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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

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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.

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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.

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 4

05/09/2021

CH 04

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

I shivered, folding my arms over my breasts. Pacing at the foot of my bed, it had been two days since Grey and I made love to one another and I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. God, it had been good, no strike that, it had been amazing, but it wasn’t only the sex. I’d now fucked on both sides of the fence, and my what my childhood friend and I had done seemed so… right. I wasn’t certain how to interpret that, but I would do almost anything to experience it again. The same question kept worming its way into my mind: were we in a relationship now?

I shook my head, and peered over my shoulder at the box of holo albums, curiosity supplanting musings. Zed and I devoted most of the day to dividing up Kaya Briggs’ belongings. My Aunt Muriel, as usual, hadn’t deigned to show up, leaving a message, requesting we should leave her a few specific items, and left the rest for us to decide. So, my aunt ended up with all the crap neither my uncle nor I wanted.

Not that she would even be bothered to care. In the five years before I left, I’d only seen my aunt half a dozen times, and even then her visits hadn’t lasted more than a few days. Her work was her first and only priority, but no one, not my uncle or my grandmother, had been able to tell me what she did. She worked for the government; I was aware of that much. Her advanced degrees in bio-engineering and genetics suggested a number of possibilities, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you jack shit.

Kaya Briggs may have been wealthy, but she was far from a clutter bug and not the most sentimental type either. Still, we found a few things with personal significance. I managed to snag a few odds and ends. The two boxes, which now rested atop my mattress, contained it all. The first was filled with holo albums, mostly of my parents, and my childhood, but one in particular which I was dying to take a look at entitled “Jellfree and Sofia”. I checked and re-checked, but had been unable to find one titled “Jellfree and Watt”, which seemed a strange omission, but not one which came as a surprise when I thought about it. My father had been pretty detached the final few years of his life.

I rested an open palm across the “Jellfree and Sofia” album and licked my lips. I don’t know what it was, but something kept me from opening it. A shudder worked its way up and down my spine. What dark truths would it reveal about my past? I’d already learned my parents were in the midst of a divorce when my mother left, and the guilt over her subsequent disappearance had been what prompted my father to take his life. What other revelations about my family’s past might I uncover?

So much had changed for me in recent times, I’d done a complete one-eighty reuniting with my grandmother and joining the conclave. Kaya Briggs had died, leaving me one-third of her fortune. The estates, the home in which I’d grown up in, and perhaps the biggest representation of everything I had run away from were now mine. I’d become the very thing I’d sought so hard to avoid. My ego was fragile enough as it was. Whatever revelations the holo albums might hold could very well shatter it. Despite telling myself this, I soon flipped the album in question open.

Text, not the first thing you expect when opening a holo album, popped out at me proclaiming that the album was ‘Dedicated in loving memory’ to Sofia Briggs. I fought back tears and gestured my hand above the image, signaling the album to progress to the next image. This one was one I saw a time or two before, my mother looking worn from childbirth holding a tiny little bundle in her arms. Me. I waved my hand again, and again, each time it displayed a new image.

There were multiple projections in the same location and time, each with a similar collection of smiling faces, but as I progressed through the album the infant me, aged first into a toddler than a little boy, one who looked somber for such a small child. Then, as I got further in, something changed that I didn’t expect at all. A little girl, so often wearing frilly dresses and bright-colored outfits, replaced the little boy. I stopped into the dozenth such photo and took a deep breath.

The little girl was also me, but I sure as hell possessed no memories of wearing anything so feminine. I was young in those photos, no older than four or five, and most of my recollections from before my mother’s disappearance were hazy.

Still, it freaked me the hell out. The strangest part was that in the images where I wore girly clothes, I looked happy. Happier than I ever remembered being. My whole body trembling, I stepped away from the album and turned my back to it. When I closed my eyes, I strained my mind trying to come up with an answer. I realized something: Khala had been there for everything.

I opened my eyelids and called out to my symbiote. She appeared with no fanfare, wearing what was on the conservative side, even for someone like my grandmother. A plain black dress covered her arms and her legs down to her knees. It bore the look of something someone might wear to a funeral, but it was her expression that drove the impression home more than anything.

“Khala.” I gawked at her, all the confusion and doubts in my head personified by the image she cast, and my hands shook. “What did I just see?”

“Pictures of you and your mother.”

“I understand that, but why was I dressed like a girl?”

Khala blinked and stared at me, eyes wide. “You don’t remember?”

“No, I pretty well don’t fucking remember!” I yelled back at her and winced the moment the words left my lips.

“Sorry.” I clenched my eyes shut and sighed.

Khala paused, bit her lips and ran a pair of hands through her thick mop of blue hair. “When you were about three or four, you began expressing the opinion that you were a girl. Your mother was fully supportive, as you might surmise, and I guess your father had no qualms. At least, he raised no objections, but the man wasn’t what you would call a talker. It wasn’t long before you started calling yourself Alexana, after your great-grandmother, and your parents began using female pronouns.”

“What?” It was my turn to blink. “T-that can’t be true.”

“Why?” Khala titled her head and eyes wide as saucers.

“Because I should remember something like that, should I? And if it is true, what changed, why didn’t I transition and undergo reassignment after my mother disappeared?”

“I couldn’t begin to tell you. If you recall, I wasn’t around for that.”

“And why am I only finding out about this now? Why didn’t you mention it to me?”

“Despite, what some Conservers may lead you to believe, I’m not a mind-reader Kayde, I have no idea what you do or don’t remember. I must admit, it seemed a little odd when we first became joined, especially after all the trouble your mother went to confirm her gender, but I guess I figured you grew out of it.”

“You don’t gro–” I stopped mid-sentence and froze in place as the full gravity of what she said struck me.

“Khala, was my mother trans?”

“Let me point out to you once again, that I cannot read your thoughts. I–”

“Khala,” I cut her short and grated my teeth. “Answer the damn question.”

“Yes, she was.”

I don’t know why her answer shook me so much. I mean, it didn’t change who Sofia Briggs was, not really, but it raised questions. Did my grandmother hide the truth from me or did she, like Khala, assume I remembered? With her passing, I might never uncover the truth.

Oh sure, there were a few people in my life, like my uncle, who I might ask, but Zed had been distant. Until getting with him today I hadn’t seen him in days and when he showed up, I counted myself lucky if I could coax an entire sentence from him.

I glanced back toward the door and grimaced. I plopped down on my bed and flicked the album shut. I didn’t have the slightest clue what those old pics of me and my mother meant, but I needed time to digest everything. I wouldn’t allow myself to jump to any conclusions. Not this time.

Biting my lip, I eyed the second smaller box labeled Watt’s things. I hadn’t looked through it much, but as his only child, my uncle insisted I take it. I reached a hand inside, my fingers grasping hold of a small leather-bound notebook, and held it before me.

The leather was dry and cracked with age, and I traced the words inscribed on the cover. It read simply, ‘Ideas.’ The handwriting was in a flowing, feminine script I didn’t recognize, but I knew one thing for certain: it did not belong to my father, his messy scrawl was far too distinct.

I furrowed my brows and flipped the cover open, intrigued by what I might find. Within, I found technical notes and detailed schematics. I had some idea who the book had belonged to, and I flipped to the back, finding a page labeled, VGR-X1. My breath caught in my throat. What I saw confirmed my suspicions.

She’d scrawled details schematics of a ship, I recognized all too well, across better than a dozen pages. The drawings were of the prototype ship that Tanner and I would eventually salvage and name the Centennial Hawk.

The idea book belonged to my great grandmother, Lily Briggs. How or why it ended up in my father’s things was anyone’s guess, but what I found within was a treasure trove.

I lay back in bed, flipping through the pages, my mind racing. Thoughts of the holo album and the revelations contained within, temporarily forgotten.

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One thing I always loved about flying was that I could have time alone with my thoughts, but also experienced an exhilaration like nothing else. Driving didn’t quite give me the same level of enjoyment, but it was a pretty damn good way to help me get my head on straight, even when wandering through the city without a destination. Which is what I ended up doing after my recent revelation.

Was I transgender? My mother had been, and I seemed to think I was when I was little. It would explain so many things, but I resisted the idea. Why, if I’d been assigned the wrong gender at birth, did I try to distance myself from all those rumors growing up?

I bit the inside of my cheek, an idea occurring to me, but one that forced me to feel even worse, if possible. Perhaps my mother projected those feelings on me, and I’d been so eager to please her, I went along with it. I’d put my mother up on a pedestal. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch, would it?

