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Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 6 & 7



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 host. 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?”


“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.


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.


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.”


“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.”


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 my host 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 5



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.


“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.


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?

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.


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.”

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 4


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.


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.


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.”


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?

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 3



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.


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.

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 2



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.”


“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.


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.


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.’

, ,

Legacy of Earth: Birthright | Ch 1



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.


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.”


“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.


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.

Hunger Pangs: A DarkRealms Story


Archie was an orphan who never suspected that there was anything out of the ordinary about himself. After bedding a beautiful stranger, he soon finds a strange hunger has awaken within him and learns he is anything but ordinary.

Author’s Note: This is my first and likely only entry in the DarkRealms Universe. The DRU was quite popular for a time on BigCloset Topshelf, but it seems to have dwindled in popularity in recent years. Mainly this tale deals with creatures like Vampires, Succubi and Weres, but DarkRealms also encompassed fairies and other mythological creatures. I’ve been told by a few readers that there are some similarities between this story and the Canadian TV series Lost Girl, but I don’t hail from up North and I doubt I’ll ever watch it. So whatever resemblance the two may have is purely coincidental.


It was dark and damp, an altogether unpleasant night, but Leena didn’t notice. She walked through the streets seemingly unaware of the rain that had soaked through her clothing. In her arms she held a child, her infant son. He let out a high pitched wail of pure misery and she did her best to sooth him.

The child continued screaming despite her best efforts and she wept that he would have to experience so much pain. She moved through the streets thinking perhaps she had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but felt relief flood through her when she saw the red-brick building with the covered stoop porch. She wished there was another way, but she knew there wasn’t. The child would be far better off in the hands of humans until he awakened.

She was one of the Unseen, beings believed to be nothing more than a myth by the humans who populated the world. Vampires, weres, and fairies, they were all real and the human world knew nothing of their existence. Her particular breed of unseen, were wanderers by nature,never staying in one place for too long. In ancient times her kind had been called demons and monsters and nearly hunted to extinction. Memories of these times were so deeply ingrained in their minds that they dared not ever trust a human. Humans feared that which that they didn’t understand.

She was old for one of her kind, she remembered those times, if somewhat vaguely, so she was especially wary of humans. Leena sobbed and gently placed the child down on the doorstep. This was not the first she had placed on a doorstep, and she doubted it would be the last. She kissed the boy on the cheek, rapped loudly on the door and ran for it. She turned around the closest corner and watched as the door swung open and a woman wearing a nun’s habit stepped out onto the porch.

The nun looked down at the weeping child and lifted him from the porch. A piece of paper, a note Leena had scrawled hours before fell to the ground and the nun bent over to pick it up. Leena didn’t stay to watch for the Nun’s reaction; she turned her back and walked away. She couldn’t bear to watch anymore, each time she abandoned a child it only seemed to get harder.

Leena walked a few more blocks then returned to the battered old Ford that she had left parked on the street. Once inside, she sat and stared blankly at the steering wheel then she wept for what seemed an eternity. When she was finally able to blink back the tears she started the car and put it into gear. Then she drove off her thoughts on the child she knew she would never see again.

“Goodbye my dear,” she whispered as she merged onto the freeway. It was time to move on…

The wall next to me came alive with the most ungodly noise and I groaned irritably at the sound of my roommate Daniel Corday’s snoring. I sometimes thought that he shook the whole apartment. Shit, it was fucking unearthly! How could that inhuman sound come from the throat of a human being? The closest I could come to describing it was rocks grinding in a blender, but this was worse, much, much worse. I stumbled to my feet and grabbed the pillow off my bed. Maybe I would sleep better on the couch. At least I didn’t have class tomorrow since it was a Saturday.

I stumbled into the small living room and collapsed on the ratty sofa that occupied almost an entire wall. I closed my eyes and was almost asleep when I heard Daniel’s damn snoring again. God, I wanted sleep! I let out a deep sigh and suppressed the urge to sneak into Daniel’s room and smother him with the pillow in my arms. Instead, I sat up on the couch and groaned, running a hand through my hair.

If he weren’t one of the more tolerable roommates I’d ever had, I probably would have tried to find another apartment months ago. Daniel was always respectful and never ate any of my food, or touched any of my things without asking. Not that I had many possessions. We had hit it off almost immediately and had become fairly good friends in the short time that we had shared the apartment. He was the perfect roommate, well at least when he wasn’t shaking the whole goddamn apartment with that unholy snoring.

As great as Daniel was, sometimes I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of the guy. He was born and raised in Ravencrest and knew nearly everyone in town. His mom and dad were always stopping over to bring him food or just to visit. I didn’t have that, hell sometimes I thought I’d kill for that. I had spent my entire childhood drifting from orphanage to orphanage and from foster home to foster home. I didn’t have ties to anyone or anything.

It sounded like some stupid cliché, but when I was just a little baby I was left on the doorstep of an orphanage, in Virginia of all places, with a note that said simply, “Please find my child a loving home, he deserves far better than I could ever hope to provide.” Whoever wrote the note didn’t ever bother telling them my name, if I had ever been given a name. So instead the nun that found me stuck me with the name Archibold Tucker. Yeah, that’s my name; I took a lot of shit for that such a freaking weird ass name growing up, so I go by Archie which is only slightly more tolerable.

Despite being bounced around from school to school in my teen years I did pretty well. I figured my only way of making a future for myself was getting good grades in school. I did well, not spectacular mind, but pretty damn good nonetheless. I spent a lot of time, studying on my own to keep myself from falling behind and even convinced one of my foster parents to let me take the SAT. I scored well enough to get a scholarship to Ravencrest University and that’s how I ended up in this shit hole of a town.

Daniel’s snoring continued in the other room and I sighed, and sank back down into the sofa. Even though I could still hear that damn racket I was too tired to go back to my room. Shit, I really needed to get some earplugs or something. I closed my eyes and eventually managed to drift off to sleep despite all the noise.

“Crap man,” Daniel said as I stumbled over to the small card table that passed for our kitchen table. “You look tired.”

“Yeah, well who could sleep with your snoring,” I said with a grunt and collapsed into the chair opposite my roommate.

“Sorry man, I can’t help it,” Daniel said with a sheepish grin.

“You should really see a doctor or something. That sound you make… It’s unnatural,” I said with a shake of my head.

Daniel chuckled. “It can’t be that bad can it?”

I glared at Daniel but didn’t say another word. Instead I got up and stumbled across the room to the single cupboard that housed all our dishes as well as what little dry food we kept in the apartment. I grabbed a bowl as well as a box of Loco Kokos then nabbed the milk out of the small black mini-fridge and sat back down at the table.

“So there’s this club, everyone’s talking about, called The Pit. It’s supposed to be pretty sick. I was gonna check it out tonight. I hear there’s usually a lot of hot chicks hanging around the place. You want to come with?”

“Shit no,” I said after pouring cereal and milk into his bowl. “I need to study.”

“Oh, come on man! You hardly get out at all except to go to classes. You can study tomorrow.”

“You know I have to work tomorrow, and those places are always so crowded and they probably won’t let us inside anyway,” I said after swallowing my first bite of cereal.

Truthfully, Daniel rarely had trouble getting into those places. He was six-foot-three and was packed with solid muscle. He wasn’t exactly handsome, but that didn’t seem to bother the women who dated him and were usually pretty hot. Conversely, I was five-nine, had a long hawk-like nose, red-hair, and a face-full of freckles. I had never had much success at night clubs or girls in general. Most girls usually had eyes for much better looking guys. Let’s face it I’ve never been much of a looker.

“The doorman is my cousin. I can guarantee I can get us in. Tell you what. We’ll go for two hours if you don’t want to stay after that we’ll leave.”

“Thirty minutes,” I said flatly. “That’s as long as I’ll stay.”

“An hour,” Daniel countered with a grin on his face.

“Fine, an hour,” I said feeling for all the world as if I had just been handed the raw end of a stick. Shit, how did Daniel do it?

“God Damnit,” I said when the can of chili I had been holding fell to the floor. I reached down and brushed it with the tips of my fingers, but it rolled away before I could get a hold on it. Still bent over, I watched it spin clear to the end of the aisle. With a sigh I walked over to where it settled and bent over to pick it up, but before I could reach it, some freaking asshole with boots that were so well polished I could see my reflection in them came by and kicked it. I don’t think it was on purpose, but shit he should have been paying attention.

