kaya stared at me with wide-eyes as the comm line closed. “Shit! They didn’t buy it! They know about our attack on the compound!”

The ship rocked and I was thrown against a nearby panel and the strange crawling feeling on my chest exploded. The pain was excruciating I felt like I was being consumed by thousands of tiny insects. I struggled to gather air into my lungs and my whole body tingled and pulsed. A shadow seemed to fall on me as strange alien presence overwhelmed my senses.

“The inertial negator is offline!” Jaysen screamed.

I tried to brace myself to move in some way, but my body wouldn’t respond and I just flopped around on the floor. Another blast rocked the ship and I was thrown against the wall unable to brace myself against the impact. My ears were buzzing and the sound was growing more intense by the second until it was all that I could hear. Something was wrong, and I fought with every fiber of my being to stay awake as a pit of emptiness suddenly threatened to consume me.

‘Jellfree,’ a soft feminine voice whispered in my ear somehow cutting through the torrent of sound that had overwhelmed everything else.

I gasped and tried to respond, but no sound came from my throat.

‘Jellfree,’ the voice repeated. ‘Saved… they can be saved, but you must take the controls…’

Again I tried to say something, anything in order to respond to the strange voice, but my vocal cords failed me.

‘Jellfree! YOU MUST OR THEY DIE!” The voice yelled urgently seeming to rattle around inside my mind.

It didn’t make any sense! How could I, a human slave, operate a Qharr ship? It defied logic and yet the voice seemed to think I could do it. I don’t think I was entirely lucid because never once did I think to wonder who the voice belonged too or why it seemed to come from nowhere. What did it matter, anyway? We were all going to die!

“NO!” I screamed out in sudden defiance as control of my limbs suddenly returned to me.

Maybe it was futile, but I wasn’t going to lie down and die! I had to do something! I wasn’t going to give the Qharr the satisfaction! All my life I’d let them control everything I said and did! No longer!

I scrambled to my feet with renewed energy and lurched across the teetering control room and flung myself at a nearby control panel. The previous dark surface flared to life and I gripped at the side of the panel as the ship quaked again. I tried to decipher the Qharr characters that appeared on screen, but I had no idea what any of them meant. The Qharr went out of their way to keep their human slaves from learning their language and I’d only ever learned a few of the symbols.

“Give me the body!” the voice–which now seemed to have become a presence in the back of my mind–said.

A very large part of me wanted to resist, to tell the presence no, but I knew that if I did I’d die. Shit, what did I have to lose any way!? I closed my eyes and let my resistance to the entity fade away. Seeming to take on a mind of their own, my eyes snapped back open and I watched my unbroken hand fly across the console in a furious blur of motion. Abruptly, the ship stopped rocking and righted itself. My hand zoomed across the panel’s surface and the ship spun around in response, turning to face the quartet of patrol ships.

“Jellfree! What the hell… How are you doing that!” Kaya’s voice demanded, but the being didn’t answer and I seem to have lost the ability to do anything but watch.

Very few Qharr transports were a match for even one patrol ship, but this one was different. It was the Jahal Tkyr’s personal ship and besides having enhanced engines and maneuvering capability it was also armed to the teeth. I don’t know how I knew that. The knowledge was just there waiting in my head without any understanding on how it had gotten there. My right index-finger mashed down on a small button on the panel and the ship rocked slightly as a missile went flying toward the nearest patrol ship. The missile struck home and destroyed its target in a brilliant cloud of fire and debris.

“He’s destroyed one of the patrol ships, but there are still three more on our tail!” Jaysen called over his shoulder.

The entity continued to manipulate the controls and since the inertial negator was offline we felt every twist and turn with the full force of gravity’s pull. Several of the rebels had collapsed unable to bear the pressures of gravity acting on them, but Kaya and Jaysen at least seemed to be able to withstand it. My body stood erect as the being battled against the Qharr ship despite the overwhelming pressures of inertia acting against me.

The entity fired off the ship’s phase cannons and the lead ship’s side burst with explosions and went careening into the earth below. My hand danced across the control panel in amazing display of fluid grace then pounded down on the panel loosing another volley of missiles on one of the patrol ships. Like the previous one this projectile hit its mark and again the intended target burst into a cloud of flames and debris.

That left one last patrol ship and the thing in my head didn’t waste any time as it brought the ship around for another attack. It dodged a barrage of phase cannon fire from the smaller ship then again looped around coming along the enemy’s rear. Phase energy blasted out of the transport’s front cannons and the patrol ship darted and dove in increasingly futile attempts to dodge the transport’s weapon fire.

A blast from the phase cannon hit the underside of the patrol ship’s fuselage, and another hit it’s left wing. It put out a trail of smoke a sharp contrast to the clear blue sky and started to lose altitude. My fist pounded down on the control panel one final time and another missile shot out and slammed into the other vehicle blasting it into oblivion. A sense of relief flooded through me and I abruptly regained use of my limbs.

I turned and looked around at Kaya and the other rebels, well, those that had remained conscious during the battle. They all stared at me with wide-eyed disbelief and I shrugged and looked back at them unable to offer up an explanation. What the hell had happened? Some strange consciousness had awoken within me and despite that it saved us it scared the shit out of me. What if the being woke again and tried to take control permanently? It was a scary thought and I didn’t know if there was anything I could do if it did.

‘The transponder shut it off. If you do not… the masters they will hunt us,’ the voice in my head whispered.

I bowed my head feeling suddenly very tired and weak, “The ship… find transponder… shut it down or they’ll… find us.”

Each word was harder to get out than the last, and I collapsed to my knees when the final syllable left my lips. On some distant level, I remembered Kaya coming over to my side and screaming my name, but whatever else she said I didn’t comprehend. I had just enough strength left to look over my shoulder and see Jaysen scrambling out of the control room presumably to find the transponder and shut it down. Then everything came crashing down around me and I was lost to the dark.

Chapter Four

‘We must speak,’ the void itself said.

“Where am I?” I asked, my voice echoing through the emptiness.

The air a half a dozen feet in front of me seemed to ripple and where there had been nothing a woman appeared, but a woman like none I had ever seen. Her hair cascaded down her face in dark-blue colored ringlets, and her eyes were strange whirling disks which seemed to rotate endlessly. She was tall for a woman, standing at close to five-nine, and she had the look of a predator ready to spring. She was one of the most beautiful creatures I’d ever laid my eyes on, but there was an inhuman quality about her that almost made her seem repulsive.

“This place… it is in your mind, Jellfree.” She smiled and tilted her head at an odd angle.

“My mind?! So I’m not conscious? And what are you some sort of figment of my imagination?” I stroked my chin, somehow I didn’t doubt any of it.

“Wait I know you! You’re that voice… that thing in my head that piloted the transport ship!”
The woman eyed me with almost inquisitive expression and nodded. “Correct.”

“Damn… What the hell are you?”

“I am K’teth.” She didn’t blink or move a muscle as she studied me.

My jaw dropped and I stared at her with eyes wide. “K’teth as in… Edant K’teth?”

She shook her head, “I am K’teth. The Edant… they are the Qharr masters. You are not Qharr therefore we are not Edant K’teth. We are something… different.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I am K’teth. You are my host. We are joined.”

I swallowed hard and tried to wrap my head around what she was saying, “Your host… So you’re some sort of parasite?”

This seemed to offend her and she responded with a very loud and very angry “NO!” before settling back down.

“If not a parasite then what are you?”

“I am K’teth! We are joined! The words they are difficult… Your mind is strange.”

I bit my lip and stopped a moment to think about what she was saying, but try as I might she didn’t seem to be making a whole lot of sense. “You’re inside of me?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Then how are you not a parasite?”

“I AM NOT A PARASITE!” she howled in fury before once again calming back down. “We are joined. It is… beneficial for K’teth and host.”

“And how did you get inside of me?”

“You killed my host the one you know as Jahal Tkyr, the Overseer. There were none of the masters near… I cannot survive without a host so I was forced to attempt to bond with you.”

I shuddered “And can we be un-bonded?”

“Only if you wish to die.”

I gulped and stared at her with wide eyes. What exactly did that mean for me to be joined with this alien entity? The creatures were obviously aligned with the Qharr somehow… Did that mean that she would wish to continue her relationship with her masters? If so what did that mean for me?

“I must stop now… It is difficult for me to speak with you. Your body it resists me… I must fix it… then, then it will be easier,” she whispered and disappeared without any sort of flash or bang. The world faded out and the darkness was absolute.

Chapter Five

I woke, gasping for breath and struggling to bring air into my lungs. I felt strange… my whole body had this intense itching-crawling sensation and it seemed to be growing stronger by the second. My insides felt as if they were on fire and my bones felt almost as if they were vibrating. God, what was wrong with me?

I sprang up into a sitting position and found myself inside a nondescript room. The walls had probably been white at one point, but the paint had grayed with time and it was peeling from the wall. That in and of itself was highly unusual, the Qharr were meticulous in the care for the buildings they inhabited. If the paint was peeling they certainly would have seen to it that the room be repainted.

I heard a loud squeal just before a sudden weight pressed into my side. “Jellfree! You scared me!” Kaya’s voice pronounced.

She slowly drew away from my side and I turned my head to look her in the eyes. “Where am I?”

She shrugged, “One of many of our hideouts.”

“What happened?”

“You saved us! I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to pilot the ship and fight off the Qharr patrol ships,” she replied the beginnings of a thoughtful thrown forming on her face.

“I remember… what happened after…”

“You collapsed, Jaysen turned the transponder off and we got away,” she frowned. “Jellfree, what is it? There’s something wrong isn’t there?”

I wasn’t even sure how to answer. I remembered speaking with the K’teth. It seemed so vivid, so real to me at the time, but looking back I had my doubts. How else could I explain what had happened? I wanted so very badly to tell Kaya, but what would she think? Would she think me crazy? Or worse… What if she thought I was being influenced by the creature? It had saved us, true, but what if it had been looking out for its best interest? What if it intended to return to the Qharr at its next opportunity? If that happened would I be able to resist it? It had already taken control of my body once already.

“No, I’m fine,” I said, feeling ashamed with my lie.

I couldn’t bear the thought of Kaya’s scorn even after she’d let me walk into the firefight unaware. I stared at her for a moment… I loved her, but how much did I really know her? I understood why she might have kept the truth from me, but it stung. I’d laid my soul bare for her and she hadn’t done the same. I thought I knew her, but I’d been wrong.

“Kaya… How long have you been a reb…” I sighed. “A freedom fighter?”

She shook her head and refused to meet my gaze. “I’m sorry Jellfree… I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid if I did that you’d give me away.”

That hurt… after we’d shared a bed for so long she’d thought I’d turn her over to the gray skins. “Kaya…” I shook my head. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“Jellfree there are things I’ve never told you. When I was twelve, I lived in a mining complex… the Corrector there–” she paused to shaker her head and wipe away a tear, “–he was one of the cruelest and most hateful Qharr I’ve ever known. Beatings were something you expected whether you’d done anything to warrant them or not. They barely gave us enough food to prolong our miserable existence. I lived there with my older sister… she was the only family I had. The camp’s cook took a fancy to me and in exchange for sneaking me and my sister extra servings of food I spent my nights with him.”

I wished I could say I was shocked by Kaya’s story, but I’d heard similar tales time and again. Many slaves who got into a position of power often used that position to take advantage of other slaves. Kaya selling her body for food wasn’t so unusual, but it was detestable nonetheless especially since she’d been so young and worse yet, her sister had gone along with it.

“My sister and I, we hid the food and kept a small supply hidden inside our little corner of the women’s quarter, but then one day the Qharr guards did a search and found our stash. My sister claimed no knowledge of it and implicated me and the cook.”

I stared at her aghast. That sort of thing did happen sometimes, but my own bond with my older sister had been such that we would have died before ratting one another out. The fact that Kaya’s sister had betrayed and used her in such a way went against everything good and decent. Families had to stick together; if the Qharr managed to force our families apart then we had nothing but ourselves. Something I knew all too well having watched my parents murdered before my eyes and being separated from my sister for almost ten years.

“So… what happened?”

“I was beaten and they had me chained in the center of the camp. They left me there for over a week without food or water. I almost died, but I managed to make it through. The camp’s cook wasn’t so lucky he was executed and my sister managed to escape any punishment… I was nursed back to health by an older woman who was sympathetic, but my sister would never look me in the eyes or speak to me again. I grew angry and I came to hate her. So much so that a few months after I recovered I snuck over to her bed and slit her throat in the middle of the night.”

Tears were streaming down her face and I wrapped my arms around her doing my best to provide comfort. I couldn’t imagine hating my own sister so much that I would want to kill her, but I can’t say that if I’d experienced what she had I wouldn’t have done the same thing. Such acts of retribution weren’t uncommon among slaves, and the Qharr didn’t really care if a body turned up here or there. They only stepped in if things got really out of hand.

“I was betrayed by the only person I cared about… That’s why I feared to tell you, Jellfree, I was afraid you’d turn on me like my sister did. Even when it came time to plan the attack on Jahal I just couldn’t tell you. I’m sorry I should have trusted you. I put your life in jeopardy and I can never forgive myself for that. I love you Jellfree which makes what I’m about to tell you all the more difficult,” she said lowering her eyes in shame.

“The two of us getting together… it wasn’t my idea. One of our leaders, a woman by the name of Mara, suggested I get close to you. She said it was important. I still don’t know why,” she said sobbing hysterically.

A lump formed in my throat and let my arms fall away as her words settled in. She’d seduced me because she’d been told to, not because she had wanted to and she’d put me in danger by letting me walk into the middle of firefight without any warning. I felt betrayed and I started to shake with sudden rage. I had loved her and the whole thing had been a ruse! I wanted to grab hold of her and shake her until she started to scream. I’d never been so angry in all my life and I was terrified of what might happen if I gave into it, but try as I might to contain it, it raged within me like a tempest storm.

“Jellfree! You’ve got to believe me, I really do love you!”

“You… lied to me! You seduced me! You used me! Dammit Kaya I loved you! Hell, I think I still do! How the hell can I trust anything you say?!”

She nodded and wiped the tears from her face, “I don’t know. I’m so sorry Jellfree.”

“Got out of my sight! I can’t even look at you right now!” I yelled and turned away from her, the rage still stewing and bubbling inside of me.

I heard a sob escape her lips then she scurried out of the room and then I was alone…

It had only been a few moments since Kaya had left and I was staring down at my hands trying to keep them from shaking. They were numb… Dammit, what the hell was the K’teth doing to me!? Everything was falling to pieces at my feet! First, there had been the attack on the compound, that thing inside of me, Kaya, and finally my own body was betraying me. The creature said it needed to fix my body, but that could mean almost anything. I was terrified and a part of me longed for the comfort of Kaya’s embrace even after what had happened between us.

“Jellfree?” An unfamiliar voice asked from behind and I turned to look on the newcomer.

An elderly woman stood in the doorway. She had a calm almost dignified bearing and her eyes studied me like a Qharr scientist would examine an interesting specimen. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I got the distinct impression that despite her frail appearance, this woman was very dangerous. I eyed her cautiously as she approached.

“God… You look just like Harold did at that age…” she said reaching out to touch my face.

I flinched and jumped back and the woman let out a throaty laugh. “I’m not going to hurt you, Jellfree Briggs.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Mara. I’m one of the leaders of the resistance,” she said stopping a few feet away from me.

“You’re the one that told Kaya to seduce me!” I yelled stepping a few steps back and shaking my head in disgust.

Mara sighed and shook her head, “That girl… I merely suggested she get close to you. I never intended her to go quite that far, but I should have realized she would interpret it that way. For what it’s worth, she really does seem to care for you.”

“What do you want?!” I asked folding my arms across my chest as I continued to glare at her.

Mara laughed, “I wanted to see you. Why the last time I laid my eyes on you, you were an infant.”

“Look lady, I–” I started to say, but she suddenly interrupted me.

“You really have no idea who I am, do you?”

“And why should I?”

“Maybe your parents never told you about your Uncle Harold and me, but I’d always assumed that your sister would have at least,” she replied staring at me between pursed lips.

My heart skipped in my chest. My sister had told me about an uncle and the name Mara certainly sounded familiar, but it had been so long ago that I’d almost forgotten about it. “You’re Harold’s wife?”

“That’s right,” Mara gave me an approving smile.

I felt a lump form in my throat. So much had been taken away from me and now… maybe I could get something back. A link to my past someone who had known my parents. My sister had told me about them, but she had only been seven when they had been murdered by the Qharr. This woman had known them as an adult. Since Becca and I had been separated I’d lost hope of ever being with my family, but maybe I’d given up too soon. This woman certainly wasn’t of blood relation, but we had a common connection something that we both shared.

Yet… living the life of a slave had taught me one thing and that was to be cautious. This woman was a rebel, and I had no doubts she was dangerous. I’d have to be cautious so as not to let myself get burned, but even as I told myself that I realized that a part of me really wanted to trust her. I’d felt so very alone since I’d lost my sister…

“I’m glad to have finally found you Jellfree. I had hoped that we could get better acquainted, your uncle has been dead for many years and you and your sister are the closest thing I have to family,” she coming over to place a hand on my shoulder.

“I-I think I’d like that,” I said placing my hand atop hers.

“Okay, that’s a little weird.” It had taken me all that time to realize that my arm felt completely fine. Hadn’t I broken it back at the compound? If that was true why didn’t it hurt? The answer came to me quick enough… somehow that thing inside of me had healed it.

“Is something wrong?”

“I-I it’s–”

Before I could finish my sentence my scalp started to burn with sharp pain and I clutched at it and fell to my knees. White light blinded me and I thought I was going to pass out again, but then my vision cleared and I felt a hand on my shoulder. Something had changed… I knew it without anyone telling me, but it was a sort of vague indefinable feeling.

I just knew that my body had been altered me in some way. Perhaps, I spoke too soon; I could detect at least one thing that had changed. My already perfect vision had become more acute; I could see things in greater detail than should have been possible. Everything from the previously imperceptible cracks in the wall to the tiny little pores on Mara’s face. And did I mention the colors!? Everything seemed so much more vibrant and alive.

“Good God!” Mara gasped covering her mouth and taking several steps back.

“What is it?! What has that thing done to me!?” I yelled my hands shaking with rage.

I sank back down the ground and clutched at my head and tried to fight down panic. Just when I didn’t think it could get any worse my hair started falling out. It started with a small clump that tumbled down my face before slipping down the collar of my shirt. I reached up to touch my head only to find that regardless of what part of my head I touched my hair fell away.

“Get the doctor! Something’s wrong, hurry!” Mara called cracking the door open speaking to someone on the other side.

She closed the door then knelt down next to me planting a hand on my arm.

“Don’t worry Jellfree. You’re going to be fine,” she said and I was pleased to realize that the concern I heard in her voice sounded sincere.

“Hmmm… most intriguing,” the tall bulb-headed creature tooted absently scratching at one of the bright orange tubular protrusions that jutted out from the bottom of its green face. The creature was vaguely human in shape, but its frame was tall and elongated and gave it the appearance of something that might blow away in the wind. It had no mouth, ears or nose that I could see and I had no idea how it was speaking let alone breathing.

Mara had called the creature the doctor, but hadn’t given it a name nor had she indicated that it had a gender. It continued to examine me for several more minutes before looking back to Mara. “Vakrexid, needs to scan him with my equipment. This is most puzzling.”

Mara nodded, “Whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this, doctor.”

“Vakrexid has a notion, but if it proves true it will be most perplexing. I must be sure before Vakrexid makes this diagnosis,” the creature fluted.

Mara folded her arms across her chest and let out a long sigh. “Very well then doctor.”

“Jellfree, may Vakrexid call you Jellfree?” The creature said turning back to me.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

The creature let out a loud below, “Good, sometimes it is difficult for Vakrexid to know with you humans. Many have I met who do not use their full names and prefer to shorten them. Vakrexid finds this most befuddling, but I do try to be respectful of their wishes.”

“Look I really hope I’m not going to offend you by asking this, but I’ve got to know. What on Earth are you?”

“On Earth? Vakrexid is the same on Earth as I am on any other planet. Your question makes no sense.”

“It’s just an expression,” I said. “I just meant to ask you what species you are.”

“Ah, of course. Vakrexid believes I’ve heard some of you other humans use that expression. I have little memory for such things. Vakrexid is dexagarmetrax. We are a wandering people we go from world to world and learn from other species so that we may fulfill our sacred duties as commanded by our gods. Vakrexid specializes in medicine most choose to study different subjects.”

“Is there something I can call you… I mean I can’t keep calling you Doctor, can I?”

“Doctor… it is the only form of address that would be appropriate. Among my people one is always referred to by one’s profession. It’s sacrilege for anyone but Vakrexid or my life partner, should Vakrexid chose to take one, to speak my name,” it trilled.

“And what about your gender… Are you male or female?”

“Both, Vakrexid’s species is hermaphroditic, but please if you chose to refer to me by a pronoun let it be he. Vakrexid likes the way it sounds in your language, but let us stop this discourse as it is not currently pertinent. You are in need of medical care and I would prefer to examine you sooner rather than later in hopes of staving off death.”

“Death? You think this could kill me!?”

The doctor cocked his head, “Perhaps, Vakrexid doesn’t know what’s wrong. Death is a possibility, but so is life as is the chance that your skin will turn a deep kleferix and you’ll sprout flarks out of your ears. It is best to be cautious when dealing with that which is unknown. Can you walk without aid?”

I tried to stand up, but immediately fell back onto my ass. “No, I guess not.”

“Doctor, you get his right side, I’ll get the left I think the two of us should be able to move him to your lab without too much difficulty.” Mara placed her hands on her hips and staring down at me with pursed lips.

The doctor tooted something unintelligible then the two of them knelt down next to me on either side and lifted me up. Mara seemed pretty fit for a woman her age, but I could tell that the effort was straining her. The doctor on the other hand didn’t show any sign that he was having any difficulty whatsoever. They each grabbed a shoulder then the doctor flipped the door open and they carried me down the hall.

Midway down the long undecorated and dimly-lit corridor we passed Kaya. She didn’t say a word as our gazes locked, but tears were streaming down her face and I felt that bubbling rage rise up to the surface just before I turned away unwilling to look into those eyes any longer. A part of me wanted to reach out her, to tell her everything would be alright, but another part wanted to start yelling and cursing at her at the top of my lungs.

