Battle For Earth: Infiltration

Everything had fallen to pieces, and we were on the run for our lives after the Qharr
had discovered the location of the resistance’s secret base. There
was every reason for us to give in to despair, but not all was lost. We soon found
ourselves on a quest to uncover a secret which could bring about freedom
for all the people of Earth.

Chapter One

“Ohhhh God,” a voice groaned just a few feet away and my eyes flew open with a start.

I sat up with a soft groan of my own, only registering that I’d regained control from Khala after I did so. “That you, Kai?”

“Yeah,” she coughed. “God, just promise me we’ll never do that again.”

“Not if I can help it. You alright?”

“I think I might have a few cracked ribs, and more than my fair share of aches, but other than that I’m just swell. I’ll probably be a mass of bruises soon enough. How about you?”

“Fine,” I paused suddenly realizing I didn’t hurt at all, in fact I felt perfectly fine. “I think Khala somehow shielded me from the impact.”

“God, aren’t you the lucky one? Check on the others would you? I feel like my fucking head is about to implode.”

“Alright,” I responded climbing to my feet and started to sift through the debris.

‘You did shield me didn’t you? How does that work?’ I thought at Khala.

‘It would be difficult to explain. I’m not even sure I understand how it works myself, but needless to say I possess the ability to create and manipulate fields of gravity. It requires a massive amount of power so I do try to reserve it for the most dire of circumstances unless I have a large amount of energy stored up.’

‘Search over there where that pile of rubble is in the right corner,’ she added with a sudden shift in tone.

I nodded and moved over to the general vicinity of where she had indicated. I knelt down picking through some of the debris, and uncovered a hand as I moved away a pretty sizable slab of metal. The hand very obviously belonged to a woman and I knew immediately it must have been Mara’s due to the age lines on the palm. I called up the superior strength made available to me by Khala and started tossing large pieces of wreckage aside in a hurry to free my aunt.

It took a few minutes, but I finally managed to free away enough debris to reveal her still open eyes, arms and most of her torso.

“Doctor!” I called out once I got a good look at her blood-stained chest.

Vakrexid did not reply and felt a lump form in my throat as I reached down to check Mara’s neck for a pulse and found nothing.

“Oh, God!” I screamed throwing myself away from the body unable to look into those unseeing eyes.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Kaya demanded suddenly.

“It’s Mara, she’s…” I trailed off feeling hot tears sting my eyes. “She’s dead.”

“No!” Kaya wailed suddenly shouldering past me and collapsed at her feet next to my aunt’s dead body. She took one look at Mara’s body then palmed her face with both of her hands and started to weep. I reached over to put a hand on her shoulder. She jerked away and swirled around to look me in the eyes.

“You remember when I said that an older woman nursed me back to health after my sister betrayed me?” she asked her voice almost completely devoid of emotion.

I met her gaze, nodded, and placed my hands on her shoulders.

“The woman, it was Mara,” she whispered and started to sob again. “Now I’m truly alone. I’ve lost everyone I ever cared about. When you were transformed by that thing I told myself it couldn’t get any worse, but now with Mara gone I don’t know if I can do this anymore. What do I have left to fight for?”

“Fight so that future generations can be free from the Qharr’s tyranny. Fight for our child,” I whispered reaching down to touch her belly.

She nodded and wiped her tears away. “C-come on. We don’t have time to stand around. We may have bought ourselves some time by using the leapdrive, but the Qharr are bound to come to investigate.”

“Are you going to be, okay?” I asked squeezing her shoulder.

She bit her lip and I could tell she was fighting to keep herself from bursting into tears, “I have to be. I’m Mara’s second with her gone I’m in command.”

She stood there for just another moment staring down at Mara’s remains then with tears glistening in her eyes she turned around and started routing through debris. I joined her and together we found Jaysen who had been pinned under a collapsed console. He was unconscious, but didn’t appear to be seriously injured. We found the doctor soon after that, he too was unconscious, but one of his facial tubes had been broken off and another had been bent at an odd angle. We didn’t do anything for Vakrexid mostly because his physiology was so strange that we had no idea what could be done.

Strave, and Farris were both fine, but when we finally found Marta and Nate they were both dead. Kaya took both deaths in stride, but I could tell that their passing, Marta’s in particular, bothered her.

“Damn,” a voice abruptly pronounced and Jaysen sat up clutching at his head with both hands. “I guess this means we escaped?”

“Yeah, but…” Kaya trailed off choking up.

“But what?” he groaned.

“There were more deaths,” I finished for Kaya having a hard time not choking up myself.

Jaysen paled and swallowed hard. “Who did we lose?”

“Mara, Nate and Marta,” Kaya answered quietly.

“Jesus! Not Mara!” he exclaimed letting his hands drop away into his lap. “I-is everyone else okay?”

“Farris and Strave are alive. They’re unconscious, but seem to be fine. As for the doctor your guess is good as mine,” I replied shaking my head.

“Jaysen,” Kaya asked suddenly her back to us both. “Do you think you could blow the ship up?”

He blinked. “Easily, why?”

She spun around and there were just the tiniest hint of that familiar manic fire in her eyes as she spoke. “I think I know how we can get another ride.”

“This is insane!” Farris protested standing over the doctor’s still inert form after he had finished moving the Dexagarmetrax out of the ship.

“Suck it up, Farris,” Kaya growled. “Mara’s gone that means I’m in charge and I say we’re doing this!”

“And what about that thing!?” He sneered and pointed a finger at me. “I still say we slit its throat and leave the corpse for the Qharr to find.

“Just shut the fuck up and do as I told you!” Kaya yelled.

Farris glared at me one final time before moving away to do as he was instructed.

“Did you get it?” Kaya asked turning to Jaysen.

“Yeah,” he said holding up a small rectangular object about the size of his fist.

“I thought it’d be bigger,” Kaya eyed it then reached out to touch it.

Jaysen shrugged and pulled it away before her hand could reach it. “Careful, it’s pretty delicate.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s the ship’s transponder… I figured out how to modify it so that it sent out a false signal. It’ll trick any Qharr satellites who receive a signal from it into believing it’s something innocuous like a bird or a communications relay. It was pretty difficult work, so it’s easier just to bring it with us instead of reconfiguring another one. ”

“And the other item?” Kaya asked quietly.

“Yeah, I got that too,” he replied holding out a cylindrical tube which I recognized as my uncle’s biometric key.

Kaya nodded then tucked both items into her pocket. “Good work. I sent Farris into the ship to get things ready. Why don’t you go help him out?”

Jaysen frowned, but nodded without another word and made his way back into the wrecked Phoenix.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked hopefully.

Kaya shook her head. “It’s probably a bad time, but I’m not sure there are going to be many good times from here on out.”

“Kaya, what’s this about?”

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Strave.”

I blinked. “About Strave?”

“You kissed him right before you challenged Duvak to that rite of whatever, remember?” She folded her arms across her chest.

“I-I… you see the thing about that is…” I trailed off feeling my cheeks burn.

“You slept with him, didn’t you? That’s why the two of were together all night.”

“Yes,” I admitted with a shudder.

“God, Lexa! Didn’t I warn you about him? He and I had a fling a few years back, and let’s just say it didn’t end so well. Strave isn’t the type to get involved in a serious relationship. He’ll fuck you until the next pretty face shows up then he’ll dump you like a sack of potatoes. My advice is to end it before he breaks your heart,” she muttered glaring at Strave who was working just a short distance away.

“It was nothing. I don’t have any feelings for him,” I muttered shaking my head.

“Really?” she replied and began to walk away.

She paused craning her neck around to look at me. “Then why’d you kiss him?” she asked just before she withdrew and left me alone to muddle over what she had said.

“Find cover!” Kaya yelled as a Qharr ship appeared just over the horizon.

I put on the speed and leapt at the nearest bush, a moment later I was joined by the others. “Damn,” Kaya panted. “That didn’t take them long. You told them, in the distress call; there was a reactor leak, right?”

“For the twentieth time, yes!” Jaysen hissed back.

“I don’t get it,” I whispered. “Why would you tell them there was a reactor leak?”

Kaya smiled mischievously, “The reactor fluid the Qharr use is incredibly unstable when exposed to air. Even the smallest spark can cause a massive explosion. The rescue ship will land a safe distance away. Once they send a team in to investigate the leak we blow the Phoenix up and they naturally assume it was a result of the reactor leak. While the Qharr inside of the ship have their attention on the blast we attack and take control of the ship.”

I shook my head and grinned back at her. “It’s freaking brilliant, but you do know it’s completely insane, right?”

Kaya rolled her eyes and shook her head. “All the best plans are.”

“Why don’t you hang back? The four of us should be able to take care of the Qharr inside the ship just fine,” I said suddenly on an impulse.

Kaya let out a long dramatic sigh. “What and miss out on all the fun?”

“Well, I thought because you…” I trailed off as she issued me a warning glance. No one else knew yet that she was pregnant and I guess she wanted to keep it that way.

“Fine,” I growled back. “Just don’t get killed!”

“Relax Lexa,” Strave said suddenly putting a hand on my shoulder. “Kaya knows what she is doing.”

I glared back at him, but bit my tongue to keep myself from saying anything I might regret.

“You know,” Khala said thoughtfully appearing at my side. “If you were closer when that ship exploded I could absorb a lot of power.”

‘You want me to get incinerated?’ I thought at her incredulously.

“Trust me. I’m not saying you should climb inside the ship even I can’t survive the brunt of a blast that powerful. Just get close enough for me to absorb some of the energy.”

‘How close?’

“Oh, about ten feet,” she grinned and winked at me.

“Ten feet?!” I hissed aloud. “You’ve got to be insane!”

Khala shook her head and let out a throaty laugh. “Remember that cluster of boulders on the oth–”

‘Forget it!’ I cut her short. ‘I’m not going to do it.’

“Oh very well.” She rolled her eyes then vanished with a puff of pretend smoke.

“Khala?” Kaya asked from nearby.

I nodded and let out a long sigh. “She wanted me to get closer to the blast so she could absorb some of its energy.”

“Jesus!” Jaysen cursed. “You told her no, right?”

“No! I told her I’d gladly let myself be blown up! Of course, I told her no!”

“Everyone be quiet!” Farris howled suddenly. “The ship is coming in for a landing!”

I looked up and watched as the Qharr K’tarth class repair ship extended its landing gear and slowly inched toward the ground and settled there with a loud groan. Unlike most, Qharr vessels, the repair ship was quite cumbersome in appearance and resembled an uppercase “B”, but like all Qharr craft it still had an organic almost insectine look to it.

We watched nervously as the ship rested there and nothing happened. Finally, there came a loud hiss as a ramp extended from out of the vessel’s side. A group of five Qharr, all hazardous materials suits, stepped off the ramp and made their way toward the wrecked Phoenix completely unaware that they were walking into a trap.

“How big a complement does a rescue ship like that generally have,” Kaya whispered looking over at Strave.

Straffen scratched his chin, then whispered back, “If memory serves a minimum crew would be eight, but max wouldn’t be any more than eleven or twelve.”

“Those aren’t bad odds. Especially if we catch them off guard,” Jaysen added.

“Fuck if we could be so lucky,” Farris added growling softly then turning to glare at me.

“Shhh!” Kaya urged suddenly. “They’re at the airlock!”

The Qharr team stood outside the Phoenix as the foremost manipulated the control panel. Then the entry hatch slid open and they each stepped inside.

“What are you waiting for? Press the button!” Farris urged as the entry hatch came shut behind them.

“Not yet,” Kaya whispered between clenched teeth.

“Press the damn button!” Farris growled and grabbed at her hand.

“Fucking hell Farris!” Kaya yelled pushing him away pulling her phase pistol out of its holster and pressed it against his head. “Try something like that again and I’ll blow your damned head off, got it?”

Farris gritted his teeth then nodded. “Got it.”

Kaya glared at Farris one final time them held the detonator in front of her face before pressing the button and the Phoenix exploded with enough force that the ground itself shook. I held my hands over my ears and gritted my teeth against the roar of the blast then glanced at Kaya as the sound began to subside. She nodded and without a word I took off running toward the rescue ship.

The others weren’t far behind and I slowed down to what felt like a crawl so they could keep up. We closed the distance to the rescue ship and I bound up the entry ramp in two quick leaps. I waited for the others to catch up then burst inside.

“Jaysen! Farris! You wait here! Don’t let any of the Qharr to get out!” Kaya called over her shoulder then along with Strave followed me down the right fork.

Judging from the sound of their feet on the base deck Strave and Kaya weren’t far behind as I made my way through the ship. It didn’t take me long to find what served as a control center and when I stepped through the door frame I didn’t stop to think I just acted. Two Qharr, a tall slender female who was missing an eye and an older male who only had half of his right hand, rose to their feet as I planted a fist into the head of a third, a male whose body was riddled with scars.

The blow proved effective and the soldier collapsed face-forward out of his seat unconscious. Kaya appeared in the doorway toting her big-ass phase rifle and opened fire on the nearest of the two remaining Qharr and Strave took out the final with a single phase blast to the chest.

“That went better than I could have expected,” Kaya said looking around the bridge with an appraising eye then stepped back into the hallway. “Come on, we need to look over the rest of the ship.”

“What a clunker!” Jaysen groaned planting both his hands on his hips as he looked around the bridge.

“Well the Qharr don’t exactly see rescue ships as the most glorious of rides. Most soldiers that get assigned to them are maimed so badly that they’re almost no good in a fight which probably explains how we took them out so easily,” Strave replied stroking his chin.

“We were lucky it was such a small ship. If the crew compliment had been any bigger it wouldn’t have been so easy to take them out,” Kaya added swinging around on her seat to meet his gaze.

“Jaysen,” she added suddenly. “How long till you can get the ship underway?”

Jaysen shrugged. “Well, I don’t know five, ten minutes maybe. It really depends on how fast I can find the transponder and shut it off. This ship has a completely different layout than the Phoenix and since I have almost no experience with this class of ship I can only guess at where it might be.”

“Well, I can help with that!” Khala pronounced suddenly from my side. “Until about thirty years ago these G’tarth class ships served as light cruisers in the Qharr armada. Only a few of them are still in service and they have all been retro fitted to act as repair craft like this one. Pled K’dem, one of my previous hosts, commanded a G’tarth class cruiser back when they were still very new. She knew everything there was to know about them and she shared quite a bit of that knowledge with me.”

“Thank you so much for the life story,” I replied dryly before turning to Jaysen. “Khala says she can help find the transponder. She has some experience with this class of ship.”

“Perfect!” Jaysen responded with an enthusiastic smile.

Farris glowered at me, but with a warning glance from Kaya he gritted his teeth and didn’t say a word.

“Great while those two… three,” Kaya corrected glancing at me then back to Strave, “are working on that I want you and Farris to go retrieve the doctor from where we hid him.”

“Fuck, whatever you say your royal majesty!” Farris pronounced then traipsed out of the bridge without waiting for Strave.

Strave shrugged then shook his head and followed Farris out of the bridge.

“Right then,” Jaysen said. “Why don’t we get started?”

Chapter Two

“Where the fuck are we supposed to go?!” Farris demanded pounding his fist against the console. “We don’t even know how the Qharr found us or whether or not we were betrayed and who’s to say if they found one base they didn’t find more!”

“I am aware of this!” Kaya replied coldly glaring back at him.

“Can you get this piece of shit in the air, already?!” she snapped glaring at me.

“Sorry,” she said with a wince. “Farris must be really getting to me. Just, please get the ship in the air. I have a contact in Salt Lake who should be able to clear some things up for us.”

I nodded, then closed my eyes and gave control over to Khala who promptly converged on the navigation panel. “Where should I set the course?”

“Set us for a general course toward the Rocky Mountains. Mara and I setup a cache of supplies there a few years back,” Kaya replied.

“Isn’t that a bit risky?” Jaysen asked. “If the Qharr found our hideout what’s to say they haven’t found the cache too?”

Kaya shook her head, “Mara and I were the only ones who knew about it. Unless you think either Mara or I were traitors there shouldn’t be any reason to worry.”

“Pain!” A strange voice suddenly proclaimed. “There is much of it!”

“Doctor!” Kaya said scrambling to her feet. “God, you had us worried.”

“Indeed? What has transpired?” he tooted his hands moving across his broken and bent face tubes.

Kaya repeated back what had happened since the attack and the doctor sat there silently and listened. When she finished the doctor threw his head back and let out a long high pitched wail.

“Vakrexid is deeply saddened by the loss of Mara. She took me in when no other would. She shall be missed as shall the others,” he quivered then suddenly reached up to grasp hold of his center broken face tube and promptly broke it off.

“Good Lord!” Jaysen gasped. “Doesn’t that hurt?!”

“No, the tubes themselves do not have any pain receptors. They are similar to your fingernails in many respects and Vakrexid has been meaning to trim them for some time. Although I did not wish them to be quite so short as it makes feeding slightly more difficult,” he tooted grabbing at his third undamaged tube and broke it off. “Uniform length is most important. It would be very helpful to Vakrexid if I had a proper pair of tube trimmers. Unfortunately, Vakrexid have been unable to procure any in many—”

“Doctor all that is just fascinating and all, but in case you haven’t noticed things are looking pretty dire,” Kaya said suddenly cutting him short.

Vakrexid blinked. “Of that I am well aware, but there is little we can do at the moment.”

“Don’t you feel… anything? I mean Mara was your friend.” Kaya said blinking away tears.

“Indeed, I feel her loss as keenly as if she were one of my hatch-mates,” the doctor said reaching up to absently trace his hands across his broken face tubes. “My kind… we are not as you. We feel our emotions as keenly as any human, but visible displays… they do not come easily to us. We were designed in such a way that we would not be hindered by emotions.”

“Your race was designed?” Khala gasped suddenly turning away from the control panel to stare slack-jawed at the doctor.

“Indeed, by our gods, the Phyrr Lesch,” the doctor cocked his head.

“The Phyrr Lesch are no gods,” Khala said narrowing my eyes then looked away.

“What would you know of it, K’teth?” the doctor shot back.

Khala slowly shook my head, “I have memories passed onto me be the first H’ra. They were flesh and blood just like you.”

“Genetic memory, most fascinating,” the doctor mused. “How is it that this first H’ra came to meet the Phyrr Lesch?”

“The Phyrr Lesch were the creators of our kind. They made us so that we could further enhance their peacekeeping force, the Qharr,” she replied quietly. “They disappeared shortly after creating us.”

“Dear god!” Strave proclaimed. “But that would mean…”

“That the Qharr and the Dexagarmetrax share a common history and perhaps even common ancestry,” Kaya muttered with a shake of her head.

“This is most strange,” the doctor twittered. “Would you not have memory of my kind?”

“The first H’ra did not pass on such knowledge it is possible that she did encounter your early ancestors but chose not to pass on the memories. Qharr religion does, however speak of your kind. They name you the ‘forsaken ones’. The holy books don’t say much else, but there is a verse claiming that any Qharr who kills one of you will be corrupted by their blood.”

“Mara always suspected there was some tie between the Qharr and the Dexagarmetrax, but I doubt she would have ever guessed that it was something like this,” Kaya shook her head.

“I didn’t even know the Qharr had a religion,” Jaysen mused absently.

“There is much about the Qharr that has been kept secret. If they knew I had shared this much they would likely have me destroyed. Although my betrayal would already warrant a death sentence so it really is a moot point,” Khala replied.

“You know Doc,” Jaysen frowned. “If someone had just told me that the beings I worshiped weren’t gods I’d be pretty upset.”

Vakrexid blurped. “Even if what Khala says is true. They are still my creators. If they were mortal creatures does that make them any less worthy of my devotion?”

“Fuck, why the hHell should we give a damn?” Farris said suddenly folding his arms across his chest and scowling.

Strave let out a long sigh. “As much as I hate to admit it. The jackass does have a point. These revelations as strange and disturbing as they happen to be are not particularly relevant to our present undertaking.”

“Right,” Kaya muttered. “Khala how far are we away from our destination?”

“If the navigation array is correct, and I see no reason to suspect otherwise. We are approximately an hour away at full speed,” Khala replied back.

“Good, set a course for the following coordinates,” she said streaming off a string of seemingly random numbers. “That’s where we’ll find the supply cache.”

“Just a moment,” Khala said abruptly. “There’s an incoming transmission.”

“What? Who could be trying to contact us?” Kaya demanded.

Khala tapped the corner of the control panel. The screen flashed and a long scrolling list of characters appeared arrayed across it. “It looks like a general broadcast to all Qharr vessels. They’re warning them to be on the lookout for a rogue transport that has been commandeered by a group of human rebels.”

“Well, that took longer to get out than I would have guessed,” Kaya sighed.

“This is the second alert,” Khala replied then tapped my thumb down on the bottom of the screen. “It looks like there are two more documents attached. The first seems to be instructions on what to do if they encounter us and a warning about an unusually strong blue-haired human female and the other is…”

“What?! The other is what?!” Farris demanded.

“The second is a list of possible places where they think we may try to hide. Including what the documents list as ‘fallen rebel strongholds’,” Khala said glancing at Farris irritably.

“What? Let me see!” Kaya said, leaping across the control room and pushed Khala out of the way.

“Fuck! There’s got to be at least twenty locations listed here. God, there’s our base in Idaho and the one in Texas! God dammit!” she cursed bowing her head as tears cascaded down her cheeks. “The rest of these… they have to have been ours too. Somehow they knew where they all were! There isn’t a single rebel who knows the location of all our bases! How the fucking hell did they find them!?”

“You’re jumping to conclusions!” Strave proclaimed. “There’s no way we can know that for sure! They could be sending out this information to try and bait us! We can’t–”

“Bait us?! That doesn’t make any sense!” Jaysen interrupted. “I think the only thing that message would do is drive us into hiding!”

“And that’s exactly what we have to do,” Kaya said raising her head and locking gazes with Jaysen. “Go into hiding. We need to give it some time so those bastards cangrow complacent again. Any attempts to try and contact the movement and we could alert those gray-skinned bastards to our whereabouts.”

“No!” the doctor protested. “We must speak privately before you make such a decision.”

“Privately? Doctor–”

“There are things you must know. There is still hope. Mara prepared for this eventuality,” the doctor interrupted Kaya his hands quivering.

“Mara,” Kaya mused letting out a sound that seemed to be halfway between a sob and chuckle. “Is there anything she didn’t prepare for?”

“Khala keep the ship on course. The doctor and I, we’ll be back very shortly…” she trailed off then glanced at Vakrexid and added. “Most likely,” before stepping out of the bridge with towering alien in tow.

“Change of plans,” Kaya said stepping back onto the bridge about twenty minutes later.

“What? What’s going on?” Jaysen asked spinning around to glance at her.

“Put this damn thing in autonav and give control of that body back to Lexa. She and I are going to have a long talk,” Kaya demanded glaring at the symbiote. I half expected her to tap her foot on the ground and begin counting down, but she never did either of those things. “Once we retrieve our supplies our destination will be a short stop into Old Salt Lake City from there we’ll be headed to compound Het’ma.”

What reason could she possibly have for sending us off to compound Het’ma? I’d spent most of my youth in that damn place and the idea of returning wasn’t very appealing. Then again willingly going to any slave compound didn’t sound all that fun either. There was my sister to consider… there was a chance she might still be there and I think I would do just about anything if it meant seeing her again.

Khala turned away from her tapping my fingers against the control panel. “It is done,” she said closing my eyes.

I let out a long sigh as I resumed control of my body, “Kaya, what’s this all about?”

“Just… follow me. The doctor and I, we’ll explain everything,” she shook her head and motioned for me to follow as she turned away.

I complied, following her out of the bridge, down a short hallway and into a small room that looked to be the crew quarters. The doctor was waiting inside and he cocked his head to the side as Kaya and I entered the room.

“Vakrexid is most unsure that this is a good idea,” the doctor tooted.

