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No Legacy this Week

10/23/2021

Well, I hate doing this since I just barely came out of hiatus, but there will be no Legacy of Earth this week. The main factor being that I had to do ten hours of directed (mandatory) overtime and I just haven’t had the energy or time to edit the latest chapter.

I do apologize and hope everyone has a deliciously devious weekend,

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Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 6

10/17/2021

CH 06

Kingsburgh, California, Conclave Headquarters

“Kaydence!” a familiar voice exclaimed as I entered the council chambers. I blinked and paused, regarding Reyna Feldstone. There was far more warmth in her voice than I had expected.

She didn’t seem to have aged a day since I’d last seen her, but it’d been almost a decade. She must have been close to a hundred years old, but looked like she’d just rounded forty. In an era where humanity had learned to slow its aging, Reyna’s youthful appearance was still remarkable. I would never consider Grey’s grandmother to be attractive, young or old, but there was something about the wide set of her features and the intensity of her eyes that made her striking in her own way.

I glanced about the chamber and was unsurprised to see the same council members were present as the previous session I’d attended, with the notable exception of my grandmother. There were, however, several different faces. A pale woman, who would be rather pretty if she didn’t look like she was trying her damndest to make her eyes pop out of their sockets, met my gaze and tilted her head, a gesture reminiscent of the Dexagarmetrax and stared at me with her too-wide eyes. I diverted my attention, unnerved by her stare, and glanced at General Arnoff, who nodded and smiled at me. I returned the gesture and moved on to the final inhabitant of the room, Nyvok Nakyrr.

“Miss Briggs,” the dome headed fellow with the wisps of hair above his ears rose wearing a smile that didn’t quite extend to his eyes. “We’re glad that you could join us. Please, be seated.”

I peered about, and took the nearest empty seat, which was right between Nyvok and Miss Wide-eyes. Nyvok gave me a curt nod, a human gesture, but his eyes didn’t seem to register me. His attention was focused on the woman sitting on the opposite side of me. When I met her gaze, she smiled, stretching her mouth into an almost unnaturally tight smile. “It is pleasing to once again meet your acquaintance.”

This raised my eyebrows since I didn’t know her from Adam. She had the blue hair and magenta eyes of a joined host, so perhaps she had undergone a physical transformation at the hand of her symbiote, but I never got the chance to ask. 

The dome-headed man stood, clearing his throat, and scowled at me. He looked around, fingering his collar. “As interim chairperson, I will conduct this session. Brothers and sisters, I am pleased to welcome General Arnoff from the United Earth Alliance Fleet, Plenipotentiary Nyvok Nakyrr of the Gieff Confederacy and the former ambassador from Dexagarmetraxia, who as yet has not picked a new name for herself.”

He gestured to the wide-eyed woman and smiled. I peered at her just in time to see her throw back her head and belt out a single high-pitched squeal much like something the doctor might produce. Good lord, no wonder she reminded me so much of a Dexagarmetrax. She used to be one. I couldn’t speculate why or how she ended up with a human mug, but something told me it wasn’t just for shits and giggles.

‘Crae?’
I thought out loud, not realizing I was broadcasting my words for all to hear until everyone in the room, save Arnoff, turned to look at me. I blushed, focused all my will at the K’teth and tried again.

‘Crae, are you in there?’

‘Yes, Kayde, I’m here.’

That confirmed my suspicions, but before I could press Crae for anymore details, baldy started talking again.

“And finally, you’ve all met young Kaydence Briggs, Kaya’s granddaughter.” He said, followed by a long pause, before a solemn frown creased his lips.

“We have a rather full agenda for tonight,” he said at last after releasing a sigh, “but before we get started, begging our guests’ indulgence, there is one matter we must attend to. It is never an easy task to fill the position vacated by a deceased colleague, but it will be difficult to function without one of our numbers. It has fallen upon us to take up this sad duty.”

The whole thing felt a bit, like he was putting on a show, especially when Baldy kept glancing across the room at me with malicious glee in his eyes. Several times he eyed Reyna Feldstone and tilted his head in an almost imperceptible nod. Yeah, whatever he was up to, it couldn’t be good, and it didn’t seem to bode too well for me.

‘Khala, any clue what the hell Mr. Luscious Locks is up to?’
I thought at the symbiote, making extra sure I wasn’t broadcasting to the whole room.

‘If you mean the bald fellow, I wouldn’t know. I am a little out of the loop, remember? When I was last involved in the council politics, Kell Seymour wasn’t so far up the council totem, but he was quite opinionated. He seldom agreed with Lexa, which might tell us something. Then again, you may just want to ask Crae. She’ll have a better idea of his goals.’

I glanced at Hexapledra and arched an eyebrow, repeating my question to her symbiote.

‘I’m not privy to the most recent council dealings as I was a bit… busy trying to save my new host the last few weeks, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s trying to force a vote. Reyna has been on the short list to join the council for some time. If he can manipulate matters and keep other potentials away long enough, it would all but guarantee her a seat on the council. She doesn’t possess the same charmingly abrasive personality as Kell Seymour, but Reyna holds similar opinions. Not surprising considering they’re rumored to be longtime lovers.’

Eying Seymour with a forced smile, I swallowed hard. Given my uncle’s warning and considering she was the only non-council member present besides Arnoff, Nyvok, the former Ambassador and myself, her presence didn’t exactly give me the warm tinglies. 

I was too young to make it onto the council, even if someone were to nominate me. While, yes, a council position belonged to both host and K’teth, and Khala was among the oldest and most respected symbiotes within the conclave, it didn’t negate the fact that I was so very inexperienced in council politics and, well, life in general.

“–in mind, it’s about time we offered Reyna a council seat.” Seymour spoke, and I returned all my attention to him. More than a little afraid I might miss some crucial detail if I kept chattering away with Crae and Khala.

A slender woman, Dharma Gregory who looked so frail that I wondered if she might snap in half if she were caught up in a strong gust of wind, rose to her feet, eyes searching the council chambers before speaking with a soft, yet steady voice. “I second.”

“And I third.” The woman with such prominent crow’s feet from the previous meeting lurched from her seat so fast it almost qualified as jumping.

“Thank you, Dharma, and to you, Ellia. Is there anyone here who would like to put a name out?”

I turned to Crae’s new host, a question occurring to me. ‘If I make a proposal to the council, would Seymour support me?’

‘Unlikely, he’s long criticized Kaya and the Briggs family for allowing the conclave to get too cozy with the government. He claims it has led to too much compromise with the rights of joined pairs.’ Her response was what I expected, but I only clenched my eyes shut and bowed my head.

“Shit,” I mouthed the word, imagining all my plans crumbling around me as Seymour continued.

“There are other candidates. Has it not been tradition to give the opportunity to all the interested parties?” A man rose. He spoke with the barest hint of a South Asian accent. It was unusual, but not unheard of. 

When the Qharr occupied Earth, they relocated much of the human population. After the Earth Reclamation Force liberated our world a hundred and sixty years ago, and freed the human slaves, many of those people elected to return to their birthplaces, but some stayed. To this day, there remained isolated pockets of different cultural groups scattered in locations on entirely different continents from their ancestral homes. Some integrated with the cultures in those areas, but others remained separate, maintaining their culture and traditions.

“I sent invitations out to a number of perspective candidates, as suggested by several colleagues and none bothered to show as you can well see. We can put this off if you like, but I for one would like this body to be whole again.”