I blinked, aware that I was a few blocks away from the Conclave Headquarters. I’d been pretty much on autopilot, not paying attention to where I was traveling, but instead I roved where my instincts took me. Did my subconscious mind steer me to this part of town for a reason?

I needed to talk to someone with a unique perspective. Someone who knew my mother and grandmother. I wanted that individual to be Crae. She was better acquainted with Kaya Briggs than anyone, but, from my understanding, she was still fighting to keep Hexapledra alive aboard the orbital platform. My uncle seemed the next logical choice, but I wasn’t sure how he might react. Something told me he would be about as helpful as Khala.

There was someone whose mind I might pick, who wouldn’t judge me, and would have perspective unlike anyone else I knew. Above all, he knew how to keep a secret. I only hoped he hadn’t left Earth yet. With that in mind, I took another right and parked inside the Conclave underground parking structure.

My grandmother’s old Paradox shuddered and settled to the ground, and I climbed out, not even taking a second look at the aged Hover-vehicle. I’d seen it hundreds of times in my youth, and it was almost as familiar to me as the Hawk. The car seemed like an old friend. In a way, when I drove it, I kept a piece of my grandmother around with me. I smiled at the thought. Even so, I did not look back.

I found the nearest lift, making my way up through to the second level where the conclave medical facilities were, and stepped out when the doors slid open. Before long, I found myself inside Vakrexid’s lab. I smiled upon entering, and folded my arms across my chest, studying him as he scurried about the place. His head wobbled back and forth, almost as if it were made from gelatin. He let out several high-pitched squeals as he meandered about, oblivious to my presence.

The doctor had been in and out of the conclave headquarters, since the military first requested his expertise. He seemed to handle all the travel time pretty well considering his age. Vakrexid hadn’t slowed down any, and he was still his regular old, twitchy self.

Finally, the doctor turned, unleashed a squeal that was both louder and higher-pitched than any I’d ever heard from him, and rounded on me with both of his arms held out. Someone less familiar with Vakrexid might have assumed he was making some odd Dexagarmetrax gesture, but they would be wrong. I closed the distance between the two of us and threw my arms around Vakrexid, smiling as he did the same. It seemed like a long time since the doctor last hugged me and in some ways it made me feel like a little kid again.

When we broke, I was disappointed but didn’t let it show on my countenance. “Doctor, can I talk to for a second?”

He blinked, cocked his head sideways. “Of course, though Vakrexid does not believe so short of a conversation would be very fruitful.”

I grinned from ear to ear and released a soft chuckle. “Okay, maybe we should talk for an undefined amount of time.”

“That would seem to be more efficacious. Vakrexid has some time. Speak.”

“Do you remember much about my childhood?”

“Most assuredly, Vakrexid has excellent memory recall. Why is it that you ask?”

“I found some pictures of me as a little…” I paused and clenched my jaw. With a slow shake of my head, I continued. “kid and I was wearing dresses and calling myself Alexana. You remember any of that?”

“Indeed, though truth be told it befuddled to me. Human gender identity is not a concept I am capable of grasping. Vakrexid was even more befuddled after your mother died and you insisted on going back to wearing, what you called boy clothes.”

“I insisted? No one pressured me or anything?”

Vakrexid let out a low-pitched warble and bounced his head from side to side between his hands. “It would seem so.”

Not clear cut, but it was the best I could hope for from the doctor. “And my grandmother?”

“She was most distraught over your mother’s disappearance. Vakrexid suspects she did not spend much time cogitating upon it,” he warbled again and turned his back to me lurching about the room.

I thanked him and almost turned to leave, when something else occurred to me. “Doctor, how much do you know about the Tyrsh?”

‘Please don’t open that can of worms.’

I ignored my great grandmother’s pleas and gritted my teeth. There was a reason Lexa’s consciousness remained imprinted on Khala’s mind after her death, and I wanted to understand why. If for no other reason to give myself something different to muddle over. I had a theory, but the doctor was the foremost expert on K’teth biology in the world. If anyone might understand how or why Lexa became a permanent resident in Khala’s mind, it would be the doctor.

“Little more than you do, Vakrexid believes, it is an ability of the K’teth in which I am not certain can be explained without many years of research. The initial outcome, the energy discharge, is most easy to comprehend, but the resulting deepening of the mental bond between host and symbiote is one I have yet to explain. Vakrexid once theorized that it may have left an imprint upon a K’teth’s consciousness, but as far as I was able to determine, that is not the case.”

‘Please don’t do this, Kayde. I love Vakrexid, but do you comprehend how disastrous it would be, if word of my continued existence got out?’

All at once, I understood a little better why Lexa insisted on secrecy. There were so many implications that I hadn’t considered until that moment. K’teth did not age and in theory would go on living until the end of the literal universe if they maintained a continual line of hosts. The sole reason we didn’t have any alive today dating back to the time of the Phyrr Lesch was that historical evidence suggested that the Qharr purged K’teth populations every few thousand years.

If a K’teth could imprint the memories of their host, in theory, they could perpetuate their existence for the life of the symbiote. Such a revelation could increase demand for symbiotes and worse yet, make them a commodity. It would wipe all the progress the Conclave had made these last hundred and sixty years out in an instant.

There were other ramifications to consider. The Conservers already feared the K’teth and viewed them as parasites or worse. If news spread that a person could extend their awareness past their death, it would increase their dislike for Khala’s kind by tenfold. Lexa was right, I was opening a can of worms. The more people who knew about Lexa, the more chance word would get out. Even someone like the doctor might reveal her existence.

“Then again, perhaps Vakrexid is wrong.” The doctor spun around, his unblinking violet eyes just a little too intently focused on me.

Crap.

The doctor may be odd by human standards, but he was anything but stupid. In fact, I would measure his intelligence above that of most humans. If I thought it through, I might have realized that approaching him was not a good idea. Even if I didn’t tell him there was no guaranteeing he wouldn’t see through whatever load of crap, I tried to feed him. It was better to be honest and upfront and try to bring him around to my way of thinking. While the doctor must follow human laws and practices, in this case doctor-patient confidentiality, nothing would prevent him from publishing a paper about an anonymous patient.

So, I gnawed on my lip and told him everything. It felt good getting it off my chest, and when I finished, I released a long sigh, and dropped my hands as the doctor regarded me. For a change, he did not jerk about or let out any weird sounds. He took a seat across from me and spoke.

“It is unexpected. I discarded that hypothesis because your mother insisted it was not so. If Vakrexid knew, perhaps I could have helped. Vakrexid knows you humans are very social animals. To remain trapped within the mind of another, to only speak with two individuals for so many decades, must be very difficult indeed. I wonder if, perhaps, you would allow me to perform a detailed neural scan. It might help to explain how such a thing is possible.”

Then again, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. Vakrexid seemed concerned for Lexa. They knew each other for over a hundred years, and he was a friend both to Lexa and I. It wasn’t so surprising he should feel something.

“Doctor, you can’t tell anyone, you understand that, right? If word got out about this, even if you kept our identities secret, there’s no way to know how people might react. This could be bad for the Conclave.”

“Vakrexid agrees, that is why I have not made my hypothesis public. Any data Vakrexid might gather through a neurological scan, you can be assured that it will remain confidential. I suggested it, so that Vakrexid might understand why this has happened and perhaps help Lexa. I believe there are many within your family, who would very much be overjoyed at another chance to once again converse with Lexa Briggs. Vakrexid knows I would.”

‘You and me both, Doc.’ Lexa’s voice whispered in my ear.

I nodded, a lump forming in my throat. “Do it.”

separator

When I awoke the next morning, I was in good spirits, a new sense of resolve supplanted my confusion and doubt. My personal life might be a mess, but other forces drove me. I spent the afternoon after visiting Vakrexid and most of the night wallowing in my troubles, but shitty as the whole thing had been, there were bigger fish to fry. That night, I was meeting with the Conclave Council and I fully intended for something good to come out of it.

I had a reasonable idea how they must see me, a rogue and a wildcard with an independent streak, but I would have to shatter that image if I was going to be involved in the efforts to find the mysterious aggressors and determine why the hell they attacked the Endeavour. I had more going for me then the council would like to admit, but the key was to show them how much they needed me and convince them I would play ball.