“Lexa and you are the only pe–” she stopped abruptly glancing at the doctor. “–beings I can trust. Strave, Farris, and Jaysen all knew the location of our base which means any one of them could have betrayed us.”

“And the doctor?” I asked.

Kaya sighed. “Mara trusted the doctor with information that would have been devastating to us if the Qharr had caught wind of it.”

“Devastating? What’s to say the doctor didn’t–”

Kaya cut me short. “No, the nature of this information wouldn’t have led to the Qharr finding our bases. This involves the salvation of Earth. ”

“What how?” I shook my head.

“There is much Vakrexid has been asked to hold back, but it pertains to the biometric key and what it gives you access to. Kaya asked me to give you these coordinates should either her or I die,” he replied flapping his arms up and down.

“Me? Why?” I asked folding my arms across my chest.

Kaya pursed her lips. “Because I want you to be my second.”

“Your second? You can’t be serious? Why on Earth would you pick me? You can’t honestly believe that I actually have any idea how to lead?”

“You’re the only person I can trust and besides you know how to be in charge,” she planted her hands on her hips. “You used to run a kitchen, remember?”

“Running a kitchen and leading people into battle is completely different Kai, you know that as well as I do!”

“Obviously, but I already know you can keep your head in a fight and you do know how to give orders,” she replied.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter because you’re not going to die!”

Kaya rolled her eyes and sighed. “God, if I would be so lucky. I’ve watched so many of my friends die, and I’ve always known there was a good possibility that I could too. I have to be prepared for that eventuality, Lexa.”

I nodded. “So then what’s next?”

“Well, we have your uncle’s biometric key. The next step is to find your sister,” Kaya said folding her arms across her chest.

“The question I keep asking myself is why didn’t Mara make contact with Becca once she realized I couldn’t use the key?” I asked.

“We’ve managed to keep an eye on her from a distance, but every time one of our agents tried to make contact they disappeared. We think her husband might have gotten to them. He’s an enforcer for the compound’s head Corrector, Taevok Typel. ”

“Husband?” I blinked. That was a surprise, Becca had always been quite adamant that she’d never get married and to an enforcer, of all people. What could my sister have been thinking?

“Someone named, Jerem Anders, do you know him?”

“Shit! She married Jerem? Holy hell that asshole used to make our lives miserable!” I cursed. “There’s no way Becca would willingly marry him, but God if he’s enforcer now she might not have had any choice. He always had a thing for Becca, but she hated him! The Qharr would have to go and make that damned bully an enforcer, wouldn’t they?”

“That’s why we need you. You might be able to reach your sister where no one else has been able to and you’re special abilities will help you take care of her husband should he cause you any trouble,” she folded her arms across her chest.

“What are we waiting for? We’ve gotta be coming up on that supply cache of yours!” I said putting my hands on my hips then whirled around, burst through the doors and bolted down the hallway toward the bridge.

“We’re close,” Kaya assured us as she led us down yet another mountain path.

“Fuck, I hope so,” Farris cursed.

We’d been hiking up the nearly overgrown mountain path for almost an hour and despite Kaya’s repeated assurances that we were close I couldn’t escape the feeling that we had become completely lost. As someone who had spent nearly the entirety of his… her life within the slave compounds I did not feel at all at home outside at. Still, it was better than living under the thumbs of the Qharr.

“It feels good to be outdoors,” Khala remarked suddenly, and then shrugged. “It is in the nature of every being to seek to create for themselves a safe environment. The wilderness is a wild unpredictable place, but I think at least in some small way most intelligent beings crave to return to a more primal and animalistic state.”

“Isn’t there a reason why most intelligent beings build cities to escape the wilderness? And why do you like it so much? Weren’t the K’teth made artificially?”

“We were engineered true, but I’ve long suspected the Phyrr Lesch harvested genetic code from other species in order to create us,” she replied absently then turned to me and let out a sigh. “This place is beautiful, but it doesn’t compare to the beauty of Tel’c. It makes me feel a little homesick just thinking about it.”

“Tel’c as in the Qharr homeworld?” I scrunched my nose up and glared at her finding an image of a harsh yet strangely beautiful wilderness with brightly-colored carnivorous plant-life and fierce creatures with armored hides and massive clawed paws. The vision was a bit too vivid to have come from my imagination and I realized that it must have originated from Khala’s memories. The realization was disturbing, but it wasn’t the first time something from my symbiote’s mind had popped in my head and I doubted it would be the last. “I suppose it is appealing in a dangerous and strange sort of way, but I hardly think it comes close to Earth. If I were you I’d forget how beautiful, it is ’cause there isn’t a chance in hell you’ll ever going back in which case I’d recommend that you gain a better appreciation for this world.”

“We’re here!” Kaya pronounced coming to an abrupt halt in front of a large boulder.

“Where?” Strave asked looking around and absently scratching at his beard.

She rolled her eyes then knelt down next to the boulder and pressed her hand against the side. There was a click and a panel popped free to reveal a control interface. “You have thirty seconds to enter the correct passcode,” a female voice intoned.

“Now let’s see,” Kaya muttered her hands trace across the screen as she inputted different characters. Finally, she finished mashing her thumb against the bottom of the screen.

“Passcode accepted,” the panel intoned again and the entire side of the boulder swung open with a loud hiss.

“Niiice!” Strave said eagerly reaching into the now open cavity to pull out a phase pistol. “It looks new!”

“Alright, everyone grab as much as you can hopefully we can get it all in one trip,” she said reaching inside to pull a large white bag free.

“Damn I forgot how heavy some of this shit was,” she grunted flinging it over her shoulder.

“Give it to me,” I said suddenly lifting it from her arms and throwing it over my shoulder with about as much effort as it took to lift a bag of feathers.

“That is so damned unfair,” she grumbled grabbing a second sack which I promptly snatched out of her hand.

I grabbed a third sack from her hands then waited for the others to load up. Farris and Strave took the largest loads next to me, of course, and Kaya took the last two bags, which were relatively small.

“Let’s get back to the ship, before the good doctor starts to wonder if we’re coming back at all,” Kaya said and without another word we made our way back to the ship.

Upon arriving back at the ship we went through the supplies. The bulk of it was weapons, ranging from phase pistols to explosives but there appeared to be a small selection of other things including food, medical supplies and clothing.

“God damn, what’s this all for?” I said rifling through the clothes.

Kaya shrugged, “Disguises. They’re actually the main reason I chose this cache. If we’re going to sneak into the compound we’re going to need a disguise for you. We have what we need to make hair dye. Let’s face it, that blue hair is just too fucking conspicuous.”

“And my eyes?” I asked.

Kaya pursed her lips, “Well… I was hoping the symbiote could help with that she changed your eyes once maybe she can do it again.”

“I’ll help,” said appearing beside me. “On one condition.”

“You pick now to start making demands?” I grimaced then shook my head; I really didn’t want to get drawn into an argument with her. “Just tell me what it is.”

“You help me find a host for my offspring,” she replied.

“What?! No, I’m not going to let you infest any other humans with more like you!” I protested fighting the sudden urge to swing my fist at Khala’s illusory form.

Kaya glanced at me with wide eyes, but she didn’t say a word as I glared at Khala.

“My kind were created so that we would be extremely limited in how often we can produce offspring. I happen to be in a very important phase of my reproduction cycle. The infant symbiote that is growing within us is another H’ra. If my child does not find a host she will die and it will be many, many years before I am able to spawn another Queen. Please, I am begging you. The future of both our races is riding on this!” she pleaded a single tear running down her face.

“Cut the waterworks. You don’t have any damned tear-ducts so don’t pretend you do!” I yelled then grabbed at the sides of my head as I tried to think of some other alternative.

If the K’teth were allowed to spread to other humans what would become of humanity? What if we gained freedom from the Qharr only to turn around and find ourselves enslaved to the K’teth? But was it slavery? The K’teth were extremely limited in what they could do. Khala had been able to change me physically, but she couldn’t take away my freedom of will away and I was almost certain by that point that she could only gain control of my body if I let her. I was stronger and capable of much greater physical feats than an ordinary human, but I’d lost far too much to make it worth it. Despite all that I knew what I had to do.

“Shit!” I cursed finally. “I guess I have no choice, but I have a condition of my own. I don’t want you putting a symbiote into anyone unless they are willing.”

“If that is what it takes then I swear it. To the fullest of my abilities I will insure that no offspring of mine shall be joined with a human against their will,” Khala nodded locking gazes with me.

“It’s agreed… God, I think I just made a deal with the damned devil. Change me… do it before I reconsider!” I yelled and clenched my eyes shut waiting for the symbiote to begin the transformation. I waited for what had to be a good thirty seconds then opened my eyes again. I opened my mouth to speak and that’s when it happened. A very familiar bright white light flooded my vision and I gasped as my eyes burned with intense pain.

“Damn, that hurt a lot more than I remembered,” I exclaimed shaking my head as my vision cleared then turned to Kaya. “So… how do I look?”

Kaya pursed her lips. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about?”

“The symbiote and I made a deal. She helps me in exchange… I help her find a willing human to act as host for her offspring.”

“Fuck! You actually agre–”

“Don’t Kai… I know I’ll probably live to regret it, but if we stand any hope of being successful I’m going to need Khala’s cooperation,” I interrupted her.

Kaya bit her lip then titled her head so she could look into my eyes. “Those eyes… they’re so much like the ones you had before you were changed,” she muttered absently tracing her hand across my cheek.

“The ones that belonged to the man I loved,” she said with a slight shudder before quickly snatching her hand away.

“So…” she said averting her eyes and quickly changed the subject. “What about the hair? Like I said we could dye it, but it might be easier if Khala just changed it.”

Khala rolled her eyes, “Your hair is composed of dead cells and I can only bond with living tissue. I can’t change its color once it has grown, but if you really want I can make it fall out, like I did before, and regrow it.”

“Do it, just this time maybe don’t make it so long… like maybe ten or eleven centimeters,” I replied reaching up to touch the top of my scalp and run my hand through it.

Khala’s granted me an illusory smirk then just as it had before when my hand moved across my scalp my hair fell out. Once it was all shed away, I picked up a strand and held it up in front of my face and dropped it with a loud yelp as new sharp pain flared across the top of my head. I felt my eyes widen and I gritted my teeth then gripped the side of my head as fresh hair sprouted atop it.

“Damn, I know some people who would kill to be able to do that,” Kaya said with a lopsided grin.

“Yeah, well they should count themselves lucky that they can’t.” I shook my head.

“So how’s the hair look?” I ask grabbing a lock and holding it out in front of my face.

“It’s a pretty big change, but I think it suits you. The black is a definite improvement… I mean anything would be better than blue… Don’t get me wrong you’re beautiful no matter what color your hair is, but that blue really makes you stand out!”

Khala folded her arms across her chest and glared at Kaya, “What’s wrong with blue?”

I let out what I intended to be a chuckle, but wound up sounding like a girlish giggle as I looked from Kaya to the symbiote and back again.

“What?” they both asked in unison.

I cleared my throat and quickly changed the subject. “Are we done here? Suddenly I’m just starving.”

Kaya rolled her eyes, and grabbed a shiny-reflective box from the stack of supplies and tossed it to me. “Here, we can’t be far away now. You can eat on the bridge.”

“Hey, what the hell does freeze dried mean?” I asked furrowing my brows as I read the label on the box, but when I looked up Kaya was gone.

Chapter Three

“I said empty your damn pockets, Farris!” Strave screamed holding a weapon trained on the other rebel.

“Would someone please explain what the hell is going on?” Kaya pronounced as the two of us stepped onto the bridge.

“Yeah, Strave’s gone fucking nuts!” Farris yelled frantically.

Jaysen stepped in folding his arms across his chest. “Well, Strave and I came in and we found Farris fiddling with something. I didn’t get a good look at it, but Strave thinks it might be Qharr tech. Farris stuffed whatever it was in his pocket and insists it was nothing.”

“Oh for hell sakes!” Kaya cried stepping between Strave and Farris. “Would you two just calm down?”

Strave holstered his weapon then folded his arms across his chest and glared at Farris who turned to look at Kaya. “Look,” he said his eyes darting back and forth between Kaya and Strave.

“I found this thing in my pocket, but I swear to God I have no idea how it got there. Someone must have planted it on me,” he said turning to glare at me as he produced a small black cube that was about four centimeters square.

“When Strave and Jaysen walked in on me I panicked and tried to hide it, but, hell Kaya, you’ve got to believe me… It’s not mine!” Farris protested wiping sweat from his brow.

Kaya snatched the cube from his hands and held it out to Jaysen. “What do you think?”

“It’s definitely Qharr tech. Looks like one of those personal communicators the Inquisitors like to carry around, but sized for a human. Let’s see if I’m right there should be a slight indent in the side there that should open it,” he said absently as he gently plucked the device from her hands then turned it over and over in his hands as he held it up to the light.

“WAIT!” Kaya said flinging her hand out and clenching it around Jaysen’s. “Is that such a good idea? Opening it I mean.”

Jaysen shrugged, “Well, it’s really the only way to confirm that it’s a communicator. If you’re worried about the Qharr using it to track us. I don’t really think that’s how it works otherwise they’d probably already know where we are.”

Kaya nodded. “Do it.”

Jaysen pressed his finger into a small indent on the side of the cube and there was the faintest click as the device opened to reveal a small screen. “Damn, looks like I was right,” he muttered with sad shake of his head.

Kaya didn’t wait for a reply, she grabbed the communicator back out of Jaysen’s hand threw it up in the air, snatched the phase pistol from Strave then blew the damn thing to smithereens. “That takes care of that. Now, we just got to decide what to do with you!” she rounded on Farris, her teeth clenched as she pressed the barrel of the gun against the left side of his jaw.

“Please!” Farris begged openly weeping as his whole body trembled. “It wasn’t me! Please, just give me a chance.”

“I can’t take that risk,” she muttered her eyes narrowing as her whole body tensed.

“No stop!” I cried stepping toward the two of them with an outstretched hand.

“You’re about the last person I’d expect to come Farris’s defense,” Strave said his eyes wide with surprise.

“As far as I’m concerned we should string him up and flay him,” Kaya growled pressing the phase pistol into Farris’s skin with such force that he stumbled backward.

“We are NOT the Qharr,” I said looking about the room. “We’re better than they are! Or at least I’ve always believed so! How many of us have lost friends or family because one of those bastards decided they’d done something wrong? You guys want to kill Farris without even giving him a chance to prove his innocence! How is that any different from the gray-skins? He had a Qharr device! So fucking what! Any one of us could have easily slipped that in his pocket without him noticing! Being a jackass isn’t proof of guilt!”

Jaysen nodded. “She’s right. We can’t kill him… not without being completely sure. I don’t want his blood on my hands.”

“Yeah, well what do you propose we do with him until then? We’re coming up on your old compound now! We can’t just leave him in the ship with no one but the doctor to guard him!” Kaya panted the hand holding the pistol quivering as she yelled.

“We need to interrogate him… ” Jaysen trailed off glancing at Farris. “Maybe then we can figure something out.”

Kaya shook her head, glanced at Farris then raised her phase pistol and slammed the butt into the side of Farris’s head. The platinum-haired goon’s eyes rolled into the back of his skull and he fell to the ground face first.

“Damn, I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” she said with a dramatic sigh and turned to Strave. “You and Jaysen go and lock him up in the rear crew quarters and see if you can’t find some rope or maybe some of that organic cabling the grays like so much, so we can tie him up.”

Strave nodded then without a word bent over and flipped Farris over his shoulder then turned to Jaysen grinning from ear to ear. “Care to join me?”

Jaysen nodded then just before he left he turned to me. “Oh, by the way the new hair and eyes… Th-they look nice.”

“Shit, what the hell was that all about?” Kaya rounded on me after the two of them had left.

“This all seems a bit too convenient doesn’t it? We think we may have been betrayed and suddenly we find Farris with a Qharr communicator. I think it’s a setup. I think whoever is really responsible planted it on him knowing that we’d all be quick to jump down his throat,” I muttered with a shake of my head.

“Then what the hell do you propose we do?”

“Oh, the solution is quite simple,” Khala said suddenly appearing leaning against Kaya’s shoulder. “Set the ship down and set a trap for your betrayer.”

I relayed what Khala had said to Kaya, who then grimaced. “And how does she propose we do that?”

I stopped to listen to Khala then turned to Kaya with a shrug, “We bluff them and hope someone falls for it.”

“Well then,” Kaya grimaced. “What the hell do we have to lose? Let’s do it.”

“Vakrexid is most fond of potatoes,” the doctor proclaimed his head titling back and forth. “The taste of them when they are juiced… It is most nectarous!”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it,” I mumbled letting out a long yawn as the doctor continued to babble on.

“You know,” I said suddenly. “It’s probably best if no one heard me talking. I mean you are supposed to be guarding Farris alone.”

“Ah, yes. Of course, of course!” the doctor proclaimed absently running his hand across his face tubes. “Vakrexid shall talk to myself then.”

“Won’t that seem a little odd if anyone heard?”

“Odd… Why? I frequently talk to Vakrexid,” he replied letting out an odd sort of trumpeting sound.

“Alright, well just… forget it,” I mumbled running a hand through the back of my head. It felt odd having so little hair there. I’d sort of gotten used to my longer tresses.

I shook my head and let out a long sigh as the doctor continued to name the Earth foods he liked to juice; including, oddly enough, salmon and mice. How in the world could you juice a fish much less a rodent? I shook my head, suppressed a chuckle and looked down at Farris’s form. He was chained to the bed and was sound asleep thanks in no small part to the cocktail of drugs the doctor had given him. It would be so much easier if he proved to be the traitor, but as much as I tried to convince myself that he was I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.

The doctor continued to babble and nothing happened for what seemed like the longest time, then all of a sudden the door slid open and Straffen poked his head in. “Doctor,” he grinned pointing his thumb over his shoulder. “It’s time for Jaysen and me to have a turn.”

Vakrexid cocked his head. “Has it been four hours already? It is as you humans say, the passing of events flies when you are enjoying yourself.”

“Close enough doc, close enough,” Strave muttered before strolling into the room followed closely by Jaysen, who was so much smaller than the bearded rogue that he had been completely obscured by the other’s larger frame until Strave had stepped away. They both carried pistols at their hips but Jaysen’s was of a much smaller and thus less powerful variety. I gritted my teeth and sunk down further into the bunk-bed then waited for the doctor to depart.

“I don’t know why the fuck we don’t just blow Farris’s brains out here and now,” Strave growled once the doctor had zoomed out the still open door.

“I don’t know…” Jaysen trailed off. “Maybe Lexa’s right about Farris deserving the chance to prove his innocence. I know he’s a huge asshole, but he’s been fighting with the resistance for almost ten years.”

“Come on, Jaysen you and I both know the bastard’s guilty why waste the time on him?”

“Because we know who the real traitor is,” Kaya muttered suddenly appearing in the doorway toting two phase pistols in either hand.

I gritted my teeth and felt my muscles tense up. I hadn’t expected Kaya to make her appearance so soon, but knowing her impatient nature I wasn’t really surprised. It really didn’t affect the plan whatsoever so I suppose it didn’t really matter.

“It’s Strave,” Kaya said grimly.

“Very good, Kaya. So you figured it out did you?” Strave said suddenly pulling out his own phase pistol and training it on the other rebel.

“No, actually. I didn’t, but you just gave yourself away,” she scowled training both of her pistols on Strave. “Lexa thought this whole thing seemed jilted, but she didn’t know whether you or Jaysen was the traitor so we came up with this little plan. Personally, I didn’t expect it to work, but we had to try something.”

“Clever, but I’m afraid it doesn’t do you any good,” Strave muttered. “The Qharr have destroyed nearly all your bases and captured or killed most of the members of your rebellion. You’re all that’s left.”

“Why?!” Kaya shaking with rage. “Why the fucking hell did you do it Strave? You hate the Qharr as much as any of us!”

Strave threw his head back and let out a throaty laugh, “I used to, but… then I met up with a couple Hunters about a half a year back and they showed me the error of my ways. The Qharr are our rightful masters and why shouldn’t they be? We are a loathsome honor-less people. Under their rule we’ll learn the true meaning of honor and thus bring true everlasting joy into our lives.”

‘By the makers! His mind has been bent!’ Khala curses echoed through my mind.

‘Bent?!

‘This is inconceivable! I did not believe the Ascendancy would go to such lengths! To do such a thing… it is without honor!”

“Christ, you’re freaking insane!” Jaysen muttered stumbling backward with a horror-filled look on his face.

“No, it’s you damned rebels who are insane! You fight the Qharr and bring misery to the rest of us! If you served the masters like you were supposed to, they wouldn’t bring so much pain down on us! Don’t you see? It’s all your fault!”

“News flash!” Kaya yelled. “You’ve been fighting right alongside of us.”

“I know,” Strave shook his head and started to sob. “When the masters helped me to understand the truth. They gave me this task so that I could earn forgiveness and if you join me and tell them what they need to know they’ll forgive you too.”

“What they need to know? What the fuck would that be!?” Kaya yelled between clenched teeth.

“Mara’s secret plan. I never was able to figure it all out, but I know about the biometric key and I know she thought it could be used to save humanity. My handlers thought it was important enough that they instructed me to help you escape so I could find out what she had planned.”

Kaya was shaking with rage and I knew it was only a matter of time before she pulled the trigger on one of her pistols. “Just tell me one more thing, you only knew the location of a handful of bases, how the fuck, did you figure out where the rest of them were?”

“That, my dear Kaya was easy. You see as you might recall I was involved in the transfer of supplies. I didn’t need to know the locations all I had to do was place small almost undetectable tracking devices inside some of the supplies so that the Qharr could track their comings and goings.”

“That’s all I needed to know,” Kaya narrowed her eyes then pulled the trigger.

Strave suddenly dove out of the way and the phase bolt struck the wall instead. The bearded traitor trained his own phase weapon on Kaya. I picked that moment to act. I dove off the bunk bed and went flying at him, but he was ready for me. There was a flash of metal and a bang, pain exploded in my chest and I collapsed to the ground at his feet clutching at my right breast.

“Mara’s Magnum,” Strave grinned. “I grabbed it from where she had it stashed on the Phoenix. I thought it might come in handy if you caused any trouble. You honestly think I didn’t see you hiding up there on that bunk?”

“Now,” he growled turned back to Kaya and placing the barrel of the gun against my back. “Put the god-damned pistols down or I fire again!”

“Fuck,” Kaya muttered dropping both of her guns and glaring at Strave with a look that sent cold shivers up my spine.

“Well, that was easy,” Strave laughed. “… but Lexa’s too dangerous to keep alive. So I’m going to have to kill her. It’s too bad really she really knows how to give a guy a good fucking.”

“Nooo!” Jaysen yelled and threw himself at Strave.

I gasped and rolled onto my back then staggered back to my feet. My chest hurt like hell, but I didn’t let that stop me. Of course, if I wasn’t bonded with Khala I doubted I’d have the strength to even lift my arm. I slowly turned and watched as Jaysen struggled against the other man.

I swallowed hard as I realized that the much smaller man didn’t stand a chance. Whatever advantage Jaysen had gained when he jumped Strave quickly evaporated when the bigger man began to fight back. Suddenly, there was another loud bang and Jaysen collapsed to the ground with a huge wound in his chest from Strave’s weapon. I didn’t even know if Jaysen was dead or alive when his assailant rounded on me, but I did know I was going to make that bastard pay.

Rage the like of which I’d only felt a handful of times in my life filled me and I raced to where Strave was standing not caring if he shot me or not. He brought the weapon up, but before he could fire I grabbed his wrist and twisted it away from me. I felt something snap, probably one of his bones, and he howled out in pain as the gun slipped from his grip “That was a mistake, you mother-fucking bastard,” I spat and locked my hands around his neck and with one violent jerk snapped it. I shoved his body aside then I fell to my knees next to Jaysen’s inert form frantically feeling for a pulse and felt a surge of hope as I found a very faint thump.