I growled under my breath and chased after the can snatching it off the floor just before it could roll into the bakery. I worked as a stock boy at Kona’s a small market in Ravencrest. The pay wasn’t great, but it was enough to cover rent and a few other things my scholarship didn’t cover. Maybe if I got that specialist position that had opened up, I’d have a little extra cash.

I absently looked over into the bakery and noted two men facing each other. Normally, this wouldn’t have caught my attention, but there was something about the men that seemed just a little off. They held themselves stiffly and they stuck out like a sore thumb. I moved a bit closer and started to pull forward some bags of sliced bread that been pushed to the back of the shelf. I didn’t know why, but those guys really put me on edge. Then I noticed that both men wore polished black boots like the one that had kicked the can of chili.

The first, a tall gray-haired man with an unlit cigarette in his mouth spoke, “Son, you didn’t find what we are looking for, did you?”

“Not yet, but I think I will find it in town,” the second younger man said.

“Good,” the father said. “I’ll plan everything for tomorrow morning, I’d hate for your sister’s surprise to be spoiled if you can’t find it.”

The son grinned, “Trust me, si- uh, Dad. I’m confident I’ll have found it by then.”

The father smiled coolly, “Very good then. I have things to see to, if you need any assistance I’m sure your brothers will be willing to help out. If there are any problems call me.”

The older man pulled a lighter out of his pocket and made as if to light it. “Sir,” I said. “You can’t smoke that in here.”

The older man ignored me and lit the cigarette, damn what a fucking asshole. He turned to leave and blew smoke into my face as he passed by. A few seconds later the gray-haired man left the store. Thankfully, the smoke didn’t seem to have any effect on the fire system.

The younger man glared at me for some weird reason and shook his head, “If you know what’s good for you kid. You’ll stay home tonight,” he told me then followed his father out of the store.

What the Hell? Stay home tonight? Somehow I got the feeling these two assholes were knee deep in some pretty scary shit. I shook my head and laughed, yeah fucking right. For a minute I had even convinced myself that the men were speaking in code like they did in those over-the-top spy movies, but that was just ridiculous. Nothing like that could ever happen in Ravencrest, nothing interesting ever happened in Ravencrest.

With another chuckle, I remembered the can of chili I still had clutched in my hand and turned away to go put it back on the shelf.

“Dan my man!” The giant mass of muscles that was the doorman said bumping fists with Daniel.

“Hey man,” Daniel said. “Archie, this is my cousin Stu. Stu this is my roommate Archie. You know the guy I told you about.”

Stu gave Daniel a hesitant look. “I’m sure your friend is cool, Danny boy, but you know this place has certain rules about who can enter.”

“In other words I’m too big of a loser for you to let me in,” I muttered bitterly, fucking asshole. “I might as well go home.”

Daniel clamped a big hand on my shoulder and pulled me close before I could take a single step. “No, you’re not going home man. Stu let us in. Come on, I promised him, man.”

“Fuck, Mr. Breem is going be so pissed if he finds out I let him in. Go on get in before I change my mind,” Stu shook his head motioned us both inside.

Before I could mutter a single freaking word of protest Daniel clamped down even harder and dragged me into the club. “This is for your own good, man. You spend too much time alone. You need to get a girl.”

“Shit I don’t know, man, I don’t belong in a place like this. All these girls are way out of my league,” I said looked around at all the hot girls.

“Dude,” Daniel said. “It’s all in the attitude. You got to act confident and the girls will flock to you.”

“Easy for you to say,” I grumbled glancing at Daniel’s broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms enviously. I had never once seen my roommate work out, yet somehow he seemed to be able to maintain his physique.

“See that girl over there she just looked your way. I bet if you offered to buy her a drink. She’d dance with you,” Daniel said giving me a gentle shove.

I looked to where my friend had motioned to and felt my jaw drop to the damn floor. He couldn’t be serious, could he!? Shit! A girl with long brown hair and a sultry smile looked across the room at me or seemed to. That girl was a total bombshell, I couldn’t hope to get a girl like to even glance at me. Yet she was, or I thought she might be.

I nervously stepped onto the dance floor and approached the woman. She smiled, “You came in with muscles?” She asked giving Daniel an appreciative glance.

“Uh, yeah,” I said with a nervous gulp.

“Is he seeing anyone?”

“Uh, no. I don’t think so,” I replied stupidly and before I knew it the damn woman had stepped past me. Damn fucking whore. I didn’t have to look back to know she was moving toward Daniel.

I worked up the nerve to approach a couple more girls, but each time it ended badly. One outright laughed at me, another walked off without a word and the rest almost seemed to cringe when I neared. With a sigh I left the dance floor and headed right for the bar sitting along the north wall.

I glanced over and was surprised to see a familiar face sitting a few seats down from him at the bar. It was one of those assholes that had come into work, the son. “Did you ever find whatever it was you were looking for?” I asked.

“Why’s it any business of yours,” the man spat glaring at me then downed the rest of his drink.

“You should have stayed home kid. You might find yourself involved in the worst sort of trouble. Go home before it’s too late,” he said then stood to leave.

The man strode off before I could even think of responding. Shit, something was up with that guy; I just wish I knew what it was. I wasn’t about to be scared off by some weird ass mother fucker who got his jollies from telling people weird ass shit. I sighed and shook my head; it was time for another round of humiliation. Daniel would never let me hear the end of it if I sat at the bar the whole time.

“Tough luck on the dance floor?” a sultry voice asked just as I was about to stand.

I turned to look and felt my breath catch in my throat. The woman that was leaning against the bar a few feet from me was easily the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. She had long red hair, bright blue eyes, a figure to make any man weak at the knees and a black form fitting dress that clung to her hour-glass figure as if it might blow away at any moment. She oozed sex from every pore and I couldn’t help but undress her with my mind. She almost gave the impression of a wild animal ready to spring on its prey. It was a ridiculous thought, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

“I’m Selina,” she said with a purr.

“Archibold,”I said trying my best not to gape at the bombshell, “But everyone calls me Archie.”

“Nice to meet you, Archie. You’re a virgin aren’t you? I like virgins they taste good,” she said. “And what they lack in ability they make up for with their zest.”

I swallowed hard, how the fuck had she known I was a virgin? Something in the back of my mind told me this woman was dangerous and maybe I should steer clear of her. I got the feeling that the stranger’s warning to go home had something to do with Selina, but like almost any guy my cock won out. I almost told her to buzz off, but I couldn’t bring myself to. I shook my head and cast all doubts aside. I must be freaking nuts, how often did someone like me get a chance to score with a girl like that?

“Y-yes,” I said.

“Good,” she said with another purr. “Let’s dance.”

Without another word she grabbed my hand and led me out onto the dance floor.

I was usually an average dancer at best, but that night I moved with the music effortlessly. As good as I was Selina was better. Each move, each sway of the hips had a grace that few women could match. It felt like hours that we were out there on the dance floor, but it couldn’t have been more than three or four songs. When they were finally done, I would have done almost anything to get her in bed. I had never wanted anything so bad in my life.

“You want something to drink?” I said.

Selina smiled, “I would love a drink.”

“I’ll have a Jack and coke,” I said. “And they lady would like–” I stopped short and looked to Selina with the question in my eyes.

“–would like sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist,” Selina finished for me.

“You’re an excellent dancer,” she said.

“Uh, thanks,” I said rubbing at the back of neck. “You’re good too. No, fuck that you’re amazing. I’ve never seen a person move like that.”

“Do you have a place nearby?” she asked suddenly.

“Sure,” I said in shock. Shit, was this really happening? “I live a few blocks away.”

“Take me,” she said and grabbed hold of my hand possessively.

In a shocked daze I led Selina through the club. Half-way to the door I locked eyes with Daniel who flashed me a surprised but approving smile then gave me a thumbs-up. A few moments later we were out of the club. Stu was just as surprised, but he didn’t say a word as Selina and I left together. When I glanced back, the big doorman gave me a thumbs up and an approving smile that was nearly identical to the one Daniel had given me.