If I learned one thing from my grandmother, it was that the image you presented went a great way in shaping people’s opinions. I used those lessons to an extent while negotiating with other traders, but most of them hadn’t been humans and and none had expectations as demanding as those of the council. I needed a new look.

The very thought filled me with a dread that made my insides twist into a knot, but if I couldn’t show the Conclave I’d changed, I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving my ambitions. So, I did something out of my comfort zone. Which is to say, the knots in my stomach tangled into one great tangled mess of a ball when I stepped through the entrance of Sue-Ellen’s.

For as long as I could remember, it had been the only place my grandmother allowed to cut her hair. I’d only been inside a handful of times and never once had I made it past the waiting area. They catered to a very select clientele and while Kaya Briggs was certainly noteworthy enough to fit the bill, I hadn’t been. It was the sort of place I despised, because it was so exclusive.

Unfortunately for me, because I just attained celebrity status, I’d recently been bumped up on the social totem. Places like Sue-Ellen’s, protected the privacy of their clients. If I stepped into just any Salon, there’s no telling the kind of reception I would receive. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason I was visiting. Sue-Ellen’s was one of the few places I knew of with image consultants, especially ones that were willing to work on short notice.

“Can I help you?” The woman at the reception desk peered at me as I entered. She carried a smile on her face, but it didn’t extend to her eyes.

“Uh,” I answered back, grimacing as my hand kneaded the back of my neck. I almost turned away and left right there and then, but I managed just enough self control to step forward instead. “I have an appointment, I’m Kaydence Briggs.”

The moment I gave her my name, there was a very sudden and marked shift in her demeanor. There was a sort of nervous anticipation bubbling under her calm facade that made me just a tad uneasy. “Oh, Miss Briggs! Maleena wanted to see you the moment you arrived. Right this way.”

‘Well this ought to be fun,’ I thought at Khala as the receptionist grabbed me by the wrist and led me through the Salon.

“No complaints, this is your own doing.” Khala appeared, leaning against a wall and smirking at me.

“I’m with you.” Lexa materialized, leaning against the opposite wall. “I never understood the need for places like this. I can’t understand how my Kaya developed a taste for this sort of thing. She never picked it up from me.”

There was something so overwhelmingly motherly about Lexa’s comment that I just stopped and stared at her for a few seconds. I would use many words to describe Lexa, but motherly was not one that I ever pictured might apply. I had no doubts she loved her children, but if the stories my grandmother shoved down my throat were true, even after accepting her transformation and status as a member of team woman, Lexa had always maintained a very masculine mindset. Her distaste for the Salon fit the image of her in my mind, but the tone which she spoke of her eldest child did not.

The receptionist paused, cleared her throat and looked back at me with a smile that somehow conveyed just a bit of impatience without being condescending. I bit my lip and motioned for her to continue onward and followed in her wake as her high-heels clattered and clicked against the hardwood floors. Butterflies flitted around inside my stomach, but when my guide stopped and opened a door revealing a small studio, it got a lot worse.

I took a few steps inside and swallowed hard as the door slid shut behind me. A tall, but unassuming woman stood near a bright pink salon chair. Her clothes bore the clean lines and fit that suggested they might be custom-tailored. Her face was plastered in makeup, just shy of clown proportions, and I could smell her perfume from the other side of the room, but she looked pretty normal. I half expected some half-crazed hyper-sexualized fashionista with a penchant for calling everyone ‘darling’.

Okay, maybe that’s cliched, but hell, what on Earth should I have expected? This was all new to me.

“You must be Kaydence.”

“Uh, yeah, that would be me. And you’re Maleena, I’m guessing?”

At first, Maleena didn’t speak, but stepped a few meters forward and locked gazes with me. She placed a hand on my right cheek and frowned. “Your grandmother told me about your situation.”

I arched an eyebrow, but didn’t say a word. Maleena dropped her hand and turned away. “Her death was a tragic loss.”

Again, I did not speak, but it seemed Maleena had enough to say for the both of us. She turned back, a smile touching the corner of her lips. “It surprised me to hear you made an appointment. Based on what Kaya made me to understand, I would expect you to steer a wide path of this place.”

“Uh, yeah.” I said with a grimace and scratch the scruff of my neck. “I’m appearing before the Conclave Council tonight and I, uh…”

“Want to make a good impression?” She smiled, a single eyebrow arched.

Her unspoken question obvious to me though I had just met her. If my grandmother would have told her anything, it would have been that I spent my life distancing myself from the Conclave. Why then would she jump to the conclusion that I would need to impress the council? I had sound reasons, but I didn’t owe Maleena an explanation.

I met her gaze square in the eyes and smiled back. Maleena met my glare and peered deep. She nodded and tilted her head sideways before folding her arms across her chest. “I know you’d prefer not to be here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help you. Tell me, Kaydence, what is it you want?

I gulped hard, shaking my head, the slightest tremor entering my voice as I spoke. “I have a reputation. If you knew my grandmother, you know, but the conclave sees me as a loose cannon. I’ve gotta change their perception of me.”

“That’s an excellent explanation for your end goal, but it doesn’t tell me why a young person just given female form. One who has spent much of his adult life running from the Conclave, and the notoriety of his family, would want to do something that would go against everything he has fought against his entire life?”

Her choice in pronouns annoyed me more than her presumptions, which were spot on. I clasped my hands together and narrowed my eyes.

“That is none of your business.”

“If I am to help you, I must learn your motivations. If you don’t want my help, that’s fine, but I’m not just here to slap a new slab of paint on your face and make you over. If you really seek to change your image, it is important to understand what is driving you to seek this change so that I can make it stick.”

I swallowed hard and nodded. Long term planning had never been my strong suit. I’d never envisioned myself doing exactly what Maleena said, but if I really was committed to involvement in the Endeavour investigation, I couldn’t just play dress up for one night and expect the conclave to play ball. Convincing them I changed, would go a long way in doing just that. Which meant I had to keep looking the part. I would need Maleena for that. I don’t think I could do it by myself, and I kind of doubted Tanner would help me given the way I’d been treating her the last few weeks.

Fuck.

“I can’t say a lot.”

“Did I ask for your life story? I just need to understand how committed you are. I don’t put my time and effort into hopeless cases.”

Tears started to well up, and I averted my gaze. My entire body shaking, I met her eyes again.

“For most of my life, I’ve wondered what happened to my mother, but when I found her and the Endeavour, it left me with more questions than answers. To make matters worse, I watched my grandmother die and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I need to find out why they died. If that means selling my soul to the Conclave, then so be it.”

“Oh, how… interesting.”

Maleena released a low moan and smiled. “Well, I think that covers it. Why don’t we get started? Oh, yes, I believe you will be a lot of work, but so very worth it.” She held a hand out, motioning toward the pink and silver old-Earth-style salon chair bolted to the hardwood floor. I had no idea how old it was, but the style was consistent with the time-period when humans had only just reached out to the stars.

I took more than a few tentative steps across the room and seated myself atop the soft and supple leather of the seat after just a moment’s hesitation. My heart pounded like a jackhammer inside my chest, but as I caught my reflection in the mirror that occupied the entire upper-half of the wall in front of me, I blinked when I realized that almost none of my agitation showed on my face.

Maleena stepped up behind me and place both of her hands on my shoulder. “You are a beautiful young woman, I have clients who’ve paid an exorbitant amount of money to get a body like yours. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you need to learn to take better care of it. You were a man before, and most men are content with basic hygiene practices. Which is fine, if you have no aspirations in life, but in today’s society you won’t get very far without taking things a bit further. Male or female, if you look like a slob, very few successful people are going to take you seriously and honey you could do much better. Your hair is a mess, just look at it you have split ends, you dress like a man and worse your clothes don’t even match.”

“But I am a man… Or at least I was until about a month ago.”

“You came to me for help, remember? How you dress and groom yourself help shape the way others see you.”

“What do you propose?” I asked, the words coming out of me in little more than a squeak.

“Oh, I have some ideas.”

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Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 3

05/01/2021

CH 03

Kingsburgh, California, Ash-Shām Middle Eastern Cuisine

“–ith the recovery of the Endeavour last month, neither the government nor the Fleet has provided any information concerning their findings save for stating that the crew was found dead.”

I stopped, bits of meat still hanging from my fork as I turned to eye the tiny holo projection of the news anchor who hung overhead like a specter of doom. I’d been avoiding the news broadcasts. They spent the last month rehashing every tiny tidbit of information the EUA government gave out about the Endeavour. Which you can imagine, might bring about a few unpleasant memories, but something about the anchor’s tone told me this broadcast was a little different.