I turned to look at Strave and felt a deep sadness come over me. Poor Strave, he didn’t deserve what had been done to him. He was a womanizing bastard to be sure, but to actually have his mind twisted in such a manner. It was horrendous. Killing him was probably a mercy to his soul, but this realization didn’t make me feel any better or help to remove the sour taste from my mouth.

“Kaya,” I breathed bowing my head over Jaysen’s chest. “Get the doctor… Hurry!”

I felt tears well up in my eyes as I stared down at him and let in a long intake of breathe as I confronted a new set of emotions. Guilt. I felt bile rise in my throat and shuddered as I thought of having sex with Strave. I’d let myself find comfort in the arms of a traitor even if he wasn’t responsible for his actions. If only I’d seen through his veil! Maybe I could have prevented this whole mess. Maybe, we could have even found a way to save Strave and return him to his former self. If I had just done something differently…

“Move aside! Vakrexid is here!” the doctor suddenly proclaimed from the doorway.

I bit my lip, struggled back to my feet and stepped away still clutching at my bleeding chest.

“No, no, this… it is not good,” Vakrexid muttered his hands tracing across Jaysen’s wound.

“Is he… is he going to be alright?” I mumbled fighting back tears.

“Vakrexid cannot say. His condition is most dire. If I had access to my equipment from the bunker Vakrexid is certain I could save him, but the implements the Qharr use they are unfamiliar and Vakrexid is unsure if I can make proper use of them.”

‘There is another way. My child, the symbiote, which is growing within your body, is nearly mature. If we were to let my daughter bond with your friend she may be able to save his life,’ Khala’s voice whispered in my mind.

I felt cold chills run down my spine as I realized the implications. I could save Jaysen, but only by making him like me. ‘He’s unconscious,’ I answered her back. ‘You agreed not to let another human be bonded against their will.’

‘I think there is call for an exception don’t you? I made the agreement with you therefore you can override it. You could save his life isn’t that what you want?’

I swallowed hard and looked down at Jaysen’s inert form. The symbiote would surely transform him just as Khala had transformed me, but wasn’t that what he wanted? He’d be saddled with an unwelcome guest for the rest of his life, but wasn’t that worth it if it meant saving him? I didn’t know, but I made the only choice I could stomach and felt an even greater surge of guilt as I came to my decision. Jaysen had taken that shot trying to save me if only I hadn’t acted more quickly.

‘Tell me what I have to do.’

‘My daughter is not mature and as such she will need extra help with the bonding process.’

‘So you need energy?’ I replied, but didn’t wait for a reply. I swirled around; my gun wound temporarily forgotten thanks in no small part to Khala, as I practically leapt out the door.

“Lexa wait!” Kaya called after me, but I didn’t stop or give any sign that I heard her.

“God dammit Lexa!” Kaya yelled grabbing my shoulder from behind.

I whirled on her, and stared into her eyes. “Let go Kaya!”

“What the hell are you doing?!”

“I… I can save her Kaya,” I growled.

“Her?! Who’s her?!”

Jaysen was a woman, even if she had the body of a man. I’d let my own perception of gender keep me from seeing that. “Jaysen! I can save her life. Now let go!”

Kaya eyes were wide as her hands slid away and I didn’t waste any more time as I broke out in a run. I hadn’t been far from the engine room so it didn’t take me long to reach it, but I could not escape the feeling that I was wasting precious minutes.

“Okay, you’re going to have to help me out here,” I spoke to Khala aloud. “What’s the best way to way to do this?”

‘Remove that wall-plate in the right corner there above that panel. From there I should be able to drain power directly from the ship’s reactor.’

“Damn, I really hope you know what you’re talking about,” I said before grabbing hold of the wall plate. There looked to be a mechanism for releasing it, but I didn’t waste the time trying to figuring it out. I summoned up all the enhanced strength Khala granted me and ripped the damn thing off the wall.

“Okay, what now?” I asked tossing the wall plate to the ground.

There was a single thick tube about twenty centimeters in diameter within the opening, and as I stared at it, Khala told me what to do. In the middle there was a slight bulge and I grabbed at it pressing my finger into an indentation wide enough around to accommodate a Qharr finger. There was a faint click and the sheathing slid away to reveal the bare wires within.

“That’s convenient,” I said tentatively reaching out to grab the exposed cords.

I felt a surge of sudden energy as electrical currents swam up and down my arm. ‘There is nothing convenient about it. All Qharr ships have an access such as this in the event of an emergency,’ she replied just before she began to feed.

Power beyond anything I had ever experiences before slammed into me with the force of a stampeding bull, so much so that I was almost painful and yet… it felt good at the same time. An abrupt and very sharp pain flared in my right breast and I heard the ping of metal against the floor as the bullet flew out from my wound. I reached up to grab at my chest only to find that smooth flesh where before there had been a mass of bloody tissue. I let out a high pitched squeal as Khala continued to take in more power and the pain seemed to increase tenfold.

“God!” I screamed.

Then, with no warning whatsoever the pain fled, I let my hand slip away from the wires and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing to my knees. ‘Shit! You could have warned me! That hurt like hell!’

‘Pain is a part of life. You cannot let it rule you.’

I gritted my teeth and shook my head. “I’m not some damned Qharr! I haven’t been trained to keep pain at bay! I’ve lived with pain all my life! It doesn’t mean I enjoy it!”

Khala didn’t answer and I didn’t waste any more time with her. I raced out the door and back to the room where Kaya and the others were waiting. While I was away, Kaya and the doctor had moved Jaysen from the floor to one of the bunks. I moved nervously toward where Jaysen’s inert form was resting then I took a deep breath and…

“Lexa!” Kaya said suddenly her hand latching down on my shoulder. “You’re not going to put one of those things inside of him. Are you?”

I shuddered and reached up to touch her hand, “It’s the only way.”

“Most fascinating, Vakrexid would not believe it possible for a K’teth symbiote to mature so quickly.”

I shook my head, “It… isn’t mature. Khala hasn’t exactly clued me in on all the details, but I think she’s got it figured out somehow.”

“God, Lexa I don’t know. Are you sure about this?!” Kaya asked.

I turned to grip her shoulders in either of my hands. “Hell no. The symbiote may not even be able to heal her, but there’s a chance. I just can’t let her die. I… I just can’t. ”

Kaya pursed her lips, nodded then took a step back. “Do whatever you have to do.”

‘Give me control. It will be much simpler that way,’ Khala urged through our bond.

I hesitated, a thousand reasons why what I was about to do was a bad idea sprung to mind all at once, but all my misgiving fled before one inescapable truth if I didn’t do it Jaysen would most likely die. I barely knew Jaysen, but I lost so much in my life that I couldn’t bear the thought of losing another person that I cared about. It was selfish act one born out of desperation and my own guilt at not stopping Strave, but at that point in time all I cared about was making sure Jaysen didn’t die. I swallow hard, closed my eyes and gave over control to my symbiote.

I could feel the energy pulsating into my hands as Khala placed them on Jaysen’s chest. It started out as a trickle at first, but the thick goo soon came gushing out from my pores at an alarming rate. It didn’t hurt at all, but I suspected Khala may have taken my protestations against my earlier pain to heart and was numbing the pain. Finally, the pulsating subsided and Khala withdrew my hands.

I got my first good look at a symbiote and I actually pretty underwhelmed at the sight of the creature. It looked to have the consistency of a thick pudding, but was a semi-transparent milky white and devoid of color. It was hard to believe that such an unremarkable looking fluid could actually be a living thinking being. Then, the fluid suddenly moved seeming to slink its way across Jaysen’s skin before seeping into the phaseshot wound in his chest.

I stumbled backward and fell down flat on my ass realizing, too late, that Khala had returned control. “I-It’s finished.” I whispered then felt tears cascade down my face. “My God! What have I done?!”

Chapter Four

Hours passed by and nothing seemed to happen. I worried that Jaysen’s body had somehow rejected the K’teth, or else the symbiote had been too premature to do any good, but I didn’t voice my concerns not even to Khala. Instead I sat there beside Jaysen’s bed and I waited. The doctor bandaged Jaysen’s wounds and retrieved equipment from the ship’s medical bay so that he could monitor her condition, but made no attempts to move her.

The whole thing had left me drained and feeling weak. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but when Kaya and the doctor suggested I get some rest I steadfastly refused. I had to watch over Jaysen she’d been shot trying to save me. It seemed like the very least I could do.

“You know, even you need sleep, you’re not invincible,” Kaya said placing a hand on my shoulder.

“I need to look after her; it’s my fault she was shot…”

“Is that what’s this about? Lexa, trust me there’s nothing you could have done,” she said wrapping her arms around me in a hug.

“I let him touch me!” I shuddered. “God! I remember thinking there must have been more to him than he was letting on. I even thought I caught a glimmer of the real him, but good God! Whatever I thought I saw when we slept together it wasn’t really him!”

Kaya sighed and shook her head. “That wasn’t the real Strave we saw today. Whatever those bastards did to him, they killed the real Strave. He’s been dead for months. That thing was just an empty shell, a shadow of the Strave I knew. He was a selfish two-timing womanizing bastard, but even he didn’t deserve that fate. He hated the Qharr as much as the rest of us. They must have really twisted his mind to make him think those things.”

I nodded and put my head on her shoulder weeping silently. “The only reason I slept with him was because of what happened between the two of us when you told me you were pregnant. I just wanted to be close to someone.”

“Oh Jellfree,” she whispered quietly muttering my male name. “I never wanted to hurt you. It’s just… God I feel like such an ass even saying this, but I want to be with you. The mind is willing, but the body isn’t. I’m just not attracted to women.”

“I know,” I replied. “I’ve accepted that now, but when you ran off on me it forced me to finally come to grips with the fact that we could never be together and it was like my whole world came crashing down around me. After what Strave and I did I thought I might have found someone else, but I realize now how stupid that was…”

“It wasn’t stupid… Strave had a way about him. I don’t know many women who were immune to his charms at least once he set his eyes on them.”

“I don’t know, you seemed to have had his number…”

“He fooled me at first too,” she shook her head. “I even got involved with him for a while before I caught him in bed with another woman.”

“That explains some things…”

“Lexa, I think it’s about time you get some rest… don’t you?”

“What about Jaysen?”

Kaya rolled her eyes. “You’re not the only one around here who can sit around in a chair and wait for him… her,” she corrected after glancing at me. “To wake up.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but felt a wave of dizziness wash over me. Blackness creeped around the edges of my vision, but gritted my teeth and fought against it. Whatever Khala had done sure had taken a toll out of me I just hadn’t realized the full extent of it until that moment.

“Lexa!” Kaya yelled gripping my shoulders and shaking me. “You alright?”

“Yeah, I just… I think you’re right I think it’s time I got some rest…”

“Damn, I feel like shit,” I stretched my arms with a loud yawn just before I sat up with a slight groan. I looked around the room blankly trying to remember how I’d gotten there when it all came back to me in a rush of memories. Everything from confronting and killing Strave to feeling dizzy while talking to Khala and collapsing in an exhausted heap on one of the nearby bunks.

‘What the hell happened? What did you do to make me so freaking tired?’ I thought at Khala.

‘I gave too much energy over to my daughter. I was concerned that the strain of the bonding process would be too much for her,’ she muttered back her voice almost seemed muffled in my mind. ‘Since our systems are irrevocably entwined anytime I am low on energy it affects you as well.’

“A little warning would have been nice,” I said aloud and nearly jumped out of my skin as an unfamiliar face seemed to materialize right there in front of me.

I furrowed my brows and stared at the blue-haired girl with a gorgeous face and magenta eyes standing in front of me before it finally dawned on me who she was. “Jaysen?”

“The one and only,” she beamed at me grinning from ear to ear. Her lighter and very feminine voice was quite different from the soft tenor I’d grown accustomed to.

“You haven’t finished changing?” I asked look down at her still flat chest and decidedly male body.

“No, but I’m sure at this rate it won’t take more than a few days.”

‘Why so long?’ I asked Khala. ‘Shouldn’t it be faster with the amount of energy we gave the other symbiote?’

‘Remember my daughter was not fully mature when she entered your friend. The process of transforming Jaysen will be all the more difficult for her because of it and she’ll need to assume some of the hosts mass in order to reach her proper size.’

“Lexa!” Jaysen cried frantically shaking at my shoulder. “You all right?!”

“Fine,” I shook my head. “I was just talking to Khala.”

“Sorry, Kaya said you had a dizzy spell or something. The doctor ran some tests and said you were suffering from simple exhaustion. Which was probably caused by well… this,” she said holding her hands up to her face.

I winced shaking my head as tears started to gush from my eyes. “Shit… I’m so sorry. You’ve got to believe me if there had been any other way.”

“Lexa… stop!” she said planting her index finger on my lips. “I was a little freaked out, no scat that, I was really freaked out when Kaya first told me, but I don’t blame you. She said that if you hadn’t put that thing in me I’d probably be dead. You saved my life there’s no reason for you to apologize.”

I gritted my teeth and clenched my hands around my eyes. “The only reason you were injured in the first place was because of me and now you’re stuck with a K’teth for the rest of your life!”

Jaysen reached out forcing my hands away from my face then she did something I wasn’t prepared for at all. She kissed me. “God, I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time now!” she smiled shyly. “Do you know why I attacked Strave? You! God, I can’t get you out my head! Before I was so afraid to say anything because I was thought you would reject me, but I could have died and you never would have known how I felt!”

“I-I really don’t know what to say,” I muttered pushing myself away from her. “I mean I never thought of you that way.”

Jaysen bowed her head and looked at me with a crestfallen expression, “I’m sorry. I… that was stupid I shouldn’t have kissed you.”

“No it wasn’t stupid,” I shook my head then reached out and did something that, I think, surprised us both: I kissed her back. It was impulsive act one which came with a sudden and simple revelation, I had developed feelings for Jaysen. It had been why I’d been so desperate to save her… Oh hell, why hadn’t I seen it before?

“Oh wow, I honestly didn’t see that coming!” Jaysen breathed a slow smile creeping onto her face.

“Yeah, neither did I,” I smiled back reaching up to cup her face.

“What are you two grinning about?” Kaya suddenly pronounced and we both turned to see her leaning against the door frame, her arms folded across her chest and her lips spread out in a smirk.

“N-nothing,” Jaysen blushed scratching at the back of her neck. “I was, uh, I was just thanking Lexa for saving me.”

Kaya pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes glancing at us suspiciously. “Whatever you say.”

“You know the doctor would be too happy if he found you out of bed,” Kaya added moving across the room and frowned as she placed a hand on Jaysen’s shoulder.

Jaysen shrugged and looked up at her with a guilty expression on her face. “I feel fine. You can’t seriously expect me to stay cooped up in this room until this thing in me is finished do you? Besides you guys didn’t keep Lexa locked up when she changed.”

“Jaysen, you almost died!” She protested throwing her arms up in the air.

‘It’s actually a good idea if your friend took it easy. The transformation process is going to be much harder than it was for you,’ Khala’s voice rang through my head.

“Kaya’s right,” I agreed. “The symbiote isn’t mature. Khala said that it’s going to be harder for you because of it.”

Jaysen sighed and shook her head. “Damn, not you too. Well, I guess I can handle sitting still for a little while, but If I’m going to be stuck here so are you.”

I bit my lip. “I wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. I still feel like crap.”

“Alright, you two get some rest. I’ll probably be back to check on you in a few hours and I’m sure the doctor will be in once he wakes from his beauty rest,” Kaya pronounced and disappeared back through the doorway.

Jaysen watched Kaya go then turned to me with a very slight smile. “I guess I am sort of tired, but its kind of chilly in here and there isn’t much in the way of blankets. I don’t know how you guys expect me to get any sleep.”

“Duvak, my old master, used to say ‘One must endure the cold to of the night in order to endure the challenges of the day'” I shrugged. “Personally, I think it was a load of shit, but he always said he was quoting some Qharr proverb.”

“Typical Qharr attitude,” Jaysen shook her head. “Of course, I think they must have been engineered to handle a much broader range of temperatures than us, but…”

“I was thinking,” she muttered her cheeks turning bright-red as she spoke. “I mean if you didn’t mind, we could share a bed. These Qharr bunks are more than big enough for the two of us and we could keep each other warm.”

I felt my own cheeks burn at the thought of it, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’d ever shared my bed for the purpose of staying warm. It was a bit chilly in the ship and knowing the gray-skins I doubted there was any way to adjust the temperature, but I suspected Jaysen might have other reasons for wishing to bunk up and I don’t really think it took a genius to figure out what those reasons were.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

She bit her lip and nodded as tears started to stream down her face, “Yeah, you’re probably right… it’s just that this thing, what it’s doing to me. It’s like a dream come true, but at the same time it scares me. Having one of those things always there inside my mind… Will it influence me? Will it change me? I-I’m terrified, and I just want to be held.”

I swallowed hard and tried to give her an encouraging smile. I understood perfectly where she was coming from because I’d been there myself. I guess, I’d misjudged her reasons for wanting to share a bed.

“It’s scary, I know, and Khala can be frustrating to the point that I want to tear all my hair out, but you know what? At the end of the day I’m still me. Is she influencing me? Yeah, she offers her opinions and provides me with information, and that influences the decisions I make, but the things I care about, my goals, what makes me, me, my heart, the core of being it doesn’t change. I’m the one in control not her!”

She nodded between sobs. “I-I hope you’re right.”

“Come here,” I whispered holding my hand out to her.

She looked down at it, bit her lip then without a word took my hand and climbed into bed with me. She didn’t say a word and I reached across to put my arm around her. She put her head on my shoulder and I could feel her tears stream down my back as she continued to weep. The warmth of her body against mine felt nice, and I reached out to stroke her hair. We stayed like that for quite a while until her tears dried up and eventually we both drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Five

“SUCCULENCE!” the doctor proclaimed his voice whistling through the room just before he sucked liquid up his center face tube from a small coffee cup with the words, ‘How about a nice big cup of shut the fuck up?’ emblazoned across its front. Where the doctor had found the thing was beyond me, and I never really got a chance to ask.

“Vakrexid is most pleased!” he added setting his drink down. “You seem to have recovered from your temporary stint of fatigue.”

“Just needed some rest I guess,” I shook my head, “but enough about me. What about Jaysen?”

“I am most unsure. As you well know, Vakrexid has little knowledge of K’teth physiology. I cannot say how long the transformation process will take in this particular instance as it is a most unparalleled and befuddling predicament.”

Jaysen gritted her teeth and pounded her fist against the bed. “It’s almost unbearable waiting! To go so many years in the wrong body and to finally be so close… I just want it to be finished so I can finally be me!”

Vakrexid cocked his head back and forth seemingly perplexed as he studied her. The doctor had been nothing if not courteous, but I got the impression that Jaysen’s gender dysphoria was a completely foreign concept to him. I guess it wasn’t so surprising, considering he came from a race of hermaphrodites with both male and female reproductive organs. “Vakrexid wishes there was something I could do to accelerate the changes, but without Vakrexid’s implements I can only observe.”

“If I had something to do I don’t think it would be so bad. Being cooped up in this room all day is driving me mad!” she pronounced throwing her hands up in the air in frustration. “For years I found my escape by building and tinkering with machines. Just please give me something to play with so I can keep my mind off things.”

“Vakrexid has been thinking that perhaps I should have not been so quick to confine you to bed. It is true that the process of joining with the K’teth symbiote has left you weakened, but I believe if you consume enough organic matter and refrain from activity that is much too strenuous then Vakrexid sees no harm in giving you free reign of this vessel,” the doctor said sliding his hand up and down his face tubes.

“Oh, thank god!” Jaysen said letting out a sigh of relief as she climbed out of bed. “Maybe we can get this ship moving again!”

The doctor blinked. “Of course, Vakrexid thinks participating in extraordinary laborious activities, most especially those of a more violent nature would be most inadvisable.”

“I think I can handle that,” she smiled then grinned at me before grabbing me by the collar and kissing me on the lips.

“Come, on Lex,” she beamed up at me as we broke for air before grabbing my hand and tugging at it. “Let’s get out of here!”

I glanced at the doctor, shrugged and let Jaysen guide me out of the room.

“Oh my God!” Jaysen proclaimed hopping up and down like a kid who’d just been given a new toy. “I can interface directly with the computer! No gadgets or workarounds! I think I could get used to this!”

Kaya snorted shaking her head., “You may look different, but you sound like the same old Jaysen to me.”

“This,” she said bring up both hands to gesture at her face. “Is who I really am. I’m still me, I’m just finally starting to look the way I’ve always wanted to.”

“Well, of course, I mean I didn’t mean to say that—” Kaya started but was cut short by Jaysen.

“Kaya don’t, it’s fine. You’ve always been real supportive and I know it’s going to take a while to get used to the real me. Ah, there that ought to do it!” she pounded a finger down on the console and grinned triumphantly as it flared to life.

“Now, let’s get this bucket of bolts back on course,” she beamed tapping at the controls.

“You know…” I trailed off transfixed as I watched Jaysen. “Your symbiote hasn’t spoken with you yet, has it?”

Jaysen shook her head. “Well… I-I had this weird dream where a woman with blue hair, like this,” she said pointing up at her head. “was talking to me, but well… nothing she said seemed to make much sense. She kept going on and on about the bonding process and…” she trailed off biting her lips. “It’s not really important.”

“It is unlikely my daughter will make an appearance. At least not for some time,” Khala said her pretend image appearing between Jaysen and myself.

“HOLY HELL!” Jaysen proclaimed suddenly backing away as her eyes stared fixedly at Khala.

I blinked and felt my jaw drop open, “You can see her?”

Khala’s face stretched into a grin as she spoke. “K’teth can communicate telepathically with one another as well as bonded hosts. The bonding process must be further along than I believed for your friend to be able to see me.”

“See who?!” Kaya asked her eyebrows furrowed as she stared at Jaysen.

“Khala, Kai,” I answered. “Looks like Jaysen can see her too.”

“That is just unnerving,” Jaysen rubbed her eyes and letting out a long deep breath. “Does she just suddenly appear out of thin air like that all the time?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I answered. “It is… or it used to be, but I’ve sort of gotten used to it. Now, I find it more irritating than anything else.”

Khala rolled her eyes and folded her arms adopting a defensive posture. “That really is not my intent. If I could think of a less irritating way of appearing before you I would.”

“I think it’s going to take me a while t–” she stopped abruptly clutching at her crotch . “Oh!” she cried out then slid her hand away to reveal a massive erection which was showing through her slacks.

“Damn, I can’t wait till I’m rid of this thing for good. It always seems to do that at the weirdest times,” she blushed looking down at her groin then coughed and scratched at the back of her neck. “I just wish I would change faster I mean I haven’t even started to grow breasts yet.”

“Exactly how far has it gotten?” Kaya asked.

“My face, my neck, and it’s starting on my left shoulder. I-I’d show you, but its sort of embarrassing,” she averted her eyes and seemed to be fighting back tears. “Anyway I, uh, the ship’s ready to go if you are.”

Kaya nodded and pursed her lips, “Not quite.” she said then turned to me. “Is there any way you could go talk to Farris? He’s locked himself up in the supply room and won’t come out.”

I blinked. “Why me?”

“You were the one that kept us from blowing his head off. I think maybe if anyone who could get him to come out of his hidey-hole it’d be you. I mean you did save his life,” she glanced at me with raised eyebrows.

“God, that doesn’t sound even remotely pleasant, but I guess I’ll do it. Just getthe ship going and I’ll go talk to him,” I said letting out a long sigh then turned away and walked out the control room.

“Farris!” I called pounding on the supply room door. There wasn’t an answer and I cursed under my breath.

