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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 1

12/05/2020

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Author's Note

This story is a sequel to Battle for Earth set close to 160 years after the events of the previous story. It can be read as a standalone, but (and it’s a big but) to read this without having first tackled Battle For Earth will result in spoiling the plot of the first story.

Thanks go out to the following people: Jenny North for her valuable input on the fictionmania hyperboard, Jessica Nicole for proofing the bits of Spanish dialogue, and Zapper, Patricia Marie Allen, Chris, and Xtrim for pre-reading various drafts.

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CH 01

The Torrentian Void aboard the Centennial Hawk

Cold chills trickled down my spine as I stared out the viewport of the Centennial Hawk and out into the vast expanse of space. A long cigar-shaped ship, of obvious human design, floated through the emptiness, dark and devoid of the lights that were so evident on other vessels of its type. Had I not been familiar with the class, I might assume it was a stealth vessel on some secret assignment, but the United Earth Alliance had decommissioned that line more than a decade ago and it was never used for that purpose.

“Good lord,” a voice said beside me.

I turned, studying my business partner, trying my damnedest to keep any sign of emotion off my face. I couldn’t say how good of a job I was doing, but the lump in my throat made it pretty hard. For the last twenty years, I wanted nothing so much as to find the Endeavour and discover what happened to her crew. I let my hands manipulate the controls, seemingly taking on a mind of their own, but I couldn’t keep them from shaking.

Tanner didn’t know my history with the Endeavour, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to reveal it to her. I stepped away from my past life years ago, and I was not quite prepared to let myself get pulled back into it. I wasn’t ready to cast aside all of my heritage just yet. Not until I discovered the truth. I needed to know for closure’s sake.

I bowed my head before glancing back out at the derelict ship. “Begin docking procedures.”

Tanner’s head twisted toward me, her hair whipping out far enough to brush against my shoulder. “What about the casu marzu? We have cargo that needs delivered.”

“Maggot cheese is the least of my concern right now.”

I rocked my head back and forth, and despite my statement to the contrary, let myself wonder for the briefest of moments why the Credknotts seemed to love the stuff so much, but the prospect of the task before me soon overtook such thoughts. I stood up, moving across the control room with quick determination, not saying a word as I opened one of the overhead storage compartments, my hand finding purchase on a small black duffel and helmet.

“What!? Are you nuts?” Tanner scrambled across the room and yanked the bag out of my hands. “We don’t know anything about that ship!”

I turned back to her, and grabbed her by the shoulders, a smile touching the corner of my lips even as my heart pounded in my chest at what felt like a thousand beats a minute. “Sure, we do… It’s the Endeavour.”

“The Endeavour?” She took a step back, her brows furrowed as she shook her head. “This is what you’ve been looking for, isn’t it? All these little side trips over the years. You always said you wanted to see the universe, but that’s not it at all. You were hunting for that ship.”

Tanner knew me well enough that she could tell when I was lying. So, I didn’t deny it. I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded, not even bothering to look her in the eyes before I seized the duffel out of her hands. “I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time. Start docking procedures, please.”

I expected Tanner to issue further protestations, but she didn’t let out a peep. She didn’t need to, I saw her misgivings in her eyes. Derelict ships were left abandoned for good reasons. There might be dozens of dangers lurking inside the hull of the cruiser, but no risk would be great enough to keep me from seeking the truth. The Endeavour had been missing for almost twenty years, and there wasn’t a human alive who hadn’t heard of it. My reasons for seeking it out were personal, but there were an overabundance of people who would gladly lay their hands on it. The rewards offered by the United Earth Alliance and the Conclave alone were incentive enough for most people to search it out. Of course, there was the whole bit about salvage rights to consider, but none of that mattered to me.

It smacked of predetermination, but, though I was only six-years-old I’d known from the moment they declared it missing, that I would find it.

My hands shook as I pulled the EVA suit free from the duffel. The Endeavour was devoid of energy signatures. I had no idea whether there was a breathable atmosphere inside, but even if there was, I’d still need the suit. Without working life support, the ship would be damn cold. Unless I wanted my own little ice age and to get frozen into a meat popsicle after I stepped inside, precautions had to be taken.

Modern EVA suits were pretty light, a mere nine kilos, but the damn life support tanks were another matter. Those would wait till just before I entered the Endeavour. With the ship dead, the artificial gravity would be offline and the air tanks would be weightless. I lugged the air pack out of the storage compartment and made my way toward the hatch just in time to watch through the viewport as the Centennial Hawk inched closer and closer to the Endeavour. From far off, the larger ship was a dark mass devoid of any identifying marks, but as we drew closer, I got a better look. The whole side of the vessel had been scorched to hell, no doubt, from weapons fire, but what seemed odd to me is that there was no sign of forced entry on the air hatch. If Ghrev pirates or some other marauder force had attacked them, they would have been boarded.

I caught a brief glimpse of the United Earth Alliance Fleet insignia before the lights from our ship were smothered out by the Endeavour’s darkened hull. A moment later, a slight tremor rumbled through the Centennial Hawk, accompanied by a snap-hiss. I clenched my gloved fists at my side and my heart jerked inside my chest, now beating so fast I thought it must leap out of my rib cage and perform a musical number.

With slow yet deliberate movements, I reached down and grabbed the helmet, securing it to the neck piece before moving on to the tanks. It was a major pain in the ass, let me tell you, but modern suits featured a hook on the back which allowed a person to fit the air supply without a whole damn team to help them… Well, at least when you had something to hook the damn thing onto.

“Tanner,” I spoke into the helmet, as a rush of air pelted me in the face, a sure sign the suit had transitioned from exterior air supply to the suit’s tanks. I grabbed my pistol from its hook near the door and secured the weapon around my waist and glanced back at my business partner. “I’m all suited up. Open the airlock.”

“You sure about this, Jek? That cruiser looks pretty banged up. If something goes wrong in there, there isn’t a lot I can do from inside the Hawk.”

“You bet that sexy little ass of yours, I am. I’ve wanted this for the better part of two decades.”

“All right,” she replied after a brief delay. “Just don’t get yourself killed in there. You still owe my twenty creds after that little wager we made last week.”

“Right… Well, it’s so nice to learn you got my best interests at heart.” I walked inside the airlock as the door hissed open and my gloved fingers twitched as it sealed shut behind me with a snap-hiss.

“Always and forever.”

Any other time I would have issued a reply, playing off the deep-seated sexual tension that neither one of us would ever admit to, but for once my mind wasn’t on sex. My nerves were shot to hell. To think I might, at last, discover the truth, but as much as I would like closure, I also feared what I might find. I didn’t even realize it until the hatch on the Endeavour slid open, but my hand had been resting on my pistol the entire time I’d been waiting.

“Good luck,” Tanner said seconds before the Endeavour’s entry hatch closed behind me. Most airlocks would receive power from exterior sources, like another ship, but that only applied to the outer door. Human vessels, especially military ones, required some sort of access code to allow for docking, but fortunately for us, I had one handy. The means through which I had acquired it weren’t legal per se, but they would do the job.

Even so, I was pretty relieved when the hatch slid open. Whatever had happened, the cruiser was for all intents and purposes dead in space, which meant the inner door needed to be manually opened. So, several minutes later, after a fair bit of panting and grunting accompanied by no small amount of tugging and turning, I got the damn hatch open.

The interior, no surprise, was just as dark as the exterior, but activating the light on the side of my helmet, at least remedied that problem. Though it lent a certain degree of creepiness to the whole experience. I stood there, getting my first good look at the bulkheads, and bit my lip. Like the exterior hull, phase fire had blackened the metal bulkheads, but beyond that the light from my headlamp didn’t illuminate the corridor enough to tell me a damn thing. The only thing to do was continue forward and hope further exploration would help me uncover the truth.

The means humans used to simulate gravity tended to have a bit of a bleed through effect so the first few steps were under its pull, but the further from the hatch I moved, the less of its tug I felt until I put a foot out and it didn’t fall back down. I understood what I had gotten myself into, so it was no surprise when my body drifted from the ground. The effects of anti-gravity had never been very easy on the stomach. God, my insides were crawling with grasshoppers.

I tried not to think about it, gripping my hands on a bulkhead and leveraging myself before pushing off. I glided through the passage, using whatever handholds I could find to help me bolster my momentum. “Tanner, you there?”

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“You had any success mapping the corridors with the sensors? I have the ship’s layout memorized, but it’s hard to tell one corridor apart from the next when they all look the same.”

“You memorized the layout, Jesus Christ, Jek, what the hell is with you and this ship?”

I grabbed hold of a bulkhead trying to halt my momentum, but as an added bonus also slammed into the bulkhead, or I suppose in this case it was the overhead, which is ship-talk for the ceiling. I gritted my teeth and glanced down the passageway, trying to visualize the layout in my mind, but shook my head, realizing I might be almost anywhere. All the damn bulkheads looked identical.

“Tanner.” I repeated her name, trying not to let my impatience bleed through the comm.

“Sorry, Jek, I’m not getting anything useful. I think there must be some interference. I can’t even get a read on your position.”