Grey didn’t say a word, but his eyes turned to watch as the broadcaster continued her spiel.

“We still understand precious concerning the circumstances of the Endeavour’s disappearance, but new information leaked by a source within the United Earth Alliance Fleet has confirmed that the missing cruiser was located by none other than Kingsburgh native Kaydence Briggs, child of crew member Sofia Briggs noted archaeologist and expert on the Phyrr Lesch, and great grandchild of the resistance hero Alexana Briggs. Ms. Briggs, formerly Jellfree Briggs, has–”

“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath, already sensing eyes on me as the holo projector switched to a display of my face. Not the old male one, but my current female mug. I didn’t have any clue where the hell they got it, but being a Briggs had always meant more media attention than your average Joe. I’d been in public places, some with my uncle and some with my grandmother since undergoing my change. There would have been nothing to keep someone from snapping a photo of me. I may not have been a household name, but Zed and Kaya Briggs were another matter. If I was in their presence when someone in the media spotted them, well, you know the drill.

I dropped my fork, letting both it and the food on it clatter and plomp respectively onto my plate. With a shake of my head, I lurched to my feet, held a hand up and said “check please” as loud as I could without yelling. Though I didn’t stop to catch my reflection, if the warmth of my cheeks were any sign, they must have been bright scarlet. Just what I needed: media attention. I sure as hell didn’t like finding my face plastered all over the news, especially while in a public place.

When the server approached the table, I knew full well she’d seen the news broadcast. She couldn’t take her eyes off me, but at least she didn’t call anymore attention to me. I paid for both Grey’s meal and mine and left what was almost certainly too big of a tip and departed, with quick and determined steps. I didn’t bother to stop or pull my hair away from my face. As a result, when I stopped outside the diner, I couldn’t see a thing.

Taking more than a few deep breaths, I paused, leaned against the building and took a moment to compose myself. I brought a pair of slender hands up to my face and began to slip strands of thick hair behind my ears. It was about then that I noticed people on the street were giving me more than the casual sort of glances they might cast at a total stranger, even an attractive one. Information spread fast on the post occupation Earth, many people received broadcasts directly into their comm implants, some even had visual receivers. I found it a little creepy. Which explains why I only used mine for personal communication.

A tall man with a pinched face and shaved head approached. He looked at me with a scowl on his face and I met his gaze, realizing that he looked familiar. He didn’t stop to talk, but mumbled ‘conclave mutant’ and passed me by. I realized after several seconds where I’d seen him before, and I winced as unpleasant memories hit me like a ton of bricks. He was Jax Aukes, the childhood bully responsible for making my life a living hell as a child. An icy shiver worked its way through my body, as I relived all the beatings I received at his hand. He called me a sissy, I wondered what he would think if he knew the mug I sported now.

Jax was a Conserver which meant he opposed anything that altered the natural state of man or animal. In effect, people like him believe genetic manipulation, biomechanical augmentation and symbiosis with a K’teth symbiote were a violation of the laws of nature and the will of the divine. Some Conservers like the Aukes family also viewed homosexuality and transgenderism as unnatural and unhealthy. Jax never liked me because I’m a Briggs, but as a bonus, since I didn’t fit his image of what a ‘real man’ should be, Jax pegged me as a sissy. Which made me a much bigger target than the other children in our class.

I watched Jax disappear around a corner, and jumped when Grey appeared, letting the diner door slide shut behind him.

“Looks like your famous now,” he said with a bit of a lopsided grin as a single set of fingers dug into the back of his head.

“Yeah, grand, just what I always wanted.” I clenched my hands at my side and turned away, my body shaking as Khala’s and Lexa’s gentle reassurances washed over me.

“Hey, it can’t be so bad, can it? The Endeavour’s disappearance was the biggest mystery of the past twenty years. At the very least you’ve earned your place in the history books.”

“For finding something that was missing? Gee, what an accomplishment. I’m sure people from all around will call me to help them find their lost passkeys.”

Grey chuckled and shook his head. “There are worse ways to be remembered. At least you’re not Straffen McMillan.”

‘Oh God,’ Lexa’s voice echoed in my mind. ‘If only he knew.’

I stared walking and Grey stepped in line beside me.

“Yeah, you have a point. It could always be worse.” I looked out across the bustling street and grabbed Grey by the arm. “Thanks… for getting me out of the estates.”

I didn’t say it aloud, but I got the sense that I wouldn’t be spending much time in the open for the next few weeks. I’d found the Endeavour over a month ago, and it was still being mentioned on the news. Word that I had been the one to discover it had only just gotten out. It might be a little early to tell, but it seemed likely that I would be getting a bunch of attention from the media.

He stopped and nodded, leaning over to meet my gaze. The height difference was never so clear to me as in that moment. I paused, pursing my lips, taking several deep breaths, and I trembled.

Good lord, what had come over me? Grey was my friend. I was well versed in all the tricks he pulled to lure women in, and among them he was damned good at the soulful gaze. I would not be falling for it, would I? Oh hell, who the fuck was I kidding? Grey hadn’t put on the charms at all. I just wanted someone to fuck.

I swallowed hard, stood up on the tips of my toes, grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulled him close and locked my lips around his. He didn’t return my kiss, but his body turned rigid and it was only after I release my grip on his collar and let my hands rest on his chest that he reciprocated.

Not that long ago the thought of kissing a man would have seen repellent, but even when my soft lips brushed against his stubble it didn’t deter me.

Then the reality of what I had just done settled in and I pulled my thick head away staring up at Grey taking in deep breaths of air. I took several steps back, far enough that I actually hit the damn wall behind me.

“That was unexpected.” The[ ] words were Grey’s, but I could have just as easily spoken them myself. The purely impulsive act had caught even me by surprise.

A thousand thoughts coursed through my head. I’d already admitted to myself I was attracted to Grey, but was it just that or something more? Of course, my feelings for Tanner complicated matters. We had a lot of history, and a fair bit of chemistry, but I seemed to lose my temper whenever she came around. I wanted her about as much as I wanted Grey at that moment, but what the hell was I supposed to do about it? Should I—

Okay, you know what? Screw it.

Grey drew close, and I trembled as he leaned in for another kiss. I melted into his arms, and didn’t, for once, let myself worry about anything. Those concerns would come later. Maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing, but face it, my sex-drive was calling the shots. She saw something she wanted, and she took it. I had no idea if it was a good or bad thing, but damn did I enjoy what followed.

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After a generous amount of kissing and a little more petting than was probably acceptable in the middle of a public street, our amorous pursuits took a decidedly more serious turn once we got back to the estates. Honestly, it all happened in such a blur, I didn’t even remember making our way to my room after arriving back home, but what followed left a much more lasting impression.

With slow deliberate movements I undid the buttons on Grey’s shirt, my lips following my hands as each button was undone. I didn’t show as much restraint with his pants, actually tearing the seams loose in my efforts to free him from his clothing. He didn’t seem to mind, especially when I slipped his boxers down to his feet.

I stopped, staring at his bare cock and let an appreciative smile slip across my face. Grey was a big man, in every way that counted, and my heart pounded inside my chest as anticipation built. I wanted him inside of me with every fiber of my being.

Grey slipped my shirt over my head and had my bra off in just a few seconds. He didn’t struggle with it, as I would have done, not so long ago. Finally, my slacks and panties came off and our lips locked against one another. I forced my body against his and my bare breasts pressed against his skin.

I pulled away, then pushed Grey back until he staggered into my bed and collapsed atop it. Sex while standing could be awkward as hell, and it would have been impractical with our obvious height differences. Not that I was too broken up about it, I was more than happy to fuck in bed.

Sex wasn’t new to me, but unless I counted the phantasmic encounter with Khala, I’d never actually made love to anyone as a woman. It wasn’t, however, something it took a leap physicist to figure out. I positioned myself atop Grey and clenched my eyes shut as his erect member slid inside my clit.

As convincing as my lovemaking with Khala had seemed, it didn’t compare to having a real dick inside of me. Khala had manipulated the muscles and tissue inside of my vaginal cavity to make it seem as if something were entering it. His penis pushed it open with sudden, violent force as I came down on him and I shivered in pleasure. It hurt, but God, I didn’t want it to stop. I gasped and pulled out, letting out a high-pitched squeal when I forced myself into him again.