“FARRIS!!!” I repeated belting out his name at the top of my lungs pounding on the door with small bit of my enhanced strength.

“Alright!” his voice called through the door. “Just knock it off and I’ll let you in!”

I dropped my fist and watched as the door slid open revealing Farris on the other side. I stepped inside the room and let the door slide shut behind me before I turned to face him. “Kaya tells me you’ve been holed up in here and won’t talk to anyone.”

“I’m talking to you ain’t I?” he growled stepping away and collapsing atop a pile of rags in the corner.

“This is because everyone thought you were the traitor, isn’t it?”

“What do you think?” he muttered pounding his fist against the wall.

“Look, Farris. It can’t be easy having people point the finger at you like that, but you can’t just hide in here for the rest of your life! Sooner or later you’re going to have to come out!” I yelled planting my fists on my hips as I glared at him.

He groaned and cupped his hands over his face. “Why?”

“Excuse me?”

“Everyone was ready to blow my freaking brains out and the only reason they didn’t was because of you. Why did you save me?”

“I don’t know… It just seemed like the right thing to do,” I shrugged grimacing as I ran a hand through the back of my hair.

“They hate me,” he shook his head, then rolled over and buried it in the pile of rags.

“Farris, they don’t–”

“Come on, you know it’s true. All these years I’ve been hanging around Pyr and I face it I’ve been a complete ass. I just… It made me feel good putting people down, but I didn’t realize how horrible it felt being on the receiving end. I-It’s no wonder everyone was so quick to believe I was the traitor!”

“Dammit Farris!” I yelled gritting my teeth. “Would you quit your sniveling? We’re all that’s left of the rebellion and if we’re going to have any chance at success we need every hand we can get! Including you! You can sit around feeling sorry for yourself or you can try to do some good! You and Pyramus were bullies plain and simple, but you know what? It was a choice and you can choose to be a different person!”

“You done?” he rolled back onto his back then closed his eyes and gripped the side of his head with both hand. “Thank you for saving my life. I’m sorry for the things I said to you. Now please leave me alone, I need some time with my thoughts.”

“We’ve set a course for Old Salt Lake, if you decide to join us, you know where we’ll be,” I muttered shaking my head in disgust before making my exit.

Chapter Six

“Ready?” Kaya asked turning to me.

“Yeah,” I grinned. “If I were any more ready I’d already be there.”

Kaya rolled her eyes and turned away nodding to Jaysen who reached for the door mechanism. As the door slid open Jaysen reached out to touch my shoulder. “Come back safe, okay?” she whispered.

I smiled. “Don’t worry; I don’t plan on dying any time soon.”

“Good,” she smiled back then I leaned in and shared a kiss with me.

“Okay, I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting that!” Kaya said staring at the two of us with wide eyes as we finished up. “When did you two hook up?”

I rubbed the back of my neck and felt my cheeks burn. “Uh, this is sort of a new development.”

“Well, um, good for you.” Kaya frowned then bit her lip. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but at least she was trying to be supportive.

“WAIT FOR ME!!!” A voice called out and we all turned to see Farris running down the corridor toward us.

Kaya glared at him. “Well, look who’s finally come to show his miserable face.”

“I, uh, needed some time to think things over,” he averted his eyes and looked down at the floor then suddenly lifted his head and looked Kaya in the eyes. “… but I’m through feeling sorry for myself. I know what I need to do now.”

“I’d hoped you would say that,” Kaya said folding her arms across her chest as she gave him an appraising look. “You better go change into something a little less conspicuous. We’re heading into Salt Lake now and what you’re wearing just screams compound slave.”

“Right,” he replied. “Uh, alright. I don’t suppose you have any spares do you?”

“Yeah, there are some things in the supplies we picked up. There are even a few items that looked like they might be your size, just hurry would you?”

He glanced at Kaya then, eyed Jaysen with furrowed brows before his eyes grew wide, “Jaysen?”

“Yeah, I’m changing into a woman you got a problem with that?” she replied planting her hands on her hips glaring at him.

“No!” he yelled his eyes seeming to bulge out of his head.

“I’ll be back,” he added suddenly and glanced at Jaysen before leaping back down the corridor in the opposite direction.

“Better?” Farris asked stepping out from the hall in what looked more or less to be a male version of what Kaya and I were wearing. Which for him was a gray shirt emblazoned with odd swoosh label and the word VICTORIA (whatever that meant), a pair of black slacks and a plain blue cap. My own shirt, had the words ‘Green Freeze Blasters’ (your guess is as good as mine) across the chest and Kaya’s had a sort of circle symbol with a white and a black half that was divided into two tear drops with circles of opposite colors within each half. The clothes weren’t all that different from what a compound slave would wear aside from the odd designs, but they were of pre-invasion origin and such apparel was quite common among slaves within the old cities like Salt Lake, or so Kaya kept on insisting.

“Better,” Kaya agreed then turned to Jaysen. “If we don’t return within a week are you clear on what to do?”

Jaysen nodded. “I take the ship, find a nice little hiding space and then once the dust settles try to make contact with any other members of the rebellion that may have survived.”

“Alright then,” Kaya nodded. “I guess…” she started to say then sudden rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Oh for hell sakes!” she yelled glaring at the doctor as he came running toward us. “What you want to come too?”

The doctor swiveled his head. “No, Vakrexid merely wished to say farewell. Are you well? You seem most agitated.”

“I’m fine! It’s just…” she trailed off glancing at Farris and Jaysen. “It’s just frayed nerves from everything that’s happened.”

“It is most understandable. Vakrexid wishes you a safe journey and bids you farewell!” he proclaimed then did a quick one-eighty and walked away.

Jaysen watched the doctor leave with a huge grin on her face. “I guess this time it’s really goodbye.”

“Well, I guess that last kiss was practice,” I grinned then leaned in and locked my lips around hers.

“Damn, you don’t know how much I wish I was coming with you?” she whispered in my ear as we broke away.

I smiled and traced a finger across her cheek. “I think I do, but you know you’re still weak from the transformation process. Don’t worry the doc will keep you company while we’re away and we’ll be back in no time, okay?”

She smiled. “Okay.”

I let out a long deep breath, turned away, and walked down the ramp in the direction of the city. Kaya and Farris followed and we traveled in silence through the dry foliage of the Wasatch Valley. Kaya set a rather grueling pace and if it hadn’t been for my enhanced endurance and strength I doubted I would have been able to keep up. Farris didn’t fare so well and kept lagging further and further behind.

“Kaya,” I asked her suddenly. “What’s wrong?”

Kaya glared at me then glanced over her shoulder and eyed Farris who was a good twenty feet behind us. “It’s this damn pregnancy!” she hissed. “It’s driving me out of my freaking mind! I just want to scream and for some damn reason I’m having this weird craving for carrots and I hate carrots!”

“Good hell, is that normal? Maybe we should go back and talk to the doctor,” I reached out and snatched her arm.

Kaya rolled her eyes. “Of course, it’s normal! What are you stupid!?” she yelled then her eyes grew wide and she winced. “Sorry, sorry, sorry! It’s normal… I’ve never been pregnant, but women talk about these sort of things and trust me, if what I’ve heard is true, this is just the beginning.”

“Crap, good thing I can never…” and suddenly gasped and swallowed hard as I looked down at my breasts.

‘Can I get pregnant?’ I asked Khala feeling a lump form in the pit of my stomach.

‘At the moment, yes.’

“Oh God, oh God,” I yelled out loud feeling panic wash over me as I suddenly realized that it was entirely possible. “Strave and I had sex… I’m not pregnant… am I?”

“Don’t worry, you’re not pregnant. It would have been impossible for you to conceive a child while a K’teth infant was growing within your body,” she replied appearing beside me winking and giving me a reassuring smile.

“BUT, I won’t be able to produce offspring in some time and during that period you will be able to bear a child. The Phyrr Lesch put in a built in limit in how often we could reproduce in order to allow our hosts a time period in which they in turn could produce children.”

I let out a long sigh of relief and turned to Kaya. “Not pregnant. Shit, that scared me. That must be how you feel.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I mean I’m scared. No, that’s not right I’m terrified, but I don’t think it’s for the same reason. I’m afraid because I’ll have to raise this child without a father.”

“Kaya…” I muttered. “I’ll still be here.”

“It’s not the same Lexa! I mean you’re different now. It’s subtle, and it’s been a gradual process, but in some ways you’re starting to think like a woman and I always pictured myself raising a child with the man I loved. I can’t do that now, because no matter how strongly I feel about you the attraction I once had is gone,” she sighed tears streaking down her face as she struggled with whatever cocktail of emotions I knew she must be experiencing.

I reached out and grabbed her hand. “I know everything is different now and maybe I have changed a little. How could I not with everything that has happened? But God Kai, I can still be here for you and you better damn well believe that I’m going to be there for our child!”

“I know that, Lexa, but it’s not the same. Can’t you see that?”

“Yeah,” I muttered looking down at the ground and shaking my head. “We can’t be lovers or partners, but maybe… maybe we can be sisters.”

She lock gazed with me through tear filled eyes and a slight smile crept onto her face. “I don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to sisters, but I think you’d be a definite improvement over my birth sister. I’d be happy to call you my sister, Lexa.”

“God that sounded weird!” I stumbled and shuddered a bit staring at her with wide eyes then cleared my throat. “But sisters, that’s great!”

Kaya stared at me then abruptly burst out laughing. “You should have seen the look on your face! It was priceless!”

I glared at her for a moment then threw my head back and fell into a fit of hysterical laughter.

“Damn,” I shook my head. “It feels good to laugh.”

“Yeah,” Kaya agreed chuckling a bit as she choked down the last of her mirth.

“So…” I said biting my lips. “What exactly can I expect to find in the city?”

“The cities are where humans slaves the Qharr don’t have any use for are left to rot. Salt Lake is unique, at least among the human cities I’ve been to, in that it also acts as a trade hub so you’ll see a lot of alien traders, most of them will probably be Deplarans, but you’ll definitely see some Ghrev and maybe even a few Credknotts too,” she replied quietly.

“How are we going to get in?”

“That’s actually pretty easy. Security in and out of the city is a lot more lax than it is in the compounds and some slave are even granted permission to leave on special errands,” she replied.

“Special errands?”

Kaya shrugged. “Usually it’s some crap like gathering rare food ingredients or hunting for some forest creature or whatever whim those damn gray-skins happen to have at the time. Fortunately, this will actually give us a way to sneak into the city. With the right set of falsified documents, which we happen to have, we should be able to get in pretty easy. I doubt they’ll be expecting any trouble since those fucking bastards pretty well decimated the resistance.”

“And if they are expecting trouble?”

“Well, then there probably will be trouble,” she replied staring at me with a pointed look.

“Greeeaaat,” I said. “That’s just so reassuring.”

Kaya rolled her eyes then pursed her lips and stared at me thoughtfully. “So tell me about you and Jaysen… How did that come about?”

I bowed my head, let a smile stretch across my face and let out a slow chuckle as I told Kaya all about sharing her feelings for me, our first kiss and sharing a bed with her.

“You slept with Jaysen!?” Kaya yelled stopping dead in her tracks.

“What?” I blinked. “No, no! We just shared a bed… We didn’t have sex! Christ Kaya! She was freaking out about being bonded with the K’teth and we just sort of cuddled.”

“Uh huh, right whatever you say,” she folded her arms across her chest.

“Look we didn’t do anything! I don’t think that will happen for a while at least not until she’s finished changing,” I replied. “She hasn’t really said it, but I get the impression that she’d rather her first time be as a woman.”

“Jaysen’s a virgin?”

“Shit, don’t tell her I told you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. Some people are lucky their first is someone they love. For me it was a creepy jackass perv who had a thing for under-aged teenage girls, but…” she trailed off, “enough about that. We’ll be coming up on the city soon and we need to find some damn matted buckwheat.”

“Matted Buckwheat?” Farris asked suddenly from behind.

“It’s our cover to get into the city. The story is we’re supposed to be searching for some for Controller Gula Meyhr. The Qharr can’t get enough of the stuff. They make this nasty ass tea out of it,” Kaya replied glancing about her eyes roving across the terrain. “Look for a low-growing plant with red or yellow flowers and straight stalks.”

I scratched the back of my head and looked around noting that there didn’t seem to be much but scattered pine trees and miles of browned grass. “This could take a while.”

By the time we found and collected a large portion of the matted buckwheat the sun was beating down on us with an intensity that sent small beads of sweat dripping down my neck. “I forgot how much I hated the summers in Utah, the heat in compound Het’ma, where I grew up was unbearable sometimes, but I swear it’s even hotter than usual for this time of year,” I panted wiping sweat from my brow. “Tell me this is enough.”

Kaya nodded leaning over with her hands on her knees panting heavily, “Yeah, I think it’ll do.”

“This, this is nothing,” Farris shook his head. “I grew up in a compound back East. Shit some days it would get up into the low forties and it would get so damn humid your clothes would soak through with sweat in minutes.”

“I guess, I’ll have to take your word for it,” I panted shaking my head. “Kai would you toss me some of that water?”

Kaya retrieved her canteen from the supply bag, took a swig then tossed it to me. “Alright,” I said after I downed a good portion of it. “Let’s get going the sooner we get to the city the sooner we can get into compound Het’ma.”

Kaya nodded and tossed her bag of matted buckwheat over her shoulder. Farris and I grabbed our own bags as we followed Kaya back onto the trail to Salt Lake.

“Geff’ek!” the Qharr guard pronounced in a gruff voice as she motioned us forward.

“Papers, hu-man?” she asked holding her massive hand out to Kaya.

Kaya looked up at her with an obviously false smile and produced the requested papers from her bag. I bit my lip and watched as the guard examined each page then handed them back to Kaya and grunted.

“Put, plants on cart then report to masters!” she motioned at a large cart just inside the city gates.

I sighed in relief, and followed Kaya and Farris as they stepped through the city gates. Once on the other side, I looked up and felt my eyes grow wide as I got my first good view of the city. I had vague recollections of living in New Anaheim when I was younger, but Salt Lake was a very different sort of city. New Anaheim had been more of a resort town; Salt Lake was a city full of skyscrapers and office buildings. It was a dirty and grimy place and lacked much of the glamor and beauty of New Anaheim, at least the way it had been before the invasion.

Several hundred years ago Salt Lake had been founded by a group of religious pioneers looking to escape persecution, but over the course of time had grown into a major metropolitan area and had become home to a diverse population. When the Qharr invaded, the city had escaped relatively unscathed and had become home to hundreds of thousands of the gray-skins as well as continuing to house a large number of humans.

There were humans everywhere, more than I’d seen in one place since before the invasion. They were a sad despondent lot and I felt a lump form in my throat just by looking at them. Even compound slaves had more spirit than the people crowding the streets. I followed Kaya through the city and locked eyes with a small child and nearly burst into tears at the look of hopeless despair within those eyes. I felt a surge of anger fought down the urge to run back to the Qharr guards and beat them to a bloody pulp. The gray-skins were going to pay for everything they’d done to my people.

“We heading to Blebbur?” Farris whispered glancing about the city with a look I couldn’t quite read.

Kaya shook her head. “Too risky. The Qharr may know that the Deplarans were helping us smuggle resistance members into the compounds. Strave knew about her so it’s a good bet that they do too.”

“Then what the hell are we doing here?” Farris asked letting out a long sigh.

“I have someone else in mind. Mara considered her for a potential contact, but eventually decided that it was too risky,” she replied back.

“Who?” he asked.

“Velspatt Vanur,” she hissed.

“You can’t be serious! You want to make contact with the Ghrev crime syndicate!? Shit! Of course you do!” Farris growled.

“A crime syndicate?” I asked. “Is that really such a good idea?”

Kaya shushed us and clenched her teeth. “Would you two keep it down people are starting to look!”

“Besides Velspatt is no friend to the Qharr and I have something she wants.”

Farris looked around with wide eyes then nodded. “Damn, I can’t believe we’re doing this. I assume you know where we need to go.”

“Well, there’s a Ghrev deli on North Temple, which Velspatt happens to run. That’s our best bet for making contact,” she muttered.

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” I whispered holding out my hand. “Lead the way.”

“Leave humes!” The Ghrev cook yelled as we stepped into the building. “We no serve worthless slaves here!”

I eyed the alien being warily and watched as its head sunk into its neck and a spiked row of fins grew out like a Mohawk across its previously bald scalp. The Ghrev looked much more menacing that way not that it didn’t look menacing to begin with. The being was a biped had scaled purple skin with a stripe of red scales running from its chin and down the entire length of its naked body. It was tall, but not quite as tall as an average Qharr and had clawed hands and several rows of what looked to be very sharp teeth.

It was leaning against the counter, with its open hands hanging over the edge facing us. Behind the counter was a set of swinging double doors each of which had a small viewing windows and I assumed led into a kitchen. I couldn’t see much, but there was a table near the opposite side of the door at which several other Ghrevs were congregated. They had glanced at us as we entered, but turned away in disinterest when they’d seen that we were human.

The deli itself was of obvious human construction and while the nature of the food had changed, it seemed that the building hadn’t changed much in purpose. There was even the tattered remnants of a sign naming the establishment the “SLC Nostalgia Deli” still mounted on the wall. The long counter was of wood construction and stretched across nearly the whole length of the room. A glass sneeze guard protected the food which happened to be, well, I didn’t know what any of the food was. I certainly knew, I wouldn’t want to eat it any of it. Most of it looked to be small insects, sickly colored sauces, a black flatbread of sorts, and something that bore a strong resemblance to shit.

Kaya stepped forward, pursed her lips then balled her hand into a fist and slammed it into the side of the Ghrev’s head. “We’re here to speak with your clan master, you pleg!”

“Boldness for a hume!” the cook yelled the spiked fins retracting back into its scalp. “Velspatt speaks not to slaves… even ones who be bold like you. Leave now, or I skin humes and eat for dinner!”

Kaya, grabbed a knife from the counter and held it out in front of the Ghrev’s face. “Tell Velspatt that I have something she wants. Something that could help her leave Earth once and for all.”

“Velspatt needs nothing from humes!” the cook yelled slamming its clawed fists against the counter. “LEAVE!”

Kaya swirled the knife in her hands then pounded it as hard as she could into the wood counter. “I know where a working drive coil can be found for that ship she’s been trying to repair. Tell her if she’s interested to meet me in the old Tabernacle building on Temple Square in an hour. Tell her I’ll give her the drive coil in exchange for certain services.”

The Ghrev cocked its head, but didn’t say a word as Kaya turned around and walked calmly out the door. “Damn,” Farris muttered shaking his head as we followed her out the door. “I’ve never seen anyone stand up to a Ghrev like that. That woman has balls.”

I grinned and let out a soft chuckle as we both exited. “Trust me you have no idea.”

“Well, what now?” I asked Kaya as she spun around to face us. “You didn’t exactly give the Ghrev a lot of time to contact this Velspatt character. Is it going to be enough?”

“Oh, it will be enough time,” she grinned. “Did you see those Ghrev on the other side of those double doors?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “So?”

“Well one of them was Velspatt. She was probably listening to the entire thing,” Kaya grinned folding her arms across her chest.

“Velspatt? How can you be sure it was her?” Farris asked.

“Well, let’s just say that the distinctive pattern of red scales on her face is a dead giveaway,” she replied shaking her head glancing about as a group of Qharr hunters passed us by. “Come on we can continue this talk once we’ve gotten somewhere a bit more… private.”

“This way,” Kaya said motioning for us to follow as she ducked into a nearby doorway.

“The Qharr have the old Temple Square locked up and it’s supposed to be sealed up so no one can get in or out,” she spoke as soon as I stepped inside the doorway.

“Why would they seal it off?” I asked joining her inside the dilapidated old building.

Kaya shrugged. “The Qharr can be pretty weird when it comes to religious sites like this. They’re superstitious to begin with, but where religions other than their own are involved they get even weirder. They probably think that if anyone sets foot inside of Temple Square they’ll be tainted or some other bullshit.”

“You sound almost offended,” I said putting a hand on her shoulder.

Kaya shrugged. “My mother was a Mormon. I was born here in the city a few months before the invasion and I probably would have grown up here if it hadn’t been for those damn gray-skins.”

“Geez, well that explains why you seem to know so much about this place,” Farris said letting the door swing shut behind him.

“How exactly are we going to get in?” I asked putting my hands on my hips.

“That actually isn’t that hard,” she beamed. “Mara and I found a way in a few years back. There are a network of tunnels that honeycomb the area below Temple Square and as it so happens the basement in this old office is very close to one of those tunnels. With the help of a small group of other rebels we managed to dig a hole through the foundation and cleared out a tunnel that bisected the other one. It will be a tight squeeze for you, Farris, but I think you should be able to fit through.”

“And Velspatt how will she get in?” Farris asked glancing about the room and shaking his head.

“The Ghrev have their own way of getting in. God only knows what they actually use the temple grounds for, but the few times Mara and I snuck inside we caught them watching us from the shadows. The Ghrev are a pretty tight-knit community and I doubt such a prominent member like Velspatt would be left in the dark about the entrance and even if she didn’t know I’m sure one of her cronies would be able to fill her in,” she replied grinning from ear to ear.

“Okay,” Farris said scratching at the several days worth of stubble on his face. “Should we get going then?”

“Yeah, follow me,” she said waving us forward.

Kaya led us down a flight of stairs and into the basement the walls of which were lined with empty shelves. At one point, I’m sure, the basement had been used for storage, but if there had been any supplies left over after the invasion the shelves had long since been picked clean. Along the east wall was a large hole that looked just large enough for a person to crawl through. Kaya and I could certainly fit inside. Farris on the other hand, with his much broader shoulders, would definitely be a tight squeeze.

Farris took one look at the hole and shook his head. “Alright, you two first… if I get stuck I don’t want to make you guys late for your meet-up with Velspatt.”

Kaya and I exchanged glanced then she walked over to the opening, turned back to me and said, “Wait about thirty seconds and follow me in.”

I waited as she had suggested then followed her in and crawled in head first. Kaya was holding a light as she crawled ahead of me so it wasn’t completely dark, but her body blocked most of the illumination from the beam so I couldn’t see much of anything. I could hear Farris grunt loudly as he crawled into the hole behind us and a moment latter he groaned in pain and cursed under his breath.

Silence settled over us as we continued to crawl through Kaya’s tunnel.

“Shit, that hurt,” Farris broke the quiet about ten minutes later. “I hope this damn tunnel isn’t too long I’m starting to understand how someone could be afraid of confined spaces.”

“It’s not too much further,” Kaya panted glancing back over her shoulder and inadvertently shined the flashlight directly in my eyes. “I think maybe six or seven more meters.”

I held my hand up over my eyes. “Geez louise Kai, would you point that thing somewhere else?”

“Sorry, come on we better hurry it up we don’t have a lot of time left before our meeting in the tabernacle.”

“I don’t think she’s coming,” Farris said his arms folded across his chest as he paced back and forth in front of the exit door.

“She’ll be here,” Kaya pursed her lips and glared at Farris as he continued to pace.

I let the two of them bicker and looked about the large chamber in which we were waiting. It looked to have been a meeting hall with row after row of benches leading up to a large platform where several additional rows of padded seats faced the benches in the opposing direction. Atop the platform, besides the seats, there was a podium along with a massive organ, the pipes of which lined the back wall. Above, there was a balcony, but since it was so dark I couldn’t really see anything up there. It all looked to be in surprisingly good condition almost as if the building itself was just waiting for someone to come along and use it. Oh sure, there were the layers of dust and the obvious disrepair scattered throughout the chamber. Yet, the building had been left abandoned for almost twenty-five year, and it looked as if it could have been half that time or less.

“They really built this place to last,” I whispered.

Kaya chuckled. “The tabernacle is almost four hundred years old. The church had it renovated and restored so many times I doubt if it can even considered the same building as the original.”