“Just great,” I muttered under my breath before shoving off again. “Tell me if you get anything. Who knows how long it’s going to take me to find what I’m looking for.”

“Right, which means you have the perfect opportunity to fess up and tell me what the actual fuck is going on.”

I released a deep sigh.  “My mom was a member of the crew.”

The silence that followed was damned eerie. The more time I spent inside the ship, the creepier it got. I’d never explored a ghost ship before, but I’m pretty sure it beat cemeteries for level of creepiness by a long shot. The silence only made it worse. I guess if Tanner would not talk, I’d just have to do something about that. “Sofia Briggs.”

“W-what?”

“That was her name, Sofia Briggs. I know what you’re going to say and you’re right. I haven’t been completely honest with you. I am related to the Briggs of the Conclave. I just wanted to make a name for myself. It’s been almost a hundred and sixty years since the occupation ended and my family still can’t step out from under Lexa Briggs’ shadow. Do you have any idea what it’s like–” I stopped mid-sentence, catching sight of a dark form floating in the passageway a half a dozen meters in front of me.

“Hold on.”

I didn’t pause, but instead let my forward momentum carry me toward the shadowy form, and as I drew closer, the figure took shape. It was a woman suspended face down, her arms spread out full eagle as she hung there in the emptiness. I drew close enough to grab her by the shoulder and spun her around to see her face. It wasn’t one I recognized, but I felt my heart sink. She couldn’t have been much older than eighteen or nineteen at the time of her death. I couldn’t tell which had done her in, asphyxiation or the cold, but neither would have been a very pleasant way to go.

With a shudder, I moved on, trying to rid myself of those pallid, lifeless eyes. I’d long suspected that if I ever discovered the Endeavour that I wouldn’t find the crew alive and well, but I always had this faint hope they might have somehow survived. Now, it was time to accept the truth. They were all dead, which put the ship’s creepiness level up to a ten. Nothing was creepier than a derelict ship in the middle of nowhere, filled with lifeless corpses. Okay, so far there was only one dead body, but where there was one there would be others.

I grunted, propelling myself forward once again.

“Jek?” Tanner’s voice whispered over the comm. She had a direct feed into my helmet’s cam, so she’d seen the whole thing. I lucked out. She took the conversation in a different direction. “How did you figure out that the Endeavour would be here?”

“I didn’t.” I replied, thankful for the distraction. “Last week I had some drinks with a few Faioloese traders and one told me about a gagava… Their word for ghost ship. They’re a pretty superstitious lot, so I had some difficulty filtering out the religious bullshit, but after getting them good and drunk, I finally got one of them to reveal the location. I didn’t have a clue if I would discover anything at all, given how much the Faioloese love to exaggerate, but it wasn’t a lead I could overlook. The prospect was just too damn good.”

“Well, you’ll be happy to hear the sensors are now picking up the interior.”

I blinked. “What, how?”

“Fuck, you tell me.”

“That’s odd, maybe you can give me some direction. I don’t have the faintest idea where the hell I’m going.” I grabbed a corner, using it to swing around and stop my momentum.

“If you’re looking to reach the control room, you’re headed the right way, but there’s something else you might want to investigate. There’s a dead spot in the heart of the Endeavour the sensors still can’t penetrate. I think it might be the source of the interference which was giving me so much trouble earlier.”

“First stop, control room. If I can get backup power going, I might could get artificial gravity and minimal life support running. All this floating around makes my stomach churn.”

“Well, just keep going and you’ll reach it soon.”

I grimaced, then launched myself forward. “I’d say that’s good, but something tells me we’ve stumbled into some deep shit.”

I grunted as I continued, I didn’t know it then, but I was right. Sometimes I wish I would learn to just shut the fuck up.

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When I reached the control room, I found the place in shambles. Someone had blown half the consoles to shit while the other half looked almost untouched. I would have been a lot less creeped out if that was the only shit I found, but it got worse, so much worse. A full dozen corpses littered the place, two still strapped in their seats with enormous holes in their chests and the rest floating around covered with more wounds than I could count. A few were even missing limbs.

Several had bled out so much, gore stuck to their clothes and froze to their bodies. Bits of red icicles hung in the open space all around me. The creepiness level jumped from a ten to eleven surpassing my previous estimate, which was saying something since everyone knows the scale only goes up to ten.

My mother was not among the dead. It sounded odd, but I had mixed feelings about that. I mean, sure, it would be the fulfilment of my deepest dreams to find her alive, but given how long she’d been missing, it didn’t seem likely. The Endeavour expedition should have lasted a year, but when a group of people go missing for a long period, you kind of expect that they’re all dead. Some closure would be nice after so many years.

Those sorts of thoughts gave way to the sight of all those corpses. I could only ignore them for so long before they were thrown into the forefront of my awareness.

God, it was worse than the woman.

I turned my head and looked away, closing my eyes as I dry heaved. I swallowed hard and slowed my breathing. Vomiting would have been bad enough, but spewing in my suit would only make things worse. When I got my stomach under control, I slid my eyes back open and moved through the area, looking for an undamaged console, and found it.

An indicator light was blinking in the bottom left corner. It was so dim, I might have missed it, if I hadn’t been searching for that very thing. I moved close, tapping my fingertips over the console, and allowed a grin to stretch across my face as the control interface blinked to life. I looked about, my smile fading as I remembered I was surrounded by the bodies of the long dead. Not only did it seem creepy, but it was just a little… disrespectful.

“Jek, did you just do something? I’m reading an influx in power from the control room.”

“Yeah, it was me.” I grimaced, returning my attention to the console. “I activated a control panel. It’s looking for biometrics.”

I grabbed the arm of the pilot, who sat just a few feet away, and groaned as I fought to bring her hand down to palm the console. Okay, it was just a little more difficult than I imagined. It might have been because the frigid temperatures had frozen her solid, but it may also have something to do with rigor mortis. How should I know? It’s not like I was a doctor or anything. I reached for the straps which secured her to the seat and grimaced as my hand brushed her chest. It made me feel like some sicko-perv necrophiliac, but I clench my jaw and forced aside my discomfort. I released my breath as the clasp on her harness came free.

I placed her hand on the console and released her wrist the second the ship accepted her biometric signature. She floated away, and I shuddered, never so glad to have that ordeal done with. I remembered hearing stories of my ancestor, Lexa Briggs, using dismembered limbs to unlock the biometrics on Qharr ships and had always thought it sounded grizzly. What I had done was bad enough, I didn’t care to try it with a severed hand.

I paused, dry heaving again as I struggled to get the ghastly images out of my head. Bile rose in my throat and I gagged, taking in several deep breaths before managing to once again gain control over my rioting stomach. The taste in my mouth was none too pleasant, but at least I’d spared myself from soaking the interior of my suit with the not-quite digested remains of my last meal.

“Okay,” I said, clearing my throat. “It looks like I need a passcode to get into most of the major systems, but I think I can at least make things a bit more comfortable. Whether there’s enough power is another matter.”

I tapped the controls, and again a smile spread over my features as the ship responded to my commands, coming to life with a glorious humming sound. With a suddenness I wasn’t quite prepared for, artificial gravity kicked in and I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. Okay, it wasn’t the smartest thing in the galaxy to do, but in my defense the room happened to be filled to the brim with corpses. That would unnerve even the most stalwart of Qharr warriors.

Granted, most ships had safety systems to prevent just such an occurrence, but given the Endeavour was in pretty terrible shape, it seemed likely that those systems might not be functioning.

“Well,” I grunted, clutching at my chest and climbing to my feet, “gravity’s working.”

“Now let’s see what we can do about environmental systems.” I leveraged myself against the console, still shaken from having my ass slammed to the ground, and toggled the controls. I let out a sigh of relief as the life support kicked in with a hiss and whirl. Someone must have invaded the ship, then shut the reactor and secondary power supplies down. Why the hell would anyone do that? They’d already killed everyone on board and left the ship adrift. What purpose would shutting down the power serve? Something wasn’t adding up.

It would take a while for the ship to heat enough to take my helmet off, but my respirator had already switched from the tanks to outside air supply, allowing me to shed the heavy as fuck pack. I didn’t hesitate, releasing the latch that held the damn air tanks in place and set them on the ground.

“Tanner, you still there?” I asked glancing at the temperature reading on the console’s display and undoing the clasps on the helmet, relieved the ship had warmed enough.

“Yeah, I’m getting a lot of unusual readings. Whatever is causing all the interference is getting stronger. I think it’s reacting to the influx of power.”

“Shit, of course it is.” I cursed, releasing the final clasp, and slammed it onto the console before I took off running, making my way out of the control room and back into the corridor.

If I had learned one thing in my twenty-five years, it was that when you detected a strange energy signature and it started getting stronger, shit was about to go down. I know that sounds oddly specific, but you’d be surprised how often it comes up when you transport cargo for a living.

Okay, it almost never happens, but there are some situations in life that are just no-brainers. This was one of those times, but instead of running back to the safety of the Hawk, I did the stupidest thing I could ever do, I ran toward danger.  What can I say? I may very well be the biggest dumbass who was ever born.

“Tanner, I’m gonna need you to point me in the right direction. Which way is the dead spot?”