Selina was quiet as we walked to the apartment. I was still shocked that such a beautiful woman would want to see my apartment. Shit, I was afraid that if I said anything I’d scare her away. It was pretty damn chilly, so I offered Selina my jacket but she declined with a weird glimmer of amusement in her eyes. Finally we reached the apartment and I fumbled for the keys for what felt like an eternity before finding the right one. My hands were shaking as I fit it into the lock and turned the handle. “It’s not much, bu–”

“It will suffice,” she said walking into the apartment and looking around.

“Uh, make yourself comfortable then,” I said looking around the place, half expecting someone to pop out and tell me I was a victim of some strange practical joke. I stared at her chest and quickly looked away when I realized I staring. She was so hot, I couldn’t believe she was standing in my apartment. Again something in the back of my head tried to tell me that something was seriously wrong, but I didn’t listen. I would do almost anything to score with Selina.

“Let me be blunt with you, Archie. I’m only here for one reason, I want sex. I don’t care if we talk or what the place looks like,” she said with a sultry smile.

“Uh, well then I’ll show you to my bedroom,” I said disbelievingly as I swung my bedroom door open.

She walked in then turned back to me with that sultry smile on her face. My knees almost gave away at the sight of her, but I managed to stumble into my room and swung the door shut behind me. She stroked my cheek then suddenly our lips were locked and I thought I was going to die from shock. I don’t know who had initiated the kiss, but damn it felt good.

We broke away long enough for Selina to slip out of her dress and began to unbuttoning my shirt. I fumbled with her bra for a minute before I could figure out how to undo the damn hooks and then the bra fell to the floor and we were both naked. I was really dizzy for some reason and there was this weird sensation like something was tugging at me from the inside and it was then that I knew with a certainty I had made a terrible mistake bringing Selina home. Something was seriously wrong, but no matter how much I tried I couldn’t stop myself. Whatever was happening I felt like I was being sapped of energy. The moment my cock finally pierced her was a moment of pure exquisite agony. The pain exploded through my body and Selina moaned in delight seemingly unaware anything was wrong.

Again and again I pierced her and I grew weaker and weaker until everything faded into darkness and I lost consciousness.

Selina moaned in delight as energy poured into her. She had never imagined that anyone could have so much pent up sexual energy. She wouldn’t need to feed for days perhaps even a week after tonight. A human woman would have been disappointed by the boy’s poor performance as a lover, but Selina didn’t care. He was a virgin, after all, he couldn’t be expected to perform as well as a more seasoned man. Truthfully, it was his sexual energies she sought.

She gasped as another orgasm trickled through her body and she shivered in pure ecstasy. Selina was a succubus. She fed on the sexual energies of men. Ancient lore labeled her kind as demons, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was one of the unseen, beings of supernatural origin that remained hidden to humans. She wasn’t evil, and wished no harm to humans, but she needed to feed on them in order to survive. Tomorrow the boy would wake feeling weak and would have a terrible headache, but would otherwise feel fine.

She gasped again, but this time it wasn’t from pleasure it was from shock. No wonder she had found herself so strongly drawn to this boy. She felt a familiar pang of hunger and it took her a moment to understand that it was not coming from her, but from the boy. Had she realized what the boy was she never would have seduced him. Self-loathing and anger flooded through her as she climaxed and felt the boy collapse from exhaustion. She had drawn more from the boy than she had intended, but not enough to cause any permanent harm.

Normally once she had fed on someone she would leave and let them wake wondering if it had all been a dream if they even remembered at all, but this time she wouldn’t. No, she couldn’t not after what she had done. He would need someone to guide him and to teach him how to feed. He would have awakened eventually on his own, but by feeding on him she had accelerated the process. Now it was just a matter of time.

Poor boy, he would discover the truth soon enough…



I groaned as the light to my bedroom flicked on. “Holy Fuck, it wasn’t a dream,” was the first thing out of my mouth.

“No,” Selina said with sad smile. “It wasn’t. I need to tell you something. It won’t be easy for you to hear, but it cannot be helped.”

I shook my head in a vain attempt to clear my thoughts. Why was I so tired? Why the Hell did I feel like I’d had the shit beat out of me? I felt weak, like I was sick or something. I had some strange recollections from last night, but they were jumbled and didn’t make much sense. I vaguely remembered having sex with Selina and growing weak, but there didn’t seem to be any reason for it.

“Uh, yeah okay,” I muttered

“There is no easy way to say this so I’ll just say it. I am a succubus; I feed on the sexual energies of men, and the occasional woman but they are never as filling as a male lover.”

“A succubus? Uh, okay whatever,” I said sitting up.

“I am telling the truth.”

“Shit, this is a joke right? Who put you up to this?” I asked in disbelief.

“It is not a joke,” she folded her arms across her naked breasts.

“Please just listen,” she said before I could say anything. “I am a succubus and so are you.”

“Okay,” I said standing up and looked down at my naked body. I teetered on my feet. Shit, why was I so weak? It took a lot of effort, but I was able to stumble across the room where my pants and boxers lay in a heap. “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“Listen to me!” She said throwing up her hands in frustration. “I knew there was something different about you when I found you last night. I thought it was because you were a virgin, but that wasn’t it at all. You had so much pent up sexual energy I didn’t realize it was because you were a succubus.”

“Right, I’m a female sex demon. Did I sprout breasts last night when I wasn’t looking?” I said looking down at my flat chest.

“Shit this is getting weird,” I muttered as I pulled on my boxers and pants and reached over for my shirt which lay a few feet away. “I knew there was something odd about this whole thing. You’re a fucking loon.”

“Men!” she said angrily. “You are an orphan, right?”

“How the hell did you know that?!” I demanded angrily.

“Because almost all of us are! When a succubus gives birth to a child she abandons it. It is in our nature to wander and a child will only hinder our ability to feed,” she said. “You are the offspring of a succubus and an incubus and by feeding on you I awoke the succubus within you.”

“Okay, I really think it’s time you leave. I don’t know what sort of shit you’re hopped up on but–”

There was a loud thud from somewhere in the apartment. What the hell was that? I, stopped to listen then moved across my room and poked my head out the door. Daniel was just passing my bedroom when several more thuds sounded from the front door of the apartment and it collapsed out of its frame.

I watched in disbelief as men wearing plain clothes and toting guns rushed into the apartment. I probably would have stayed there gaping if it hadn’t been for Daniel. “Get out of here!” he growled then forced my head back through the door and slammed it shut behind me.

“They’ve come for me,” Selina said, but my eyes remained on the door. I tried to force it back open, but Daniel must have put his weight against it because I couldn’t get it to budge.

There was a scream from the other side and a something that almost sounded like a wild animal roaring. What the hell was that? I shook my head then turned around to find that Selina had somehow dressed herself in some of my clothes in the short time that I had been at the door.

“Shit,” I muttered even wearing my clothes she looked smoking hot.

“We must leave,” she said.

“I am not leaving Daniel to those people whoever the hell they are! He’s the only friend I have!” I said shouting angrily.

Another roar and another scream came from the other side of the door. A rapid succession of dull thuds pounded into the door. I looked at it, and felt my heart sink. There was no way Daniel could survive not with those assholes shooting at him. I moved toward the window and a cold blast of wind blasted me in the face as I shoved it open. God, I wanted to make those assholes pay, but if I stayed I probably would die too.

“Shit, I don’t know what you’ve gotten me involved in.”

I kicked the screen out then helped Selina climb through. There was a bit of a drop to the snowy ground below, but Selina jumped through and landed effortlessly on her feet. Shit she made it look easy. I looked back at the door on more time, and watched wide-eyed as the door collapsed in the frame. Something big occupied the doorway; it stood on two massive paws, had a short nub of a tail, a thick coat of brown fur and looked for all the world like the rear end of a bear on its hind legs.

“What the hell?” I said and scurried out the window. It couldn’t be what it looked like, could it? I tumbled to the ground and landed gracelessly in the cold wet snow below.

“Come,” Selina said gripping my shoulder. “We must hurry.”

‘What the hell did I just see?’ I thought to myself as I let her lead me away from the apartment window.

I stumbled and almost fell to my knees as we walked. Wondering, not for the first time, what the hell was wrong with me, I crawled back onto my feet and followed after Selina. Jumping out the window had taken a lot more out of me than I cared to admit. It took a lot of effort, but I managed to put one foot in front of another. Each step was harder, but I kept standing out of sheer stubbornness.