“Four hundred years old?” I muttered looking around the chamber with wide eyes. “Damn.”

As I craned my neck about the room I caught a quick blur of motion from the center aisle. A large reptilian creature about the size of a large dog was zooming through the building at a startling speed and it was headed straight for Kaya. It was pretty far away and gaining fast, but it would be on her in less than half a minute if I didn’t step in and I did exactly that. I moved into the dog-creature’s path and just as it got close enough I knelt down and back handed the creature across its short-muzzled face. It let out a high pitched squeal as it flipped sideways onto its back.

“Mohme, Zenev!”A deep baritone voice yelled from the other side of the chamber in an almost melodic voice.

The creature rolled back to its feet and fled back in the direction from which it came. A tall Ghrev with violet scales lined with red vertical stripes across its face appeared from behind the platform and met the creature as it approached.

“I apologize,” the Ghrev yelled in perfect English its voice booming across the chamber. “My mohme, can be a bit excitable.”

“I am Velspatt Vanur,” the Ghrev woman said calmly as she approached us. “You wish to trade a certain item of interest for my services?”

“What the hell is that thing?!” Farris yelled glancing down at the dog-like reptilian creature that was standing at Velspatt’s side.

Velspatt hissed and barred her teeth at Farris. “A mohme is a Ghrev male, hume.”

“A male?” Farris asked “As is you mate with that thing?”

“Typical hume, not all species are the same as yours. All Ghrev start out as reasonless male quadrupeds like my mohme here, but when we reach maturity we metamorphisize into female bipeds,” she responded reaching down to scratch the male atop the head.

“So…” Farris trailed off staring at the two Ghrev with his jaw hanging open.

“Can it Farris,” Kaya interrupted holding her hand up. “We have business to take care of.”

“You are the leader?” Velspatt cocked her head. “Have we met before? You smell familiar, hume.”

“We’ve crossed paths before,” Kaya said folding her arms across her chest. “I grew up in compound L’beig. You used to make regular deliveries for Corrector Gydek Movur. Back then, I was one of her personal servants.”

Velspatt’s face stretched into something resembling a human smile. “I have an excellent memory for scents. Tell me did I ever sample you?”

Kaya shook her head. “No.”

“A shame, your scent is most alluring and I find many human females to be adept love makers,” she said her hand stroking the male Ghrev across the top of its head and down its neck.

Kaya shuddered and bit her lip then sighed and cleared her throat. “I-I, uh, I have a working leap drive coil and I’m willing to give it to you in exchange for certain services.”

“Yes, I gathered, hume,” she replied letting out a long drawn out and god-awful hissing sound. “Tell me what you want and stop wasting my time.”

“There is a Ghrev ground transport leaving Salt Lake tonight. It’s transporting several dozen humans to compound Het’ma” Kaya stated.

“Yes,” she replied. “But it is not an enterprise I have any direct involvement in. Why do you tell me this?”

“I want you arrange it so that my friends and I,” she said motioning at both of us. “Are on that transport. We have urgent business to take care of in the compound.”

“You ask too much, hume. The Qharr would have me arrested if I involved myself with human rebels like yourselves. I walk upon the precipice as it is!”

“What makes you think we’re rebels?” Farris asked folding his arms across his chest.

“Keep this Craonnd silent, hume! Of course, you are rebels what else would you be? I know of no other group of pink-skins who would be able or willing to meet in this manner.”

“Yes, you’re right we’re rebels,” Kaya admitted. “Look we both want something. We want into compound Het’ma you want off of Earth and we happen to have the drive component that will give you exactly what you want it seems like a pretty fair trade to me.”

Velspatt hissed. “And if I am caught I will never leave Earth. The Qharr will have me executed or worse thrown in one of those holes they call a prison.”

“There are risks in any enterprise.”

“Sometimes the risks are too great, I have no reason to remain. Good luck finding your way to the compound humes, but I see no reason to help you,” she replied, turned around and began to walk away.

“Wait!” I called after her, stepping forward. “This is important! We’re fighting to free Earth from the gray-skins! Don’t you care?”

“No,” she replied glancing back at me. “Why would I?”

“There’s got to be something we can trade for passage on that damn transport. Please, you have to help us!” I begged falling to my knees surprised at just how strongly I reacted to her departure.

Velspatt swirled around and eyed me thoughtfully. “When you hit my mohme it was a very powerful blow. It must have been, this mohme is not easily intimidated. You are very strong for a human, particularly for a female of your size. Tell me how is this possible?”

“I-I, don’t know I couldn’t say,” I said stumbling over my words staring up at her with wide eyes. Somehow I doubted it was a good idea to reveal Khala’s existence to the Ghrev.

“I’ll tell you what I think. It’s become no secret by now that the Qharr have attacked and destroyed all the rebel’s hidden bases, but during the attack on one of the more–How should I put it–local, bases something interesting happened. You see, my people have been monitoring Qharr communications and they caught wind of something very strange. Some of the Qharr units claimed to have fought a human bonded with something called a K’teth symbiote. I find that very strange, don’t you?”

“You’re point being?” I asked climbing back to my feet and slowly walked up to her so that I could look her in the eye.

“I am no craonnd, unlike your friend. I can put different pieces together. I’ve seen the Edant K’teth in action and I’ve always wondered how they could do such… astounding things. Now I hear mention of a K’teth symbiote and one bonded to a human no less. A human who can fight off Qharr hunters with her bare hands. Then today I meet a human female who can hit my mohme with enough force to send the male, a most ferocious beast, fleeing. You hit him with far more force than I’ve seen any human display. It’s lucky we Ghrev are not as fragile as humans or it would have done a great deal more damage,” she replied placing a clawed hand on my shoulder.

“What can I say?” I shrugged. “I was holding back.

She let out a long wheezing hiss which I could only guess was the Ghrev equivalent to a laugh. “So it was you?”

“Yes.”

“Tell you what, hume,” she whispered in my ear tracing the back of her claw against my cheek. “I’ll help arrange transport for you and your friends for that drive coil if you can do me one small little favor.”

“What sort of favor? I’m not going to sleep with you if that’s what you want. I’m not into reptiles.”

“Reptiles are cold-hearted passionless creatures. Ghrev blood runs hot through our veins with the same passion and intensity of fire! We are no reptiles and I would be lying if I said I did not find you attractive, hume, but no, that was not the sort of favor I was hoping for. I want you to kill Corrector Taevok Typel,” she whispered.

“You want me to do what?!” I yelled taking a few steps backward as I stared at her in surprise.

‘There’s something you should know,’ Khala suddenly spoke up.

‘What is it?’

‘Taevok is Edant K’teth.’

‘Of course, he is.’ I gritted my teeth and let out a long sigh as Velspatt continued absently tapping her claws against the Mohme’s neck. “The Corrector has been making things rather difficult for my various enterprises. If you killed him it would be quite, convenient to see him gone.”

“That’s what you wanted all along, isn’t it?” I whispered feeling a lump form in my throat at the prospect of having to battle a joined Qharr.

“You are a bright one.”

“I don’t get it why play these games? Why not just tell us from the start?!”

“What would have been the fun in that?” she replied cocking her head.

“You can’t honestly think it’s a fair trade do you? Taevok is Edant K’teth killing him will be no small task.”

“That’s why it’s called a favor,” the Ghrev said letting out another ‘laugh’ before continuing. “Do it, and I will owe you one.”

“Fine,” I said with a whisper. “I-I’ll do it.”

I bit my lip and forced myself to look her in the eyes. The truth was, I wasn’t about to go looking for a fight with the Corrector, but there was a good chance we’d cross paths. If he got in the way, then I might not have any choice but to kill the bastard. Still, I wasn’t about to let the little favor get in the way of what needed to be done.

“Very good,” she said barring her teeth and let out another wheezy hiss. “Now, we need only make arrangement for delivery of my drive coil.”

We managed to work out a deal with Velspatt in which Jaysen would off drop the drive coil the day after we’d been safely transported to the compound. Jaysen had no way of knowing if we’d made it safely or not, but the alien crime lord didn’t know that. Fortunately, Kaya had thought things through and arranged a means so that we could communicate with Jaysen before we had left so the drop would go as scheduled. Once, we were finished arranging things with the Ghrev we left the old tabernacle and made our way to the loading area where we would be transported into compound Het’ma.

Chapter Seven

“Sit hume!” The Ghrev commanded backhanding me across the cheek. Caught completely off guard by the unprovoked attack, I reeled back and tumbled across the nearest row of seats. The blow was powerful compared to what a human could deal out, but it was nothing compared to what a Qharr could conflict. It hurt, a little, but as a human bonded with a K’teth symbiote it was well within my tolerance. Regardless, it wouldn’t do to be seen so easily shrugging off such a powerful hit. So I rolled off the seat and collapsed to the ground and stayed there for a few moments. I stumbled to my feet clutching at the side of my face acting as if it really hurt and stared up at the alien with wide eyes.

“Sit,” the alien repeated.

I looked up at her, let my eyes grow wide, put an expression of mock terror on my face and collapsed into my seat. The Ghrev hissed then knelt down to chain me to the steel bar which was bolted to the bottom of the seat. She grabbed Kaya–who had been behind me in the procession of slaves–and forced her into the seat next to me. A random slave I didn’t recognize was next and then moved onto the next row. I watched as slave after slave was seated until I saw Farris do the same several rows down.

“That was quite a show you put on,” Kaya, leaned in to whisper in my ear.

I shrugged and bit my lip. “I didn’t think it was a good idea to let the Ghrev or any slaves for that matter see me just shrug off a blow like that.”

“Good thinking.”

I sighed and closed my eyes. “Shit, I hate this. I hate being chained like this if only I could…”

“Could what?” a voice asked.

My eyes snapped open and turned to look at the stranger next to me staring at me with a single raised eyebrow. “Break free? That’s what you were about to say wasn’t it?”

“Fuck off,” I glared at him. It seemed harsh, but this stranger could easily be a collaborator.

“Just making conversation,” he smiled then winked at me. “Say, what’s your name?”

“Fuck off flake!”

“You think I’m a collaborator?” he asked shaking his head and chuckling.

I bit my tongue, gritted my teeth and turned away. I had nothing to say to the stranger and I certainly wasn’t going to risk exposing myself by talking with him.

“You know you can ignore me all you want. I’m just going to keep talking,” he whispered leaning in toward me. “Name’s Rayland Patterson. What’s yours?”

I kept silent and said nothing.

“Come on, tell me your name.”

And again I ignored him clenching my fists and shook my head.

“You don’t give me a name I’m gonna start guessing. Is it Bella? Or maybe Rose or perhaps Celia. Oh, I got it! I bet it’s something pretty. I mean a sexy girl like you…”

“My name is Lexa,” I growled gritting my teeth as I fought down the urge to break the chains holding me down and punch him in the face.

“Lexa? What’s that short for Alexandra?”

“Alexana,” I closed my eyes and shook my head irritably.

He repeated my name almost seeming to savor it as his face stretch into a grin. “So gorgeous–”

“Rayland is it? You listen to me because I’m only going to say this once. I am not your friend, I don’t want to be your friend and if you don’t leave me alone the next time my hands are free I’m going to beat you senseless. You got it, buddy?”

“Oh, I love the attitude, but I don’t think you could take me, muffintop,” he grinned.

I rolled my eyes, then bent over and palmed my face with my hands as Rayland continued to jabber on. He didn’t quit for the rest of our ride and it was all I could do to keep myself from screaming at the top of my lungs. God, he was annoying!

The ride to the compound lasted all of about forty minutes, but it was probably one of the longest forty minutes of my life with Rayland jabbering on like an idiot. The Ghrev guards didn’t seem to care what we did once they had us all chained up and a few people besides my new best friend were chattering. For the most part everyone remained silent as transport zoomed across the road to the compound. Finally, the bus came to a halt and there was a loud hiss as the door popped open and a familiar figured stepped inside.

“Jerem,” I whispered under my breathe. I hadn’t seen him in years, and although he’d aged quite a lot and even packed on a little muscle, he still had that stubborn mean set to his jaw and those angry eyes.

“Alright piss-ants!” he yelled looking around the interior of the bus. “I am Jerem Anders, I’m Head Enforcer for Taevok Typel, the Corrector in charge of this facility, and if any of you fuckheads try and cross me you will regret it. You hear me? I will make your life a living hell if you so much as sneeze without my permission. I’ll guarantee that.”

“Now these Ghrev are going to let you lose one row at a time, and you are going to file your way out quietly and most importantly, slowly with your hands where I can see them. Anyone fails to comply; they’ll get a face full of my burn rod!” He grinned wickedly holding up a long metal stick with a worn leather handle.

“And don’t think I’m the only one here to stop you. I have four more of my men waiting outside along with the two Qharr soldiers who are guarding the gates and if you were able to get past them the defensive grid surrounding this place is electrified with enough juice to barbecue any one of your miserable corpses!” he added looking about the cabin one final time before nodding at the Ghrev and stepping out the door.

“He seems like a really pleasant fellow,” Rayland beamed at me.

I rolled my eyes ignored him and turned to Kaya so that I could whisper in her ear. “Damn, I don’t think Jerem’s changed much. If anything I think he’s gotten worse. He was always a bully, but now he’s gotten a taste of power.”

“It’s not real power. None of us will ever have any real power so long as the Qharr are on Earth. He’s as much a slave to the gray-skins as we are, but he’s damned collaborator which makes him the enemy don’t forget that.”

I shook my head. “You think I don’t know that? It just tears me up inside that that bastard is married to Becca.”

“Yeah, well you’ll get your chance to deal with him soon enough,” she whispered.

Rayland’s head snapped to the side suddenly his eyes intently studying Kaya. He turned away then leaned back as a Ghrev appeared to unchain him. He glanced back at me flashing another smile. “I’ll see you two lovely ladies around. I think the three of us will be getting along just fine.”

It took only a few moments for the Ghrev to free Kaya and me then we were both shoved down the aisle after Rayland. We filed out of the transport and were herded across the compound grounds and forced to line up in single file. It didn’t take long for the bus to be completely unloaded and the Ghrev to retreat back inside.

“This is compound Het’ma!” Jerem yelled slowly walking up and down the line of people and eying each man and woman as if they he or she were a piece of meat. “Well, well,” he breathed coming to a stop in front of Kaya and me. He had this creepy grin on his face as he looked us both up and down. I glanced down at his crotch and wished I hadn’t, I could see his fully erect cock inside his pants. I shuddered a bit and looked back up to meet his gaze only to find him staring fixedly at my breasts.

I gulped and shuddered anew and realized just how uncomfortable his leering gaze made me feel. He turned away as if to leave, but then suddenly rounded on me grabbing my waist and locking his mouth around mine in a kiss. It was a disgusting slobbery affair and it took all my will power to keep myself from pushing him away. He broke away his hands brushing my breasts before he turned to Kaya and squeezed one of her boobs. “I’m not usually into Asian chicks, but god I think I may just make an exception for you, honey.”

Kaya slapped his hand away and her face was red with anger and I could see that familiar manic fire in her eyes. She looked ready to swing a fist at him, but thankfully she restrained herself and I could tell it was taking all her self control to do it.

“Bitch!” he yelled balling his hand into a fist and slamming it into the side of her face. Kaya dropped like a sack of potatoes and I fell to my knees beside her.

“I like bitches with fire,” he grinned. “It makes breaking them all the more enjoyable.”

“Roland!” he yelled turning to gaze at another enforcer who was standing a good twelve feet away. “Take care of these vermin! The Corrector wanted to speak with me once the transport had been unloaded.”

Then he glanced back at Kaya and me. “Oh and have the two cunts assigned to the kitchen with that miserable waste of space I call my wife. Spread the word around the compound, any man who so much as lays a hand on those two will get two days locked in the box. I went them all to myself.”

I gritted my teeth and glared at Jerem as he retreated into the compound. I had a feeling that the next few days weren’t going to be remotely pleasant at all. Jerem’s subordinate, Roland, started screaming out instructions and assignments, but I didn’t listen all I could do was stew over what that bastard had done to Kaya. I knew in that moment if Jerem tried anything with either Kaya or me I’d kill him even if it meant revealing myself and putting the mission in jeopardy. Finally, Roland finished his lecture and all the slaves dispersed as they were led away to their quarters for the night. I reached down to pick up Kaya when I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to see Farris frowning down at me. I didn’t need it, but Farris helped me pick her up and drape her arm across my shoulder. One of the enforcers appeared to drag him off to the men’s quarters leaving us alone.

I looked back at the compound and sighed realizing that I would have to carry Kaya in by myself. Not that I couldn’t, but how was I going to get her inside without drawing attention to myself? Then my problems were answered as a slender brunette appeared from out of the shadows and move to help me. She grabbed Kaya’s other shoulder wordlessly and helped me carry my former lover inside. It was almost completely dark by that time, but there was something familiar about the way the woman moved. Then she spoke and I felt my heart leap into my throat.

“I-I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

God, it was Becca! My sister was right there and she had no idea that it was me, but why should she?

“Why should you apologize?” I asked swallowing hard as I tried hard to keep myself from openly weeping.

“He does this every time a new group of slaves arrive. He likes to show off in front of me. He knows how much I hate to see other people suffer.”

“Why?” I asked already knowing the answer.

“Because…” she muttered. “He’s my husband.”

I didn’t answer not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I could say anything without revealing myself. I wanted so badly to tell Becca everything, but common sense won out. It wasn’t time to reveal myself to my sister, at least not yet.

I woke the next morning letting out a long silent yawn as the memories from the previous night slowly returned to me. My dreams had alternated between reuniting with my sister and dreams of myself making love to Jaysen. At various points, in the latter, Jaysen had gone from being female to male and then back again while sometimes she was a mix of both. None of it really seemed to matter, we made love and I’d enjoyed every minute of it. I remember clearly at one point running my hands across Jaysen’s flat chest only to find, moments later, a pair of breasts appeared cupped inside my open palms.

I shook my head and did my best to set aside my lingering arousal. I slowly breathed in and out and felt my heart rate slow down. I turned to Kaya who was still unconscious on the bed pad beside mine. Her face was, by then, a mass of bruises and sores, and I felt a new surge of anger as I studied it. I swore right there and then that I would kill Jerem. Most of the other women in the room were still asleep or else pretending to be, but as I looked around I noted a few open eyes. Adult male and females slaves always slept apart, so for me it was a very strange to find myself surrounded by so many women. Here or there the form of a sleeping child was nuzzled up against the body of a woman. Young children, under the age of about eight, were the only males allowed to sleep within the women’s quarter.

My mind was still reeling from the events from the previous night. I’d been so close to my sister and she hadn’t had a clue of my true identity. It was heart rending not being able to tell her the truth, but I knew it would take a lot convincing in order for my sister to believe that I was her long lost brother Jellfree remade into a woman. Hell, if I hadn’t gone through it I wouldn’t believe it either. My sister had been my entire world, the two of us had been inseparable and her loss weighed heavily on me. Becca had kept me from giving in to despair when all hope seemed gone. She kept from the edge and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. Even kill.

And then there was what Velspatt wanted me to do. The mere thought of the name reverted through me with such strength that it almost seemed painful. What she wanted me to do… to fight the Corrector it made me want to vomit. I had never faced an Edant K’teth other than the Overseer and it had only been through sheer dumb luck that I’d been able to defeat her. If I fought one in open combat I had a pretty good idea what would happen and it definitely wasn’t something I wanted to sit and muddle over. It was just about time to get up anyway so I bit my lip then looked down at Kaya’s sleeping form. I let out a long sigh then reached over to shake her awake.

“Shit, I hurt,” she groaned her eyes–or I should say eye since her left one was swollen shut–snapped open. She slowly sat up and looked around. “Anything happen while I was out?”

“I-I saw my sister,” I whispered. “She helped me carry you into the women’s quarters.”

“You didn’t tell her did you?” Kaya asked reaching up to touched her face, then winced and brought it back away.

“No, how could I? I mean, god, how the hell am I supposed to tell her that I’ve been turned into a woman? She’d probably think I was nuts!”

“Well, can’t really blame you there, but you’re going to have to tell her eventually we’re going to need her help if we’re going to escape from this place.” she sighed and stretched her arms up in the air. “Did we get our assignments yet?”

“In the kitchen. Jerem wants us working there with my sister for some reason and…” I trailed off pursing my lips.

“What is it?”

“He’s claimed us for himself. I think he’s going to try something,” I clenched my jaw. “I don’t know if I can keep myself from beating him to a damned bloody pulp if he does.”

“This complicates things. It’s going to make our mission a lot more difficult with your brother-in-law breathing down our necks.”

“Don’t call him that!” I snarled. “If he gets in the way we’ll just have to deal with him.”

Kaya opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly a loud trumpet’s blare rang through the room from the speakers mounted in the ceiling. “I guess it’s time to get up,” she sighed. “Shit, this is going to be a long day.”

I nodded, and climbed to my feet and held my hand out to Kaya. She smiled gratefully as I pulled her up to her feet then we watched as the other women shuffled out of the room. We followed them down a long corridor and into the women’s shower room. I’d never been inside, but the room’s layout was almost the exact mirror of the men’s shower area so I had no problem finding my way around.

My cheeks burned as I looked about and watched the women disrobe. With wide eyes I reached for the waist band of my pants and unbuttoned them. I pulled down on the zipper then let my pants slide down my legs then pulled my shirt up over my head exposing my breasts to the humid air of the room. I tossed my clothes into the nearest receptacle then walked tentatively toward the showers. A blonde woman, about my own age, stepped into the spray of water next to me and I couldn’t help but stare as she slowly started to soap her breasts. She was quite an attractive woman and I fought down the sudden urge to reach out and caress her pert breasts.

Good lord, what the hell was wrong with me?

I turned away grabbed a bar from the tray in front of me, closed my eyes and started to soap myself up. When it came time to wash my hair I opened my eyes and felt my jaw drop open as I found a pair of breasts hanging there right in front of my face. I looked up and met the gaze of the blonde I’d been gawking at before. “Get an eye-full cookie licker. You’re new here so I’ll let it slide this once, but so help next time I catch you looking I’ll mess that pretty face of yours up. Got it bitch?”

“Uh, okay,” I mumbled staring at her with unblinking eyes then looking down at the floor.

“You can fuck whoever you want around here whether they have a cookie or a trouser snake, but keep your damn eyes to yourself in the shower room,” she spat then walked away.

I could feel everyone in the room’s eyes on me as I cleaned my hair, and once I finally I finished, I quickly toweled myself off, dressed and sped out of the room without making eye contact with a single soul.

I stepped into the kitchen and stopped dead in my tracks as I found myself staring right at the blonde from the shower room. “Well if it isn’t cookie licker.”

I ignored blondie, breezed past her and moving into the main area of the kitchen. It looked just like I remembered, everything was still in the same place right down to the smallest pot and there was even the old head cook Creg chopping away at some vegetables in the corner. It seemed so surreal as if I’d walked into a piece of my past, but then three attractive women stepped into the kitchen and I shook my head and realized that so much had changed. Other than Creg everyone within the kitchen including myself was a woman and every woman happened to be exceptionally attractive.

“Is there a reason you left me in the shower room, Lex? I had to ask for help to find the kitchen,” Kaya’s voice said from the doorway and I spun around to see her walk inside.

“Shit, is it just me or did I just step into bombshell central,” she added looking around with a huge grin on her face.

I shook my head and chuckled softly considering that she was much more attractive than the other women, aside from myself, despite the bruises on her face, the comment seemed odd coming from her. Of course, if I was going to be honest with myself so was I.

“That would be my husband’s doing,” a new voice proclaimed from the doorway.

“Becca,” I whispered as she move toward me.

My sister blinked. “I don’t remember telling you my name.”

I bit my lip and shrugged giving her the first excuse that sprang to my mind. “I asked one of the other women in the quarters.”