In any case Mara and the doctor had me inside the dark lab after a very short trip. They set me down atop a long narrow bed and the doctor moved away to flick the lights on. Unlike the corridor and the other room, the walls were stark white and looked as if they’d been painted sometime within the last few years. Below me the bed came thrumming to life and a strange white board, which had been previously indistinguishable from the wall, detached itself and hovered over the bed. Bright white light blinded me and I closed my eyes against the illumination.

“It shall only take a moment,” the doctors’ voice spoke as the bed began to thrum louder and louder.

Something inside of me stirred and I swore I could feel something ripple underneath my skin… ‘LIFE!’ the K’teth’s voice screamed within me and I clutched at the side of my skull as my screams joined those of the being lurking under the surface.

God it hurt! Never before in my life had I known such pain! My body was burning from the inside out and I thought that I would lose consciousness at any moment. Yet, the darkness never came and the pain kept on building until it reached a climax and I thought that every fiber of my being would be consumed. I writhed in agony and thought that if it didn’t stop soon that it just might prove to be too much.

Then I was beyond it, and there was only the pain, but then it was joined by something else. Power the like of which I’d never known. I could feel it waiting to be seized and I had only to reach out for it to be mine. So I did exactly that, or tried to, but it was the K’teth within me that reached out. I could feel the energy being pulled into me and while the pain wasn’t diminished somehow it became more bearable. It began to focus on different parts of my body starting in my face, but briefly extended to my scalp my shoulders and chest, but then it ceased and the light from the hovering platform disappeared.

‘Not enough!’ the K’teth’s voice screeched inside of my head.

My eyes snapped back open and I found that I didn’t feel nearly as weak as I had before coming into the lab. I glanced over to my side and felt my eyes grow wide as I looked on the doctor. The board which had been hovering over me was clutched in his arms and his chest was rising and falling almost as if he’d overexerted himself. I slowly sat up and felt hair fall into my face…

‘What the hell…’ I thought, as I reached out to touch it.

It must have been close to fifteen centimeter long, but that wasn’t the odd part… It had gone from my usual brown to blue! ‘Blue? Blue like those damned Edant K’teth,’ I thought my hands starting to shake. ‘What the hell are you doing to me!’ I yelled at it.

‘Damn you, answer me!’

‘More life! Need more life!’ the K’teth muttered its voice growing weak and distant.

I shook my head and sat up locking eyes with Mara. “Dear god!” She gasped and took a step back the moment we matched gazes.

“Vakrexid would not believe it, if a rolling claxid had come along and beat upon my trelp!” the doctor suddenly called out.

I turned my head back the other way and watched as the doctor gently placed the board down then turned to me. “Vakrexid knows what has happened to you.”

“Then whatever that thing was… it worked?”

“No!” he cried his hands flapping wildly. “It didn’t work at all, but it matters not! What happened to you, it showed Vakrexid what I needed to know!”

“And that is?”

“You have been joined with a K’teth!”

“I know…” I muttered quietly.

“You did? Then why did you not tell Vakrexid?”

“I-I was afraid about what you would do to me if you found out that I have this damn thing inside of me? Can I even trust myself? What if it takes control of me and forces me to…?” I trailed off unable to let myself utter the last few words.

“Ah, Vakrexid believes I understand. The K’teth are a symbiotic species. Previously, it was always believed that among intelligent beings only the Qharr were able to join with them, but apparently it is not so. I cannot say with certainty, there is little known about their nature, but it is believed that the K’teth are incapable of controlling a Qharr host. Most likely it would be the same if a human were to bond with one.”

I nodded, acting as if I was reassured by the doctor’s comment, but I didn’t feel even remotely better. I’d already had the K’teth take control of my body once before and if it could do it once there was a good chance it could do it again. What happened if it took over completely and I became a prisoner in my own body? There was, however, a small glimmer of hope. The K’teth had only gained control of me because I had let it do so, maybe it couldn’t control me unless I allowed it to. It was a flimsy hope I know, but if I let the rebels know that it was possible the creature could control me I didn’t like the prospect of what they might do to me.

“Doctor, how exactly is it that you came to realize Jellfree was infected by this… what did you call it a K’teth?” Mara asked.

“Vakrexid knew as soon as I activated the body scanner. Jellfree began to glow and consume the energy from it. It was fortunate for you Jellfree that Vakrexid was near. I was able to catch the upper unit once all its energy had been drained.”

“I-I glowed… a-and consumed energy?!”

The doctor bobbed his head, “That is how Vakrexid knew. That and the changes, only a K’teth has the ability to do such things.”

“My hair… and eyes…” I said remembering that Mara had said something about my eyes.

“And face…” Mara added.

“Oh, god! What did that thing do to me! I need a mirror!” I yelled reaching out to touch my face. It felt wrong, my nose was far too small, my lips were just a tad fuller and my skin felt as smooth as freshly boiled g’tck. As I traced my hands over my face I realized that all my stubble was gone and my eyes grew wide as the doctor flung a mirror in front of my face. What I saw in that mirror was enough to make me sick. The reflected image was the visage was that of a woman, but not just any woman; it was the face of an incredibly beautiful one. The eyes were the strangest part of the face, they were so inhuman. They looked like magenta-colored swirled disks which when paired with the blue hair and feminine face would definitely make me stand out in a crowd.

I shuddered and forced the mirror out of my face feeling tears start to form out of the corner of my eyes. The face I had seen in that mirror hadn’t looked anything like the form the K’teth had taken in my mind, but the hair and eyes were the same. I knew what the K’teth was doing to me, but I still didn’t understand why. What possible reason could it have for changing me into a woman? My new face was proof enough of its intentions, but that still didn’t provide any explanation.

‘Why?!’

Again, the K’teth didn’t answer, but I was coming to expect it.

“It is most distressing that the body scanner is no longer of use, but since Vakrexid has been left with no other choice I would still like to perform a physical examination. It would tell Vakrexid little in comparison to a full body scan, but I think it would be best so that Vakrexid may chron… No, that is not right. Ah, yes, document, that is the word. So that I may document your changes,” the doctor said suddenly.

I let out a long sigh trying to calm myself and looked up at the doctor, “I guess… Yeah, that would probably be a good idea.”

Vakrexid bobbed his head, “Strip down to your skin so that Vakrexid may examine your testicles!”

Mara snorted and shook her head then stalked out of the room the sound of laughter following her as the door closed behind her.

He cocked his head, “Did Vakrexid say something wrong?”

I snorted a bit myself then I looked over to the doctor, “Can we just get this over with?”

“Yes, yes, of course, but first you must remove your clothes.”

I sighed and started to unbutton my trousers, “Sure, doc… Whatever you say.”

The doctor’s examination while brief was definitely an experience I wouldn’t want to repeat. I’d never met a human doctor, well, at least not that I could remember, since the Qharr had seen to it that anyone with advanced scientific knowledge be put to death. Because the gray-skinned assholes only allowed the most injured and sick to be treated by their healers I’d never actually had a doctor look me over. I shuddered, suppressing thoughts of Vakrexid’s long fingers running over my body like a dozen small tentacles. Hell, was it really necessary for me to turn my and head cough? What exactly was that supposed to tell him?

Once he finished up he let Mara back into the room and I could tell by the look on her face that she was trying to determine what to do with me. “I’m sorry Jellfree, but you can understand why I’m concerned. There’s no telling what influence this K’teth creature might have on you,” Mara said, her eyes boring holes into me.

I bowed my head and wiped away the tears from my face. “So what exactly do you intend to do, kill me?”

“Nothing quite so drastic. For the time being I’d like to keep an eye on you. You’ll be allowed full access to all the communal areas of the compound, but I’m afraid I’ll have to insist you be escorted by an armed guard at all times. Just until we’re sure that thing inside of you is not a threat,” she said placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“Vakrexid agrees. It does not hurt to be cautious,” the doctor chimed running a hand up and down his center face tube.

I nodded and forced down my fear as I met Mara’s gaze. Her concerns echoed my own that the K’teth might try to gain control of me or at least influence my mind. If it came down to it, I would fight the K’teth with every fiber of my being, but I wasn’t sure if it would be enough.

“And…what about these changes?” I reached up to touch my face or maybe it was best to say the face the K’teth had given me. It wasn’t mine, not exactly.

“They will continue,” the doctor tooted. “Vakrexid cannot say how long it will take, but if that face shows the truth of the K’teth’s intentions it will need to feed upon a very large amount of energy before it completes your transformation.”

“Feed?”

“Feed, what is the right word? The K’teth consume energy. To a point they can draw it from the host, but they cannot take much for fear of harming them. Feeding on the energy from the body scanner allowed it to transform your face. If it had more energy upon which to consume it could likely complete the changes,” the doctor said his big purple eyes blinking repeatedly.

“What about phase energy?” Mara asked stroking her chin thoughtfully.

“Yes, yes. It is why the Edant K’teth can withstand phase blasts. Energy is absorbed by the symbiote and some of it is passed back to the host. The host is given superior endurance, speed and strength as a result. It may be better to give the symbiote the energy it needs so as not to prolong your transformation,” the doctor replied.

I shuddered and looked to the doctor then to Mara and finally back to the doctor. “There isn’t any way to stop it from changing me, is there? I-I don’t want to live my life as a woman.”

“Vakrexid is afraid not, I am sorry, but even if Vakrexid were to operate and attempt to restore your facial features, there is nothing to keep the symbiote from returning it to the way it is now. The K’teth is bonded to you at the deepest most microscopic level; it is not just changing your genetic structure. That would not be unlike changing a blueprint after a building was built. No, it is changing you cell by cell. Moreover it is only because it has suppressed your immune system and is in fact acting in its place that your body has not rejected the new cells.”

“Oh, god! So… I can either sit back and let this damned thing change me, or shit… I don’t really have any choices, do I?” I whispered. There was one possibility I hadn’t really voiced, I could take my life before the changes completed. The idea of committing suicide had always been pretty unappealing to me. Despite living under the Qharr’s thumbs for so long, but the prospect of becoming a stranger in my own body coupled with the fear of the alien entity gaining control of my mind terrified me.

Mara eyed me thoughtfully. “This must be very taxing on you. Why don’t you get some rest? I’ve had a room prepared.”

I stared into her eyes and swallowed hard as she met my gaze. She may have phrased it as a question, but I got the feeling that she meant me to do exactly as she had asked. That woman might have looked frail, but she had a core of steel and I just knew she wasn’t about to take no for an answer.

I nodded. “That would probably be for the best.”

Mara stood up, moved across the doctor’s lab and swung the door open. “Felix.”

A tall lanky man who looked to be somewhere in his late thirties stepped into the room. He had a battered looking phase pistol holstered at his waist and he looked like someone who knew how to use it. His eyes scanned the room and when they landed on me, they widened slightly and he pursed his lips before his gaze settled on Mara.

“Felix, be a dear and show our friend Jellfree to the guest quarters I had prepared. He has free access to any of the public area of the compound, but do try to keep him from wandering into areas that might get him into trouble,” Mara said placing a hand on his shoulder and smiling fondly.

Felix nodded and muttered a “Yes, ma’am” before jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. “Coming?”

Felix led me down the hallway and up a flight of stairs before stopping at a featureless door. Never once did he speak to me, and I wasn’t feeling very sociable so that was just fine by me. He kept glancing at me and looking at my face, and I suppose if our situations were reversed I’d have done the same. I was a pretty odd sight and with the female face, and the male body, not to mention the magenta-colored eyes and blue hair. Really, it was a wonder he could stop gaping for even a minute. It was humiliating, but I held my head up high and pretended like it didn’t bother me. What the hell else was I supposed to do? I stepped inside the room and heard the door shut behind me. I was a prisoner plain and simple, Felix knew it and so did I.

The room really didn’t look all that different from the one I’d had back at the Qharr research compound. It was just little larger, and only had two pieces of furniture including a small chest of drawers and a bed, not a bed pad, but a real bed with a frame, foundation and mattress. I sat down on the edge of it and slipped my boots off then I just sort of melted into its soft surface. The last time I’d laid on a real bed my parents had still been alive and though I only vaguely remembered doing so the experience seemed very familiar. I savored the feeling of the fabric as I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh.

‘Are you there?’ I thought at the K’teth.

For a moment I was met with only silence and I was about to call out to the alien creature again when it finally answered back. ‘I am always here.’

‘Why are you doing this to me?!’ I demanded screaming out inside of my mind.

There was another pause, this one much shorter. ‘Because I must… I wish I could help you understand, but I know not the words. Your mind is still strange to me.’

‘Well that’s just swell and all, but I’d really like you to change me back now,’ I replied slamming a fist into the bed.

‘I cannot.’

‘Why?’

‘If I did so much would be lost.’

‘Dammit… Are you trying to piss me off? Do you want me to trust you or not?’

‘Your trust is not necessary.’

“Just tell me what it is you want!” I screamed growing so angry that I actually said the words out loud.

‘In time. Now… now I must rest.’

“Oh hell no! You’re not getting out of it that easily!”

The K’teth ignored me and I howled in frustration. ‘Answer me! This is my body! The Qharr may have taken everything else from me, but the one thing they could never rob me of was my body! They might have claimed to own me, but this body is mine, dammit!’

Again the symbiote was silent.

“God damn you! You fucking parasite! I’m talking to you, you damned ass-dripping piece of shit!” I yelled letting out several curses I would never have otherwise let myself utter.

No matter what I did or said to provoke the K’teth nothing seemed to work and I tried everything I could think of as I offered up insult after insult. Hell, I even threatened to do myself in and still the stupid thing wouldn’t answer. I sat back up in the bed–feeling my new longer hair fall into my face as I did so–and felt tears well up in my eyes. I was used to feeling helpless living as a slave, but this felt different. The symbiote threatened to take away the very essence of my being and I don’t think there was a thing I could do to stop it.

I wiped the tears from my face then I stared at my hand… What the hell was that thing doing to me? Why was I crying? I felt so wrong… I didn’t feel like myself my emotions were so much closer to the surface than I was used to.

“No,” I whispered clenching my hand into a fist. I wouldn’t let the K’teth have the satisfaction of seeing me succumb to my emotions so easily. I would be strong, more importantly I would be me! I wasn’t going to lose myself to the K’teth not if I could help it!

I sighed and laid back in the bed, I stared up at the tiled ceiling and absently ran my fingers through my hair. I didn’t even know what time it was, but I was tired… Living as a slave had taught me how to sleep even when I feared for my life, and while the threat the K’teth presented loomed over me I was able to drift off into the world of dream without too much trouble.

Chapter Six

I woke and knew immediately that something was wrong. I looked around groggily trying to remember where I was. The place looked familiar, but the memory was just out of my reach. I was in a dark room and as my hands felt around the surface upon which I was resting I realized I was lying on a real bed, not the thin pad that most slaves were forced to sleep on.

“What the hell?” I muttered and gasped when I heard my voice. That voice–a light soprano wasn’t even remotely close to my regular medium tenor! Then the memories of the previous day came flooding back to me.

I reached up to touch my face and traced my hands down my neck and chest. I sighed with relief when I found that, on the outside at least, nothing had changed. Whatever the K’teth had done to me while I slept the only change that I was able to find was my voice. I sat up and felt something fall across my face. Hair, I brought my hand up to brush it away and realized that one other thing had changed. My hair was longer, it had grown at least another seven and a half centimeters overnight. I shuddered and slipped off the bed and moved to the door. It was dark, but light was coming through the cracks in the door and it provided just enough illumination for me to see.

I pulled the door open and on the other side I found a figure seated on the floor fiddling with a small mechanical device about the size of my fist. He looked up and once I saw his face I realized that it was just Jaysen.

“Morning, sleepyhead.”

He grinned scratched at his chin, his eyes lingering on my face just before he returned to the device. He didn’t seem at all disturbed by my female face and he didn’t say a word as he continued to tinker with whatever the hell that thing was.

I watched him as he toyed with the device for a moment before speaking. “Jaysen what time is it?”

He stared up at me with wide eyes as if I’d startled him then he pursed his lips. “Oh, well if I had to guess I’d say about ten… probably.” he said then returned to his gadget.

“Ten?!” I asked in disbelief. As a slave I’d always been expected to wake at the same time, five in the morning. It was strange to think that I’d allowed myself to sleep so late.

Jaysen nodded absently, but didn’t give any other indication that he’d heard me. “Hey, look…” I started, but Jaysen cut me short.

“You’re probably hungry,” he said frowning up at me. “I doubt there’s any warm food, but I think we could probably scrounge up some cold bread and maybe some cheese or something if you like.”

I nodded. “Yeah, that’d be great.”

“Well, look who it is Farris,” the tall muscular man said as we stepped into the kitchen slapping the back of his hand against the chest of a shorter man with platinum blond hair that was so light it was nearly white.

“It’s the sissy and what’s this…” he said grabbing the underside of my chin with his left hand then pushed me away. “I think I’ll call you the freak.”

Farris grinned. “Quite a pair these two make, eh Pyramus? The sissy who wants to be a girl and the man with the face of a woman and… God! Look at those fucking eyes and that hair. I don’t know what Mara was thinking when she recruited ’em.”

“Why don’t the two of you just fuck off?!” Jaysen said shaking with impotent fury.

Pyramus snarled glaring down at the much smaller man. “That wasn’t very nice! Apologize! Now!”

Jaysen opened his mouth, but Pyramus pounced before the other man could so much as squeal. I wanted to intervene, but both bullies were larger than me and I doubted I’d be able to do anything but get myself hurt. Then the whole world came to a screeching halt and I stared at Pyramus as his fist hung motionless in the air.

“What the hell have you done?” I gasped looking around the room to find that Pyramus wasn’t the only to have been frozen in place.

‘I slowed down your perception of time,’ the symbiote answered back.

“Well, undo whatever it is you did. This is damned creepy!”

‘You can beat him,’ the K’teth whispered within my mind.

“What the hell do you care?”

‘I do not like bullies,’ the symbiote replied just before the world lurched into motion, but at a snail’s pace.

Pyramus’s fist moved as if it were passing through molasses and I only hesitated a second before making my move. I grabbed his arm and threw it aside then I slammed my open palm into his chest. The world erupted back into a full boil, returning to full speed and Pyramus went flying to the ground with far more force than I had anticipated. Hell, the blow had hit with more force than I thought I was capable. I looked down at my hand in disbelief and shuddered. It was that damned thing inside of me it had to be. Just like it had done for the Overseer, it had given my enhanced physical capabilities.

“Fuck!” Pyramus yelled between clenched teeth.

I walked over to where Farris was standing and grabbed him by the collar, “All we want is to get something to eat. Leave now and everything between us is square, but so help me if either of you try anything like that again I’ll beat your asses down,” I said glaring at him with all the false bravado I could muster.

Farris gulped and nodded. I released my hold on his collar and he promptly booked it out of the room. I glared down at Pyramus and he glared back up at me before shaking his head and stumbling back to his feet.

“Shit, I don’t know what the fuck you are, but just keep the hell away from me,” he spat and followed Farris out the door.

“Holy freaking hell! That was awesome! I don’t think I’ve seen anyone put Pyr in his place well except maybe Mara, but hell that woman could boil water with a look. Not that your way was less impressive. God I wish I could have gotten a rec of that! The look on his face!” Jaysen proclaimed with a huge grin on his face.

I wasn’t really sure what to say to that, and I didn’t have to because Jaysen spoke first, “It’s because of that thing in you isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said bowing my head and running a free hand through my hair. “How did you know about that?”

Jaysen scratched his chin, “Well, Mara told me. I guess it explains why you were able to pilot the Overseer’s ship. And god, it probably won’t be long ’til those two jackasses find out too.”

“And, what do you think about that… the K’teth I mean?”

“Well, to be honest I don’t know what to make of it, but what I do know is that you saved us from those patrol ships, which is something I’m not going to forget!” He shook his head and looked at me with a grateful smile.

I swallowed and bit my tongue. I wondered what Jaysen would say if he knew it had been the K’teth that had piloted the transport and fought off the patrol ships and not me.

“Is it… is it going to change you all the way?” he asked suddenly fidgeting with his hands and staring at me with a nervous smile.

I nodded, “Yeah, so I’ve been told.”

“Oh, well… um why don’t we get you something to eat?” he said with a smile that didn’t quite hide the flash of envy mingled with revulsion that passed across his face.

I felt my eyes grow wide and for a very brief moment I let myself believe what Pyramus had said about Jaysen wanting to be a girl. If it were true it might explain the look he’d just given me, but then again I had to consider the source. In the end I decided to let the matter pass and watched as Jaysen turned away and moved to the center of the room where a line of cupboards were mounted to the wall.

The room had the look of a kitchen, but it was much larger than any kitchen than I’d ever seen. There were rows of cupboards, metal counters lined with dozens of cooking implements some of which even I didn’t recognize along with half a dozen ovens, automatic dishwashers and sinks. The compound the rebels occupied was huge and clearly was intended to house several thousand people.

“Jaysen, what is this place?”

Jaysen who had opened up a cupboard and was looking inside turned back to me with a rueful smile, “Well, Mara’s the one that found this place. She said it was built many decades before the war with the Qharr back when the world was still divided and the threat of conflict between the nations was a constant threat. This place was built in case the worst should happen and the North American Union got obliterated. Once the United Republic of Earth was formed this and other places like it were abandoned and forgotten about.”

“And how did Mara know about it?”

“Beats me. You’d have to ask her,” Jaysen shrugged and returned to the cupboard.

“Here,” he said suddenly tossing a bread sack at me.

I grabbed it out of the air and set it down on the counter then caught the next as it came soaring through the air toward me. “How many people live here in the compound?”

Jaysen walked slowly across the room and set a container down on the counter next to the others. “Well we’re up to twenty-three, counting you.”

“It’s getting close to lunchtime,” I mumbled with a quiet whisper. I looked around the kitchen and smiled, “Well they didn’t call me master cook for nothing. Might as well put my skills to use.”

And so I did.

I always liked to cook, but was constantly frustrated at the lack of nutritional eats that I had to work with. The Qharr gave us food, but only to fill our stomachs. They didn’t care how long we lived or if we were living healthy. The only thing that mattered to them was that we continue to work and the food they gave us was enough, in their eyes, to do just that.

Most days the best I was able to make was soup broth and simple unleavened bread, and the sort of food the rebels had access to wasn’t really any better. God, I didn’t know what I was expecting. It wasn’t as if they could go find an empty field and start planting crops. The Qharr would never allow that sort of thing and the rebel farmers would be found out in short order.