“Keep going straight and at the next fork, turn left and then left again. I can’t read anything beyond that point, so you’re on your own from there.”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, why does this shit always happen to me?” I cursed, taking off down the corridor and toward what I’m sure was certain doom. Further confirming that I was, in fact, a dumbass.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 2

12/12/2020

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CH 01

The Torrentian Void aboard the Endeavour

I panted, coming to a stop in front of a door. “I really, really need to spend a little more time working out.”

“Jek?”

“Forget about it,” I shook my head and gritted my teeth. “I think I’ve found it.”

“Are you sure… I mean, how can you tell?”

“The door marked ‘Research Area: Authorized Personnel Only’ kind of gives it away, Tanner. If shit is going down, it’ll be in there.”

It made a certain amount of sense. The Endeavour had been a research ship on a very specific mission. If someone brought something freaky aboard, they would take it to the one place on the ship where they would be able to examine and contain it. I toggled the controls, cursing when they failed to comply with the command to open, and took a few steps back. I whipped my pistol out and removed the energy cell. Though I wasn’t really keen on blowing the door to shit, you know what they say about desperate measures and all that.

Energy cells were designed to prevent idiots like me from doing just such a thing, but when you spend enough time with sleazebags and lowlifes who live on the outskirts of their respective societies, you picked up a few tricks and… I’d lived a pretty sheltered life until striking out on my own. Tanner was the one who showed me that trick, who had taught her was a matter I hadn’t quite figured out.

I finished the modifications and ducked around the corner, seconds before the resulting explosion rocked the corridor. Okay, so rocked was too strong of a word. What came was more like a little tremor. Either way, once I ducked my head back over the bend and got a perfect look at the huge freaking hole in the door, I didn’t pause to debate semantics with myself. I took action, running toward the opening and crawling through without hesitation. My eyes as wide as saucers, I stopped dead in my tracks, staring at the form laying prostrate on the deck.

“Mom.”

I should have figured that my mother would be at the source of the shit I stepped knees deep into. That didn’t mean I understood what the fuck any of it meant. My mother’s corpse lay sprawled out on the ground, covered in blood, and would have looked lifelike were it not for the huge gaping hole in her chest. Her dead eyes stared out into nothingness, and I knelt down, a sigh escaping my lips as I looked upon her body. Tears cascaded down my face as I found the closure I had sought for so long.

She looked exactly as I remembered. I was only six years old when she disappeared, but I etched the image of her face into my mind long ago. She looked young, perhaps in her thirties, but appearances can be deceiving. My mom had been close to eighty years old. Medical technologies progressed a lot after the occupation, and each successive generation lived longer than the last, but her longevity had more to do with her symbiote. Bending over, I stroked her blue hair, a telltale sign that, in life, she hosted a K’teth symbiote. I slipped my fingers out to close those striking magenta eyes, as tears splattered my cheeks.

I cupped my gloved hand in hers, only realizing, as I did so, that she held something clenched in her palm. With gentle force, I pried her fingers loose, careful not to break or damage her hand. What I found was a stasis pod no larger than a medium-sized orange, the sort used by scientists to preserve organic samples for later study. I had no idea what she was doing with the thing, but judging from the way she clutched it in her hand, something told me it might be important.

“Jek!” Tanner’s voice cried, and my mind jumped back to the present. “Energy levels are building to dangerous levels. If you’re going to do something, it better be soon.”

The only reason I ran towards the energy buildup’s source was to prevent the ship from being destroyed and along with it, whatever hope I had of discovering my mother’s fate. I did not expect to find her corpse within its vicinity, but now that I had, I would go to whatever means necessary in order to ensure the ship remained intact.

Not that I had a death wish or anything, but I spent pretty much my entire life wondering about the fate of the Endeavour. If it got blown up, I would never discover the truth. If nothing else, the family of the crew deserved to learn the final fate of their loved ones.

My eyes scanned the room and locked onto the only item that looked important, a plain, unadorned box that wouldn’t have looked very out of place in the Centennial Hawk’s cargo hold. That is, if it weren’t for one small little detail. The thing looked ancient, like someone buried it thousands of years ago and the Endeavour crew only recently unearthed it. There were even a few clumps of dirt still affixed to its surface, but what caught my eye were a pair of blinking lights, which alternated between green, yellow, red and orange, on the front along the seam. I couldn’t guess the box’s significance, but if I were a betting man, which I was, I would say it was the origin of all the interference.

I secured the stasis pod to a clip on my waist, walked over toward my prize, reached a hand out to touch the box, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose as the entire cabin quaked.

“What the hell?” I turned toward the source, just as the opposite wall collapsed and shot toward me with sudden violent force and a loud metallic shriek.

A figure stood in the fresh opening, a hulking creature with muscles bigger than my head. Amidst the debris still fluttering through the air, I didn’t get a very good view of it, but I understood one thing without even having to ask, it wasn’t friendly. I snatched the box off the counter and booked my ass the hell out the entrance I’d made, the tiny hole snagging the suit’s fabric on the jagged steel edges of the opening. A high-pitched wail followed me out the opening, accompanied by the collapse of metal on metal as the creature, unable to fit through the opening, tore the door free from its frame.

Tanner’s voice called out, but it was not intelligible against the creature’s roar when it came tearing after me. I risked a glance back, but it moved so fast that I saw little more than a blur. It was big, gray, and had lots of teeth. That was pretty much all I needed to know. I didn’t stop to examine it or try to reason with it, assuming it was even a sapient being. For a change, I didn’t do the stupidest thing humanly possible, I did the exact opposite. I ran like hell.

“Tanner. I uh, think I made a new friend.” I panted, rounding a bend, just barely evading the creature’s fist as crashed it down toward me.

“Holy fuck, what is that sound?” She replied as my pursuer let out a blood-curdling scream.

“My new friend, don’t you listen, Tanner?”

“Uh huh, and this new friend is trying to kill you, isn’t it?”

“That’s why I like you Tanner, you’re such a smart cookie.”

“You realize I can’t help you, don’t you? I can’t read a damn thing on my end.”

“Figures, I’m being chased down by a massive gray blur with muscles that would make any man tremor in his little booties and teeth big enough to bite me in two and all you can do is provide commentary. Story of my life.”

“Why don’t you shoot it?”

“Can’t, I already used my energy cell to blow a crater in the research area’s door and my only spare one is inside my suit. I think I might have a plan… I won’t speak it aloud in case smiley understands me, but assuming he doesn’t get to me before I institute it, it should work.”

“Why doesn’t that fill me with confidence?”

“Tanner, you need to–” I stopped short as a sudden and very violent force yanked me back and slammed me into the wall.

“Jek? Jek? JEK?!” Judging from her screams, I’m sure Tanner had at least an inkling that something had gone wrong, but the cold acceptance I experienced as I stared into the eyes of the creature was far and beyond the most terrifying feeling… ever. I know that itsounds like a contradiction, but it’s like I had divided my mind in two. One half was scared beyond reason, and the other half had already accepted that I would die.

I got my first good glimpse at the creature, as the hand grasped tighter and tighter around my neck. My original assessment had been correct, but as my eyes filled in the gaps, my imagination hadn’t, I realized just how much shit I was in. The creature looked like someone had taken a Qharr warrior and crossbred him with a Dre’k. The Qharr are big, gray, three-eyed and fairly human looking. Dre’k are not… They’re four legged reptilian beasts from the darkest depths of hell. The resulting combination was the most horrifying and fearsome creature I had ever laid eyes on. One who was all scales, teeth, muscle and claws.

Shit, it was like the living-embodiment of the fucking boogeyman.

I would have died there and then, but as my bowels evacuated, the part of my mind that was scared shitless did something completely and unexpectedly rational. I kicked out with my legs, hitting the huge bastard where it counts. That’s right, square between the legs. The effect was instantaneous. The fucking beast dropped me like a ship ejecting its cargo and I hit the floor gasping for air. I struggled back up, shaking my head as I fought the remaining effects of hypoxia.

Back on my feet before the monster had recovered, I swooped down, snatching the fallen mystery box from the deck before taking off down the passageway. I rushed forward, moving at a speed that only adrenaline could sustain, and screamed at the top of my lungs as the beast jumped at me with one spectacular and impressive leap. It prompted me to run even faster, moving at speeds I never would have believed possible without the aid of a K’teth symbiote.

I felt the creature’s hand on me again, but before his grip tightened, I spun around and forced the box into his hands. “You know what? You can have it.”

The ploy worked… in a matter of speaking. My attacker’s hand slid away as it fumbled to grasp its prize and I scrambled away, once again launching myself down the corridor. It roared and resumed pursuit, and I screamed louder. Why couldn’t he just have been happy with the damn box?

Pretty soon I reached my destination, which was a small miracle since I had no clue where in the hell I was fucking going. I didn’t make to celebrate, instead I made a beeline right for the cargo dock release controls, but before I reached them, the creature stopped me and slammed the box square into the center of my back. I went down like a sack of potatoes. This time I slid across the floor and slammed my head into the nearest bulkhead. The collision had me seeing stars, and before I could even think about getting back up, something pressed against my back.