“Oh, of course,” she nodded then turned to Kaya. “I’m glad to see you’re feeling better. I apologize for my husband.”

Kaya nodded curtly and gritted her teeth. “It’s fine. All I can say is that bastard better not touch me again.”

Becca blinked. “Right, well I guess introductions are in order. I’m Becca Anders, that blonde woman over there is Merida Baker, the woman over there with the raven black hair is Patricia Sunders, the busty red-head is Selma D’Angelo, the brunette over there in the corner is Marjorie Sudweeks and that man in the corner is Old Creg, our head cook.”

“Nice to meet you all, my name’s Lexa Briggs and this is my friend Kaya Trzcinski.” I held a hand out to Kaya remembering at the last minute to give Kaya’s agreed to false surname, but not soon enough to remember to use the one I’d picked out for myself.

“Briggs?” My sister blinked in surprise. “That was my maiden name.”

“Oh, really? That’s weird.”

Kaya rolled her eyes at me and looked around the kitchen. “We, uh, better get going. The morning meal isn’t going to make itself and I’m sure that Corrector of yours won’t be too happy if we’re late getting done.

Becca nodded. “Right, you two know your way around a kitchen?”

I grinned, snatching a spoon from a nearby counter and swirled it around in my hands before throwing it up in the air and catching it with the opposite hand. “Trust me, we’ll do just fine.”

Compound Het’ma was huge, and as such meal preparation was an all day affair. The dining hall was much too small to accommodate all the slaves within the compound so only a third of the populace was fed at a time. Back at compound B’eld the cooking crew had been in charge of cleaning up the dining area, but at Het’ma there was simply too much for us to do so each group of slaves cleaned up after themselves once they’d eaten. Since, things were so hectic we didn’t get to eat our meal until everyone else had been fed. I wasn’t accustomed to waiting so long before I ate so by the time it came time for my meal I scarfed it down feeling as if I hadn’t eaten for days.

I helped serve the food for each of the three meals so I caught glimpses of my new favorite person Rayland. Not surprisingly, he took advantage of our very brief encounters in order to grin and wink at me. Thankfully, the line moved quickly and he only had enough time to tell me that I was “looking gorgeous” before moving down the line. Farris made his own appearances too, but like the other man he only had enough time to issue a brief hello before he was forced to move down the line.

Of course, Rayland and Farris weren’t the only familiar faces, Jerem made his own appearances and frequently I’d look into someone’s face and realize that I knew them. I’d lived at Het’ma for fourteen years of my life and many of the people I’d grown up with were still there. The worst part was that I couldn’t actually let any of that recognition show on my face. None of these people could be allowed to know who I was. If they somehow found out I had no doubt the consequences would be disastrous. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces too. I had, after all been gone a very long time.

For the entire day Becca and the other women in the kitchen avoided us. They only interacted with Kaya and me when given no choice. I was sort of confused by this, at least when it came to Becca, but I had no idea how to approach her in order to break the ice. Creg seemed unaware of the tense atmosphere, as he delivered his orders with his calm voice and soft smile. Finally by the end of the third day we finished feeding the last batch of slaves their dinner and cleaned up the kitchen before joining the rest of the slaves in the dining room for dinner. Kaya and I found a vacant table in the corner and sat down to eat our meal. We had only caught brief glimpses of Farris throughout the day, and he’d already eaten his dinner during the last rotation so it was just the two of us.

“Do you mind if I sit with you?” Becca’s soft voice asked quietly from behind.

“Oh sure,” Kaya smiled up at my sister her eyes wide with surprise.

Becca took a seat next to Kaya and stared across the table at me. “Lexa… I’ve been trying to figure out a way to ask this, but I’ve never been very good at this sort of thing so I’ll just go ahead and ask. There is something that is just so familiar about you and I can’t escape the feeling that I know you. Have we met before?”

I pursed my lips staring at her then leaned back in my chair trying to think how best to answer her question. Should I tell her truth? Then I had a sudden idea pop into my head and felt immediately ashamed for what I was thinking of doing. Before the invasion Briggs had been a fairly common name, but since the Qharr had wiped away so many humans, surnames, like Briggs, had become quite rare. I hated to lie to my sister, but I knew without a lot of explanation that she’d never believe that I was her long lost brother, Jellfree. If I told her the truth she might make a scene and I couldn’t risk that, but if she thought we were cousins, that would give me a reason to be close to my sister again.

I sighed, leaned forward and bowed my head. “I’ve never met you before, but I think you probably met my parents, Mara and Harold Briggs. We’re cousins Rebecca.”

Becca bit her lip and stared across the table at me with wide eyes. “I didn’t know my aunt and uncle had a daughter.”

“My mother only found out she was pregnant a short while after the invasion. By the time I was born both my parents had been captured by the Qharr,” I replied. My hands were shaking as I spoke and as hard as I tried I couldn’t keep myself from weeping as I heaped one lie atop another. I certainly looked young enough to have been born after the invasion with my new body. “Both of my parents are dead now.”

“I’m sorry. Mine are too,” my sister replied reaching out to touch my hand. “They died during the invasion.”

“I know,” I replied without even thinking and cursed myself inwardly for saying something so stupid. I felt Kaya’s foot under the table kicking me, which confirmed that Kaya thought it was pretty dumb too. Then I had a sudden flash of inspiration and cursed myself even more for the fresh batch of lies I was about to dole out. “I met your brother, Jellfree, at the last compound that I lived. He told me all about you and your parents.”

“You met my brother? You saw Jellfree? Is he alright?”

“Well Jellfree was the compound’s head cook before I left and he was in a relationship with one of the cooks working under him,” I replied.

Becca smiled nervously and opened her mouth presumably to speak then looked back at the entranceway. Her smile transformed into a look of dread and I understood why when I followed her gaze and saw Jerem headed our way. “Damn,” I whispered under my breath.

“Bitches,” he muttered taking the seat next to me and glaring across the table at my sister with a look of contempt. “Becca get me some more to eat. I’m still hungry.”

My sister nodded and promptly jumped out of her seat sprinting for the kitchen. “What the fuck are you looking at, cunt? You want another taste of my fist?”

Kaya glared at him, but she bit her lip and merely turned away.

“Good,” he nodded and glared back at her. “That’s what I thought. Now get outta here, I don’t want to look at that face of yours until it’s healed up a bit.”

Kaya grabbed her tray off the table and I moved to follow, but Jerem grabbed my wrist. “Where the fuck you think you’re going?”

I stared at him, and balled my hand into a fist, but stopped myself and took a quick look around the room. If I hadn’t been for the fact that we had an audience I would not have hesitated to hit him, but unfortunately there were still a couple dozen people who had yet to finish their meals lingering in the room.

“Come here,” he growled yanking on my wrists forcing me to sit down in his lap. I could have easily resisted, but there was no way in hell I could do so without revealing how strong I was and that would be a very bad idea. I settled across his lap and shuddered ever so slightly as I realized that the bulge I felt pressing against my ass was his damn cock. He grabbed my chin and I shrunk away as he leaned in for a kiss. His breathe tasted like shit, literally, and when he broke away I just barely managed to keep myself from puking my guts out.

He smiled at me and for once there didn’t really seem to be any malice in his eyes. “Tomorrow, when you take your shower; make sure you get yourself cleaned up real well. If I have the time you and I will be getting better acquainted”

I could feel bile rise up in my throat as I caught a gleam of his intentions reflect in his eyes. “I-I don’t think–”

Some of that anger returned to his eyes as he cut me short. “You think you have a choice? Fuck, bitch the Qharr wouldn’t care one bit if I cut your damn throat and left you to bleed in the middle of the hallway. I keep order for the Corrector and all he cares about is if I keep these damn sheep from causing him problems. If there are a few deaths here or there it’s the price he must pay for having me keep the peace.”

I trembled and felt tears well up in my eyes as I nodded. God, how the hell was I going to keep that bastard from having his way with me without killing him? There was no way I would ever let him touch me. Letting him kiss me had been bad enough, and I wasn’t sure I could control myself if he tried again. I came to one inescapable conclusion if I went to his quarters I’d wind up killing the bastard and screw everything the hell up!

“Get the fuck up!” he yelled yanking me by the wrist and sending me tumbling from atop his lap. I twisted sideways at the last minute and managed to keep myself from landing on my breasts. I’d never actually done it myself, but I’d heard from Kaya that falling onto your chest hurt and I didn’t intend to experience it for myself. I crawled back to my feet and glared at Jerem with both of my hands clenched at my side.

“Leave bitch!”

I glared at him shaking with a barely contained fury. I wanted to beat him senseless for the way he’d touched me and for the things he intended to do to me. I had the power, but if I used it our mission would be shot to hell, but I sure as fuck didn’t care. Jereme Anders was going to die. I glared at him one final time and grabbed a half-eaten piece of bread from my plate, stuffed it into my mouth and walked away.

Chapter Eight

Steaming hot water splattered against my chest and I closed my eyes letting myself get lost in the feel of it against my skin. I’d been one of the first out of bed that morning so for once the water wasn’t lukewarm. I was dreading what the day might bring, but I also knew that I would have no choice but to go about the day’s business and hope Jerem would be too busy to bother me. It really hadn’t been that long, but I’d actually gotten used to the relative freedom I’d had in the bunker.

As with the previous night my dreams had been mostly about my sister and Jaysen. The former having to do with killing Jerem and saving my sister from the Qharr and the latter involved Jaysen and I screwing one another repeatedly and because of those dreams my shower had definitely taken an erotic turn. Unfortunately, while the shower room wasn’t quite empty there were a few women there and there was no way I was going to allow them to see me playing with myself. So, I gritted my teeth, finished washing myself and grabbed my towel off the racks.

I was careful not to stare too intently at any of the other women which was actually rather hard because some of them had pretty nice bodies. There was a time that I would have done anything to be able to get into the women’s shower room, but if I’d found myself in my current predicament, well, I’d be just as miserable then as I am now. To tell the truth, I was sort of getting used to my body, but even with the new plumbing I kind of doubted I’d ever truly consider myself as female. I certainly wasn’t any closer to understanding them. Okay, well that wasn’t completely true, I knew things about women now that would have been a surprise to me just a few months ago, but many things about women were still baffling to me.

I dressed myself, and made my to way to the kitchen where Creg was brewing some tea. Some things never changed and in an odd sort of way it was comforting to see Creg brewing his weekly batch of tea just like he had always done. I’d never really known the man that well. Creg was quiet and kept mostly to himself. I’d worked with him for years before I’d gone to Het’ma and I knew almost nothing about him.

“You’re here early,” he mumbled glancing back at me then turned back to his task.

“Couldn’t sleep,” I replied and stepped up beside him sniffing his teapot. It smelled oddly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. The name suddenly popped into my head and I had a vision appear in my head of me as a young child popping a red and white striped candy into my mouth. “Peppermint? Where on earth did you find it?”

The Corrector is fond of earth teas. He let’s me keep a small portion of the plants I grow in exchange for maintaining them,” he mumbled and scratched at the stubble on his chin.

“Enforcer Jerem will probably come around here soon. He never misses tea day,” he mumbled.

I stiffened and moved for the door, but it was already too late Jerem was standing there in the doorway leering at me. I shuddered and took a step back as he stepped inside the room. He traced a hand across my cheek , but passed me by in favor of Creg. He wore a burn rod strapped to his waist and as he walked it swung back and forth across his leg.

“Tea ready?” he asked bending over the pot and taking a good long whiff.

“Yeah,” Creg mumbled staring up at Jerem with an indiscernible look then back at me. There was a warning look in his eyes, but I had no what he might be trying to convey to me.

Jerem reached up into a cupboard grabbing three glasses out and set them on the counter next to the stove. “Well, what are you waiting for?” He glared at Creg rapping his finger against the counter.

Creg shook his head and sighed pouring tea into each of the glasses then grabbed one of them off the counter and turned away. Jerem hovered over the two remaining cups then suddenly turned back to me holding one out. I was a little surprised by this, but I took the glass from his hands. “Drink it down honey buns.”

I glared at him and took a sip of the tea, and stared back into my cup. It wasn’t bad as teas went, but it had a funny after taste. I shrugged then brought the cup up to my lips and downed the rest of it.

“Now come,” he grinned. “I’m in the mood for some morning refreshment.

I let him drag me out the kitchen and through the hall. Outside we were stopped by Becca who stared at her husband with wide eyes. “Jerem, please no!”

“Get the fuck out of my face, bitch. If you knew how to please a man in bed I wouldn’t have to find my kicks elsewhere,” he said between clenched teeth before pushing her out of the way and dragging me along after him.

‘He put something in your drink,’ Khala’s voice came unbidden inside my head.

It had been days since I’d heard from the symbiote and now to suddenly hear her voice again was startling. ‘Shit, what was it?’

‘A sedative,’ Khala replied. ‘I’m working on expunging it from your system, but it’s a toxin I am unfamiliar with. You should feel its effect soon do everything you can to fight it. If you succumb to the drug it will be more difficult for me to clear it from your system.’

“JEREM!” Becca called after us, and that’s when I was hit by the first wave of drowsiness. I gritted my teeth and tried to fight it, but my knees started to wobble and abruptly I fell face forward to the ground.

“Took long enough,” Jerem said glancing down me then bent over to throw me over his shoulder.

“You’re heavier than you look,” he groaned. “Don’t worry the effects are only temporary I slipped something into your drink to make you more submissive.”

I felt a surge of anger at his pronouncement and if I’d had the strength I don’t think I would have hesitated to kill him. I let my anger bubble and brew as it seemed to help me fight the sedative. Jerem was silent as he carried me down the hallway before stopping in front of a door. He pulled the lever, swung it open, and set me down on the ground atop the bed pad just inside. I watch him close the door behind him then slowly started to undo his pants. Oh, god! What the hell was I going to do? I tried desperately to scramble away, but my attempts to push myself up only resulted in me falling back down to the ground.

“Fuck,” he leered at me. “You are so damn hot. I can’t wait to get my cock is inside of you.”

There was a loud creak and Jerem spun around and got a face full of fist. Apparently, taken by surprise he stumbled backward and fell on top of me. “Bastard!” my sister yelled.

“You worthless piece of shit! This is how you repay me?!” he yelled climbing back to his feet.

“Repay you!” she yelled slamming the door shut behind her. “You’ve made my life miserable! Do you think I actually wanted to marry you? I hate you, I hate how you prey on the women of the compound, I hate the smell of your disgusting breath and I hate every damn thing about you. I’m not going to watch you do this anymore least of all to my cousin!”

He grinned glancing back at me. “So that’s what this is about? She’s your cousin? Give me a damn break, Becca!”

‘Try to move now,’ Khala’s voice whispered. I did as she suggested and wriggled my fingers. They still felt a bit… sluggish, but it seemed like some of dexterity had returned to my hands. I tried to sit up, but fell back down with a loud grown.

Jerem glancing down at me and stepped on my hand as he moved across the room. He grabbed my sister by the hair then grabbed her shoulder and forced her down to her knees. “You know,” he growled pulled a long knife from his belt. “You’ve always been so damn proud of that hair of yours.”

He pulled up the back of her hair and traced the blade across the back of her hair line and I could see a very slight trickle of blood as he lightly pressed the blade into her skin.

“Please,” Becca begged her whole body shaking as tears ran down her face.

I’d had enough, I was still weak and dizzy from the drug, but I couldn’t just lay there and watch that bastard scalp my sister. I lunged onto my feet, grabbed at his knife hand while simultaneously breaking his grip and pushing my sister away.

“The hell?” Jerem cursed.

“God, I never thought it possible but you’re an even bigger ass than you were before I left,” I pronounced glaring down at him and gripped my fist around his shirt collar.

“Before? I think I’d remember meeting someone like you!” he gritted his teeth and suddenly jammed his burn rod right into my chest.

My eyes flew open in surprise and I fell backward as I could feel the energy from the weapon flow into me. “Thanks,” I whispered clenching a hand around the born rod and gripped it as hard as I could until the outer casing shattered. “I needed that.”

Jerem’s eyes grew wide and he scrambled backward, “Shit, what the fuck are you?”

“Just an old acquaintance,” I narrowed my eyes then slammed my fist into his face. Jerem’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he slumped down to the ground unconscious.

I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh in relief then turned to my sister who was staring at me with eyes nearly as wide as her husband’s had been. “You alright?”

“No one is that strong,” she shook her head then shuddered. “You’re not really my cousin are you?”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, “No, I’m sorry I lied to you Becca… it’s just I was afraid of how you might react if I told you the truth.”

“The truth?”

“I’m your brother. It’s me, Becca, I’m Jellfree.”

“Oh my God! I don’t know who you really are, but you couldn’t possibly be my brother! Do you know how crazy that sounds?!” she yelled frantically climbing up to her feet and slowly edging away from me.

I sprang to my feet after her and grabbed her wrist. “Becca, it really is me. Remember after we were taken by Duvak you told me something I would never forget. You said that no matter happened we would always be there for each other. You said we would have to be strong because we only had one another.”

She blanched and took another step back, “YOU ARE NOT MY BROTHER!”

“Becca! Listen to me!” I yelled bighting my lip.

Fuck, I needed to do something and I had to convince her somehow, but what could I tell her? My nerves… I could barely think straight and as my mind raced I drew a blank as I stared at her with my mouth hanging open. Then the perfect thing to say popped into my head, and I grabbed her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “Becca, believe me this all must seem strange to you, but remember everything we’ve been through. Remember how you used to sneak into the men’s quarters just so that I wouldn’t have to spend the night alone? God!” I laughed.

“Remember Robb Kelly? You used to have the biggest crush on him anytime you were in the same room as him you’d just ramble on and on! I remember one time you got so nervous and actually puked right there in front of him!”

Becca pursed her lips as tears started to stream down her face. I could tell I was getting to her, but the way in which she slowly started to shake her head told me that she wasn’t quite convinced. I whispered her name and moved across the room and embraced her in a great big hug. She tensed and I could feel her try to push me away, but I held steady and whispered in her ears, “I have missed you so much… When Duvak took me away from you I thought I would never see you, but here we are again. Becca please, it really is me…”

I released her and took a step back. She remained where she was standing and looked into my eyes then reached out and touched me in the face. “Those eyes…” she whispered. “God, Jeff! It really is you!… How?”

I glanced about the room then back to my sister, “That is pretty hard to explain and as much as I hate to say this. I don’t really think it’s a good idea for us to be sticking around. Once your husband wakes up he’ll go straight to the Corrector and then we’ll be–”

“Dead,” Becca interrupted. “the Corrector will make sure we’re both executed.”

“That’s not gonna happen,” I shook my head then snatched her hand and guided her toward the door. “Come on, it’s time we get out of here!”

“Dammit!” I cursed then slowly closed the cracked door and turned back to my sister. “Qharr guards.”

“Oh hell, what are we going to do?”

I shrugged and bit my lip, “Well, there’s only two of them so I could take them out pretty easily, but there’s a pretty good chance one of them would raise the alarm before I can get to both of them.”

She stared at me with wide eyes, “You can take out two fully trained Qharr hunters without weapons? Oh, Jeff what’s been done to you?”

I leaned back against the wall, and closed my eyes. “You ever heard of the Edant K’teth?”

Becca nodded and bit her lip. “Yeah, the Corrector is one of them.”

“Well, a lot of the stuff you’ve probably heard about them is true. They’re incredibly strong, super fast, perform feats that seem to defy gravity and they can absorb the energy from phase blasts. What the Qharr won’t tell you is how the Edant K’teth gain these abilities. They get them by bonding with a symbiotic being known as a K’teth.”

“And I’m guessing it you became bonded with one of these K’teth? How?” she asked folding her arms across her chest.

“It wasn’t exactly intentional. I…killed a Qharr Overseer who was bonded with a symbiote and it went into me. Long story short I have boobs now,” I muttered looking down at my breasts then cracked the door open and peaked through again.

“Damn, the guards are not showing any signs of leaving,” I whispered turning back to my sister.

“That’s really the least of your problems, darlin’,” a voice breathed suddenly in my ear and I froze as I felt something press into my back.

I slowly turned my head and caught sight of Jerem out of the corner of my eyes. “Say, is that a phase pistol?” I asked glancing slowly moving my hands up.

“Fuck yeah, it is!” he yelled pressing the weapon further into his back.

How on Earth had he gotten his hands on a phase pistol? Even Enforcers weren’t allowed to have anything more dangerous than a burn rod or a knife.

A slow smile crept onto my face as I swirled around to force the gun out of his hands then clenched my hand around his wrist as hard as I could. “I can absorb phase blasts but I guess you weren’t awake to hear that.”

The gun clattered to the ground and he howled in pain and reached for his wrist as I pulled my hand away.

“Bitch, you broke my wrist!” he yelled, slipping a knife from out of his jacket with his unbroken hand and pounced on me. This caught me totally off guard and I was only able to bring my arm up in time to deflect the blade and keep it from penetrating my heart, but it plunged into my left breast instead. My eyes bulged as an evil twisted grin formed on his face, but that smile suddenly fled from his face when I gripped my fist around the knife’s handle and yanked it free. Like the gun, I let the blade clatter to the ground at my feet before I rounded on him clutching at his shirt collar.

“Let go of me freak!” he yelled stumbled backwards then a dark look passed across his face. “I was awake to hear one thing.. GUARDS!”

“Bastard!” my sister yelled running up to us snatching the knife from the ground and plunged it into his throat.

I stared at my sister with wide eyes and felt my jaw drop as Jerem’s lifeless body fell to the ground at my feet. “Holy hell, Becca!”

“God, I hate that bastard!” she yelled just before the two Qharr guards burst into the room.

“Ah crap!” I yelled and pushed my sister back as the first of the Qharr guards entered the room. He glanced down at Jerem’s lifeless body then screeched at the top of his lungs and raised his phase rifle. Bright flashes of energy splattered against my skin and I felt the sudden surge of energy as I rushed the first of the two guards with my fists swinging. I smashed my hand into his face and then pounced on the second guard as the first was reeling from my blow.

The second Qharr grabbed me by the throat and slammed me into the wall with so much force that I could feel my bones groan as my body pressed into the wall, and if it hadn’t been for Khala he probably would have broken every bone in my body. As it was it still hurt like hell and I let my body slump to the ground as the Qharr released his hold and turned toward my sister. I was back on my feet in an instant leaping onto his back pelting him with punches with my right hand while keeping a tight hold of his neck with my left.

There came another screech from behind as the first guard rejoined the foray, I loosed my grip on the second attacker and slid back down his back then swung around hitting the first guard across the chest with a roundhouse kick. The guard stumbled back and I pressed forward pummeling him with blow after blow. The Qharr were a race of warriors and they could take a pretty severe beating before they were rendered unconscious. It was very obvious that my attacks were hurting the guard, but I wasn’t confident that they’d be successful in knocking him out. I was going to have to kill him and that meant a different approach. I hit my opponent across the chest with a blow that would have been bone shattering for a human then brought both my hands up and pushed him as hard as I could.

I spun around then dove for Jerem’s discarded phase pistol and snatched it from the ground as the second guard leapt at me. I squeezed my fist around the trigger and watched as the bolts sizzled through the air and slammed into the chest of the second guard in rapid succession. It took three bolts to fell the guard and two more to finish him off. The phase pistol was definitely of human-make and probably would have had the power to kill a human at close range, but the Qharr were much more resistant to phase blasts so it took a lot more to do them in. The gun was minuscule which probably explained why it was so underpowered. I wondered briefly how Jerem had gotten his hands on such a weapon as the Qharr would have never allowed it, but those thoughts were soon interrupt as the first guard let out yet another high pitched howl.

