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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.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 15

04/03/2021

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Author's Note

Just a bit of a warning, this chapter has content that may be upsetting to some readers. All I can say is, it was extremely painful for me to write. Please don’t hate me.

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CH 15

In transit to Orbiting Defense Platform Odin, aboard the Flint

Our ride, the Flint, was a Voyager class transport, a sleek and slender vessel and was among the smallest classes of ship in the United Earth Alliance Fleet. Often used on the front line to get troops in and out of tight spots, it was no mystery why they had so often been equipped with precision drives.

The vessel seemed more than a like familiar. The Centennial Hawk was a prototype model, which was the basis for Voyager-class ships, like our transport. There were, however, some pretty noticeable differences. I mean, they kept it a fair bit cleaner, and the Hawk’s bulkheads were a hodgepodge of different materials Tanner and I scavenged from wherever the hell we could.

The Hawk was unique, the only one of its kind, built with a modular dock that would have allowed it to be outfitted with dozens of different pods. As near as I’d been able to determine, the only pod ever produced had been the cargo container. It had been a good idea in theory, but the engineers at Briggs Aerospace and Engineering who had worked on her hadn’t quite worked out all the kinks after Lily’s death. So the company scrapped the modular aspect and sold the design to the UEAF as a transport ship.

When we’d gotten hold of the Hawk it had been an empty shell, a husk save for the propulsion system, but one which came at an enticing enough price that we hadn’t passed it up. Retrofitting her had been a challenge, but boy had it been worth it. Few transports could match her speed or maneuverability, and we had equipped her with second-hand and re-manufactured parts. If Tanner or I had managed to get our hands on some of those military grade hardware, I can’t speak for my partner, but I think I’d have died and gone to heaven.

After we were all inside, Lt. Chev Raymont, the UEAF officer who’d greeted us outside the ship, closed the ramp behind us by slamming his hand into a nearby wall switch, then turned back to us with a smile that looked a little too forced.

“If you’ll be so kind as to follow me, we can get underway.”

The Flint didn’t appear to be a troop or cargo transport, given that those sorts of ships had a more open design, with few bulkheads and no corridors. This vessel had both. My guess, it was a transport for persons of importance, like high-ranking officers, consultants, dignitaries, government officials and whatever the hell category we fell into.

A short walk down a corridor, and into an adjoining room, later, and we soon found ourselves inside an area that must have measured a good sixty square meters, lined with padded bench seats, a minibar and a holo projector on one wall. It looked very much like the interior of a limousine, only much larger, which pretty well confirmed my suspicions.

The good Lieutenant invited us to sit, have a load off, have a drink or two and… wait. He didn’t phrase it that way, but that was the general point. He turned to leave, and I put my hand on the door and called out.

“Wait!”

He stopped in his tracks, then ever so slowly swung back to face me. The soldier didn’t say a word, nor did I, but I peered at him, hoping he could read the silent plea on my face. How could he leave me inside a room with the Qharr diplomat, my grandmother and business partner? No way, nope, just a whole hell of a lot of nuh uh. Things were awkward enough already.

The worst part was, he didn’t seem to understand or else he didn’t care enough to do shit about it. Not one to take no for an answer, what I did next shocked even me.

“You know.”

I rubbed a hand along the inside of my shirt collar, massaging the skin with slow sensuous movements, popping a button loose as I did. He didn’t move his head, but his eyes pretty well followed the movement and I realized I’d gotten the reaction I wanted.

What was I doing? I almost stopped there, but as his eyes looked over me with hungry desire, I realized something that weirded me the fuck out. I enjoyed getting the attention.

“My business partner, and I,” I paused long enough to nod back toward Tanner. “We run a small shipping business and our ship is an early X-419 prototype, we’d be interested in seeing more of the ship.”

He swallowed and averted his eyes, stepped away and nodded. “Uh, yes, we could arrange something like that. The weapons systems and engine sections are off limit to guests without clearance, but you and your friend are more than welcome to join me in the control room.”

“That, would be wonderful.”

I smiled, letting my hand slide away from my neck, but leaving the button of my blouse undone. When I peered back at Tanner, I paused before beckoning her forward. The look on her face and the one worn by my grandmother were almost identical. Eyebrows shot way up to the top of their forehead and eyes about as wide as they would go. I didn’t blame them for being surprised, so was I. The real question was, what came over me?

I shook my head, forcing breath in and out. It had gotten me all… excited, and a growing part of me was a little uncomfortable with the implications. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and snapped my eyelids open.

“Um, yeah can we forget about it?”

I turned back and took several steps away. I did not understand what that had been about, but I wouldn’t let myself take it any further. As fucking weird as that had been, I was a tad more concerned about how my companions would react.

That weird, newly discovered aspect of me was disappointed when Raymont left the room, but my sane half won out. I took one look around, noting that neither my grandmother nor Tanner looked even slightly less surprised, then marched into the corner, plopped down and cupped my face in both hands, wishing for all the world that I understood what the actual fuck had just happened.

The insides of my stomach clenched, and I remained there, burning tears streaking my cheeks, too humiliated to open my eyes or uncover my face. The room fell silent as the seconds passed into minutes. Soon enough I sensed movement, but instead of looking up to see who it was, I froze in place, unable to make eye contact with anyone. Hands slipped around my arm and a voice whispered in my ear.

‘Kaydence, you can do this. Find her, set her free.’

The voice sounded familiar, a unique combination of Salvadoran and Texas accents I had only ever heard from one person, my mother. I snapped my eyes open, and sat bolt upright, heart hammering in my chest when I discovered that there wasn’t anyone close enough to have whispered in my ear.

‘Khala, did you…’

‘Do what?’

Either Khala was messing with me or she really had no idea. I doubted Lexa would have pulled such a trick, and even if she had, the symbiote would have known. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I got an answer out of her, and when she replied in the negative, my heart sank. I was going insane. It was the only logical explanation.

For years now, I’d been hearing a voice in my dreams encourage me to find ‘her and set her free’. Until recently, I always assumed that the voice was trying to tell me I needed to find my mother, but since doing that, it had spoken to me four times, twice in dreams, and twice in the actual world. Granted, one time, I was an inch from death, but it seemed a little disconcerting that I was hearing voices.

“Kayde?” Tanner came over and sat beside me, putting a hand around my shoulder and held me. “What’s going on, you’re weirding us out.”

My grandmother hung back only a moment longer, before she moved across the room, took a seat beside me and placed her hand on mine.

“I’ll be fine,” I whispered, lying through my damn teeth. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be fine again. The experience had me shaking, doubting my sanity and confused as hell.

“I need to figure things out. Give me some time.”

That seemed to satisfy them both, but it would take more than a few paltry words to wash my doubts away. There was something very assuring about being held, a closeness that would have never been acceptable for me when I was a man. Things didn’t seem so uncomfortable anymore, even with Nyvok huddled in the corner, looking like someone who wanted to be anywhere but stuck in a cabin with a trio of human women. Quite a feat considering that the Qharr were so expressionless, but I suppose I might be getting better at reading his body language.

My first trip out since becoming a woman was less than stellar. Already, I’d pissed off a DTS agent, weirded everyone out, myself included, by flirting with Raymont, and had a very public breakdown in front of an alien ambassador who also happened to be a descendant of the warrior who enslaved my great-grandmother. Yeah, as bad days went, that one ranked in the top five, and it was only going to get worse from there.

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I was never so glad when the bukheads of the transport shuddered, and an almost imperceptible snap-hiss sounded from somewhere on the other side of the wall. If I hadn’t been so attuned to space travel, I probably wouldn’t have even heard it, but it was sufficient for me to identify. I slipped my hands clear of my face and stared at the exit, all the shame and shock from earlier forgotten as I listened for any signs of movement.

My grandmother’s gaze snapped up to stare at the door at about the same moment as mine had. Tanner was slower, no doubt, because she lacked the enhanced senses of a symbiote, but soon enough she too watched the door with anticipation in her eyes.

Nyvok held a small volume resembling a book, but made of slats of a material that might have been wood strung together into sheets. Each page was about three millimeters thick, and I guessed there were around forty pages judging from the thickness. I’d never seen a Qharr text of that sort, but I’d been made to understand that they read it bottom to top and the characters weren’t so much a collection of words, but instead represented thoughts and ideas. The amount of information in a single sheet would have been the equivalent of pages and pages worth of English text. He may very well have been reading the Qharr equivalent to War and Peace.

He was either so engrossed in his reading that he was unaware that the airlock had opened or was hoping to find a good stopping place before setting the book aside. It wasn’t until the door slid open that the ambassador pulled one slat out a few centimeters, perhaps marking his spot, and rose from his feet, meeting Raymont’s gaze as he stepped inside the room.

Lurching to my feet, I was out the door before the Lieutenant could even blink at me. I had been eager to leave the ship, so eager that the desire overcame me with an almost obsessive, manic fire. In seconds, I was clambering down the hallways before the others departed the room, and when I reached the exit ramp, channeled all the patience I had to keep myself from exiting without waiting for them.

When they did join me I ran down the ramp, basking in the wide open space of the hanger as I strained my neck back looking upon my surroundings. I was more than ready to put my little breakdown behind me, but as great as that sounded, it wouldn’t be something I could cast aside. Despite this disconcerting revelation, I put on my best professional face and waited for everyone else to descend the ramp. I might have looked calm and collected on the surface, but underneath a raging storm of emotions threatened to come thundering out. I shuddered to think what would happen if someone pressed the wrong buttons.

I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, and I turned to face the approaching entourage, led by an aging figure wearing a fleet uniform and sporting three bars on each of his sleeves.

Oh great, a General.

On his right side and just a meter back moved the towering figure of Hetzapledra, the Dexagarmetrax ambassador, and about the last being I expected to see. The General and ambassador were escorted by a pair of Dexagarmetrax much both closer in height to the human than the ambassador. Two servicemen trailed behind, keeping a respectful distance.

When the leader of the group drew closer, I was able to make out his nametag which identified him as General Theodore Arnoff. He greeted my grandmother with a curt nod and a flat, expressionless face. “Ma’am it’s good to see you again and ambassador so good of you to join us as well.”

“Charming as always, I see. Arnoff this is my granddaughter, Kayde, and her business partner Tanner.” Kaya Briggs held her hand out, first to me, then to Tanner.

Charming? Ha! That was the exaggeration of the century. The guy had about as much personality as food dispenser.

“It is agreeable General to once again have the honor.” Nyvok bowed his head and closed all three eyes, then stood bolt upright as he glanced around the hanger. “If it is not too impertinent of me to ask. How soon can we see this second beast? My government is very concerned about these beings. Consolidator Fryshck has taken a personal interest in the matter and will be expecting an update by the end of this Terran day.”

“The situation has changed.” Arnoff cast his eyes back at the Flint. “I’m afraid no one will be seeing the creature. We have put most of the facility under quarantine.”

“What?” My grandmother and I stepped forward and spoke up in perfect unison.

I cleared my throat, held my hands up and stepped back. My grandmother watched me and turned back toward Arnoff.

“I don’t understand. Is this second creature diseased?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” he replied.

Despite his cool facade, I got the sense for the first time that he found the subject unsettling. Okay, so he was shifting from foot to foot and he had this odd tick where his left eye kept twitching, but I swear to you it was all intuition. Hey, what can I say? I just have a knack for reading people.

“Why don’t we discuss this very classified bit of information somewhere less public? I have some surveillance footage to show you, which I believe will be very illuminating.”

I craned my neck around, my eyebrows furrowed. We were inside one of the orbiting defense platforms, which was the most impenetrable military installation in the entire alliance. Couple that with the complete absence of anyone besides ourselves, and it just seemed… odd. Who would spy on us? A hunk of space debris?

Arnoff must have had reason to worry about eavesdroppers, but I didn’t see what it might be. Still, I was dying to find out what had happened and I’m sure the others were too considering they didn’t issue a single word of protest as the good General led us away. Not that I was in any place to criticize, I didn’t either.

separator

We never made it more than a hundred meters before, you guessed it, shit hit the fan. Okay, so it didn’t happen all at once. It starred with the sirens, which sounded out of thin air. I didn’t know what sort of sound system the UEAF used, but shit, it was loud.

“Dammit.” Arnoff cursed and cupped a hand over his jugular. “Someone tell me what the hell is going on.”

He paused, listening to a response from a subordinate, then started barking out orders.

“Get all available units prepped in containment gear, throw some god-damned coil guns in their hands and send them after that thing. Nothing gets in or out of this base, do you hear me? Nothing.”

He dropped his hand, spun around on the balls of his feet and started ushering us back toward the transport. “I need you back aboard that transport, now.”

“I thought you said–” I started to object, but the General cut me short.

“It’s not going to take off, but it’s armored and a lot more secure than an open hanger bay. Now move!”

I didn’t budge an inch, for that matter neither did my grandmother. Tanner took a few steps back, but when she saw that neither one of us had moved, she stopped and stared back at Arnoff, who’s face turned so red I half expected him to drop dead of a heart attack. Nyvok inched toward the door, craning his head around and sniffing like a dog trying to pick up a scent. Hetzapledra and their aids were the hardest to read, but they didn’t seem at all alarmed. Mostly, they quivered, which was pretty normal for members of their race.

“No.” I folded my arms across my breasts and stared him down. No small feat considering he towered over me. “You need me. I’ve gone toe to toe with one of those things already and killed it without enhanced strength. Now that I’m joined to a symbiote, I’m much faster and a lot deadlier. If there is anybody here, that can deal with that thing, it’s me.” I said, this time confirming that not only was a dumbass but also extremely self-deluded.

“You, are not trained to handle this kind of threat. My men are.”

“Your right, but my symbiote, has more experience than anyone on this base.”

Arnoff gritted his teeth and pointed at our transport. “You will get on that ship if I have to drag you onto it myself.”

The General knew damn well he would never match my strength, but maybe he hoped his size would intimidate me. I guess it worked, I actually took a step back when he moved toward me, but you know what? That’s about when I caught sight of something a fair bit scarier.

“Please, General,” Nyvok spoke, his voice rumbling above the sound of the siren’s. “Allow me to stay, you are right that, these humans are not warriors, but I have fought many engagements.”

Arnoff nodded and glanced back at me. His eyebrows furrowed. “Back on the ship, now.”

“Uh, too late.” Tanner said, staring off into the distance.

“Dammit,” I cursed and slapped the palm of my hand into my forehead. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

You know how I have a nasty habit of doing something insanely moronic? Well, this was one such moment. I should have just ran like hell, but no Kayde’s gotta try to be the hero. It was just my luck that the creature had found us, before I had seen common sense. Boy, sometimes I could just kick myself.

I slammed into Arnoff’s side, sending him reeling away. As the creature came rushing across the pavement toward us, I screamed at the others to “get the hell out of the way,” just before I leapt forward to take the thing head on. It crashed into me, sweeping one huge hand out, and sent me careening into Arnoff who had just gotten back to his feet.

We went down in a tangle of limbs and it took precious seconds for me to work my arms free, but I did just in time to hear a high-pitched squeal and look up. Tanner lay sprawled on the ground, the creature towering over her, both its hands balled up into fists at its side. I lurched free, but before I crawled back onto my feet, there was a blur of gray as Nyvok moved in to take on the creature.

The ambassador grappled with it, and for a moment I thought he would overpower it, but then it slid free and sent him stumbling into the deck. Next, a flash of blue hair, as my grandmother joined the fray.

Kaya Briggs was no spring chicken, but her symbiote afforded her a strength and speed even an unbonded human my age wouldn’t be able to muster. She leapt forward, spinning sideways and kicked out, striking it across the side with first one foot, then landed on all fours. She rolled back to her feet, watching the creature stagger back. I wasn’t sure if Crae was manipulating gravity waves or not, but if she was, she’d only disoriented the beast. That struck me as just a little unsettling.

Strike that, it was very unsettling.

I dove forward, ready to join in the fight, but a split second before reaching the creature, it shrieked, whipped an arm out and latched a massive paw around my grandmother’s throat. I drew close and slammed a fist into its side as I called out to her, but it was a futile gesture. It’s sweeping claws raked me across my skull and I stumbled away, my face throbbing in fiery agony.

The pain soon dulled, no doubt Khala’s work, but as I staggered toward the creature, I felt something warm trickling down my countenance and reached up to touch it, realizing as I did so that I was bleeding from an open gash on my forehead. The wound began to close within seconds, thanks to my symbiote, but it had gushed out until it had trickled into one eye and blinded on side.

I tried to blink it away, but there was too much. I didn’t waste precious seconds wiping it out of my eyes, but struck out at the beast, hoping to dislodge my captive grandmother. It back handed me again, and this time I went tumbling down onto my ass.

Phase fire blasts fizzled and hissed against the beast’s skin, but it didn’t seem to have much effect besides drawing its attention towards the source of the discharge. It slammed my grandmother with enough force that the metal grating she hit groaned and shrieked in protest. Crae must not have softened the blow in time because when I bent over to check for signs of life, her eyes were closed and blood dripped from her mouth.

I bowed my head and sighed when I found a pulse. Good, she was alive, but not in very good shape. My head jerked back up and I belted out a blood-curdling scream as I watched the pair of servicemen drop their phase weapons and retrieve a set of coil guns from their sides.

Hetzapledra and their attaché stood huddled behind them, no doubt hoping that they would protect them from the beast, but I knew such an effort was futile. If they tried to make a run toward either exits, they’d expose themselves to potential attack from their aggressor. If they stayed put, the creature would bulldoze through their protectors. They stood little chance either way.

Bullet’s crashed into the creature, each inflicting enough damage to splatter blood all over the metal grating, but not enough to slow it down. I was already on my feet tearing across the hanger bay, prepared to fling myself at the rampaging beast if necessary, and Nyvok wasn’t far behind. Arnoff hung back, producing a slender coil pistol, a K5 Elite series from the looks of it, and opened fire. He was too far away to aim with much accuracy, and when they struck his bullets did not enrage the creature enough to distract it.

Neither Nyvok nor I reached the Dexagarmetrax or the servicemen in time. The monster tore into them, its own violet blood mingling with their crimson as it reduced them to dead, lifeless husks. I caught up with the alien creature as the two men collapsed, their gore seeping into the cracks in the metal grating, and grabbed at an arm as it swiped at the aliens. I diverted its fist, but it took every bit of strength I could muster. Instead, it smashed into the metal bulkhead and made a sizable dent. I released my hold, flicking purple blood from my eyes, and slammed my fists into its midsection. The attack had almost no effect, and it backhanded me, sending me careening away.

Next, Nyvok stepped up to the plate, his massive muscles bulging as he leapt at the creature. Its knees bent, almost buckling under the force of the Qharr ambassador’s attacks, but it staggered back and regained its balance. I didn’t dare step in. The beast was thrashing about and each time I got close it lurched into a new direction. Of all the beings within the hanger, Nyvok stood the best chance against the creature. He was closest in sheer strength and size, but when his opponent let out a roar and charged straight toward the bulkhead, I knew it was going to knock its opponent loose.

Sure enough, when it slammed into the wall with the full force of a freight cruiser, Nyvok slid off the beast, at least for the moment, disabled, and it swung around lurching for the trio of Dexagarmetrax and me. Arnoff changed clips and unleashed a new salvo of fire on that thing.

I threw myself between the alien dignitaries and the monster, bracing myself. Knowing that I was the only one that stood between them and life and death. The beast, disoriented at first, shrugged off the general’s weapon fire, picked up speed and came charging at us. I ran forward, knowing that if I stayed and let it come steamrolling into me, it would flatten me like a pancake.

When I was close enough, I intended to slip behind it and sweep it out from under its feet, but it had either figured out my plan or it had damn good reflexes, maybe both. It swept its claws out and around my waist, sweeping me up off my feet and threw me across the docking bay. I landed hard enough that I almost slipped into unconsciousness, but I fought it, trying to blink away the splotches of light that were disrupting my vision. I heard high-pitched, almost panicked squeals, like someone blowing into clarinets. One by one, each of those squeaks were silenced, and I knew the beasts had succeeded in either killing or subduing the Dexagarmetrax.