I thrashed about, trying to break free, but the more I struggled the more the pressure tightened. I cried out, begging for mercy, in a vain hope that the creature understood me, but if he could comprehend, my cries were either unnoticed or more likely he just didn’t care. With a sharp intake of breath, I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing for what must be my end when a voice cried out, screaming the most beautiful words to have ever been uttered.

“Hey, fuck-face! Over here.”

Phase fire illuminated the corridor, as my attacker lifted its foot off my back and he went tearing through the passageway after his new prey. I rolled onto my back, just in time to watch Tanner’s fabulous ass, prominent even through the thick fabric of her EVA suit, disappear into the passageway followed by the beast. This time I had a lot more difficulty clawing back to my feet, because of the throbbing pain in my back. The fact that I could move my legs meant he hadn’t injured my spine, at least not to the point he’d paralyzed me, but there was some definite damage in my mid-back. One thing was certain, I wouldn’t be doing any running soon.

“Tanner, god dammit, I told you to stay on the Hawk!” I spoke into the comm. “Do you have any idea how dumb what you just did was?”

“As opposed to your brand of stupidity?” She replied. “Besides, you’d be dead right now if not for me, so I fully expect to hear the words thank and you some time in the not so distant future.”

I grimaced, rubbing a hand up and down my back, hoping that it would ease the overwhelming pain and thus help me move better, but the fabric of the suit was too thick for me to feel much of anything. “Right, just get back here, would you? And have a tether ready, things are gonna get pretty… turbulent in here.”

“You’re one crazy motherfucker, you know that, Jek?”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”

“Need I remind you? Tanner here… Jek not dead.”

I hobbled over to the controls, trying to hurry, but unable to produce more than a crawl. Whatever the hell that thing had done to me, it had really fucked me up. Just walking in a straight line was a challenge. I did finally reach the control panel and, by some minor miracle, it was ready to take my commands.

A glimpse through the transparium doors, and into the area beyond revealed nothing. It was dark, probably to conserve power. Not a surprise, cargo holds saw little foot traffic compared to the rest of a ship. Why keep it lit all the time? Tanner and I did the same thing on the Centennial Hawk.

I knew what was on the far side of the cargo bay concealed by the shadows without being told: the bay doors. Though it was a stroke of brilliant deductive reasoning, I didn’t have time to congratulate myself. An unearthly scream cascaded through the corridor, hitting my ears and producing a shiver down my spine.

“Fuck it.” I anchored my tether to the console and turned my head just as Tanner reappeared, tailed by the creature.

I opened the doors leading into the cargo hold and Tanner took her cue, latching her own tether in place. Before I could open the exterior doors, the creature’s eyes locked onto me again and it let out another howl as it came charging straight toward me.

“SHIT!”

I slammed my hand down on the emergency override mechanism. I guessed it would have been too simple to have labelled it with something a tad more straightforward like ‘jettison’, but who was I to argue in a life and death situation?

The beast had me before the doors had opened. It tore into my chest with claws that looked a great fucking deal more menacing than a phase pistol. When it pulled its fist back, I got an up close and rather personal view of the serrated, jagged little growths that were sticking out from the outside of its hand. When its fist struck, it rent through flesh like butter, producing an immense hole just below my heart.

If I wasn’t completely and utterly terrified beyond rational thought, I probably would have reasoned that he ripped through the thoracic aorta, the artery that runs down from the heart.  Instead, I screamed out, blood splattering all over the place, but it was to no avail. The creature did not let up. He smashed me into the controls, and I cursed, spitting blood into his face as he raised one of his massive arms to make a swing at me.

He never had the chance. The doors slid open with so much force that it produced a loud clang and the ship rocked. Everything in the area not bolted down or tethered in place hurtled through the new opening. Most of that included the cargo and the mysterious box, but what it didn’t include was my buddy, the grotesquely terrifying creature from the deepest darkest recesses of my nightmares.

No, the bastard had grabbed hold of my ankle and was holding on for dear life. I took the only option open to me: I kicked the bastard with my one free leg. The blow wasn’t as hard as I liked, but his hand slipped so it must have done some good. Three successive kicks. His hand shifted a little further until finally he slid free and flew into the deep abyss of space.

Blood was everywhere, and the darkness crept at the edge of my vision as I struggled to pull myself close enough to toggle the emergency switch off. I was just able to grab hold of it and force it back into place before my hands went limp. Even as the room re-pressurized and my lungs filled with air, unconsciousness continued to creep away.

It was all the blood I lost and there wasn’t a lot I could do. I should have been delirious, but somehow, I remained lucid. Something clicked inside my dense skull, and I realized why my mother had been clutching the stasis pod so obsessively. Somehow I mustered enough strength to yank it free from my waist and slammed it down to the ground, shattering the glass into a thousand pieces.

Tanner screamed my name, but by then it was already too late. The darkness carried me away, but just before it took hold there was a blur of movement from something that looked an awful lot like a clear ball of gelatin. Maybe I was hallucinating, or maybe it was just something I knew that could save my life. Either way, I didn’t remain conscious long enough to see what happened next.

As my mind receded, I heard a voice calling out. Speaking words I had heard a thousand times over, but always in my dreams.

‘Find her, set her free.’

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 3

12/19/2020

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CH 03

The Torrentian Void aboard the Centennial Hawk

You know what? I always thought that if I ever lost consciousness that, whenever I came awake again, it would be like waking from a long nap. Yeah, not so much. It was dark one moment and the next my eyes snapped open. I sat bolt upright and screamed bloody fucking murder. It might have something to do with my encounter with the thing that should not be and the immense hole he tore in my chest, but a part of it was damn well the realization that I’d taken up a little hitchhiker.

No, we hadn’t made a stop on some cosmic highway and picked up an eccentric but charming psychopath with a pleasant smile who intended to tie us up and chop us into little pieces. If only. I let myself become bonded to a K’teth symbiote, and sure enough, it was the very same goddamned one responsible for everything wrong in my life.

A pair of hands grabbed me by the shoulder and shook me. I found myself looking into Tanner’s rather bounteous chest. Usually, that would put a smile on my face, but guess what? Not this time.

“Jek, calm down. It’s all right, you’re safe now.”

“My chest!” I screamed, my hands clawing at the fabric of my shirt, expecting to find an enormous gaping hole where the creature tore into it. Instead, I found nothing. Disturbing, right?

“God dammit,” I cursed, my hands sliding down my pants and finding a familiar bulge, but it wasn’t quite the reassurance that you might think.

“Thank God! I’m not Lexa!”

“Uh… What?”

I rocked my head, took in a deep breath and shook away the last of my confusion. It was doubtful Khala would transform me into a Lexa duplicate, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t end up batting for the opposite team.

“Forget it.”

Okay, so she hadn’t worked her voodoo… yet. I gritted my teeth and sat up, drawing in several sharp gasps as I glared into my palms. They looked the same, but that would change all too soon. K’teth queens had a nasty habit of transforming their male hosts into women, and lucky me I got saddled with one.

“Khala!” I screamed the name, waiting for the symbiote to respond, but she never did.

“Jek,” Tanner grabbed my head with both her hands and forced me to look into her eyes. “Hey, hey, you’ll be okay. Just talk to me.”

I nodded, taking in several deep breaths as I screamed Khala’s name out in my head over and over. I got a response, but not quite the one I expected. A busty girl wearing a white dress that looked like it would slide off with the slightest wrong move, appeared in the doorway, a sultry smile on her face. I might have assumed I was witnessing the beginning of an erotic dream, if I wasn’t aware the K’teth could project images into the minds of their hosts.

The woman stepped inside the room, brushing at the mane of blue hair that cascaded down her head like waves crashing against an embankment of rocks. She stared at me, with magenta eyes nearly identical to my mother’s, and neither one of us broke our gazes as we sized each other up.

“Jellfree.”

The woman was illusory, of course, the only thing Khala saw was whatever she witnessed through the eyes of her host, now me. I didn’t question how she recognized me. I could damn well guess, though we hadn’t encountered each other in almost twenty years. As an entity capable of manipulating the genetic structure of its host, first my mother and now me, it wasn’t much of a stretch that she would be able to identify me through those very same genes.

“Actually,” I grimaced, ignoring the worried look on Tanner’s face. “I go by Jek these days.”

“Jek, then. I’m assuming since you’re now grown, I was in that stasis pod for more than a few years.”

“Almost twenty.”

She walked over, passing through Tanner as she moved through the room and sat down on the bed beside me. I had to stop and remind myself that it was all an illusion when she reached out to touch my face. You know the freaky part? Those soft hands that cupped my cheeks weren’t even real.

“I’m sorry about your mother, believe me when I say there was nothing I could have done to save her. It was only because of her foresight that I survived. Our time together was brief compared to most of the hosts I have inhabited over the centuries, but she was a kind woman.”

I stood, moving away from the mirage created by the symbiote, and glanced at Tanner. She looked at me, her mouth hanging open and eyes cocked. Had I jumped off the deep end? Was it possible that I was sitting in some padded room blubbering away like an idiot? Something told me I wasn’t that lucky.