The man bowed, but didn’t return to his seat. Instead, he glanced over toward me. “In that case I nominate Kaydence Briggs.”

“W-what?” I gasped and leapt to my feet. “You can’t be serious!”

“Is this a joke, Bhupinder? Miss Briggs is a little young for such a position, don’t you think?”

“I am dead serious, Kell. She has the benefit of being bonded to Khala. It seems likely her symbiote’s many years of experience and wisdom will balance out her reckless tendencies.”

“I have no doubts about Khala’s qualifications, if it weren’t for her none of us would be here, but according to council bylaws a candidate must be a member of the conclave for at least ten years before they are eligible for consideration. We must abide by these guidelines as set apart by our founders, Khala among them, or they mean nothing. Now, let’s move things forward.”

Seymour looked around, his features pinched like someone who’d just swallowed something sour and I got the sense he was daring someone to challenge him. When nobody did, he nodded and let a smile creep onto his narrow face. 

“Then we vote.”

I sighed and leaned into my chair as the council prepared.

‘Crae?’ I thought. ‘What happened to your host? How is she human?’

Crae appeared sitting cross-legged atop the table before me, an apologetic smile creasing her lips as several members of the council paused and regarded her with disapproving frowns. “You know the few attempted bondings with a Dexagarmetrax resulted in the symbiote’s death.”

I frowned as the K’teth continued. “The Phyrr Lesch may have used your ancestors for a template to create the Dexagarmetrax, but they altered their biology to a much greater extent than the Qharr. Their immune systems resist the symbiosis process. I can only guess, but it may have been a deliberate attempt by our creators to prevent them from becoming joined to a symbiote. They wouldn’t want their hand servants to become a threat to them, now would they?”

‘Then how did you change her?’

“With some help from me, her body fought off the parasite that had infected it, perhaps through the same resistance the Dexagarmetrax has to my kind, but the process had left her weakened and on the cusp of death. That enabled me to overtake the ambassador’s immune system and start the bonding process. Still, there were certain incompatibilities that had to be resolved. The vision of loveliness you see before you was the result.”

Lovely was not a word I would use to describe her. The former Dexagarmetrax was pretty in her new human form, but her weird jerky movements and that wide shit-eating grin prevented me from finding her attractive.

Crae put a finger up to her lips, then glanced over her shoulder at Seymour before vanishing. Taking her cue, I let my attention settle back on council proceedings just as Seymour read out the results. I waited on bated breath as they tallied the numbers. No really. I mean, what would be more freaking exciting than learning the results of a vote that I already knew the outcome?

With no one to oppose her, Reyna’s admittance was all but assured. The whole thing felt calculated, like Seymour had been manipulating the whole thing. The worst part was there wasn’t jack shit I could do about it. I know they were just following protocol, but fuck, what a damn waste. Eight members voted for Reyna and the remaining three abstained. 

I didn’t understand enough about conclave politics to ascertain whether that was unusual, but it suggested that I might have at least three potential allies. At the very least, they might be less inclined to support Kell Seymour or Reyna Feldstone if they attempted to bar me from involvement in the Endeavour investigation.

Seymour’s eyes scanned the room. “General, ambassadors, Ms. Briggs.”

His eyes lingered on me just a little longer than the others, but turned away as he continued. “Seeing as any potential chairperson has not been fully apprised of all variables of the Endeavour situation, we’ll abstain from selecting a permanent chairperson for the time being and get right to business. As with our previous meeting, we’ll be following formal protocols. If you wish to speak, press the button on the table before you and if it flashes, the floor is yours. General Arnoff, we’re readt for you now.”

Arnoff rose to his feet, a stern expression on his face that helped offset his bland continence. He nodded to me before speaking. “First, I’d like to apologize, especially to Miss Briggs, for the information leak within the Fleet. We’ve identified the person, and disciplinary action has been taken.”

He paused long enough to give me a pointed look, then continued. “Save for your newest member, you’ve all been appraised of the information concerning the Endeavour and the attacks from the mysterious creatures.”

Reyna blinked looking, up at the General with eyes so wide you might think someone had slapped her in the face. “W-what?”

“Sorry, for the interruption general, we’ll do better at following protocol from here on out. Reyna, interface with the conclave’s central database. I just added your credentials. The general has been good enough to upload all available information on the incidences involving those creatures and the Endeavour.” Seymour nodded to the newest council members before gesturing to Arnoff.

The General continued, showing no sign he was the least bit perturbed by the interruption. 

“We’ve conducted a thorough search and forensic sweep, and gathered precious few clues. The Valiant’s encounter with the alien ship has provided a bit more intelligence, but not as much as we’d like. What we know is we’re dealing with an enemy with superior technology and who appear to be skilled at genetic manipulation. The creatures we’ve encountered so far have been mindless beasts, but if they are being controlled by the parasites as my science team has concluded, we may encounter alternate more cunning forms of these beasts along the way.”

“What about those the creatures infected?” I asked with the slightest tremor in my voice, only remembering to push the button after I’d spoken.

Arnoff bowed his head and then gazed at me with a smoldering fire burning in his eye. So intense was his gaze, that it seemed likely I would have taken a step back had I been standing. When he spoke, however, I realized the rage that burned inside of him was not directed at me, but at himself. “They’re still in stasis. What we’ve learned from bioscans and blood samples, both from yourself and the ambassador, shows promise, but my people tell me it might be years before we can purge the parasites from their systems. Thankfully, stasis seems to have halted further spread of the organism.”

I nodded and bit my lip, a sinking feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. Arnoff didn’t say it, but we knew of at least one cure, becoming bonded to a K’teth. Symbiotes weren’t a dime a dozen, and if Khala’s comments on combating the parasite within my body were any sign, there was no guarantee the symbiote would defeat the invading organism. I couldn’t say why the General said nothing further. Perhaps he knew it would open a can of worms. Symbiotes only became available when a new one was born or a host passed away. It would be months, perhaps even years, before that happened. If one did, was it fair to ask him or her to risk their life in the off chance they’d be able to combat such an invasive organism?

“Based on the information we’ve gathered, the attacks on the Valiant and Endeavour would seem to have been perpetrated by the same group or organization. Also worth noting, there is one item that connects both attacks, the box first found by the Endeavour’s crew, among them Sophia Briggs, and later recovered by her daughter, Kaydence Briggs. 

Our scientists have determined it’s powered by a form of fusion, but beyond that, the exact specifics of how it operates is a matter of some debate. The device’s power core became unstable when activated on the Endeavour by Ms. Briggs. After reactivating the device, we were able to stabilize it. It appears to only become active once exposed to an oxygen atmosphere. When it does so, it emits what seems to be some sort of transponder signal. It is what enabled them to find the Valiant and the Centennial Hawk after Kaydence Briggs recovered the box.”

“In addition to this signal, the box seems to work as a kind of data storage device. We could not interface with it, but our scientists believe that it’s possible. We’re operating on limited information, but it seems logical to conclude that these aliens may be after whatever data may be stored on the device.”

“Last night, the UEA Security Council held a closed session and authorized me to organize a task force to deal with and investigate the threat posed by these unidentified attackers. As the Conclave had a direct hand in the original Endeavour expedition, I’ve convinced the Council of the need for your involvement. I’ve already forwarded a list of resources and personnel we require. Considering the device’s link to the Phyrr Lesch, we’re seeking any expertise and information the Conclave has to offer.” 