With slow, careful movements, which were the best I could manage, I swung my head, feeling blood trickling down the right half of my chest and from the re-opened forehead gash.

“Khala.” I said, in what came out sounding like a whimper.

‘Kayde, I am trying. You’re really hurt.’

“Yeah, tell me something I don’t know.”

I looked around, letting out a sigh of relief, realizing that at least the Qharr ambassador and the general were still standing. They converged, each moving toward my grandmother’s still form as the beast barreled toward them. I lurched up, gasping with pain as I put pressure on my left foot. Sharp, jagged pain flooded and my vision went pure iridescent white.

Oh, fuck it hurt, which probably meant it was broken.

Any ordinary person would have collapsed back to the ground, but I managed to inch forward. As I did so, I could feel my bones snap back into place as Khala healed my wounded appendage.

I slipped in close, but not before the creature grabbed Nyvok by the arm and swung him around, toppling the two. I was unsure if the beast just didn’t see me or if I was so injured it didn’t consider me a threat, but it ignored me. Instead, it knelt down, looming over my grandmother’s form. She moaned and tried to stand up, but it clenched her head and smashed it back into the grating. When I witnessed this, I shouted out and lurched forward, but my leg wasn’t completely healed and I collapsed again.

I caught the creature’s attention for the barest of seconds. It snarled at me, then returned its ire to my grandmother, pounding its fist down into her chest. She gurgled, coughing up blood. I fought to climb back up, but before I could, it grabbed her by the throat, pulled its fist free from her rib cage and slammed it down again, this time over her heart. As distant as I was, I could still feel blood splattering against my face, further blinding me. I saw just enough to realized it had pulled something out of her chest. A sob escaped my lips when I realized it was her heart.

I cried out, wriggling and writhing, struggling so hard to get up. I released another sob as it squeezed its fist tight, crushing my grandmother’s heart into mush. The remains of Kaya Brigg’s flesh still dripped from its hand as it turned its attention to me. It didn’t offer mercy or hesitation in the slightest. It kicked me, flipping me onto my back and slammed down into me.

I thrashed about, trying my damndest to injure the creature before it finished me, but nothing worked. It was like trying to level a mountain by driving a hover car into it. You might do a little surface damage, but you damned well weren’t going to move it. It forced its fist into me, ripping through lung, ribs and muscle and pulled flesh free. If the pain from my broken leg had been bad this was like a nuclear warhead going off. Pain rippled through my body with multiple successions of blinding white light. I could feel consciousness begin to slip away and I was sure I was a goner, but then the beast jerked back, howling in agony, before its fist pierced my skin a second time.

The General had come to my rescue. He and Nyvok had untangled their limbs from one another, and they both stood there as he once again opened fire. This time he was near enough to take careful aim, and he did just that, hitting the creature in its middle eye. It’s body collapsed, hitting the ground with a dull thud. Barely conscious, I rolled over onto my chest, my blood and guts gushing all over the floor, looking into my grandmother’s unseeing gaze, before my own eyes slid shut, ushering in the darkness.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 14

03/27/2021

CH 14

Kingsburgh, California, Spaceport

“Do you think you’ve frisked me enough, or should I bend over and let you stick your hand up my–”

“KAYDENCE!” My grandmother’s voice shouted from the next booth over, silencing me before my big fat mouth finished saying the stupidest thing imaginable.

I clenched my jaw shut and scowled, fixing my eyes on the agent who slipped the gloves from her hands and glowered back. As it so happened, my big mouth had gotten us in our current predicament.

Okay, before I go further, a bit of an explanation might be in order. After arriving at the starport, we passed through security just as any international or interplanetary traveler would. Standard enough stuff, I experienced the same ordeal every time I departed from or returned to Earth. This time there was a minor snag.

The agent, with who I had the pleasure of dealing, seemed to believe that it was suspicious that my IDEC didn’t match my current form. Go figure, huh? Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about all that hubbub with the UEA Fleet giving me safe passage? Well, yeah, they did, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get a thorough pat down, now did it? Tanner only escaped the nastiness by sheer virtue of choosing a separate line from my grandmother and myself. And now you’re pretty much caught up, so I’ll return you to your scheduled programming.

“Despite what I can only describe as a winning personality, you’re clean. You’re lucky you have someone up high pulling strings for you. If it were up to me, well let’s say, with that attitude of yours and that unusual IDEC which I suspect is a poor forgery, I would toss you into a detention room and throw away the keys.”

My teeth were grinding as I watched that bitch turn her back to me and disappear through the opening, but the moment it slid shut, a smile touched my lips. I loved sticking it to the ‘man’ even if she was a woman. I suppose it was a little like poking the bear, but so many things were out of control it seemed a little liberating to act without lasting consequences… for a change. Even if I pissed the rest of the world off.

Okay, now I should probably be a good boy… girl whatever.

I cleared my throat, let the scowl slip back onto my face, grabbed my leather jacket from the hook on the wall and followed the bitch out the door. My grandmother waited for me outside, and if possible, she looked even more irritated than the good agent. Not surprising considering she got the supreme honor of getting patted down right alongside me.

She grabbed me by the shoulder, hissing out curses in my ear as she led me away from the angry eyes and scowling faces of the DTS agents.

“What the hell was that about?”

I stopped, jerked free from her hold and rounded on her, ready to shout out an angry retort. Then I realize that behind the furrowed eyebrows and clenched teeth, there was a spark of concern in her eyes. My irate response died on my lips in that moment of shocking clarity.

“It was stupid.” I said mumbling out a hasty response refusing to look in those eyes again. Not because I feared to face her wrath. I’d stared her down more than a few times. The concern was the part that got me. It gave me the heebie-jeebies even considering it. Weird, right?

“Kaydence, I know this is difficult. I may not be able to understand what’s happened, but I’m here to help if I can. I know you’ve always been a little hotheaded, but it’s never a good idea to antagonize people who have the power to ruin your life.”

Okay, so maybe the temporary high I got out of pissing off the DTS agent hadn’t been worth the thrill, but hell, can you blame me? Now it was time to return to do the whole adulting thing, so that I didn’t get myself in real trouble. It was best not to tempt fate, you know?

“I’m sorry.”

Clenching my eyes shut, I almost immediately snapped them open again. I looked into my grandmother’s eyes and all the years of resentment and anger boiled away. For the first time in my life, I understood. All the things Kaya Briggs did hadn’t been done to punish me or to force me to follow in Lexa’s footsteps. At least not in the way I thought. She only wanted what she considered best for me.

Oh sure, she’d been misguided, and we disagreed a lot, but I understood that her motives were much more selfless than I ever imagined. It didn’t make it right, but at least I understood.

“I’ve been a fool, but thank you, thank you for being here.”

Hot tears stung my cheeks, and I let my grandmother wrap her arms around me. I experienced a warmth, an emotional bond, that I thought lost to us forever.

“When you left, I feared I might never see you again. I pushed you too hard, I should have seen that it was a mistake. You’re so bright and intelligent, I wanted the best for you.”

And somehow we were both crying… A lot of guys would say it was because we were a couple of gals, getting all teary-eyed from an overdose of estrogen. Having been a woman for half a week didn’t make me an expert, but I’ll just call bullshit on that right now. Truth be told, even were I still sporting a cock and flat chest, I’d still be bawling my eyes out.

My grandmother cleared her throat and reached up to straighten my collar.

“Come on Jellfree, our ship will be waiting.”

For once, my grandmother’s use of my old name didn’t bother me. For some odd reason, I couldn’t help but smile as we moved deeper into the spaceport. The overwhelming feeling of helplessness that had been with me since I’d first became joined to Khala withered away and died. Replaced by an overwhelming sense of hope, the like of which I had never experienced in all my life. All was right with the universe again, I had my grandmother back.

separator

We met up with Tanner a short while later. My tears were dry, but there was some concern that my face might still be red. Either Tanner was too polite to say anything (not freaking likely) or else Khala’s healing capabilities had taken care of the redness and it didn’t show on my face. Given that my grandmother’s countenance didn’t show any signs of having shed tears, it must have been the case.

“Well, I’m assuming since you’re both here that it went well?”

“As well as a good frisking can go.” I replied, glancing toward my grandmother with just the slightest little smile.

Tanner narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips, perhaps looking to glean some information from the two of us. Neither of us cracked. I couldn’t speak for my grandmother, but I didn’t much feel like sharing. The frisking had been unpleasant, but what had followed had been illuminating. It seemed too personal to blab to anyone, even Tanner, in whom I had shared so much, and least of all in the middle of the spaceport.

separator

When we made it to our dock, the UEAF vessel was waiting. An officer stood at attention outside of the ramp. He looked so out of place in his dull gray uniform against the backdrop of the spaceport and the sheer variety of humans and other beings coming and going. I came to a screeching halt as I caught sight of a dark form approaching from the east. Tanner followed my example, but my grandmother veered off course, making a beeline for the figure.

“Oh, shit,” I cursed under my breath, and stopped to marvel how odd it sounded when I swore with my new voice before I was off treading toward the newcomer. When we were close, I craned my neck back and stared up at the towering form of the Qharr ambassador Nyvok with just a little lump in my throat.

“Chairperson Briggs,” he said, his booming baritone cutting through the noise of the crowded spaceport like a hot knife through butter. So powerful, was his cadence, that several nearby travelers took a wide berth of him. Of course, that could have something to do with his stature and the fact that he was a gray skin, but the voice was probably a contributing factor.

My grandmother nodded and held a hand out first to me, then to Tanner. “You’ve met my granddaughter, of course, and this is her business partner, Tanner Grace.”

“I did not expect to see you or your kin here… And your associate,” he added the last part nodding toward Tanner. “Though given the circumstances, that would seem to be a miscalculation. I should have anticipated that the one called Arnoff would seek your expertise.”

“And he’s sought yours too, has he?” Kaya Briggs asked, folding her arms across her chest. Despite what she might say, I could tell from her body language that she wasn’t comfortable around the Qharr. Given that his ancestor had been the slave master of her mother, Lexa Briggs, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Khala was no different. If she’d had insides that resembled anything but a blob of goo, they would have been twisting and turning. She made no appearance, but Lexa, or her shadow, or whatever the hell she was, wasn’t so shy. Her illusory form materialized, scowling up at the ambassador with undisguised hatred burning in her visage.

I glanced at my grandmother and furrowed my brow. Her mother had just materialized out of thin air and she didn’t even so much as bat an eyelash? When a voice whispered into my ear, understanding dawned on me.

‘They can’t see her, nobody can, except you and me,’ Khala said appearing a moment later, leaning against my shoulder.

‘Why?’ I thought toward her, not wishing to make our conversation public.

‘I can’t even begin to tell you.’ She shrugged and glided forward, stood beside my great grandmother’s form and tapped a finger against her temple. ‘All I can say is that she seems to have turned into a permanent fixture inside my head.’

‘You don’t have a head.’

‘Fair enough, I was attempting to borrow from your human vernacular. Suffice it to say, she’s become a permanent resident inside my consciousness.’

She disappeared so suddenly, with no fanfare, that I lurched back. I was quick to recover, my attention returning to Lexa and Nyvok. She paced back and forth before the towering Qharr, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but coughed, receiving a few odd looks from the others.

It had the desired effect, Lexa’s head snapped around and her brilliant magenta eyes focused on me. To the average person a joined host’s eyes were disconcerting, but for someone like me, who had spent most of his… ahem… her life around all things K’teth and Conclave, they didn’t trouble me so much. Lexa’s gaze on the other hand was so powerful, so very intense, that I took a step back when our eyes met.

“It’s amazing. A hundred and sixty years later and one of Duvak Nakyrr’s descendants wears the same face. I thought I had moved past the tortures inflicted on me, but when I see that mug, my blood just boils with hatred. Oh, how I want to pummel him and beat his face into mush like I did Duvak’s, but I can never act on those impulses. I’m just a shadow in Khala’s and my great-grandchild’s minds. The latter is so ashamed of my legacy that he wouldn’t even use my name.”

She took another step toward me, glanced back toward Nyvok, scowled and disappeared as Khala had. I found everyone in the groups’ eyes on me.

“Earth to Kayde, is anybody in there?” Tanner asked, waving a hand in front of my face.

I bit my lip, grabbed her hand out of the air and forced it away from my face. “I was just talking to Khala.”

“Right, well… Should have figured.”

I kneaded a hand into the back of my neck and grimaced before taking a few tentative steps forward. I paused long enough to wave the others on, then continued toward the UEAF ship. They got the message. Soon enough, they followed suit.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 13

03/14/2021

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CH 13

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

Sunlight.

I groaned and slipped under the covers. The fabric shifted and remolded around my bare body. I might have found it disconcerting if it wasn’t so damn comfortable. The wonders of technology. Blankets that never wadded or bunched under your body, but shifted to keep you covered and comfortable were a luxury item to be sure, but God I’d missed them.

With a sigh, I made a mental note to reprogram the shades, so they wouldn’t open at such an ungodly hour, like they did around the rest of my house. In the years during my absence, Athilda, the house’s artificial intelligence, probably overrode my preferences. The AI’s logic algorithms would see no reason to maintain my settings once I no longer lived there.

An intelligent being might have seen fit to restore them once I returned, but an AI might not always connect those dots. Human engineer gave our systems limits to their deductive reasoning systems by design to prevent a true intelligence arising. It happened in the past, and the results had been catastrophic. Only the Qharr invasion and subsequent occupation of Earth were more devastating to humanity.

I clenched my eyes shut, willing all my unbidden thoughts to go away and let myself drift back into the world of dreams, but as it so often happened my brain wouldn’t shut the hell up. I sighed and sat upright, brushing a few loose hair strands away from my face as I peered across the room at my reflection.

My hair looked as if it had come out on the losing side of a battle against a pack of disgruntled hair brushes, but other than that, I would never believe that the woman who peered back at me had just woken up. There were no bags under her eyes or droopy eyelids. Most gals would love to appear so fresh in the morning, but I only winced. Was I even completely human anymore, or some kind of weird hybrid? Some people would say it was an improvement, but I didn’t agree. Flaws gave people character, without them there would be nothing to define us.

I shuddered and looked away.

“Athilda,” I called out to the house’s AI, prepared to tell it to adjust the settings on the shields, but stopped myself. Instead, I looked around the room and rattled my skull back and forth. “If anyone comes looking for me, tell them, to leave me the hell alone.”

“As you wish.” Came her crisp, emotionless reply. Athilda had a habit of taking requests a bit too literal, which meant she’d end up using my exact phrasing. That thought alone was enough to bring a smirk to my face, but it soon faded away.

Many AIs could simulate emotions, but my grandmother eliminated all personality subroutines from Athilda’s storage banks. I couldn’t recall her exact reasoning, but I kind of preferred it that way. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that an AI was a simulation, Athilda’s dull dispassionate tones left no doubt what she was.

I thought about getting dressed, but stopped. I’d already decided that I would not leave my room for the day. Why the hell should I dress? I didn’t bother closing the blinds either, my bedroom was on the top floor and given that the closest home was just a little shy of half a kilometer away, there wasn’t much chance my exposed wanderings through my room would attract any peeping Toms.

It was my day, no one would tell me what to do or where to go. Solitude was what I was after, but the more I paced, naked as the day I was reborn, I was never so aware that I would never have privacy again.

“Khala,” I whispered. I didn’t intend to summon her, but my symbiote must have interpreted my use of her name that way.

“So you’re looking to be alone, today. Is that what’s going on here?”

“No shit, Sherlock. Do have any other brilliant deductions?” Okay, that came off harsh, but so fucking what?

I didn’t reply, but backed my plump ass into the wall and slid down onto my haunches, my knees pressing into my nipples. I studied my symbiote and frowned.

“Who am I?”

She knelt down across from me and shook her head. “You’re the same person. A different face doesn’t mean–”

“Doesn’t mean that I’m any different on the inside? Is that what you were going to say?”

“More or less.”

“When I was fifteen, I swore to myself that I’d never become bonded to a K’teth or join the conclave and now look at me. I’m bonded to you, not just any symbiote, but Khala, the most renown of your kind in the galaxy. The same one who was bonded to the great and mighty Lexa Briggs.”

“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Your protestations ring a bit hollow to me. You insult and demean me, decry my kind and yet at the end of the day when your life was nearing an end, you released me from the stasis pod and we became bonded.”

“I was near death,” I replied, but it sounded hollow, even to my ears.

“So that makes your convictions somehow less relevant? Or is it simple distaste for my kind, that makes you so antagonistic?”

“I don’t hate K’teth, if that’s what you think.” I met her gaze and released a deep sigh. “This is my life. I don’t want to live it being compared to Lexa. The best way to stand out if you’re a Briggs, is to not become host to a symbiote in the first place and most especially not a Queen.”

“Fair enough, but you’re bonded now. Could you dial down the hostility? I’ve bent over backwards trying to accommodate you. The least you could do is try to be a little more pleasant.”

“You don’t understand. Everything I’ve worked long and hard to make a name for myself, and now all that is moot. I should have just–”

“Just what? Left the Endeavour to drift in space?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to reply.

“Then I’d still be in stasis and your mother’s corpse would have remained frozen in space for untold eons.”

I so wanted to point out that I’d just followed coordinates given to me by Faioloese traders. There would have been a trail, someone would have followed up if I hadn’t, but the only words that I could croak out were “My mother”.

I cupped my face in my palms and closed my eyes, fighting back tears. Soon, a hand clasped my shoulder and looked to find that Khala was now sitting beside me. “You must have so many questions.”

I blinked and gawked at Khala with my mouth hanging open. All this time, I’d been so focused on the negative aspects of being joined that I didn’t consider there might be a way for me to benefit from the bond beyond the obvious reasons. Khala knew my mother, perhaps better than any being alive, and could cut through so much of the bullshit my grandmother fed me growing up.

Lexa… well, she was there too, but I was still trying to grapple with what that meant. She’d been there all those years, interacting with my mother, like Khala, but whether a shadow or the real consciousness of my great-grandmother herself, I had no idea. I wasn’t sure if either of my guests would be able to provide insight on that question, but Lexa’s presence set me on edge more than the symbiote ever could. She was, quite literally, the embodiment of everything I ever feared.

“Why did my mother leave?” It was the one question I’d been asking myself over and over for almost as long as I remembered. Kaya Briggs had always been evasive whenever the subject came up, and I’d never been able to wrangle a satisfying answer out of her.

I looked over at Khala and watched her bow her head and sigh. I was aware of another set of eyes on me, but I knew without shifting my gaze that they belonged to Lexa.

“Kaya didn’t tell you?”

“Kaya Briggs did what she does best, distort the truth.”

“Well, I can’t speak to Kaya’s reasons for–”

“Don’t defend her.” I stared back at her between gritted teeth. “Just tell me, please.”

Khala sighed again and rested her palm on the nape of my neck. “Your mother left because your father had an affair and she needed to get away from it all.”

All the puzzle pieces fell into place and a sob escape my lips as so many mysteries from my life made a lot more sense. Watt Briggs killed himself a few days after they called off the search for the Endeavour, but he’d been a mess long before that. Which is why I went to live with my grandmother instead of my father when my mother left.

My grandmother was always so circumspect about my father, but, as in all things, you can find answers if you knew where to turn. Like any family or social group there are gossips, but unfortunately when you turn to such an individual, in this case my Aunt Muriel, you have to filter through all the bullshit.

I remembered very little about Watt, but I was told I shared his temperament. I was not sure how to take that, considering he’d been a cheating, drinking layabout, but I tried not to read too much into it. I put myself into his shoes and let my imagination fill in the gaps. He blamed himself. If he hadn’t stepped out on my mother, she may not have left, and by extension she might not have disappeared. So, to escape his grief, he took his life.