“Tanner,” I turned to my partner and grabbed her by the shoulders. “You’re probably wondering what the hell is wrong with me, but let’s just say I have a new house guest rattling around inside my brain and I think I’m stuck with her.”

“What?” She studied me with furrowed eyebrows, her body tensed as if she were ready to bolt, but I wasn’t loosening my grip.

“Okay,” I dropped my hands. “It’s a K’teth symbiote. Khala, she was bonded to my mother and Lexa before that. She was preserved in a stasis pod.”

“Okay, well, that explains some things.” She bit her lip and did about the last thing I expected. She threw her arms around me and pulled me close to her. Her breasts were pressing into my chest and my cheeks burned as less than gentlemanly thoughts flowed through my head.

She pulled back and looked up at me with wide eyes. “Did it say what happened to the Endeavour?”

Khala’s eyebrow arched, as she glared at Tanner, but if she objected to my business partner’s use of ‘it’ when referring to her, she didn’t speak up.

“I haven’t had a chance to ask her, but I was kind of wondering that myself.”

Khala fell back, landing atop the bed, and her scowl faded away before she clenched her eyelids closed and released a long sigh. Tears gushed down her cheeks as she spoke, and I almost walked over to the bed to comfort her before remembering she was just an illusion. “It all happened so fast I’m not sure where to begin.”

She jerked up, and I took a step back, startled by the abrupt movement. “I probably don’t need to tell you that the Endeavour expedition was a joint mission between the military, the Conclave, and the scientific community. Officially our goal was to search for traces of the Phyrr Lesch. What you wouldn’t have been told was that Cobaldis traders had already discovered ruins on a remote world in the Cythsten system.”

“The Cythsten system? How the fuck then did the Endeavour get all the way out here in the Torrentian Void? That’s way too far for it to have drifted out here.”

“I-I don’t understand how that would’ve happened,” Khala blinked away a new deluge of tears before continuing. “We found the ruins and started excavating. Lots of tedious, tedious work, I never understood why your mother loved it so much. We excavated for weeks, before uncovering the box. We never discovered its significance, but the ruins where we found it were right around ten-thousand years old which would put it near the end of the Phyrr Lesch’s reign over the galaxy.”

“And what exactly was the significance?”

Khala shrugged and shook her head. “We never found out. We took the box aboard the Endeavour, hoping that we could set up a clean room environment in the lab, but the moment we got the damn thing transported onto the Endeavour, a strange ship showed up. It blasted us half to hell and your mother died before I could do anything to save her. I don’t know what happened after that creature attacked your mother or even how the Endeavour ended up where it is now. I don’t have the answers.”

I turned away from Khala and Tanner, fighting away tears as I struggled to block out the image of my mother’s corpse from my mind. Most times, I wasn’t the crying type, but I don’t think anyone would blame me under the circumstances. I’d just received the closure I’d sought for so long, but in such a way that I could say would shape the rest of my life. Seeing your mother’s frozen corpse after twenty years of looking and subsequently getting pursued and almost killed by a creature right out of every child’s worst nightmares would have that effect on a person.

“Maybe, later we can put the puzzle pieces together. For now, I think we should contact the right authorities. It’s time to share the Endeavour‘s ultimate fate with the galaxy.”

I stepped out of my cabin and into the Hawk’s control room, sensing both of their eyes on me as I departed. Khala witnessed everything through my eyes, but the image she projected into my mind seemed very real to my senses. Without hesitation, I stepped toward the communications controls as my thoughts turned toward the task at hand. All my life I had sought to step out of Lexa Briggs’ shadow and distance myself from her legacy, but the very act I was now committing would have the exact opposite effect.

If I contacted the United Earth Alliance government or the military I’d wind up dealing with bureaucrats and I’d waste a lot of time trying to convince them I wasn’t trying to scam them. There had been many people who claimed to have found the Endeavour over the years and, like it or not, my reputation wasn’t exactly what you would call squeaky clean. If I convinced them, it might take weeks to lure the right people out to the Torrentian Void.

I was acquainted with someone who had the resources and power available to bypass all the rigamarole and get shit done, and as much as it sucked, that person was Kaya Briggs, the woman who raised me. Not only did my grandmother embrace the family legacy, she expected me to do the same. If I got in touch with her, it might lead to me getting pulled back into the world of the Conclave, especially now that I was bonded to the most notorious symbiote in the galaxy.

I parted my lips and opened a comm line. A sense of dread settled in as the ship’s comm array beamed the signal out through subspace. At this hour, there was only one place where my grandmother would be, asleep at the family estates on Earth. That meant communications would be patched through a subspace relay. She might be wealthy, but even someone with her money wouldn’t see a reason to install an expensive subspace module in her home communications system.

“This is Earth subspace relay station 47, servicing the greater California region. My name is Lexa, how can I help you today?” The bright and cheerful, subspace operator’s face appeared, hovering like a spectre of doom in the empty air above the console.

I grimaced between gritted teeth. Of course, the subspace operator had to be named Lexa! Good lord, a hundred and sixty years and people were still naming their children after my ancestor.

“Yes, I’m trying to contact Kaya Briggs,” I said, and gave her the routing number to the family estates.

“One moment please,” the operator offered another artificial smile, and I bit my tongue, fighting off a surge of irritation. “Uh, sir, it looks like because of the high volume of calls to that line, it has a restriction on it.”

“What sort of restriction?”

“You must have a recognized passcode or biometric signature, sir. If neither of those options are suitable, I can put in a request–”

“That won’t be necessary,” I cut her short before she went off on a long tangent.

“I’m sending over a biometrics signature now.”

I placed my hand on the console, letting the scanner do its work. Biometrics were the best and most accurate way, not only to encrypt data but also to identify a person. Every person’s body had a unique system of blood vessels that was damn near impossible to fake or copy. Even cloning couldn’t duplicate them, as circulatory systems grew in a random pattern. So even if a person shared identical DNA, the pattern would be unique. It was a shot in the dark, given that my grandmother and I hadn’t parted on the best of terms, but she had an encoded copy of my pattern on record. Whether she had me on her list depended on if she thought I was a lost cause.

“Well, the home’s AI has accepted your biometrics, sir. Have a delightful night.” The woman smiled just before her image faded away. So, my grandmother hadn’t given up on me. Not a comforting thought, given that she’d had my life mapped out from the moment my mother went missing.

I waited, sensing rather than seeing Tanner approach, all the while thrumming my hands on the control surface. I hadn’t spoken to my grandmother in almost five years and would have been happy letting another five pass me by with no contact, but given the circumstances, I was especially nervous. She would never say as much, but Mom’s disappearance had been like a dagger through her heart. I did not look forward to confirming her worst fears. Just because we weren’t talking, didn’t mean I was heartless.

An image flared to life in front of me and I froze, my breath caught in my throat as I looked into those all too familiar magenta eyes. Kaya Briggs was host to Crae, one of the first K’teth born on Earth after its liberation. Though symbiotes didn’t really see familial relationships the same way we did, biologically Crae was Khala’s grandchild through her daughter Dyssa. The two symbiotes couldn’t communicate over such great distances unless we allowed them control of our bodies or pass along messages from them, but I sensed an odd sort of tension from Khala. She knew her descendant lived somewhere behind my grandmother’s eyes and wanted to speak with the other K’teth.

“Jellfree?” My grandmother’s eyes were alert and alive despite the bags under her eyes and the late hour.

“How many times do I have to ask you to call me Jek?” I stared back at her, all the while shaking my head. Time hadn’t diminished the hard feelings I felt toward her, but it had tempered the anger.

Neither of us spoke for what seemed to be ages but was only a few seconds. I was the one who broke the silence, fresh tears streaked my face as I stared across at my grandmother’s disembodied visage. “I found her.”

Her features softened, and she matched my gaze. “Found who, dear?”

“I found Mom.”

She blinked, mouthing my mother’s name and looked back at me, all signs of fatigue and wariness replaced by that thoughtful frown I had learned to dread. “The Endeavour?”

“Adrift in space, the crew all dead…”

“Sofia too?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak the words. My grandmother seemed to get the message. She sighed and her eyelids drooped shut. “I always feared what finding the Endeavour might mean. How did she die?”

“You don’t want to know.” I shook my head and let out a sigh of my own. “Trust me, what I saw I can’t unsee.”

I expected her to press me for details, but maybe the haunted cast to my eyes stopped her. “Give me your coordinates.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” Tanner spoke up, pushing past me so that she was staring my grandmother right in the eyes. “Jek discovered the Endeavour, and I’m not letting him give you any coordinates until you guarantee the reward money is his.”

I should have expected Tanner might try something like that. She wasn’t the most trusting person, least of all, toward people in positions of authority. “Tanner, back the hell off, would you?”

I grimaced at her as she glared at me and retreated, albeit with a reluctant sigh. “Forgive my business partner she can be a bit… protective.”

“Well, she can rest assured I have no need of any reward money. Tell your friend that whatever finder’s fee that is applicable is yours. Give me the coordinates and I can get a ship out to you inside of a day.”

I complied, transmitting the coordinates via the computer terminal.

“Finally, after all this time, we can find out what happened.”