Each time I pulled out and went down on him, a pressure built inside of me and I expected it to burst out of me like a dam, but when it actually came, it didn’t come from me. He released his load, and I pulled out again, and leaned forward, my ass up in the air kissing him first on his lips then down his neck and chest.

Soon I was going down on him again, squealing louder and louder until I started screaming out a name. Not Grey, but Tanner, again. Grey didn’t seem to mind. If anything, he became more enthusiastic. I rolled onto my back and gasped as my old friend slid atop me. We went at it again, this time he rode me and, fueled by our enhanced abilities, we kept going for hours.

When Grey rolled off of me, I sat upright and slid my legs off the side of the bed.

“Oh God,” I whispered and cupped my face with both hands.

I’d had sex with Grey. It didn’t bother me that he was a man, something that surprised me more than the actual act we’d committed. He had a spotty reputation when it came to women, and it made me more than a little uncomfortable to learn I’d become another conquest. That, however, was the least of my worries. How could I tell Tanner? Should I even tell her?

I still had feelings for my business partner, but fucking my old high school buddy was not exactly a good way to begin a relationship.

I shivered, and closed my eyes, as thoughts of Grey’s shaft penetrating my vulva. My cheeks burned. I wanted more, so I dropped my head, met Grey’s gaze and took it.

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Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 2

04/17/2021

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CH 01

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

You can probably guess the state of mind I was in when I arrived back at the family estates after waking from my three-day coma. The funeral didn’t make things better. The whole thing was being covered by the local media, and most of the people who attended weren’t well-acquainted with my grandmother. You know the type, politicians and minor celebrities.

It all seemed so impersonal, so much pomp and circumstance that it left little room for the mourners to actually mourn. God, it was awful. Not that funerals tended to be the highlight of the week, but hell, it could have gone a lot better. The wake was a bit more tolerable, given that it was for close friends and family only, but since most of my relatives didn’t even recognize me, it made interacting with them a bit awkward when I revealed my identity.

So there I was three weeks later, spending all my time battling holodrones and wallowing in my own self-misery. Hoping beyond hope that I’d get a chance to bring those responsible for my grandmother and mother’s deaths to justice.

My eyes snapped open, and I peered up at the shower head, basking in the warm water as it trickled down my frame. I lost track of how long I’d been in there, but I was in no rush to leave. If not for Khala, I would have been a mess of sores and bruises, but my skin was as smooth and unblemished as ever.

“Are you ever going to get out?” Khala appeared on the opposite side of the shower, stark naked, illusionary droplets of water dripping down her alluring form.

“No, probably not.” I answered back, a faint smile touching my lips. “It feels good. Life hurts… Do I want to go back to that train wreck?”

I tried to look away, but Khala was pretty stacked. I swallowed, hard, as she sashayed toward me, a slow smile creeping across her face. When she got close enough, her hands caressed my neck. My heart beat harder inside my rib cage and I backed away, which is to say I pressed my back flat against the wall.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice little more than a whisper.

“What do you think?”

“W-why?”

“All this stress, all this grief, and anger. You need a relief.”

I didn’t speak, but Khala seemed to sense my acquiescence. I admit it seemed strange. Hell, it was strange, especially with my great-grandmother’s consciousness ever-present in the back of my head, but, for a change, I didn’t give a damn. I wanted someone to hold me and make everything all better. What I really wanted was Tanner, but for now Khala would have to do.

Her lips locked around mine. They seemed so soft, so supple. It was amazing how realistic her illusions . I clenched my eyes shut and let her at it. Her weight pressing into me as her lips touched my neck. I gasped and my eyes flew wide open as her hands slid down my side and something warm caressed my privates.

It was her tongue, and damn was it amazing. I closed my eyes again, my muscles relaxing as warm water splattered down my body, setting my entire body aflame with pleasure. I moaned and heard Khala purr in response. A wave of pleasure washed over me as her tongue slid across a particular spot and I called out a name. I didn’t realize what I said at first, but when something warm slid into my vagina and I spoke it again, I realized I’d cried out Tanner’s name.

When I opened my eyes, a smile touched the corner of my lips and I found Tanner’s eyes looking into my own. Of course, I understood that it was Khala, but I didn’t care. Her cock, pounding into me, was another illusion. My symbiote couldn’t even part the lips of my vaginal cavity, but it seemed real. The only thing that shattered the illusion was when I advanced and pressed her against the opposite wall, and my hands touched bare tile. It didn’t stop our love making. I turned, pressing my back into the wall, and let Khala pound into me. I moaned louder and louder with each thrust.

I sank down to the shower floor, reveling in the glow and warmth of what we had done. It wasn’t until a satisfied smile spread across my symbiote’s face and her image faded away, that I experienced the first pangs of regret, guilt and horror. I’d allowed myself to be penetrated… Not in the literal sense of the word, but you know what I mean.

I’d been questioning my sexuality since before my transformation, and now that I had succumbed to the desires that had risen from some pit inside of me, I could no longer escape the truth. I liked Tanner’s girl dick.

Did that mean I liked guy dick too?

I pursed my lips and shuddered, testing the image of one Sim Grace in my mind. He’d been a flingball player and outspoken Conserver who’d been a rising star before falling out of the spotlight about six or seven years ago after suffering a major accident on the field. He was something of a heartthrob, which is why my mind latched onto him. That and the fact that he shared a last name with my business partner. Though I doubted there was any relation.

I imagined him kissing me, caressing my nether regions and plunging his cock into my pussy much the way Khala had, and gulped as I let the truth sink in.

I shuddered, and climbed up to my feet, freezing despite the hot water cascading down my naked body. I switched the water off and stepped from the shower, padding myself off with a towel retrieved from a nearby rack. The linens from the estates were a fair bit softer than those of the Conclave, but I was still having issues. Khala’s healing abilities would prevent my epidermis from callousing, so it was likely I would be stuck with it for the rest of my life. I mean, while it was nice, it got irritated all the time. Hell, I had to be sure to buy extra soft clothing to keep myself from getting friction rashes. Okay, so Khala cleared those right up, but it was still unpleasant.

I grabbed my robe, an enormous pink fluffy affair that prompted my cheeks to burn every time I put the thing on, but felt amazing against my skin. Remember, Ms. Soft and Sensitive skin, right?

Back in my room, I stopped dead in my tracks and eyed the door as three dull thuds resounded from it. I scowled, glanced down at my breasts and pulled the folds of my robe closer together to better cover my cleavage, activated the wall switch and found the eyes of a bonded host looking down at me.

The figure that stepped inside my room would have been the epitome of tall, dark and handsome if it weren’t for the blue hair and magenta eyes which made him even more striking. I brushed the hair out of my face and stared up at him, frozen as I fought away certain lascivious thoughts that rose to the surface with a sudden and very violent intensity. Great, I just came to terms with being attracted to men and who should appear, but Mr. Wet Dream himself.

“I understand your going by Kayde now.” He slipped one of his hands inside a pocket and walked over to my nightstand, picking up one of my hair ties, and eyed me in my pink robe.

“Yeah,” I mumbled and turned my back toward him, closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. It helped… a little. “What do you want, Grey?”

“This is how you greet an old friend? No, hiya Grey, it’s so wonderful to see you or what you been up to? Just, what do you want, Grey?”

I scowled, folded my arms across my chest and spun around on the balls of my feet to better look into his eyes. Grey had always been tall, but now instead of having close to eighteen centimeters on me, he had over thirty. The last time I’d seen him, we’d both been right around eighteen so he might have put on a few centimeters in height, but it was damn hard to tell given I’d lost so much of mine.

“I saw you at the funeral. You were so broken up about Kaya Briggs’ death, it made me curious. I asked, and when I found out it was you, well, it made a bit more sense. Surprised the hell out of me, though.

“A lot’s happened.” I attempted to sound nonchalant, but the truth was my grandmother’s death was still a difficult subject. I couldn’t keep my voice from shaking.

“Well, something tells me there’s a pretty good story behind all this,” he waved a hand at me and slipped both hands back into his pockets. “I mean, you were never the poster boy, girl whatever, for the conclave and the whole gender swap thing while not exactly a shocker is weird.”

Not exactly a shocker? What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“I gotta say though, you turned out–”

“Don’t!” I held my hand up, cutting him short before he finished. I gritted my teeth and shook my head. Grey loved the ladies and well, they loved him back. He was damned charming, and he’d drawn so many in hook, line and sinker, with a simple smile. I had no intention of becoming his next conquest.