We hadn’t walked very far when two thugs with tranquilizers guns appeared in front of us. “Don’t move,” said the one on the left, a brown-haired man.

Selina smiled seductively and took a few steps forward. “Why don’t you boys put those weapons down and I can show you a good time.”

The man on the right, a blond man with a scar running from left to cheek to just below his jaw line, let his gun fall to his side, but it lasted only a second and his weapon was once again pointed at Selina.

“Get down on the ground, freak,” the one with the scar spat.

For a moment Selina’s smile faltered, but when she fell to her knees it returned with a wicked cast to it. Her skin seemed to ripple taking on an almost purple color, a set of curled ram-like horns appeared on the side of her head a few inches above her ears and a pair of leathery bat wings shot out from her back tearing a big hole in the back of the shirt.

“Damn, that was my favorite shirt,” I muttered. I know it was a weird thing to say under the circumstances, but it was the first thing that popped into my head.

Scarface’s hands were shaking, “Don’t move!” he yelled as Selina stood back on her feet.

If Selina had been attractive before, she seemed even more so after her transformation. Before she merely oozed sex from every pour, with her transformation she was sex defined. The bat-wings and the ram horns didn’t detract from her appearance somehow they made her seem more alluring. She walked over to the two thugs and traced her hand across Scarface’s cheek.

“Put the guns down,” Selina said softly.

Scarface complied, but the brown-haired thug seemed more in control of himself. “I’m warning you!” he screamed.

“Kill him,” Selina said with a pout of her lips. Scarface responded immediately, dropping the tranquilizer gun, he pulled a handgun from a holster under his jacket and shot his companion between the eyes.

“Very good,” she purred with another seductive smile.

Scarface didn’t say a word he merely stared at her chest with obvious lust on his face.

“Holy Hell,” I said nearly hysterical.. “You really are a succubus!”

“Yes, I am,” she said her smile faltering. For a brief moment a deep sadness seemed to pass across her face. For some reason I got this weird urge to go over and hug her and tell her everything would be alright. Then that look of sadness was gone from her face and sanity returned to me.

“You are a very good boy,” she said glancing down at Scarface’s crotch where he had a massive erection and lopsided grin on his face. “Maybe later you and I can have some fun. Take me to your car, and deal with your friends should any try to resist us.”

“Come, Archibold,” Selina commanded turning to follow Scarface.

Yeah right, like I was going anywhere with her. Not after what I had seen. Shit, she was just as dangerous if not more so than the thugs that had attacked us. “No,” I say planting my feet firmly on the ground.

She stopped and motioned for the thug to stop as well. “Why?”

“Why?! After that shit you just pulled you need to ask why!?”

“You’re far better off with me,” she said. “If they get hold of you they will do worse than kill you. Even if you don’t believe me about you being a succubus they’ll kill you just to make sure you don’t tell anyone what has happened here.”

“No,” I repeated, “I’ll take my chances with them. How can I trust you?”

“If I wanted you any harm to come to you, you would be lying there on the ground in a puddle of your own blood,” she said calmly. “Please Archie, you cannot survive without my help. I did what had to be done. I would gladly undo it if I could. If there had been any other way… Please, there is no time. If they don’t know we’ve escaped yet they soon will.” she said a pleading tone in her voice.

“Watch out,” she screamed suddenly and I dove to the ground. Pain exploded on the top of my head and I reached up to feel blood trickling down my scalp.

“Take care of them, my lovely.” I heard Selina say sweetly. For a few moments bullets whizzed overhead then everything fell dead silent.

“Get up,” Selina said. “It’s safe now.”

“God damn you!” I screamed in fury. “Can’t you see I’ve been shot?”


“My head, shit it hurts!” I yelled back at her.

Selina hands grasped my head and I heard her snort. “You were just barely grazed. You’ll be fine. Please, we need to leave. There will be more of them soon.”

I got back on my feet and grimaced, “Shit I need some damn Tylenol.”

“Are you coming or not?” she asked already moving away from me.

“Damn, I’m probably going to regret this,” I said, but moved to follow. I didn’t trust Selina, but she hadn’t tried to kill me, so I was probably better off with her than them.

“Take us to the car, dear,” Selina said turning back to Scarface.

Scarface nodded and led us to a dark-blue SUV parked on the other side of the building. “Darrell, what the he–” A short man with close-cropped brown hair started to say, but was stopped short as ‘Darrell’ pumped bullets into his chest. Without even so much as blinking he pulled the dead man out of the car and killed the man in the driver’s seat before he could pull his weapon from its holster.

“Collect their weapons and sit down in the passenger seat, my lovely,” Selina said patting Darrell’s cheek and smiling happily.

“Archie, can you drive, please?” Selina asked as Scarface bent over to collect the discarded weapons.

“Me?” I muttered in protest. “Why the fuck do you want me to drive?”

“Because our dear friend is too enthralled to focus on the road, and I need to maintain this form in order to keep hold of him,” she said her wings twitching. “I think it best if I sit in the back where I cannot be seen.”

“This is too freaking weird. God, I hope this is all a dream,” I said with a shake of my head and walked around to the other side of the car.

I pulled the door open and the corpse in the driver’s seat tumbled out of the car. I started dry heaving at the sight of the dead body. I turned my head away, but it was already too late. I vomited on the ground next to the corpse. There hadn’t been much in my stomach so it was mostly bile. Shivering I stepped over the body and climbed into the car.

Selina hopped into the back and Darrell’s eyes followed her every move. The big thug had a huge grin on his face, and he turned back in his seat so he could keep his eyes on Selina. It creeped the hell out of me. “So where to?”

“After we find another car I think we need a place to hide. You’re too exhausted to go very far or I’d recommend leaving town.” Selina said leaning awkwardly forward from the back seat.

“Fuck! Why the hell do we need another car?” I muttered.

“Do you want to drive around in a stolen car owned by the people chasing us? If they have some means of tracking this car we’d be in a world of a trouble. Worse yet they could report it missing and we’ll have the police after us too.”

“Okay, okay I get your point. So what, we go steal another car?”

“Drive and I will tell you,” she said.

“Right,” I muttered as I turned the key in the ignition.

“Find an office parking lot,” she said. “It’s almost ten, most offices will be open for business,” she said blandly.

“And?” I spat at her.

She shrugged, “And we steal a car. It will be several hours before anyone notices it’s missing. Long enough for us to find a place to hide and ditch the car.”

We met no resistance as the SUV pulled out of the parking lot. “Okay, who the hell were those guys?” I asked after several moments of silence.

Selina sighed and shook her head, “I don’t really know much about them to be honest. I know only that they call themselves the Tenebris Petentibus. A few months ago, they captured me, and did all sorts of things to me.”

“Things? What sort of things?”

“Some sort of surgical experiments. There didn’t seem to be any reason behind it all. They never explained themselves,” she said with a shudder. “I managed to escape, and they’ve been chasing after me ever since. I thought I had lost them when I came to Ravencrest.”

“Yeah well, you thought wrong and now I’m caught up in this mess,” I growled staring back at her through the rear view mirror. “Shit, what did you say they called themselves?”

“The Tenebris Petentibus,” Selina replied with downcast eyes.

“Sound like Latin, Daniel would have known what it meant,” I muttered angrily. Daniel didn’t look the type but he was minoring in linguistics and was a wiz when it came to languages.

“He’s probably dead now thanks to you,” I added with a growl.

“The muscular fellow you came into the club with? I wouldn’t be so quick to count him out,” she replied with a knowing smile.

“Yeah sure, those guys just let him walk out of the apartment,” I replied my voice dripping with sarcasm. I slammed on the brakes as the light turned red. “Just give me one reason why I shouldn’t get out of this car right now. I’m beginning to wonder if coming with you was such a good idea. You’re a freaking sex demon for Christ sakes! How can I trust you?”

Selina shook her head, “I do not serve the devil, if he even exists, if that’s what you’re worried about. I do feed on sex, but believe me when I say I wish I didn’t have too.”

“And what about our friend?” I said jerking my head toward Darrell as the light turned green again.