“Shit,” I cursed, my hands shaking as I looked at Khala. “So that woman in your memories, the one she called her pichoncita, was her lover?”

Khala frowned, but nodded in acknowledgment. “Yes.”

Well, at least I knew the truth. My mother had been having an extramarital affair, in the technical sense, if not in spirit. Though she’d yet to file the right paperwork, their marriage was over.

I rose to my feet and turned my back to the pair of them. I was all too aware of my very naked body and I blushed with the realization that I was holding this conversation in the nude, but while it seemed as if they were staring at my exposed body, Khala and Lexa saw only through my eyes. Nothing in my line of sight revealed my nakedness to them, but I would have almost no chance of hiding anything from them.

“Tell me about my mother.”

Khala spoke with a steady, gentle whisper as she told me of my mother in simple words. There was a warmth in the way she spoke, and I felt somehow comforted in knowing that there was a being who loved my mother with all her soul. This put a smile on my face.

separator
Two more days passed, and I remained shut inside my bedroom the entire time, save to relieve myself. On the third day, the world intruded upon my solitude. I suppose I would have found my own way, given enough time, but hell, was it too much to ask for some alone time?

I woke with a start early that morning, sensing a shadow hanging over me. I squinted, brightness assaulting my eyes where before there was only a comfortable all-encompassing darkness.

“Kayde?” A soft and silky smooth voice asked from out of the abominable illumination.

I jerked upright, glanced down, and pulled the covers over my breasts. I squinted again, trying to clear my vision, and stared off into space until my tired eyes adjusted to take in the room around me.

“Tanner?” I asked, my mind still mired in grogginess.

“Yes, sunshine, it’s Tanner. Now would you get up, already?”

I groaned, fell back into bed, curled up inside my blanket and turned away. 

“Come back in an hour, Kayde’s not in right now.”

She ripped my blankets free and grabbed me by the shoulder and forced me to match gazes. “We gave you two days to wallow in self-pity, now it’s time to rejoin the world, princess.”

The gears and cogs in my head were starting to turn, and I scowled and forced her hands away. Given my recent transformation, I might object to Tanner’s adoption of the term ‘princess’, but she whipped that one out whenever someone acted like a crybaby or was being self-involved. I knew which applied to me, but I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of admitting it.

My cheeks scorching, I started to rethink the whole sleeping topless thing. This wasn’t the first time that Tanner barged into my quarters while I was asleep, nor did I believe it would be the last. Now that I sported a set of bazoongas, the whole scenario was a tad more awkward. Even if she possessed a pair of her own.

“Tanner, is that really necessary?”

She paused, made a big show as if thinking about it, before nodding “Definitely.”

“You might have at least let me stay covered up.”

She cocked her head, cracked a smile, and leaned in so she could get a good look at my breasts. “Nah, then I wouldn’t get such a good gander of the goods.”

She snorted and exploded into a fit of giggles as I stormed through my room. I grabbed the first top I got hold of, a sweater which had been sitting in that dresser since I was about sixteen, and slipped it over my head. It seemed huuuge on my tiny little frame, but at least it gave me back some little smidgeon of my modesty.

“Tanner, I don’t have any idea what you’re hoping to accomplish, but I really think I need to–”

“You are going to get your stinky ass in the shower, then the two of us are going out on a little shopping excursion.”

My eyes scanned her, raised a single eyebrow and tucked my arms over my chest. “Oh?”

“You need clothes. Stuff that actually fits and oh, maybe a bra or three! Look at you Kayde, you’re a mess. The sooner you get this over with, the sooner you can get your life back in order.”

I paused, expecting the disembodied voice of either Alexana or Khala to chime in and offer some unwelcome and sage advice, but by some small mercy neither did. I pursed my lips and dropped my fists.

“Fine.”

The next thing I knew, Tanner had thrown her arms around me and my face burned again. Her embrace invoked certain interesting… warm and tingly thoughts. Her lips pressed against mine, a bit of panting, and a helluva lot of heaving… and her penis sliding into my new vulva. I stiffened, my eyes growing wide, and pushed her away. Tanner stumbled back a few steps, braced herself against the wall and peered at me like a deer caught in headlights.

“Sorry,” I whispered and cleared my throat. Despite my new diminutive stature, as a joined host I could snap Tanner in two. “Still don’t know my strength.”

“Look, I’ll get cleaned up and meet you outside in, say thirty minutes?”

Tanner nodded and disappeared out of the room. I let out a sigh of relief and made a beeline for the adjoining facilities. As I closed the door behind me and undressed, I realized Tanner had been right about one thing, I really did smell bad.
separator
A long shower, and a good fifty minutes later Tanner pulled me kicking and screaming into the daylight. Okay, so there wasn’t so much a violent struggle as several muttered curses and a lot of grumbling, but I had to get that visual in there. Despite my complaints, I did see Tanner’s point. I needed clothes and it wouldn’t do me any good to keep myself holed up while the world moved on without me.

Getting ready had been easy, I mean I only had one outfit that fit. I wore the same clothes I had the day of my transformation, save for a fresh pair of panties. My grandmother had seen fit that the cleaning staff laundered that outfit while I’d been wallowing in my own misery. 

I expected the cold to assault me when I stepped out into the open, but when I did find myself outside, a pleasant breeze wafted through the air. Though it had been cold and unpleasant such a short time ago, it was now a more seasonable temperature.  

Despite my condition, I couldn’t help but smile. This was home, the place I’d spent years of my youth trying to escape. Now that I had realized my worst fears, a growing part of me wouldn’t mind if I stayed. That’s not to say that I still wasn’t itching to run for the hills, but it wasn’t as much of a driving force as it had once been.

I glanced at Tanner, who looked at me between pursed lips. She looked worried, which freaked me out a little.

“Kayde, I’m sorry if I went a little far this morning. I thought…”

“That you’d continue our little game.” I finished rubbing a hand across the back of my neck. “Forget it, it’s fine.”

“Good, but it’s time we moved past these games, and the innuendos that never lead to anything. I crossed a line just now, and I should never have treated you that way. I think what happened the other night, took things to a different level.”

“Jek…” She winced. “Sorry, Kayde. You should know that the whole K’teth thing, and your transformation… None of it’s a deal breaker for me.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, as a car pulled up in front of us, and stared at my business partner with a slack jaw. This talk was a long time in coming, but I hadn’t quite expected it so soon. I always suspected Tanner might be at least bi-curious. The furtive glances she cast toward other women’s posteriors or the times her eyes lingered on a nice bit of cleavage were enough to arouse my suspicions, but there’d always been a little of doubt in my mind.

“Tanner, we’ve been over this. I need time to get my bearings before I can even think about it.” My hand reached out for the car door, but I held it there without opening it.

“I understand, trust me.” She took a step back and brushed a few stray locks out of her eyes. “After our night together and… Everything else, I was worried that your feelings had changed.”

I bowed my head and erupted into a frenzy of manic laughter. My fingers slid free from the door panel and I grabbed her by the shoulders. 

“I have no idea what I feel right now. Everything is so confused and jumbled, I’m struggling to sort it all out. Fuck, I’m not even sure which team I’m batting for anymore. I realized my sexuality wasn’t quite as hetero as I’d led myself to believe, but now… I got these.”

I cupped my breasts in my hands, then dropped them, clasping my fingers around the panel again. “Once, I get everything sorted out… Believe me, if there is ever a time where I think we can take the next step, you’ll be the first I tell.”

Tanner pressed her lips together and nodded. I pulled the door open and held it, waiting for her to climb inside. She leaned in, furrowed her brows and kneaded a hand along the base of her neck. “Uh, Mrs. Briggs, I didn’t realize you would be coming along.”

“There’s been a change of plan. Get inside the both of you. We need to get to the spaceport.” My grandmother’s muffled reply came from within the vehicle.

“What? Why?”

My grandmother leaned forward, peering through the doorway, matching gazes with me. “There’s been an attack from a creature very much like the one you encountered on the Endeavour.”

“Well gee,Ttat sounds like fun and all, but, say, here’s a better idea: why don’t we all just book our asses the hell out of here. If you’d seen what those creatures can do, trust me, we’re much better off putting as much distance as we can between us and that thing.” I said and turned as if to leave, but stopped when Tanner clasped her grip on my left shoulder.

“Enough with the smart mouth, the creature is dead. I doubt it would pose a threat.” My grandmother replied, teeth gritted.

I shook the ol’ noggin and glowered at my grandmother as I climbed into the vehicle. Once Tanner was inside, the car took off. Despite Kaya Briggs’ reassurances, I suspected that some major shit was going to go down.
separator
“You have a ship prepped?” Tanner asked, staring out the window, her hands tracing across the seal as our craft hovered across the landscape toward the spaceport.

“Not as such, the conclave’s ship is in use and my personal transport is… Under repair.”

This drew Tanner out of her daze and she turned to stare at Kaya Briggs with unblinking eyes. “How do you plan on getting to wherever the hell we’re going then?”

“The UEAF, has been gracious enough to send transportation.”

I leaned forward in my seat, folding my arms across my chest, but blushed and lowered them the moment they pressed into the globes on my chest. 

“Isn’t air or even star travel going to be problematic? I mean, my IDEC doesn’t exactly match this mug…” 

I ran a hand across my face and paused, glancing at my hand in surprise. My skin was so soft, so like a baby’s that it seemed… almost alien. Few women had such smooth skin, but I guess it made a sort of sense. 

Khala had remade my body from the cellular level. In some respects, it was like that of a newborn. My flesh was newly grown, which meant it hadn’t seen years of wear against the elements. It also made me look younger than I was, which some would say was a bonus. I wasn’t so sure of that. 

“Uh… Jek?” 

Tanner’s hand clenched my shoulder. I coughed and shook my head. I didn’t call attention to her use of the wrong name. I cringed, but couldn’t say why.

“Sorry, I was just, um, thinking,” I said, looking into my hands as I rubbed my finger together.

“Right, well. Your IDEC shouldn’t be an issue, the Colonel’s men have been fully appraised of your situation and they took measures to ensure you can pass through security.”

“Since we’re on the subject. Shouldn’t I, I don’t know, do something about my identity chip? In the off chance, I get the opportunity to have a real life?

“I’ve already made arrangements for that. It should take a few weeks, but once all the proper forms have been processed, you will have your IDEC reprogrammed.”

“Well then, yay for that.” I waved my hands up into the air, making a show of being excited, but the truth was I had mixed feelings about getting my IDEC updated. If I wanted to travel or continue to run my business, I needed a valid form of identification, but it also meant once it was changed, as far as the UEA government was concerned, I was and would always have been Kaydence Briggs.

My display of enthusiasm didn’t come across as sincere, no surprise there, as both Tanner and my grandmother rolled their eyes.

“I almost hate to say this, but since we’ll be out and about, is there any way we could hit the stores? If I’m going to keep wearing a bra, I would like one that fits a little better. This one hurts.”

Good Lord, what the hell was I saying? I held my hand up, gritted my teeth then pointed a finger at first my grandmother then Tanner.

“Wait! I swear to God, if either one of you makes a jab about me wanting to shop, I will get out of this damn car. Shopping is the last thing I want to do.”

I paused, brushing the hair from my face, but felt my cheeks burn anew as I realized just how feminine the gesture must have looked. “It’s a matter of necessity. I need clothes, but I don’t want them. Shopping is not exactly something I’ll enjoy.”

My grandmother nodded, an expression on her face that was hard to read. Tanner smiled and rested a reassuring palm on my shoulder. If anyone understood my predicament, it was her. She’d gone through the same experience, but in reverse.

There was just one little problem. Her touch invoked thoughts of our lovemaking and produced the slightest shiver. I guess she sensed my discomfort. Tanner’s eyes grew wide. She withdrew her hand and bit her lip. I felt like a great big transphobe, but I couldn’t get the image of her dick ramming its way up my ass, out of my thick skull. It made me uncomfortable, and… a bit turned on. 

Never mind that I’d been the one to butt-fuck her, my imagination had created this image that freaked me the fuck out. Granted I was a woman now, and you know joined hosts had a history of changing sexual preferences when they underwent their transformations, but Tanner didn’t land on the male side of the gender spectrum. So where did that leave me?

Frankly, I’d been attracted to her before I changed, so it didn’t offer me any more clarity. It was confusing as hell, and I just wished I’d find some way to come to terms with the whole mess.

One day, very soon, I would have to decide, but for now I was more than happy wallowing in self-misery. Hey, I’m nothing if not honest… at least when it comes to me.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 12

03/06/2021

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CH 12

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

“Dammit, it’s hot,” A voice spoke disembodied at first, but Khala’s memories resolved before me. They granted a view of a brilliant violet sky, cementing the idea that I was looking upon an alien world. My head craned around, or rather, I reminded myself, not mine, but the person whose eyes I saw through, that of my mother.

In the distance, the violet sky framed a red and baren world, a harsh desert which showed almost no signs of life. A stray plant, growing through a crack in the rock, or a half-dead brown huddled mass with spines, quivering more than a dozen meters away, just visible behind a cluster of boulders. The world was dying, its fate sealed centuries ago, probably before humanity had ever reached out to the stars.

I caught a whiff of roses, a scent that I’d always associated with my mother and a hand slid against my forehead, Sofia’s forehead, wiping sweat and dirt free as she hunkered down next to a pale-skinned, dark-haired fellow with a zigzag scar on his temple.

“Find anything?”

It was odd hearing my mother speak after so long. I wouldn’t have recognized her soft feminine voice at all, if it weren’t for her unique inflection, the barest hint of a central American accent combined with the tiniest impression of a Texas drawl. She’d lived all over the world, an archaeologist who dedicated her life to uncover evidence of the Phyrr Lesch on Earth, but she spent two of the biggest chunks of her life in those two areas.

Given her career choice, it was obvious why she had been so quick to join the Endeavour expedition.

“Something,” the man nodded, panting, and taking a sip from the tube of a hydration pack. “Can’t tell yet if it’s anything of note, might be just another damned stone. If you ask me, we’re wasting our time here.”

He glanced up, eyes lingering on my mother’s chest, which I’m ashamed to admit it took me a few seconds to realize he was staring at her breasts. 

‘I wished he’d stop doing that.’ My mother’s voice said, echoing around in my skull.

‘I supposed you would be used to it by now. Humans get so hung up on these things. You’re an attractive woman and its simple animal instinct.’ Khala’s replied.

“Wait,” the man said, running his hands dusting dirt away from a smooth surface.

My mother leaned over the hole he had dug. “Is that a light?”

The two met each other’s gazes but didn’t say a single word before they both started tearing into the soil with their hands, throwing clumps of dirt away from the light without seeming to care where it might go. Within a few minutes, the two had unearthed a simple box that looked to be the same one I’d found aboard the derelict Endeavour all those years later.

“It’s sealed,” the man looked up, glancing at my mother’s chest one more time before meeting her gaze.

Sofia’s neck craned around, peering toward the horizon where the red sun was retreating, pale yellows and brilliant magentas already appearing in the soon to be darkened sky. “It’ll be night soon. Let’s get this thing up to the Endeavour. There we can set up a clean-room environment and get it opened up. Hopefully, it’ll shed some light on this place.”

She turned away, moving toward a dark hulking mass that may have been one of the Endeavour’s support pods. I never found out. The scene darkened, fading away into Khala’s consciousness, replaced by a new scene within the Endeavour’s bridge.

My mother was standing, glancing down at the pilot, the same young woman, whose dead body I had unstrapped from her seat. “What is it?”

The young woman’s voice was shrill, so high-pitched I winced upon hearing her speak, but I listened, hoping to learn some world-shattering truth. That was wishful thinking, but, even so, I was hearing the words of a dead woman. Something one of them said could provide some clue. I just hoped that if there was any subtext behind their words, I’d pick up on it. 

“For all we know it could contain a Phyrr Lesch recipe for pupusas de chicharrón,” my mother stated the remnants of her Salvadoran accent, never so evident as in that moment especially when she rolled the double ‘r’s in Phyrr Lesch and chicharrón.

“I just hope whatever it is, we find out soon.” The pilot replied, her face stretching into a grin, as she gazed up at my mother with a smile. “It’s been three months and I’m already itchy for some action. Something needs to happen.”

Sofia Briggs bent over, kissing the young woman on the cheek, and placed both of her hands on her shoulders. “And it might be another three months. Don’t worry, mi pichoncita, the wait will be worth it, I’m sure of it.”

To say that it surprised me that my mother seemed to have such an… intimate relationship with the other woman was an understatement. I had no clue she’d ever shown the slightest bit of sexual interest in women, and, in that regard, I didn’t care. What upset me was that she would be so flirty with anyone while my father was still alive. It seemed like a betrayal, and it hit me like a physical blow to the stomach. A sob escaped my mouth, but by some mercy I had little time to mull it over. Khala’s memories soon took a very different turn.

“Uh, I’m getting something here,” a voice said from across the bridge, a man in his late thirties, and another face I recognized from among the corpses aboard the Endeavour. “It’s big… Might be a ship.”

“Can’t be. If it were a ship, there’s no way it could–” My mother’s lover stopped mid-sentence, her hands sliding across the control surface. Before spinning around in her seat and matching the gaze of the captain. “He’s right, sir. The computer isn’t able to recognize the configuration or the energy signature, but it is a ship.”

“Try opening a communications line. Something tells me that this new–“

“They just opened fire, sir.”

“Evasive maneuvers. Return fire.”

“Sir, I’m detecting an alien life sign in the corridors. I don’t understand how, but they seem to have penetrated our shields.”

The entire ship rocked, and my mom just caught herself on the console before taking off running toward the exit, all the while cursing under her breath. “¡Hijo de puta! La caja!”

Soon she was running through the corridors at a speed that only a joined host could match. Not even slowing when she hit the corners, but rather running across the side of the wall and to the floor again. Given her speed, she reached the research area in a fraction of the time that I had in my explorations, inputting her code, and bolting through the door the moment it slid open.

“¡Gracias a Dios!” She exclaimed upon entering. “It’s still here.”

She moved across the room, stopping just shy of the counter. A single gasp escaping her lips as her hands grabbed at her chest where a giant fist had struck, cleaving clean through her back and out the front right through her heart. The hands slid free and my mother collapsed to the ground, having suffered a blow even Khala could not heal, my mother made use of her few remaining seconds. I was no doctor, but something told me that it was Khala’s abilities keeping my mother alive in those precious few moments. Her hands went for her waist and she unhooked the stasis pod from her belt, clenching it in her hand.

“Khala,” she spoke the symbiote’s name. “If you ever see–” She never finished, a gurgle escaped from her mouth and the light, which twinkled in her eyes, faded away. I imagined the thoughts that must have been going through her mind. Had her final recollections been of me, or perhaps my father? Trembles racked my frame, and tears welled up in my eyes as the image of the Conclave chamber supplanted Khala’s remembrances.

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As the sights and sounds of the real world returned to me, my head tilted around the room looking from face to face and it wasn’t until sound escaped my lips that I realized Khala was still running the show. Tears were streaming down my face, but whether they were mine or Khala’s I couldn’t even guess. Khala relinquished her control over my body and my grandmother’s arms wrapped around me.

It was odd having so much twisted into one big knot inside of my stomach. Cold chills wriggled down my back in response to what just witnessed. Red hot fire flushed my cheeks as my mind seethed at what that creature did to my mom, and hot tears stung the corners of my eyes over what had been lost. I stiffened. Kaya Briggs clenched me so close that my breasts were throbbing. The resulting awareness of my feminine form turned my cheeks an even brighter shade of red. I should be focused on the matter of the Endeavour and my mother’s death, but having these sensations, so new and unfamiliar, only served to highlight how different my body had become.

I almost pushed my grandmother away, when I sensed eyes on me, but I had enough tact to realize that would have been a bad idea. My grandmother came to her senses and released her hold. She snapped around as Colonel Cayne cleared his throat.