“Would you just tell me what you’re doing here?”

He fingered the collar of his shirt and coughed. “The Conclave cCouncil is meeting in three nights. They would like you to attend.”

I blinked, casting a sidelong glance at Grey and bit my lip. It wasn’t like my old friend to play the messenger boy, but one person held enough sway over him to get him to do pretty much anything. His dear old grandmother, Reyna Feldstone. She’d long vied for a spot on the council, and if I guessed right, she may have gotten her wish. If my suspicions were true, that would mean that there wouldn’t be a single member of the Briggs family on the council’s ruling body for the first time since its inception more than a hundred and sixty years ago.

I nodded, waiting long enough to get the time from Grey and then wished him goodbye.

He turned as if to leave, but stopped, cleared his throat and threw a thumb over his shoulder. “You wanna grab a bite to eat or some coffee or something there’s this great new shawarma place on main that I’ve been dying to try out.

I don’t know what made me say yes, but my cheeks turned a bright shade of red when I accepted his invitation. I was dying for human interaction. My uncle was so distant I went entire days without seeing him, I couldn’t go near Tanner without having a conniption fit and most of my cousins seemed to have gotten it into their head I had something to do with my grandmother’s death. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have much in the way of company.

I seemed in a better mood as I dressed. By the time I had my hair dried and was sporting a fresh set of clothes, I had a bit of a smile on my face. Sure Grey might be a bit self-involved, but he and I had had some good times in our teen years and if I was going to be honest with myself, he was damn easy on the eyes.

separator

“So… You run cargo for a living?” Grey asked, hands clasped across the table, peering over his neck across the diner.

My childhood friend had spent the last few minutes staring at a set of doors across the far wall. The wait staff came and went through them as they delivered food to their hungry patrons. Considering that it was pretty late in the afternoon and I would have heard his stomach growling from across the room, even without enhanced hearing, it didn’t take an aerospace engineer to figure out what he had on his mind.

“Cargo, certain illicit substances, the occasional sex worker, whatever a girl’s gotta do to make a living.”

Grey blinked and his eyes settled on me. He stared at me for a second, just before his face cracked into a smile and he released a low throaty chuckle.

“You almost had me for a moment there.”

I shrugged and let out a chuckle of my own. “Just checking if you were paying attention.”

He shook his head and leaned in close. “Trust me, you have my rapt attention.”

My cheeks burned again. I tried not to let it show, but I failed. If Grey noticed I was blushing, he sure as hell didn’t comment on it. Which was just as well, I hated that a few simple words could make me flush.

“Look, Jek.”

He paused after speaking my name. A part of me imagined it must have sounded odd to his ears, but I couldn’t say for sure.

“I couldn’t say what’s going on with you and the Conclave, but I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors. It’s no coincidence that you’ve turned up right after the Endeavour has been found, is it?”

It was my turn to blink. Grey was anything but stupid, but I hadn’t expected him to put those pieces together.

“No.”

“And becoming bonded? You’re about the last person I’d expect to join with a symbiote.”

I scowled and bowed my head. “It’s complicated. Don’t spread this around, but I’m the one who found the Endeavour, and I ended up host to Khala because, well, I damn near died.”

His eyebrows shot straight back, and he leaned back in his seat, letting out a long breath of air. “Wait a second, did you say Khala? Wasn’t she bonded to your mother?”

I should have known that talking about my symbiote would prompt her to appear, but I had no idea what prompted her to take on the likeness of my mother. If my symbiote’s abrupt appearance surprised Grey, he sure didn’t show it. No surprise there. If he’d known Sophia Briggs, he would find Khala’s choice in appearance a little disconcerting.

“She was,” Khala said, seating herself beside Grey. “Now she’s bonded to her daughter.”

“Is that right?” Grey flashed a grin that showed just a little too much of his pearly whites. “How exactly does that work?”

“Stasis pod.” Khala cocked her head, displaying a smile that looked so fucking wrong on my mother’s face.

“So, I take it your mother was dead for a while?” He asked, returning his attention to me.

I nodded. My hands shook, but I slid them under the table so he couldn’t see. “I can’t say much. I signed an NDA, but everything that’s happened has left me pretty shaken. There are things, Grey, things that have happened that have left me wondering if any of us are safe.”

“Sounds pretty serious.”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

“Yeah, well maybe, but if you ever want someone to talk to or just listen. I’m here.”

I nodded and let a smile touch my face. “Who’d have thought all those weeks ago, that getting transformed into a woman would be the least of my worries.”

Grey’s eyebrows shot way up. “I sort of had you pegged a little differently.”

“Pegged how?”

“Well, you know there were always those rumors about you. The sort of bullshit you always hear from Conservers. The way they talked, they made you sound like a sissy boy. I probably wouldn’t have put much stock in it, but sometimes you just seemed so uncomfortable in your own skin I thought the rumors might be true. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t care either way, but your damn sight easier on the eyes now, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“You think I’m a trans girl?”

My whole body trembled as I averted my gaze. I glanced back at him, shaking my head. It was crazy and yet…

My mind flashed to my youth, long before I knew Grey, when I was always getting bullied by the other boys, especially the Conservers, because they believed me to be a faggot. I wasn’t athletic or really good at anything except being a smart ass. Most of my friends had been girls. Hell, it wasn’t until I hit puberty and started getting second glances from the fairer sex, that I moved past the whole scrawny effeminate dweeb thing. If we met back then, it would only be logical for him to make the jump, but some of the person I tried long and hard to bury must have lingered if Grey picked up on it. Was it any wonder it had shaken me?

“Jek–”

“Kayde, it’s Kayde now.” I stared him down, shaking away the last of my confusion and doubt. Why the hell should I care what anyone else thought?

“Kayde, then. Sorry if I upset you.”

“No,” I said turning to watch as the server returned with our food. “Don’t be, it’s good to see a friendly face.

As we dug in, our conversation switched to more pleasant things, and for that moment, it was two friends talking about old times. I almost forgot about my troubles. Almost.

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Genesis | Ch 1

04/10/2021

CH 01

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

The trio of throwing knives twirled through the air, striking my intended target in the chest. I spun around, only to have a fist slammed into my jaw. I twisted sideways, just managing to fall onto my side before I slipped another blade from my boot and leapt back onto my feet. As I did, I stabbed out, slashing a huge gash across the creature’s chest. Then finished it with a quick thrust to the heart.

“Kayde.”

The voice came from behind and I swept my feet down and out, sending the speaker tumbling down to the ground. I produced yet another knife from the sheath on my wrist and dove, ready to plunge the blade into my attacker’s chest.

“KAYDE!” The voice screamed again, and I gasped, stopping my weapon, mere centimeters from the newcomer’s heart.

“Athilda!” I called out to the house’s artificial intelligence system. “Shut down the simulation.”

I tossed my knife aside and rolled away. When I came back to my feet, the images of the beasts shimmered and flickered away, replaced by the metallic sheen of holodrone torsos. One by one, I watched the robots shuffle across the chamber and disappear into an opening in the wall, before I held an open palm out to Tanner. She scrunched up her nose and scowled up at me, but took my hand and let me pull her up.

“What the fuck, Kayde,” She said, patting off the front of her shirt and pants.

“What is this?” She threw her hands out, motioning at the last of the retreating drones.

I turned my back to her, retrieving the nearest knife, and slid it back into its sheath.

“And what are you wearing?”

I didn’t reply, but I glanced down at my chest and my cheeks turned red. All I wore was a black athletic bra and a pair of legless workout shorts. Basically, the most revealing outfit I’d sported since taking female form. In my defense, the entire reason I picked it out was because it allowed for maximum mobility.  Hell, I hadn’t expected anyone to barge in on me while training. So the amount of skin I had on display wasn’t a factor.

I wiped sweat from my brow and gave my ponytail a good tug as I surveyed the damage. One of the three throwing blades I’d tossed at the first holodrone ha hit where the crotch would have been on a human.

“Dammit! Well, at least it’s a simple part to replace this time.” I said under my breath, yanking the knife in question free from the unit.

“This time?” Tanner grabbed me by the arm and pulled me close, looking into my eyes. I didn’t fight, hell with Khala’s enhancement’s I could snap her like a twig, but that would have been the overreaction of the century. “How long have you been duking it out against these holofighters?”

I slipped free from her grip and rocked my head. Trembling as I looked back into her eyes.

“Two weeks.”