I rolled back onto my feet and raised the phase pistol for another attack, but it didn’t come, at least not right away. The guard pounded an open palm against the back of his left hand and I silently cursed as a high-pitched siren call sounded from the speakers above. The Qharr guard had sounded the alarm and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to shut it off. I gritted my teeth then squeezed my hand around the phase pistol’s trigger firing shot after shot until the guard’s chest was a mass of charred flesh. I lowered the weapon then turned my back on the Qharr guard and let his corpse fall to the ground without looking back.

“Shit!” my sister proclaimed staring at the two Qharr corpses with wide eyes. “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”

I pursed my lips then held the weapon out to my sister. “Take it.”

She shook her head and reached out to push it away. “I wouldn’t even know how to use it.”

“It’s simple, just point and shoot,” I muttered. “In a hallway full of Qharr guards it matter how well you can aim.”

“What about you? You obviously know how to use this thing. It will be better if you took it,” she replied her hands shaking as looking up at me with her jaw hanging open.

I grabbed my sisters hand and forced her to take then pistol then silently moved across the room and grabbed the Qharr’s discarded phase rifle from the ground. It was huge, and much too heavy for an ordinary human to carry, but I was no ordinary. “One thing about being joined with a K’teth symbiote is that I can use Qharr tech.”

My sister nodded then tucked the phase pistol into her waist band. “What now, Jeff? I really hope you have a plan.”

I pursed my lips and glanced down at my chest where my knife wound was gushing like a sieve. ‘You gonna take care of that?’ I thought at Khala.

‘Already working on it,’ she replied.

I shuddered a bit as my breast started to tingle then I held my hand out to Becca. “Yeah, we’re gonna get the hell out of here, but first I need to call our ride.”

She stared at my open palm and seemed to hesitate for just a brief moment. She suddenly nodded then reached over and gripped my hand tightly. “Well, I guess we better hurry then.”

I felt a huge grin stretch across my face as I led my sister out of the room and into the hallway. As we ran I realized that in a very odd way I felt as if a part of me that I didn’t even know was missing had returned. I had my sister again.

We didn’t even make it ten meters before a group of three Qharr soldiers stopped us right in our tracks. “Ah, hell,” I cursed, stepped in front of my sister as the gray-skins opened fire. I raised my newly acquired phase rifle and returned fire killing the first two guards with four quick pulls of the trigger.

A wide-eyed Becca ducked out from behind me and opened fire with shaking hands. Most of her shots splattered harmlessly against the wall, but after half a dozen shots a bolt hit the third guard. The blast wasn’t enough to fell the bastard, but I took care of him with a blast from my rifle.

“Damned gray-skins,” I cursed slinging the rifle over my shoulder.

“God, how often do you do this sort of stuff?” my sister shuddered and slipping the phase pistol back into her waist band.

I shrugged and let a sheepish grin slip onto my face, “Technically, I only joined the resistance about a month ago, so… I guess this would only be my third time.”

“My bro–” he stopped abruptly and stared at my chest then corrected herself. “Sister the rebel. You’ve only done this twice before? God, I’d have thought you’d been doing it a lot longer by the way you fight.”

“Yeah, well that has more to do with Khala, my symbiote, than anything else,” I shrugged again then glanced about the hallway. “Refresh my memory where’s the nearest computer terminal?”

My sister swallow hard and ran her hand through her hair. “Um, there’s one down that way toward the kitchen.” S pointed down a side corridor.

“Right,” I smacked my forehead, “the one across from the men’s shower room.”

“Come on,” I added looking around. “We need to get going before more guards show up.”

Becca bit her lip then trailed me as I took off down the corridor. I had to hold myself back to keep myself from out pacing my sister, but even so she seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace. I kept glancing back only to find that I had to slow down for her to catch up. It was partly due to my K’teth-enhanced speed, but my sister was obviously unaccustomed to running at such a hard pace and it showed. Finally, we reached the computer terminal and I came to such an abrupt halt in front of it that my sister, unable to put on the breaks, came careening into me.

After we untangled ourselves from one another, I glanced down at the terminal and scratched the back of my head as I tried to decipher all the foreign characters arrayed across its surface. ‘You think you could help me out?’ I thought at Khala.

The symbiote didn’t respond, but suddenly all the Qharr symbols on the screen disappeared and were replaced with English words. “Damn, that is freaking cool!” I yelled out loud grinning at my sister.

“What?” she asked peering over my shoulder.

“It’s just Khala, she made it so that I could see all these characters on the screen in English,” I replied tapping on the area of the console screen labeled ‘Com System’. The screen flashed and a message appeared across its surface indicating that I was an ‘unrecognized user’.

“Dammit!” I cursed pounding my fist against the wall. I knew the Qharr would eventually wise up to the fact that there was a human who could use Qharr tech running around, but I hadn’t expect them to devise a way to keep me out so quickly. ‘Any suggestions?’ I asked Khala closing my eyes and massaged my nose, but whatever chance she might have had to answer was lost when another pair of Qharr guard’s appeared on the other side of the hallway.

“Bastard’s don’t know when to give up!” I yelled then turned to meet the gray-skins as they opened fire. “Well,” I shrugged as I knocked my sister out of the path of the phase bursts. “It’s a good thing the guards here haven’t figured out that I’m joined with a K’teth.”

I reached for the phase rifle which I had left leaning against the wall, but a stray phase bolt hit it igniting the power cell. There was a loud pop and I felt a surge of energy as Khala absorbed the resultant energy. To their credit this new pair of guards did stop firing once it became apparent that their weapons weren’t doing me any harm. I took off down the hallway and they did too screaming at the top of their lungs. The first, a slender Qharr female pounced and caught me unaware with a fist across the face. Unable to brace myself in time, my head snapped back and I tumbled down onto my back.

Both guards were on me in a second and for a moment I thought they had me, but fortunately I managed to roll away before they managed to get a good grip on me. I swung my fist at the male hitting him in the gut then leapt back to my feet and kicked the female as hard as I could in the chest as she tried to stand back to her feet. She fell to the ground and I turned to face the male as he regained his footing.

“You’re strong for a hu-man!” he breathed circling me warily.

“You have no idea,” I grinned then flung my fist at his face and watched in grim satisfaction as he teetered on his feet then collapsed to the ground. The female yelled at the top of her lungs and charged me, and slammed into my shoulder with enough force to send me reeling sideways and caused me to land breast first. I gasped and staggered back to my feet gritting my teeth against the pain in my chest as I rounded on the female.

She brought her arm up to block my fist as I swung it in a sweeping blow that would have hit her in the chest. It impacted her arm instead and there was a sick crack as her bone snapped. She howled and grabbed at her arm. I took advantage of the momentary distraction and pressed the attack planting blow after her blow. She staggered back then I screamed at the top of my lungs, jumped up and fling my fist into the side of her head.

She fell back and I turned away before her body hit the floor. I walked back to the console, but my lip as I looked down at the message displayed on the screen requesting the biometrics of an authorized user. I glanced down at the floor where the female was laying unconscious and noticed the Inquisitor rank insignia emblazoned across her flat naked chest and realized I had what I needed right there. Inquisitor was a special rank which was basically the Qharr equivalent to military police and if anyone had access to the comm system she probably would.

“I’ve got an idea.”

I sighed then moved across the hallway, grabbed hold of the female Inquisitor’s unconscious body and dragged her across the floor to the computer console.

I bit my lip, grunted then glanced back at my sister. “Help me would you?”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t lift the Qharr woman by myself, but she was a lot bigger than me and it was just too damned awkward to prop her up by myself. My sister nodded and slipped a hand under the female’s armpit. Finally, we got her positioned so that her hand was touching the screen and the words ‘User recognized. Opening Comm System’ scrolled across the screen.

I tapped my fingers against the console testing to see if I could manipulate the controls. The console responded and I opened a channel. I typed the following three words into the console Qharr, ‘Khala d’eg pokk’ which meant ‘Khala run up hill’ in English. Jaysen and I had put our heads together to work up a code which we could use to communicate should Kaya, Farris and I needed a quick way to escape the compound. To any of the Qharr who might have been listening the message would have sounded like complete nonsense, but to Jaysen the message would tell her we were in trouble and that we needed a pick up on the roof.

I knelt down to snatch the phase pistol out of the Inquisitor’s hands then turned back to her and held my hand out to my sister with a huge grin on my face, “It’s done! Now let’s go find my friends and get the hell out of here!”

She nodded and took my hand then once again we went tearing down the hallway.

“Kai!” I yelled after having taken care of the Qharr guards outside the kitchen door then flew inside with my sister–who was panting heavily and dripping with sweat from her attempts to keep up with me–in tow. “It’s time to leave.”

Everyone in the kitchen stopped what they were doing and abruptly turned to stare at Becca and me with wide eyes. Kaya set down the knife she’d been holding and stared at me with a single eyebrow crooked and the barest hint of a smile. “I take it that alarm that’s been blaring over the intercom is your work.”

I nodded and glanced at my sister before turning back to Kaya. “More or less, you ready to get out of here?”

“Fuck yeah!” She ran a hand through her hair and glancing back at old Creg and the other women in the room. “Nice meeting you guys, but I’ve been itching to get out of this damn place since I got here so… later!”

Kaya bolted for the door and I glanced around the room and grinned. “Creg it was nice seeing you again. Oh and blondie,” I said turning to look Merida in the eyes. “You have a nice rack. Can you really blame me for staring?”

Merida folded her arms across her chest and glared at me, but neither she nor any of the other occupants of the room said a word as Kaya, Becca and I all fled away from the kitchen.

“Okay,” Kaya panted running up beside me. “What the hell happened?”

I sighed, “Jerem tried to rape me… Now he’s dead.”

“Shit… are you okay?”

“Fine, he didn’t get very far,” I shuddered then burst forward putting on the speed as we turned a corner. “Now come on it’s time to find Farris.”

“Damn there are a lot of guards,” I cursed peeking through the door to the manufacturing area of the compound where Farris had been assigned. I don’t really know what I was expecting, the factory took up the largest area of the compound and there were more slaves working there than in any other area, but it went far beyond that. Factories did tend to have a high number of slave revolts which wasn’t that surprising considering that the working conditions were absolutely terrible which in turn meant there were more guards assigned to that area per slave than any other.

I grimaced and glanced at Kaya who was clutching at the pistol which my sister had long since relinquished when it became apparent that Kaya was the better shot.

“You have any ideas?” I asked Kaya running a hand through my hair and let out a long sigh.

Kaya shook her head and pursed her lips. “I have no freaking idea and I gotta say I really don’t like our odds.”

“Dammit, well we can’t just leave Farris,” I breathed closing my eyes then glanced back at the door. “I’m going in…” I trailed off gripping at my phase pistol and leapt through the doorway. I swung my weapon around taking out the pair guards who were standing near the door then fired off another few shots hitting the next few who were supervising a portion of the assembly line nearest to the door.

It had been ten years since I’d entered the manufacturing area of the compound, but nothing seemed to have changed. The assembly lines were so long that they never seemed to end, and the machines, like all Qharr tech, were massive insectine assemblage that extended all the way up the ceiling and down the entire length of the room. Within the compound they manufactured parts to Qharr ships which were then shipped to a Qharr base were they would be inspected and assembled by the expert (and more trustworthy) hands of Qharr technicians.

“MATTHEW FARRIS!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “You ready to get the hell out of here?!”

All the humans within the manufacturing facility turned to me, but no one stepped forward. Which wasn’t surprising considering that a group of nearly half a dozen guards came tearing across the room toward me.

“Shit,” I cursed under my breath and raised my pistol. The gray-skins opened fire pelting me with blast after blast and I returned fire even as Khala absorbed energy from each of the individual bolts. I took down three soldiers before they remaining three were on top of me. I dropped my phase pistol and swung my fist at the foremost of the three.

Several phase bolts splattered against my back and I knew, without looking, that Kaya had opened fire with the underpowered pistol. “Farris dammit!” I yelled kicking another of the Qharr, who happened to be the only male of the trio, across the chest. “Would you get the hell out here?!”

The first gray-skin punched me in the shoulder, locked her hand around my throat, and lifted me up off the ground all within the blink of an eye. I reached up to claw at her hands, but before I could force them open she slammed me down to the ground with what was likely her full strength. I felt my bones creak just as they did when I’d been slammed against the wall, but the pain was well within my tolerance. I kicked her across the chest and was about to shove her aside when a familiar (and oh so annoying) voice proclaimed. “Let go of her dammit!”

“Spl’k hu-man!” the Qharr female spat out in a gravelly baritone voice just before she suddenly collapsed on top of me. I pushed her off then sprang back to my feet to find that Rayland and Farris were both battling the two remaining guards. Each held a long metal bar and were having a pretty hard time fending off the gray-skins’ advances. I snatched the bar from out of Rayland’s hand then slammed it into the guard which he’d been battling. I made short work of him then joined Farris as he battled the third. I swung the bar and hit her across the chest as hard as I could. She went flying back and I turned to Farris with an appreciative smile. “Thanks for the help.”

“What and I don’t get any credit?” Rayland asked as I threw the bar back at him then snatch my pistol back from the ground. He snatched the bar out of the air and I sighed. “Thanks, Ray, but your help really wasn’t necessary.”

He shook his head and grinned at me. “Whatever you say. Maybe you could explain to me how you happen to be impervious to phase fire and why you’re so strong?”

I rolled my eyes and let a long exaggerated sigh escape my lips. “Maybe another time. Look it’s been nice, but I think it’s time for my friends and I get to going.”

“Sure.” He grinned his eyes lingering on my breasts and it was only then that I realized that the phase bolts had burned a hole in my shirt and exposed my nipple.

“Dammed boobs,” I cursed under my breath then slipped my hand over the hole to hide the exposed flesh.

“Well, this is goodbye then,” I added feeling my cheeks burn as I grabbed Farris by his shoulder and motioned for Kaya and Becca to leave.

“Not goodbye,” he beamed trailing us as we moved for the door. I glanced over my shoulder and swallow hard as I caught sight of a group of guards led by a towering blue-haired Qharr who towered over his fellow Qharr standing at well over eight feet tall. It looked as if Het’ma’s Corrector had finally showed his face.

“Dammit,” I cursed. “Rayland get the hell away from us! A bunch of rebels is about the last group of people you’d want to associate yourself.”

“I’m coming,” he insisted following us as we fled out the door. “I know about the biometric key!”

“Dammit! Just who the hell are you?” I cursed. “You better not slow us down.”

“You contact Jaysen?” Kaya asked glancing back over her shoulder as a phase bolt shot past her head.

“Yeah,” I nodded firing my own weapon over my shoulder at our pursuers trying my best not to hit the corrector so that I didn’t provide him with any additional energy. “I told her to pick us up on the roof.”

“Right,” Kaya nodded. “With that funky code you two worked out.”

“The roof?” My sister panted. “You know there’s only one way up there. We’ll be trapped for sure.”

“Trust me,” I replied stepping in front of a phase bolt before it could hit her. “We know what we’re doing…”

The Qharr chased us through the corridors and it was all I could do to keep the others going. I didn’t have any trouble keeping the pace, but the others were struggling and I didn’t know how long they could keep up. There was only so much I could do, especially since I was the only one of our number capable of fending off Corrector Taevok and it was very necessary to do so. Once already he’d put on a burst of sudden K’teth-enhanced speed and appeared behind us.

“The fucker just won’t give up.” I happened to glance over my shoulder and watched him run at us and gritted my teeth as he drew closer and closer.

‘Khala if there are any special abilities we might be able use to take him out, I’m all ears. ‘

‘None’

I gritted my teeth and just kept on running. I’d been grasping at straws, and frankly I hadn’t exactly believed there was anything that I could use against the bastard besides my wit and my fists. Sometimes you just have to cover all the bases. “How different are male symbiotes from females? Will he be stronger than the overseer was?”

“The only differences are our reproductive capabilities; he will likely be much weaker than my previous host as she had unusual strength. Only the sub-ascendant is more powerful.”

“Well there’s that at least.” I glanced back just in time to see the bastard come tearing toward us again.

Fortunately, he hadn’t been expecting me to intervene with the enhanced strength and reflexes afforded to me by Khala or he probably would have had us. When he got close I spun around on the balls of my feet and hit him as hard as I could across the chest. The force of the blow coupled with his own speed sent him tumbling backwards clutching at his chest and howling in surprised fury. By the time he climbed back up, with the assistance of the guards, our lead on our pursuers had nearly doubled.

When I was just beginning to think that we might actually stand a chance after all, the Corrector tried to rush us again and this time I was not ready for him. Before I could muster any sort of defense he grappled hold of me and we both went careening to the ground. I elbowed him in the chest and tried to squirm out from under him, but he gripped hold of one of my wrists and rolled on top of me. I struggled under his grip, but he was able to force both my hands down against the ground and nothing I did seemed to do any good.

As I struggled I looked over to the side where Kaya, my sister and the two men had stopped to watch me struggle against the corrector. “Kai!” I yelled. “Take Becca and get the hell out of here!”

“I’m not leaving you!” she yelled gritting her teeth balling her hands into fists at her side.

“Go dammit! I’ll catch up!”

Taevok’s continued attacks forced me to turn away, but I caught sight of them leaving out of the corner of my eyes. Taevok growled out a command in Qharr instructing his troops to follow and they rushed to comply. I took the opportunity that the short distraction afford me and took a really cheap shot. I kneed him in the groin and thanked my lucky stars that Qharr anatomy was so similar to that of humans. Taevok’s groaned then collapsed on top of me and I could feel his breath on my throat as I pushed him away.

I staggered back to my feet and took a few tentative steps forward before breaking out into a run. I only managed to take a few steps before he got his hand around my ankle and I yelped as he pulled my foot out from under me. “Mother humping bastard!” I yelled kicking him across the jaw with my free foot before realizing that I’d been speaking in Qharr.

“So much strength! Far beyond that of an ordinary human,” he yelled in near-perfect English then switched over to Qharr as he lifted me up from the ground. “You must be joined with a K’teth to possess such power! Tell me how it is that a slave rat came to be bonded with a symbiote!?”

I grinned up at him defiantly even as his hand tightened around my throat and managed to choke out the answer. “I killed the Overseer!”

Taevok coughed.”A bold statement, but one which I think is most likely true. Given that Jahal’s symbiote was unaccounted for when they examined her corpse. Still I cannot understand how such an inferior species could ever serve as a compatible host for a K’teth.”

I gasped for breathe and clutched at my throat as I felt my life start to slip away. I clawed at his finger and tried futilely to loosen his grip, but his strength was so much greater than mine. A K’teth magnified the base strength of their host and since the Qharr were much stronger to begin with my opponent’s strength was much greater than mine. ‘Any ideas?!’ I cried desperately at Khala.

‘Working on it!’ she responded just a few seconds before his grip suddenly loosened from around my throat and he was thrown against the wall opposite me. I crawled back my knees and coughed uncontrollably before air flooded back into my lungs.

“Thanks,” I breathed. ‘You doing that gravity thing again?”

‘Yes,’ she responded.

‘How can you fight Taevok knowing that in doing so you could kill another of your kind?’ I asked her with a slow shake of my head.

‘Because I made a promise to help you. Besides if the host dies it is very rarely a death sentence for the symbiote. Hurry now. You need to get back on your feet before he attacks again.’

I took another deep breath, nodded and slowly climbed back to my feet. I felt something trickle down my face and when I reached up to touch it my finger came away red. I don’t know when it happened, but sometime during the fight I must have been hit pretty hard in the head. I shook away the sudden wave of dizziness and spun around to look for the Corrector. Khala’s gravity wave, for lack of a better term, had thrown Taevok into the opposite wall and embedded him deep into its surface.

His eyes were closed and as best as I could tell he was unconscious, but when I moved closer to check for signs of life. I heard the sound of multiple footsteps pounding against the hallway floor. I stopped mid-step and glanced over to find that nearly a dozen Qharr guards were running down the hallway in my direction. I glanced at the Corrector’s motionless body one finally time and then took off down the hallway away from the soldiers and in the same direction that Kaya, my sister and the others had fled.

Chapter Nine

I called up all the speed I could muster and zoomed down the corridor at such a pace that all my instincts were screaming at me to slow down. I couldn’t though, I had to catch up with the others before it was too late and they left without me or worse they were overtaken by the gray-skins. The Qharr guards had continued their pursuit as far as they could, but I was simply too fast for them to keep up. I did catch a few stray phase bolts before I completely outran them, but most of them missed and splattered against the wall as I ran.

I caught up to the others so quickly that I nearly ran straight into the cluster of guards that were pursuing them, but luckily I managed to come to a stop mere centimeters of the rear-most of the gray-skins. He spun around to face me, and I hit him as hard as I could the moment I saw his face. He flew back and knocked three more of his companions down. The remaining two guards were on me, throwing punches and screaming out Qharr obscenities. I ducked as the first, a tall male with a shaved head, swung his fist in a powerful blow that would have been devastating to a human then blocked a blow from the second, a lean female with her hair done up in a long braid, with my forearm. I spun around in a jump kick and hit baldy across the waist then punched the female in the chest. After, several successive blows both collapsed at my feet and I snatched a phase pistol which had fallen to the ground during the fight then I leapt down the hallway without waiting for them or any of the other guards to climb back to their feet.

I heard a loud guttural scream and looked back to find that the guards had resumed their pursuit. I kept running and managed to catch up with the others. Kaya glanced at me as I neared. “That was fast.”

“Yeah, well,” I grimaced stepping into sync with her. “I was really eager to get out here.”

“What about your friend the Corrector?” she asked glancing over her shoulder at the guards.

“Out for the count,” I replied.

“But not dead?” she asked with wide eyes.

“More guards showed up and I left before I had time to check for sure,” I shrugged.

“More guards?! Just great… You didn’t happen to take a head count did you?” Farris interrupted looking back at me.

“There were a dozen at least!”

“Boy this just gets funner and funner,” Rayland grinned back at me.

“How close are we getting to the roof?” Farris yelled as a stray phase bolt zoomed over his head.

“Not far!” my sister yelled back. “There should be a stairway down that next corridor.”

“About damn time,” Farris breathed. “This compounds too freaking big.”

“I just hope Jaysen will be there in time,” Kaya shook her head.

“It shouldn’t take her long,” I replied. “She said she’d keep the ship close, remember?”

“I’m a little more worried that he–” he grimaced then gritted his teeth as he corrected himself. “–she even got the message.”

I glared at him and bit my lip, “The communications system will alert her to any incoming messages. It would be pretty hard for her to miss it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Farris replied shaking his head.

“Yeah well,” I said. “Let’s just get up there and we’ll know for sure.”

Rayland winked at me. “Sounds good to me.”

I glanced at him, but gave him no reply as we continued to run. After reaching the stairs we traveled up nearly a dozen flights before finding our exit. The gray-skins pursued us the entire way. Once we finally reached the door Farris kicked it open and we rushed through the opening as quickly as we could.

“Fuck!” Kaya cursed as we stepped out onto the roof clenching the hair atop her head and gritted her teeth. “She’s not here yet and those guards will find their way up here any second!”

I glanced about searching the rooftop for anything that might be of use and found it just a short distance away. There were a series of ducts running along most of the length of the roof and supporting said ducts were a series of metal bars. Running up to the nearest section of ducting I wrapped my hands around one of the bars, braced my feet against the ground and pulled as hard as I could. I pulled and pulled and with one final heave the bar snapped free. The ducting groaned and sagged just a little bit as I swirled around leaping at the door with the bar in hand. I jammed it into the door and bent it around the frame so that it couldn’t be opened from either side.

“You really think that will hold?” Kaya glanced at me skeptically with a single raised eyebrow.

“Probably not,” I replied shaking my head. “But it might buy us some time.”