So, I ate a little bit of the bread–which was a few days old and very dry–then I got to work cooking the meal. I was in the process of cutting up a few stunted carrots when I heard the door creak open and turned to look and see who it was. Kaya was standing in the doorway and she looked pretty surprised to see me. She stood there with her mouth hanging open and I half-expected her to turn her back and disappear back through the door, but she did just the opposite.

“Jellfree…” she stepped through the door and let it swing shut behind her.

“What do you want Kaya?!” I snapped feeling that familiar anger boil up to the surface.

“I-I didn’t expect to find you here. It was my turn to prepare lunch and I thought I’d get an early start,” she responded looking back and forth between me and Jaysen. “Mara told me what happened to you but, God, I don’t think I really believed it. Shit, Jellfree I’m so sorry. I can’t help thinking that it’s somehow my fault. If I had included you in our plans maybe… maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”

I glared at her and said nothing. Jaysen grimaced and scratched his head, “I’m sure Jellfree doesn’t blame you. It might have happened even if he’d known. Right, Jellfree?”

“Why don’t you mind your own damned business?! This is between me and Kaya!” I yelled rounding on him with knife in hand my anger exploding out of me suddenly and without warning.

Jaysen eyes grew wide and he shook his head, “You know what… I think I’m going to step outside for a minute. Obviously something has happened between the two of you and I really don’t want to get involved.”

“Yeah, I think that would be a good idea!” I growled at him as he fled the room.

“There’s no need to pick on Jaysen, Jellfree. I’m the one you’re mad at so take it out on me!” She yelled.

“Alright then I will! What the hell am I supposed to do Kaya?! I loved you and it was all a damned lie! You put my life in danger and now everything is going to hell! I trusted you and you took advantage of that trust Kaya and now… God, Kaya… what am I supposed to do now? I just don’t know anymore!”

Kaya moved across the room and took my head in her hands. I tried to protest, but when her lips unexpectedly locked around mine all my anger suddenly fled. When we broke for air I stared down at her flabbergasted as she started to weep.

“Oh hell, if you hated me before you’re really going to hate me now. Jellfree, I-I love you and before you started to change I would have fought with every cell in my body to try and convince you that I wanted to be with you, but now… Hell I can’t. I do love you, but… God this is so hard. I wish there was some other way, but that kiss it didn’t feel right. I’m not attracted to women, and I can’t fight to be with you knowing that you’re changing into one.”

I started at her and slowly started to shake my head, “So that’s it? It’s over between us?”

She nodded and pursed her lips. Tears were flowing freely down her face and I wanted nothing more to scream and yell at her, but she looked so vulnerable… so sad standing there that it was all I could do to keep myself from wrapping my arms around her and tell her everything would be alright then I came to my senses. I glared at her, “It’s not fair.”

“I know,” she whispered. “We can’t be lovers, but maybe we can stay friends. I want to help you through this, Jellfree. It’s the least I can do after everything I’ve put you through.”

“I don’t know,” I scowled. “It’s going to take time Kaya. I can’t just pretend like nothing happened!”

She nodded tears flowing freely as she spoke. “I will do whatever it takes.”

I shook my head then grabbed some supplies out of the cupboard and turned back to her. “Well, I could use some help with this meal.”

Kaya sat down across from me and smiled as she set her plate down. I tore off a piece of food and held it out with my fingers before slipping it in my mouth and savored the taste of the freshly baked bread. “So, I guess I’m a rebel now. What exactly am I supposed to do?”

Kaya held her spoon out in front of me and pursed her lips with a thoughtful frown. “Well, I’ve been discussing that with Mara. She wants us to take some time off and get you trained before we move on to the next mission.”

I shook my head and tapped my fingers against the table. “You mean she wants to wait to see if I can be trusted.”

“Of course, you can be trusted! After what you did I don’t know how anyone could not see that!” Jaysen protested from his seat at the table next to Kaya.

“Kaya’s not the only one who’s had a talk with my aunt. She’s afraid of that damned parasite inside of me. Hell I am too. I can’t blame her for not trusting me I’d probably react the same way in her shoes. Maybe it would be better if you just locked me up and threw away the keys. If that K’teth gains control of my body–” I shuddered. “–who knows what it might do.”

“Your aunt…?” Kaya asked staring at me with wide-eyed confusion.

“What, she didn’t tell you?” I asked looking from Kaya then to Jaysen and back to Kaya. They each shook their heads and I let out a long sigh. “Well she says she was married to my uncle Harold. I don’t really remember, but I think I believe her. It’s weird, until yesterday, I’d forgotten I even I had an Uncle Harold.”

“Well, that certainly explains some things,” she said waving her spoon around then dropped it into her soup. “Look Jellfree we’re not going to lock you up. We’re fighting for our freedom and we need everyone we can get.”

“And if this thing gains control of me?”

“Then… I’ll do whatever’s necessary,” she said narrowing her eyes and saw just a bit of that manic fire come to life inside of her again.

I shuddered and locked gazes with her. There was no doubt in my mind if she thought the K’teth had taken control of me she’d do whatever it took to stop it, even if it meant taking my life. I smiled… I couldn’t live being a prisoner in my own body and if I became a danger I wouldn’t want to go on living knowing what it might force me to do. I think if anyone could find a way to kill me it would be Kaya and in a strange sort of way I’d rather it be her than some stranger.

“Sustenance!” a voice called from the other side of the bunker’s massive cafeteria. All our eyes turned to watch as Vakrexid came sweeping across the floor and halted in front of the large pot of soup I’d placed on the table in the next row over. He grabbed a bowl from the nearby stack and scooped some soup out of the pot. He lurched back into motion and plopped down at the table beside me.

“Hello Doctor!” Jaysen beamed.

“Hello all. It is most agreeable to see you,” he tooted and promptly dunked all three of his tubes in the bowl of soup. There was a strange sucking sound and within just a few seconds the doctor’s bowl had been sucked completely dry. Well, other than a few chunks of meat and vegetables that wouldn’t fit up his tubes.

The doctor cocked his head and touched me lightly on the shoulder. “Vakrexid would like you to pay a visit to my lab. I have unpacked some equipment that should allow Vakrexid to run tests on you without use of the scanner. Those tests will not be as conclusive, but there is little else I could do. ”

I nodded. “Sure thing doc.”

“Also, Vakrexid would like to encourage you to continue your transformation. I have procured a powercell which would be most suitable for this task,” he said absently rubbing at his tubes.

“You can’t be serious!” I protested staring at the doctor with my mouth hanging wide open.

“The process, it will be most unpleasant, I believe it would be a much easier adjustment if we sped it along. Vakrexid would much rather it be done under my supervision. If you were inadvertently exposed to a power source and the K’teth began to consume its energy the process could leave you weakened and unable to find aid.”

I sighed and pursed my lips. “Damned K’teth, I… I thought I would have more time.”

“The choice is yours of course. Vakrexid was merely suggesting what I thought was the most prudent course of action,” the doctor said running a finger along the inside of his bowl.

“I-I’ll think about it,” I muttered and promptly crammed another piece of bread into my mouth.

“Very well,” Vakrexid tooted then he suddenly lurched out of his seat and scrambled away with his empty bowl in hand.

I shook my head. “Such an odd creature. How exactly did the doctor get caught up in the rebellion?”

Jaysen shrugged. “I tried to ask him once, but all the doctor would say was that he had nowhere else to go.”

Kaya pursed her lips, “Mara told me once that the Qharr despise the doctor’s people, but that for whatever reason they have some rule against doing them any harm. The gray skins won’t lift their fingers against the doctor, but neither will they help him leave Earth. Mara says she’s known him for years, but he’s only been with the resistance for about five.

“You mean to say he was alone on Earth for almost twenty years without anyone to help him?” I asked finishing off the last little bit of my bread.

Kaya shrugged and shook her head. “Mara said once that the doctor is a part of a much larger puzzle about the Qharr one which most of the pieces were missing. She wouldn’t say anything more.”

“Well, maybe we can find the pieces,” I said dipping my spoon in the soup.

Kaya nodded then downed a mouthful of food and didn’t say another word. All the pieces… Then it occurred to me, maybe I’d already found one of the missing pieces. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was missing something about the K’teth something that would explain so many mysteries about our self-proclaimed masters, but there was still too much I didn’t know. God, if only that damned thing would speak to me again, but nothing seemed to catch its attention.

I sighed and continued to eat my soup and resigned myself to hoping the answers would come with time.

Just as we finished eating the rest of Kaya’s band started to show up. I recognized a few of them from the compound, but other than first Jaysen then Felix, I had never learned their names. The rest of them were new faces and they studied me with thoughtful expressions as they passed our table. Pyramus and Farris made an appearance too, but neither would look me in the eyes and went out of their way to avoid me.

“My dear Kaya, you’re looking absolutely breathtaking today, just as you always do,” a tall bearded fellow with fiery-red hair seating himself next to Kaya with a roguish lopsided smile on his face as he threw his arm around her shoulder.

Kaya rolled her eyes and let out a long sigh. “Strave, so help me if you don’t remove that hand I’ll break that damn thing off.”

“You’d really do that? You’d really break my arm?” he asked his eyes growing wide in mock disbelief.

Kaya face stretched into a wicked grin and twitched an eyebrow. “I wasn’t talking about your arm.”

Strave chuckled and quickly slid his hand away. “Kaya my beloved queen of ice someday I will win your heart, I just know it.”

“It will be a cold day in hell, Strave,” she glared at him.

Strave grinned and shook his head. “So… you must be Jellfree,” he said his eyes suddenly darting across the table to land on me. “Everybody’s been talking about you. You’ve got Pyramus and Farris all fired up which is a surefire way to make friends around here. The name is Straffen McMillan, but all my friends–” he said pausing and glanced at Kaya before continuing. “–call me Strave.”

I choked. “The Straffen McMillan! God, you’re a real person! I always figured you were the product of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Strave grinned and stroked his beard, then turned to me lowering his voice. “Some of my exploits may have been exaggerated. If I’d done half the things that people say I’ve done, the Qharr would have had me hunted down and killed me long ago.”

I shook my head in amazement… Straffen McMillan was something of a folk hero among the slaves of North America. There were dozens of tales about him freeing slaves, and fighting Qharr with his bare hands each more ridiculous and over the top than the last. When people spoke of Straffen McMillan it was always in hushed tones out of earshot of the Qharr. I’d always enjoyed hearing the tales, because they always depicted the Qharr as the blood thirsty tyrants they really were, but I’d always figured them to be fiction. Perhaps, there was some truth to them after all.

Kaya snorted. “I’d say. Strave is pretty good in fight, I’ll admit that much, but the only reason he’s still alive is because he has more luck than any person has any right to have and an ego twice as big.”

“Kaya,” Strave said in mock-surprise, “I do think that’s the closest you’ve ever come to giving me a compliment. There’s hope for us yet!”

“Why don’t you leave Kaya alone, Strave? I think it’s pretty obvious she despises you,” Jaysen said suddenly.

“Jaysen my good friend, what would be the fun in that?”

He paused and looked at me with the spark of curiosity in his eyes. “Is it true? What they’re saying? That you’ve been… inhabited by some sort of creature one which grants you superior strength?”

I coughed then looked around the room. “Well that didn’t take long to get out.”

“It’s also responsible for giving him that face and it’s probably going to give him a body to match. So if you’re interested in having one of those things put inside of you I’m all for it. Maybe if you had a pair of breasts of your own you’d even leave me alone, for a change,” Kaya said glaring at Strave.

He grinned and let out a soft chuckle. “Kaya, my love for you is eternal. I’d be willing to go lesbian for you!”

Kaya rolled her eyes and let out a long sigh. “Come on, Jellfree. I think I’ve had about as much of Strave for the day as I can handle. Why don’t I introduce you to the rest of the group?”

I nodded and gave Strave a sideways look before following Kaya to the next table. “Hey, Bentley!” Kaya called and then began the round of introductions.

Besides Pyramus, Farris, Strave, Kaya and Jaysen there were five other rebels in the room I had yet to meet.

Bentley Laden, was the first to step forward and introduce himself. He scowled and shook my hand, eying me with a set of cold blue eyes, before smirking and stepping aside to. My first impression of Marta Galday was an interesting one. Outwardly she seemed open and friendly, but there was something about the way she kept glancing into my eyes that made me uneasy.

“Name’s Territh Roggin,” a wizened little fellow stepped forward and clasped his hands in mine. He looked frail, but the firmness of his handshake definitely seemed to belie that impression. He grinned, displaying what few teeth he had left, then stepped away without another word.

“Uh, hi? I-I’m Nate Leeson,” a gawky kid stepped forward rubbing at the back of his neck. He reached out to shake my hand, but yanked it back and wiped it on his shirt. “Sorry, I’m a little sweaty. Been working out.”

He smiled and put a hand on the shoulder of the final member of the crew. She jumped and looked up at the kid with wide eyes. “This here is my cousin Loon Melowitz. She can’t really talk though. Her old qharr master cut her tongue out.”

Loona nodded and opened her mouth to demonstrate. I averted my eyes, and cleared my throat before returning my attention to the group as a whole. “Nice to meet you all. I’m sure you’ve heard all about me already.”

There were a few polite exchanges, but then things took a decidedly uncomfortable turn when they started up the questions. Most of them were about the K’teth symbiote and for the most part I really didn’t have any answers. I gave it my best, and the questions certainly didn’t get any easier to respond to. My answers were met with a lot of skepticism and distrust, and looking back I don’t think I handled it all that well, but considering the way I had been received it wasn’t all that surprising.

“Fuck it! You guys really think I have the answers! I’m through with all your damn questions! All I know is I have this thing in me! I don’t know why it’s doing this to me or what it wants, but I do know it scares the shit out of me and I don’t need you people badgering me for answers that I don’t have!” I snapped then went tearing out of the dining hall.

I stopped just outside the doors leaning against the wall and taking deep breaths as I fought down the vast array of emotions that I suddenly found myself confronting. My body had been invaded by an alien being and I had no idea what it was doing to me and on top of that I had been caught up with a group of rebels nearly all of whom were worried that I was under the influence of the entity.

“Jellfree,” Kaya said from the doorway.

“Leave me alone Kai,” I yelled thumping my head against the wall. “I don’t want to be consoled, especially not by you. I just want to be left alone.”

“Fine.” She folded her arms and stepped away before disappeared back down the hallway.

I stood there with my head still resting against the wall and let loose the torrent of tears. God… I hated what was being done to me. I knew there was no way I could stand up to that freaking parasite. It was fused to me like two metals melted into an alloy. How could I resist that?

I heard footsteps again, but this time they were coming from the opposite direction. I wiped the tears from my eyes and turned to find Mara standing at my side with a single raised eyebrow. She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “Jellfree, dear, what wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m fine.” It was an obvious lie, but I didn’t want anyone else prying into my business.

She frowned and folded her arms across my chest. “If everything is fine why you were crying?”

“I-I, just leave me alone!” I yelled then shouldered past her and fled back to my room.

Chapter Seven

“Ah, Jellfree, sit, sit, sit!” the doctor said patting at the scanner bed as Mara and I stepped into the lab. Jaysen, my guard for the day, peeked inside, frowned, pulled something out of his jacket then let the door close in his face.

Mara gave me an encouraging smile, but didn’t say a word as I plopped down where Vakrexid had indicated. I stared at the doctor apprehensively as he moved about the lab and caught a glint of metal as he grabbed something off the counter then spun back around to face me. “Before you humans perfected the body scanner, your forebears used another means to find illness and infirmity within their bodies,” the doctor said holding out a plastic tube from which protruded a long metal needle.

“Well doctor!” Mara smirked. “It looks like you’re finally going to get a chance to use one of those things.”

“What the hell is it?” I asked, staring at the wicked looking thing in complete confusion.

“It’s a syringe, they used to use them to draw blood,” Mara said suddenly the very barest hint of a smile touching the corner of her lips.

“Draw blood?” I asked then I realized what she meant and turned sharply to eye the doctor warily. “You’re going to stick that thing in me aren’t you?”

“That is the function of this particular instrument. Vakrexid has practiced using it in the event of equipment failure, it will only be slightly painful but the pain will be gone quickly.”

“Damn, try to make it quick, just looking at that thing gives me the creeps.”

“Why did Vakrexid’s not cogitate with my dlepebur!?” the doctor proclaimed slapping an open palm against his forehead. “Vakrexid needs a tourniquet and something for sanitation!”

The doctor scrambled across the room and pulled open a drawer, grabbed something out of it, then quickly returned to my side with a sort of flexible rubber tube, a bottle filled with clear liquid and a white cloth. “Vakrexid needs your arm,” he said looming over me.

I sighed and held it out. The doctor slid his hand up my wrist and pushed the sleeve of my shirt up my arm. He cleaned the crook of my elbow with the cloth and liquid then grabbed the rubber tube and tied it around my arm. He held the syringe over my arm then plunged it into the vein. I gritted my teeth and as I felt a very brief sharp sting and I swear I could feel the needle inside my arm as blood filled the inside of the tube. Then it was all over, the doctor released the rubber tube and pulled the damned thing out.

“Vakrexid shall have the computer analyze this sample,” the doctor tooted.

I grunted. “Well that was fun… let’s do it again sometime.”

Vakrexid cocked his head, “Truly?”

Mara laughed, “No doctor, remember our little discussion on sarcasm?”

“Yes.”

He blinked his eyes and stroked his hand around his center face tube, “Humans! Vakrexid is continuously perplexed by your kind! Why do you persist in saying things and meaning something else entirely?!”

“Doctor, even humans sometimes have trouble understanding why we behave the way we do.”

“How strange,” he tooted then suddenly turned his back and walked out of the room.

I really, really hate awkward silences, so as you might imagine I was pretty miserable after the doctor left and I found myself languishing within such a ticklish situation. Silence. Mara didn’t say a single word, and I couldn’t think of a damned thing to say. I opened my mouth, thinking that maybe I might say something, but soon thought better of it and snapped my jaw back shut. Thankfully, the doctor wasn’t gone long and burst back into the room lugging a large cylinder about a quarter of a meter around in both his arms.

He let out a high-pitched whistle and lifted the cylinder onto the counter opposite me. “That is most cumbersome.”

“Vakrexid has put the computer to the task of examining your blood. It is very old and it shall take some time before the results are given. I wonder, have you given any thought about what Vakrexid said earlier concerning the continuation of your changes?”

“Shit, you’re not going to give up on this are you?!”

I dropped my face to my hands and slowly shook my head.

“Maybe it would be for the best,” Mara said suddenly.

“Oh god! What the hell has gotten you two so eager to let this damned thing have its way with me?!” I demanded letting my hands fall away from my face as I glared at her.

“There is a certain logic to it. Without letting it near a source of energy how long will it take the K’teth to change you weeks? Months? The sooner you are transformed the sooner we know if it will be able to take control of your body. I think that if I found myself in your situation and that horrid thing was changing me into a man, I’d rather have it over and done with. That way I wouldn’t have that horrible weight hanging over my head for so long. At least then it would be over!”

“Yeah, well it’s not happening to you!” I yelled. “What if by feeding that thing we give it the opening it needs to gain control of me?!”

‘I can only gain control if you give it to me and only then for a limited time,’ the symbiote’s voice echoed suddenly within my mind.

‘Where the hell have you been?! I demanded immediately aware just how much more well-spoken the creature seemed.

‘I haven’t gone anywhere. I have been working to complete the joining process so that we may better communicate because of this our minds were temporarily… disconnected, but that will no longer be an issue,’ the K’teth replied in an almost matter of fact manner.

‘You seem so much more well-spoken now,’ I noted.

‘A result of our bond being complete. It is very difficult to communicate when the joining process has first begun. Fortunately, once our minds are tied communication is no longer a problem.’

“Great, we can communicate. Just what I always wanted a damned voice in the back of my head. Fuck, this still doesn’t mean I can trust you.’

‘Trust must be earned. At the moment, you have no reason to trust me or I you, but perhaps we can find some common ground. We both want the same thing, after all.’

‘And that is?’

‘Freedom from the Qharr!’

“Jellfree!” A voice called urgently as a hand latched onto my shoulder.

I blinked and found Mara standing there next to me, her eyes were wide with worry as she spoke, “Jellfree, dear, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s the K’teth it was speaking to me,” I mumbled reaching up to touch her hand.

‘She… call me she I am female,’ it suddenly insisted.

“It spoke to you? What did it say!?” Mara demanded.

“Among other things it… she says she wants to be free from the Qharr,” I responded.

“She?!” the doctor exclaimed suddenly stepping between Mara and myself. “The symbiote, it is female?”

I nodded. “That is what it claims.”

“Fascinating!” Vakrexid said then suddenly backed away from Mara who was glaring at him. “Apologies!” the doctor tooted shuffling away, “please continue.”

“I don’t care what that thing says. I do not believe it can be trusted… Maybe accelerating your changes isn’t such a good idea.”

Mara glanced over her shoulder, frowning at the doctor.

“No…” I said surprising even myself with the sudden change of heart. “Shit… I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I don’t think I want to prolong this any longer than I have to. If she takes over me then I’d rather know sooner rather than later. Just don’t hesitate to pull the trigger if you think that thing is the one calling the shots.”

Mara nodded, “Very well, I would be loath to terminate your life, but should the worst happen I will not fail to do what is necessary.”

The doctor made some strange comment, but I wasn’t paying attention I was too focused on what I knew I had to do. My eyes locked on the large cylinder which the doctor had toted into the lab. I was pretty certain it was a powercell, but there was no way to be sure. Well, there was only one way to find out I could try touching it and see if the symbiote reacted. Before anyone could so much as mutter a word of objection I leaped across the room and slammed my hand into it. For a moment, I thought that nothing was going to happen, but then I heard the K’teth’s voice howl in my head and it began.

Just like before light filled my vision and my ears started to buzz and then the pain came. It burned through my body like a wildfire and I screamed out in agony. It started out in my scalp and I felt it burn as hair gushed from my head in a single great eruption of blue that went flowing down my back in a shower of wavy ringlets and got so long that it flowed down past my waist. I could feel my skin ripple and gritted my teeth as the flesh on my neck and inside of my throat begin to twist and change. For a very brief moment I couldn’t breathe, and I clutched at my throat gasping for breath, but then air flooded back into my lungs. The pain seemed to subside for a bit then suddenly flared back to life and I let out a loud high-pitched wail when the bones in my right shoulder started to crack and snap.