“Everything that, the parasite was kind enough to show, coincides with what we’ve been able to gather. We aren’t certain, but the Endeavour’s logs and navigation data were wiped. Given Meinhoff, the Colonel in command’s, psychological profile and UEAF standard procedures, I suspect he ordered the ship into a blind leap and destroyed the logs after failing to activate the self-destruct mechanism, which was damaged by the initial attack.”

“And why would he do that?” The lean woman with prominent crow’s feet asked.

Cayne clenched his jaw and met her gaze without blinking. “If Meinhoff had an incling that these mysterious aggressors were a threat to Earth, he would have sacrificed every single member of the crew. I never knew the man, but I have read his psychological profile. There was nothing he wouldn’t have done in the defense of Earth and the outlying colonies. He might have sabotaged the ship given enough time, but we’ve found no evidence of that which suggests he may have taken the only action open to him before his death.”

“And the missing crew member?” My grandmother asked.

“We don’t have any idea. The mysterious aggressors may have abducted her, or perhaps she’s drifting in the missing pod, in some godforsaken void halfway across the galaxy. With no evidence, we can only speculate.”

“This is troubling,” an unfamiliar voice spoke, letting out a high-pitched wail, prompting several council members to take furtive steps back. The Dexagarmetrax dignitary stood dwarfing everyone else in the room, including Vakrexid and Nyvok. “Whoever or whatever attacked the Endeavour represents a genuine threat. Hetzapledra does not believe we should ignore it.”

“Nor I,” Nyvok said, rising to his feet. “I have at my disposal, the destroyer Qellanas, and it’s likely I can convince the High Gieff Huntmaster to lend me one, perhaps two more destroyers. With that sort of firepower we could assist the United Earth Alliance in routing out this new threat.”

“Indeed,” the Dexagarmetrax ambassador spoke. “Hetzapledra cannot make promises without first conferring with my government, but Hetzapledra can say that there will be much eagerness to join in the investigation if there is even the slightest possibility of discovering the secrets of the originators.”

“Thank you.” Cayne nodded.  “I appreciate your offer of aid, but as I am not authorized to organize a strike force, I cannot commit to any course of action. Later today, I’ll be briefing General Arnhoff, and I’ll pass along your sentiments. The Endeavour’s recovery is a piece of a much larger puzzle. We need to consider this creature that Ms. Briggs…”

He paused, holding his hand out to me. “Was kind enough to recover which is, in and of itself, quite the specimen.”

“Our scientists are examining the corpse, but we can infer something very important from its existence. Our mysterious friends, whoever they may be, have created a mindless beast to do their bidding. Which means we can ascertain two key details about its existence.”

“And what would those reasons be, Colonel?” Nyvok asked.

“I would think it would be obvious, they don’t wish anyone to see them.”

“And the other reason?” I asked, reassessing my initial appraisal of Cayne. He was a cold-hearted and insufferable jackass, but he was far more intelligent than I’d given him credit.

“That they believe this creature is so formidable that they don’t see a reason to give it more than the most rudimentary intelligence and given that it was able to massacre the Endeavour’s crew they would seem to have very good reasons to believe this.”

“It almost got me too… If it hadn’t been for Khala, it might have been another twenty years before someone found the Endeavour again.”

“Ladies, gentlemen, enbies please try to remember that this is a formal meeting, things are getting a bit… out of hand.” My grandmother spoke up, having regained her composure.

“If it’s just the same to you, Chairperson Briggs, I believe it’s time I leave. The General will want to hear about all this and I believe we’ve covered the important pieces.”

“That’s it?” I blurted out before I even realized I’d spoken. “What are we supposed to do now?”

Cayne glowered and shook his head. “We wait.”

He took a dozen steps as if to leave, then paused, and glanced back at us, the scowl still on his face. “And pray our new friends don’t come out to play again.”

He left, the door slamming shut behind him, his footsteps beating against the floorboards for several seconds until it faded away. No one spoke, but we all were hanging on those last few words. I couldn’t speak for the others, but what they had left me wondering whether anything in the world would ever be right again. The biggest problem? I was pretty sure that I was right on the money.

separator

The council dispersed after Cayne’s departure and I made my own excuses, departing for the Briggs estates. I considered booking a hotel room, but that was just a little difficult considering I didn’t have any valid identification that matched my new body. Until I could update my IDEC, the only sort of places I could get into wouldn’t have been on the up and up.

At least my grandmother and Tanner had respected my pleas for solitude and I retreated to my room, never so eager to be alone. Perhaps, they sensed, what I would never speak aloud. I’d seen myself naked, after my initial transformation, but I hadn’t had the time to process everything and get a feel for my body. Now that I had some alone time, that was about to change.

I stripped out of my clothes, letting my jacket and top fall into a heap on the ground in front of the full-length mirror on the southern wall of the room. I was short, not that I’d ever been very tall, but I’d lost at least fifteen centimeters. There were more than a few people in the Briggs family who were vertically challenged. Which for most of my family, was a trait inherited from Lily, but in my case, my new diminutive stature may have had more to do with Sofia Briggs, who had been just a few centimeters shy of my current height.

I stared at my reflection, scowling at the pretty girl who was looking back at me. Hands slipping behind my back, I unhooked the bra. I closed my eyes, exhaling in relief, and stood there with my hands cupped around my bare breasts.

“This is so weird.” I whispered. I sensed movement and my eyes snapped open, taking in the sight of a tall statuesque woman with blue hair and the most intense magenta eyes I’d ever looked into.

“Holy hell!” I let out an ear-splitting and totally manly scream, before I backed away, covering up as best as I could with my bare hands.

“I told you we should have warned him,” the woman said, folding her arms across her chest and glancing toward the space where Khala appeared out of the nothingness.

“What the actual fuck is going on?” I asked, between clenched teeth.

I turned to my symbiote’s conjured form, hoping for some sort of explanation, but as I got a better look at the intruder, I got an odd feeling I’d seen her somewhere before. Then it struck me, and my breath caught in my throat.

“You’re dead!”

“Well, yes, technically.”

I dropped my arms, abandoning my futile efforts to cover my chest, and rounded on the form of my deceased ancestor. When I pounced on her, my fingers passed through empty air. With both fists clenched at my sides, I rounded on Khala and repeated my question.

“What is going on?”

“How much has your grandmother told you about the final battle for Earth?”

“A lot, can’t say I was listening to much of it, but she was always droning on about it, so I suppose at least some of what she told me must have stuck in my head.”

“Did she ever explain to you that the mental bond between Lexa and I underwent a fundamental change after we defeated Jykarr Bynd?”

“Yeah,” I bit my lip and glanced towards Alexana Briggs, feeling those eyes pierce into my soul. “Something about your emotions and thoughts being much closer to the surface to the point that you knew what the other was thinking, and you had some electrical discharge thingy that let you disable a bunch of Qharr hunters at once.”

Khala nodded, a smile touching the corner of her lip as her eyes darted toward Lexa. “Not how I’d put it, but yes, more or less.”

“I’m guessing this somehow leads to the part where you explain why there’s a weird facsimile of Lexa Briggs is standing in the middle of my bedroom.”

“Yes, you see, our bond left an imprint of Lexa’s consciousness upon my mind.”

“So, this is Lexa Briggs?” I glanced toward Lexa, who smiled and shrugged.

“Well, that depends on whether you believe that I’m greater than the sum of my memories and experiences.” The shadow of my ancestor spoke, pacing and every now and then glanced my way.

“Did my Mom know about this?”

“Yes,” both symbiote and great-grandmother answered in perfect unison.

“And my grandmother?”

Lexa shook her head and tucked her hands under her armpits. “My passing was very hard on Kaya. To find out that my consciousness had continued on inside of your mother would have been very difficult for her to accept.”

“So, that’s a no.”

“Wait, that weird double scream I heard when we first met that gray skin ambassador, Nyvok. That was you and Lexa, wasn’t it?” I asked, spinning around on the balls of my feet to stare each down before my gaze settled on my great-grandmother.

“Guilty,” she replied with a shrug.

“This is weird, maybe weirder than these.” I cupped my breasts and shook my head, my heart pounding inside my chest.

“That I know a little something about,” Lexa folded her arms. “That’s why we decided it was time for you to know about me. I can help you, guide you through this troublesome time, help you become the woman that society expects you to be.”

“And if I decide that path isn’t for me?”

Lexa bit her lips and let out a sigh. “I guess we’ll come to that road after your year is up.”

I shivered, not because it was cold, in fact my room was toasty, but because the whole thing was all sorts of freaky. Being saddled with Khala was bad enough, but to learn that the vaunted Senator Briggs’ consciousness was rattling around inside my head, had kicked the creepiness factor clear up to a ten. Which is to say, not as creepy as a ship full of corpses, but still up there.

I bowed my head and erupted into a fit of hysterical giggles. I know with everything that had happened, my head wasn’t screwed on just right, but hadn’t realized how close I was to breaking.

“This isn’t going so well…” Lexa spoke, glancing sideways at Khala.

“You think!?” I yelled, my eyes just about ready to bulge out of my head.

I turned my back to the pair of them and dropped my pants, then without another word I collapsed into bed. Closing my eyes, I willed both to just go away. I guess it worked because I didn’t hear so much as a peep from them for the rest of the night. Instead, I spent my time staring into space, lost deep in thought. Terrified of what new twist the coming day would bring.

By some small mercy I drifted off to sleep and my subconscious mind took me to a place far, far away.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 11

02/28/2021

CH 11

Kingsburgh, California, Conclave Headquarters

“Ow! God dammit, what the hell are you doing back there?” I slipped my hand over my left shoulder, only to have it pushed away.

“This one won’t do,” Tanner said, all the pressure on my chest disappearing as she released her hold on the bra. I wrenched it free and spun around to face her bare chested, the bra clenched in my fist.

“Geez, the fucking Louise, why the hell do you women wear these things?”

Tanner pursed her lips, eyes never once leaving my breasts, before she coughed and averted her gaze. “Believe me, a well-fitting bra is a heaven-send. We don’t have that luxury right now, but I believe we should be able to find a close fit.”

I glared at the haphazard heap of bras, my grandmother’s assistant had brought in and grimaced, more than a little put-off by the prospect of trying each one out. There had to be at least a dozen for God sakes!

“You know,” I said, cupping both breasts in my hand. “These girls are pretty damn firm. Do I really need one of those things?”

Tanner grabbed me by both shoulders, guided me around to face the north wall and snatched a fourth bra from the pile, a little larger than the last one. “Maybe if we had some pasties, but the tops they brought are all made of thin material. If you want your nipples to show through, that’s your business, but given you’re about to meet with the Conclave Council it might give them the wrong impression.”

“Fine.”

I gritted my teeth and raised my arms, allowing Tanner to slip this newest assault to my masculinity over my chest. When she pulled the straps tight and hooked them in place, I reached one hand down, testing the straps. She’d found one that seemed to fit. Thank God.

“Turn around.”

I obeyed and lurched back when Tanner reached out to cup my breasts. She shook her head, snorted and let out a little chuckle before grabbing me by the hand and pulling me close again. This time her hands moved across the underside of my boobs, pinching a glob of flesh between two fingers.

“Not a perfect fit. See here where you got a little hanging out,” she said wiggling her fingers. “That means this one is a little small. We can try out a few others if you like, but I think we were lucky to find this close of a fit.”

I glanced at the stack of bras, shivered, and shook my head. “Yeah, I can live with it.”

“I thought you’d say that.” She grinned and backed away, grabbing another bag, and dumping it onto the counter. She started picking through the heap and retrieved a couple sets of pants and tossed them my way.

“Try those on for size.”

I did as she instructed, more than a little surprised that the first pair fit pretty well. I half expected her to insist I tried the others, but all she did was nod and start throwing shirts my way. The first was too tight, I couldn’t even get the damn thing to slip over my breasts. The second wasn’t as bad, but it was way too long on my tiny frame. The third was too big, so were the fourth, fifth, and sixth, which all wound up looking like tents on me. I had a winner with the seventh, a simple, and very soft white blouse that hugged my curves, in all the right or wrong ways depending on how you looked at it.

“Not bad, but it needs something more.” She glanced around, eying the massive mound of clothes and frowned. She paused a moment, before slipping her hands inside another bag producing a leather jacket. “Try this.”

I yanked it from her hands and slipped it on. The leather was nice and supple and cool to the touch. I’d always had a thing for leather, and once I had the jacket resting on my shoulders, it seemed like I’d recovered an old part of myself. Nevermind that it was sized to fit a woman, it was very much the sort of thing I would wear. Just because I was swinging for the opposite team, didn’t mean my taste in clothes had to change.

Tanner slipped around my back, her hands sliding inside the neck of the jacket and pulled my hair free.

“Thanks, still haven’t gotten used to all this hair.”

I blushed, my hands sliding up my neck to collect the loose locks after she released them. I paused and grimaced, realizing that I had no idea what I had done with my scrunchie.

“Dammit, how the hell am I supposed to put my hair in a ponytail now?”

“Here,” Tanner said, grabbing hold of my locks again. “Let me put it in a braid. You’re lucky I know how to finish one without an elastic.”

I let my hands fall away and grimaced as she tugged on my hair, twisting and turning different strands in her hands. She finished yanking on the new braid hard enough for me to wince, but even I wasn’t baby enough to complain about that.

“Dammit Tanner, take it easy, would you?”

Okay, maybe I lied. I grimaced and whipped the braid around, eyed the tip. “This is how you end a braid without a hair tie? Make a knot in the end?”

“People have been using that method for hundreds of years,” she replied, putting both hands on her hips.

“You can tell. It looks like something a medieval peasant girl might sport.” I sighed, dropping the braid and shaking my head. “I’m sorry, it’s just this whole thing has got me all twisted around. Getting bonded to a symbiote and turned into a woman is everything I’ve ever feared. I’m due to meet the Conclave Council any minute now and I just feel like everything that makes me, me, has been stripped away. I’m not sure I’m even myself anymore.”

She cupped my face and touched her forehead to mine. It was an intimate gesture, but I didn’t pull away even though my heart was hammering in my chest. Tanner’s presence was the one thing that made me feel as if I had some control over the situation. My business partner represented the life I had chosen for myself, not the one the great Kaya Briggs had been trying to push me into for as long as I could remember. True, Tanner’d kept secrets, but so had I. I couldn’t blame her given the way I had reacted.

“You’re still Jek.” She smiled and her hands grasped my shoulders. “A set of mammaries doesn’t define who you are, but I won’t lie. When you have more estrogen pumping through your veins, your perspective does change and your emotions are so much more potent, but it doesn’t change you at the core. Your interests, and personality aren’t just going to fly out the window. You are who you are, regardless of your sex.”

I nodded and pulled away, letting just the slightest bit of a smile touch the corner of my lips. “Thank you.”

There were so many things I wanted to say right there and then, but whatever opportunity we might have had to get our feelings out in the open was ruined when the door slid open to reveal my grandmother’s aging form. All my pent up hostility toward her bubbled to the surface as she waltzed into the room. I bit my tongue, forcing back all the angry words I was so close to spewing out.

My grandmother got right down to business, informing us that the council would meet any moment and it was time to go. So, I let her lead me away, glancing back at Tanner as she called after us, wishing me good luck. I had no clue what my grandmother had in store, but something told me it would not be an experience I enjoyed.

separator

The conference room stood out from the other ones within the Conclave’s walls. Not only was it a fair bit bigger than the rest, able to accommodate a massive mahogany conference table with room to spare, but the walls were black. Now, I don’t mean, it was that dark shade we call ‘black’. This was much, much darker, the complete absence of any sort of any pigment. You couldn’t see any shadow against its surface or even tell where the damn corners were without feeling for them.

It was a bit disconcerting, but the floors were just the regular carpeted variety, so you had a good idea how big the room was without having to worry about walking into the wall. I couldn’t begin to guess why the Conclave would have designed the room in such a way. I’m sure there was an excellent reason for such an odd accommodation, I just didn’t know what it was.

My grandmother pulled two chairs out at the end of the table and motioned for me to sit beside her. I peered about, getting my first good look at all those who had already congregated around the table. There were thirteen other humans aside from myself and my grandmother, all but one of them sporting the telltale locks of a joined host. I recognized the odd man out as Colonel Cayne, and he looked no less intimidating than he had the last time I’d met him, especially when his gaze turned my way, and a frown creased his features.

The other three occupants of the room weren’t human, but all were of Terran descent. Two were Dexagarmetrax, the doctor and a violet-skinned individual who was not only broad-shouldered for a member of their race but also towered over Vakrexid by more than a head, the final was a Qharr and the only one in the galaxy I would have recognized, though our only encounter was brief, Ambassador Nyvok Nakyrr.

“Ladies and gentleman, I have the pleasure of welcoming Colonel Cayne, of the United Earth Alliance Fleet here with us today, and an Ambassador from Dexagarmetraxia, who as many of you should know customs forbid us from speaking her name, our own doctor who I won’t label for the same reasons, and Plenipotentiary Nyvok Nakyrr of the Gieff Ascendancy. Though our meetings tend to be more informal, we will follow the formal protocol as set apart in section nine paragraph three of our bylaws. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Conclave protocol, I may give only one person the floor at once, and as chairperson I will decide who may speak at my discretion. To request the floor, you may press the small yellow indent on the table in front of you.”

She paused, glancing toward me, and smiled before returning her gaze to the circle of people. “This young lady beside me is Kaydence Briggs, the newest initiate of the Conclave, and my granddaughter, who you will all recognize better by her birth name Jellfree.”

Given how K’teth queens were well-known for transforming male hosts into women, it made sense that she wouldn’t need to inform the rest of the council about my apparent shift in gender, but, to me, it just seemed like an odd omission given that Cayne and the Dexagarmetrax ambassador were present.

“Cayne.” My grandmother eyed the Colonel and nodded. “I’ll let you brief them.”

The Colonel rose, peering at each person in the room until his eyes settled on me. “At approximately ten-hundred hours on April the twenty-second, my ship the Valiant arrived in the Torrentian Void following orders from General Arnoff to investigate claims of a derelict ship. These claims turned out to be true.”

“It was the Endeavour.”

This elicited more than a few whispers and murmurs from the councilors, but that stopped the moment my grandmother rose to her feet. “Do try to remember that the Colonel has the floor. I was just as shocked to learn of the Endeavour’s discovery, but spare any comments until after he has finished speaking.”

“For reasons of interplanetary security, much of what I am about to tell you, we will not be revealing to the public. As such, you are all bound by the agreement between your respective governments, the Conclave, and the United Earth Alliance. Should any of you breach those agreements, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Cayne paused just long enough to scowl my way, then cleared his throat and continued. “We found the crew dead, killed in what I can only describe as a horrific manner. The only exception being one Dr. Gina Ingraham, an expert in communications and linguistics, who is unaccounted for along with one of the ship’s support pods. We believe whatever happened to the Endeavour, happened quickly as the crew does not seem to have put up a fight. Its exterior was scorched, showing evidence of energy weapons’ damage. More troubling, most of the communications logs and all the navigation data from the computer systems were wiped.”

“We could not determine whether the ship’s crew or those responsible for their deaths wiped the computer, but what we know is that a creature of mysterious origins attacked them. The genetic evidence we’ve found pegs this thing as the killer, but given it’s small cranial capacity we believe it was either transported onto the Endeavour by accident or set upon the crew by someone or something else. The most disturbing piece of information we’ve uncovered is that we believe this being was either once a gray skin that was modified into a more primitive and brutal state or a being engineered using the Qharr genome as a base.”

All heads turned toward Nyvok, who leaned forward, clasping his hands across the table, before one of his large fingers reached out, tapping the indent before him. Rising to his feet, he looked about the room, all the while massaging the lower side of his left jaw.