She put her hands on her hips, looking around the room before her eyes settled back on me. “This is about your grandmother, isn’t it?”

I clamped my eyelids closed, Kaya Brigg’s lifeless eyes greeting me the moment they closed, and I jerked them back open. Tears streaked my cheeks, and I wiped them away, hoping that Tanner hadn’t seen.

“It’s about survival. The next time I come up against those damned creatures, I intend to be ready.”

“Uh huh,” she said, bending over to pick up one of my knives. “That’s why you’re crying.”

I scowled, folded my arms across my chest. “I don’t have to explain myself to you, Tanner.”

Tanner flinched almost as if I dealt her a physical blow and I slipped past her, moving toward the room’s only exit. She called after me, before I reached the door, but I didn’t turn back. I was feeling all sorts of hostility toward her, but it had nothing to do with her finding me in so compromising a situation. The number of times I’d snapped and barked insults at her over the last several weeks, numbered in the dozens. The most frustrating part? I couldn’t tell you why.

As the door slid shut behind me, I stormed down the corridor and up the steps leading out of the basement. I made a beeline for my bedroom and slammed the door behind me. Once inside, I paused taking in my reflection in the mirror and stood there transfixed for several moments. The girl staring back at me looked wild, untamed, blue hair a wild mess, sweat covered about every inch of her skin. Dirt and grime covered her arms, legs and most of her left cheek.

Yikes. A shower, that was what I needed.

My heart still pounding, I took several deep breaths to calm myself before I undressed. My sports bra came off first, I tossed it across the room and it landed hanging halfway out of the laundry chute. I’d become accustomed to my feminine figure, but sometimes when I looked at my image, I almost seemed… glad. This was one such time. A smile touched the corner of my lips as my hands cupped my bare breasts.

I scowled and dropped my hands, glaring at the reflection. What the hell was wrong with me? I kept having these odd moments where I almost enjoyed my new body. Khala could never manipulate my mind. The Conclave took great pains to prove that to the population, but I had this irrational fear that she was responsible. I should have never broken that stasis pod. Maybe I would have been better off dead.

Better off or not, I resumed disrobing, freeing the knife holsters from my hips and wrists, before slipping out of my boots. The workout shorts and panties came off together, collected in a little heap on the floor. I didn’t bother picking them up, but slid a hand over my pussy and pursed my lips. Though I’d swapped sexes, my libido had not diminished. If anything, it seemed stronger.

In short, I was horny all the damn time. I doubted it had anything to do with my change in sex, though. I’d never been one to suppress my appetites, but it seemed like ages since Tanner and I made love. Was it any wonder I wanted to bend over backwards and let somebody fuck my brains out?

I spent plenty of time pleasuring myself, but it didn’t satisfy me like the actual act would. It felt different, too. As a man, it was so centered on my cock. As a woman, masturbation was harder, and a lot of work. Just sticking my finger in the crevice wouldn’t be enough to achieve an orgasm. I had to work for it. As much as I would like to have a go at it there and then, I stopped myself. My body really got going with slow sensual movements, you know a soft caress here, the right music and bam, orgasmic bliss, but with me being so angry, it would not happen. I tried it once, and it had been uncomfortable… it happened, but it sure as hell hurt.

I moved toward the bathroom, naked as the day I was born, but decidedly more curvaceous. My breasts jiggled as I stepped inside the shower and pulled the curtain closed. At first, the shaking had been disconcerting, but the longer I stayed in my current form, the less I noticed it. At least most of the time. When running, working out or battling against holodrones, it got a little more distracting. It didn’t help that I was so busty. I mean, I wasn’t sporting beach balls or anything, but for a girl less than a hundred sixty centimeters, my bazoongas were pretty sizable.

As the water came cascading down from the ceiling, I slid my eyelids shut and just let my awareness slip away. At first, I was greeted by darkness, but then my imagination swept me to dark places as it did so often since my grandmother’s death. Tears dribbled down my countenance, indistinguishable from the droplets of water that washed over me.

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Three weeks prior…

Find her, set her free

I coughed, sitting bolt upright, swinging my arm up to shield my eyes, within seconds of them snapping open. I panted, breathing hard and looked around, fighting back fog as I struggled to discern where I was and what had happened. My vision adjusted quickly, one more benefit of my bond with Khala, but the thin plasti-mould walls did nothing to help me understand. I peeked down at myself and some of the puzzle pieces fell into place. 

I was wearing a hospital gown, and the durafoam surface atop which I was laying was a fold up style medical bed. Further glances revealed an assortment of medical equipment that I couldn’t even guess it’s use. I slipped a palm up the left side of my neck, my fingers finding purchase around a monitoring device before I yanked it free. A second device, this one attached to my wrist, an intravenous nutrient distributor from the looks of it, was removed with only the slightest sting of pain. 

“Oh god,” I whispered as a flood of memories assaulted me. “Grandma.”

I bowed my head, just letting tears wash down my face. The simple inescapable fact that Kaya Briggs was dead struck me as if I’d been dealt a stinging blow. Bonded hosts were hard to kill, thanks to the healing abilities, but we were far from invulnerable. She had her heart torn out of her chest. There was no way Crae could heal that, and the odds of a medical team getting to her in time to do anything but pronounce her death were slim to none. Even with advanced technology, there was only so much you could do in an emergency situation.

I sat there for the longest stretch, huddled in grief and sorrow. Guilt. I could have done more, should have done more. It didn’t matter that these thoughts were irrational. It didn’t matter that I’d been so thoroughly, laughably outmatched by that creature. A thousand could haves and should haves sprang to mind, each more far-fetched and non-sensical than the last.

“Kaydence, I’m so sorry.” 

Hands touched my shoulder, and I jumped. It was Khala. For once, I didn’t chastise or yell at her for startling me. Instead, I closed my eyelids and allowed myself to bask in the warmth of her touch. Khala was manipulating my senses and her hands were nothing but a very intricate illusion. 

I didn’t give a flying fuck. 

They felt real and helped me offset the sense of loneliness. A second pair of arms wrapped around me, and I didn’t need to open my eyes to know the phantom limbs belonged to Lexa. We were one in our grief, a being who knew her since she was a child, the ghost of her mother, and the ungrateful granddaughter who she raised. Such an odd trio.

I suppressed a sob and let my eyes slide open with a groan. The warmth, the unity, I didn’t want it to end, but the more rational part of my mind was more concerned with my surroundings.

I pulled away, slipped my toes over the edge of the bed and dropped to the floor. Reminded of my new shorter stature for the simple fact that, in the past, my feet would have touched the ground the moment my legs slipped over. I landed with a grunt, my knees almost buckling as my feet made contact.

“What the…” I leveraged myself against the bed, taking a few shaky steps forward. 

“I would grant you some extra strength so you could walk, but I’m pretty drained,” Khala spoke her form still roosted atop the bed beside my great-grandmother. “Keeping you alive has been a lot of work.”

My head snapped around, studying her. I didn’t demand an answer, but she replied to my unspoken question, anyway. “That creature infected you with some form of blood-borne parasite.”

“Parasite?” I grunted and took a second look at the plasti-mould wall panels. Understanding dawned on me. Someone had put me under quarantine. 

Khala trembled and folded her arms across her chest. 

“I’ve encountered nothing like it. It spreads through blood and…” She bit her lip and stared down at the ground.

“And what?”

“Its genetics were similar to my kind.”

“How similar?”

“Like the difference between a Qharr and a human. I think it might have even been intelligent, but, if it was, it didn’t try communicate. The creators know I did.”

I cupped my face with both hands. So a K’teth-like parasite was being spread by these creatures, which made for some pretty disturbing implications. Whoever or whatever had attacked the Endeavour, and the Valiant, was someone with the ability to manipulate genetics to a pretty frightening degree. Most species consider the K’teth the Phyrr Lesch’s greatest achievements in genetic engineering. 

It had taken the conclave almost ten decades of constant research and development to come up with a means to make a H’ra from a male symbiote. To create something with so many differences to a garden variety K’teth would require a skill at genetic manipulation that was beyond pretty much any intelligent species out there. At least, those who hadn’t been missing for ten thousand plus years.

I swallowed, hard. “Is it gone… Am I still infected?”

“You’ll be fine.” Khala shook her head and vanished. Lexa wiped tears from her eyes, then she too disappeared. The sounds of rubber on concrete preceded their departure, footsteps four sets of them, before the plastic wall in front of me collapsed, peeling away like skin from an orange.