He hesitated and glimpsed at me, the slightest smile touching the corner of his lips. “Furthermore as Miss Briggs was the one responsible for finding the Endeavour and her symbiote’s firsthand knowledge of the events leading up to its disappearance and given that Sofia Briggs was an expert on the Phyrr Lesch I have to believe that the symbiote must have gleamed much of that knowledge from her previous host. Between the two of them, their knowledge and expertise will be invaluable to our efforts.”

“I want to be very clear. This is not a conclusion I’ve come to lightly. Kell Seymour fears that both Khala and Ms. Briggs’ experiences, while of obvious value, would create a conflict of interest within the investigation. While I understand these concerns, the benefits of utilizing such expertise outweigh any risks and her inclusion is the one condition I have to the your involvement, which is why I would like her to serve as an intermediary between the Conclave and the fleet.” He cast a sidelong glance at the other man.

“In an unprecedented show of cooperation, both the Confederacy,” he paused holding an open palm to Nyvok and then nodded at the former Dexagarmetrax, “and the government of Dexagarmetraxia have both pledged ships to the task force in what will be the first joint venture between all three races.”

“It is shameful that it took an attack on one of your ships to bring our people together in a common cause.” Nyvok spoke after pressing his own button and rising to his feet. “I am eager to lend aid and put an end to this troubling threat, as are my superiors within the Gieff Confederacy. It is a small token, but one I hope that will help show that Qharr attitudes towards our human cousins have changed.”

“Thank you, ambassador,” Seymour said, taking the floor once again. “General, if that is everything, I believe we can proceed.”

The general nodded and stood, marching through the exit without another word. Nyvok watched the general leave, but did not depart as I expected.

“Now, there’s just a few matters left. First, I’d like to open the floor to Ambassador Nakyrr.”

Nyvok rose to his feet again and peered about the room. “Thank you Kell Seymour. Since the Gieff came into power, there has been a dramatic shift in the attitudes of my people. I would say that most of these have been positive, but our Gieff cousins have long distrusted the K’teth and their bias has begun to rub off on my people. For some time, I have attempted to create a cultural exchange between the Edant K’teth and your Conclave. I believe Kaya Briggs called it a passion project. So it is with great pleasure to announce to you that my government has agreed to allow this exchange.”

“We will begin a full dozen applicants, on both Tel’c and Earth, who, if accepted, shall spend a full year learning from their…. What is the word? Counterparts on the other world? Anyone familiar with the Edant K’teth known that it has long been an informal organization that has had little to tie its members together except for a name and a common… condition. That is changing. 

Inspired by the human example, that is your Conclave, it is my pleasure to announce the formation of the first Edant K’teth Consortium. I have convinced my superiors that their distrust of the K’teth would be better assuaged by adopting the human model of cooperation between host and symbiote. Public announcements will be made within the next few days by the Confederacy, the newly created Consortium and your Conclave. Thank you.”

Following the ambassador’s announcement, there was a whole slur of questions. I leaned back in my seat, folded my arms across my chest and shook my head, ready for the damned meeting to come to an end. I assumed that when the questions dwindled away and the Nyvokk was finally done answering them, that I’d get to leave. Boy, was I ever wrong.

“One other piece of business,” Kell Seymour said. Glancing at the ambassador as the Qharr sank back into his seat. After what felt like hours of incessant queries and explanations. I could say it was the first and only time I was glad to hear the asshole speak.

“As you all have, no doubt, gathered.” He peered at Hexapledra and smiled. “The former Dexagarmetrax ambassador was attacked by one of the parasitical creatures, set upon us by Kaydence Briggs, in the same attack that brought about the death of our former chairperson, Kaya Briggs. Crae, Kaya’s symbiote, survived by burrowing into the ambassador. I won’t bore you with all the details, but complications arose, Crae’s symbiotic abilities and the ambassador’s Dexagarmetrax physiology were their saving grace, but given to certain incompatibilities those same factors could have led to their downfall. Thankfully, for both their sakes, Crae found a workaround by granting the ambassador a human form.”

“Indeed!” The former ambassador emitted a screech, her face stretching into an ungodly grin.

Seymour rolled his eyes and clenched his jaw, but kept his voice neutral. “The former ambassador has, as a result, resigned from her position with the Dexagarmetrax government and has requested citizenship within the UEA so that she may experience, in her own words, ‘what it is to be human’.”

He paused and glanced at me with a creepy-ass gleam in his eyes, displaying a toothy grin before continuing. “We have already agreed that we should induct her into the Conclave, but there is one minor matter to resolve. Our friend is a stranger to humanity’s ways and our culture and has asked for someone to mentor her. She named one person in particular: Ms. Kaydence Briggs.”

The once Dexagarmetrax beamed at me and jerked her crown sideways just before our gazes could lock. I had no idea what was going through her skull. I found it odd that she would choose me, a person who’d spent most of her life resenting her heritage and grandmother by extension, and someone who had driven off the only person she could imagine herself having a deep and lasting relationship with. It was utterly baffling and so deeply ironic. 

“I know it would be a heavy burden, for someone with such high expectations as the new liaison between the fleet and Conclave, but if Ms. Briggs would take the time out of her busy schedule, our new friend would be–”

Okay, that did it. I held my hand up and cut the jackass short. The little shit was trying to scare me off, but hell, Kaya Briggs raised me. If he thought he could pull that crap on me, well, two could play that kind of game. If I gave in or refused, he’d see it as a victory, but that wasn’t to say I couldn’t turn the situation to my advantage.

Fuck, who’d have thought I’d be playing politics like my grandmother? I swallowed hard and rose from my feet. When I slipped my hand over the indent in front of me, I cleared my throat and took the floor.

“Of course, I would be happy to help the former ambassador. She faces a tough road ahead. I, of all people, perhaps, understand better how difficult such a drastic change must be. There is no better way to understand the human condition than to live and work amongst other humans. Her knowledge and expertise would be a valued asset in our investigation. If she would consent to work alongside me?”

Kell scowled back at me, and I fought damn hard to keep my triumph from showing on my face. If I was going to get under his skin, I had to maintain my composure. It was damn hard, but I think I managed it if the look he gave me was any indication.

“Thank you, Ms. Briggs, and to you ambassador for your agreeing to assist the Conclave in these matters. We will not overlook your cooperative attitude in the future. We no longer require your presence here, so if you will excuse us, there are some matters the Senior Council needs to discuss which are of a sensitive nature.”

Though it was a bit of a turnaround, I don’t think there had been a time in my life when I wanted to stay in one place, but I doubted if I lurked about he’d let me listen in. I looked around the room one last time and departed with the ambassador in tow. Despite my disappointment, I had high hopes for the future. Arnoff had, in effect, given me a chance to get to the bottom of my loved ones’ death. I would not waste the opportunity.tran

So… It’s been a Hot Minute.

09/28/2021

Well hello there,

I know I’ve been a bit absent as of late and I do apologize. There for a while I thought I might drown amongst the tide of chaos, but I held on for dear life and have washed back on shore. There are a lot of details I WON’T get into, but suffice it to say there was a lot of drama in my personal life. There has also been a lot of positive change and progress made, I am now living as myself full time and in about half a month I will be hitting a full year on HRT! Wow, I can hardly believe that it’s been that long!

As far as writing goes, I had planned to edit Psyren’s Redemption and get it up on Kindle, but after some discussion in a writer’s Discord group, I’ve decided that I’m going to put that on hold and revisit my plans for the entire series. I’m probably going to be pulling Psyren’s Redemption from my site and other online repositories within the next few days. I feel the subject matter is not something I was qualified to tackle and well… I’ll just leave it at that.