“You’re not suggesting that my people are responsible for this attack, are you Colonel? We’re just as interested, if not more so, in determining the ultimate fate of the Phyrr Lesch as your race. ”

“No, of course not. None of the damage to the Endeavour is consistent with any known species or race, including the Qharr or Gieff.” Cayne replied, hands clenched at his side.

Nyvok bowed his head and looked around the room. “I cannot say who might be responsible, but given the creator race could manipulate genetics with a great deal more… How do you say, finesse? Then any of our races have achieved, even those as advanced as the servant race,” he paused, nodding toward the two Dexagarmetrax standing in the corner. “That might at least infer some sort of link to the Phyrr Lesch.”

“Please continue, Colonel,” Nyvok held his hand out then slid back into his sizable chair.

“That is the presiding theory among my people,” the Colonel replied, adjusting his uniform collar. “However, there isn’t enough evidence to give us a definitive answer. We know the Endeavour’s crew unearthed an artifact. Said artifact had been jettisoned from the craft…” He stopped to glower at me and then continued. “…along with the alien creature, some time before we arrived on scene, but we were able to retrieve both.”

“Excuse me.”

A thin dome-headed man stood up, the only evidence that he possessed the blue hair of a bonded host were the two wisps of hair that clung to the sides of his head, looking for all the world as if he’d pasted them there as an afterthought.

“What artifact would that be?”

“It’s a box, but I can’t tell you much beyond that. Se know it’s ancient, and it seems to emit an immense amount of energy which is rather impressive considering that our scientists have dated it at over ten thousand years old,” Cayne replied.

“Well then, from what you say, this artifact, and the creature may be the two biggest clues as to what transpired on the Endeavour. Why exactly were they jettisoned?”

“Oh, for crying out loud! It was self-preservation.” I yelled, blurting it out without bothering to press the button. My grandmother glared at me, but I ignored her.

“Excuse me?” The man asked.

I sighed, mashed my finger into the button, and stood up. Blushing as all eyes fell on me. I’d only been female for a few hours, but was already self-conscious about the change. “The box or the artifact, whatever the hell you want to call it, got blown out with the creature which, I might add, was trying to kill me. As for the box, that thing nearly went nuclear on my ass.”

“Look, it’s hard to explain, but maybe if I go back to the beginning and tell you what happened it would probably make a whole hell of a lot more sense.”

A single nod from my grandmother was the only encouragement I needed. I wasn’t eager to tell my story, but a part of me hoped sharing it might help uncover the mysteries surrounding the Endeavour’s disappearance. I glanced around again and started telling my story, beginning with my encounter with the Faioloese traders, and described the explorations of the Endeavour, finding the box, flushing the creature into the vacuum of space and ended with becoming joined to Khala. It took me ten minutes to finish and when I had, I was met with silence so pervasive that I hesitated to break it.

Finally, a council member, an aging woman with very prominent crow’s feet around her eyes, placed her hand on her own button and after receiving a prompt from Kaya spoke up with a quiet, but firm voice.

“I think I speak for everyone when I say that news of the Endeavour’s discovery is both heartrending and a relief to those of us who had loved ones who were expedition members. You say that you are now bonded with Khala. It seems clear to me, however painful it might be for us to hear, that she would provide valuable insight. As a witness of the events that led to the Endeavour’s downfall, she would be uniquely qualified to help us get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding this terrible tragedy.”

Once again, the eyes of everyone turned to me. I met my grandmother’s gaze, and she nodded. I tapped the button, rose to my feet, closed my eyes, and let myself slip away. Khala needed no prompting this time, and when my eyelids snapped open, I no longer held the reins. My neck craned around on its own volition, and Khala paused.

When she spoke, she enunciated with a soft timbre that I never thought I’d hear coming from my throat. The voice was mine, my new one anyway, but Khala’s inflection was so different. The way she uttered each syllable sounded so feminine, it seemed as if I was listening to someone else speak.

“I must confess that it’s a little strange being here. From my perspective, less than a week ago, I was still bonded to Sofia Briggs aboard the Endeavour, studying ancient ruins. The next thing I know, I come awake, separated from my host and forced to come to terms with not only her death, but that almost twenty years had passed. In my more than a thousand years of life, I have never experienced something so very disorienting and… so very devastating.”

A sob escaped my lips and my entire body trembled. There was so much emotion in my voice… So much pain that it made me stop to think. The K’teth were sapient, reasoning beings dependent on other species to continue their existence. It hadn’t struck me until that moment, how Khala must have felt about my mother’s passing. I’d lost Sofia Briggs a long time ago, but for her, her death must have been a fresh wound which hadn’t even scabbed over.

Of course, there was the physical bond to consider. K’teth joined to their hosts at a cellular level, and such an undertaking would have been physically taxing. So, not only was she physically exhausted, but emotionally spent as well. If I’d been in her position, I probably couldn’t have formed a coherent sentence, let alone address a room full of people. Then again, she wasn’t human, so I might as well have been blowing smoke in the wind.

A hand fell on my shoulder and Khala turned my head, meeting the gaze of my grandmother who whispered into my ear. “Don’t just tell them, show them.”

Khala furrowed my brows as my grandmother shoved a small cylindrical device into my hands. “It’s based on the same technology as the doctor’s implant, and it’s tied into the holo system. Share your memories with me and the others will see it.”

“I warn you, what you are about to witness may not be pleasant to behold. The Endeavour crew’s deaths were brutal. If you are the least bit squeamish, I would urge you to leave this chamber.”

No one stood to leave, but a lump formed in my throat as the realization hit me: I was about to watch my mother’s death through her own eyes. Not a pleasant prospect, but one which could help unravel the mystery behind the Endeavour. So, when the lights blinked out, I clenched my jaw and my breath caught in my throat as images flooded through my awareness.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 10

02/13/2021

separator

CH 10

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

I trembled, my fingers stretching out to trace around the tiny monitoring device that Vakrexid had adhered to my collarbone. I glanced around the shower room, a small, single occupant affair, with no frills, and undressed myself. In a society as advanced as Earth’s there were as many ways to cleanse yourself as modes of transportation, but some people still preferred to immerse their forms in water, whether or not it was total submersion. I was never so surprised to discover it within the walls of the Conclave Headquarters, especially one so simple in design that it used technologies from before the occupation.

“Are you ready?” Khala asked, from the corner of the room, her form leaning against a mirror. I jerked away, taken aback that she seemed to cast a reflection before realizing that it was another aspect of the illusion she projected.

“No.” I quivered from the chill and slipped my fists under my pits. “Good lord, it’s frigid in here.”

“This was your idea, remember?”

“This is not at all what I had in mind. I thought maybe we’d use the spa room back at the estates or even the facilities on the Hawk… I wasn’t aware this room existed.”

“Where better to usher in your new life than a room dedicated for that exact purpose? This was among the first rooms to be completed within the headquarters for a reason, and it has survived, more or less unchanged, through three renovations.”

“That explains the primitive setup.” I shivered one final time before nodding at Khala, indicating that she should start.

Nothing happened, and I craned my neck around to study her face. Her clothes melted away from her body, revealing a form pretty much on par with Tanner’s minus the penis. “There is so much diversity on your world.”

Khala smiled, her form bending, twisting and snapping until she grew more slender, her skin darkened and she smiled at me with a mouthful of perfect pearly-whites. My symbiote touched my cheek and her body shifted again, her breasts once small, bloomed, growing larger even than her initial form, her skin lightened, and her eyes shifted to hint at an Asian ancestry. She wasn’t done however, she twirled around on her toes, and where before her form had been so soft, this one was on the muscular side. It was breathtaking in its own regard, but I always felt myself more drawn to women with soft curves than the athletic type.

“I can mold your new body, idealize it… If you will. You can be whatever kind of female you like.”

I bit back the response on the tip of my tongue. I didn’t want to be any type of woman… did I? “You know people are more than what they appear to be on the surface.”

Khala rolled her eyes, brushing past me as her form shifted back to her original proportions. She marched clear across the room before she spun around, resting her fists on her hips. “I’m trying to make this transition easier for you. I don’t have the sort of fine control you were hoping for, but I can mix and match, and I’ve got a good enough read on the turnout that, I believe, I can come close. It’s not an exact science, but with a bit of experimenting it may be possible.

“So, you could make me into a mannish-looking woman.”

She shrugged. “Probably, but like I said, it’s not an exact science.”

I trembled again and sank my teeth into my lip, my mind racing at the implications. As weird as it sounds, going that route seemed like a cheat. If I lived out the next year as a woman, I shouldn’t do it by burying my head in the sand. If she gave me a form that looked more masculine than feminine, it wouldn’t be a fair representation. The point is, I knew myself. If I took that route, I would spend all my time trying to appear and act like a man. If I was going to do this, it would be all in or nothing. How else would I determine if I wanted to remain female or not?

“No.” I rocked my head, shivering, but this time it wasn’t from the cold. “No, I won’t do that to myself. Make me a woman, but make me… Me.”

“You realize that every genetic combination is unique. I can’t make you into a female version of yourself. The best alternative would be to recombine your parents’ genes into a new female form. Genetically, you would be similar, about as similar as a sibling to your original form, but that’s the best I can do.”

“Then do it.” I clenched my eyes shut, bracing myself for the inevitable transformation.

“Uh.”

She cleared her throat and my eyelids snapped back open.

“What now?”

“Well, I can’t exactly start until I feed. Well, that’s not true, I could start, but wouldn’t get that far. I’ve fed off some electrical currents, here or there, but most of those are meant to power small devices. I need something with more substance if you wish me to complete your transition from male to female in a single go.”

“And… How the hell, am I supposed to do that?”

“Relax,” she folded her arms over her breasts and tipped her head sideways, motioning toward an indent in the wall. “I’ve never used this room, but I was a founding member of the Conclave, remember? I know everything about this place. There’s a catch hidden inside that wall that, once released, should give us a direct feed into the building’s power supply. That should give me more than enough of what I need.”

I shivered and advanced to the spot she indicated, popping loose the panel, after slipping my hand inside the indent, and fumbled around. Soon, my fingers found purchase on a long cable, I peeled back the protective sheath, exposing the copper within and hesitated, wincing as I considered what I was about to do. Was it any wonder? All my life, I’d been taught that doing this very thing would cause a very permanent and untimely death. Would it surprise anyone that I had my doubts? I wrapped my hands around the exposed metal and my eyes grew very wide as Khala fed.

It was like the ultimate adrenaline high, except I didn’t have to do anything insane like cave-diving or anti-grav jumping. All I needed to do was let Khala have at it. Brilliant, iridescent energy flowed through my body, radiating from the floor and the walls, invigorating me in both body and mind. God, it was better than sleep, better than a cup of coffee, and hell  even better than sex.

I threw my head back, letting out a soft moan as all that energy cascaded into me, scratching an itch that Khala would only fulfill through this very means. The K’teth consumed energy, which is what granted their hosts their superior speed, strength, and reflexes. In a civilized society that meant feeding off electrical power, but there were other sources from which Khala could turn if she needed to, like phase weapon discharge, fire, explosions, and the like. The K’teth fed on and grew stronger from things that would kill almost anything else. Which meant now that I was joined to one, I would be pretty damned hard to kill.

Once Khala satiated herself, I pulled away, hunching over as the K’teth began to remake me. It came with no delay or fanfare on Khala’s part and started with a slight tingle around my nipple. My stomach rippled, and I reached down, fighting down the powerful urge to claw at my skin, as tiny clumps of fat began to slither up my body toward my chest. Bit by bit, it collected around my nipples and they grew larger and larger until they’d developed into what I would only call a rather nice set of breasts.

I averted my eyes, trying my best not to peer at the mirror, but try as I might my gaze took in the very odd sight of my reflection sporting a pair of mammaries. It seemed odd, but I wasn’t as broken up about it as you might expect.

The next step in my transformation distracted me, and I didn’t gawk for more than a few moments. My shoulders were the next fatality of my changing form. They cracked and popped, shifting to where my arms looked massive framed by their new counterparts. It wasn’t long, however, until they too succumbed to Khala’s transformative prowess, growing slimmer and more slender by the moment.

The changes shifted toward my torso, and for the first time. A sharp burst of pain shot through my chest.  I collapsed atop the cold, tiled floor, my new breasts cushioning the rest of my body from the fall, but produced a sharp jab of pain. My insides contorted, muscles shifted, bones cracked, and internal organs moved about. It should have been a lot more painful. Khala seemed to be, at least, trying to keep a damper on the pain, but it probably was too much even for her to suppress.

“No, no, no!” I screamed, my still male voice striking an odd cord, as I slid my shorts around my ankles, struggling to keep my manly bits from slithering away, but all my efforts were for nothing. Once my ball-sack was sucked into the space between my legs, Khala’s illusionary hands molded my cock like clay until she’d formed a vulva.

I panted, black gunk now trickling out of my pores in beaded rivulets. I gagged as something rose out of the pit of my stomach, I held it back for as long as I could, which is to say, a few seconds, turned my skull and let it rip. It was the most disgusting experience of my life, but had expected it. I’d heard about K’teth induced transformations from a young age.

Hunkering down, I rolled over and knelt, making it easier for all the dead tissue to flow out of my throat as Khala continued her assault against the last vestiges of Jek.

I collapsed back onto my side, as each vertebra of my spine snapped, and realigned, no doubt, helping to lend my backside a more feminine curve. From there my hips and ass came next, popping and shifting into position, as fat collected in the right places. Where it all came from was anyone’s guess. I had never been what you might call muscular, but I’d never been over five kilos overweight. When Khala was through working her magic, I had an ass that any straight man would be more than happy to sink his teeth into.

“Shit!”

I screamed out as my legs and feet became the next victims. Hair dropped away from my chest, one of the few places on my body that had much besides my head, and mixed into the sludge of discarded flesh and vomit from my transformation.

Soon, I possessed a set of dainty legs and tiny feet, which I might have called ‘cute’ if it hadn’t been for the folds of ill-fitting skin that covered them. Now that my body was smaller, my skin was so loose that whenever I changed position, bits of it shifted around. It wasn’t painful, but I cringed when my skin shifted with each movement. I was glad I wouldn’t have to live with it very long.

There was one final and very obvious change that had to take place before my skin conformed to the remainder of my figure. It began with a crunch that reverberated through my entire skull. I brought my hands up to my throat, rubbing against my Adam’s apple, or what remained of it. I gasped, emitting a moan that sounded much more feminine, and jerked sideways so that I would see the last part of my transformation through the mirror. My face melted away like butter. All the hard edges faded away, becoming softer, finer, less prominent.

I blinked and reached up to rub my eyes, but thought better of it when I realized a mixture of my vomit and dead flesh now covered my hands. There was so much of it, in fact, that I scooped some of it up and flipped a handful at the wall.

“That’s plain disgusting,” I said, noting my new high-pitched and very feminine voice as I rose on tender feet. “And… I’m covered in Jek pudding.”

I put my revulsion aside, looking into the mirror, and my heart pounded in my chest. I walked toward the glass. The loose bits of skin firmed with each additional step. When I reached out to place my open palm on its icy surface, my transformation had completed, and was awarded with my first good glimpse of my final self. It surprised me at how much I looked like my mother, but a considerable amount of my Briggs heritage showed in my face. Most people didn’t know of my half-Latino heritage before, and if my new face was any sign, the only thing that had changed was that I would need to switch the ‘o’ to an ‘a’.

The Briggs family had always been more on the attractive side. My father had been no exception and from what I’d been told my mother, though married-in, had been quite the beauty. I didn’t see it, but I mean, even if I didn’t remember her well, she was still my mom. So, it shouldn’t have been so surprising that I’d turn out so… hot.

You know what? I wasn’t the best-looking guy around, but I did well enough that I didn’t have trouble finding companionship. My female form, on the other hand, would have men salivating over me. I had mixed feelings about that, to be honest.

I turned away, shuddering against the cold again. I tucked my hands under my armpits, but the weight of my breasts on my arms was… odd. With a sigh of resignation, I dropped my hands and moved toward the shower, knowing that at least would warm things up. Most of the sludge was centered near the shower drain, which would make cleaning up easier, but it made it harder for me to get to the knobs. The vomit by itself turned out to be really fucking slick, but the goop may as well have been slime. As I traversed the short distance to the shower, I discovered that even a joined host wasn’t immune to the effects of gravity. I went down in the most undignified fashion, like a sack of potatoes.

My cheeks burning in what, a quick glance at my reflection revealed, to be a deep shade of crimson, I climbed to my feet, rubbing at my sore ass and never so glad that there’d been no one to witness my mishap. By then I was close enough to use one hand to leverage myself against the wall while I used the other to get the water running, realizing how short I’d become when I had to reach up to turn the knob.

Soon enough, water cascaded from the shower head, inundating me with a stream of warm droplets that left me gasping when they splattered into my chest. It was an odd sensation, but overlooked it because… well, I liked it.

“Guess I’ll need a different name.” I said. Jek was a simple moniker, but I’d it given to myself. While I’d put considerable thought into, it didn’t resonate with me any more, and, face it, I’d get a lot of odd looks if I kept introducing myself by my old male name.

“Give it some time,” Khala said, appearing beside me, her form completely naked and soaking wet.

I jumped, glowering at her. “Don’t do that!”

“Sorry,” she pursed her lips, looked down at her feet, and back up at me. “Spend a little more time in your current form and get a better sense of things. Maybe then, you can pick a name that will suit you. There really is no hurry.”

“I’d much rather do it sooner rather than later. Something tells me if I don’t, someone might take it into their head to start calling me Lexa.”

Khala smiled and shrugged. “There are worse names.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like being named after the hero of the resistance? It was annoying as hell when I went by Jellfree, and not everyone knows that was what she went by before she became Lexa. If I choose a name now, it would prevent anyone from getting cute and trying to stick me with her female moniker. I don’t even want to consider how bad it would be if I actually shared that name with her.”

“You know, I guess I’ll go by Kayde.” I shut my eyelids, letting the warm water soak through my hair. “It sounds pretty badass and if anyone gives me any grief that it’s too masculine, I’ll tell them it’s short for Kaydence.”

“You came up with that one pretty quick.”

I smirked, casting a sidelong glance toward the symbiote. I couldn’t say why, but the new moniker felt… right. “Yeah, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s thinking on my feet.”

I stopped, staring down at my bare breasts, and cupped them in my hands. Before slowly reaching for the soap dispenser on the wall. Now that the majority of the gunk had been washed away, it was time to do something about those stubborn spots… and the smell.

As I ran my new, more slender hands up and down my body, it became immediately obvious I’d undergone a significant change. I had the same sort of silky smooth skin, I’d always loved it in a woman, and it was disconcerting to realize that I now had every physical trait that I found desirable in the opposite sex. I guess ‘opposite’ didn’t exactly apply to me anymore, but you catch my drift.

Yeah, I was getting a bit, you know, titillated by my reflection, which probably meant I still retained some attraction towards women… Or else I was a huge narcissist in my new form. I didn’t exactly get all wet down under thinking about oth— men, but who knows? Lexa was said to have become bisexual after her transformation. How exactly would I react if my orientation shifted?

I quivered and continued soaping my body, trying my damnedest to avoid contemplating what relations might be like from the other side of the fence. I was definitely planning on trying out girl on girl sex, but the idea of being penetrated by a man produced a shudder. Conversely, the prospect of getting fucked by Tanner’s girl-dick didn’t seem quite so unpleasant in comparison.

I didn’t even realize it until I peered down at my hands, but the entire time I’d been mulling over sex, they’d been caressing my nether regions. My cheeks burned, but I clenched my jaw and let my finger slide into the new opening. I had a good grasp on how female masturbation worked. Hell, I’d had sex enough to figure that one out, but I was not prepared for the sensations it elicited. I gasped and swallowed, my whole body quivering. Glancing at Khala, who was grinning at me from ear to ear, I slipped my finger free, closed my eyes and took in several deep breaths before opening them again.