I nodded, biting my lip as I prepared to end the transmission, but before I could it seemed my grandmother had a little surprise in store for me. “Jek, I know these aren’t the best circumstances, but it’s nice to see you again. I missed you.”

I nodded, and just barely managed to croak out a reply of my own before my hand pressed down on the console, ending the transmission.

“That’s it?” Tanner asked as I turned my back to the console and retreated toward my quarters. “What do we do now?”

I reached the doorway and glanced over my shoulder at Tanner, who hadn’t taken a single step away from her previous position. “We wait.”

I entered my quarters, letting the door slide shut behind me, and collapsed onto my bed. It was going to be a long wait, and I might as well get some sleep.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 4

01/09/2021

CH 04

The Torrentian Void aboard the Centennial Hawk

I spent the rest of the night and a fair bit of the morning tossing and turning in bed. The one dream I had wasn’t what I’d call pleasant and involved me waking up with a pair of breasts while a red macaw hung over me and told me to ‘find her. Set her free.’ Right before he threatened to use his unholy powers to change me into a pigeon. Needless to say, when ten o’clock hit, I crawled out of bed with heavy eyes and a loud yawn. I didn’t often sleep so late, but considering what my previous day had been like, it wasn’t much of a stretch to say that I would be pretty damn tired.

“‘FEINE!” I let out another yawn as I moved into the control room and pounced on the coffee distributor. In mere seconds, the aroma of freshly brewed heaven wafted into my nasal cavities and I released a deep sigh of contentment just before bringing my mug up to my mouth and drawing a long sip.

Okay, so the coffee wasn’t that good, but for someone as sleep deprived as me, it was a heaven-send. With it, I just might get through the day without collapsing into an exhausted heap. I turned my head, eying the phantom form of my symbiote as she stared at me with those magenta eyes.

“Coffee, never much cared for it.” She grimaced, leaning against a nearby bulkhead.

I sneered back at her and took another sip. “Well, don’t expect me to give it up on your account.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to.” She matched my gaze and glowered before letting out a long sigh and shaking her head. “Look, we need to talk. I doubt you want to hear this, but very soon I will be ready to produce offspring and–”

“It’s time for you to turn me into a woman. Is that it? I was dying! It’s the only damn reason I let myself be bonded with you. I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask for any of it. Goddammit, Khala. It’s not fucking fair.”

“No, it’s not,” Khala agreed, staring at me with a sad smile on her pretend face. “I understand that you’re angry. Lexa wasn’t thrilled at first either, but she adjusted and made quite the life for herself.”

“I am not Lexa,” I tossed the coffee cup to the side, shattering it into a half a dozen pieces when it impacted the wall and found my way to the pilot’s seat doing my best to ignore my new symbiote.

Tanner had her feet kicked up on the console, trying not to make eye contact with me or call attention to the fact that she’d been in the room the entire time. She couldn’t hear Khala’s end of the conversation, but given what I had said, I wouldn’t blame her if she freaking out over it.

“Morning.” My eyes darted to my partner, who smiled and returned my greeting.

“Listen, Jek… I can’t say I understand what you must be going through, but if you wish to talk things over, you have my ear.”

“Thanks Tanner, that means a lot.”

I smiled, glancing down at the controls, getting a good look at the readings for the first time since coming back aboard the Hawk. Nothing noteworthy there, but it didn’t hurt to check, especially after what had happened on the Endeavour.

‘You can’t just ignore me. Whether you like it or not, we’re stuck with each other until one or both of us dies.’ This time Khala’s voice echoed inside of my mind. Clearly she had, at least for the time being, given up on casting an illusionary image for me to communicate with.

“Fine, fine, talk away!” I threw my hands up in air all the while shouting at the top of my lungs. Not even daring to throw a glance Tanner’s way. I’m sure she must think I’d gone insane by this point, anyway. “You know what, if you’re going to give me a pussy, just have at it. Just do me a favor and make sure it’s–”

“Would you stop that already!” Tanner screamed, cutting me short before I finished. “You realize I can hear you? Good lord Jek, aren’t you supposed to be able to talk to that thing inside of your head without speaking out loud?” People are bound to think you’ve gone nuts if they see you talking to yourself like that.”

“Right.” I clench my jaw, my cheeks burning as I glanced her way.

‘Thing?! THING?! I am a living, thinking, sapient being! Why do you humans so insist on objectifying my kind?’

I rubbed my hand through my hair before looking out the viewport. ‘Maybe it’s because most people can’t see or hear you. You’re about as real to them as the air they breathe. They accept it’s there because they’ve been told it is, but all they care about is that they can draw breath.’

‘I suppose it’s to be expected,’ Khala replied. ‘Now, how about we move on to matters of more immediate importance?’

‘You need a female host so you can reproduce, is that it? We’ve already been through this.’

‘We can postpone it, for now, but there is something which I would prefer to get out of the way, now rather than later. As I’m sure you’re aware, my kind have what you might call a compulsion which–‘

‘The blue hair… Is that it?’ I glanced over at Tanner and rocked my head back and forth. ‘I can live with the hair, if it means keeping my man junk intact for a little longer.’

‘And the eyes?’

‘Yeah, I can even make do with the freaky eyes, too.’

I closed my peepers, fully expecting Khala to institute the changes, but she gave me a bit of warning before continuing. The symbiotes’ obsession with blue hair was a sort of control mechanism put into the K’teth genetic code, a means by which their creators had ensured they wouldn’t be able to stay concealed. As far as the eyes, a lot of people thought hosts sported them for the same reason, but that had never been true. Khala was the first K’teth to grant a human host magenta eyes, because she had liked the way they looked. When she produced offspring and other symbiotes joined the ranks of the conclave, they adopted the magenta eyes to separate themselves from joined Qharr.

‘Ready?’

I nodded, which seemed like a stupid way to respond, given that Khala couldn’t see my head move, but she must have sensed it. I felt her make the changes. It started with a slight itch atop my scalp, a sensation that creeped down the sides and back of my skull. It didn’t last long, but I knew from being raised around bonded hosts what would happen if I touched it. I told myself I wouldn’t, but shit, somehow I did it anyway. Sure enough, as my hand passed across the top of my head, the hair fell away. I’m sure it would have anyway, but seemed a little like I was helping Khala along with the entire process.

I glanced at Tanner, who gawked at me with her jaw hanging half open. “You know somebody it going to have to clean that mess up.”

I snorted and burst out laughing as what was left of my hair fluttered away, unassisted by my roving hand. The itching returned and in mere moments new hair cascaded down the side of my temples. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but I had expected my hair to grow out to its previous length and stop. Maybe Khala had a thing for long hair since it just kept growing and growing until it’d gotten longer even than my forearm.

“Just got a damn haircut last week.” I turned to Tanner, hoping to gauge her reaction, but she only stared back at me like a deer caught in headlights.

I groaned and hunched over, feeling a similar itch in my eyes, and snapped them shut as Khala did her thing. The sensation that followed was uncomfortable, but it didn’t hurt. Mostly it felt like Khala had put the old peepers under a few dozen pounds of pressure. As you can imagine, that’s not a pleasant experience. It was no small mercy that the K’teth could suppress pain. I was never so glad that Khala had spared me in that respect. Something told me that the pain which would have accompanied that would have been pretty intense. I shuddered as my eyes snapped back open, thinking about what I might expect from a full on transformation. It was probably something best left to the imagination.

I batted the hair away from my face, collecting it in fistfuls until I had it all clenched into a ponytail. “Could I bother you for a hair tie or a scrunchie?”

This provoked an unexpected fit of giggles from Tanner, and all I could do was grin and bear it. I’d just become the brunt of a joke, but I sure as hell wasn’t laughing.

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I spent most of the day spilling over sensor logs from the Hawk‘s computer, hoping to gleam something from the energy readings from the mysterious box or the creature who had attacked me. After many hours, the only thing I discovered was that most of the readings didn’t make a lick of sense. I was, very, very briefly, tempted to scoop the box up from out of the void of space, but given it had almost gone thermonuclear on my ass I was naturally resistant to the idea. It would be better to stick around until someone better equipped to deal with the potential risks arrived on scene.

I passed the remainder of my time ruminating over the Endeavour and her crew, but that didn’t mean it completely occupied my mind. Khala and I hardly had spoken two words to each other, but I was all too aware of her constant presence every time I batted my new length of blue hair out of my eyes. I considered, more than once, of grabbing some scissors and just going to town on my new locks, but there was a reason I went to a stylist.

I suppose I could have asked my symbiote to take care of it, but that seemed a bit like asking her for a favor. It was better to wait until I got back to Earth and have someone trim it down to its more usual length.

After what seemed ages, a ship arrived appearing from out of the darkness of the Torrentian Void with a brilliant flash of light as its leap drive transitioned the vessel out of subspace. I didn’t waste any time, opening up a communications line, making sure that our transponder signal was transmitting in the clear, before their sensors registered our presence.

“Unknown vessel, this is the cargo ship the Centennial Hawk. Please identify yourself.”