So what exactly are my plans now? Well, I’m going to focus on finishing Legacy of Earth. After that? I have two major projects I can undertake. I can proceed with either my rewrite/reworking of the Exemplar universe or I can begin work on my Ragnarok Rising rewrite. Either represents a lot of work and because I am me, any plans I have are subject to change.

I don’t have a set timeline when Legacy will be finished or when I will resume serialization, but just know it is going to be a priority should no hiccups arise. Hopefully you’ll see it return in the coming weeks, BUT please be aware there is one potential hiccup that may put all writing on hold. You see, I am a United States federal employee, and with the government shutdown looming, I face the very real possibility that I will not be getting paid. Worse, I may even have to work through the shutdown. Should that happen, I may have to find other means to supplement my income, like doordashing.

Some of you may have seen my blog about T-Shirt designs, but if not that’s a thing I’m doing now too! I have stores on Teepublic and Redbubble.

I’ll try not to disappear like that again. If I do come find me on Twitter and slap some sense into me.

I hope you all have a deliciously devious night,

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T-Shirts Get Your T-Shirts!

07/20/2021

Well, I’ve got some news. Last week an idea popped into my head and… well I decided to give it a go.

I’m now selling t-shirts. Yeah, really, I am designing t-shirts and selling them. They are now available on Teepublic, Redbubble and Teespring.

View my designs:

I want to create some kind of portfolio section for the site, but I’ve yet to decide exactly what form it will take.

Every one have a deliciously devious night,

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New(ish) Art

07/11/2021

I went ahead and revamped the cover art for both of my Exemplar Universe stories, Psyren’s Redemption and The Fall of Kruhl. The changes for Psyren are more extensive, I almost redid the entire thing. The Art for Kruhl is closer to the original, but I did have to recreate parts of it because I was only able to find still images and some of the source images. I managed to create a version that is very close to the original. I also included the art for the Seal of Disapproval. This is an updated version of the seal which appeared on previous versions of the cover art. I thought it was a fun tongue and cheek way of mocking the old Comic Code Authority seals that appeared on comic book covers.

I hope you like the new art. Everyone have a delightfully devious night,

Facades

07/02/2021

All his life Jake Melton hid behind a mask. When he returned home, upon learning of his abusive mother’s death, fate intervenes and his life is changed forever.

Author's Note

With her passing I’m rededicating this story in Maggie Finson’s name. I think it only fitting since she came up with the title.

This story was original shared on Decemeber 04, 2012 on Bigcloset Topshelf.

Shout outs go to the following people: Beyogi and Maggie Finson who served as a beta readers, and the late Holly H Hart for her superb editing prowess.

This story has so much meaning for me, it was written so long before my egg cracked. In retrospect, I believe had I delved deeper into this story, it probably would have cracked much sooner. You’ll probably understand why once you’ve read it.

Sometimes your past has a way of sneaking up on you. For some folks that could be a good thing, but for me it nearly always meant trouble. Now I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not as if I lived a violent life of crime or anything like that. When you grow up in the sort of mess that I did your past isn’t exactly something you like to dwell on. My father died when I was very young and my mother, discontent with her lot in life, turned to alcohol in order to cope. She was a mean, bitter and manipulative woman, and she made my life a living hell. I’d been lucky in one respect, at least, a lot of people who grew up in abusive homes were beaten. My mother only ever tried to hit me once, and by then I was both bigger and stronger than her. When she hit me, I hit back, and she never so much as laid a finger on me again.

My mother always had a handle over me. She knew just what buttons to push to get me to do what she wanted and she manipulated me with the skill of a master puppeteer and much to my shame I let her do it. My mother could read me like a book, and had known whenever I was keeping something from her, but there was one secret she’d never guessed at. Perhaps, she knew and just wouldn’t accept it or perhaps the mask I wore was so convincing that even she couldn’t see through my carefully laid facade.

You see, for as long as I could remember I’d been convinced I was meant to be born a girl. My memories of my early childhood were foggy at best, so I can only surmise that something scared me enough to bottle my feelings up and keep them concealed. I sometimes thought that my mother may have had played a hand in this, but I doubted I would ever know for sure, especially now that she is dead.

I hadn’t spoken to her for years, and I’d been perfectly content to leave it that way so it had come as a pretty big surprise when I got the call about her death. The call came from an old friend, one whom I hadn’t heard from in years, but one who had been on my mind nearly every day since I’d left home almost ten years ago. Katie, my closest friend growing up, and the only person I’d ever truly loved. I spent years trying to work up the courage to ask her out, but I was far too afraid to put our friendship at risk. It seemed fate was not without a cruel sense of irony, in our senior year my hopes were dashed and I learned that devastating truth, Katie was a lesbian. She was only attracted to girls, and despite my secret belief that I was meant to be a girl, I knew we could never be together. Completely heartbroken, I left town once we graduated and never returned.

It was just two days before Christmas when I got the call, and as always I was spending the holidays alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends, but there were just too many bad memories and I would just as soon drown myself in alcohol and spend my Christmas in a drunken stupor. I’d only had two beers and was about to start in on a third when I heard the phone ring. I almost didn’t answer it, but for some reason I had this nagging feeling that it might be important.

“Jake?” a soft and melodic female voice asked from the receiver.

My heart skipped a beat and I felt ice cold chills shoot down my spine. It had been almost ten years since I’d heard her speak, and despite the subtle changes that time had made to her voice I still recognized the speaker as Katie immediately.

Memories came to me unbidden and I fought to keep my emotions from getting the better of me. “Katie?”

“God, it’s good to hear your voice. I just wish it were under better circumstances,” Katie said from the other end. There was a distinct tone of tension to her voice and I just knew that something was up.

“Katie? How did you get this number? What’s wrong?” I asked her feeling a lump form in my throat.

“It’s actually Deputy Forenst now, I work for the Sheriff’s office. Look Jake, I wanted to be the one to tell you. Your mother, we found her dead yesterday morning.”

“Shit… How?”

“She took her own life. I’m sorry.”

My hand, the one holding the receiver, started to shake and I felt all my bitterness and anger rise to the surface only to mingle with guilt and grief. My mother, my tormentor for so many years was gone. I wasn’t sure how I should feel and I was having trouble reconciling the sudden flood of conflicting emotions.

“Jake?”

“Yeah, I’m still here… I just… I haven’t heard from my mother in so long and now to learn that she’s dead. God, I don’t know how to feel,” I said, hot tears stinging my cheeks.

“Jake, I… if you don’t want to come home. After all that woman did to you–”

“No,” I said cutting her suddenly short. “I think I need to see for myself.”

After a long conversation Katie offered to let me stay at her place and I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t want to impose on her, but I had nowhere else to stay, as my hometown of Meridian was so small it didn’t have a hotel and I sure as hell wasn’t staying in my mom’s place. I was still reeling from the news of my mother’s death and I wasn’t quite sure how to react. A part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, and the other wanted to jump up in the air and shout out in glee. I know it sounds horrible, but my mother had brought me nothing but grief, and in a weird sort of way her death came as a relief.

I let out a long sigh, walked over to where I’d left my still unopened third beer and picked it up. I stood there holding it in my hand, and stared at it blankly for a moment. I shook my head, set the beer back down then sank down to my knees and started to weep.

“Dammit!” I cursed and turned my windshield wipers up to full speed.