“What exactly did you do to him anyway?” I asked slamming my foot down on the accelerator.

“He is a slave to my will,” she said with a shrug.

“Well gee, that sure cleared things up didn’t it?”

Selina sighed, “It is not an ability I am particularly fond of using. When I am in this form I can sometimes form a link between myself and a man. When I do so they become mindless thralls who will do anything to please me.”

“Can you at least try and get some information out of him? I mean if he’s a slave to your will like you say, can’t you just ask him about his buddies?”

“He can no longer speak and the longer I keep my hold on him the more of his mind is lost,” she said sadly.

I shuddered, “Shit, I’m glad you didn’t use that on me.”

“As I said it is not an ability I like to use. I only use it in dire circumstances and it only works on people with weak minds. Besides it wouldn’t have worked on you.”

“Oh, right. Because I’m supposed to be a Succubus too.”


“Shit, and I’m supposed to just take your word for it? No offense, but that’s a load of bullshit,” I growled suddenly swerving into a parking lot.

“Will this place work or do you want to steal your car somewhere else?” I spat glaring at her through the rear view mirror.

“It will suffice,” she said calmly as the SUV came to a stop.

“You know I’ve never stolen a car,” I muttered.

“I have,” she muttered with a shudder as her skin started to ripple and her horns and wings shrunk back into her skin and disappeared.

“What the hell are you doing? I thought you needed to stay like that to keep control of him!” I said yelling at her hysterically.

Darrell frowned then glanced at me for a moment, then that stupid grin returned to his face and he looked back at Selina.

“There is no cause for concern,” she said as her changes completed. “He won’t be a problem. He is mine now, no matter what form I am in.”

“Well, that’s reassuring,” I muttered swinging the door open and hopped out of the car.

Besides still being really weak, I was starting to feel really odd. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but there was this strange need building inside of me. I didn’t know what would satisfy it, but it was getting stronger by the minute. It was freezing cold out, but despite that I was sweating my ass off. My hands were shaking and I felt as if I might collapse from sheer exhaustion at any moment. My teeth started to chatter and I could feel a headache coming on.

“Archie, oh god, not now,” Selina said somewhere nearby.

I blinked and shook my head trying to clear it, “What?”

“It’s starting,” she said, but it seemed as if she were speaking from really far off.

A small part of me wanted to ask what she meant, but that part of me was rapidly diminishing. What really mattered was my need and how I might fulfill it. I looked around and spotted Darrell and a slow smile crept across my face. Darrell had what I needed; maybe he would give it to me. I walked over to him and reached for his crotch. ‘No!’ something inside of me screamed. I quickly snatched my hand back and looked down at it disbelievingly and fell to my knees. What the hell was I doing? What had I almost done? The need was strong, but I couldn’t let myself give in. The need continued to grow in me and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could resist. I looked up at Darrell, at his erect crotch, and licked my lips. He had what I needed, why shouldn’t I partake?

“Archie, no!” Selina said. “Not here!”

“Step off bitch. He’s mine! I need what he has!” I growled jumping to my feet and rounding on her.

“No!” I screamed suddenly and fell back to my knees. No, no, no… My head was spinning, everything was wrong and I starting yelling at the top of my lungs. Distantly I remember hearing the sound of footsteps nearby, but it wasn’t until the man grew close that it really registered.

“Miss, are you okay? Are these guys bothering you?” he said. He looked down at me with a disapproving thrown then over to Darrell with the same look.

I looked up at the newcomer. He had what I needed, he had lots of it. He was a big fellow, but if I acted quickly I might be able to pin him to the ground and get what I needed. I leapt at him and laughed with glee as we both fell to the ground in a heap. We struggled for a few moments, but in the end I managed to reach for his pants and unzip them. For some reason his dick was limp, a part of me, a very small part now, was happy about this. The rest of me howled with rage then I reached inside of myself and it was like I flicked on a switch.

A stupid grin formed on the man’s face and I laughed triumphantly as I wrapped my hand around his now erect appendage and began to suck what I needed from him. God, it felt so good! I could never have imagined anything feeling so invigorating. Why hadn’t I done it sooner? His energy filled me up and I laughed from the sheer ecstasy, but something was missing. It wasn’t enough. There had to be a better way to get what I needed. He stopped struggling and I think he must have passed out, but I continued to drain him.

Suddenly, I was being pulled away and I screaming in rage. “Let go!”

“Archie,” Selina said. “Please you have to snap out of it. I promise I will let you feed when we are somewhere safe.”

“You don’t understand,” I said with a sob. “He has what I need! Why won’t you let me have it!”

Something slammed into my face and I thought I might black out, then suddenly everything snapped back into focus and I gasped. “Shit,” I muttered feeling bile rise in my throat. “What the hell did you do to me?”

“I slapped you,” she said staring at me blandly. “Darrell, my sweet let him down.”

Darrell let go of me and I fell to the ground. “God that hurt,” I groaned.

“What is happening to me?” I said curling up into a fetal position.

“I’m sorry Archie, I really am, I tried to tell you that you were a succubus,” she said putting her hand on my shoulder.

“Fuck, I practically raped that I guy,” I said with a shudder.

“You nearly drained him dry, he will wake feeling extremely weak and in all likelihood have no memory of what happened. No lasting harm has been done to him,” she said with a sympathetic look on her face.

“Is that what you tell yourself to make you feel better about preying on people?” I said between gritted teeth

“Please we need to go, they could–”

“No! I don’t want to be like you! Just leave me to die!” I screamed in rage and misery.

“Please, Archie,” she said practically begging me.


“Darrell, pick him back up. If he won’t come willingly then we’ll have to do it the hard way,” she said sadly.

Darrell bent over and locked a huge arm around my waist then he lifted me up and draped me over a shoulder like a sack of flour. I tried to resist, but it was to no avail, Darrell was just too damn strong. I tried to kick and punch him, but the blows didn’t seem to have any effect at all.

“Put him down,” a voice said suddenly and stared in shock at the person holding a gun just a few feet away.

“Holy Shit! Daniel you’re alive!” were the first words out of my mouth.

Daniel looked pretty battered and bruised and he had a blood-stained cloth wrapped around his left arm just above his elbow, but at least he was alive. The gun he had aimed at Selina looked identical to the one that Darrell had holstered under his jacket. Daniel had probably picked it up from one of the guys who had attacked the apartment. “I said put him down!” Daniel commanded glaring at Darrell intently.

“Put him down, my dear,” Selina said with a faint smile.

Again, Darrell dropped me to the ground. Shit, why couldn’t Selina have been more specific? I grunted against the pain then scrambled to my feet. “Daniel,” I said. “It’s alright you can put the gun down.”

Daniel glanced at Selina and Darrell warily, then he nodded and tucked the gun into the back of his pants. “Please tell me you know what’s going on,” he said with a wary sigh.

“Shit man, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I replied with a wry grin.

“This is all your fault, isn’t it?!” Daniel asked between clench teeth as he rounded on Selina. “I should have never let Archie leave the club with you.”

Selina sighed, “If you are referring to the gunmen, they are after me, near as far as I can tell I did nothing to warrant their attention.”

Daniel shook head and spoke between gritted teeth, “Let’s get out of here. Then you, Archie and I are going to have a long talk.”

Selina nodded, “Archie, can you walk on your own?”

“Even if I couldn’t I wouldn’t let Darrell carry me. Don’t we still need a ride?”

“I got that covered. Come on, if we stay here much longer someone is bound to call the police if they haven’t already,” Daniel said motioning for us to follow.

“Wait, what about him?” I said pointed down to the guy lying there on the ground. I couldn’t just leave him there, not after what I had done to him.

Selina walked over to me and placed her hand on my shoulder, “Leave him, he’s better off.”

“Someone could come by and run him over. We should at least put him somewhere warm,” I said.

Selina smiled sympathetically, “Yes, we can do that at least.”

Struck with a sudden idea, I reached down and stuck my hand down in his pockets. A wave of dizziness swept over me, and I fought down the urge to start feeding on him again. I pulled his keys out and felt a small sense of satisfaction when I found what I wanted on his key chain, a key fob. With a deep breath I turned away from him, and felt my need to feed dwindle. I handed the key fob to Selina, “We could probably find his car with this.”