There was a brief delay, but I expected no less. The transition into regular space was more than a little traumatic to the senses, and even the most seasoned traveler would take several moments to adjust. Sure enough, a moment later the holo imager flared to life, displaying the visage of a tall, yet unassuming man in a crisp-cut military uniform. “I’m Colonel Tybrus Cayne of the United Earth Alliance Fleet destroyer the Valiant, I am here to investigate claims of a derelict ship.”

He spoke with a stiff jaw and a curled upper lip that spoke volumes for what he expected to find, but I didn’t let that deter me. The Endeavour was proof enough to win over any skeptic. I was, however, surprised that they had sent in such a large ship. From the looks of it, the Valiant was a titan-class destroyer, the largest and most powerful vessel in the UEAF. Either my grandmother had more clout with the government than I had ever guessed, or someone in power had reason to believe that the Endeavour’s reappearance represented a genuine threat. Either way, the Valiant’s presence scared the hell out of me.

I cast a sidelong glance at my business partner, who was staring at the holo display with wide eyes before meeting the Colonel’s gaze. Cayne struck me as a man that would pounce on the slightest sign of weakness, and there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d let him see any from me.

“Jek Briggs.” I had hopes that my family name might at least get him to chill out a bit, but he either wasn’t impressed or didn’t make the connection.

“Look, I’m sure you’ve already detected an energy reading–”

“Yes,” he stated with a flat, almost bored tone. He turned his head as if glancing at a display or listening to some subordinate speaking in his ear, then glanced back to me. “Our sensors have detected some anomalous readings several hundred meters adrift outside the stern of the cruiser. ”

He paused again and glowered back at us. “Prepare to dock, we’ll need to debrief you, as will the representative of the conclave, to whom I believe you have a certain amount of familiarity.”

The Colonel’s holo image blinked out, and I gritted my teeth, glancing toward Tanner as my stomach sank. I put on my best grin, shook my head and started doing as Cayne had suggested.

“Why the hell am I not surprised?”

Tanner furrowed her brows and glanced at me sideways. No doubt hoping for some sort of explanation, but at the moment I was a little too preoccupied. If there was someone here from the conclave, there was a very good chance that person was my grandmother.

“Well, this ought to be fun,” I whispered under my breath as the Hawk, now under control of the Valiant’s systems, moved as if with a mind of its own.

“Why do I get the sense we’re about to walk into a shitstorm?” Tanner walked up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Trust me,” I rose to my feet and turned to face her, “you don’t know the half of it.”

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Several moments later, the airlock hissed and swung open, revealing the dull gray and uniform bulkheads of the Valiant. I shuddered and stepped forward, grimacing as my roving eyes failed to find a single smudge, spot, or flaw. Even the dark steel floor plates were unblemished. God, it was horrendous!

The one thing you could always be sure of with UEAF vessels was that they always looked the same on the inside. I had no issue with the military, but there was just something about a place that looked so pristine and homogenous that set me on edge. Places like this were an anathema to me. There was no adventure, no creativity, and no sense of wild abandon. You know, the good things in life.

A young woman, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, approached, clasping her hands together as she smiled at the two of us. She was pretty enough, so I put on the charm, giving her my best smile and winked, holding my hand out or her to shake. “I’m Jek Briggs and this is my business associate Tanner Grace.”

“Lieutenant Hinderman,” she replied, a smile touching the corner of her lips as she met my gaze.

Although Tanner and I had what some would consider a flirtatious relationship, neither one of us ever acted on our innuendos. If she was uncomfortable with me coming on to Hinderman, she didn’t say so, but if the way she glared at the Lieutenant with arms folded across her chest was any sign, I don’t think she was too happy about the situation. That’s not to say I had any intention of backing away.

If Tanner really was interested, it was about damn time she stopped pushing me away. Flirting was one thing, but every damn time I’d made a move, she turned me down flat. If she wanted something more out of our relationship, maybe it was time she did something about it.

“Listen, Hinderman, I don’t know what you’re doing in your off hours, but I–”

“If you’ll come this way, Colonel Cayne is waiting,” the lieutenant said, not even giving me a chance to finish before cutting me off.

Ouch, I’d struck out enough to recognize it when I saw it, but it left me more than just a little mystified. Either she was playing hard to get or I’d misread the smile she’d given me.

“Swing and a miss,” Tanner whispered in my ear as she followed the younger woman out on her tail coats.

I grimaced and followed suit. It would be best to just get this over with, anyway. So what if my attempt to win the lieutenant’s attentions had failed? It didn’t make me any less of a man, right?

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 5

01/16/2021

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CH 05

The Torrentian Void aboard the Endeavour

Our trip through the ship was short, Hinderman led us down a corridor which adjoined the one through which we entered and stopped in front of a hatch. She smiled at me again, before she tapped on the door’s control pane. The once opaque surface became translucent, revealing enough details of the room inside to give me a good idea of its size and who waited inside.

“Oh God,” I muttered under my breath as my nerves kicked into overdrive, anticipating the shit that was sure to follow.

“Ma’am,” the lieutenant tapped the door again and leaned forward, speaking into it. “They’re ready for you.”

“Send them in,” my grandmother’s voice wafted through the door, sounding a little artificial conveyed through the audio transmitters.

The door slid open, and I pulled on my new blue locks with a single hard tug, as I looked my grandmother over, face to face after more than five years apart. She pressed her lips into a line, and her eyes locked on my hair and eyes, growing a bit wide as she took me in, no doubt surprised to find me sporting the telltale attributes of a joined host.

She stood and walked across the room, her hands reaching up to finger a shock of blue hair that came loose from my ponytail. “This, is unexpected.”

I shifted my footing and cleared my throat, as I sensed rather than heard the door shut behind Tanner and myself. I pulled her hand away, shaking my skull and trying my damnedest to keep myself from looking in her eyes, but to be honest, there wasn’t a chance in hell that I could exhibit that level of self-control. Unable to resist, I locked gazes with her and uttered a single word, which explained far more than a couple dozen could have.

“Khala.”

“H-how, you said Sofia died?”

“Mom used a stasis pod, it saved Khala’s life.”

“A fact for which, I am eternally grateful,” Khala spoke up, her curvaceous form materializing beside me, wearing a dress that was only a bit more modest than the last one.

The pair were well acquainted. In fact, since she’d been host to a symbiote all of her adult life, Kaya Briggs knew the K’teth when she was still host to my great grandmother, the late Lexa Briggs. A smile touched the rim of Khala’s lips, and my grandmother returned her affection in equal measure. My grandmother’s symbiote joined our odd reunion, her hard-edged features coalescing in the empty air beside my elder.

I’d only spoken to Crae a handful of times in my life on those rare occasions my Kaya permitted her to assume control of her body. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but something about the form she projected seemed a little off. She was tall, and bulging with enough muscle that she would rival most Qharr if she possessed any actual body mass, but I guess the most remarkable thing was that she chose to project a female form at all. Crae was biologically a H’ra or a queen, but that hadn’t always been the case.

The Conclave sank a lot of money into increasing K’teth reproductive rates, and succeeded in one very significant way, by increasing the number of Queens through genetic engineering. Though Crae had been the first male to become a Queen, she was not the last. Given that she kept her male name, I sort of expected she might still identify as male. The K’teth were very different from humans, so there was no telling where gender factored into their identities, if at all.

Crae barely offered me so much as a second look, instead, offering greetings to Khala, but given that my symbiote who, in human terms, was Crae’s grandmother it would surprise no one that she would choose to greet a relative over a human who was barely aware of her existence.

As the two K’teth shared greetings, my grandmother slipped both of her hands on my shoulder and pulled me close. I stiffened, a little surprised as her arms wrapped around me. Kaya and I didn’t part on the best of terms. So it disconcerted me just a little to find myself in such a position. The oddest part? I returned the gesture.

Then sanity returned to me and I pulled away, feeling my cheeks burn as I turned my head enough to gauge Tanner’s reaction. She rubbed the back of her neck and staring at us as if she wanted to be anywhere but in that tiny little room. I jerked back, putting a good meter between my grandmother and me.

“Right.”

My grandmother cleared her throat and glimpsed at Tanner for the first time. I felt a bit of a knot form in my stomach, realizing that I hadn’t introduced either of them to one another.

“Tanner, this is my grandmother Kaya Briggs, Kaya this is my business partner Tanner Grace.”

“We sorta met already.” Tanner turned a brilliant crimson and took my grandmother’s hand. “When you called her over the HoloGRID.”

“Yes,” my grandmother replied, a smile touching the corner of her lips. “I remember quite vividly. So vividly in fact, I went to the trouble of checking up on your past.”

Tanner’s eyes grew wide, and she bit her lip, shaking her head. “Shit, you did?”

“Don’t worry, I found nothing too worrisome. Though I must say you turned out lovely. I never would have imagined that the young–”

“Right, well, um.” Tanner grabbed her by the shoulders, wearing the most grotesquely contorted smile I had ever seen. “It’s been really nice to meet you, Ms. Briggs, but we are here for a reason, aren’t we?”

My grandmother seemed surprised, but glanced toward me, nodded, and a knowing smile passed across her face. I didn’t have any idea what that brief exchange had been about, but if the wild-eyed look on Tanner’s face was any sign, I doubted I would find out about it from her any time soon. Whether I could milk it from my grandmother was another matter, but I soon put it out of my mind. Though I found the prospect worth further investigation, for the time being, I had bigger fish to fry.