It was Christmas Eve, and the drive to Meridian, my hometown, had been pretty sedate to begin with, but just a few hours in it had started to snow. It wasn’t really all that bad at first, but the closer I got to Meridian the more heavily it came down. I could only see a few yards in front of me and it didn’t show any signs of letting up. The mountain road that led into Meridian was hazardous, even under the best of conditions, and I was really beginning to regret my decision to come. I sighed, and flipped my car star stereo on. Adam Gontier’s voice screamed out the lyrics to I Hate Everything About You, and I could feel the singer’s emotions as acutely as if they were my own.

The song had come out when I was still living with my mother, and had quickly become one of my favorites. As of late my musical tastes had moved away from the angrier and more angst ridden stuff I’d listened to in High School, but for whatever reason that particular song had remained in my playlists, and at the moment it was just the sort of song I wanted to hear. I hated my mother, I hated that her death had affected me as it had. I had never had any intention of returning to Meridian, but there I was, doing just that. It was as if my mother had reached out to manipulate me one last time from beyond the grave.

Still, it would be nice seeing Katie, despite how much it would hurt. I still had pretty strong feelings for her, and I knew those feelings would never be returned. It was strange that after so long that my emotions would remain so strong. Maybe I was just clinging to the unattainable so that I wouldn’t get hurt by anyone else. It went to show just how pathetic I really was. I was afraid to get married, and afraid to have kids for fear that I would do what my mother had done to me and ruin my own children’s lives. It was better that I remain alone so that the cycle of abuse could be broken, or at least that’s what I told myself.

For the first time in years I found myself thinking about my gender identity. Well that’s not really accurate, I thought about it all the time, but this was the first time in a long time that I had really put any deep contemplation into it. Over the years I had carefully constructed an image of myself for the outside world to see. I did everything I could to appear as an ordinary guy, but that image was a lie. At one point I considering seeing a gender therapist, but the thought of hormone therapy and SRS held no appeal to me. I wanted to so desperately to be a woman, but I was tall and was pretty well built like a tank. With my face and body I didn’t think I could ever make a passable woman, and I’d always feel like I was pretending to be something that I wasn’t.

The tune changed to Norns by HeavensDust and I was about to reach down to change tracks when I caught a glimmer of light out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to find a pair of headlights headed right at me. I swerved out of the way in time to avoid getting hit, but I went flying off the road. For a moment my car teetered over the edge of the mountain’s cliff, but then the car suddenly jerked sideways and everything went black.

My head felt like some deranged carpenter had been beating at it with a mallet as vision slowly returned to me. I reached up to touch my forehead and felt something warm and slick, when I pulled my hand away I found that it was covered in blood. I took a deep breath and thought I might pass out from the pain as stabbing sharp agony shot from the lower-left section of my rib cage. I groaned, and turned my head to take stock of my situation. My car’s descent appeared to have been halted by a small copse of oak trees, but I had no idea how far down the mountainside I’d fallen, as the snowfall was so thick by then that I could only see a few feet in any direction outside the car.

The front of my car had crumpled inward and I was pinned against the steering wheel. All attempts to free myself were an exercise in futility and only resulted in more pain. The good news was that I could move my feet, so I wasn’t paralyzed. My biggest concern was that I was bleeding pretty badly, and if someone didn’t find me soon I feared I might bleed to death.

I gave up on trying to get free and focused on trying to keep warm. I was wearing my coat, which provided a great deal of insulation, but it was damn cold, and snow was drifting into the car from a crack in the rear window so I knew that it wasn’t going to be enough. I slipped my hand into the sleeve of my coat and lifted it up to the bloody gash on my forehead. Short of tearing off a sleeve I didn’t have any means of cutting off the blood flow, so my coat sleeve would have to do.

I found myself drifting off and I realized it would probably be bad for me to fall unconscious again. I’d banged up my head pretty good, and I thought I might just have a concussion. I fought against my drowsiness and did the only thing I could think of to keep myself awake, I sang. Like my mother, I’d been gifted with a pretty good singing voice, and one of the few good memories I had of her was of the two of us singing together. Of course, the first thing I could think of happened to be ‘White Christmas’, which seemed an oddly fitting tune for my current predicament.

Singing was second nature to me, and it didn’t take me long to turn to more melancholy tunes like ‘Everybody Hurts’ by REM, but as I struggled to stay awake the lyrics started to slip from my mind. I eventually just started to scream out in misery. I don’t remember all of it, but I do remember calling out to whatever god, goddess or gods would listen to me, begging them to end my pain. I didn’t want to live anymore, I hated my life, I hated my body and I didn’t want to live with it any longer.

I could never bring myself to completely discount the possibility that there was a God, but I’d never really put much stock in the idea of a wise, merciful, omnipotent and omniscient god. If there really was a God, and He really gave a fuck about any of us, why would He put us on this earth to feel so much pain? If He really cared about His children why didn’t He try to alleviate our suffering? Then again maybe His power was limited and He was just as helpless as the rest of us, or maybe He just didn’t give a damn.

I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder, and turned my head to stare into the eyes of the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid my eyes on. She had long blond hair, a dazzling set of green-eyes, and she stared down at me with a calm reassuring smile. She tugged at my sleeve and I felt myself being lifted gently from the car and placed back down on the ground.

“Jake,” she whispered kneeling down next to me. “I’m sorry that I’ve never done enough for you.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Someone who has watched over you for your entire life,” she smiled.

“W-what do you want?”

“What I’ve always wanted, to protect you and help you to be happy,” she said, reaching down to cup my face as a single tear ran down her left cheek.

“I can’t undo the years of abuse and mistreatment you’ve suffered at your mother’s hand, but there’s one thing I can do that should make your life a little more bearable,” she said with a thoughtful smile as her hand slid away from my face.

“Hey, what–?” I protested as she pressed her hands into my chest.

“Shh, don’t worry. It’s all going to turn out alright,” she said with a very slight smile just before a blinding white light filled my vision.

“Your bitterness is understandable, but know this. God is real and he does care,” I heard her whisper as darkness closed in and I felt myself slip back into unconsciousness.

I woke to find a brilliant bright beam shinning in my eyes and for a very brief moment I thought that my mysterious rescuer was still there, but realized that the light was coming from an ordinary flashlight. I groaned and shielded my eyes against the beam’s golden luminescence.

I briefly took stock of my situation remembering the accident and everything that happened after. And there was my body… it felt strange. Something was different, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

“Jenn?” A familiar voice asked, and the light faded away to reveal the face of the newcomer.

‘Jenn? Who is Jenn?’ “Katie? God, is that you?” I said with a loud gasp, and couldn’t believe my ears at the sound of the voice coming from my mouth.

‘God, I sound like a woman!’ Maybe the reason my body had felt different was because it actually was different. I hurriedly reach up and grabbed at my chest and let out a loud squeal at the pair of fleshy globes I found there. They were breasts, but how?! The woman that had freed me from my car… it was her doing, I just knew it!

“Jennifer,” Katie knelt down to touch my shoulder with a reassuring smile. “You’ve been in an accident, but you’re going to be alright. An ambulance is on the way.”

I swallowed hard and nodded. Had I hit my head harder than I thought? God I really hoped not! Whatever had caused my sudden transformation had fulfilled the deepest desire of my heart and I was pretty sure I had the woman to thank. Who was she and why had she done this? For a moment I thought she might be a goddess, but then I remembered what she had said about God being real. Then it came to me, and the answer seemed so stupid I almost laughed. She was my guardian angel. I’d always discarded guardian angels and their like as nothing more than silly fairy tales and wishful thinking. Clearly, I was going to have to rethink a few things.