The transformation gradually trickled down my arm and every bone, every muscle sizzled with pain until it finally stopped at the end of my finger tips. I gasped as my vision cleared just a little bit and brought my hand up so I could look at it. My entire arm was smaller and the hand itself was too. Before my fingers had always been short and stubby, but now the transformed one was long and delicate and it was very much the hand of a woman. The area around my right nipple started to tickle and I grabbed at it as it began to swell. There was a very brief flash of pain, but as the right side of my chest gradually bulged outward, the pain was almost nonexistent. When the tingling started around my left nipple I gritted my teeth and prepared myself for the left side of my chest to start growing. Sure enough after another very brief burst of pain the left side began to grow too. In very short order I had two full-sized breasts sticking out from my chest.

The changes rippled across my body and continued to my left shoulder and down my other arm. It hurt like hell and I fell to my knees my hand still latched onto the powercell as the transformations cascaded down my body. After my left arm came my abdomen and as my insides twisted and turned I felt my stomach rebel. I turned my head and spewed a seemingly never-ending stream of vomit all over the place. Then the pain hit my waist which produced even more cracks and pops before the ripples moved down into my crotch and hips.

I gasped and reached a hand into my pants and felt my penis retract into my body. I shuddered and slid my hand out of my pants as the changes continued. After that my hips swelled out then my legs shrunk one at time until finally it was over.

My hand fell away from the powercell and I slipped it into my shirt and felt a pair of lumps–‘no’, I corrected myself ‘they’re breasts’–sticking out from my chest. Hot tears stung my face and I gritted my teeth as I muttered the words, “Oh god, how could I have been so damn stupid?”

“Jellfree?!” Mara’s voice asked and I felt her hand on my shoulder.

I shuddered, reaching up to touch her hand. Everything felt so very different, even her hand on my shoulder. Not because she had changed in any way, but because the size and shape of my entire body had been altered so drastically.

“Dear lord… Jellfree are you alright?”

I shuddered anew and put my hand on the ground to push myself up, but quickly snatched it back up when I felt it touch something wet. I brought it up so I could look at it and found it covered in a thick brown, almost black, sludge and holy hell did it stink. I looked around and found that a large pool of it had formed around my body. My now over-sized pants and boots were drenched in it. Well, that and my vomit. I was amazed that I hadn’t noticed it sooner, but I think the pain from my transformation and the shock of finding myself so suddenly in a female body had been what had kept it from becoming immediately apparent.

“Dead flesh left over from the transformation process.”

A new voice said suddenly and I looked up to find the K’teth’s female human form, standing over Mara and me, seemingly made flesh.

“What the hell?!” I said suddenly blinking up at her.

The K’teth looked down at me and smiled. “Don’t worry Jellfree, I haven’t gained physical form. The image you are seeing is an illusion that you and you alone can see. I thought that if we could interact this way it might be less disconcerting for you.”

“Well, how considerate of you!”

“Jellfree?” Mara cut in. “Who are you talking to?”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. “That damned K’teth… She’s not just talking in my head anymore… She’s chosen to appear as a full-blown spook.”

She folded her arms across her chest and looked at me with a thoughtful expression, “Interesting.” She glanced down at my feet and frowned.

“What is it?” she said reaching down to touch the black goop on the floor, sniffed at it then scrunched her lose in disgust.

“Vakrexid would surmise that it is discarded tissue from the transformation process. The K’teth likely expunged it through Jellfree’s pores or perhaps her anus,” the doctor tweeted walking through the illusory form of the K’teth and kneeling down next to me.

I groaned at the doctor’s use of ‘her’, but didn’t try to correct him. Vakrexid may be the first person to use a female pronoun, but I knew he would not be the last. I certainly looked like a “she,” and had the body to boot, but hell I certainly didn’t feel like one. I still felt like myself on the inside; I’d just been stuck into a pretty little wrapper.

“I… shit I’m a mess.”

“God,” I added looking at my long and delicate-looking fingers. “It’s done… I’m really a woman now.”

“Amazement!” the doctor proclaimed flailing his arms wildly before turning to examine Mara’s face. “It is most remarkable, but Vakrexid believes you bear a striking resemblance to Mara.”

I locked gazes with Mara and saw her eyes grow wide in astonishment then she abruptly blinked and shook her head, “God, you’re right. How is that possible?”

The K’teth’s image rolled its eyes, and she knelt down next to me between Mara and the doctor.

“I used her genetic code as a partial template when remaking your body, is it really that hard to deduce?”

“You used her as a template?! And what gives you the right?! Why the hell did you do this to me?!” I screamed my hands shaking with sudden rage.

“Jellfree,” Mara said reaching out to grab my shoulder.

“I did what I felt was necessary. You don’t know what it means fo r me to find a host among a species other than the Qharr. It could mean freedom for my kind!”

She reached out my face and I suddenly jerked back when I felt the touch of her hand as if it were real.

“And… making me female? That was just for shits and giggles?!”

“That is a discussion for another time once we’ve gotten a little better acquainted,” she grinned then abruptly vanished.

“Dammit!” I cursed.

“What did it say?” Mara asked finally joining the doctor and the K’teth on the floor beside me.

I relayed what the symbiote had said about using Mara as a genetic template and her successive refusal to explain herself. Mara’s eyes widened slightly upon hearing the news and I got the sense that she found it very distressing despite the lack of emotion displayed on her face. I caught a flash of concern in Mara’s eyes as she let out a long sigh.

“Come, Jellfree dear, let’s get you cleaned up then we’ll try to help you through this.”

I wobbled on my feet and gripped the sides of the cupboards as I struggled to gain balance. I tried to take a step forward, but my foot slid and I nearly went tumbling to the ground. Thankfully, Mara was there to catch me.

“Crap…” I gasped and fought down the sudden urge to run away screaming like a mad… woman. It would have ended disastrously anyway I couldn’t seem to keep my balance in this damned new body.

“I think it would be helpful if you removed those boots of yours. At the very least I think you could move a little easier.”

“Vakrexid will help!” the doctor suddenly proclaimed.

The boots were coated in that god awful goop left over from my transformation, but the doctor didn’t show any hesitation as he moved to unlace the boots and helped me slip them from my feet. It didn’t do much to improve my balance, but at least I wasn’t wearing those huge clodhoppers anymore. My pant legs were coated in it as well and the doctor looked up at me, but it was Mara that spoke. “I think you’re going to have to remove your pants or else you’ll track that muck all over the place.”

I swallowed hard looking down at my pants in dread. My newly expanded hips were all that was keeping them from falling to my ankles, but removing them would leave my crotch bare for both Mara and Vakrexid to see.

“Oh, hell,” I said reaching down to the waist on my pants with shaking hands.

I closed my eyes, unfastened the button then undid the zipper and pushed my pants down from around my hips. I opened my eyes and looked down to see a full formed –and for some reason hairless– vagina resting between my legs. I wanted to weep, but I forced back the tears and gritted my teeth. As much as I hated it I was going to have to live with that infernal body for the rest of my life and I was going to have to accept it.

“The goop soaked all the way through your clothes.” Mara said, craning her neck to look over at the doctor. “Doctor, I don’t suppose you have any rags laying about, do you?”

The doctor blinked. “Nothing suitable to this task, Vakrexid is afraid.”

Mara sighed looked from me then to the doctor and then over to the door. She walked across the room then slid the door open a crack and poked her head out the opening. “Jaysen, do be a dear and go retrieve a towel or two.”

“Yes, ma’am,” came Jaysen’s muffled reply through the door.

“Oh, and Jaysen,” Mara added suddenly. “Why don’t you find Kaya while you’re out and have her retrieve an extra set of her clothes for young Jellfree here?”

Mara slid the door shut and I looked down at my bare crotch my cheeks burning bright red with embarrassment as I realized I’d been standing around the whole time with my privates exposed. I quickly covered up by yanking down on my shirt and pulling the ends down over my new vagina.

“Why’d you ask him to go get Kaya? I’d prefer to keep away from her for the time being.”

“I can understand how you must feel, dear, but I need you two to get past your personal issues if you’re going to be working together. We have a planet to retake, and as much as I can sympathize with your predicament, I can’t have these sort of problems getting in the way of what must be done.”

“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you. I didn’t ask for any of this, all I want is just a little space. Is that too fucking much to ask for?” I glared at her and felt hot tears sting the corner of my eyes.

She smiled and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and I cleared my throat before clearing my throat. I bit my lip and quickly changed the subject. Quite frankly, Mara confused the hell out of me and I didn’t know how to respond to her.

“You really think you can do it? I mean the gray skins have such a stranglehold on Earth. Even if you somehow managed to form a large enough force to drive them off they can call in reinforcements and quickly retake the world.”

“We will retake Earth, it’s just a matter of time.”

Though she didn’t raise her voice, her conviction almost made me believe, almost. She smiled coyly and I got the sense that there was something she wasn’t tell me, but I never got a chance to ask her as it was about that time that the door swung open.

“Hey, Maya I got some towels and clothes like you asked,” Jaysen said stepping through the door followed closely by Kaya then his eyes darted to the corner of the room where I was standing. “Oh,” was all he said as he stared at my with his jaw hanging open.

“Jellfree?” Kaya gasped bringing her hand up to her mouth. “God! Is that you?”

“I-I’ll just set these down right here,” Jaysen muttered his face bright red as he practically threw them onto the counter and fled out the room.

“I probably should have told him to knock before entering,” Mara grinned before turning to frown at Kaya. “Help me towel the bo… girl off would you?”

“Vakrexid will never understand this human obsession with… what is it you call it? Oh, yes modesty,” the doctor muttered absently. “On my home-world it is considered completely natural for-one to walk about unclothed supposing it is warm enough.”

I glared at the doctor and held up my arms so that Kaya–who had just finished toweling me off–could pull the shirt over my head. The fabric running against my nipples felt odd, and I shuddered as it came free. The exam room was cold and I folded my arms across my naked chest, to help cover them both for warmth and modesty.

“Damn!” Kaya proclaimed as she stared fixedly at my breasts.

“What?!”

Kaya shook her head and sighed.”Well, it’s just that you’re bigger up top than me.”

“I don’t think any of the women in my family were ever that busty if that creature used me as a template it certainly took some liberties.”

“If you two are through staring at me chest, can I have a damned shirt please?” I growled feeling very self-conscious as they stared at me.

Mara snorted then grabbed a shirt from the nearby stack and tossed it into my arms.

I held the shirt in my hands and looked down at the two balls of flesh poking out from my chest. They were pretty big, I had to admit, but not so huge that they appeared freakish. In fact, if they weren’t sitting there on my chest I would have found them to be quite glorious, but they were there and that was a pretty big problem or at least I certainly thought so. Hell they weren’t really much bigger than Kaya’s, but God who would have thought I’d end up with bigger boobs than my ex?

I slipped the shirt on and grimaced as my hair caught in the back of my shirt. It was insanely long and had grown down to the back of my knees. The end of it had gotten a little dirty from the black goop on the floor, but Kaya had toweled it off which had dried it up a bit. I slid the hair out of my shirt and shuddered a bit as the damp end slid up my back. I held a big handful of it in front of my face and grimaced.

“I don’t know why that thing gave you such long hair… and really blue? What’s that all about?” Kaya said her nose all scrunched up and her lips pursed.

“The hair I can handle,” I muttered glaring at Kaya irritably as I cupped my breasts in my hands. “It’s these damn things that I’m a little more concerned about, them and the freaking slit between my legs.”

Kaya grimaced. “Yeah, well… I can’t really say I know what it’s like on the other side of the fence, but I don’t think I’d be exactly thrilled if my chest flattened and I suddenly grew a cock and balls. I can’t say I’d really miss the periods, and it might be nice to be a bit stronger.”

“You sound almost like you might like to be changed.”

She shook her head and sighed. “There are a lot of things in my life that might have turned out a little differently if I’d been a man, but honestly being a woman is part of who I am. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.” She rubbed the back of her neck and cleared her throat before blushing and glancing around the room as if she’d said something she thought was embarrassing. “Well… all I can say is welcome to team girl.”

“Yeah, thanks just what I always wanted,” I responded dryly. “Can I have those pants now?”

“Oh! Right!” she Kaya responded tossing a pair of slacks at me.

“Thanks,” I said gratefully as I quickly grabbed them out of the air and pulled then up my legs.

“You know…” Kaya said crinkling her nose. “I think you need a bath. You really stink…”

I grimaced then held my hand out to her, “Lead the way.”

“It seems like such a waste to get dressed only to have to get undressed again.” I grumbled staring across at Mara and Kaya who both had their arms folded across their chests in near identical disapproving poses.

“Well,” Kaya grinned. “You could have walked through the hallway naked. I’m sure the guys would have liked that.”

I crinkled my nose and looked around the shower room and let a long sigh. I knew I smelled absolutely horrible, but I wasn’t all that eager to get naked again. It was strange, I know, but when I had clothes on I could almost pretend like I hadn’t been changed. Once, I stripped down I knew that I’d be confronted with my new feminine body and I didn’t know if I could handle it. Logically, I knew that all the parts were the same whether I was nude or clothed, but having to see my bare breasts and those damned vaginal lips between my legs… Hell, it wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to.

I shuddered ever so slightly then I started to strip down to my birthday suit and walked toward the nearest shower stall. The room itself wasn’t much different than the one back at the compound. The walls and floors were covered with plain white tiles and maybe half a dozen shower stalls. That really was the only big difference, the stalls. The Qharr didn’t really understand the human sense of modesty so they built shower rooms for humans slaves without any separators or dividers. They did at least have separate shower rooms for men and women, but that was only because they had this weird superstition about bathing in the same water as the opposite sex.

I looked down at my naked breasts then back at Kaya and Mara then made my way for the nearest of the stalls and closed the door behind me. I pressed the indentation in the wall in front of me and gasped as hot water come cascading down the shower head above me.

“Here,” came Kaya’s muffled voice and I looked down to watch as a bar of soap slid across the floor into the small gap at the bottom of the stall. I retrieved it from the ground and started to soap up my body. I tried to ignore the strangeness of it all, but the unfamiliarity of my new form prevented that and it wound up being the most unforgettable shower of my life.

I ran the soap over every nook and cranny and when I got down to my crotch my hand hovered over my pussy and I pursed my lips. I looked down and scowled at the damned thing before tracing my fingers across its surface. God! Those damned lips didn’t belong between my legs and as my hand came away I leaned against the side of the stall weeping silently.

“No, no, NO!” I screamed gripping the side of my head. How could I live like this? The body the K’teth had forced upon me felt so foreign and above all just wrong.

“Jellfree?” Kaya’s voice called through the door. “Is everything alright?”

I blinked away my tears and shuddered. “No, not even remotely, but I’ll live.”

“Jellfree…” Kaya’s voice called again.

“Just… let me finish,” I snapped. “The sooner I get out of here the better.”

Kaya didn’t say another word and I sighed looked down at the pair of boobs on my chest and moved to soap off the rest of my body. When I reached the end of my toes I grimaced and reached for my hair. It was way too long and I held the soap in my hand in front of my face realizing just how inadequate the little bar of soap was to the task, but did the best I could with it. I ran the soap through the hair, particularly at the bottom where it gotten saturated with that goop.

“Hey, Jellfree,” Kaya said suddenly. “You need something for your hair?”

“Now, you ask,” I grumbled under my breath. Why did she have to ask after I was done washing my hair?

“What was that?” she asked.

“No, don’t worry about it. I got it covered,” I replied back pursing my lips and staring at the soap before dropping it and shaking my head. Well, at least I was done. I flipped the stall door open and I stumbled out. My sense of balance was still a little off and I was pretty wobbly on my feet.

Kaya held a towel out for me and I let her wrap it around my shoulders as I approached. “Where’s Mara?” I asked looking around the room and shivered as Kaya started to rub me dry.

“She left… she said there were some things she had to take care of,” she shrugged with a slight frown.

Kaya’s hands reach down to my crotch and my eyes grew wide as I let out a high-pitched squeal, “Kaya! Good God woman! Could you be just a little more rough with that towel, please?”

Kaya’s cheeks turned red and she looked down to the floor. “Sorry.”

“Damn.” I muttered grabbing a fistful of my hair and holding it in front of my face. “Do you think you could lob some of this off? It’s driving me nuts!”

Kaya threw her head back and laughed, “Yeah, let’s get you dry then we can see what we can do with that hair of yours.”

“Would you stop moving!?” Kaya yelled grabbing hold of my chin.

“Well if you hadn’t clipped my skin I wouldn’t have jerked!” I yelled back touching the side of my neck gingerly. It wasn’t a serious injury, in fact I doubted that it would even scar, but god it hurt.

“Alright, let’s see,” she mumbled reaching up to pull my hand away. Then I heard her gasp and proclaim “Holy fucking shit!” as the pain in my neck suddenly faded away.

“What!? What is it?” I asked grabbing her shoulder.

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “Your neck just healed itself!”

“Oh, yeah that,” I muttered. “I guess the symbiote can heal injuries. I had a broken arm from killing the Overseer and after I woke up here for the first time it was fine.”

‘You’re welcome,’ a voice whispered inside of my mind.

‘Go to hell,” I shot back. ‘I’d rather live a few months with a broken arm than be infested with you!’

“Damn,” Kaya cursed. “I could see that coming useful.”

I shuddered briefly cupping my breasts before looking up to Kaya. “Yeah, but I think the price is a little too steep.”

Kaya nodded then resumed cutting my hair. She was silent for several minutes then startled me by suddenly speaking, “It’s my fault.”

“W-what?!”

“If you hadn’t stepped in to save me, you never would have had that parasite jump inside of you,” she said wiping tears away from her eyes.

I bowed my head and let out a weary sigh. “Kai, don’t… It’s not your fault. It might have happened even if I hadn’t knocked you out of the way. It’s not good to second guess ourselves we could have all been killed. Besides, the K’teth is a thinking reasoning being, she’s responsible for her own actions just like you and me.”

“I-I’m sorry not just for that, but because of everything else. I feel horrible for the shit I’ve put you through. You probably won’t believe this, but I still love you. When I kissed you, after you started to change, it just felt so wrong. I… can’t be with someone I’m not attracted to. No matter how much I wish it could be different!’

I bowed my head and shed a few tears of my own before speaking. “Kai, I can’t forgive you… not yet. I can understand why you chose to keep the truth from me, but it doesn’t make it right.”

“I know.”

“It will be a while before I’ll be able to trust you again, but I don’t think we can go on avoiding each other. That’s probably why Mara left when she did because she knew it would force us to talk. I want this to end, if we can’t be lovers, maybe we can at least be friends.”

Kaya smiled wiping away the tears. “I’d like that, and… I’ll find some way to make up for what I’ve done, I swear it.”

I closed my eyes and nodded, “Now, do you think you can finish this haircut?”

“Yeah,” Kaya replied reaching up to grab a fistful of hair. “I still don’t get it… Why blue?”

‘It’s the mark of a host that has been joined with a K’teth,’ the symbiote said.

I ignored the K’teth and glanced at Kaya, but didn’t say a word as my ex-lover continued. “Still… It is sort of a pretty color and it doesn’t really subtract from your beauty… If anything it makes you look exotic especially with those eyes.”

“Oh, boy, I’m exotic, just what I wanted to hear.”

Kaya chuckled and clipped a few more hairs before stopping and proclaiming, “There I think that just about does it!”

I wiped all the excess hair away then climbed back onto my feet and carefully walked across to the north wall where a large mirror took up nearly the entire wall. I stopped, carefully studying the face I saw reflected back at me. The woman in the mirror was beautiful, a real knock out, and I could hardly believe that what I saw was actually my reflection. I ran my hand through my hair which now stopped just past my shoulders and watched in morbid fascination as the woman mirrored my movements.

“That… that isn’t me!” I screamed at the woman in the mirror and turned my back on her unable to stomach the very visual reminder of what had been done to me. Of course, it didn’t change anything I was still trapped in the wrong body and though I’d only had it for a very short time, I was becoming increasingly aware of just how strange it felt. Every time I so much as crooked a finger I could feel the difference.

“I’ll catch you later Kai,” I muttered under my breathe seething with rage. “I think, I’d like to be alone for a while.”

Chapter Eight

“Dammit!” I cursed throwing the blankets off of me and springing out of bed. I couldn’t get comfortable no matter what position I got in, my breasts and hips kept getting in the way. I sighed and ran a hand through my hair–briefly entertaining the idea of putting it into a ponytail– before moving across the room and swinging the door open.

A shadow appeared in the doorway and it took me a moment for my eyes to adjust enough for me to be able to tell what it was. “Felix?” I asked squinting into the light.

The figure nodded and stepped out of the way. “Yeah.”

“Look, I can’t sleep… I thought I might take a little walk. Is that alright?”

“Fine.”

I stared up at Felix thoughtfully realizing for the first time that he had to be a good twenty centimeters taller than me where before he’d only had about seven or eight centimeters on me. In my new form I was tall for a woman–about a meter and a three-quarters–and I was even taller than Kaya and Mara, but many men, except Jaysen of course, towered over me and it was something I guess I was going to have to get used too.

I took one last look at Felix then turned away and started walking down the hallway with no real destination in mind and Felix trailing a little way behind me. I don’t know how long I walked, but the whole time I just kept thinking about what had been done to me. I briefly considered that I might attempt to summon the K’teth and try to grill it for more information, but I wasn’t in the mood to confront her at the moment. So, I just wandered and pretended that Felix wasn’t following me. Eventually, I found my way to the kitchen and I took a good hard look at the doors before pushing my way through them.

There came a loud clatter and a figure with a shock of red hair swirled around to face me. “Oh, thought you were Pyr and Ferris the two of them have been looking to filch my stash for a while now, but as yet haven’t managed to find it,” Straffen grinned then he furrowed his brows and stared at me for a moment. “Jellfree?” he asked his eyes growing wide in disbelief.

“In the flesh,” I said pursing my lips and did my best not to wither under his gaze.

“Well… I think you need this more than me, but–” he said digging through the cupboard and setting a large bottle of amber liquid on the counter in front of me. “–the good news is there’s enough for us both to get good and drunk.”

“Drunk?” I blinked.

“Yeah, drunk… You know as in intoxicated, inebriated, under the influence, looped, smashed, tanked, loaded, bombed…” he trailed off grinning like the rouge that he was.