Though fingering myself had been nice, it was too reminiscent of getting impaled by a dick for my male mind to be completely comfortable with it. Besides, with Khala’s casting her image all about, it seemed a little too much like I had an audience. I gasped, my hands moving up to my erect nipples and stood there panting.

“Think unsexy thoughts. Think unsexy thoughts…” I repeated the mantra out loud and pictured a Faioloese dancing in a red polka dot bikini.

That seemed to do the trick. At least my nipples weren’t poking out anymore. I continued taking deep breaths, but I let the chanting slide. Despite my best efforts, the rather disturbing image of the alien in the bikini wouldn’t quite fade away. I shuddered and finished washing myself. Something told me it might take me awhile to expunge the alien from my mind. If that wasn’t weird enough, a new thought sprang into my head.

“If only Jax could see me now,” I muttered my mind drifting back to my childhood bully, another smile touching my lips as I experienced a brief perverse pleasure imagining the look on his face when he realized the attractive woman I’d become was the ‘sissy boy’ he’d ridiculed for all those years.

When done, I shut the water off, grabbing a fresh towel from a stack in the corner. I rubbed the water dry and promptly yelped. Since I had such soft skin and the towel was on the rough side, my usual method was like trying to dry myself off with sandpaper. So, I patted myself down instead and made a mental note that I desperately needed to talk to my grandmother about using some fabric softener. Those towels were atrocious.

Content that I was dry enough, I grabbed a second towel and wrapped it around my waist. I would have traipsed right out of the shower room, oblivious that my chest was bare for the world to see, but stopped short when I heard Khala clear her throat.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

I glanced down at my chest, realizing my mistake, and feeling my cheeks burn again. I undid the towel and pulled it up to cover my breasts, this time making extra sure it was secure, and with one final look over the room, I waved my hand at the door sensor and slipped through the opening before it slid all the way open.

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My face must have been quite red as I stepped into the adjoining room. My grandmother’s presence was bad enough, but when you added Tanner and the doctor into the mix, it was a little strange. Especially when Vakrexid whipped a hand out and popped the sensor free from my neck. I jerked back. The doctor released a high-pitched wail before he jerked away and lurched from the room with a gait I could only describe as wobbly.

Vakrexid’s rather quick departure did make things a little less unsettling, but given Tanner’s recent revelation of her feelings and our night together, I was still a little weirded out. Especially when there was a high probability that my grandmother knew about our nighttime activities.

I figured it was my imagination, but I swore there was a lingering sensation from her lips locked around mine. A little odd when you consider that the lips I now sported weren’t exactly the same ones she had kissed. Either damn way it elicited a strong reaction from my new libido and all I could do was grit my teeth and pretend that my nipples were not doing their thing. Fortunately, the towel’s fabric was thick enough that I was the only one aware of those… interesting sensations. Still, having fully erect nipples in front of my grandmother was unnerving, particularly when I couldn’t seem to settle them down.

“Goddamn,” Tanner said, grabbing me by the shoulder and tilting her head down enough to look me in the eye. Given she had to have been a good eighteen or nineteen centimeters taller than me with her shoes on, it was rather awkward.

“Jek?”

I nodded, cheeks burning anew, not only because I was one step removed from baring it all, but because I realized I was now the shortest person in the room. Even my grandmother was taller. I trembled and pulled away, folding my arms across my breasts and my gaze darted between Tanner and grandmother.

“K-Kayde.” I spoke the unfamiliar name and met her gaze. “Jek doesn’t feel like a very good fit anymore.”

“Kayde?” My grandmother asked, brushing past Tanner, a hand reaching out to touch my chin as she swung my head this way and that. “You’ve already chosen a new name? It does seem a little masculine, but it’s your choice.”

“Who cares?” Tanner glowered at my grandmother, folding her arms across her chest and adopting a pose that was just a bit reminiscent of mine, then winced and bit her lip. “What I mean to say is, does it really matter how masculine or feminine his name is? This isn’t the twenty-first century. We don’t have people getting all in a huff over transgender people using the right bathroom. I think if he wants a masculine name let him have one.”

My fists clenched at my side as my grandmother pulled away. “If you must know, it’s short for Kaydence. I figured I’d pick out a name before someone decided to do it for me.”

Kaya patted my face and smiled, that awful unbearable smirk that I had come to just loathe. She’d never reveal her innermost thoughts to anyone, least of all her own grandchild, but my grandmother had once been a practicing psychologist. Whenever she gave someone that look, I’d always figured that she’d had one of her little analyses confirmed. The people she knew well, she could read like a book, and unfortunately, despite our time apart, I don’t think I’d changed enough to trip her up. She must have known I’d do anything to avoid comparison to the ever so legendary Lexa Briggs.

“Well then, Kayd-ence,” My grandmother said, putting just a little emphasis on the tail end of my new name, and patted me on the cheek. “We’ll need to get you some new clothes before the Conclave Council meets this afternoon.”

“I could probably help with that,” Tanner said, prompting my grandmother to look at her with a single raised eyebrow.

“Thank you, honey, but I don’t believe that will be necessary.”

Tanner glared at the elder woman through gritted teeth. “I was just trying to be helpful.”

“Thank you,” my grandmother smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “But Kaydence has just undergone a very big change, and I think I’d rather keep you around to help support her through what I’m sure will be a very difficult period. That is assuming the two of you are as close as I’ve surmised. You’ve worked together for what, five years, now?”

“Oh.” Tanner blushed, brushing her hair behind her shoulders. “Well, yeah, I mean I consider Kayde a good friend.”

See, what exactly did I say? Kaya Briggs was a master of manipulation. First, she said something that comes off as more than a little condescending, Tanner reacts, showing her irritation and then my grandmother reverses course making it seem as if the line she’d fed her hadn’t been haughty at all, but looking out for my best interests. Which not only throws Tanner off, but makes her out to be an ass.

“I’ll have one of my aides pick a few things up. In the interim, Kaydence, I’m afraid, we aren’t in the habit of keeping spare clothes around headquarters. We’ve only had three hosts, counting yourself, who underwent a complete gender reversal in the last decade, so it just isn’t very cost efficient to keep those sorts of odds and ends sitting around.”

“So, what the fuck do you want me to do in the meantime? I can’t just sit around wearing nothing but a towel.”

Kaya Briggs smirked and shook her head. “Language dear. Where do you think the doctor ran off to in such a hurry?”

“Don’t tell me.” I winced, rubbing my jawline, my fingers tracing over smooth skin instead of the usual stubble. “You asked him to bring a hospital gown?”

She nodded, taking several steps toward the door, and stopped her hand on the doorway. “It’s either that or the towel.”

I bit my lip and watched my grandmother slip out the door, then turned to Tanner once it slid completely closed. I opened my mouth to speak, but clamped it shut again. There were so many things I would have liked to voice, but the words just wouldn’t come. I think Tanner was in the same predicament. She kept glancing over to me, turning a distinct shade of scarlet, and then turning away.

‘Oh, for god sakes,” Khala’s voice screamed out. ‘Would you just tell her how you feel already?’

I rolled my eyes, let out a long sigh and turned, placing a hand on my business partner’s shoulder. “Are we good?”

She smiled and touched my hand. “We’re good.”

‘That’s not what I meant, and you know it.’

I clenched my jaw shut and shook my head. No matter what my symbiote might have insisted, I wasn’t ready to take that step. Not by a long shot.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 9

02/06/2021

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CH 09

Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates

Author's Note

Some of the views expressed in this part by Jek come off as transphobic, but suffice it to say his panic is rooted in feelings which are far more nuanced than even he realizes. Please don’t mistake his viewpoints for my own.

Blackness overtook everything and a persistent pounding that rattled through my head without rhyme or reason, accompanied it. A warmth radiated beside me and its weight pressed into my side. As my eyes peeled open, I squinted, fighting to see through the blurriness. I could just make out a slender form nestled against me. Comprehension came next. First, I realized the odd pounding in my head was a headache induced by the mother of all hangovers, and second, after a few more moments of consciousness, I came to understand that the enticing naked figure who lay sprawled against me was Tanner.

Panic swelled up inside of me, and my heart pounded at what seemed like a thousand beats per second. All thoughts of my dream swept out the window, I stopped myself from leaping out of the bed and running for the hills. Instead, I released a low groan and slipped Tanner’s arm off of me before rolling out of bed.

My stomach gurgled, and the room seemed to lurch as I staggered across it. I did it without waking Tanner and even more impressive still without collapsing into a whimpering heap. I looked around, trying to get my bearings and determine where my location. The former proved a little more difficult, but the latter seemed easy enough to determine. I’d landed myself back in my childhood home, the Briggs family estates.

I took several deep breaths, and a tremble worked its way down my spine. As drunk as we’d been, I doubted we’d been very quiet. There was the household staff and representatives from the Conclave coming in and out of the place day and night, not to mention all my cousins. Someone must have seen us. It would be only a matter of time before my grandmother learned about us.

“Shit,” I cursed and spun around in time to see my business partner stir.

She groaned, and I slipped back toward her, holding a hand over her mouth as her eyes slid open. She jerked back and slithered out of my grasp, staring up at me with wide eyes.

“Jek, what the hell are you doing?”

Without waiting for me to reply, she sat bolt upright, leaving her breasts exposed as she looked about, but showing a hell of a lot of care to leave her nether regions concealed beneath the coverings on my bed.

“Quiet!” I yelled and cringed, realizing just how loud I’d been.

“W-we didn’t do what I think we did, did we?” I asked.

She swallowed and nodded.

I paced, running my fingers through my mess of curls and matted blue locks. I wracked my brain trying to recall anything from the previous night after we’d left the bar together, but at first all I seemed to recall was the briefest impression of our lips locking as I cupped my hands over her breasts. The longer I thought, the more frustrated I became, but when I glanced toward Tanner, who stared up at me all white-faced and saucer-eyed, it came all came back. I clamped my eyes shut, a flash of my hands sliding away from her breasts and sweeping down to the waistband of her skirt.

Next, I slipped the garment free, working on her panties. Once they were gone, there had been a little surprise. If my heart had been pounding before, it was nothing compared to the way it hammered inside my chest now that the most recent recollection thundered through my awareness. I didn’t utter a single syllable, but rounded on Tanner, my gut sinking as flashes of our continued lovemaking rattled around inside my head. I hadn’t let what I found stop me, instead I found another hole ramming my cock up her round ass. Each time, she moaned louder and louder, pleading for more, and each time my hands, already clutched around her breasts from her backside, gripped tighter and tighter.

Still assaulted by the images from last night, I stood over the bed, every muscle in my body shaking as I reached down to pull the blanket free from Tanner’s form. I knew what I would find, but even so, when I whipped it away, I finally got a full view of her penis.

I had no clue whether Tanner expected me to throw the bedding off of her, or if I caught her off guard, but either way she didn’t take any action to stop me. The worst part was that she actually stood, mouth agape, eyes as wide as mine must have been. I’d always considered myself open-minded and accepting of transgender folk as much as any guy in a post-occupation Earth, but this shook me. I wasn’t attracted to women with extra bits… Was I?

I turned away, bile rising in my esophagus, heaving and panting as I fought to control my rioting stomach. Anger, guilt, shame and a whole slew of emotions washed over me as I tried to reconcile the images that flashed through my mind over and over again. I’d enjoyed what we’d done last night, but I didn’t quite know how to reconcile it. My thoughts turned to lectures on gender identities my teachers had given me throughout my formative years. I didn’t pretend to be an expert, but Gender wasn’t binary, it comprised a veritable rainbow of identities. I guessed Tanner fell somewhere in the middle between male and female. Seeing as she’d always presented as a woman and used female pronouns, she probably identified more on the feminine end of the spectrum.

Hands touched my shoulders and I craned my neck around to see Tanner standing behind me, her bare breasts pushing into my back. “Jek, I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”

“We were drunk. ” My voice sounded hollow even to my ears, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

Without looking at Tanner, I moved away, collecting my fallen clothes that were scattered throughout the room, and dressed, trying my damnedest to avoid even so much as glancing her way. I swallowed, attempting to moisten my dry mouth, but failed. I don’t know what our encounter might mean about my sexuality. As hard as I found it to wrap my head around, I kind of wanted to give it another go, which scared me more than anything else.

“Jek!” Tanner traipsed across the room, and seized my shoulders. “Will you look at me?”

I swallowed again, this time even harder, and met her gaze. It took all my willpower to keep myself from looking down at her crotch, but I managed. I just sat there frozen in place, my pants at my ankles, speechless. What the fuck was I supposed to say? ‘Congratulations Tanner, I liked sodomizing you, next time why don’t we see if you ass-fuck me instead?’ Okay, that last part didn’t sound so appealing, but my dumbass was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think of a coherent thing to say. Instead, Tanner broke the ice.

“Talk to me, Jek.”

“C-can you get dressed? This is already awkward enough as it is.”

Tanner nodded and moved off, retrieving her discarded clothes. Slowly but surely, she dressed herself and I watched transfixed. Her panties went on first and as she slid them on, she reached inside and tucked her penis away, and just like magic the bulge seemed to take on the contours of something more feminine. It wasn’t foolproof, the entire area looked too large, but I doubted anyone would notice with clothes over it. I sure as hell hadn’t.

Before long she’d clothed herself, and I peered down at myself, realizing I still had my pants around my ankles. I rectified that problem, then grabbed my shirt and slid it over my head. Though our garments were just a little crumpled and wrinkled, we were as ready as we’d ever be to discuss the massive elephant in the room.

The whole thing started with a fair bit of hemming and hawing on my part. Tanner once again got the ball rolling.

“Jek,” she said, sitting her plump ass on the edge of my bed as I trotted back and forth across from her. “How much do you know about trans folk?”

“Well, I know that someone who is transgender doesn’t identify as the gender they’re born as or else doesn’t fit into the gender norms.”

“Right, more or less.” She pursed her lips then leaned back, hands perched on the bed behind her. “But most trans folk, myself included, prefer the term assigned rather than born.”

She fell back and closed her eyes, released a deep sigh, then continued. “I’ve been trying to tell you for years… Ever since that moment on Byrak when we almost kissed. Every time I come close, something stops me. I sometimes wonder if the universe is conspiring against me. Then…”

She opened her eyelids and turned her head, gazing at me. “Then this happens and you find out in the worst way imaginable.”

I stopped my pacing and my eyes darted toward her and gave my hair a good yank. “You can say that again.”

“I mean, don’t people like you… undergo re-sequencing to get rid of those… things?”

“Some do, but I’ve undergone all the re-sequencing and procedures I intend to. I like my dick, it’s the only part of my old body I wanted to keep when I first started through my transition and nothing’s changed in that regard.”

“Fine, okay…” I held my hands up and closed my eyes.

“I need to process this. I-I need some time to think it over. Once, I get through with my own transition.”

“Okay, not the best wording,” I paused, bile rising from the pit of my stomach at the mere thought of becoming a woman. “M-maybe then I can come to terms with this… Until then–”

“We forget this ever happened.” Tanner finished for me, sitting upright and meeting my gaze. Her expression was unreadable, but she had to be hurting.

I nodded, my ticker began pounding again, as I spoke the next few words. “It’s about time I accept my fate.”

Tanner stood, sauntering across the room, and planted both her hands on my shoulders. “It might be a little awkward with what just happened between the two of us, but I can help you if you like.”

I smiled and clasped one hand over hers. Though I still wasn’t sure how I felt, I found her offer of aid oddly comforting. “O-okay.”

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A cold shower, and a long hover ride later, found Tanner and I walking down the corridors of the Conclave Headquarters. Things were strained between us even after hashing everything out. A part of me wished I’d come alone, but I’d been so terrified of what lay ahead that I didn’t have it in me.

I needed someone to act as a buffer against my grandmother’s forceful personality and Tanner was the best possible candidate. I suppose I could have given my uncle a ring, but I had no idea where Zed Briggs was or what he was up to these days. Even if I did, the prospect of again explaining that whole Endeavour thing wasn’t very appealing.

At least Tanner understood what I was going through. I just wish I could get the image of our lovemaking out of my head.

I visited the Conclave enough times that I knew all the twists and turns of the maze like corridors, but it didn’t mean I was any less intimidated and if Tanner’s wide-eyed stare was any sign, she felt the same way. Khala was her usual cool and collected self. There didn’t seem to be much that would unsettle my symbiote. Given her age, she must have transformed dozens if not hundreds of hosts, it probably didn’t faze her anymore.

If you walked into Conclave headquarters without knowing where you were, you might think you stepped into any old office building. You kind of expected the place to have a distinct appearance given that its reputation was larger than life, but there were no distinguishing features. The walls were all a dull gray and uniform, but at least they weren’t unadorned like the inside of the Valiant. Artwork, the sort of flowery affairs of which my grandmother seemed so fond, graced the walls, but as we stepped into another side corridor, the one which led into the council chambers, we stopped dead in my tracks. Portraits of the original founders and other members of note lined the hallways.

Tanner broke away and sidled over to Lillian Briggs’ portrait, who besides being Lexa Brigg’s wife, was my second most famous ancestor and a hero of the battle for Earth. She’d been the founder of Briggs Aerospace and Engineering, the source of all the Briggs’ wealth and the biggest producer of ships in the entire UEA.

“She was a childhood hero of mine, you know,” Tanner brushed the hair out of her face and smiled.

“Everyone always talks about Lexa, how her leadership helped the fractured remnants of the resistance defeat the sub-ascendant, but where would they have been without Lily? She was a brilliant self-taught engineer who’s knowledge and expertise helped get them out of more than a few tight binds. And she was a trans woman, someone who overcame her shy and introverted nature and helped bring about an end to the tyranny of the Qharr.”

I stepped up beside her and glanced at the portrait of Lexa that hung beside Lily’s. “I’ve spent my life trying to separate myself from Lexa’s shadow that I never gave Lily much thought. She was so much a part of the great Alexana Briggs’ life that she might as well have been the same damn person.”

I peered into the eyes of Lexa and Lily’s portraits, hands touching the nameplates beneath each frame. These were the two women without whom the Conclave would have never come to exist. Both were striking, but for the first time as I looked into those magenta eyes, I think I understood Lexa Briggs. She had been as much a victim of circumstance as I, but she made the best out of her situation and used the abilities granted to her by her symbiote to help retake Earth and defeat the one responsible for the occupation, Sub-Ascendant Jykarr Bynd. Lily’s achievements had been no less noteworthy, but her story didn’t resonate with me.

Like her wife Lexa, Lily had been assigned male at birth, but, unlike her wife, identified as female from the moment she could distinguish the difference. Raised in a nest, one of dozens of such communities where select groups of survivors of the invasion hid away hoping to wait out the occupation, Lily would have lived her life out in the safety of her home, if the Qharr hadn’t found and discovered her nest and obliterated it from above. The only known survivor, Lily, was rescued by the resistance, and once among their ranks she discovered she had an affinity for repairing and even modifying human and Qharr tech. Her skills made her invaluable, and she was a member of the team that helped rescue her future wife Lexa from internment in a slave compound.

After nearly losing her life, Lily was implanted with a symbiote and the rest was history. I shook my head and felt cold chills trickle down my back. I had spent so long running from my family’s legacy. Now I had no choice but to accept it. I clenched my hands at my side and gritted my teeth. I was not going to be just another descendant of Lexa and Lily. They had been great women, and I doubted I would ever match their achievements, but perhaps I didn’t need to. All my life I’d been running away, it was time to give my life focus. If I made my own name and did something, neither of them had ever dreamed. If I unlocked the secrets of the Phyrr Lesch, once and for all stopping all the speculation, I could stop living under my great grandmothers’ shadows.

The Phyrr Lesch had been an ancient race of humans, who had left Earth long before Homo sapiens had even discovered the wheel. At least that was the position of the Conclave. Some people didn’t subscribe to their assertions which were based on memories passed down to Khala from another symbiote whose motives had been just a bit suspect.