“Katie, what time is it?” I whispered reaching up to touch my old friend’s face.

“It’s just past one in the morning,” she replied with a slow intake of breath.

She was so beautiful and I felt a slow smile creep onto my face as I realized what being woman meant. Not only did I have the body I always wanted, but I had a chance to be with Katie. I said a silent prayer in my heart of thanks to whatever God had sent the woman–no my guardian angel–to me. My past may not have been all sunshine and daisies, but I could see a glimmer of what my new future might entail and it looked to be very bright indeed.

“Katie come closer,” I whispered.

Katie furrowed her brows, and leaned in as I had suggested. I reached up and grabbed the collar of her shirt, then tightened my grip and pulled her closer still.

“Merry Christmas, Katie,” I whispered just before locking my lips around hers in a kiss.

As she broke away she stared done at me with wide eyes and the beginnings of a smile as she whispered the words, “Merry Christmas” just before I pulled her in for another kiss.

I stared down at my mother’s face and grimaced. She had once been a very attractive woman, but no longer. Years of alcohol abuse and a laundry list of poor health choices had taken their toll. I actually looked quite a bit like her in my new form, and every time I looked in the mirror I saw a younger, more attractive version of her face looking back at me. She looked calm, almost peaceful laying there in the casket almost as if she were asleep. I turned my back and leaning heavily on my cane I limped back toward the door where Katie was waiting. The viewing was just getting started and the funeral services would be held later on in the day.

The crash had left me in pretty bad shape, but it could have been much worse. I had a few broken bones here, a sprain or two there, the big ass gash across my forehead and of course my body was covered in bruises. I wasn’t what you would call thrilled about my injuries, but I think I could live with them especially considering the other ways in which my body had changed.

As near as I could tell I was a fully functioning woman, and I had my beautiful guardian angel to thank for that. Reality itself appeared to have changed along with me. Everyone in town knew me as Jennifer, or Jenn as Katie preferred to call me. They had no memory of a Jake Melton. To them I’d always been Jennifer. For the most part everything was pretty much the same, but there were subtle differences. Apparently, in this new reality Katie and I had dated in High School, but we broke up before I left town for college.

I didn’t dare tell anyone what had happened for fear of getting locked up in a mental institution, so I was forced to be a bit roundabout in my inquiries. The doctors said I may experience a bit of memory loss due to my head injury, so I had the perfect excuse to ask questions. The odd thing was that my memory seemed fine. Maybe it was the work of my guardian angel.

It was odd, people I’d known my entire life treated me as if I were a completely different person, and to their knowledge nothing had changed at all, though I think it had more to do with my physical gender than anything else. Still, I worried that my life as Jake had been wiped from existence. Or had it? Was my life really all that different? Jake and Jennifer were really the same person, the only real difference was that they had been born into bodies of different genders. Which begged the question: Does our physical gender really dictate what sort of person we are? I had so many questions, but I thought that perhaps I could find those answers through prayer.

I did tell one person about my change, and I’m sure you can guess who. At first when I told Katie, I made it sound as if it had all been a dream. Then a weird thing happened. She remembered me or more accurately my male self. She was a strong believer in God and she was quick to proclaim my transformation His work and a miracle to boot. Not that I was going to disagree, mind you. How the hell else was I supposed to explain what had happened?

My mother had made my existence miserable, but I wasn’t going to let her influence the course of my life any longer. I had a chance at happiness and I was going to take it. As I drew close Katie reached out and grabbed my hand to provide support. I leaned against her and she wrapped her arm around my back as she led me out of the funeral home and into the light of the day.

I smiled and closed my eyes leaning my head against her shoulder. I thought I was going to really like my new life.

The End

Comments, no matter how short, are very much appreciated. If you liked this story please take a minute to leave a review. Criticism is welcome, but only when presented in a constructive and positive manner.

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 post this story and my previous works unless I state otherwise.

NOTE: For anyone that is interested, HeavensDust, one of the bands mentioned in the story is a group that combines traditional Japanese music with Western Metal. Click here to watch their music video for the song Norns.

The other song, I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace, can be watched by clicking here

Farewell

07/02/2021

I just learned of the passing of Maggie Finson, a long time internet friend and someone who helped me a lot in my early day’s of writing. She was a beta reader on many of my early stories and even is responsible for naming Facades. I don’t know what awaits beyond this life, but I hope that wherever she may be that she is happy. Rest well my friend, I’ll miss you.

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Neurodiversity and Me

06/10/2021

First, I’d like to thank all those who reached out to me in these difficult times. You don’t know how much it has helped me to push through. Directed (mandatory) overtime has ended at work, and my stress levels are pretty low right now. I’ve kept rather limited contact with my mother as she has been the primary catalyst for most of my turmoil. I’m more emotionally stable than I was when I wrote my last blog, but I’m going to continue my writing hiatus for the next several weeks. I don’t want to set any specific dates, but I will keep you updated when I am ready to resume telling Kayde’s story.

This last year has been pretty wild for me, I have discovered I’m trans, made new friends and started pushing boundaries that I never had before. This has also prompted a lot of reflection and deep thought. I’ve interacted with a much more diverse group of people and this has sparked some new revelations about myself. A few months back I added #neurodiverse to my twitter bio. I have struggled with ADD my whole life. I liked the more positive viewpoint, and the idea that it isn’t so much a disorder as a simple natural diversity of the brain. Basically some people’s brains work differently than others and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just another aspect of biological diversity.

For some time now, I’ve been exploring the idea that I may have autism. Some of the things that really started to drive this home were that I don’t make eye contact with people, I’ve long struggled picking up on simple social cues and effectively communicating is difficult for me. All of these are often indicators and while there are a laundry list of criteria, I’m not going to list them here or all those that apply to me. Suffice it to say these particular ones resonated pretty heavily with me.

So, yesterday I brought this up with my therapist and she agreed with me, in fact she’d already drawn the same conclusion. She actually works with a lot of people with autism and she recognized the signs in me. Now, some of you might ask why she didn’t bring it up and that is a valid question. She reasoned that I had a lot of things to work through in regards to being trans and most especially with my mother and that suggesting I have autism might cause me stress I didn’t need. I appreciate this, I think allowing me to find out on my own, really helped me come to terms with it. Had she brought it up in one of our sessions, I might not have been as receptive to the idea.

So, while I haven’t had a formal diagnosis, it’s pretty clear I have autism. I don’t look at this as a bad thing, but merely part of who I am. Please don’t pity me or suggest that I am somehow lesser than anyone else. For me autism does not diminish me nor do I see it as a disability. I have a different way of seeing the world because my brain works a little differently than neurotypicals. I am intelligent, thoughtful and passionate and I celebrate discovering this truth about myself. Knowing is half the battle, and understanding that I’m wired differently allows me to better function in a world built by people who’s brains work differently from me.

This is still very new to me, but it is a subject that I will continue to discuss. I feel it’s important to be open about these subjects to better raise awareness. Our society has taught us that anything labeled as different or less desirable should be hidden and kept a secret. I believe that’s why there is such a mental health crisis in our society. If people are allowed to discuss things like depression or drug addiction without fear of being judged or demeaned, more folks could get the help they really need. In the same way, if we were more open about autism, those of us who struggled to cope could better learn to adapt.