“God, I can’t believe this is happening?!” my sister proclaimed her hands shaking as she stared at the door with wide eyes. She looked on the verge of a breakdown and I can’t say I really blamed her after everything that had happened. My sister had always been a strong-willed person, but I’d caught a glimpse of how that bastard husband of hers had been treating her. Jerem was a bully and even back before he’d been an Enforcer and he was unrelenting when he picked a victim. How long had that asshole Jerem been mistreating her? I could only guess at the sort of things he might have done to my sister, but knowing Jerem it wouldn’t have been very pleasant.

“Becca,” I whispered her name and reached out to wrap my arms around her. “It’s going to turn out okay. You got that? You’re going to be fine.”

The water works came next and my sister collapsed into my arms sobbing hysterically. I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh as I whispered encouragements under my breath. Next came the pounding at the door and I knew that the Qharr had finally caught up with us. I bit my lip then turned to the others. “Farris!” I hissed. “Take my sister!”

He nodded then tentatively grabbed my sister by her shoulders and helped me move her. Becca resisted a bit, but once her arms were around Farris like they’d been around me she collapsed into his arms without a word. “Be ready,” Kaya glanced at me her knuckles turning white as she gripped at the small phase pistol in her hands as if her life depended on it. I gripped my own pistol and stared at the door frowning as I heard Qharr curses coming from the other side.

“Damn gray-skins,” I cursed.

“Gotta love ’em,” Rayland grinned.

“Shit,” Kaya glared at him. “Are you insane?”

“Yes, but only just a little,” he replied back glancing at the door as the Qharr continued to pound away. Suddenly, a loud groan came from what I could only guess were the hinges just before my bar sprung away and the door shot out from its frame. Kaya and I opened fire as the first of the guards appeared in the doorway. He collapsed to the ground dead and was replaced by two more gray-skins. They opened fire just before Kaya and I peppered them with shots and they too died unable to withstand the sudden barrage of shots.

More guards came pouring out from the opening and everyone except myself moved to find cover behind the ducts. Since the blasts from the Qharr guards only strengthened me I stayed out in the opened and continued firing into the doorway and Kaya shot whenever she got an opening from behind the relative security of the ducts. Each time a blast shot into and was absorbed by the duct my sister let out a high-pitched squeal. It became quickly apparent that the six guards that had followed us had been joined by others, some of which I recognized from the group that found me after I’d taken out Taevok.

“We are so fucking screwed!” Farris cursed from behind the duct clutching at my sister as Kaya fired shot after shot beside him.

“There’s too much riding on this!” I yelled back glancing over my shoulder. “Jaysen knows that she’ll be here!”

“She better hurry!” Kaya screamed just before a phase bolt splattered into her shoulder.

“God dammit!” she howled and gritted her teeth before ducking back behind the cover of the duct.

Kaya and Rayland had some sort of exchange, but I have no idea what was said since I was a little busy fighting for my life. What I do know is that moments later Rayland leapt up from behind the duct and started firing off shots with Kaya’s weapon. He proved to be every bit as good a shot as Kaya and actually managed to take out two gray-skins before he was forced to duck back behind the duct. By that point the roof’s exit had filled up with Qharr bodies and for the next few moments we had a brief reprieve as our attackers struggled to break through the barrier of corpses.

I could hear the grunts and growls of the gray-skins pushed against the corpses, but they didn’t seem to be making much headway. Not surprising considering that the stairwell was probably only wide enough to accommodate two Qharr side by side and even then it would have been a very tight squeeze. Abruptly the pile of bodies flew out from the doorway in all directions and out from behind them emerged the blue-haired form of Corrector Taevok. “Q’ll Nas!” I cursed only realizing that I’d been speaking in Qharr after the words had escaped my lips. A group of guards followed him up out of the door and started firing at Kaya, my sister and the others.

I glanced at my hand where I had the over-sized Qharr pistol clenched then dropped it and let it clatter to the ground before pouncing. Whatever injury I might have inflicted on him appeared to have been healed by his symbiote or else it hadn’t been nearly as severe as I’d originally believe because he moved with the same fluid grace and speed as he had before. He was a trained warrior and I was just some unlucky bastard… bitch who’d gotten stuck with a symbiote and that difference became more and more apparent as we fought. Each time he swung a fist it was only my incredibly quick reflexes that kept the blows from landing home. Taevok was very angry, I could tell from his body language. Everything from the way he held his shoulders and the tilt of his head showed his fury as clearly as a scowl would have on a human. His anger translated into his attacks, his hands moved in swift blurs and it was becoming much more difficult to fend off his advances.

“Look!” Farris’s voice called out in the distance.

I was too busy fending off Taevok, but I did catch site of Rayland craning his neck out of the corner of my eyes. I suspected or at least hoped I knew what he was gawking at then I felt a surge of hope as Rayland confirmed it. “Is that a ship?!”

“Yeah!” Kaya called out triumphantly. “Looks like our ride is almost here!”

I dodged and blocked the Corrector’s blows as best I could not getting a hit in edgewise. Then things took a turn for the worse when the first of his blows cut through my defenses hitting me on the underside of my chin and I went flying backwards a near half a dozen feet. My back flared with sudden pain as I smashed into a nearby section of duct. I could feel something sharp pressing into my flesh, but I didn’t let that stop me from leaping back to my feet. There was a very slight tingling sensation as I felt Khala work her magic on the wound then I rounded on the Corrector landing my first blow. He grunted slightly as my fist slammed into his chest, but it wasn’t nearly as powerful as I’d hoped and he grabbed at my wrist before I could make another move.

I tried to break free, but his grip around my wrists was too tight. ‘Please help me!’ I yelled at Khala as I continued to struggle against Taevok.

‘Brother,’ Khala’s voice screamed inside of my head and for a moment it seemed as if she were speaking to me then I realized that she was talking to the corrector’s symbiote. ‘I have been liberated from the Qharr! Join me and you can be free too.’

‘Traitor!’ another disembodied voice which I assumed belonged to Taevok’s symbiote yelled back. ‘I have nothing to say to you!’

‘So be it,’ Khala responded her voice becoming very cold. The air around my started to ripple then I could feel a rush of pure force extend outward and shoot out toward the Corrector. Taevok stumbled back, but instead of flying away like he had before the wave reversed itself and I was the one who went soaring backward. Before I could hit the ground Khala did her gravity thing again and I spun around wildly in the air before landing feet-first atop the roof.

Before I could even so much as blink, Taevok was barreling toward me and I immediately leapt aside, but I was already too late. His fist pounded into me and again I went flying back through the air. I got another assist from Khala and landed back on my feet and this time I was ready for that bastard to come charging. I jumped sideways and slammed my fist into his side as he sprang up to me. He stumbled sideways, lost his footing then stumbled to the ground along the edges of the roof. He scrambled back to his feet, but not before I glanced over the edge and realized just what it would take to defeat my opponent. If I could press up my attack and force him off the roof it was high enough that I think if he took a tumble it might possibly kill or at least maim him.

Even if I gave Khala control of my body, something which I wasn’t ready to do, there was no guarantee she could win. There was my agreement with Velspatt to consider, but at that point all I was really more concerned about surviving my encounter with the Corrector. If I couldn’t kill him I could at least injure him sufficiently that he couldn’t pursue us and who knows I’d already gotten lucky dealing with a member of the edant k’teth once before maybe I’d get lucky again.

The air around us abruptly grew very turbulent and I knew that the ship be almost on top of us. I didn’t look back or gave indication that I knew the ship was there. Taevok was climbing back to his feet and I didn’t want myself to get distracted when a golden opportunity had just presented itself. I kicked Taevok across the chest and he collapsed down to the ground. I was bringing my foot back to do it again when my other foot was yanked out from under me. I went down rolling, kicking and swinging my fists at the Corrector as he jumped on top of me.

We rolled around the ground pummeling one another with our fists as we each struggled to gain the upper hand. His blows were powerful and hurt like hell, but he wasn’t able to bring his arm back all the way and thus utilize his full strength. My own strength paled in comparison to his, but in one way at least I had the upper hand. I was a lot faster and I concentrated my blows hitting him again and again in the same spots. Before he’d been able to overwhelm me with the pure fury of his attacks, but now that some of his steam had cooled off and my lone advantage was finally starting to pay off.

I hurled my fist at the left side of his face and the blow actually seemed to rattle him a bit because he stopped and shook his head. I seized the opportunity this provided me, pushed him up with my hands then kicked him as hard as I could across the chest with both of my feet. He flew up then down over the edge of the roof. I silently climbed back to my feet and whirled around to find, just as I had guessed, our ride was waiting hovering in the air beside the roof with the entrance ramp extended. I eagerly leapt into motion hurling my fists at the remaining three guards that Rayland was still battling with the undersized pistol. I quickly took them out then turned back to the others screaming at the top of my lungs, “What the hell are you waiting around for? Get your asses moving and get yourselves up that damned ramp!”

Rayland grinned at me, turned to the injured Kaya who he scooped up off the ground and leapt across the rooftop with Kaya in his arms. Farris, with my sister slung up over his shoulder, followed suit and in short order I was the only one left on the roof top. I don’t know what prompted it, but I got this sudden impression that I wasn’t alone. I spun and let out a dozen or so of my more choice curses as I found my friend, the corrector Taevok, speeding toward me. “Shit,” I yelled. “This guy just won’t stay down!”

“Sorry,” I shrugged gesturing over my shoulder. “You see that ship there? It’s my ride and I really must be leaving.”

I took off running toward the entry ramp and leapt across the edge of the roof. I landed on my feet and started up the ramp into the ship, but fell flat on my chest when a sudden weight came tearing into me from behind. My damn boobs hurt like hell from the impact, and I clutched at them with my hands while kicking out at the Corrector with my feet. He flew back and started to slide down the ramp, but not before his hand latched around my ankle.

“Jellfree!” My sister called out and her cries her joined by ones from Kaya, and Farris. They all rushed to the edge of the platform, but by then it was too late and Taevok and I both went tumbling over the edge of the ramp.

Chapter Ten

The two of us fell toward the ground at a terrifying speed, but all Taevok seemed interested in doing was continuing our fight. He swung his fists at me even as we continued to plummet. I dodged his blows and grappled hold of his arms pushing them away from me.

“Are you nuts?” I cried out. I closed my eyes and prepared for my life to end, but then Khala acted and I realized there was still a chance. It had been stupid of me to believe that a fall from the roof would have killed the Corrector when his symbiote had the same gravity defying capabilities as mine.

‘Grab on to Taevok and whatever you do–‘ Khala’s voice screamed within my mind, ‘–keep his back pointed toward the ground!’

Khala didn’t explain and it would have been foolish to argue with her with time running so short. I complied, immediately hooking my arms around the Corrector’s biceps. As we continued to plummet I felt Khala working her magic and I could myself swap between feeling weightless to suddenly feeling as if an enormous weight were pressing into me then back again. Taevok howled, cursing in Qharr and clutched hold of me attempting to dislodge my hands.

An invisible force pressed into my stomach, which I presumed was the Taevok’s symbiote attempting to dislodge me and it was all I could do to keep my hold. Abruptly, the pressure disappeared and I screamed at the top of my lungs as he broke free from my grip and slammed his fist into my chest. I threw my free hand back to retaliate, but then suddenly everything ended when we went crashing to the ground with a near-deafening thud.

Dust from the ground rose all around us, I clenched my eyes shut and I threw my hands up to cover them. Once the dust had settled I opened them up again and looked around breathlessly taking in my surrounding. We’d landed on the opposite side of the compound from the loading area where slaves were brought in. There were a dozen patrol ships parked about twenty meters away. I looked down at the Corrector, realizing quite suddenly that he was not moving, and discovered much to my disbelief that his body had been embedded into the ground around us. ‘How do I tell if he is dead?’

‘Feel the side of his neck, just above where his shoulder meets it.’

I did as she suggested and put my fingers against the spot she had suggested I didn’t feel anything and after some help from Khala we were able to determine that he was in fact dead. “What about the symbiote? Is it dead?” I spoke aloud as I staggered back to my feet.

“No, but if he does not find a host within the next few hours he will die,” she responded appearing at my side with her pretend hands on her illusory hips and her phantom lips pursed.

I nodded then glanced over at the patrol ships. “You think we’ll be able to get one of those flying?”

She bit her lip and shook her head, “If the Qharr have added user restrictions to a simple thing like a comm panel I do not doubt that a patrol ship would be given similar lockouts.”

I glanced up and took note of our ship, which was starting to move away from the building, and grimaced turning to Khala “They probably think I’m dead. What are we going to do?”

Khala grinned, “Do what you did with the comm panel. Use the Corrector’s biometric signature to activate the ship.”

I nodded and reached down to grab at Taevok’s lifeless hand, but dropped it when I caught sight of the phase pistol holstered at his waist. I quickly snatched it up then point it down at his elbow joint and pulled the trigger. It took nearly a dozen shots to sever his forearm from the rest of his arm and the act had cause most of the flesh on either side of his elbow to become charred. On the plus side the phase bolts had actually cauterized the wound so I didn’t have to deal with any blood as I toted around his severed limb, but on the down side it stunk like hell. I’d smelt burn flesh on a handful of occasions, but it had always been human flesh. The smell of Qharr flesh was actually a lot worse; I wrinkled my nose against the god-awful stench and fought down the sudden urge to puke.

I tucked the pistol into my waistband then snatched his severed arm up, glanced at his dead body one final time before taking off toward the ships at my top speed. In just a few short seconds I had found my way to one of the vessels. I held Taevok’s hand up to the biometric sensor and let a long sigh of relief when the hatch popped open. I quickly leapt inside and made my way to the control system where once again I was forced to use the Corrector’s hand to get the ship started, but once it had been activated I could manipulate the controls with my own hands. Just like I had with the control panel back in the compound, Khala translated the controls and strangely I knew just what buttons to press to get all the pre-flight procedures out of the way.

“How is that even possible?” I asked aloud my voice barely even a whisper.

“You really haven’t figured it out by now?” came Khala’s response from the seat beside me. “Your mind is subconsciously tied to mine. The longer we’re bonded the more of our knowledge is shared with one another. It’s why you can speak and understand the Qharr language, it’s why you’re fighting skills have such remarkable improvement it’s also why you’re able to manipulate the controls so easily.”

I swallowed hard and stared at her with wide eyes, “Our minds are merging?!”

“Not exactly,” she replied grimacing her hands tapping against the control interface. “What makes us both unique individuals remains intact. We share some things, but your memories and personal thoughts will remain yours and the same is true for me. The sort of things that are shared are learned skills, languages, fighting abilities, and any skill that is performed on a repeated basis. For instance, since becoming joined with you I’ve gain a better working knowledge of your language along with the ability to cook. As a matter of fact I know the proper means of preparing a dish you call beef stew.”

I grinned and shook my head, “So you learn to cook and I learn how to pilot ships and fight bad guys. Doesn’t sound like much of a trade off to me.”

Khala shrugged. “It’s something different. There aren’t very many Qharr warriors who can cook. They usually leave that to what they believe are lesser beings. Besides, being bonded with a hosts allows me to remain living which is definitely something I’d like to continue doing and you’re one of the few hosts that it can be said I actually like.”

I glanced at her to see if perhaps I could detect a hint of deception, but then I realized that the image I was staring at was an illusion and in and of itself a deception. How could I detect a lie from a false image? I shook my head and nodded unable to think of anything to say to her that wouldn’t sound snide. I still had a pretty hard time with what she’d done with me and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be on friendly terms with a creature that would do something like that. We’d agreed to work with each other, but that didn’t mean we had to be friends.

I glanced down at the display as I took the ship up and noted a blinking red light. It took me a second, but I realized the blip meant the sensors had picked up a ship on the long range sensors. It certainly wasn’t Jaysen since the ship she was piloting was much too close. Whoever it was they weren’t friendly and I really didn’t want to be around when they showed up. “You may want to destroy those other patrol ships,” Khala stated suddenly glancing at me with raised eyebrows.

I nodded in agreement. It made sense, destroying the patrol ships would prevent the Qharr at the base from pursuing me or the others. I waited until I’d put a little more distance between myself and the ships parked below then armed two missiles and blew all the vessels below to hell. As a slave compound, it was doubtful the Qharr wouldn’t have seen any reason to outfit the base with any other ships and lucky for me it wasn’t standard practice for the Qharr to leave the shields up for parked ships. Unfortunately, as my ride rose into the air the approaching ship drew close enough that I was able to identify its type. It was a J’narr class destroyer and while it was pretty small as destroyers went it was definitely big enough to make quick work of both me and the rescue ship.

The destroyer sped quickly across the sky, reaching the rescue ship in what seemed the blink of an eye. My comm panel blinked and I looked down to see that the destroyer was broadcasting across all frequencies. I opened a channel to listen in. “This is the Inquisitor Destroyer Qellanas to the unknown ship. Identify yourself!” An angry voice demanded in the Qharr tongue over the intercom.

“This is the rescue vessel V’narr,” I heard Jaysen’s voice responded. “Is there a problem, Qellanas? We just lifted off for a repair run to the city.”

“Why is your identifier beacon not active?!” the Qharr asked.

“That system is one of several that have been damaged. The beacon needs replacing and the compound here lacks the necessary parts,” Jaysen responded.

“Land and submit your vessel for inspection!” The Qharr screamed his voice growing even louder than it had been before.

“Ah, screw it!” Jaysen called back switching to English. “Go fuck yourselves!”

The destroyer didn’t answer, but instead started firing on the rescue ship. “Dammit!” I cursed before opening up a comm line to the destroyer. “Qellanas this is Het’ma patrol ship three, please respond.”

A new voice responded and I was more than a little surprised to find that I recognized it, “Het’ma three, this is High Inquisitor Duvak Nakyrr. We received an alert from your compound. Perhaps, you could tell us what is happening.”

Duvak a High Inquisitor? That confirmed what I had previously guessed about my former master being demoted. I guess someone higher up most have really been pissed at him to bust him back to his former position. Not surprising considering that the Overseer had been killed under his watch and he had a group of rebels to outwit him so easily. I stared out the view port and bit my lip. My mind racing as I struggled to think of something to say that would enable me to help out the others.

I was running short of time, Jaysen was doing a pretty good job dodging the destroyer’s phase fire, but it was only a matter of time before their shots got through and Duvak wasn’t going to wait around for me to give an answer for too much longer. I considered trying to convince him that the rescue ship was telling the truth about being damaged, but Jaysen had pretty well screwed that possibility up and I don’t think it would have worked in any case. I closed my eyes then let a slow smile creep onto my face when I realized what I was going to do.

“High one, a group of hu-man rats are attempting to escape they’ve already killed a number of soldiers and I believe they may have also gotten to the Corrector. One of them displayed incredible strength far beyond that of an ordinary human as if she were bonded with a K’teth,” I replied trying to keep my tone as neutral as possible.

“It is them,” Duvak responded his voice growing very quiet the way it always did when he was thinking. “Het’ma three, I’m going to let you inside the shields. I want you to dock with the Qellanas and make your way directly to the command center.”

I grinned shaking my head, in disbelief. God, he’d actually fallen for it! “As you command High Inquisitor, but I was hoping that–” I pretended to protest to add icing to the cake. Nearly any Qharr warrior would wish to take part in the attack.

“Rest easy, warrior. There is no honor to be lost. While the pilot is very skilled, the ship is weaponless, and there is no honor to be gained in participating in its destruction,” Duvak coughed in a manner which, knowing him, probably meant he was amused. “Now come, young soldier, hurry aboard. I wish to speak with you immediately.”

“As you command, Corrector,” I replied and silently cursed myself when I realized my mistake.

“Clever,” Duvak replied suddenly switching to English. “You almost had me fooled, human. Had you not slipped up and referred to me by my former rank you could have easily snuck inside the ship’s shield and turned your weapons on us. My compliments your mastery of our language is impressive, but you may wish to work on disguising your voice. It is unusually high-pitched for a Qharr.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I replied dryly. “You know I’ve been wanting to say this for twenty-four years, Duvak. I hate you, I hate every god-damned thing about you gray-skins. You murdered my parents, and I will make you pay for that now that I have the power.”

Duvak’s initial response was a blast of phase fire that would have hit me if the ship’s sensors hadn’t warned me. I jammed my hands down on the control and the ship lurched hard to port as the bright red bolts flew past it narrowly missing my right wing.

“You are the female from the rebel hideout. The one claiming to be Jellfree?” Duvak’s voice responded through the intercom.

“That’s right, Duvak, but I really am Jellfree. I killed the Overseer and got stuck with her symbiote and well… you get the picture. Anyway, it’s just been lovely chatting with you, but I really must be going,” I said then jammed my finger on the comm panel changing frequencies.

“Jaysen!” I called out. “You there?”

“Lexa?” Came Kaya’s voice through intercom. “God we thought you were dead for sure! Is that you in the patrol ship?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’ll tell you all about it once we escape… Just um… you guys have any ideas? Things aren’t looking so good.”

“Not really. We were going to use the leap drive, but the drive coils have been damaged and there’s no way we can safely jump,” Kaya responded.

“I have an idea,” Khala muttered suddenly from beside me. I listened as she relayed her idea, then slowly nodded realizing that it just might work even if it was one of the more insane ideas I’d ever considered.

“Khala’s got a plan,” I spoke twisting and sliding my hands across the control and sent the ship flying into a sideways loop. “Look I can’t risk telling you everything over the comm systems. The Qharr on that destroyer are probably listening. Things are going to get a bit messy. Watch for my sign… then I’m going to need a ride.”

“Just don’t get yourself killed,” Kaya replied and there was a brief click as the comm line closed.

I dodged another barrage of phase bolts then zoomed at high speed toward the destroyer’s belly just below the aft thrusters where, according to Khala, it would nearly impossible for the ship’s phase cannons to get a lock on me. I got as close to the shield grid as I dared then punched my hand down on the controls activating the autonav systems. I leapt out of my seat and moved within the confined space to the back of the cabin.

“Okay, you said we were going to make the reactor overload. How do we do that?” I asked Khala glancing over my shoulder to see whether her phantasmal form was still seated at co-pilot’s station. Khala had disappeared, so instead she responded to me her voice echoing through my head. ‘There to your right behind that panel.’

I glanced over and yanked the panel loose with a burst of K’teth enhanced strength before tossing the panel over my shoulder. “Okay, what now?”

Khala had me rummaging around in there and tinkering with tubes and wires, before she finally declared that I was done. I really didn’t have any clue what any of the things I had done were actually supposed to accomplish, but Khala at least was satisfied with the results. ‘Now,’ she added. ‘Get back to the controls it won’t be long before the reactor blows.’

I leapt back into the pilot’s seat and sent the ship lurching forward by tapping my fingers on the thruster controls. The Qharr destroyer’s fire pelted down from above and I veered sideways narrowly evading a barrage of bolts. I swooped around guiding the smaller vessel around the destroyer to the back where the anti-grav engines were. I got as close to the shields as I could and let out a dozen or so of my more choice curses when I was forced to send the ship careening away to dodge more blasts from the destroyer’s cannons.

A bright speck flashed across the control panel accompanied by a loud klaxon-like horn, warning me of an imminent reactor breach which was my cue to leave. I locked the course into autonav then I reached down at the side of the seat and yanked as hard as I could on the eject lever. There came a click then a loud mechanical groan and I grimaced pounding my fist against the side of the bulkhead to my right.

“Shit, I think it’s jammed. You got any ideas?”

‘You’ll have to jump out of the exit hatch,’ came the answer.

“Damn, well this ought to be fun,” I muttered before grabbing at the hatch and forcing it open. The ship lurched and I was nearly thrown out as the autonav system’s struggled to maintain its programmed course. I gritted my teeth and glanced back over my shoulder then shuddered ever so slightly before I took one last deep breathe, jumped out of the craft and went falling feet first to the ground below.

To be continued…

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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.

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Daniel A. Wolfe

Hi, I'm Daniel A. Wolfe, thanks for visiting the site and for read my stories. You can find more out about me by visiting the about me page. Please take a moment to comment, it really helps encourage me to continue writing.

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