I put my hands on my hips and sighed. “I know what drunk is… I just… I’ve never…”

“Been drunk? Well, Jellfree, my good…” he trailed off looking at me thoughtfully, “…woman tonight that’s gonna change.”

“Uh… thanks but I—” I started to say, but stopped abruptly when Strave suddenly called out.

“Felix, my good man! Care for a drink?!”

Felix… Shit I’d completely forgotten about him. I looked over my shoulder and watched as Felix silently folded his arms across his chest and frowned at Strave disapprovingly.

“Ah Felix, my friend, chatty as ever I see!” Strave grinned before turning away and began to dig through the cupboard again. Finally, he poked his head out and slammed three glasses down on the cupboard just to his side. “Felix man, you sure you don’t want a drink?” Strave said pouring some of the amber liquid into the first glass.

Felix shook his head with a disapproving frown as he replied with a very firm, “No.”

“Your loss.” He shrugged and turned to look at me with a glass full of booze.

“Thanks, but I…”

“Trust me, you’ll thank me later. There ain’t no better way to drown yourself in your sorrows and believe me I think if I’d just been transformed into a woman, and a devastatingly beautiful one at that, if you don’t mind me saying, I’d drink myself stupid.”

I stared at the glass and hesitantly took it from his hands before bring it to my lips.

“God that tastes awful!”

I proclaimed after taking a very small sip. It tasted like… crap I didn’t know what it tasted like, but I do know that it burned going down.

“You drink this stuff… willingly?” I coughed holding the glass in front of my face and scowled at it.

Strave laughed. “Its damned god awful I’ll give you that, but it’s not really about taste now is it? The goal here is to get blind stinkin’ drunk.”

I jiggled the cup in my hand for a second, sighed, shrugged and then downed the rest of the glass. It didn’t taste any better going down the second time, but it didn’t seem to burn quite as badly. I shuddered, then held out the glass to Strave and coughed. “More, please.”

“That’s more like it!”

I don’t really remember much after the first couple drinks. I remember talking to Strave a little bit about the K’teth and my life before meeting up with the rebels, but the rest is all murky. After the final glass, I do remember having enough presence of mind to stagger back to my room and collapse into bed

 

Chapter Nine

“Jellfree!” a familiar voice called urgently drawing me out of the darkness.

“Kaya?”

I groaned and fought to open my eyes. My lids felt far too heavy and it took all my willpower to just to get them to open a tiny little sliver. A bright light filled my vision and I moaned before bringing up a hand to block it out.

“Jellfree,” Kaya’s voice repeated. “God, I’ve been trying to wake you for almost five minutes.”

I sat up slowly. “What time is it?”

“Almost ten thirty… Are you alright? You really don’t look so good.”

I palmed my face with both hands blocking out the light. “I feel like I got ran over by pack of dre’ks.”

“Are you gonna be alright?”

“God… if I’d known when Strave offered me that drink that I’d wind up feeling like this I never would have accepted,” I grumbled brushing my hair out of my face.

Kaya snorted. “Well that certainly explains it, you’re hungover. Although, I think you really could have displayed a little better judgment. Strave is only out to cause trouble. Spend any time around him and you’re bound to get burnt.”

I collapsed back onto the bed. “Come back later… Jellfree’s not home right now.”

Kaya let out a long sigh and I could practically hear her roll her eyes as I felt her arms on my shoulders. “Come on get up. You need to get hydrated and then you need to get into the shower. Trust me, it helps.”

I gritted my teeth then let Kaya help me up off the bed. “I think I’m going to puke,” I said and promptly did just that spewing bile all over the floor in front of me.

“Well fuck, there’s no way in hell I’m cleaning that up,” Kaya muttered just before guiding me out the room.

“Feeling better?” Kaya muttered taking a seat next to me.

I gripped the side of my head and nodded. “Just a little.”

“Isn’t that thing inside of you supposed to help along the healing process?”

I nodded taking another long sip from my glass.

“Then why did this hangover hit you so hard?”

“Well, I’d say it’s because alcohol effects me as much as it does you,” a voice pronounced suddenly from my side.

“Holy hell!” I proclaimed and swirled around to find the image of the K’teth staring at me with a sardonic smile on her illusory face.

“Oh, great you again,” I groaned clutching at my head and willed the pain to go away.

“What is it? It’s that thing again, isn’t it?” Kaya asked, clamping down on my arm with claws made of iron or at least that’s it felt like.

“Yes, it’s her. Now, would you let go of my shoulder, freaking crap Kaya!”

“Sorry,” Kaya muttered with an apologetic smile as she released her talons.

“Do me a favor… don’t ever drink again. The headache is just a killer!” the K’teth sighed reaching around my shoulder to trace her arm across my back.

“You have a head?” I blinked.

“No, my physical form is…” she trailed off looking thoughtful. “Well I’m pretty much shapeless. Before my kind first join with a host our bodies, for lack of a better word, are a milky-white formless goo that’s just thin enough to be malleable. Now as far as the headache goes, I feel whatever you feel.”

“Oh, well that’s just fascinating, really.” I replied dryly. “But can you shut up now and leave me alone!?”

“Jellfree, what is it say–” Kaya started but I cut her short.

“This is difficult enough without having to recap everything, Kai. Just be quiet and I’ll fill you in later,” I growled irritably.

“Okay,” Kaya muttered looking hurt.

“Jellfree…” the K’teth said thoughtfully. “You know that’s such a masculine name you should really think about changing it.”

“Is there a reason you’re here or have you just come to pester me?”

“Jellfree, Jellfree, Jellfree,” she muttered, absently stroking my face.

“Would you cut that out!” I yelled grabbing at her arm, and grumbled as my hand passed right through hers. “How the hell are you doing that anyway?! Why can you touch me, but I can’t touch you?!”

“I’m not touching you in the truest sense… I’m merely manipulating your senses to make it seem as if I am.” She smiled running a hand down my neck.

I scrambled off my seat and moved halfway across the room. “Stop it!”

The K’teth rolled her eyes held up her arms then tucked them under her pits. “Oh, very well. I’ll keep my hands to myself, I swear.”

“That’s better,” I said retaking my seat between the K’teth and Kaya. “Now, you’re going to answer some questions.”

“Oh, very well. I suppose I owe you that much, at least,” she replied back letting out a long sigh.

“For someone who claims to want freedom for her people, you sure have an odd way of showing it. If it were me I’d be as forthcoming as possible.”

She smiled, and her lips cracked into a smile before she replied. “Why is it so hard for you to understand? You’re human and until recently we were enemies. Would you be so quick to give me information if you were a voice in the back of my mind? Be that as it may I’m willing to give you some answers. Perhaps you should take advantage of the situation.”

I stared at her for a moment, and then slowly started to shake my head. “Do you have a name? We could be stuck together for a long time. I just can’t keep calling you ‘the K’teth’ can I?

She smiled and stroked her chin thoughtfully. “A name? I’ve never had one… My previous host, the Overseer, called me, g’tel the Qharr word for pet. I’ve been called many different things by my hosts, although most just called me K’teth. No member of my species has a name; at least none that I know of; the masters do not see a reason for us to have one.”

“Well, you better come up with one because I’m not going to call you g’tel and I’m certainly not going to keep calling you K’teth!”

She grinned then let her hand fall away from her chin and land in her lap. “Name myself? What a novel idea! The more time I spend with you Jellfree the more I like you. I think I’m really going to enjoy being joined with you. Now let’s see a name… Oh! I’ve got it. ‘Khala’ it’s an old word in one of the many ancient Qharr languages. It means freedom.”

“Alright, Khala now you’re going to tell me why you did this to me and this time I want a real answer! Don’t pussyfoot around! ”

“Should have figured you’d ask me that! You don’t understand… you could never understand what it means for my kind to find another race to which we can become joined. For over ten thousand years we have been the faithful servants of those you call the gray skins and what do we get in return for our service?! We are treated little better than trained beasts to do their bidding!” She yelled her eyes alight with rage as she spoke her anger seeming to build with each syllable, but it didn’t just show on her face. It swirled around her in whirling ribbons of fire and great bursts of illusory smoke.

“You think I don’t know what it’s like to be trampled under the feet of the Qharr!? They invaded this world, my home, and murdered billions of my people. When I was four years old I watched a hunter murder my parents right in front of my eyes and was forced to serve that same bastard as he rose through the ranks of the Ascendancy for over twenty-four years! Don’t tell me I wouldn’t understand!” I screamed that all too familiar rage bubbling inside of me.

“I suppose you do…” she admitted staring down at the floor and biting her lip. “If we worked together maybe we could–”

“Okay stop right there!” I interrupted. “I’m not buying the act. You expect me to trust you?! For all I know this is just some big show put on for my benefit! And you still haven’t explained why you did this!” I proclaimed grabbing at my breasts.

“I was getting to that… I didn’t want to just spring it on you without an explanation,” she said standing up and started to pace back and forth. “The truth is I’m no ordinary K’teth. I’m a H’ra, I guess you could call me a queen, I’m one of only a handful of my kind capable of reproduction and I need a female host along with her womb and ovaries in order to breed.”

My insides froze and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, “Oh God. Oh hell… you can’t I won’t let you! You’re not going to use my body for that!”

“Use your body for what?” Kaya interrupted suddenly and my eyes shot toward her having completely forgotten that she was there.

“To spawn more of those… things!” I howled.

“Oh god! How?! Why!?” Kara asked her eyes growing as big as saucers.

“Yes, why?!” I said rounding on Khala.

“The K’teth were engineered so that our ability to reproduce was contingent on whether we were joined with a host. Because of thast we have always been dependent on the Qharr, but now…”

“But now you have me,” I finished folding my arms across my chest and clutched at my gut feeling the bile rise in my throat. What the K’teth wanted to do with my body made me want to run away screaming, but there was no running from the K’teth. Anywhere I ran I’d be taking her with me.

“So you understand now why having a human host would be important to me. You’ve brought hope were before there was none,” she said grabbing me by the shoulder and stared into my eyes intently.

“Oh, I understand… I understand that I have absolutely no reason to trust you or to believe anything you said. You could just be telling this to try and gain my sympathy and if you are telling the truth I’m not going to let you use my body to create more freaking parasites!” I shuddered screaming at the top of my lungs.

Khala glared at me, before disappearing with a suddenly flash of light accompanied by a loud boom, like a thunderclap. ‘It is already too late. My daughter was already growing within Jahal for nearly three months when you killed her. I was able to save her by bringing her into your body’ the symbiote’s voice reverberated through my head howling with inhuman intensity.

“Oh god!” I yelled out loud and clenched the side of my head.

My hands shook and I looked over to where Kaya was still staring with her saucer-like wide eyes. God, she was so beautiful and I wanted so badly just to lose myself in her comforting embrace, but I couldn’t. Oh, I had no doubt she would comfort and hold me, but our relationship had been changed dramatically. When she held me it wouldn’t be as a lover, it would be as a friend. I couldn’t hold the tears back and longer and they come pouring out of my eyes as Kaya grabbed hold of me and held me in her arms.

“You must know that I find this revelation particularly disturbing,” Mara said thrumming her hand against the desk her lips pursed in a thoughtful expression.

It had been almost two hours since Khala had dropped her bombshell on me and since then I had this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that just wouldn’t go away. It had been Kaya’s idea to tell Mara, and while I had resisted at first I was beginning to think that maybe it was for the best. If I was going to gain the rebel’s trust I had to be upfront and honest with them, but a part of me worried that they’d turn me out and leave me to fend for myself. I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I think Mara knew that. If I allowed the Qharr to recapture me I kind of doubted that they would take too kindly to a human joined with a K’teth.

“Yeah,” I muttered folding my arms across my chest. “You’re not the only one.”

“I can imagine.”

She pursed her lips then let out a long sigh. “Well, I appreciate you coming to me with this. It shows you’re willing to cooperate.”

“So what exactly do we do?” Kaya asked her hands clasped in her lap.

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. This is an unprecedented situation… I suppose we’ll have to wait the creature out and see what happens when the infant K’teth fully matures,” Mara replied as she continued to tap her fingers against the surface of the desk.

“Since you are here, there is something I’d like for you to try.” Mara abruptly stood and slowly moved across the room.

“This belonged to your uncle Harold,” she said setting a small cylinder about as wide around as my index finger on the desk in front of me.

“What is it?” Kaya asked reaching out to touch it.

“The both of you are probably too young to remember, but before the invasion these were quite common. It’s called a biometric key, it’s keyed to the genetic code of the owner… in this case your uncle Harold. He and I both had one, but mine was destroyed during the invasion. Because we never had any children he had the key imprinted with both you and your sisters genetic patterns as a failsafe. There were a total of five keys, one each for both Harold and myself and three others for the other founders of the resistance,” she said picking it back up and twirled it around in her hand.

“Why didn’t he have his key imprinted with your genetic code?”

Mara smiled. “These keys are designed to hold a maximum of three patterns. My key was encoded with mine along with my sister and her son’s patterns. We felt it was better to imprint the keys with the maximum possible number of genetic patterns rather than have redundant ones. Unfortunately, since my key was destroyed and the other three are unaccounted for this is my last hope.”

“And my sister is the only one who can use it,” I added. “What does it open, if I might ask?”

Mara frowned and I felt her eyes on me as she studied me thoughtfully, “Something important to humanity’s survival.”

I bit my lip and fought down the urge to ask her for clarification. I knew she was holding back and I really wanted to know what the key opened, but I had the feeling that she was holding out because of Khala. If she didn’t want the K’teth to know it was probably best that that she didn’t even if it meant keeping me in the dark.

I grimaced then reached up to touch the key. As soon as my fingers wrapped around the small cylinder I could feel its energy pulsating from a tiny power supply encased within just begging for me or rather Khala to drain it all away. I fought against the sudden urge and flipped the cylinder around in my fingers before holding it out to Mara. “How can you tell if it works?”

Mara let out a long weary sigh and picked it out of my hand. “The end would have lit up if it recognized you, but I would venture a guess that there isn’t enough of your original genetic pattern for that to happen.”

“Shit, well… I hope it’s nothing too important,” I said staring up at her and cursed Khala silently.

“More than you could ever know,” Mara said with a very slight tremor. She bit her lip then turned to Kaya, “Kaya, I hope you don’t mind I’d like some alone time with Jellfree here. There are some things I think the two of us need to discuss.”

“Sure, I mean, why wouldn’t you? I bet you two have plenty to talk about.”

“I have something you may be interested in,” she said pulling open a nearby drawer once Kaya had left.

“I don’t have many possessions left over from before the invasion, but I did manage to squirrel away a few photographs among other things. This one in particular, I think would be of interest to you,” she added holding out a plain off-white envelope.

I took it and glanced up at her before carefully opening it and pulling out the photo within. As I examined it, I found myself looking upon the face of a vaguely familiar looking woman and a man who shared a striking resemblance to my former male self. I took a sharp intake of breathe and traced my hands across the image of my parents. I felt tears well up in my eyes then reverently slide the picture back into the envelope and gently set it down on the desk in front of me.

“Thank you,” I muttered, wiping the tears from my eyes.

Mara picked the envelope up then help it back out to me. “Take it. It’s yours.”

“Oh no!” I protested. “I couldn’t!”

“Jellfree,” Mara said looking at me flatly. “That photo has more meaning to you than it ever will to me. Please, I insist.”

“Thank you,” I said smiling gratefully then grabbed the photo off the desk and looked up at Mara thoughtfully. “What were they like, my parents, I mean. I don’t remember them that well and I was hoping that maybe you could tell me something about them.”

“Oh, child,” she whispered softly. “I wish you could have known them better. Your mother was one of the kindest and most caring people I’ve ever known. She was one of those people who could light up a room just by stepping inside. Your father, was a quiet man, but when he spoke it usually to say something important,” she paused a moment and a smile touch the corners of her mouth. “He had a way of unexpectedly saying the most insightful things at the most pertinent times.”

I swallowed hard trying to fight down the surge of emotions that threatened to overtake me. All my life I’d wanted to know more about my parents, but now that I had the opportunity I couldn’t think of anything to ask or say.

“Were they good people?” I finally managed to choke out.

Mara nodded. “They were wonderful people and they loved you and your sister with all their hearts.”

“Thank you,” I whispered. “And…Harold, your husband, what was he like?”

Mara frowned and smiled wistfully. “Harold was a colonel with the United Earth Defense Fleet and he was a good man. Stubborn, like your father, but that’s where the similarity ended. Never, have I met a set of twins who were so different yet they were as close as any two brothers could be. Harold was outspoken, the man had an opinion about everything,” her smile expanding into a grin. “Sometimes I thought he never closed his mouth. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. I miss him.”

“He died during the invasion?” I asked.

Mara shook her head. “He died about about ten years ago when the gray skins attacked the base he and his team were hiding in.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. One day soon they will pay for what they did to Harold, and your parents… and all the other people they murdered!”

“God, I hope so,” I muttered staring back at her.

“Now,” Mara said finally. “Enough about that. I think I’d like to hear a little about you, Jellfree. Tell me about yourself.”

I pursed my lips, closed my eyes then told her about my life being with the death of my parents and my enslavement to the gray skins. I took me a long time and when I was finally done, I felt almost as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’d never really told anyone my story, save Kaya, and to do so now… in a way it felt pretty good to get it all off my chest. It wasn’t easy, I’d witnessed a lot of horrors and had suffered a great deal at the hands of Qharr and by the time I was done, I couldn’t keep myself from sobbing.

Suddenly, I felt Mara’s arms around me. “Oh Jellfree, I wish I could take some of your pain away,” she whispered then with a trembling voice she started to tell me her story.

During the war she served as an intelligence operative, and when it became obvious that humanity was going to lose, she and a small group of others, including my uncle, began to stockpile weapons and supplies. They searched through old historical records and found mention of places like the old shelter Mara had made a home, where they could hideaway and start their rebellion.

They continued to fight against overwhelming odds never giving up and never letting setback destroy hope. Then about ten years ago, they were betrayed and the gray-skins found many of their bases, including the one run by Harold. In just a few days the rebellion had suffered a terrible blow and only a handful of the original members remained, including Terreth Roggin, Mara, a woman by the name of Soula Marcone, and a fourth known as Alica Penrod.

It was only recently that they’d begun to recoup their losses and pose a threat to the Qharr again. They recruited from the slave populace often selecting members who were old enough to remember what earth was like before the invasion or else young men and woman who still hadn’t had their spirits broken by their masters.

The strike against the Overseer hadn’t been the first offensive after those gray-skinned bastards had decimated the rebel’s numbers, but it had been one of the most bold in some time. Time would only tell if taking down such a prominent official within the ascendancy would prove to be a boon or bane to the cause. I just hoped if things went sour I wouldn’t be around to find out just how bad they could really get.

Chapter Ten

For three days I sat around and did well… nothing. For more than twenty-four years I had worked every day of my life and then to suddenly have nothing to do with myself well it was a new feeling. I felt antsy, and I didn’t like it at all. I needed something, anything to do, but the rebels seemed content to let me sit around and twiddle my freaking thumbs. Kaya kept me company, but sometimes having her around hurt more than being alone.

Of course, being a woman was beyond strange and I every time I so much as moved one of my fingers I could feel the difference. Having breasts was the strangest part of it all; they bounced and jiggled along with being tender and sensitive in unusual ways. It was a little strange having wide hips, but not as odd as a freaking clit between my legs. You don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone and believe me I was really missing having a cock and balls.

Things did finally pick up after the third day which is probably a good thing because I think if it had been much longer I’d probably have driven myself slightly mad…

“Hey,” a familiar soft-toned voice muttered.

My eyes snapped open and I let out a soft groan and blinked away the grogginess from my eyes. I sat up and found Jaysen standing just off to the side of the bed. He frowned and stared down at the floor as he fiddled with his fingers, “I-I didn’t think you’d be sleeping at this time of day.”

I shook my head and let my hair slide off my shoulders and down my back. “It’s not like there’s much else to do.”

“W-well um, actually Terreth stopped by and asked that we join him. He thought you might want to train and maybe learn to use your new abilities,” he mumbled.

“You mean Khala’s abilities, don’t you? The things I can do they’re all because of her. Do you really think it’s such a good idea if I learn how to use them?”I asked running a hand through my hair as I let out a long sigh.

“I-I don’t know, but what else are you going to do? Live your life holed up in this room and let the world pass you by? You have a life, live it or else that thing in you has won.”

I blinked and stared at Jaysen in surprise, the statement was downright startling coming from him. “You’re right. Maybe I can do some good with these abilities, but I wouldn’t ever find out if I sat around all the time moping about.”

I slid off the bed and stood up, but as I did so I caught a brief glimmer of envy flash across Jaysen’s eyes and I remembered what Farris had said about Jaysen being a sissy who wanted to be a girl. I had ignored the comment before because I had figured it to be a lie, but after seeing that look in Jaysen’s eyes for the second time I was beginning to think it there may have been some truth to it after all.

“Jaysen,” I pursed my lips. “When Farris said you wanted to be a girl. He was telling the truth, wasn’t he?”

His eyes mists up and he shuddered. “Yeah.”

It was strange just a short while ago I would have been incredibly uncomfortable with the notion, but having been transformed into a woman I could understand how he must feel. I’d only been living in the wrong body for a short while, but that time had been absolutely miserable. For Jaysen to have lived that way his entire life, it must have been pure torture.

“I’m sorry it must be hard for you to see me end up like this while you’re stuck in that body.”

“Yeah, you could say that, but it can’t be easy for you. I know what it’s like being trapped in a body that you don’t belong in. You can never forget your pain because the very skin you live in is a constant reminder of it. No one understands, they all treat you like some sort of freak even if they pretend to tolerate you there’s always that spark of doubt in their eyes,” he said then clamped his mouth shut as if suddenly realizing that he’d told a little more than he intended.

“God Jaysen I–” I said, but stopped short when I glanced over to the doorway and saw the doctor poking his head through the door.

“Is Vakrexid interrupting?” he tooted.

“No!” Jaysen said a bit too forcefully.

The doctor titled his head. “It is good I have come then. I heard that you were going to attend a training session. Vakrexid has wanted to document your physical abilities for some time.”

“Jellfree and I were about to leave. You want to join us?”

The doctor let out a trumpeting high pitched wail. “Vakrexid would be most pleased to do so.”

“Come on! Let’s go then!” Jaysen said and promptly traipsed out the door.