Thanks for reading and I hope you will continue with me on this journey of discovery and as usual have a deliciously devious day,

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A Short Hiatus

06/05/2021

I’m taking a short writing hiatus, there are a lot of factors but most of it boils down to just taking care of myself and my mental well being. My mother has been creating a lot of drama related to me being trans. In short, she’s not taking it well. I thought I might turn her into an ally then come out to my father, but that is looking… unlikely. I plan on coming out to him probably in a few weeks time after directed (mandatory) overtime ends at work.

Hope everyone is well and is having a delicious devious weekend,

 

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Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 5

05/29/2021

CH 05

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

 

The woman swung her crown and waves of hair whipped through the air, but when she stopped, her long locks returned more or less to the same position they were in before. She smiled, and I bit my lip, my heart fluttered as she imitated my facial expression. I turned away from the mirror, forcing away tears. Maleena’s efforts had produced astounding results, and, no matter how much a part of me wanted to, I didn’t dislike it.

Slap some war paint on the ol’ mug and I went from pretty damn hot to drop dead gorgeous. The strangest part is, it didn’t unsettle me in the least. Yeah, butterflies kept fluttering about inside my stomach, but I suspected it was because of my pending meeting with the Conclave Council. Worse yet, the butterflies kicked into overdrive each time I thought about it, but when I looked in the mirror, my face stretched into grin. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but considering recent revelations, it seemed likely my sexuality wasn’t the only thing I was fooling myself about.

I turned back to my reflection and met the gaze of the woman who gaped at me. A lot of humans found the eyes of joined host unsettling, but, hell, half my relative were card-carrying Conclave members. There was nothing in those eyes I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know how long I stared at my countenance, my mind racing, but it could have lasted a hell of a lot longer if not for Tanner.

“Kayde, I do–” A voice spoke out, and I spun around to face the newcomer with pursed lips, my heart pounding even harder inside my chest.

Tanner glanced at me, furrowed her eyebrows, and turned to leave.

“Oh, I’m sorry I was looking for K–”

She stopped mid-sentence, eyes growing wide as her lips formed a silent ‘o’.

“Kayde, is that you?”

I nodded, my cheeks aflame as she sized me up. My inner bitch, who’d been so offended by my business partner’s presence, rose with all the fire from before. How dare she look at me with those judgmental eyes? I scowled, ready to let out a vitriol-filled rant that might put her in her place, but by some small mercy Tanner spoke before I made an ass of myself again.

“Kayde, please, before you tear into me, listen to what I have to say and I’ll get out of your hair.”

I reined in my fiery temper and clenched my teeth, forcing back an angry retort. Tanner, to her credit, kept her composure, despite the burning, fiery rage which must have shown on my face, and batted a strand of hair out of her eyes. “I’m leaving.”

“What?” I blinked, my anger fading away. “Tanner, you can’t.”

“Something has got you all in a twist, and you and I both know that we can’t keep on like this. I barely said two words when I entered and you were ready to jump down my throat.”

I opened my mouth, ready to refute her claims, but she held a hand up, stopping me. “Don’t, please.”

I nodded and licked my lips. “Where will you go?”

“Miquesis, it’s a tiny planet on the fringes of Ghrev-held space that suffering some major seismic upheavals. Though the inhabitants are technologically advanced, they’ve extended a lot of resources trying to keep their world from ripping itself apart. It looks like they lost the battle and they have mere weeks before the upheavals become too great. The Ghrev fleet was almost decimated after that little spat with the Credknotts ten years ago and they’re asking for ships to help with the evacuation efforts.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have figured that Tanner was hoping for an excuse to get away from me, but she always had a soft spot for humanitarian causes. The planet in question was already receiving help from the Gieff Confederacy and the United Earth Alliance, but the part of me that still cared about Tanner’s feelings didn’t want to burst her bubble.

And maybe she could still provide some help. Evacuating a couple hundred thousand beings was no small task, even with the massive transports the Qharr and human governments pledged to the cause. Our ship was tiny in comparison, but even if she could save one life, Tanner would see it as well worth the effort.

I nodded in understanding. Tanner hadn’t come to tell me of her plans. The Hawk belonged to both of us. No, she was seeking my permission.

“Go.” It was the only response I could manage. I had enough presence of mind to bite my tongue and prevent myself from voicing some of the less than amiable thoughts that came so close to slipping out of my lips.

Tanner nodded and eyed me for a moment before slipping across the room and kissing me on the cheek. “Goodbye Kayde, I hope you come to terms with whatever’s been eating at you.”

She moved away, but stopped, putting a palm on the frame as the door slid open. “I doubt this is what you want to hear, but that outfit really works for you.”

All that pent up anger exploded out of me and I said about the stupidest thing possible. “Why the hell do you care?”

“Goodbye Kayde,” she said between gritted teeth, and started for the exit.

“That’s right, leave! See if I care.”

She craned her neck back toward me, but didn’t utter a single syllable. Instead, she frowned, shook her head, and slipped out the door. It was all I could do to keep myself from running after her. I’d never wanted Tanner so much in all my life, but I needed to get my head on straight and figure out what the fuck was causing all the hostile feelings.

I glanced back toward the attractive girl in the mirror, and forced a smile onto my lips. It was almost time.

I tugged on the collar of my blazer and stepped toward the door, taking short, careful steps like Maleena taught me. It was annoying as hell, but my knee-length skirt wasn’t designed with long strides in mind. I had no idea which was worse, that I was wearing the damn thing or that it forced me to change the way I walked. I had only myself to blame. Of all the outfits Maleena showed me, I couldn’t figure out why I’d picked the one I now wore.

I found myself in the main living room, or I should say the one my grandmother used, and found my uncle sitting in the corner in what had been Kaya Briggs’ favorite armchair reading an ancient leather-bound book. Few publishers printed paper books, other than a few novelty printers. I was willing to bet that whatever book Zed was reading was ancient, or at least very expensive. He stopped and looked up at me, marking his place with his index finger, and closed the book.

“Kayde.”

His eyebrows shot way up, and I almost smirked when I realized I caught him by surprise. Zed Briggs wasn’t an easy person to startle.

“You look different.”

Okay, strike that I hadn’t just come up on him and startled him. My rather drastic change in appearance seemed to have at least contributed to his surprise. I tugged at the sides of my skirt, but stopped when my uncle stood up and placed his book down on the side table behind him.

“I assume this…” He waved his hand at me and massaged his bearded jaw. “New look has something to do with the council meeting tonight.”

My jaw-dropped, but in retrospect I should have realized Zed would keep tabs. My uncle was well connected, but always stayed clear of Conclave business. I avoided telling him of the meeting for good reason, so either he’d been monitoring me or the Conclave. I sucked air in through my teeth. Either way, I found it worrying.

“Jek.” He paused, clenched his eyes shut, and released his breath. “Sorry Kayde.I’ve been distant, and I blame myself. When you left Earth, I was angry. I was resentful that you didn’t give me warning, but I understand now why you blocked me out. I like to think I know you pretty well, hell I helped raise you. What I want to say is, that if there’s anything you need to discuss, anything, I’m here to listen and help you through it.”

My eyes were wide as I stared back at Zed. My uncle had never been one for emotional displays, but when he made his feelings known, it was short and to the point. He and I were different in that regard. I was impulsive and was never shy about telling people what was on my mind. Had it been me, I would have gone on a tear-filled rant, permeated by sobs and more than a little crying. I nodded, fighting back tears, more than a little aware that if I cried my mascara would run.