Selina nodded and pressed a button on the small remote, the horn on a nearby car started blaring. She pressed the button again, and silenced the car. “Darrell, my dear pick the gentleman up and kindly place him in the car.”

Darrell bent over to pick the guy up and I moved to open the car door so he could set him down. After the man was seated, I bent down to straighten his legs and felt that same hungry feeling come over me and quickly stepped away. I let Selina finish up for me, she put the keys back in his pocket and slammed the car door shut.

“We better get out of here,” Daniel said when it was all finished.

“Yeah, lead the way,” I said.

We followed him down a few rows and stopped at a huge silver king-cab truck. “It belongs to Stu,” he explained as he opened the passenger side door and pulled the seat forward.

“Why don’t you sit in back like a good boy,” Selina said tracing a finger across Darrell’s cheek.

The big thug climbed into the rear seat with the usual stupid grin on his face and I got in after him. “You sure you want to sit back there with that guy? There’s something that sets me on edge about him,” Daniel said grabbing my shoulder.

“It’s probably for the best. Fuck, I’d be more worried about me if I were you,” I said, and received a sharp look from Daniel before I climbed into the back seat. Shit, if I tried to feed on Daniel while he was driving it would spell disaster for us all.

Selina slid into the front passenger seat, and a moment later Daniel hopped in the driver’s side. “So where to?”

“Some place where we can hide until things settle down,” Selina said.

“I know just the place,” Daniel replied with a shake of his head.

He started the truck and sped out of the parking lot. “Okay, someone tell me what’s going on now.”

Selina glanced back at me with a warning look then let out a sigh. “How might you answer if I said ‘What lies in the shadows remains unseen'”?

Daniel glanced over at Selina with a surprised look on his face, “Well, if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, I’d say the two of us should talk somewhere a bit more private.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Selina said.

“Yeah, well I disagree,” he shot back.

“You’re a were, aren’t you?” Selina said suddenly.

Daniel slammed on the brakes and turned to stare at Selina with his mouth hanging open. Selina met his gaze and the two just sat there staring at each other for almost a minute. Cars whizzed past us honking their horns as the passed by, one almost rear-ended the truck.

It was Selina that finally broke the silence, “Don’t worry. Archie and I are both Unseen, and Darrell, well he couldn’t tell anyone even if I instructed him to.”

“You’re an Unseen?” he asked looking back at me.

“Uh, what the fuck is an Unseen?” I asked giving him a confused look.

“Some people would call an Unseen a monster,” Selina said.

“Well, I’d say that freaking well fits the bill,” I spat bitterly.

“I don’t like it. How can I be sure your friend won’t spill the beans,” he said pointing his thumb back at Darrell.

Selina sighed, “He’s a slave to my will. He exists only to please me.”

Daniel’s jaw dropped again then he shook his head and put his foot down on the accelerator and the truck lurched back into motion.

“So what are you? If I had to guess I’d say you were a vamp, but I think I’d be wrong,” he said glancing at Selina with a level look.

“Succubus,” she said.

“And Archie? What’s he an incubus or something?”

“I’m a succubus, too,” I muttered bitterly. It wasn’t like I could deny it after I had practically raped that guy.

“Crap, I’m sorry man,” he replied with nowhere near the amount of surprise I would have expected.

“What about you?” I asked him.

“I’m a Were,” he said simply.

“You’re aware of what?”

Daniel chuckled, “No, man I am a Were. You have heard of werewolves haven’t you?”

“You’re a werewolf then?”

“No, no, there’s different types. I turn into a bear, a Kodiak to be exact,” he said casually.

“Shit, that was you I saw at the apartment!” I said.

“Yeah, that was me,” he said with a shudder.

“Something wrong?”

“I just don’t like violence is all,” he said.

That took me aback a bit; it seemed like an odd comment coming from a guy that could change into a massive killing machine at will. I didn’t respond because I couldn’t really think of something to say to that. I had this image in my head of Daniel turning into a bear and tearing everything around him into pieces. Maybe, I shouldn’t have been too quick to assume.

My attention drifted and my need, no my hunger, started to grow again. I reached over to Darrell and I started to unzip his pants, my hands reached for his cock. Distantly I heard Selina say something then I felt his Darrell’s hands lock around my wrists and force me away. I struggled against him, but I couldn’t break free.

“Please,” I begged. “I need it, why won’t you let me have it?!”

“Not here, dear. I promise you can feed soon. Just hold on a little longer,” she said reaching across the seat and stroking my cheek.

I don’t know exactly why, but I seemed to grow more lucid. The hunger was still strong, but I was able to think rationally. I nodded, “I don’t know how much longer I can wait,” I said and felt like crying. Darrell’s hold on me loosened and I put my head between my knees and clutched it with my hands.

“Did you do this to him?” Daniel said with accusation in his voice.

“Yes and no, losing one’s virginity is usually the catalyst and that would have happened eventually with or without another succubus to help the process along,” Selina said calmly.

“So when he says he needs something he’s talking about sex?” Daniel asked incredulously.

“Yes, but at the moment his ability to feed is hampered by his male form. He can suck a man dry and only gain a small amount of energy,” Selina said sadly.

Pins and needles prickled across my body and I felt like vomiting. Dizziness washed over me, with wave after wave, like ocean currents washing against a beach. Cold chills wracked my body and I was sweating so bad I felt like I had taken a shower in my clothes. God, I needed to feed. Why wouldn’t Selina let me feed? It seemed so unfair!

By some miracle I kept myself from reaching across the seat and trying to feed on Darrell again, but it was a close thing. The thought crossed my mind a number of times, but whatever part of myself that still resisted managed to keep me from doing so. Every moment was torture, distantly I could hear Selina and Daniel talking, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They might have well have been speaking in another language. Finally, after an eternity of fighting back my hunger the truck came to a stop and I felt a pair of large hands wrap themselves around me and lift me like a child.

After a short time, that might as well have been another eternity, I fed. It was glorious or at least I thought so at the time. I reached deep in my victim, and drained nearly every last bit of energy I could, but when it was all done I was still hungry. I almost sapped away that last little bit of energy, but I restrained myself. Somehow I knew that if I drained everything my victim would die. Slowly sanity returned to me, and I became aware of my surroundings.

I was lying atop Darrell with my hands over his crotch, I quickly yanked them away and suppressed the urge to vomit. Despite being unconscious, he still had that stupid shit-eating grin on his face, and I shuddered at the sight of him. I stood and backed away from his unconscious form, and noticed that I felt stronger than I had all day. In fact, other than being hungry for both food and sex, I felt amazing.

I looked around and noticed my shabby surroundings. The room I was in looked like it hadn’t been inhabited by humans in years. Paint was peeling away from the walls, and what remained of the carpet was stained black and brown with dirt and god knew what else. Darrell was lying on the ground atop a blanket, which, despite being a bit shabby, looked clean.

I shuddered and turned away I couldn’t bear the thought of what I had done to Darrell. I looked down at my hands and realized something was wrong. They looked different somehow, not much, but it was enough for me to detect a difference. The fingers seemed just a bit thinner, and maybe even a little longer.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I yelled with my fists clenched. I had a feeling I knew what was happening. Selina had never said anything about it, but it made sense that if I was a succubus that I would transform somehow. I pulled my shirt off, and winced at the sight of my chest. All my chest hair was gone, and my nipples were swollen and tender to the touch. I ran my hand through my hair and realized that it was longer, if only by about an inch.

If I had any doubts about my changes, they were gone after I pulled my pants down. The changes in my crotch were drastic to say the least. My usual equipment had almost completely disappeared. A half-formed mound had appeared in its place, the only remnant of penis was a tiny nub that stuck out from my new cunt. I stared at the damn thing and felt like hitting something. Why the hell did this have to happen to me?

I screamed and suppressed my violent urges. All my dreams, all my hopes for the future had gone down the tube. I couldn’t hope to finish my degree, no one would recognize me. There would be no way to prove my identity. It was worse than that though, I couldn’t use my social security number, I wouldn’t have any documented past whatsoever. I would be starting over with a blank slate, and no way to fill it.

A hand touched my shoulder and I turned to find Selina looking back at me with tears in her eyes. “I am sorry.”