“He is most eager,” Vakrexid pronounced and promptly followed him out the door.

I shrugged, looked around the room then likewise followed suit.

“Come on, boy, put some meat in it would you? Surely, you can do better than that!” Terreth Roggin screamed at the top of his lungs as Jaysen, the doctor, and I stepped into the dining hall.

“I’m doing the best I can Roggin! Now would you just shut up?! Why don’t you give it a go and see how well you do?” Nate spat from the bench where he was lifting a long bar with several cylinders attached at the ends.

As Nate continued to lift the odd bar up and down I looked about taking in my surroundings. The room was about the same size as the cafeteria, and looked to be some sort of practice room. There was what I guessed were targets on one side of the room and more than a dozen sleek black devices that I could guess at their purpose. Either the rebels were planning on using them to torture me or much more likely they were training devices.

“Strange is it not?” the doctor asked suddenly. “He calls it a dumbbell. He uses it to accelerate the growth of muscle tissue.”

“Ha!” Terreth growled limping over to us. “That’s one way of puttin’ it.”

“So why don’t we see what that parasite in ya is capable of, hmmm?” he said turning away motioning for me to follow.

“I am not a parasite,” Khala insisted appearing in the space just a few feet in front of me. “Why is it you humans can’t understand that?”

I didn’t reply walking right through her and followed Terreth to the other side of the room just a couple dozen feet shy of the line of targets where a waist high table which was about two feet square waited. Arrayed across its surface were a half a dozen phase pistols, what may have been a human variation of a burn rod and odd looking cylinder which I guess was some sort of flash grenade.

“Target practice? Oh, fun!” Khala suddenly walking up to my side her eyes wide with excitement.

I scowled at her, but bit my tongue and moved over to the table and scooped up one of the phase pistols off of it.

“Got practice cartridges in them so don’t worry about accidentally shooting anyone,” Terreth said beaming at me and grinned toothily.

“Supposing I did … accidentally shoot someone. What exactly would happen?”

“Well the one that gets shot might feel a bit tingly for a bit, but not much else. Shoot ’em a dozen or so times, then they might lose consciousness, but they’ll wake up feeling none the worse for the wear, I can tell you that,” he mumbled scratching at his scraggly white beard.

“Practice pistols?!” Khala said folding her arms across her pretend chest. “Why not use real phase weapons? What the fun when you can’t blow anything up?”

I sighed and bit my lip, but didn’t dignify the K’teth with a response. It wouldn’t do to let Terreth and Nate, or anyone else for that matter, see me talking to empty air. They’d probably wind up think I was nuts, but even if they didn’t it probably wasn’t a good idea to draw attention to my odd relationship with Khala. People might get the idea that the symbiote was influencing me and I wasn’t sure they’d be wrong. Even so, I had to keep on appearances.

“Where’s Kaya?” I asked suddenly realizing she was absent. “I thought she’d be here”

“Probably with Mara. I’m sure the two of them will be down later,” Jaysen said.

“Well just don’t stand there!” Terreth yelled. “Come on, let’s get ya shooting at those targets.”

“Right,” I shook my head. Before Terreth could say another word I lifted the gun and took aim. I squeezed the trigger and watched as the bolt of light soared through the air hitting the nearest target right square at its center.

“Damn, nice shot,” Jaysen said his eyes wide open in surprise.

“Indeed most impressive,” the doctor tooted.

“A day’s ration says you can’t do that again,” Terreth added folding his arms across his chest.

I shook my head then raised the pistol again and fired off another shot. This time the bolt shot through the air, sizzled past the target and splattered harmlessly against the wall.

“Knew it was beginners luck,” Terreth laughed and shook his head then suddenly snapped it sideways and looked Jaysen dead in the eyes. “Coach the girl would you?”

Girl? Who did he think he was talking to? I opened my mouth to protest, but then clenched my jaw shut and shook my head. Any attempts to correct the old man would be an exercise in futility. I couldn’t help the way people saw me, but I really didn’t have to like it. Hell the prospect of being female and by extension being treated as if I were one for the rest of my life scared the shit out of me.

“Let’s have another crack at it.” I gritted my teeth then lifted the phase pistol, fired off another shot and again hit the target dead center. I glared at Terreth then handed him the weapon. “Looks like you owe me a day’s ration.”

“Damn, looks like yer right, girly!” He threw back his head and let out a long throaty laugh.

“You’re welcome,” Khala said suddenly from my side running the back of her phantom index finger across my cheek.

‘That was you wasn’t it? I should have known!’ I thought at her.

“Of course! You don’t honestly think you made those shots by yourself do you?” She said flatly stepping in front of me and folding her arms across her pretend chest.

‘No, I hadn’t really given it much thought at all!’ I scowled unleashing another round of shots, each one of which hit its mark.

“You don’t seem very appreciative,” Khala scowled.

“Oh, you think I should be appreciative? For doing this?!” I yelled grabbing at my chest “You made me over in your image! I don’t even feel like myself anymore! Thank you! Thank you very much! Thank you for destroying the relationship I had with the most beautiful girl in the world! Thanks for making my life a living hell!” I threw the phase pistol at her and screamed in impotent fury as it passed right through her phantom form.

“Well when you put it like that…” she trailed off letting out a long dramatic sigh. “Look if I’d known of any other way, I wouldn’t have changed you. Until now, I didn’t understand that your identity was so dependent upon your external appearance and whether or not you have a pair of mammary glands on your chest.”

“Hey, what’s the problem?” Terreth growled.

I blinked and looked about the room to find that everyone was looking at me. Even Nick had set his dumbbell aside and was staring at me with his jaw hanging open.

I scowled and gritted my teeth. “I’m fine. Just fine.”

“If you say so, girly,” he mumbled and hobbled away all the while shaking his head.

“Khala, just leave me the hell alone!” I hissed under my breath, snatched the phase pistol back up, raised it up and fired a long succession of shots every single one of which hit the target dead center. When I looked to see if Khala was still lurking about, I was glad to see that she had vanished.

After, target practice came what seemed more like tests and less like actual practice. By then more than a dozen rebels had shown up including Mara, Straffen, Farris, Pyramus and Kaya. As I moved across the room I felt their eyes on me and I had this insane urge to dig a hole in the floor and hide under the ceramic tiles. I felt so uncomfortable in my new body and I couldn’t ditch the feeling that they all thought I was a freak. Since I felt like one too it certainly didn’t help matters along.

“So,” I said meeting gazes with Terreth. “What do I do now?”

Terreth opened his mouth, then glanced over at Mara and clamped it shut again. Mara shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Since, Terreth seems to have lost the ability to make decisions while I’m around why don’t we test your capabilities, starting with strength, then speed and we’ll go from there?”

“So what, you want me to wrestle someone?” I asked.

Mara snorted. “Nothing like that, dear child. That’s what we have a weight set for.”

“I have got to see this,” Nate pronounced sliding off the weight bench and patted the seat with an open palm. “You’re up.”

I nodded and moved to the side of the bench where Nate had been lifting. I traced my hands across the bar, wrapped my fists around it, braced myself then heaved upward. Despite my best efforts the bar failed to so much as even budge and I groaned before loosening my grip and sinking to my knees. I flexed my hands and stared at them in confusion. I knew that the Overseer had had enhanced strength and I’d displayed it myself when I confronted Farris and Pyramus, but for whatever reason it was out of my grasp.

I gritted my teeth then climbed back to my feet before once gripping my hands around the barbell. What if my extra strength was only available if I somehow called upon it? I closed my eyes and reached deep within myself and called out to Khala in my mind, ‘It better work this time, dammit’! I felt it, a sudden rush of power as I lifted. The bar came free with considerable less effort than I expected and I stumbled backward a few steps as I attempted to regain my balance. Shit, either Nate was a lot weaker than he looked or I was a whole lot stronger than I could have ever imagined. I lifted it over my head held it there for a good ten seconds then set it back down on its stand.

I turned back to Mara, noted her wide-eyes, and cast my eyes around to look at the rest of the rebels. Everyone looked surprised, well except Pyramus and Farris who somehow seemed to be intimidated, and I blushed feeling very self-conscious.

“Most remarkable!” The doctor tooted enthusiastically. “If Vakrexid might ask, how much weight was that?”

“Ninety kilos,” Nate said shaking his head in disbelief. “Shit, she makes it look easy.”

“Damn, how strong is she?” Strave asked his mouth hanging open.

“Stronger than you Strave, that’s all you need to know,” Kaya said coming up beside him and patting him on the cheek in mock affection.

Strave frowned and ran his hand through the back of his hair. “Is it wrong that this is turning me on?”

“I swear that’s all you ever think about! God, I can’t believe any woman would let you touch her!” She exclaimed raising her voice and glared at him with her hands on her hips.

“You did not so long ago as I recall.” He grinned and stroked his beard as he let out a soft chuckle.

“Fuck! Don’t remind me! It was just that one time and believe me it will never happen again.” Kaya shuddered.

Mara glared at both of them. “Why don’t we get back on subject?” she asked then turned back to me. “Jellfree, did you feel any strain when you the lifted the barbell?”

“A little, but I think I could lift a lot more.”

“God, how strong are you?!” Nate proclaimed repeating Strave’s previous statement.

“Why don’t we find out?” Mara asked then turned to Nate. “Add another forty-five kilos, would you?”

“You’re the boss,” Nate mumbled as he moved to put two more cylinders–which he referred to as plates–on either end of the barbell.

After he stepped out of the way I moved in and lifted the barbell again. There was just a bit more strain, but still I was able to lift it quite easily. Again with Mara’s prompting Nate added another forty-five kilos to the bar, once more I lifted it but it wasn’t until he added the final two weights that I had trouble. I did manage to lift it from the bench, but quickly put it back down.

“That’s too much,” I panted heavily as I turned to Mara and wiped the sweat from my face.

Mara pursed her lips and shook her head, ‘Absolutely amazing. One would never guess by looking at such a beautiful young woman what sort of power lurked within those slender arms.”

“How is it even possible?” Nate asked staring at me with his mouth hanging open.

I shuddered and grabbed the back of my elbow with my right hand, “It’s Khala, the K’teth symbiote, inside of me. She has the ability to absorb energy and somehow when she passes it back to me by granting enhanced physical abilities.”

“Freak,” someone coughed and I whirled around to see that it was Pyramus. I glared at him, took a step forward, and nearly choked up with laughter when he quickly backed away.

“Just remember what I told you in the kitchen, Pyramus,” I said narrowing my eyes and glared at him.

He grimaced, but nodded and folded his arms across his chest. I scowled at him one final time then turned my back and let out a long sigh. Was that the sort of reception I could expect for the rest of my life? The other rebels hadn’t shown the same intolerance, but I had to wonder if they weren’t thinking what that jackass had just vocalized. I looked about the room, and stared into the eyes of each of the rebels. I saw outright hostility in Farris and Pyramus’s eyes, which was no surprise, but when I looked into the eyes of Terreth and Nate there was something else there. It wasn’t hatred or malice, but something which I’d long ago learned could lead to both, fear.

I shuddered and looked away, unable to bear meeting those gazes. Sometimes when I saw myself in the mirror and looked into those eerie eyes I wondered if I was even human anymore, but if not what was I? I’d seen firsthand what sort of things people did when they let fear and prejudice control them. I was afraid that I might draw people’s hatred for the symbiote I carried within me. What choice did I have? I’d spent most my life doing as the gray skins told me and now that I’d become involved with the rebels it didn’t seem as if anything had changed. I could either fight with them or die by the hands of the Qharr. What sort of choice was that?

“Jellfree,” Kaya whispered in my ear and I jumped not realizing she had gotten so close. “What’s wrong?”

“I-I am a freak,” I whispered back my eyes misting up.

“And so what if you are?” she whispered back. “It’s not the way you look or you physical capabilities that define you. It’s the choices you make. Chose to be the person you want to be. Don’t let the prejudices of others define you.”

I nodded then wiped away my tears before turning to Mara. “Let’s get on with this.”

“If I may interject,” the doctor said stepping forward suddenly. “There are many notable physical abilities that have been credited to the Edant K’teth. Vakrexid does not know if all the rumors are true, but some of them, at least, must be. I am sure that some of these abilities may take time for you to learn, but Vakrexid thinks some are more than likely innate such as speed strength and stamina. I also theorize that those abilities may grow more pronounced as the symbiote absorbed more energy. Please, Jellfree, if you could let us see you run. ”

I scratched at the back of my head, bit my lip and said. “Yeah, sure doc whatever you say,” before I took off running. At first I didn’t seem to be moving very fast at all, but then I urged myself to go faster and I did. I shot across the room in a matter of seconds, spun around doing a quick one-eighty and sped back to where the other rebels were waiting. I tried to stop, but I had picked up too much forward momentum and went slammed into Strave unable to put on the breaks.

I closed my eyes just as I went tearing into him and I could feel us slide across the floor and come to a sudden stop. I let my eyes fly back open and saw that we had hit the nearest wall. I grimaced and looked down at Strave who was grinning ear to ear. Suddenly, I was very aware that my breasts were pressed into his chest. I blushed and rolled off of him, but as I sat up I noticed something else.

I felt flushed, my heart was pounding inside my chest and my crotch was wet. I bit my lip and rose to my feet, blushing as I did so. I’d been aroused plenty of times as a man, but never as a woman and never had I felt it directed toward a man. Being turned on as a man had always been a more concentrated sensation, as a woman I thought my whole body might explode.

I closed my eyes and shuddered, taking deep breaths and fought against all the sensations sweeping across my body. God, it felt so good and yet… so wrong at the same time.

“Jellfree,” Kaya’s voice whispered. “What’s wrong? You’re kind of freaking us out.”

I opened my eyes and looked around the room, noting the odd looks I was getting from the other rebels. I shuddered again, and blushed self consciously and felt my arousal suddenly vanish.

“I-I’m fine,” I gasped running my hand through the back of my hair self-consciously. As I stood there gaping at Kaya, I felt the reality of what had just happened settle in. I was attracted to men, but not just men, Straffen specifically. A man, whose primary interest seemed to be in wooing Kaya, like some oversexed love-sick puppy. God, I felt sick! The thought of letting a man touch me was revolting, and yet…

“No,” I whispered and shook my head. I would remain celibate for the rest of my life before I let a man, especially that man, touch me in that way. I wasn’t a damned woman, despite the physical evidence to the contrary. I clenched my fists, and my teeth before turning back to Mara. “What’s next?”

“All this is quite impressive, but didn’t you say that the Overseer could climb up walls? Shouldn’t our friend, Jellfree, here be able to do the same?” Strave said folding his arms across his chest.

“I was beginning to wonder if anyone was going to figure that out,” Khala appeared suddenly leaning against Strave.

“No,” she added holding up her hand as I opened my mouth to respond. “There’s no need to ask. You possess all the same abilities that the Overseer did. It’s just some of them are a bit more energy intensive than others. The whole escaping from the Qharr thing, then transforming you into a woman well that takes a lot out of a girl, you know? Once I get back up to full power then you’ll get to see what the two of us are really capable of.”

“I can’t wait,” I replied dryly.

“You can’t wait for what?” Strave asked staring at me blankly.

I sighed then reached up to massage my temple. “Never mind. Look I think it will be a while before you see me jumping around and climbing up walls like the damned overseer did. The symbiote, she’s not at full strength yet and until she is I won’t crawling around like a damned spider. Got it?”

Strave’s face broke out into a grin. “Damn, well can’t blame a boy for asking, can you?”

I turned to Mara shaking my head and repeated myself. “What’s next?”

Training with the rebels had been an educational experience, and it had gone on for hours. They’d tested just about everything from my reflexes to how hard a punch I could throw. So when I finally got back to my room, I think it goes without saying that I was pretty freaking tired. The funny thing was when I set my head down on my pillow I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept thinking of landing on Strave and fighting down my sudden attraction toward him.

God, I was attracted to Strave? What was wrong with me? I sat up and cupped my face in my hands. I felt so… weird. My nipples were hard and my… ‘gulp’ vagina was wet. God, I was turned on! Turned on by the very thought of Strave, a man! I shuddered and tried to force those thoughts out of my head, but they wouldn’t go away.

Abruptly, I felt a pair of hands on my neck and I leapt of the bed yelping in surprise. Khala’s illusory form was knelt on the bed next to where I’d been sitting. “What the hell do you want?”

She smiled at me and perfectly mimicked a cat’s purr.”You’re feeling aroused. I thought I could help you with that.”

I blinked and slowly shook my head. “Why?”

She shrugged. “I feel what you feel. I can help relieve some of that sexual tension brewing within you. It’s to both of our advantage.”

“God! What the hell is wrong with you?! You actually think I want to feel this way? I’m a man goddamn you! I want nothing so much as to take Kaya in my arms and make love to her, but you screwed that up for me didn’t you!”

Khala’s face suddenly changed as her body, shifted and abruptly in her place was the splitting image of Kaya. Oh, she still had the blue hair and pink eyes, but in every other way she was identical to the woman I loved right down to the clothes she was wearing and her haircut.

“I can be her if you want,” she whispered then suddenly her face and body morphed to look like Strave. “Or I could be him.”

I took several steps back and shook my head. “God no! Not that! Just… Oh god!”

I took a deep breath then closed my eyes, and when I opened them again Khala had reverted back to her normal form. “I think it’s pretty obvious I still don’t understand humans. Look, this whole arousal thing is driving me slightly mad. I just want to help you so I can have some peace.”

“God this is all so fucked up,” I swallowed hard staring down at my erect nipples which were poking through my shirt.

I looked back at Khala who was looking back at me with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. “The offer still stands.”

I palmed my face with both hands then took a few tentative steps toward her. “Okay… let’s do this.” I swallowed hard and whispered the last few words once I was close.
Khala’s face stretched into a grin just before she kissed me. They may not have been real, but those phantom lips sure felt nice locked around mine. I unbuttoned my blouse unclasped my bra and let both fall to the floor before I collapsed onto the bed–slipping off my slacks and panties along with them as I did so–and let Khala have her way with me.

I came awake gradually and let out a long sigh as my eyes cracked open. I felt around the bed and found it empty. Never before that moment had I felt Kaya’s loss more keenly. Whenever the two of us made love I always woke up and found her laying there beside me. I felt so alone, so lost without her there to hold in my arms.

Khala was a poor substitute. She didn’t even have a physical presence outside of my body. Her touch felt real enough, but it just hadn’t been the same. Still… the feel of her hands on my breasts… I shuddered thinking about how good it had felt. It had felt wrong in so many ways, not just because I was in the wrong body, but also because it was with the wrong lover. Somehow it felt almost as if I’d been cheating on Kaya. It sounds silly I know, but I’d been with Kaya for over six months and then to have our relationship end so abruptly it was heartrending.

Then there was Strave… I was attracted to him that much was certain, but the idea of being with a man was repulsive and Strave well he was pretty repulsive too. He was attractive, I would admit that much, but he was so full of himself and he had that thing going on with Kaya. What was that about anyway? I knew he was mocking her, but there had to be some reason for it.

I shook my head again, looked down at my naked chest and blushed at the thought of Khala’s pretend lips kissing my nipples. I slowly sat up, slid out of bed and swooped down to grab my discarded clothes from the floor. I quickly dressed, then grabbed a fresh set of clothes and made my way to the shower room with Jaysen trailing me as I made my way.

“My dear, you certainly look ravishing this morning, if you don’t mind me saying,” Strave pronounced looming over me.

I ran a hand through my still wet hair and felt my cheeks burn as I looked up at him. “Just… please don’t,” I muttered biting my lips and staring up at him with wide eyes.

“You heard her, Strave!” Jaysen said suddenly stepping between the two of us.

“Oh look, the lost puppy has found himself a new master,” Strave grinned and shook his head. “How are we doing today, Jaysen?”

“Bite me Strave!” Jaysen growled planting his fists on his hips and glaring up at the much taller man.

“Well, I’ll see you two around!” Strave pronounced letting out a soft chuckle as he disappeared down the corridor.

“Lost puppy?” I asked turning to meet Jaysen’s gaze. “What he mean by that?”

Jaysen stiffened as his face turned bright red, “It was nothing! It’s… it’s probably best not to think about it.”

I shrugged, and pursed my lips, but didn’t press the matter any further. Whatever that exchange had been about, Jaysen didn’t seem real keen on sharing and I certainly wasn’t going to push him. If he wanted to tell me what it had been about then he would do so in his own good time.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Jaysen said suddenly. “Mara wanted you to pay her a visit. She said something about… an interview… or something.”

“An interview? Are you sure that’s what she said?”

Jaysen shrugged, “I think so. I wasn’t really paying much attention. My mind was on…” he trailed off his eyes lingering on my chest before his cheeks again turned bright red and he looked away. “Other things!”

“Well, I guess I’ll find out soon enough. Come on, let’s go see what she wants,” I said motioning for him to follow as I started down the hallway.

“Jellfree, please sit,” Mara said with a hand extended to a small steel table with odd square hatches near its edges, as I stepped into the small dark room.

“Jaysen, if you could please step outside and lock the door behind you. I want to talk to Jellfree…” she added suddenly, glancing back at my tail who had followed me through the doorway. “Alone.”

He glanced from me to Mara and back again then nodded and stepped back outside latching the door shut behind him.

I sat down frowning up at Mara and swallowed hard as she stared at me between pursed lips. “Put your hands on the table over those squares.”

“Mara, what’s this about?” I shook my head.

She scowled and pulled an odd and large pistol from within her jacket and trained it on me, “This is a .44 Magnum, at one point it in our history was considered the most powerful handgun in the world. It fires bullets not phase energy and with the right ammunition it’s capable of blowing the head off an ordinary human. I think it’s capable of hurting even you so do as I say!”

I swallowed a second time and placed my hands on the squares as she had indicated. I probably could have taken her, but something told me if I wanted to gain her trust, and by association the other rebels, I needed to play along. The hatches suddenly snapped open and dozens of strange black tendrils shot out and secured themselves tightly around my wrists. I tried to struggle and even managed to break a few of the cords, but for every one that I broke three more locked themselves around my wrists. I tried to stand up, but then more strings shot out from the chair grabbing at my waist and legs, forcing me back down into a sitting position.

“I wouldn’t bother struggling; the table and chair were designed to adjust for the strength of the detainee. I doubt even you could break free and if you’re thinking about trying to drain the power source I’ve had it completely insulated and if you did manage to somehow get through it it’s designed to maintain its hold in case of sudden power loss. I’m sorry for this, dear child, but I must know if it’s really you holding the reins. I don’t trust that thing inside of you,” she said folding her arms across her chest.