“Thanks, I will. I mean, if I ever need to talk.” I swallowed and met Zed’s gaze. “It’s almost time for me to leave.”

“About that.” he pursed his lips and put a hand on my shoulder. “If I’d found out about your meeting a little sooner, I would have warned you, but I only just learned of it this morning. There is a growing sentiment within the Conclave that the Briggs and Farris families have been holding the reins for too long. Whatever you are hoping to accomplish, I think you may find that this attitude may hinder your plans.”

With those simple words, I had my own sneaking suspicions confirmed. Yes, I had been approached by the council, but they had contacted me through a very junior member of the Conclave. Whatever they were up to. If Zed was right, something told me I’d have a much harder time bringing them around to my way of thinking. Of course, that didn’t mean I would give up. I was too damned stubborn for that. Hell, I’d gotten a makeover just because I believed it would help sway their minds.

“I have to try,” I said, with barely more than a whisper.

My uncle nodded, but didn’t say a word. I turned away and slipped out of the room. Moments later, when I stepped out into the night air, my stomach twisted into knots, but I didn’t let it keep me from hopping into my grandmother’s car and setting course for Conclave headquarters. My path was already set.

separator

As I pulled the car onto Shirka Way, I cursed under my breath, and slammed my foot on the break. Protestors lined the streets and the walkways leading up to Conclave headquarters, and the news crews positioned before the building’s front entrance made it all but impossible for me to get any closer with my vehicle. The Conclave had seen more than its share of protestors over the years, but they usually only turned up on more notable occasions. I had heard nothing on the news about the meeting tonight, and I knew next to nothing about the reason for the gathering.

I could think of two reasons all those people might have gathered. Either word had gotten out that the Conclave was going to make some sort of announcement, or there was a VIP from the government meeting with them. With a slow shake of head, I cursed myself for not considering the possibility. I backed my car up, turning around the first corner, and settled for parking on the street. Before exiting the vehicle, I bowed my head and released a long plaintive sigh. I moved with quick footsteps, maintaining a faint, and maybe naïve, hope that I could pass the protestors and the local media crew without drawing attention to myself, but when a voice proclaimed my name I knew I was in for a shitfest.

“Fuck,” I exclaimed, releasing a dozen more choice curses as a tide of bodies surrounded me.

Protestors waved signs above head with slogans like ‘The K’teth will enslave us all’ and ‘Joining with a K’teth is a crime against nature’, but there was one in particular which drew my attention. It featured an image of my grandmother and read ‘The bitch is dead. Take the Conclave down with her.” The message itself was bad enough, but when I saw the asshole who was holding it, my blood boiled.

“You like the sign, Briggs? I made it just for you.” Jax Aukes grinned down at me with a malicious gleam in his eyes. Jax wasn’t one to start anything with so many people standing witness, but the hatred directed at me gave me cold chills. If I dignified him with a response, it’d only make matters worse. So, I stuck out my jaw and breeze past him, never once making eye contact.

“I always knew you were a sissy freak,” he called after me. I stopped dead, closed my eyes, released a deep breath, and continued onward.

“Miss Briggs, Miss Briggs!” The foremost of the cadre of reporters called out to me as I approached the building. She was tall, dark and damned easy on the eyes and if she hadn’t been so intent on beaming my image all over the local holo network, I would have welcomed the attention. “Can you tell us anything about tonight’s meeting? Rumor is that the council will name a new chairperson.”

“Oh, please. You really think they’d tell me?”

“Could they perhaps be discussing the Endeavour? Our sources tell us that the UEAF is still investigating the reasons behind its disappearance.”

“I can’t comment on any of that.”

I breezed past her, but stopped once again when yet another reporter, this one male, but no less of a looker, stepped in front of me. “Miss Briggs. General Arnoff of the United Earth Alliance Fleet has been spotted on the premises. Could you perhaps comm–”

“I’m the very newest Conclave initiate. I don’t have the foggiest idea why Arnoff might be here. Ask him the next time you see him.” I gave the second reporter the slip and finally made it to the door. The guard on the other side nodded after reading my now accurate IDEC with a security wand and let me slip inside.

“Shit.” I glanced at him. “What was that all about?”

The guard shrugged and peered out the transparanium entrance. “Fuck if I know, I just watch the doors lady.”

I slipped past him, my cheeks alight as I realized his eyes had been lingering on my breasts and even more so when I sensed them on my ass. I tried not to let it show on my face or in the way I moved, but it made my skin crawl considering that the guy was old enough to be my father at least twice over.

Never had I been so aware of how much my body had changed, nor had I ever been so uncomfortable in my own skin. Understanding dawned on me in a way it never had before. He was undressing me with his eyes, and I shuddered. I’d heard women complain about dudes staring at them and to my credit I tried to avoid looking too much, but sometimes my eyes had lingered just a little too long. I gritted my teeth, and I resolved myself to keep my eyes where they belonged.

When I turned the corner, I paused, issued a brief sigh, still imagining his scrutinous eyes on me, and leaned against the wall. I took a moment to compose myself, glancing at the large steel-framed mirror. A plaque just beneath it, claimed it was salvaged from the remains of the Qharr-destroyed Safe Haven, Lillian Tidwell Brigg’s home during the early years of her life. My hands came up, collecting a few stray hairs and tucking them behind my ears. My eyes studied my reflection once again, and I lingered a little longer than I should have, once again transfixed by the mug that peered at me.

“Damn, at this pace, I’m going to end up spending more time looking in  the mirror than interacting with other people.” I let a smile touch the corner of my mouth, but jerked sideways when heavy footsteps clomped against the hard phelocine floors nearby.

“I thought you already did.” A voice echoed through the hallway as a tall figure stepped into view.

I turned to Grey and bit the inside of my cheek, thoughts of our liaison giving me just the slightest pause before I began moving toward him. I shook my head, forcing those naughty little tidbits out of my mind, and smirked. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hey, I came by this mug, honestly. You got prettied up because of your symbiote. There’s a world of difference.” He smiled, putting both hands on his hips. His words might have been facetious, but there was a great deal more warmth in his tone than I expected from him.

“You look amazing.” He whispered, one hand reaching up to stroke my cheek.

I swallowed hard and pulled away, realizing why he seemed so different. “Please, don’t.”

“Hey,” he said, gripping my forearm. “I don’t blame you for being nervous, but after what happened the other night–”

“NO!” I yelled, but glanced back over my shoulder and pursed my lips. “What happened, was great. In fact, it felt… amazing, but please don’t make anything out of it. I’m too confused right now to make up from down. I don’t need to complicate things with a relationship.”

He grunted and took a step back, looking so much like I’d slapped him in the face that I expected him to massage his jaw. He turned his back to me and I put my hand on his shoulder, which was pretty awkward considering our height difference. “You’ve changed.”

He craned his neck around. “The world didn’t stand motionless just because you left Kayde.”

“I-I know.” I smiled up at him. “Never figured you for the relationship type, that’s all.”

He shrugged and turned so that his chest was facing mine. “Neither did I.”

I touched his face, then slipped away. “The council’s waiting.”

“Whoever he is, he’s a lucky man.”

I lurched to a stop and turned back to him with a single arched eyebrow. “Who?”

“Tanner, you called his name out during sex.”

“Actually, Tanner’s a woman and I already burned that bridge.” I lingered just long enough to watch his eyebrows shoot up, and then I disappeared down the corridor.