I grunted, almost toppling over as something big came rushing toward me. Well, something bigger than me. A set of hands slipped onto my back and breasts pressed against my own. I soon found myself lost to another warm embrace, this one all too real and all the better for it. I was never was so disappointed when Tanner pulled away. Her hair was such a jumbled mess that she flushed and spent the next few seconds pulling it from her face. I wobbled back a few steps and peered into a familiar set of eyes though ones with much more pronounced crow’s feet than I remembered.

“Uncle Zed?” I released a squeal that, I’m ashamed to say, was more girlish than any sound that had ever escaped my lips and flung my arms around him. Zedekiah Matthew Briggs pulled away with gentle steady force. Easily overpowering me, which was impressive considering he wasn’t joined to a symbiote. 

Then again, whatever strength I had, had been leeched from my body battling that parasite. Khala must have been malnourished for me to be so feeble. It was the first time since being changed that I’d realized just how delicate my tiny form was without Khala enhancing my strength.

I stepped back and stumbled, almost collapsing, but Tanner and my uncle both stepped in, each grabbing me by an arm. 

“Maybe you should sit down,” Tanner and Zed both said at once, giving each other odd looks as they helped me back onto the bed. Perhaps helped was the wrong term. It was more like they picked me up and placed me atop the mattress, the same way one might slip a delicate flower into a vase. All with good intention, of course, but it was a bit like being a little kid again. It was fucking humiliating.

I didn’t struggle, however. I was weak and knew how futile it would be. My other two visitors approached the bed. The first I recognized, Mr. Personality himself, General Arnoff. The other was a new face… Well, new in the sense that I’d never seen him before. He wasn’t new in any other sense of the world. He looked to be getting along in years and if the lab coat was any sign, I’d say he was a doctor or at least a man of science.

“Miss Briggs,” Arnoff smiled, his chest all puffed up, not at all his usual expressionless self. “This is Dr. Zeeger.”

I nodded at the doctor and averted my eyes. “My grandmother?”

I knew the answer, but I needed to hear the words. For closure’s sake, if for no other reason. Tanner clasped her hands in mine and squeezed, hard.

“I’m sorry.”

“How long?”

“Three days,” Zed replied, scratching at his salt and pepper stubble. A nervous tick of his that I was a little relieved to see he hadn’t overcome.

“Oh, God.”

A sob slivered its way out of my mouth and I shuddered, fighting back a new flood of tears and failing.

“This thing that did this… This creature, it’s blood infected me, and if it hadn’t been for Khala…”

Zeeger coughed and adjusted his necktie. “You would have ended up just like one of those creatures.”

“I figured as much.”

“So what? You guys brought the corpse of the first creature back to Earth, you decide to perform an autopsy and whoops some scientist gets blood splattered on his face and whamo you got another monster on your hands.”

“We did a thorough check for contagions before bringing the body here. There was no reason to believe anything like this would happen.”

The doctor slipped both his fists in his lab coat pocket and released a single plaintive sigh. I arched an eyebrow, but said nothing. If the doctor’s reaction was any indication, he may have been the one responsible for this whole mess.

“Aside from one other, you are the only person exposed that managed to–”

“To not get turned into a bloodthirsty freaking monster? Yeah, well, yay me then. I guess I’ll just have to take home the consolation prize of having my grandmother murdered by one of them instead.” 

I winced the moment I uttered the words and looked into my uncle’s eyes to gauge his reaction. He pressed his lips together and tucked both his hands inside his pockets. His face was a calm mask, but although he often butted heads with my grandmother, I knew he cared for her a great deal.

The biggest question I had was why had it taken so long for him to return? I kind of expected my Aunt Muriel to be a flake, but Zed had always been there when I needed him. After my father died, he’d been the closest thing I’d had to a father. It hurt just a little to think that it took my grandma’s passing for Zed Briggs to turn up. 

“Our containment protocols will need to undergo some revisions to be sure,” Arnoff coughed and gave the doctor a hard sidelong glance. “We’ve contained the situation. We have three infected people in stasis, and without a cure, short of terminating them. The only other solution is to keep them there indefinitely.”

“There’s no simple way to say this, but these parasites are genetically very similar to K’teth. It raises some tough questions, but ultimately this similarity and your symbiote’s resistance to the parasite may be the key to finding a cure,” the doctor said, clearing his throat and casting a furtive glance towards Arnoff.

“Look if you’re suggesting that you’re going to use my niece as some sort of guinea pig…” Zed took a step forward, blocking both Cayne and the doctor from my sight.

“Nothing of the sort. We should have what we need, plenty of blood and a detailed bio scan.” Zeeger said, then paused and let out another sigh. “We need someone with more familiarity with K’teth biology. We need Dr. Vakrexid.”

“Don’t say his name!” I yelled out. My face burned as all eyes homed in on me.

“The doctor is a dear friend,” my uncle said, placing a hand on my arm and squeezing hard. “And I believe, given these beings are so close to the K’teth, it would be more than enough incentive to spark his interest. It shouldn’t be too difficult to convince him to collaborate with your people.”

“For now, I’d like to take Kayde home. She’s been through a lot and if what you say is true, there’s no need for her to stick around.”

“Of course.” Arnoff motioned for the doctor to leave, but lingered as Zeeger disappeared through the opening.

“I’d like to thank you.” He said, placing his palms on the footboard of the bed as he locked his unblinking eyes in a gaze with me. “If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way. I don’t think I’d be alive to tell the tale.”

“You’re welcome.” It was about as feeble of a reply as you might imagine, but it appeared to satisfy Arnoff, who nodded and turned to leave.

“Wait?!” I cried, throwing my hand out as if to beckon him back to me. 

He turned back toward me with an arched eyebrow, but had an otherwise unreadable expression on his face.

I dropped my hand and my voice quivered as I spoke. “Did that thing get anyone else? I mean, besides the people you’ve put in stasis?”

Arnoff’s expression turned sour, and he nodded. “Five of our people and two Dexagarmetrax are dead. The Dexagarmetrax ambassador is in critical condition.”

“Crae?” I asked, realizing as I did so that my uncle and I were the only people in the room who knew the K’teth’s name. I shook my head, then added, “My grandmother’s symbiote.”

Arnoff pursed his lips, folding both arms across his chest. “The symbiote appears to have entered the ambassador’s body, but from what I’ve been made to understand, this has brought about some complications.”

“Complications?” Zed said, mumbling the words before shaking his head. “That would be an understatement. The last time a K’teth tried to bond with a Dexagarmetrax, both host and symbiote died. Dexagarmetrax biology is too different from Qharr and human. Crae would have never been retrieved in time, so she took the only option open to her.” 

“Crae knew that there’s never been a successful bond between Dexagarmetrax and symbiote. Why would she take such a risk when there was a viable unjoined human in the hangar?” I asked.

“We can only speculate as to the symbiote’s motives, I believe it would–”

Zed scowled at Zeeger and cut him off. “The ambassador is the strongest proponent within Dexagarmetraxia’s government to share technology with Earth. If it were to die, all of those within their government who opposed the current policy would seize the opportunity to restrict Earth’s access to new technologies. Crae knows the importance of keeping the ambassador alive. She very well may have attempted a bonding hoping to save its life.”

“And if she fails, she could have further endangered relations. If the ambassador dies–” Zeegar said.

“It will mean a lot more to the Dexagarmetraxian government if Crae sacrificed herself in a vain attempt to save the ambassador than it would have if she had done nothing.” Arnoff nodded and glanced back to the door. “There are two guards waiting outside, they will escort you to a transport that will take you back to Kingsburgh.”

Arnoff’s hand slipped inside his pocket, produced a slender metal cylinder and slipped it into my hands. “It’s not much, but I hope it helps.”

Khala had already fed on the little well of energy inside the power cell, but it was just a tiny little morsel. It was like offering a single slice of bread to a person who hadn’t eaten in a week. It wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. My uncle slipped an arm under my legs and hoisted me up into his arms. He wasn’t a young man, but I was so tiny now. I doubted I even topped fifty kilos. I didn’t protest, I placed my head on his shoulder and clenched my eyes shut. Feeling new tears cascade down my cheeks, letting loose all the anger, self-recrimination and grief.

I had found the Endeavour, directly or indirectly, all the deaths those creatures had inflicted were on my hands. Whoever was behind those attacks must be stopped. I wasn’t sure how I’d find them, but when I did, there was going to be hell to pay.