Either way, one thing was for sure, the Phyrr Lesch were a powerful race of people who had conquered a pretty big chunk of the galaxy, used genetic manipulation at a level no one has matched since, giving rise to the Qharr, the Dexagarmetrax and the K’teth as a result, and left a pretty damned lasting impression considering that no one had heard sight nor sound from them in over ten-thousand years.

We would have stayed there a lot longer, ruminating for God knows how long, but I sensed a presence and turned to watch as a towering giant cast his shadow over me. Tanner was late to the party, but she spun around to face the newcomer just about the same time as Khala gasped.

‘Duvak?!’ two voices called out, reverberating through my skull. One belonged to Khala and the other— Okay, perhaps they both came from Khala, but what was with the chorus effect? I craned my head back so I could look into the newcomer’s eyes as he drew closer.

In all my twenty-five years, I hadn’t seen more than a handful of Qharr on Earth. Even after all the time since the occupation, people weren’t very forgiving of their conquest of Earth and the gray skins were hesitant to travel to a world where they were so hated. Even if that planet was the place from which their race had sprung.

Most of those Qharr I’d seen before now were on Gerrknotttt, where they maintained trade relations with the Credknotts. I backed away, peering up at the towering mass of muscles. He held his hands open and up in front of his chest, showing he had peaceful intentions.

“I am Ambassador Nyvok Nakyrr,” he said with a deep resonating voice which was typical of his race and nodded.

‘Nakyrr,’ Khala said. ‘Then you are–”

“A descendant of Duvak Nakyrr?” The Qharr finished rubbing two fingers along the left side of his neck before tracing a hand through his thick mop of blue hair. His colored locks identified him as Edant K’teth, just the gray skin way of saying he was joined with a symbiote.

“Yes.”

The Qharr weren’t the most expressive species, at least not in the human way, but they had developed a pretty sophisticated series of body and hand gestures meant to convey their emotions. If a Qharr was happy, angry, or sad, they could show which by using those gestures and it was as natural for them as smiling or frowning was for us. Never once had I regretted not learning to read Qharr mannerisms until that moment.

“Jek Briggs. Tanner Grace.” I nodded up at him and held my hand out to Tanner, hoping for all the world that Nykarr was as bad at reading human facial expression as I was at reading his body language. I was fucking terrified and that must have shown on my face. He barely paid Tanner any heed, nodding toward her before his eyes fixed on me.

“A scion of Lexa Briggs, then? It is an honor. Alexana was a noble warrior, her feats are not without renown even on Tel’c.”

My eyebrows shot straight up, and I hummed and hawed, my heart pounding even harder at the massive Qharr’s pronouncement. “Uh… didn’t Lexa… erm kill Duvak?”

“They were enemies, true,” he said, staring at me with those three amber eyes. For a moment I wondered if I’d insulted him and he might not attack, but he shook his head, a human gesture, and continued. “Duvak was an honorable warrior. Had he known the truth behind the lies of your world’s occupation, I doubt he would have stood by and done nothing.”

“Well, I guess we’ll never know for sure, seeing as he died before the truth got out.” That seemed to get under his skin, if his stiff posture was any indication, but he must have had better self-control than I did because all he did was bar his teeth at me and nod. “So, it would appear. I hope you have a pleasant day.”

I nodded, and Nyvok spun around on his heels, disappearing down the opposite side of the corridor, and I issued a long breath once I was sure he couldn’t hear me.

‘If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that he was Duvak returned from the dead. Aside from his height, the resemblance was uncanny.’

“I’m just glad he’s gone.” I shuddered and glanced over my shoulder, just before making a beeline toward my grandmother’s office, which was probably where the Qharr had just come from. “I thought for sure he would rip out my spine and use it as a jump rope.”

Tanner didn’t say a word, but followed me, glancing over her shoulder every few seconds as if expecting the towering gray skin to come back. He never did, a fact for which I was very grateful.

‘Well, you insulted his ancestor.’

‘The next time I say something stupid like that, would you do me a favor and tell me to shut the fuck up? Something tells me if I ever get that close to a gray skin again and I let my mouth run off like that, they might not be so forgiving.’

‘You’re a descendent of the progenitors, they might cut you more slack than you think, but I’d hold your tongue just in case. The Qharr don’t like smart-asses.’

“Most beings don’t…” I trailed off, speaking aloud, and drawing an odd look from Tanner, before stopping before a solid oak door and tapped the nameplate on front. “Especially ones named Kaya Briggs.”

‘Hey, when we first encountered Nyvok, what was with that whole double-voice thing? That was a little weird,’ I thought at my symbiote.

‘That’s a bit hard to explain. Perhaps we should discuss it when you’re not so… pre-occupied,’ she replied, a slight quiver in her voice.

I furrowed my brows, but before I had an opportunity to press her, the door swung open with sudden and violent force, almost as if my grandmother had been standing beside the door waiting for us. “Jek, I’m glad you’re here.”

I pointed a finger at my chest, grinned and stared at my grandmother, trying my best to come off as innocent. Which is to say, I failed miserably. “What me? There’s got to be some sort of mistake.”

I swore a smile touched the corner of my grandmother’s lips, but if one had, any sign of it faded away.

“The Conclave is meeting later this afternoon.”

“And that pertains to me how?”

“They’re meeting about the Endeavour. They’ll want to hear what happened from the horse’s mouth.”

“A little notice would have been nice.”

“We called it at the last minute, the government has reached out to us.”

“And?”

“And we’ll see what the colonel has to say, when we meet with him this afternoon.”

I grimaced and glanced back at Tanner, who was leaning against the wall, a little way down the corridor, her eyes averted and trying her best not to look our way.

Kaya grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me close, wrapping her arms around my middle section and I stiffened, but despite my discomfort I found myself returning the hug. “Jek, I’ve missed you so much.”

To say that it shocked me was an understatement, but for once it was in a good way. I pulled away, meeting her gaze, and bit my lip. “Uh, yeah I missed you too.”

I glanced down at my hands, turning them this way and that, more than a little apprehensive about what was about to come, but knowing that sooner or later I would have to give in any way. Best to do it under my own terms, instead of resisting until the bitter end. Besides, the sooner I got it over with, the sooner my prerequisite year as a woman would be up.

“Jek, what’s wrong?”

“I-I, uh,” I coughed clearing my throat and turned away, finding it a little difficult to put my thoughts into words. I was about to give up one of my defining characteristics, okay? So give me a break. “What time did you say the Conclave was meeting?”

“Four,” she replied, folding her arms across her chest and frowned at me.

“That’s probably enough time.”

She didn’t even say the word, ‘what’, but was the question mirrored in her eyes and I blurted the response out before she spoke. “Maybe, uh, it’s time I let Khala do her thing.”

“I take it, this also means you’ve accepted membership within the Conclave?”

I paused, hesitating as what little remained of my composure melted away. “Yeah, I guess it does.”

I had no need to explain myself from there. If people knew one thing about the K’teth, it was that queens required a female host in order to reproduce. It went without question that if a male became bonded to a female symbiote, well, eventually he would end up with a pair of ovaries. My grandmother placed a hand on my cheek, looked into my eyes, and smiled as she led me away, Tanner following a few feet behind. I almost yanked my hand free and bolted through the hallway, but there are some things you just couldn’t run away from.

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 8

01/30/2021

CH 08

Kingsburgh, California, Conclave Headquarters

I’d just discovered yet another perk of being host to K’teth symbiote, and it was the dumbest damn thing ever. Why the hell did I need to see a doctor? My bond to Khala meant better health and longer life. So what the fucking possible reason would they need to subject me to the horrendous experience? At least I could take solace that my doctor’s visit was with an old family friend. An eccentric one, yes, but one who was also the most honest and forthright being I’d ever met.

I guess I should have realized. They expected all Conclave initiates to see the doctor, and like it or not, that’s what I soon would be now that my grandmother had manipulated me into joining their ranks.

Vakrexid lurched into the room, his tall bulbous head just clearing the doorway. He stopped, his eyes roving the area as his head bobbed about, giving me the impression that he was a novelty toy. His neck snapped around until his dull gray eyes fixed on me and a smirk creased my lips as I met his gaze.

“Hello doctor, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“No,” the doctor stated. “It has been more than a while. You leave, you do not write, you do not communicate or even send a message. Your grandmother’s circulatory system was fractured. Most disagreeable behavior, Vakrexid is most disappointed.”

Leave it to the doctor to butcher a simple turn of phrase like ‘broken heart’. You would think after spending so many years around humans, he would develop a better grasp of the English language. It might have been funny if not for that sad cast to his eyes.

Vakrexid was a Dexagarmetrax, a species of humanoid which, like the Qharr, was that descended from ancient humans, taken from Earth and altered to serve the Phyrr Lesch an ancient and highly evolved species of human. While the Qharr were remade to serve as devout warriors, the doctor’s species were said to have been their servants and confidants.

The genetic differences between humans and Qharr were sparse. Enough so, we could interbreed, but when it came to the doctors people, they were just too different. They were functional hermaphrodites. Their language didn’t even have male or female pronouns. Instead, they only distinguished between a person and an object. I asked Vakrexid once why he used male pronouns and his answer was that he ‘rather liked the way they sounded.’ Couple that with the fact that his people alternated between first and third person when talking about themselves and Vakrexid came off as very eccentric.

“Look, doc, it’s a little more complicated. I’m back now, and it looks like despite my best efforts, I might be here to stay. I’m not sure I have much choice anymore.”

The doctor blinked and tilted his head back and forth. “Choice? There is always choice.”

I bowed my head and gnawed at my lip. “We both know why I’m here, so why don’t we get this over with?”

The doctor wobbled across the room before taking a handheld device out of a cupboard. ” Vakrexid trusts Khala will not attempt to feed on my bio scanner as she did when she first became joined to your great grandmother.”

“Am I ever going to live that down?”

Khala’s form materialized leaning against the wall, wearing nothing but a thin hospital gown which left very little to the imagination given that her nipples were visible through it. Once again, I reminded myself that the image she projected was an illusion. I don’t know if my symbiote had an exhibitionist streak or if she was trying to distract me, but if she kept this up, it might lead to some embarrassing situations. I was a man, after all. Well, at least for the time being.

“Vakrexid is befuddled, how does one live something down?”

Khala paused, and we both exchanged glances before my symbiote turned to lock gazes with me. “Doctor, can you see me?”

“Oh yes, most assuredly, but you did not answer Vakrexid’s question. I would very much like to understand.”

“It’s a human expression, doctor. What I meant to say was that despite that happening more than a century and a half ago, I still keep hearing about it.”

“Vakrexid understands.”

“Uh… Doc,” I held a hand up, glancing first to my symbiote and then peering at the doctor. “How exactly is it you can see Khala?”

“That is easy to explain. Vakrexid surgically implanted a bio-neural chip into my brain. It is attuned to the frequencies through which K’teth communicate.”

“Should have expected something like this from Vak–”

The doctor let out a high-pitched squeal as a thin and long wrinkled hand reached up to rub the end of his left face tube. “PLEASE! Do not speak Vakrexid’s name.”

Khala winced and peered at me with a shrug before her eyes settled on Vakrexid. “Sorry, not used to you being able to hear me.”

That was another thing about the doctor’s people, they had a weird cultural inhibition about anyone but a life partner using their given name. It led to a fair amount of confusion in conversation, especially if the people involved weren’t aware of it.

Vakrexid’s eyes lingered on her for the longest time before he turned away, fumbling with the device in his hands. Scanners from before and during the occupation used a robotic arm or some sort of hovering unit that either extended out from the wall or the base of the device itself, but the newer ones were smaller and more portable. The technology operated on more or less the same principles, even using a broad scanning beam like the older units, but it had simplified to such a degree that it now only consisted of a small cylindrical rod a bit longer than my hand.

All the doctor had to do was hand me the scanner and away it went, beaming whatever information it gathered to a nearby computing unit which would analyze it and send it back to Vakrexid. And by whatever information, I mean everything, right down to the cellular level. If I had scrambled kylthash seeds for lunch, two weeks ago last Thursday, the doc would get that information on the readout.

The scan completed and Vakrexid swiped the simple, unadorned rod from my hands and glanced at a small display attached to the underside of his wrist. “Vakrexid is pleased to inform you that your health is most splendiferous!”

I wasn’t quite sure what ‘splendiferous’ meant or even if it was an actual word, but considering that it seemed to please him, I took it as a good sign and didn’t press him for clarification. The doctor glanced at Khala, giving her a dark glare, which coming from the Dexagarmetrax physician seemed a little odd, before grabbing a stool and hunkering down far enough that we matched gazes.

“Vakrexid is not certain I am the correct being to discuss this with you, since my race is hermaphroditic, but Vakrexid believes I may be one of only a few individuals who will speak to you without coating the truth in sucrose. Soon, Vakrexid does not have a precise timetable, your symbiote will transform you into a female in order to fulfill a simple biological function, reproduction.”

“Yeah, doctor, I heard all about it. In fact, we had a nice little talk about it on the ride to the Conclave.”

“Indeed,” Vakrexid tooted with a long drawn-out wail. “Then you–”

“I’m aware of all the options that would normally be available to me, but with Khala there are special circumstances.”

“Indeed?”

Vakrexid let out another high-pitched cry, his gaze fixated on Khala, who rolled her eyes and let loose a long sigh. She repeated the details of our conversation in the car and fell silent as the doctor’s gaze pierced her visage. She disappeared, and he jerked around to match my gaze.

He shook his head from side to side, then up and down. “Truthfully, Vakrexid would recommend giving a fully female body a try before pursuing another option. In almost every case the transformed host, suffered from what your people call gender dysphoria, but Alexana, seemed able to adapt to and even become most comfortable with her new form. I am no expert on human gender identities, but it seems likely her gender may not have been entirely masculine or feminine. She would never discuss it with Vakrexid. A ‘between’ form for lack of a better term requires more maintenance and has many more drawbacks speaking from a medical standpoint and because of this it is standard practice for a host to live in their new form for at least a year before providing such an option.”

“A year?” I chewed my lip and turned my head, a sinking feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. “That’s better than a lifetime. I guess that should give me plenty of time to think things over.”

“Ensure that your thinking is subterranean.”

Subterranean? I didn’t know what he meant, but I never got the chance to ask before the doctor lurched back to his feet and his lanky form wobbled out the doorway. I didn’t move to follow, but instead, sat there muddling over the shit storm that had been brewing since I first found the Endeavour. No matter what options I considered, I knew I was going to end up knee deep in excrement.

separator

Whenever life got me down, there was only one sure fire solution, get blind stinking drunk. To be honest, it does nothing to resolve matters and most times it can make things worse, but fuck it, it sure was good while it lasted. In almost any circumstances I wasn’t too picky about my watering holes, since my shipping business kept me pretty mobile, but as long as I was in the area, I decided to visit one I didn’t have a particular familiarity, but which a certain parent of mine had been a regular.

Yeah, my dad used to spend his time there, after my mother died and before he offed himself. What can I say, I was in that kind of mood. Not just content in wallowing in my own misery, I had to wallow in Dad’s too.

I stepped inside, glancing around the old pub as I made my way toward the bar. There wasn’t much to distinguish it from other watering holes I’d frequented, but given that my family had a long history with this establishment, I couldn’t help but experience a connection to the place.

I plopped down at the bar and stared into the eyes of one of the most striking women I’d ever seen. Though the two of us had only met once many years back, I recognized her as the proprietress, Minny Patterson. Her youth had slipped away from her many years ago, if the touch of gray in her hair was any sign, but was something in those deep blue eyes and creamy chocolate skin that made her beauty even more appealing. Had I not had my mind on other matters, I might have asked if she was interested in a little romp between the sheets, despite the very obvious age difference. I was more intent on drowning in my despair.

She pursed her lips and did me a once over before speaking. “Watt’s son, right?”

I nodded, sneaking a glance at her chest. She was showing enough skin for my eyes to get a glimpse of some rather nice cleavage. She had a nice set for a woman her age, but that was neither here nor there.

“Yeah.”

She didn’t press me for more information, but leaned down and looked me in the eye. Maybe she sensed my mood, or maybe she didn’t care. Either was fine by me.

“What will it be?”

I glanced around the bar again, bit the inside of my cheek, and rocked my head. “Anything but Amaretto.”

She whipped out a nice frosty mug of beer, sliding it across the bar, so it skidded to a halt right in front of my face and for a moment I sat there watching it froth. I stretched a hand out, but before my fingers would even so much as grasp the chilled glass of the mug, a hand landed on my shoulder. I froze, and tilted my head around to meet the gaze of the person who had interrupted me in my misery and swallowed, hard, as I got a good look at her. She was breathtaking, a nice round ass, breasts I could kill to suck on and a face of an angel, if you believed in that sort of thing, and she was touching me. Oh god, I liked it when they touched me.

“Can I sit?”

I swallowed again and nodded, my mouth hanging open just a little. Truth was, I may have drooled a bit. Hey, don’t look at me like that. She was fine with a capital F, and I didn’t care who had sent her. I was still wallowing in self-pity, but when a woman who just oozes sex and femininity offers to sit next to me, there isn’t a chance in hell, I would tell her no. I caught just the subtlest hint of perfume as she shifted her nice plump ass on the stool next to mine. Her brilliant blue eyes locked on mine again and a smile touched the corner of her lips.

“Jek, you alright?”

What? I hadn’t told her my name. How then did she —

I blinked and shook my head, then gave the tall leggy brunette a second once-over. It was Tanner. Though my business associate was attractive, she sported more of a tomboyish make-up free look. That night seemed to be so great an exception that I failed to recognize her. In my defense, I’d never seen her wearing cosmetics beyond a little lipstick.

My heart racing, I took a sip from my drink. Tanner and I had always been flirty, but neither of us ever acted on our innuendos. I had no idea why she showed up looking like that, but you didn’t have to be a genius to realize it wasn’t to discuss business.

“So,” I cleared my throat before taking another swig. “How did Gerrknotttt go?”

“I’ll have what he’s having,” she said motioning to Minny then smiled over at me.

“Qor already found another supplier by the time I arrived, but it turned out fine. There’s growing demand in the Phorrnam province, so I was able to unload it pretty easily and at a better price.”

“Good,” I said, twirling a finger around inside my beer.

Now that the shock of seeing Tanner so gussied up was over, I slipped back into my downcast mood.

“I take it that coming home hasn’t been a very good experience?” Tanner asked, picking up on my mood.

“Oh, about as bad as I expected. Well, worse really.”

I grimaced and turned back to meet her gaze again. “I’ve spent the last five years trying to forget the Conclave, the K’teth and the whole fucking mess, but now, now I have a damn symbiote in my head who’s very presence makes it impossible to forget any of it. That’s not even the worst part!”

‘Hey!’ Khala’s voice rattled through my head in protest, but I ignored her.

I threw my hand out, hitting the glass and sloshing beer all over the counter, and my cheeks burned when I realized everyone in the room was looking at me. I hunkered down in my seat and lowered my voice. “You wouldn’t know what it’s like having the specter of swapping out your manly bits for a cookie and a pair of melons hanging over you, would you? It’s just swell.”

Tanner furrowed her eyebrows, frowned, and averted her eyes. I took another swig of my drink and watched her do the same. I could guess why my business partner had come, and under any other circumstances I would have jumped at the opportunity. It was damned terrible timing for us. My life was a shambles, and it looked like our paths were about to veer in different directions.

We were always flirting, making little jokes about each other’s fabulous asses or whatever else occurred to us, but we’d never gone beyond that. Leap travel was instantaneous. I think if we’d been alone in the Hawk for a longer stretch of time something might have happened, but we’d each had enough space that we’d been able to keep the ridiculous charade going for almost five years. I could only guess at Tanner’s reasons, but something told me they probably weren’t so different from mine. Now, things had gotten so complicated that I wasn’t sure if any time would ever be right for us.

Tanner spoke my name. Just the slightest tremor in her voice and I felt her hand reach out to touch mine. “Do you ever think about us?”