‘Children’s games, but I guess for the time being I will play along,’ Khala said her voice full of mirth as it echoed through my head.

“God dammit Mara! Is all this necessary!?”

“Absolutely,” Mara said tucking the gun back into her waistband. “Jellfree, assuming it really is you, I’d like you to give over control to Khala. The symbiote and I have some things to discuss.”

“I’m not really sure that’s such a good idea…” I took a deep breath and shook my head. “Khala isn’t the least bit intimidated by all this.”

“It doesn’t matter. I need to know one way or the other. That thing has put me in a rather difficult position and I need to know if I can trust it.”

I bit my lip and slowly nodded, closed my eyes and gave control over to the K’teth. Instantly my eyes snapped back open and I felt surge of amusement from Khala as Mara gasped.

“What is it you want, human?” Khala snapped staring at Mara with my eyes unblinking.

Mara took a seat opposite from me, leaning back in her chair as she spoke. “What I want is information, starting with troop movements, then you can tell me all about the current number of Qharr and K’teth on Earth and whatever else you can give me.”

I felt my face stretch into a smile as throaty laugh resounded from my throat. “You are asking me to betray my own kind.”

Mara leaning in closely and narrowed her eyes, “Assuming this all isn’t some elaborate ruse you and I both know what will happen if the Qharr get their hands on you. From what I know of the gray-skins I doubt you’ll live to tell what happened.”

Khala pursed my lips and shook my head, “You are very correct, but I don’t really care how the masters might react. I care about the K’teth I would be betraying. We are very few in number; I am looking out for the survival of my race.”

“Is that why you possessed Jellfree?”

“That was a happy surprise. My host was dying and I leapt into Jellfree out of desperation. I did not truly believe I would be able to join with her.”

‘Her?!’ I protested. ‘Unless I’ve been seriously head-fucked I was a guy before you and I met.’

‘Semantics,’ she answered back. ‘You are female now even if you don’t wish to accept it.’

“I just don’t understand… Why after living so long would you suddenly decide to oppose your masters?” Mara leaned back and folding her arms across her chest.

“You cannot understand what it is like to be K’teth. We are dependent upon our host for our very survival. A symbiote can only remain outside of a host’s body for a few minutes without dying! How do you suppose I could have ever rebelled against my masters when I am dependent upon my bond with one just to live! You at least are capable of self-sufficiency!” she yelled glowering at Mara.

“That still doesn’t answer my question, not completely. Why… rebel? Why remained joined with a human when that human is embroiled in what must be to you a hopeless cause?”

Khala bowed my head and closed my eyes. “I have never known hope. The gray skins consider it to be for self-deluded fools, but then I joined with Jellfree I knew it for the first time. That is when I finally understood what a beautiful thing it is. Before I served the masters because I believed there was no other path I could take, but now I know better. Before the Qharr conquered Earth you humans had freedom of choice I think that is something worth fighting for.”

“Pretty words, but actions speak louder than the load of crap spewing out from your mouth. As of yet you haven’t given me any reason to trust you,” Mara responded.

My eyes snapped back open and Khala gritted my teeth leaning in as closely to the table as the tendrils would allow. “Trust this then human. I hate the masters with every molecule of my gelatinous body and I will die fighting before I submit myself to them! You humans have given me a chance not just at freedom, but at revenge and I intend to take it.”

Mara placed both her hands on the table and met Khala gaze with unblinking eyes. “That I believe, but it still doesn’t mean I can trust you.”

“No, but it means we have common ground,” Khala muttered quietly. “At the moment our goals follow the same trajectory. Surely, that must give you some reason to trust me.”

Mara shook her head. “Trust is something that must be earned and frankly after what you did to poor Jellfree I don’t see any reason that I should give you my trust.”

“What else would you have me do? I must reproduce! How else can my species gain freedom from the Qharr?! I could bond with a human female, but the very act of severing myself would kill the host! And I very much doubt that my child would survive. She nearly didn’t live through the transition into Jellfree’s body.”

“Isn’t there some way you could give Jellfree the external appearance of being male, but keep his internal organs female?”

“I can combine genes randomly and make a new form for the host, but to create a body such as the one you speak of… That would require a level of manipulation far beyond my abilities and I wouldn’t dare try. The results could be disastrous. ”

Mara glared at Khala, “What about those eyes? I’ve never seen a Qharr with a pair like that. How did you do that?”

“It is not something I just conjured up out of the outer-realms!” she spat. “It’s… I don’t really know where it came from. I just knew how to do it. Much of what I know about such things was passed down to me from my fore-mothers, but many of the older memories become muddled with time. Frankly, I think they look striking.”

Mara pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes, and rapped her fingers against the table’s surface, but didn’t say a thing as she stared across the table her eyes trained on me. Finally, she let out a long sigh. “Tell me what you know about the planetary defenses around Earth.”

My eyes narrowed to slivers and I could feel Khala’s frustration as she gritted my teeth, “Why do you wish to know? Do you really expect to overcome the Qharr here on your planet? Surely you cannot be so deluded. The masters outnumber your people more than two to one. Wouldn’t it be a better plan to escape and find a new home for your species?”

“I want to know and you want my trust. That should be reason enough!”

“P’reck gah klensk!” Khala cursed. “Very well if you wish to know, human, I will tell you. There are ten J’narr and twenty-one B’nurr class destroyers, three orbiting defense platforms all with full compliments of fighters, and a shield grid in place around the planet with redundant emitters scattered across your world. In addition, at any given time there are a large number of ships in for supplies or repairs and if the need arises a number of vessels can be called in from nearby systems.”

‘Holy hell… all that for Earth?’ I asked. ‘Isn’t that overkill even by Qharr standards?’

‘Compound slaves live an isolated existence so it may come as a bit of a shock to you, but your world has become an important hub for commerce within the empire.’

Mara nodded seemingly unfazed by Khala’s revelation. “Now tell me. How many are there on Earth?”

The symbiote bit my lip and let out a low growl before continuing, “The number varies, but there are over four-hundred-million masters residing here on a permanent basis and as many as ten thousand additional masters at any given time.”

“And the number of humans?” Mara breathed leaning in to stare Khala in my eyes.

“They don’t include slave populations in census data, but… it’s been estimated that there are no more than two hundred million humans living on Earth,” she muttered with a shake of my head.

“Two-hundred million where once there had been billions.” Mara lowered head and shuddered. “Th-that coincides with the data we’ve collected.”

“Now,” she said suddenly standing up and planting her hands on the table in front of her. “Tell me everything.”

“Everything?” Khala asked.

“You were the host to the Overseer, you have to know some information that would be of use to the cause.”

“Jahal was a civilian leader, what exactly do you expect to learn?”

“Whatever you can tell me! Names of important leaders, locations of secret installations, or even the god-damned Sub-Ascendant’s home address! Just give me something!”

“Why didn’t you just say so?” Khala flashed Mara a toothy grin. “I can give you all that and more…”

“Well, I think that is all for now,” Mara said after what seemed an exhaustive round of questions and answers.

“That’s it? What no more questions? Perhaps you’d like to know about K’teth reproductive practices or maybe the qualities I typically look for in potential host? You have asked me nearly every other question imaginable.”

Mara returned Khala’s scowl then shook her head. “We’re done. Now you can continue to complain or I can let you free. The choice is yours.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Khala replied as I felt my face stretch into a grin. “I think I can free us,” she said, and then I felt a sudden spike of power as she began to feed of the energy from the table. In seconds it had been drained and I felt her strain against the restraints then put on a sudden burst of strength ripping my right arm free of the inhibiting tendrils. With my free hand she was able to quickly free the other one and then she moved on to my waist and legs.

Khala stood on my feet then with a casual flick of my wrist she tossed aside the handful of strands in her hand before turning back to Mara.

“Your little device is flawed. If you ever decide to lay a trap like that for me again I think you will find that I will not be so… cooperative!” She glared at Mara and then without another word spun around on the balls of my feet and stormed out the door.

Khala walked a little way down the hall and then without warning stopped in the middle of the hallway leaned against the wall. She let a long sigh and relinquished control back to me.

“I don’t get it,” I said glancing back on the door. “How’d you get loose?”

Khala appeared leaning against the wall opposite me adopting a posture that was an exact mirror of my own. “There was a tiny fracture in the casing around the power source.”

“I figured that much,” I responded. “But how’d you break the bonds?”

“The power I absorbed from the table gave your body just enough strength to break through the bonds.”

“And since there was no power in the table it couldn’t adjust for the increased strength,” I finished for her.

“Correct.”

I glanced both ways down the corridor then returned my gaze to Khala. “Well, I would imagine it would be very difficult to hold someone bonded to a K’teth prisoner.”

Khala nodded, but remained silent as her illusionary form stared back at me. Her image remained for just a few seconds before fading away. I shook my head then glanced down the corridor to see Jaysen approaching from a little further down hallway.

“Done with Mara?” he asked his eyes once again straying to look at my chest.

I felt my cheeks burn a bit, but otherwise chose to ignore his wandering eyes. I could hardly blame him; just a few weeks ago I probably would have done the same had I encountered a woman as attractive as myself. Now that I was wearing the shoes of such a beautiful girl I had a much better idea what it was like to have every man under the sun gawking at me. Still, it was weird getting that kind of attention. I was really going to have to talk to Kaya and find out how she dealt with it.

“So…” I trailed off. “It’s about lunch time… want to grab something to eat?”

“Sure, I’d love to,” he beamed up at me his head tilting upward to look me in the eyes.

Neither one of us said a word as we made our way down the corridor, but I did note that Jaysen seemed happier than usual. I wondered why that might be, but never got around to asking him since we had soon found ourselves in front of the doors to the dining hall.

Chapter Eleven

After more than two weeks with the rebels I still felt like an outsider. I didn’t belong, they knew it and so did I or so it seemed to me. I continued to train and get a grasp on my abilities. I hadn’t figured out how to crawl up walls and across ceilings like the overseer, but I was sure I was capable of doing such things. It was just a matter of learning how.

Living in a female body, was so strange, and there were times that I thought it might be easier just to end my misery. Was this life really worth living? I felt trapped, both in my female body and within the rebel’s compound. I feared what I had become, what I was still becoming and while Khala still hadn’t gained control of my body. I still feared that she might do so eventually. I didn’t know what to do with myself and that’s why I threw myself so completely into my training. What else was there for me to do?

I had just gotten back from another training session, this one with Terreth, Nate and Strave, when I found Kaya waiting in my room. “Oh, he–” I started to speak, but stopped dead when she looked up at me and I saw the tears running down her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked sitting down next to her on the bed.

“I’ve been waiting for you for the past hour trying to think of the best way to tell you, but nothing I think of seems appropriate.” She sobbed and I put my arm around her running it up and down her back trying to sooth her.

“Tell me what?” I whispered in her ear, fighting back the sudden urge to kiss her.

Kaya sobbed and buried her face in my chest before looking up at me and shuddering, “I’m pregnant.”

“You’re what?!” I asked suddenly jumping up off the bed. “It- it’s mine?”

Kaya nodded. “You’re the only person it could be!”

“H-how did you find out?” I breathed running my hands through my hair as I paced back and forth in front of her trying my best to fight down my sudden sense of panic.

“I’ve been feeling nauseous so I went to the doctor and after putting me under the scanner, he told me,” she sobbed as I paced back and forth in front of her. “Oh my god, Jellfree! What the hell are we going to do?”

I stopped pacing abruptly then turned my head to look Kaya in the eyes then plopped down next to her again and put my hands around her shoulders. “I wish I knew!”

I felt as if my heart had been through a shredder as I watched her weep. Even if Kaya no longer wanted to be with me I still loved her and wanted nothing more at that moment than to end her pain. Which is probably why I leaned in and kissed her. It was an impulsive act, something that I would have done when we were still together. Her lips felt so soft against my own and it felt as good as I remembered. For a moment Kaya seemed lost in the kiss, but then I felt her hands on my chest as she pushed herself away. She gasped and stumbled out of the bed swirling around to stare at me with wide eyes.

“No, no. I can’t Jellfree! I just can’t!” she gasped then fled out the door.

“Kaya wait!” I called after her, but she just kept going.

I jumped off the bed and followed her around the corner, but soon lost her as I rounded one of the bends where I thought I’d last seen her. I called her name, but if she heard me she didn’t answer. I wandered the hallways with Felix tailing me trying to find her, even looking in her room, but it all proved to be for nothing. Wherever Kaya had run off to she didn’t want to be found.

Giving up, I returned to my room, not even bothering to close the door before falling to my knees and weeping.

“Dammit!” I cursed slamming the door shut and slid to the ground my back against the cupboard.

After, I’d had a good cry in my room I was still on the verge of a break down and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing in a heap. I think it had finally set in, that it was over between Kaya and me. Oh, sure logically I knew it had been over since I’d first begun to change, but I hadn’t really accepted it. A part of me had been holding out hope that she would come around. I wanted to be with her with cell in my body, but she couldn’t even stand to kiss me and the whole thing was further complicated by the fact that she was carrying my unborn child. God, it was too cruel! I needed some way to escape the pain even if it was just for a little while.

And that’s how I ended up in the kitchen rifling through the cupboards in a futile effort to swipe some of Strave’s booze. My first experience with alcohol had been absolutely awful, but everything that had happened had proved to be too much and I needed an escape. I doubt it was the healthiest way of dealing with my pain, but it was quick. There seemed to be a one hole with my plan; however, there wasn’t any booze to be found… anywhere.

So, instead I lay there on the floor weeping and feeling sorry for myself. ‘Maybe, it would be better if I were to just end it,’ the thought popped into my head and I gripped the side of my head sobbing hysterically. Khala would die without a living host and there wouldn’t be any reason for the rebels to worry anymore. All my pain was caused by that damned parasite and if I went I was going to make damn sure I took her with me. Kaya… she might be sad at first, but I think she’d be a lot happier in the long run without me around. What was I but a sick reminder of the love we once shared?

The only question was how the hell was I going to do it? I could impale myself or possibly slit my wrists, but there was one problem with that method. If someone found my body before Khala had died she could leap into them and they’d become her new host then this whole mess would begin all over again. Maybe if I went somewhere where no one would think to look… With that thought in mind I grabbed a knife from the cupboard, tucked it into my pants and moved for the door and stopped as a tall red-haired figure appeared in the doorway.

“Well, hello there!” Strave beamed as I stood there with my jaw hanging open like an idiot.

I tried to push past him, but I felt his hand suddenly on my shoulder as I whirled around to face him. He looked around the kitchen his eyes seeming to linger on the still open cupboards before they returned to gaze into my own. “What exactly is it you were looking for Jellfree?” he asked releasing my shoulder. “Mara doesn’t look too kindly on people who steal food.”

“I wasn’t looking for food,” I glared up at him rubbing at my shoulder gingerly. “I wanted more booze!” I yelled fighting back the sudden onslaught of tears. “I just can’t take the pain anymore!” I cried and threw myself at Strave weeping into his shoulder.

Strave suddenly stiffened and I felt him grab either of my shoulders as he held me out at arm’s length. “I don’t imagine it would be easy, but…”

“No, it’s not easy! It’s hell!” I shrieked pushing his hands away and backed slowly away. “I love her! I’ve never felt this way about anyone before and she can’t even stand to let me touch her. All because of this damned body and that thing living inside of me. Every moment I’m awake is a constant reminder of what I’ve lost and then there’s these damned things on my chest along with all the other shit I’ve got to deal with. I know what you’re going to say so don’t. Don’t try to tell me everything is going to be alright. Don’t tell me that I’ll find a way to deal with it and you damned well better not tell me that I have a chance in hell of getting back together with Kaya. You and I both know that would be a lie!”

Strave swallowed and nodded then did something completely unexpected, he kissed me and instead of resisting I melted into his arms. For two weeks I’d been trying to fight my attraction to him and I couldn’t hold it at bay any longer. ‘About time,’ Khala’s voice whispered in the back of my mind as we broke away.

I took in a deep breath of air then I looked Strave up and down. With trembling arms I reached out to grab his collar and shuddered before returning his kiss. A part of me found the whole thing revolting, but I growing part of me just didn’t care. I wanted, no I needed, someone to hold me and make everything feel better and Strave happened to be the nearest alternative to Kaya. As I kissed him, I realized something else, being held wasn’t enough. I wanted more and so I took it.

Chapter Twelve

“God,” I groaned softly my eyes fluttering open as I reached to pull an unfamiliar weight off of my chest. An arm, there was an arm draped across my chest! As struggled to come fully awake the memories from the previous night came back to me in one sudden burst.

“Oh, hell!” I squealed throwing the arm off of me and scrambled away from Straffen’s naked form.

“What have I done?” I whispered my hands clenched around my naked breasts.

I’d had sex with man, but not just any man, Strave! So, why didn’t I feel disgusted with myself? I was shocked sure, but our lovemaking had felt good and… God! I didn’t even want to finish that thought! I was a man dammit! I shuddered and backed away even further retrieving my shirt from the kitchen floor as I did. ‘This is all your fault!’ I called out to Khala.

“Oh, this ought to be good,” Khala grumbled appearing seated on the counter beside me.

‘You gave me this body! You made me attracted to… that man!’ I seethed rounding on her.

“You’re friend is awake if you weren’t aware,” she said flatly folding her arms across her chest. “Besides, I may have given you that body and well… the attraction toward the male of your species, but I certainly didn’t intend for you to shack up with that one.”

“Jellfree,” Strave called groggily as I pulled my shirt over my head feeling suddenly very self conscious about standing around naked in the middle of the kitchen.

“Jellfree,” he repeated rolling over onto his side to look at me.

“That name,” I whispered coming to a sudden realization. “Don’t call me that!”

I was changing, but I hadn’t even realized it until that moment. Jellfree, had been someone who had dreamed of being free of the Qharr, but never acted on his desires. He stood by and watched those gray-skinned bastards do horrible things and thought only of preserving his own life. That person had died the moment I had decided to side with Kaya and the rebels against Duvak and the Overseer. I was a resistance fighter now and I was going to have to live as a woman for the rest of my life. I needed a new name, and that moment seemed as good as any to pick a new one.

I always thought that if I had a daughter I would give her the name Alexana, since that had been my mother’s middle name, but somehow I liked the idea of taking that name for myself. That way my name would be a constant reminder of the sacrifice my mother had made. She had died trying to defend my sister and me and it felt right that if I should take anyone’s name it would be hers.

“Call me Lexa,” I muttered giving him the shortened version of the name.

Strave blinked then grinned, “Damn, I must be a hell of a lover last night. I think I made a woman out of you… literally.”

Strave had almost seemed like a different person the previous night and I was sad to see that person go. It was all an act, I realized suddenly. Strave played the part of the sex-crazed rogue, but the real Straffen the one I’d gotten a glimpse of before we made love, he was the real Strave. I wished I knew of some way of bringing him out again, but it was as if a wall had been erected between the two of us.

I sighed then grabbed my underpants and slacks from the ground. God, what was I thinking?! This was Strave I was thinking about! God, I couldn’t believe I actually had sex with him! What the hell was wrong with me?

“What leaving so soon?” he asked with raised eyebrows.

I slid my panties on then pulled my pants up my legs, “You can lounge about naked if you like, but I don’t particularly like the idea of being caught with my pants down in the middle of the damned kitchen.”

“You didn’t seem to mind so much last night.”

I gritted my teeth and turned my back on him. God, how could he act like such a jackass after last night? I clenched my fists at my side then slowly walked toward the exit. What game was he playing at? Stopping me from taking my life, having sex, then acting like… his usual self. He couldn’t have actually known that I was planning to gut myself, but he had seen how upset I was.

Abruptly, the door flew open and a red bolt of phase energy flew through the entrance and hit me square in the chest. Caught completely off guard I collapsed to ground clutching at my chest.

“Lexa!” Strave yelled suddenly. “You fucking bastard!”

I heard his feet pounding against the floor as he jumped to from the ground and went tearing across the room toward my attacker. Then I realized something, I didn’t hurt at all. I ran my hand up and down my chest looking for signs of injury, but found none. There was a burn mark in my shirt where the phase bolt had hit me, sure, but the skin underneath was completely unblemished. This really wasn’t all that surprising considering that my body was host to an energy guzzling symbiote. It’s just, you know, you go on so long knowing something can hurt you and it tends to stick with you even after it’s no longer a concern.

Abruptly, Khala’s illusory form was sitting hunched over me on the floor. “Je… Lexa you’ve got to give me control. That was a Qharr weapon that hit you. The masters have found you, and you’ll need my fighting abilities and experience if you’re going to survive.”

“How can I trust you?” I whispered up.

“Do you really have any choice? You’re running out of time. It won’t be long before the hunter who fired on you finishes off your friend,” she hissed furiously. “DECIDE!”

Live or die, those were my choices. At the moment I didn’t really care one way or the other, but what about Strave? Even if he was acting like an unbelievable jackass I couldn’t watch him die. And there was Kaya, Jaysen, Mara and the rest, they didn’t didn’t deserve to die either. So, I made the only choice that made any sense. I closed my eyes and gave over control of my body to the K’teth.

My eyes snapped back open and under Khala’s guiding hand I leapt back to my feet with far more grace than I could have ever managed on my own.

“Gre’ga toel Edant!” She called out with my voice grabbing the knife which I had tucked away before Strave had found me.

The hunter, who was by then standing over Strave preparing to pummel him, stopped, turned his head and leveled his gaze on me. He seemed surprised, but why wouldn’t he be? He’d just heard a human rebel call out, “Glory to the masters” in perfect Qharr. I panicked upon hearing this, having somehow understood and assumed that Khala planned to betray me, but then she surprised me. She hurled the knife across the room and hit the Hunter square in eye. The Qharr gurgled a bit, and fell to the ground dead.

“Get dressed,” Khala said staring down at Strave’s naked form as he scrambled to his feet. “Where there’s one there will be more.”

“Lexa look, we need to…”

“You’re under the mistaken impression that you’re speaking with my host,” Khala interrupted. “You will refer to me as Khala until instructed otherwise.”

“By God! You’re the parasite!” he gasped.

“I am NOT a parasite and I’m only going to say this one more time. Get dressed or I’ll leave you here alone to fend for yourself!” she yelled gritting my teeth and planted my fists on my hips.