I wanted to hate Selina I wanted to yell and scream at her, but for some reason I just couldn’t. “You said in the car that I would have awakened eventually with or without your help.”

“I didn’t think you had been aware enough to hear that,” Selina said staring at me with wide eyes.

“I didn’t hear much else, but I believe you. God knows why, but I do,” I said.

She smiled, “It’s not so bad once you get used to it. In time you might even come to enjoy it.”

“Selina, I had dreams. I wanted to make something of myself, and now… Now there’s no way I’ll ever get my degree,” I muttered as tears fell down my face.

“You’re not the only one who has had their dreams shattered,” she muttered sadly.

I didn’t respond, I merely stared at Selina. I had never thought of her as anything but the sexy shelf-assured creature that she seemed to be. “I had just gotten married,” she continued. “I thought I would spend the rest of my life with Shamus. I had never been with a man before, I was nervous that I wouldn’t know what to do or that I wouldn’t please him. When we consummated our love I awoke as a succubus and started to feed on him. I drained him dry, and he died.”

I stared at Selina with a horrified look on my face, “I just left then, I hated myself for what I did. All my dreams, my hopes of raising a family and spending a lifetime with the man I loved, everything was shattered. I ran away from everything and everyone I knew and I changed along the way. I had always been a plain girl, Shamus told me I was pretty, and he made me feel pretty sometimes. I never really believed him, though. It’s funny I always envied beautiful women, but the price of becoming one was greater than I had ever imagined.”

“Selina, I’m sorry I had no idea,” I said not really knowing what else to say.

Selina shook her head, “Don’t be. Ours is a lonely existence, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. You could come with me when I leave this town. I’ve been alone for far too long.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said quietly.

“Get dressed, you need to get some food in you,” she said suddenly then turned and left the room.

I looked down at Darrell again, and suppressed a shudder. Then I hurriedly got dressed and followed Selina out of the room.

I took a bite out of the energy bar, the hurriedly devoured the rest of it. “Jeez man, how long has been since you’ve eaten?” Daniel said from across the battered dining table.

We were in an old abandoned house a few miles outside of Ravencrest. The kitchen wasn’t in any better shape than the other room I had seen, but it had furniture at least. “Last night,” I said after swallowing.

“Here have another,” Daniel said tossing me a foil-wrapped bar.

I had flat out refused the beef jerky he had tried to get me to eat. Normally, I loved the stuff, but the sight of it made me want to vomit. I tore open the package and devoured the bar in mere seconds. The bar tasted awful, but I would have eaten almost anything. Well, except for jerky apparently.

“So, how do you feel?” he asked with a worried expression.

“Weird as fucking hell,” I muttered. My head wouldn’t stop spinning and I felt like I was being jabbed by thousands of tiny needles.

“So, you’re really going to change?” he asked.

“Going to? Shit, I’ve already started,” I growled with a shudder.

Daniel looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, “Now that I think about it you do look a little different.”

“Can we talk about something else?” I asked.

“Sure,” Daniel said with an apologetic smile.

“How did you find us?” I asked suddenly.

“I tracked you by scent,” he said with a proud grin.

“By scent, you mean like a dog?” I asked incredulously.

Daniel folded his arms across his chest and shook his head, “Being a were does have its advantages. Most people don’t know this, but bears can smell better than wolves or dogs and even in human form I can smell well enough to track a scent. Especially ones as strong as yours and Selina’s.”

I stared at him for a moment then burst out laughing. “You realize that you’re a were bear, right?”

He stared at me blankly, “Yeah, I don’t get why that’s funny.”

“A were bear,” I said emphasizing ‘were’. “You know how ridiculous that sounds don’t you?”

“Uh, I still don’t get it man,” he said with another blank look.

“Well, it’s nothing, but it sort of sounds like care bear is all,” I said barely able to contain my laughter.

It really wasn’t that funny, why was I laughing so hard? Abruptly, I stopped, not by choice, but because I couldn’t breathe. I struggled for breath, but it just wouldn’t come. My limbs seemed to go limp and I fell to the floor with a dull thud. Frantically, I tried to grab for my throat, but I couldn’t move my arms. Daniel’s shadow appeared over me and suddenly his lips were over my own. At first my air deprived mind thought he was kissing me, but then I realized he was giving me mouth to mouth.

Suddenly, air flooded through my lungs, and I sat up with a start. I could feel the hunger build and I reached toward Daniel. I yanked my hand away when I realized what I had almost allowed myself to do. I couldn’t feed on Daniel, he was my friend. “Get away from me!” I screamed suddenly and felt my eyes bulge out of my head at the sound of my voice. Shit, I sounded like a damn girl.

“Archie, buddy, it’s alright,” he said reaching for my shoulder.

I scrambled away from him, “Fuck, do you know how close I came to feeding on you?!” I screamed again. “Please just don’t come near me. I don’t want to hurt you,” I said with a pleading tone.

Daniel nodded and backed off, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I… think I need to be alone right now,” I said with long intake of breath. I took a few more steps back then fled into the closest room, slammed the half-rotted door closed behind me and sank to the floor as tears streamed down my face.

“Man up,” I said to myself, my newly feminine voice sounding odd to my ears, and started to laugh. No I wasn’t nuts, I was just close to the breaking point. Not to mention that telling myself to ‘man up’ was incredibly ironic since I was turning into a fucking chick. I had wept enough, and I didn’t intend to do any more crying if I could help it. I wiped the tears from my face and looked down at my hands and was shocked by what I found. My hands look so different they might as well have belonged to someone else. They were long and delicate; in short they were the hands of a woman.

I stood, and felt a wave of dizziness wash over me. I put my hand on the wall to steady myself, but it didn’t help much. I caught a glint of something on the other side of the room scattered among the refuse, and I stumbled over to it. I dug through all the junk, throwing aside rotting pieces of clothing, broken pieces of furniture and old wooden toys as I did so. Then I found it, what I had been hoping to find, a small hand mirror with a crack across it. I studied my reflection and stared at the stranger looking back at me.

There was still a bit of my old face mixed in, but since I wasn’t finished changing, I doubted there would be much if any of my old features left when I was finished. Like my hands, my face looked much more feminine and my eyes had shifted color, instead of being brown they were now a vibrant blue. The face in the mirror was quite striking, not pretty exactly, but appealing nonetheless.

“Fuck!?” I said touching my face in disbelief. I hadn’t expected such drastic changes in so short a time. I sighed and shook my head, it didn’t matter really, it didn’t change the fact that I was turning into a sex demon or whatever the hell succubi were. I shook my head and felt hair brush again my neck. It was just a little past shoulder length now and somehow seemed a much more vibrant shade of red than it had been before. I reached out and grabbed it, it was thick, and silky-smooth. I knew some women who would kill for hair like that.

I glanced down at my chest, and shuddered at the sight of the two bulges that poked out from it. They were a little on the small side, but I doubted they’d stay that way. I had shrunk quite a lot, my shirt was now a few sizes too large and my pants seemed about ready to fall off. I sighed and pulled my shirt and pants off. The first thing I noticed was the damn slit between my legs, the last remnant of my cock was gone, and as near as I could tell the plumbing looked right. I hadn’t really seemed to develop much of a figure yet, my waist had narrowed and my hips bulged out a little, but other than that my proportions looked quite boyish.

I glared down at the body in disgust; I would never be able to pass for male again. My face alone made that impossible. “Just fucking great,” I muttered angrily as I reached down to grab my clothes.

I quickly redressed then vacated the room.

Surprise flashed across Selina’s face when I first stepped into the dilapidated kitchen. “I was beginning to worry.”

“I needed some alone time,” I muttered.

“Daniel told me what happened,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “He seemed to think he provoked you into trying to feed on him.”

I laughed and shook my head, “That’s just like him. He always tried to take blame for things that weren’t his fault. Where is he anyway?”

“He’s out hunting for food.”

“Is it normal? For succubi to change. So quickly I mean,” I said sitting down at the table.

“It happens,” Selina said with a shrug. “Some change more quickly than others. Usually those that shift genders take longer, but not always.”

“Why wasn’t I born a girl? I mean it doesn’t seem to make sense for me to turn into a fucking chick if I was born a guy,” I said angrily.

“It has to do with the way in which we are conceived. At least with those of us that are born and not made,” she said standing up and took my hands in hers.