And there it was, just as I’d predicted. The reason she had come.

If it was possible, I think my cheeks might have burned an even deeper shade of red, but I blurted out a reply despite my nerves being on fire.

“I’d be lying if I said no.”

“The timing is wrong, I know that Jek and I’m sorry about what’s happened to you. I really am, but I don’t want any regrets. If you go through with…” She paused, squeezed my hand and continued. “It and I don’t act, I’ll regret it.”

“What are you saying?”

“I… Care for you and I’m going on a limb here, hoping that you feel the same way.”

“You spring this on me, now?!” I gasped and stared at her with wide eyes.

“All those weeks ago, when we visited Moyrrda, with that huge waterfall and the sunset you said was the prettiest thing you’d ever seen. That would have been the perfect time to come on to me, but now right before I lose my manhood? Come on, Tanner. That’s just not fair.”

Her lips trembled and her eyebrows shot way up, and I half expected her to storm off, but she surprised me. Had I known what she intended I would have pulled away, but she came at me so fast that I just froze. She grabbed the cuff of my shirt and pulled me forward, her arms sliding around my back as she kissed me so deeply and so passionately that it left me gasping for air when she broke away.

I stared back at her, so dumbstruck that I couldn’t form a coherent thought, much less speak, but I didn’t need to say anything since she spoke first.

“You should know that whether you look like a guy or a girl, you’re still the same person to me. It won’t be a deal breaker.”

“Th-that’s good to know,” I mumbled, and downed what was left of my beer.

What I can remember of the rest of the night went pretty much how I planned as I drank myself into a stupor. Tanner’s presence was the only exception, I hadn’t expected her and I sure as hell hadn’t known that it would leave such a lasting impression. I could still feel her lips pressed against mine even as my inside shrank at the thought of becoming a woman. We locked eyes once or twice as Minny flung drink after drink at us, and I got the sense that there was something Tanner wasn’t telling me.

She did not speak after her confession, and neither did I. Perhaps she sensed that if she pushed me further, I might resist. Instead, I found myself unable to stop entertaining thoughts of our bodies entwined, making love. As the alcohol ate at my inhibitions, everything dimmed, and my baser instincts took hold. I don’t remember much, but I recall wrapping my arm around Tanner’s waist as we stumbled out of the bar, wasted beyond reason.

separator

A blur of motion. Everything was so gray, warped and twisted.

I staggered forward, the ground shifted and turned under my feet. I screamed, but no sound came.

Pounding. Hammering on wood, a woman’s voice called out, muffled by God knows what. I couldn’t, would never, understand. I panted, heaved, yelled out in pain, but nothing ended my torment. It wasn’t right, it was never right. Could never be rectified, the price was too high.

I ran through the woods, down a corridor, still panting, still heaving. Breasts jiggled on my chest, I laughed, then screamed. NO!

“I’m not Lexa. No, never Lexa. Not Lexa.”

‘Find her, set her free.’ More pounding, the woman, her voice. Still muffled. More pounding.

“I found her. I found her. She’s dead.” I wept. Cried out. My voice. A female voice.

“What more do you want?”

The hallway ended. A mirror. Lexa was looking back at me.

I shrieked.

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 6 & 7

01/23/2021

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CH 06

The Torrentian Void aboard the Valiant

We high-tailed it out of the briefing room, my grandmother following on our wake. Cayne didn’t say a word about it, nor did he seem to be aware of her as she scrambled after us. He even allowed her to follow us into the lift. In moments, he led us onto the bridge, in time to see an energy blast slam into the viewport with a violent explosion of light.

My head snapped back, and a grunt issued from my lips. Khala spun around on the balls of my feet, and planted my hands on the back of the shield station seat, gazing at the display. “The shields are still up.”

“Sir?” The shield technician asked, only peeling his eyes away from the display long enough to glance at the Colonel.

“It’s fine Sergeant, tell me if you see any changes.”

Khala looked up, staring through the front viewport, eying the dark cylinder that floated there, devoid of any lights or colors save for the tail-end which blazed a brilliant neon pink. My eyes darted around, focusing on the Colonel.

“From the looks of it, that is the same type of ship that attacked the Endeavour. They fired at us five times, maybe six, each had no effect, until the last shot. All the ship’s systems failed without warning including shields, and that creature came aboard killing everyone including my prior host,” she paused a sob escaping my lips before she continued. “Unless shield technology has made some significant advances in the last twenty years, I suggest you utilize your Rhiannon drive.”

Cayne’s eyebrows twitched. It might have been from her use of such an archaic term, but it may have had more to do with taking suggestions from a symbiote. “Rodriquez get the PLD coils spinning and leap somewhere astern of our new friends the moment it’s ready. Program a randomized attack pattern the moment we exit subspace. In the meantime, get this ship moving, at minimum we have five blasts before they disable our systems. I’d prefer to keep those weapons off us as much as possible.

Once known as Rhiannon drives, PLDs, or Precision Leap Drives, are what the name implies, a more precise means of leap travel. Once a prototype drive, code-named the Rhiannon device, used during the final battle to take back Earth from the Qharr, helping the human-allied forces to bypass the protective barrier around our world, the PLDs had continued to be an important part of the United Earth Alliance’s arsenal even to this day.

Despite more than a hundred and sixty years’ worth of research and development, they still retained a single major downside. PLDs created a lot more wear and tear on a ship’s systems than traditional drives. As a result, those ships fitted with one had a traditional drive as well.

The Endeavour didn’t have such a dual drive, but there was no guarantee it would have saved the crew. Hell, there wasn’t even a guarantee we would live to tell people what had happened. I would have crossed my fingers, but Khala was holding the reins at the moment so all I could do was sit and witness what might well have been our doom. I guess I could have wrangled control away from her, but something told me her expertise was, face it, more important than my smart mouth. So, I let her have at it.

From the edge of the viewport I made out an energy beam bursting from the unknown ship. It was a good thing the Valiant was already in motion. When something impacts a vessel’s shields, you see a tinge of color, appear around the ship. That’s more or less how I knew we’d evaded it, given that Khala was looking out the viewport and not the control panel. Still, it was a little nice knowing that we hadn’t taken another step toward death.

“Sir, the precision drive is coming online,” a voice pronounced, before the entire control room flooded with the most brilliant white light.

I gritted my teeth, as the inevitable nothingness came slamming into me with the force of a steamroller. The world fractured, breaking apart into about a bajillion microscopic light particles which swirled around like will-o’-wisps and burst into a veritable rainbow of colors with such an intensity that it hurt my eyes. What I was experiencing was my mind trying to compensate for being disintegrated into thousands of tiny pieces, transported across space, and rematerialized in the blink of the eye, but damn… It was one hell of a hallucination.

It was different every time, but I always perceived something, whether I heard, smelled, tasted, felt or saw it. Everyone experienced something unique, but I was the only person I’d ever known who’d caught the whiff or tang of the nothingness between leaps.

When the ship reappeared, the universe was still basked in light, Khala blinked, and our perceptions were still distorted as she turned my head, granting us a good look around. There was an odd disjointed quality to what should have been smooth movement. They trained military personnel to operate under reentry conditions, but even so they were still human and needed precious seconds to recover before taking action.

Fortunately for us, the ship didn’t need to adjust, it opened fire blasting into the strange ship with all batteries, as they had programmed it to do before making the leap. The world jolted back into something a little less disconcerting, but the PLD coils had already wound up enough for us to make another leap.

Again, we hurtled into the nothingness, this time the experience differed, there was the usual burst of light before, but the moment between when we dematerialized and then rematerialized was filled with an intense itching and crawling sensation coupled with a scent that resembled casu marzu and orange juice, which is to say a little like citrusy vomit… It was more or less as bad as it sounded, but the experience was short-lived. We reemerged and opened fire before we disappeared again with another flash of light.

It took two more leaps through subspace before Cayne changed tactics. When we re-emerged, we were astern of the other ship. The Colonel clenched his teeth as the fog from the transition lifted and started barking out orders.

“Bring the interphasic warheads online.”

Interphasic weapons were a new technology, and any sane person would think twice about using them. They were stupid powerful and if we were too close when they detonated, the blast would take the Endeavour, Centennial Hawk, and the Valiant along with it. If phase cannons weren’t getting through, it was probably our sole hope of taking down the enemy craft. Yeah, it was that desperate of a situation.

It was the Dexagarmetrax who had first developed them, but it was only about ten years ago that they had deigned to share the technology with their human cousins. Even then only about a dozen UEAF vessels had been outfitted with them, most of them larger capital ships, given the difficulty of retrofitting smaller vessels with the enormous launch tubes necessary.

“Open a comm line,” Cayne said with a raspy growl.

“Done, sir.”

“This is Colonel Cayne of the UEAF Valiant, you have attacked without provocation. I will consider this an act of war unless you stand down. If you do not desist at once, I will be forced to utilize the most powerful weapons in our arsenal.”

Everyone aboard the ship paused, as the opposing ship hovered in the void of space, showing no sign they had heard Cayne’s ultimatum.

“Sir, they’re opening fire.”

“Evasive maneuvers.” He emitted a low-pitched growl, then turned to the communications officer.

“Are the Endeavour and Centennial Hawk still linked to the computers?”

“Yessir.”

“The alien corpse and the artifact? They’ve been retrieved?”

“Affirmative, sir.”

“Launch an interphasic warhead and get as far away as possible on thrusters, ensure that the other two ships are out of range before it detonates.”

Khala shook my skull, then sighed as she relinquished control of my body. I swirled around and got a good look at Cayne. A part of me wanted to persuade him to retract his order, but I knew it was our only hope of surviving. The shittiest thing about interphasic weapons was that leap drives destabilized them. If we tried to leap away, we’d get blown into oblivion along with the enemy vessel. The only way we might make it out alive was to get as far away as possible without activating the leap coils.

The Valiant lurched into motion, with such a violent jerk, that the inertial negators failed to nullify it.

One perk of being joined to a symbiote was the K’teth’s ability to manipulate electromagnetic energy. I could leap from the tallest skyscraper in New York without a grav-pack and walk away without even so much as a scratch. So, as you might imagine, it wasn’t so difficult for Khala to negate a simple little thing like inertia.

While everyone else lurched about, the sudden movement didn’t even phase me, nor did it phase my grandmother who hadn’t lost a single bit of her poise. Shit, she might have been standing idle at a diplomatic function for all she showed for it. The only thing missing was a wine goblet clutched in her long, delicate fingers.

I winced and bowed my head, willing the image out of my mind, my heart racing as my eyes turned back toward the viewport which displayed an image projected from the rear of the Valiant. The alien vessel, though almost black, was visible through the darkness of space. What wasn’t so visible, was the warhead. I could only catch a brief blur of motion before it exploded into a brilliant eruption of light. It was so bright, in fact, that even my enhanced eyes had trouble adjusting to the sudden shift in light.

The ship shook and rattled, and the viewscreen blinked out, reverting to the default view. I had no idea if the explosion damaged the exterior holocams or a member of the crew had cut off the feed, but either way the effect was the same. The lighting in the bridge returned to a more manageable level, and I cast my eyes about, watching as the unbonded occupants of the bridge regained their composure.

“Sir,” a crew member said with more than a little strain in his voice. “You will not believe this. They survived.”

Cayne lurched across the bridge toward the crew member who’d spoken.

“What!?”

As I watched Cayne glare at his subordinate’s display and ran his fingers through his close-cut salt and pepper hair, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hopelessness settle in. We were all going to die.

Shit.

Then a ray of hope.

“Sir, it looks like the warhead took out their shields. If we open fire with phase cannons, we might disable their ship.”

“I want a full sensor sweep, ascertain as much as you can about their systems.”

“Yessir.”

“Open a communication line.”

Again his subordinate complied. Cayne gripped his hands so tight on the top of the chair that his knuckles turned white. “Alien ship, you committed an aggressive act against a United Earth Alliance Fleet destroyer, stand down and surrender immediately or we will open fire. This is your final warning.”

“Sir, they’re charging weapons.”

Cayne gritted his teeth and shook his head. “Lieutenant you know what to do.”

The viewport blinked on again, displaying the mysterious vessel, as brilliant bursts of light shot out, peppering its hull with phase blasts from the Valiant. If the resulting explosions were any sign, the cannons were doing a shit-ton of damage. As the mysterious ship took more and more fire, I thought for sure that they would destroy it, but then Teadman announced they had disabled the alien vessel and Cayne called for a cease fire.

“Release the docking clamps tethering the Centennial Hawk to the Valiant and prepare to board our new friends’ ship. I think it’s time we got some answers.”

Cayne peered at Kaya, then me, and glowered, but before he could say a word to either of us. A slender woman sitting in the corner spoke up, with a firm yet high-pitched voice.

“Sir, I’m detecting a massive energy build-up from the alien ship. If what I’m reading is correct, sir,” she said. “I think they may have activated some sort of FTL drive.”

“Open fire!” Cayne yelled, but before any of us could even blink it disappeared, fading away without the telltale burst of light that always accompanied a leap across subspace. Whatever tech these aliens used, it must have been very different from our own.

“Fuck,” I said under my breath as I stared out into the emptiness of space. “That was close.”

Cayne glowered at me, ran a hand through his hair and collapsed into his seat.

“Teadman, damage report.”

“The shield emitters are reporting some minor fluctuations in energy output and repeated use of the PL drive has caused some minor damage to the bow inertial negators, but overall we’re in pretty good shape.”

“What about the Centennial Hawk and Endeavour?”

“The Centennial Hawk remains undamaged, and the Endeavour appears to be in the same shape as it was before, sir.”

“Excellent, get the coils spinning, and those ships linked to our systems. As soon as they’re ready, set course for Earth.”

“Hold on a second,” I said, stepping forward and wincing as Cayne scowled up at me. “I have a hold full of cargo, my buyer is expecting delivery no later than tomorrow morning on Gerrknotttt. I don’t have time to–”

“Mr. Briggs, I realize the maggot cheese in your cargo hold is of the utmost importance, but as we were just attacked by a ship of unknown origins armed with a weapon that is perfectly capable of disabling this ship, one of the most advanced in the fleet, I would expect you to be just slightly more concerned about your life, but by all means take your ship. See how long you last if one of those appears out of the void and decides you’d make a nice little target.”

“Shit,” I said, shaking my head as I watched the ship’s crew move about and prepared to make the leap through space. “Tanner’s going to kill me.”

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CH 07

Kingsburgh, California Spaceport, Earth

I shuddered, as I was assaulted by the frigid morning air, and wished for all the world that I’d thought to bring my winter coat from the Hawk, but given that I’d already traveled through security, returning to the ship would have taken hours. I winced and pulled my jacket close, glanced toward my grandmother who didn’t seem at all phased by the icy droplets that sprinkled our faces as we stepped out from under the eave of the spaceport and into the dull grays of Kingsburgh’s streets.

It was chilly for late April, especially in sunny California, but as we waited for our ride, a sardonic smile touched the corner of my lips. Everything about the sight and sounds around us fit my mood. The tall skyscrapers dwarfed me, making me feel insignificant while the cold droplets drizzling my face, mirrored the icy dread of things to come.

I’d become bonded to a K’teth H’ra, which meant not only had I just drafted myself into the most distrusted organization on all of Earth, the K’teth-Human Cooperative Conclave, but because of the agreement formed between the symbiotes and their human hosts, I’d be subject to the one rule all humans knew by heart. Any man joined to a H’ra, must sacrifice his masculinity so that she might reproduce.

I grimaced and shook my head, never so glad to see the Conclave hovercraft pull up to the curb. Yeah, it was a portent of doom, and was quite literally the vehicle that would lead me to my own personal hell, but at least it distracted me for the briefest of moments.

Once we settled inside the car, I took a seat opposing my grandmother and clasped my hands together. I would have just as soon remained silent throughout the entire ride, but the great Kaya Briggs didn’t seem to share that desire. Not surprising, she loved to talk.

God, it was annoying.

“Jek, are you all right?” She leaned against the padded back of her seat and released a deep sigh. “You’ve been quiet since we left the Valiant.”

“Is that really such a surprise, after everything that has happened?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I was disappointed to learn your partner wouldn’t be coming along. I would have liked to spend more time with her, she seems like such a lovely young woman.”

I leveled my gaze and looked my grandmother square in the eyes. She’d never admit to it, but I had a good idea of what she was getting at. Kaya Briggs had never quite agreed with my life choices. She’d had it all mapped out from the day my mother had passed away, and me remaining single was not part of that plan. She hoped that my relationship with Tanner was more than a simple business partnership. This was her way of trying to ascertain whether we were also partners in the romantic sense.

I wasn’t about to get her hopes up. “Somebody had to do something with our cargo before it spoils. Since I seem to be in such high demand, it fell to Tanner to unload the stuff. I just hope we don’t take a loss on it. Our buyer isn’t very forgiving with late shipments. I had to give Tanner an extra ten percent out of my share just to keep her happy.”

Frankly, I couldn’t imagine that cheese infested with maggots could spoil or get any fouler than it already was, but according to our suppliers it had a limited shelf life.

I guess my grandmother had gotten her answer or else given up on it because she frowned, then pursed her lips and changed the subject. “Has Khala spoken much about her reproductive needs?”

“You mean, has she told me if she’ll be transforming me into a woman any time soon? No, not really.”

“There are other options available to us, Jellfree. You know that. We live in an age where genetic engineering is a simple enough matter. You are not stuck in the same boat as my mother. Khala would have told–”

My grandmother stopped mid-sentence and stared at what had been, until just a moment before, the empty space on the seat beside her.

“You know,” Khala said after materializing in the very space my grandmother had her eyes trained on, wearing a flowered sundress that was decidedly more conservative than her previous choice in apparel. “You could just ask me.”

Despite her statement, she didn’t wait for anyone to ask. “Had Sofia not put me into stasis I would have begun my reproductive cycle within days, but now… It’s delayed, the experience put my physical form under a lot of stress. I was lucky to have survived at all.”

“And?” I grated my teeth, glancing at my grandmother, then back to Khala. “That doesn’t exactly clear things up.”

“You will not like my answer,” she pressed her lips together, wilting under my gaze.

For a moment I almost allowed myself to sympathize with her, but I stopped and reminded myself that what I was seeing was an illusion. Whatever Khala might be feeling, I got the sense the facsimile she was showing me might not be a very accurate representation of her emotions.

“Tell us anyway.” My grandmother replied for me, staring at Khala’s visage, her lips so tightly pressed together that they had turned white.

“While I have never heard of a K’teth being put into stasis, as I never knew the Qharr to show any inclination for preserving a symbiote’s life, there is precedence for a H’ra’s reproductive capabilities being interrupted. Usually, this occurs to a Queen joined to a male host for a very long time. The only method I know of, is for my host to become pregnant or else…”

She leaned forward and let out a long breath, as if dreading what she must say next.

“Trick the host’s body into thinking it’s pregnant. The release of hormones is essential to restoring those capabilities.”

“A male host?” I glowered at her and shifted in my seat. “And just why would a queen allow herself to reside in a male body?”

“There have been situations in which a host sought to disguise themselves. Changing sex is a rather drastic, but very effective way of doing so.” Khala folded her arms across her chest and glared back.

“And… In the rare instances where a Gieff male became host to a queen he would threaten to take his own life, in a ritual suicide they call the Fahk Nen Rahn which when translated means something like the Eternal Sacrifice, rather than live in a transformed body. The hosts usually take the symbiote along with them since they make certain to isolate themselves. I’m sure you can understand why a queen might allow a host to keep his male body rather than die because of some silly Gieff superstition.”

“All right, I get the picture.”

“Where does that leave us?”

“I don’t really know.” Khala glanced at Kaya and pursed her lips. “But something tells me that engineering a form more appealing to you might be more complicated than Kaya has expected.”

“Just perfect.” I glanced out the window, watching the blur of the other hovercraft as we sped past them. What the hell had I gotten myself into?