“Okay,” he said holding his hands up in defeat and turned to us grinning sheepishly. “I don’t suppose you know where my pants might have gone.”

Khala shook my head and pointed to the left side of the room. “On the other side of that counter there. Hurry, your friends’ lives are in jeopardy!”

“We should probably find some weapons, that is if the Qharr haven’t gotten to them first,” Strave said after slipping the shirt over his head.

“I have no need of weapons,” Khala answered back. “I am a weapon. It’s what the K’teth were made for.”

“Yeah, and a fat lot of good that did to your good pal the Overseer. No offense, but I’d much rather have a phase pistol in hand when we confront any of your friends.”

“Very well, locate your weapons cache then we shall take care of my friends,” she replied turning her back to Straffen and held my hand out indicating that he should lead the way.

‘You know, Khala, he might not be able to use a qharr tech, but we sure as hell can. That warrior was armed; maybe you should retrieve his weapon.’ I said, for once in complete agreement with Strave.

‘As I said I have no need of it. I am a weapon.’

“God, you’re like an entirely different person,” he mumbled as he stepped past us.

Khala narrowed my eyes and folded my arms across my chest. “In case you haven’t noticed, I am an entirely different person.”

Strave shook his head, shouldered past us and pushed the door open without waiting to see if Khala was going to follow.

‘There is something about that one that is very off-putting. Still, you do seem to be attracted to him, and human reproductive practices are very pleasurable. Perhaps, you should pursue a relationship with him,’ she thought at me as she followed Strave out the door.

I think if I had control of my body at that moment my jaw would have stopped dead in my tracks. ‘I am not going to have this conversation with you. Not now not ever! Get your priorities straight the compound has been invaded by Qharr hunters for Christ sakes!’

‘Of that I am well aware don’t worry over them. No, Qharr soldier is a match for the two of us.’

‘Just shut the hell up and keep your… my eyes peeled, would you?!’ I yelled and fought back the sudden urge to wrestle control away from the symbiote.

‘As you wish.’

“Are we going to move or are you just going to stand around like a wounded gark beast?” Khala asked tapping at Strave’s shoulder incessantly.

Strave moved aside and I felt bile rise in my throat as I looked down to find Felix’s bloodied corpse collapsed on the ground just outside the door. I’d become so accustomed to having someone tailing me all the time that I’d actually forgotten Felix had been guarding the door and had more than likely spent the entire night outside the kitchen.

Strave glanced at me then knelt down to feel Felix’s neck. “No pulse,” he said looking up at me. “The body is still warm. See the phase wound in his chest? That hunter must have gotten to him just before he attacked us in the kitchen.”

“This may sound callous, but we don’t have time to linger,” Khala said glancing around probably looking for signs of approaching threats.

Strave glared up at her then turned back down to look at Felix. Strave’s hand passed over Felix’s eyes and when it came away the dead man’s eyelids were closed. “Rest easy Felix, my friend. You fought bravely to the very end,” he whispered then turned back to look Khala in my eyes. “Now we leave.”

Without another word Strave turned away and started off down the corridor. When we got to the end he stopped to peek around the corner then slowly drew his head back. He turned to look back at Khala and me before pointing toward the bend and mouthing the words, “Gray skins.”

Khala nodded my head then brushed past our companion and took off running while rounding the corner. Phase blasts flew through the air, burned through the fabric of my clothes and splashed against my skin, but there wasn’t any pain as I felt a new influx of power flood through me each time we were hit. The hunters glanced at one another, and the foremost of the two, a pale-skinned giant, dropped his gun and drew a long knife from a sheath at his waist. Khala dodged to the side as blade came slicing down and planted my right fist into the side of his chest

“Gl’hed! No human has that kind of strength!” The hunter let out a long string of curses in Qharr and swung his fist at empty air as Khala dodged another attack.

He got close enough that I got a good whiff of him as I dodged his attacks and I almost wished I hadn’t. Most qharr had a scent about them that was an almost woodsy citrus scent, but this fellow smelled as if someone had taken a lemon, wrapped it inside someone’s stinky socks and then let it sit out to rot in the sun for a month. God it was awful! I even felt my nose scrunch up, so Khala must have found it just as offensive or else it was just some automatic reflex.

“Look at her hair! She’s bonded with a K’teth!” the other hunter, a female with a long scar running down the left side of her chest, howled raising the butt of her phase rifle like a club.

“It can’t be!” Mr. Stinky answered back.

“How else would you explain it!?” the female yelled at her companion.

“That’s right,” Khala responded in Qharr before spinning around and yanking the weapon out of the female’s hands. “I’m a K’teth bonded with a human.”

“You would betray your masters?!” the pale giant asked his eyelids twitching in disbelief.

Khala twirled the gun around my hands then jabbed it into the giant’s chest. “Yes,” she said in Qharr.

“Why not?” She switched to English and squeeze my finger around the trigger blasting a hole in her opponent’s chest the size of my fist.

The female let out a loud roar and Khala kicked her across her kneecap then ducked as her opponent’s fist came flying at me. The symbiote jumped back to my feet then brought the rifle around, but before she could fire off another shot the female slammed her fist into my left breast. The blow hurt like hell and I think it caught Khala by surprise because the next thing I knew the phase gun slipped through my fingers and clattered to the ground at my feet.

The first blow was followed by a powerful backhand across my face the force of which was so great that it sent Khala and me flying to ground where we landed on my back. The female moved in to strike again, and probably would have been successful had it not been for Strave who came barreling down the corridor yelling like a madman. The female turned to glance at him and hesitated just long enough for Khala to roll back onto my feet.

Khala stood back and waited as Strave slammed into the alien woman. She let out a disgusted growl then threw him aside with the casual ease of a child flinging away a rag doll. Khala didn’t waste any time she pounced as soon as Strave was out of the way. She leapt atop her larger opponents’ back and threw my arms around her neck. The female spun around attempt to dislodge us, but her efforts were in vain.

Khala loosed my left arm while maintaining her hold with the right then drew my left arm back and pounded my clawed hand into the back of her neck. The blow connected and I felt my hand dig into her flesh just before my fingers wrapped around something hard. There was a sick snap and Khala withdrew my hand before jumping from the falling corpse’s back.

“Damn woman, what the hell did you do?” Strave asked sitting up with a wince as he ran a hand through his hair.

“I snapped her spine,” she said looking down at my hand which was covered in violet blood.

Khala glanced to the side matching Strave’s gaze. “This body is weak in comparison to a Qharr host and I’m not yet up to full power I need to absorb more energy before I will gain full access to all the abilities granted to this body. I must be more careful I would hate for Lexa to lose her life. ”

‘Yeah that’d be quite the tragedy, then you’d be out of a host, wouldn’t you?’

‘I doubt you would believe this, but I would be saddened if you died. I’ve grown to like you in the short time that we’ve been bonded.’

‘Yeah, sure whatever you say.’

“We must hurry. I recognize the team emblem,” she said pointing down at swirled symbol on the butt of one of the guns. “This indicates that those two soldiers I took out belong to Hr’enk team. They are a specialized group of inquisitors whose sole task is to hunt down dangerous criminals. They are very well trained and without my aid I doubt any of your friends will survive,” she said holding my hand out to Strave.

“Don’t be so quick to discount us,” Strave protested. “We may be a ragtag bunch but we know how to fight.”

I could feel my lips purse before Khala replied. “We shall see.”

Strave sighed, climbed to his feet then dusted himself off. “Come on the weapons locker isn’t far now.”

‘For god sakes Khala! Would you pick up a damn weapon!’

Khala didn’t immediately acknowledge me, and when she started to follow Strave I figured she was going to keep on about this ‘I am a weapon’ nonsense. I was about to wrestle control away from her when she stopped, and gazed down at one of the phase rifles discarded by the Qharr. Strave certainly wouldn’t be able to use one of the things, but Khala had already shown that she and I could use Qharr tech. She walked over to the nearest rifle, the one she had used to kill the giant of a male, snatched it from the ground, and scurried after Strave as he continued down the corridor.

“Get back!” Khala howled pushing Strave to the ground then leapt into motion as an endless barrage of phase bolts splattered against my skin. “Oh, hell I really need a damn weapon!” Strave yelled crawling into the nearest doorway as the hunters continued their attack. We had happened upon the group of half a dozen hunters and they’d opened fire without even batting an eyelash.

“Death to the masters!” she called out in Qharr before raising her rifle and opening fire. She took out two of the bastards with the first two shots, but then the remaining soldiers rushed us and things got a bit sticky.

“What’s this? A human joined with a K’teth symbiote?” a short stocky warrior bellowing throwing his fist into my face.

Khala had just enough time to grab the fist out of the air and push it away as another soldier struck at my side. The blow brought ripples of pain and Khala gritted my teeth just before yelling, “Yes! A K’teth joined with a human! Is it really so surprising, you overgrown pl’k!?”

The first warrior howled lunging at me just as Khala slammed my fist into his windpipe. He fell to his knees, clutching at his throat as he gasped for air. Another Qharr, a slender warrior with charcoal-gray skin drew a knife and pounced at me, but Khala was ready. She dodged the attack then jumped up; kicking him across the chest then spun around to punch another of our attackers in the gut.

Abruptly, there was a loud bellow from behind and as Khala spun around to face whatever new threat had arisen there was a bright flash of light. She brought my left hand up to block my eyes against the bright flashes as a long succession of phase blasts pelted the group of Qharr hunters. When my vision finally cleared, all of the enemy soldiers were dead at my feet.

“You two alright?” Kaya said as she approached holding a cumbersome and beat-up looking old phase rifle.

“Shit,” Strave grumbled. “I’d probably be toast if it weren’t for Khala there.”

“Khala?” Kaya asked then suddenly raised her weapon pointing right at my chest. “That fucking parasite is in control?!”

“Yes, I am,” Khala replied staring back at Kaya.

“Tell me why I shouldn’t just blow Jellfree’s fucking brains out right now?! How do I know you weren’t responsible for bringing those gray-skinned bastards on us in the first place!?” She yelled.

“Lexa has been with me all night and she’s been under constant guard since she’s been here in the compound. There’s no way that thing inside of her could have made contact with the Qharr!” Strave protested.

Kaya blinked. “Lexa?”

Khala folded my arms across my chest then intoned’ “Lexa. Jellfree’s new female name.”

She bit her lip, lowered the gun, hesitated for a moment then raised her weapon again. “Let me talk to Jellfree… or Lexa or whatever the hell he or… she is calling herself now!”

“Oh, very well!” Khala proclaimed. She closed my eyes then suddenly I was back in control again. I opened my eyes and stumbled backward momentarily caught off balance from the sudden returned use of my limbs.

“Jellfree? God, it is you!” she proclaimed looking me in the eyes lowering the weapon again then looked me over thoughtfully. “Where’s Felix?”

I swallowed and shook my head. “Dead.”

“Shit,” Khala cursed. “Not Felix too.”

“Who else have we lost?” Strave asked.

“That I know of? Johan, Pyramus, Loona, Terreth and Bentley,” she replied clenching her jaw and gritting her teeth.

“Dammit!” Strave growled. “We can’t afford to lose anyone else! Our numbers were already too few!”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Strave,” she muttered. “I wish we had time to stay and chat, but there are a lot more hunters lurking about and we need to get the fuck out of here.”

“Where exactly is there for us to go!?”

“Fuck if I should know, but Jaysen and Mara have got our ship waiting. They’re leaving in just under five minutes whether we’re aboard or not,” she said motioning for us to follow.

“Well hell, lead the way. I’m not gonna get stuck here. Not if I any say in the matter,” Strave replied.

“Come on then! Let’s hurry the fuck up!” Kaya yelled just before she took off running.

Strave and I exchanged glances then we both sprang into motion running after her.

Chapter Thirteen

“Holy fuck!” Kaya cursed coming to a sudden halt and dove to the ground as a hunter jumped out at her from a nearby doorway.

She raised her rifle, but he was too fast and had it out of her hands before she could fire off a shot. I reacted instinctively pounding my fist into the warrior’s side with all the energy-enhanced strength I could muster. The hunter dropped Kaya weapon and clutched his side howling in fury as he glared down at me. He brought his hand up and casually backhanded me sending me flying into the nearest wall.

‘Give me control!’ Khala called urgently.

I slumped to the ground, bit back the pain then rose to my feet. ‘No, I’m gonna get this bastard on my own.’

The symbiote didn’t say a thing, but I swore I could sense her dismissing me, almost as if she were giving me the mental equivalent to a shrug. I didn’t waste any time mulling it over because at that moment our Qhar friend looked like he was ready to pound on Kaya.

“Hey assface!” I yelled before he could make his move. Then as he turned toward me I jumped up and kicked him across the chest. The whole maneuver was a lot more impressive when you considered he was more than a meter taller than me.

He stumbled backward and I took the opportunity to retrieve my fallen phase rifle from the ground. My opponent let out a few curses that would have made even Duvak blush then charged me, but by then it was already too late; I’d pulled the trigger. The soldier let one final below and I had just enough time to leap out of the way as his corpse tumbled to the ground.

“Gl’f Vleck!” a voice called. As we all turned to look we found a group of about a dozen Qharr hunters running straight at us.

“Holy hell! Run!” Strave called.

I took off and I didn’t have to look back to know that Strave and Kaya were right on my tail. I could hear their feet pounding against the floor tiles as they ran.

“Shit!” Kaya said suddenly. “God, I think that’s Duvak!”

I glanced back and sure enough, the all too familiar face of my old master glared back at me. A lot of humans had trouble distinguishing Qharr faces, but I knew Duvak’s face by heart. I should, I served the damned fucker for almost twenty-five years. I knew how he moved, I knew every line and crease on his face, and I knew those eyes. I fought down a sudden surge panic and just kept running.

The Qharr may have been better warriors than humans, but there was at least one physical advantage we had over them. We were smaller and thus quicker on our feet. Although, the gray-skins had greater physical endurance–greater than Kaya and Strave at least–so if we kept up our pace they’d catch us eventually.

We reached the launch bay before that could happen, but we ran into another problem, once we arrived. The door was locked. “Shit! Here take this!” Kaya yelled at Strave practically throwing her phase rifle at him. “I need to input the damned code. God, I hate auto-lock! Damned Mara and her ass fucking paranoid security system!”

“Duvak!” I yelled the cadre of pursuers drew closer. “I challenge you to the Rite of Gauhk!”

“Shit, Lexa what the hell are you doing?!” Strave protested.

I met his gaze, drew close then shared a passionate kiss with him and whispered into his ear. “Just in case,” before taking a few steps forward and gritted my teeth as I glared at a dumbstruck Duvak. He was wearing a strap and strip of cloth across his right shoulder which extended partway down his chest. I’d never seen such a contrivance, but I had a feeling it meant he’d been demoted since it cover part of his rank tattoo.

“Well?!” I yelled tapping my foot against the ground as I fought down the sudden urge to take off running. “Do you accept?”

The diminutive Qharr cocked his head and held up his hand with his index-finger raised indicating that his subordinates should halt. “The Rite of Gauhk? What justifies this call for revenge, hu-man?”

“You murdered my parents in front of my eyes, you enslaved me and my sister, you took everything I ever had away!” I yelled behind gritted teeth.

“Who are you, female, that you should level such accusations against me!?” he answered back with typical Qharr stoicism.

“It’s open!” Kaya suddenly, but ignored her and eyed Duvak.

“You know me as Jellfree Briggs!”

The corrector blinked and let out a long drawn out cough, “You think me a fool, hu-man?” He paused then turned to his cronies switching to Qharr as he bellowing out a command. “Kill them!”

“Shit!” I yelled and swirled around without waiting for Qharr to make their move.

Kaya was the first through the doorway, but Strave and I weren’t far behind. “Move it!” Strave yelled doing a one-eighty and raised the phase rifle as I came tearing through the doorway. I threw myself aside just a fraction of a second before he opened fire on the approaching soldiers.

“Kaya,” he yelled. “Get that damn door closed!”

“Working on it!” she called over her shoulder from a panel just off to the side of the door.

I sprang back to my feet then raised my own weapon and started firing into the doorway alongside Strave. One of the hunters reached the entrance just as Kaya let out a high pitched squeal then the door came sliding out from the slot in the side of the frame trapping the gray-skin’s hand between the door and the frame. Strave raised the phase rifle, tinkering with a little pop-out panel on the side, aimed it at the trapped hand then opened fire. An unusually bright flash of phase energy hit the target and blasted the outstretched appendage blowing it to pieces. The door, snapped shut and I turned to Kaya who was panting heavily.

“Come on,” she yelled. “We don’t have a lot of time left!”

The ship, the one we had captured from the overseer, was waiting for us as we made our way through the launch bay. We hightailed it up the ramp and passed through the airlock then hurried into the command center.

“Jaysen, I hope you got this fucking thing ready!” Kaya panted and collapsed in one of the many chairs strewn about the bridge.

“The Phoenix is as ready as she’ll ever be,” he mumbled. “I bypassed the lockout systems so anyone of us can now directly interface with the ship’s controls, but I still can’t get the damn inertial negator to work.”

“The Phoenix?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh,” Jaysen grinned scratching at the back of his head, “That was Mara’s idea. Apparently, a phoenix is some mythological bird that burns up and keeps getting reborn from its ashes or something like that. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

“Fuck!” a voice pronounced. “What the hell is that thing doing here?!”

I gritted my teeth and slowly turned to find Farris with a phase pistol trained on me. I folded my arms across my chest and said the first thing that came to mind. “Funny, I was about to say the same thing about you.”

It really wasn’t the sort of thing I’d typically say, and for whatever strange reason I burst into a fit of laughter after uttering the words.

“You think it’s funny, bitch?! You’re the one who brought those bastards down on us! Because of you Pyr is dead!” He yelled his hand shaking as his voice grew louder.

Kaya rolled her eyes, jumped to her feet then hauled off and decked him across the face. Farris’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, he toppled to the ground and Kaya shook her head. “We really don’t have time to be fucking around.”

“Jaysen,” she said. “Where the hell is Mara?”

“Uh… she left?”

“She left? Shit! Well, where the hell did she go?”

“I thought I’d see if I could pick up a few stragglers,” Mara said, stepping into the control room with the doctor, Marta and Nate trailing behind her.

“Jaysen, get us the hell out of here!” Kaya yelled then swirled around to face me. “You think you can pilot?”

I blinked. “Well, if you don’t mind Khala taking the controls.”

“Is that such a good idea?” Nate protested. “How do we know that thing in her head isn’t what brought the Qharr down on us in the first place?”

Thing in my head? Khala wasn’t in my head… was she? I gritted my teeth and let out a long sigh Khala’s physical location in my body didn’t matter at the moment. I opened my mouth to say something, but Strave came to my defense first.

“It wasn’t her! Dammit how many times are we going to have to cover this? I was with her all night. With Felix and the others trailing her all the time she really hasn’t had any opportunity to contact the gray-skins,” Strave protested.

Mara slowly shook her head. “We don’t have time for petty recriminations! Jellfree take the helm! I hoped that creature inside of you can be trusted otherwise this is going to be a short ride!”

I nodded, then bowed my head, closed my eyes and called to Khala. ‘You know what to do.’

My eyes snapped open. Without another word the K’teth took control of my body and moved to the nearest control console.

“As much as I hate to question what must surely be the obvious. I seem to recall it being mentioned to my host that this facility is located deep underground. How exactly is that you plan to use the Het-” she paused mid-sentence then corrected herself, “the Phoenix as an escape vehicle if that is the case?”

Jaysen looked over at Khala and grinned. “The engineer who designed this place most have been some kind of mad genius. He prepared for the eventuality of a quick escape. There are a series of retractable tunnels that lead to the surface.”

“And they have survived all this time? Impressive. You humans are nothing if not resourceful. It is a shame that the masters invaded this world I think there is very little limit to what your kind might have achieved,” she muttered then turned to Jaysen. “I am ready.”

Jaysen nodded, pulling something out of his breast pocket fiddling with it for a moment before turning back to look Khala in my eyes. “Take the opening directly above us.”

The Phoenix lurched into motion and the ship went soaring into the opening above.

“Ah hell!” Jaysen yelled suddenly as we emerged from the long tunnel. “There are two destroyers closing on us fast!”

“I see them!” Khala yelled back sending the ship serving to the side.

“They’ve launched two squadrons of interceptors!” Jaysen yelled.

“Fuck, they must really want us dead! That’s overkill even by Qharr standards!” Kaya screamed.

I felt a sigh escape my lips then Khala spoke. “I might have been able to outrun the destroyers, but those fighters are designed for speed they will quickly catch up to us and when they do they’ll blow us out of the sky.”

“We’re screwed then!” Nate yelled collapsing to his knees as the foremost of the fighters opened fire.

“No!” Khala screamed defiantly and lunged at a nearby console. “There’s a small chance… It’s not something I would normally consider advisable, but I believe it is as you humans say desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“What are you doing?! You’re not actually thinking about activating the leap-drive, are you?! Leap blindly and the ship could wind up inside a mountain!”

Khala sighed, “I am aware of the risks, human! The gray skins and by extension the K’teth were using FTL drives before the human race had even invented the wheel! Now be silent so that I can properly calculate the leap vector!”

“Missiles incoming! Better grab onto something we’re in for a rough ride!” Jasyen screamed just before the ship suddenly lurched forward.

“The FTL rings are charging the ship will leap once it’s ready.” Khala proclaimed then jumped back to the first control panel.

Khala pounded down on the panel, launching a missile which detonated against the oncoming barrage of projectiles. The force from the resulting explosion was such that the ship was sent lurching violently forward. My fingers scrambled across the control panel’s surface as the symbiote fought to gain control of the ship, but despite her best efforts it continued to lurch and spin erratically.

“Dammit! That blast took out the aft thrusters!” Jaysen yelled. “You better brace yourselves ’cause the Phoenix is going down.”

“No, it can’t, not yet,” Khala shook my head just moments before the front view port suddenly flared with blinding bright light.

I heard Kaya let out an earsplitting shriek then everything seemed to freeze in place as the light flared and seemed to encapsulate everything. We were the light, it was a part of us, and we a part of it. The ship shook, Khala blinked, and just like that the illumination was gone, but the ship was still careening wildly toward the ground.

“Prepare for impact!” Khala called. She closed my eyes and clenched my teeth bracing us just before the ship went plowing nose first into the ground.

To be continued…

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