“You’ve been reckless, Jek,” Kaya Briggs stated between pursed lips. “If it hadn’t been for my intervention, you would be in restraints right now.”

I blinked, then shifted on my feet and shook my head. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“The Valiant has already linked into the Endeavour’s computer systems. They ascertained that you used a Conclave access code to obtain entry to the ship.”

I bent my neck and cupped my face with the palms of both hands, ready to bite back with an angry retort, but Tanner spoke before I could say anything stupid. “You stole an access code from the Conclave?! What are you, some kind of a dumbass?”

“What else did you expect me to do?” I dropped my hands and clenched my jaw.

“I understood that if I ever found the Endeavour, I would never be included in any resulting investigation. The only way, I would have found out what happened to my mother, without the government feeding me some bullshit story, was to gain entry into the ship. Either that or force my way in. Since, my grandmother had the codes, it seemed like the easier solution.”

“You know that I would have never let the Alliance shut you out, Jek.”

“Oh, and you can’t tell me you wouldn’t have tried to shield me from the truth if you thought I couldn’t handle it? I was fifteen before I learned my dad offed himself. I found my mother’s corpse with a big ass fucking hole in its chest, no doubt put there by a creature out of my worst nightmares, don’t stand there and tell me, that you would have revealed that little tidbit to me.”

“Perhaps, when you raise children of your own, you’ll understand.”

God, how the hell could she be so clueless! I didn’t want her to shelter me, I wanted to know the goddamned truth. She’d been lying and manipulating me all my life. Supposedly to protect me, but she always wanted me to follow in the family footsteps and become joined to a K’teth. Her lies were just another way to push me toward that objective. The funny part was that she got her wish, but only because I had gone off and done the exact opposite of everything she wanted. That’s irony for you. I leave and do my own thing and end up fulfilling my worst damned nightmare. Figures.

I grated my teeth and glanced toward Tanner again. We’d had this argument before and it never ended well. It wasn’t something I enjoyed even without an audience, but I sure as hell would not let it happen with my partner lurking about.

“Look, we’ve both made our feelings known, I will not rehash the same old damn argument. Let’s just get to the point. I’ve made a shit storm of trouble and you’ve been forced to clean up my mess. Is that about right?”

My grandmother sighed. “It’s fortunate that I convinced Colonel Cayne that you were on the Conclave’s payroll and that I was the one who gave you those codes.”

“Of course you did.” I gritted my teeth. “Which means, what? I already know intergalactic law. Since the Endeavour was derelict, I had probable cause to enter and I can even justify blowing a hole in the research area wall since the artifact was going nuclear on my ass.”

“It means, Jellfree Keiran Briggs, that you’re not facing any criminal charges, but don’t believe it’s not coming without a price. I want to protect you, but you haven’t made it easy. Join the Conclave, and I promise you, whatever direction things go you will be right in the thick of it so long as you sign and abide by the NDA agreement.”

Good lord, in the thick of it? Geez, talk about cliched lines. I cringed and released a long breath of air before issuing my reply.

“If I don’t?”

“I can’t protect you any further…” And she paused, squaring her jaw. “And more importantly, you’ll never find out, who or what is responsible for your mother’s death.”

She pushed the right buttons. Honestly, unless my grandmother spilled the beans, I didn’t think I’d need to worry about any of those sticky legal issues, but I’d spent most of my life wondering what the fuck was behind my mother’s disappearance. I wasn’t certain I could step aside now that I’d come so far. Sure, that creature killed her, but who or what had sicked it on the crew of the Endeavour in the first place? She had me and she knew it.

Damn her.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to give me any time to think it over.”

“Three days,” she replied.

She left a lot unsaid, but for a change I didn’t press her for details. She wouldn’t be likely to reveal whatever secrets she might be hiding unless I agreed to her terms.

“Now that’s out of the way. I believe Colonel Cayne will want to have you debriefed . I was fortunate enough to convince him to allow us this little reunion before someone met with you, but his patience may wear thin if we make him wait any longer.”

My grandmother tapped her throat with two fingers, activating her sub-dermal transmitter. “Cayne, I’m done with him if you’d care to send someone down.”

Kaya Briggs peered at the exit, the slightest smile touching her face before pursing her lips and glanced at the door. Listening to a response transmitted back to her through a similar implant inside her ear. “It seems Cayne will debrief you himself.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but when my grandmother invited Tanner to leave the room, it set me on edge. Why the hell shouldn’t my partner be present?

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Colonel Cayne arrived moments later, just seconds after Tanner had vacated the room. He looked every bit as gaunt and severe as he had over the comm, but his most striking feature was one that couldn’t be detected over the holo system. His eyes were a cold steel blue, save for a small patch in his left one, which was a deep shape of green. An unusual birth defect, in an age where genetic engineering was so prevalent.

His parents had probably been conservers, but the fact that Cayne hadn’t elected to have this little feature fixed hinted that he might have kept some of those values. Most purist were opposed to military service since the UEAF still relied on clones to make up the bulk of its forces. Which also explained why he was scowling at the two of us. A lot of people distrusted K’teth and the Conclave by extension, but conservers took it to a whole different level.

“Ms. Briggs,” he said with a flat, almost monotone voice, so passionless and devoid of emotion that it seemed at odds with the sneer displayed so prominently on his countenance. “Please take a seat beside your grandson.”

My grandmother nodded and slipped into place at the very same time Cayne seated himself on the opposing side of the table. He set a small recording device on the tabletop and pressed a small indent on the side. “Why don’t you tell me all that happened and we’ll go from there?”

So I did just that, reciting everything that had occurred from the moment that I’d contacted the Faioloese traders until the point I contacted my grandmother. When I  finished, Cayne palmed the recording device, but didn’t deactivate it. Instead his scowl deepened as he held it out for us to see.

“The parasite was witness to everything that happened?

I nodded, ignoring Khala’s screams of indignation. “Right until the creature killed my mother.”

“Then I should speak with it. It’s answers may provide some much needed insight.”

I hesitated, knowing full well just what Cayne was asking me. Though my feelings toward the K’teth weren’t as negative as the Colonel’s I never asked to be a host and I was still annoyed that I’d gotten stuck with one. To give one control of my body was something I wasn’t prepared to do, but even though I didn’t like it, I recognized the necessity.

I closed my eyes and let out a deep breath, calling out to my symbiote. I didn’t know how it worked, but the only thing Khala told me was to relax and let go. It took me several moments, fighting down the sense of panic that rose to the surface. What if something went wrong? What if I lost command over my body forever?

As I struggled to answer these questions, a calm wave of reassurance washed over me from Khala. There was understanding there, and… love. Khala had known me through my mother’s eyes, it hadn’t occurred to me that she might have developed an attachment. It was soothing, and it was what allowed me to relinquish control.

My eyes snapped back open and my body grew very rigid as Khala assumed command. She craned my neck around, getting a good look at the room, then she snapped my head and turned her focus to Cayne pursing my lips.

“Well,” she said, folding my arms across my chest and smirked at the Colonel. “I believe this should be interesting.”

Although my lips moved when Khala spoke, the voice that escaped my mouth was not mine. It was soft and feminine, and if it weren’t produced through my vocal cords, I might have even thought it sounded sexy. I’d never heard of a symbiote manipulating a hosts voice in such a way, but seeing a person’s pitch was determined by the length and tension of his or her vocal cords it wasn’t much of a stretch that Khala would be able to manipulate my larynx to produce a much more feminine cadence. That being said, it was disconcerting.

If this surprised Cayne, he didn’t let on. Instead, he set the recorder back down and clasped both hands across the tabletop. He didn’t speak or even blink. I would have wilted under his stare, but Khala didn’t even flinch. She started speaking, unperturbed by the Colonel’s unblinking gaze.

She hadn’t even finished her first sentence before the lights in the room dimmed and a siren’s call rang through the cabin. Cayne was on his feet in an instant, tapping the side of his neck, more than likely to open a communications line to the bridge.

“Rodriquez, what’s going on up there?”

The response, issued out the loud speaker, rattled through the room, the speaker’s voice taking on a manic edge. “Sir, a ship just appeared out of nowhere. We didn’t detect any leap activity. One moment it was just there. There’s an energy build up inside the ship, we believe they’re preparing to open fire.”

“Raise, shields and ready weapons. Do not open fire unless they make the first move, do you understand Major?”

“Yes, sir!”

Cayne didn’t speak another word, spinning away and lurching toward the door with a blank expression. Khala leapt up with such force that the chair I had parked my ass on tumbled onto its side.

“WAIT!”

Cayne stopped, staring at me with a scowl. He glanced at my grandmother, then turned his back.

“What your Major just described, sounds what happened on the Endeavour. If you don’t stop and listen to me, it could very well mean the death of us all.”

Cayne stopped, craned his neck around again and studied my form with cold calculating eyes. “You come with me.”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

separator

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.

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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 10

02/13/2021

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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.

separator

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.

, ,

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.