“What do you mean?” I asked. Succubi could be made? I wanted to ask her what that meant, but it would have to be a question for later. My original inquiry was more important to me at the moment.

“It’s difficult to explain and I’m not sure I understand it myself, but I will try. Before a succubus or incubus awakens their true self is buried under a false human shell. After a succubus and an incubus mate the mother succubus then mates with a human whose seed provides this shell for the unborn child. That shell begins to crack when you awaken and eventually crumbles away as you start to feed.”

“So it’s just a random accident that I was born male instead of female. I don’t exactly understand how that might work, but I do recall that a child’s gender is determined by whether or not the sperm that fertilizes the egg has an x or y chromosome. The sperm from the human must have contained a y chromosome and the sperm from the incubus must have contained an x,” I said locking eyes with Selina.

“Possibly,” Selina said with an amused smile.

I didn’t get a chance to ask, a loud bang sounded from the other room. Selina and I exchanged glances then we both took off running towards the source of the sound. Daniel was standing in the front doorway, he had a panicked expression on his face and he was drenched with sweat. The carcass of a deer was sprawled on the ground off to the side as if it had been flung away as an afterthought.

“We have to leave. NOW!” he said with wide eyes.


“They’ve found us,” Daniel panted.

“How?” I demanded.

Daniel’s eyes widened at the sight of me, “Archie?”

“How?” Selina repeated, giving me no opportunity to answer.

“I don’t know, I barely managed to avoid being seen,” he said with a shake of his head.

“Darrell!” Selina called back behind her then her eyes met mine and she said, “We’re leaving.”

Darrell came lumbering into view with that damned stupid ass grin on his scarred face and Selina smiled then patted him on the face, “Such a good boy.”

Without another word we all piled out the front door and I got a look at the house for the first time. It looked almost as bad on the outside as it did on the in. It had faded green paint that was pealing all over the freaking place and the roof looked as if it were ready to cave in. The windows were all boarded up and judging from the loose boards around the door it had been at one point, too. I remembered seeing the place a while back when Daniel had dragged me along on a camping trip.

We followed Daniel around to the other side of the house and that’s when our friends from the Tenebris Petentibus showed up. This time they weren’t dressed in civilian garb, they wore full military fatigues, and bullet proof vests. I didn’t know much about guns, but the weapons they carried looked like they might have been military grade.

“Come on,” Daniel yelled motioning us forward.

We broke into a mad dash toward a copse of trees where I could just barely make out the outline of Stu’s truck. “Darrell, cover us!” I heard Selina call out.

At the edge of my vision I saw Darrell swirling around with gun blazing. “Shit, we’re not going to make it,” I screamed.

“Here,” Daniel said tossing me the keys to the truck.

“Where are you going?!” I called back at him.

“I’m going to buy you some time. Get out of here!” he yelled.

Then he turned around to join Darrell, suddenly fur sprouted out on his skin, his mouth elongated into a snout then the rest his body filled out and in his place was a very large and very angry looking bear. I kept on running for the truck until I heard Daniel growl and looked back. Shit, I’d have never thought a bear could move so fast. There was a grace to his movements that seemed at odds with his bulky bear form. He was a great brown blur as he tore into our attackers. Daniel ran straight into one of the guys and was on him in an instant, the man let out a blood curdling scream then Daniel tore open his throat with a massive clawed paw. Another was thrown the ground as Daniel tossed him aside like a rag doll.

“Come on,” Selina said pulling on my arm.

“Shit,” I muttered realizing that standing around in the middle of a gunfight probably wasn’t a good idea even if the bad guys appeared to be using tranquilizer darts instead of real ammo.

I looked back one last time, and noticed a familiar looking gray-haired man standing a few yards away from all the fighting. He lifted a cigarette to his mouth and then his eyes locked on mine and he smiled. The smile held no warmth; it was cold and seemed to promise death. I shivered and turned away. Then with a start I realized why the man looked familiar, he was the fucking asshole who blew smoke in my face at Kona’s the day before. Shit he probably had been speaking in code after all. I looked around hoping to spot his supposed son, but I didn’t see him anywhere.

Selina motioned me onward with an expression of near panic on her face. I sprang into motion and let her lead me to where the truck was hidden.

We had almost reached the copse of trees when Selina suddenly dropped out of sight, I heard her scream, but before I found out what had happened ,a heavy weight slammed into my legs and I tumbled to the ground. Something had hold of me by the legs, I kicked at it desperately and my pants started to slip away from my waist. I crawled forward and felt them slide the rest of the way from my waist and legs. I was free! I tried to stand up on my feet, but a weight shot into me again and I collapsed back to the ground. “Fucking bitch,” I heard a male voice growl.

I felt a pair of hands latch onto my right arm and I was flung onto my back. It was one of the attackers, he had a bloody gash across his forehead and in his hand and he held a wicked-looking switchblade poised over my heart. I recognized him as the man that Daniel had thrown aside. “Freak, I’m going to enjoy slitting your throat,” he said and lunged at me.

I tried to hold him at bay, but my arms didn’t have the strength they had before my change. Instead, I tried a different tactic; I kicked him in the fucking balls. His eyes grew to roughly the size of saucers and he dropped the blade with a loud groan. Vaguely I remember feeling the blade slide past my arm before the hunger kicked in.

“Not now,” I screamed before I lost all sense of anything but my need for sustenance.

“You’ll do nicely,” I purred hungrily and started to unbuckle his belt.

He tried to resist, but I kissed him on the lips and his hands fell limply to his side and just like that he was under my spell. I pulled my shirt off and flung it aside and felt him reach for my tiny breasts. Faintly, I remembered hearing Daniel roaring and the sound of gunfire, but it didn’t matter, I was about to feed. It was pretty damn cold, but I didn’t notice or care as I pulled his pants away and within moments he had penetrated me.

There was a flash of pain in my crotch, and I thought that my insides would explode, but then the pain faded a bit and I started to feed. Pure white energy poured into me and I thought I might pass out from sheer pleasure. The first few times I had fed, it had drained out of the victim in a faint stream, now it poured into me like a rapid torrent and I howled with pure delight. He penetrated me again and again and each time I drew more energy until there was none left.

Then the hunger was gone and I was myself again. “Oh god,” I muttered and stared down in horror. Quickly, I scrambled off the man and felt my stomach groan in protest. I turned my head and I vomited. The man’s dead eyes stared back at me as if in accusation and I wanted to claw my eyes out. I had raped and killed him, and I hated myself for it. It didn’t matter that he had been trying to kill me; I would have done it to anyone given the chance.

“Archie,” Selina’s soft voice said and I felt her hands on my shoulders.

I didn’t look up at her; instead I reached for the knife and stared at it fixedly. It was a switchblade, the sort that a military man might carry. I thought of slitting my wrists right there and then, but I worried Selina might try to stop me. “He’s fucking dead,” I said clenching my fist around the handle of the knife.

“I know,” her voice said.

“God, why can’t I control it?!” I screamed.

“Once you get on a regular feeding schedule, it will get easier,” she said sympathetically.

“Uh,” Daniel’s voice interrupted and I looked over to where he was standing. The ground around him was littered with corpses and I shuddered at the sight of all the bodies. The battle was over, and it appeared Darrell and Daniel had won. At least Daniel was alive, I don’t think I could forgive myself if he died trying to save me.

I met Daniel’s eyes which had grown wide and I realized he was staring at my chest. When he noticed me looking, his face turned beet red and his eyes quickly darted away. I looked down at my chest and gasped. My breasts were growing right before my eyes. They swelled up until I thought they might burst then they suddenly stopped, but that wasn’t the end of it. I looked down and watched as changes rippled across my whole body. My waist narrowed, my hips widened, and my arms, legs and shoulders all changed. When it was all finished, I had the perfect hourglass figure. My body had curves in all the right places without being overweight or skinny. God, I had a figure to match Selina’s except now I was just a tad shorter than her.

“Shit,” I muttered.

“The changes have finished, the energy you just gained appears to have been enough to complete your transformation,” Selina said with a sympathetic smile.

“Holy fucking shit! Damn, I need some clothes,” I muttered feeling extremely self-conscious as I looked down at my very naked body. Not only that, my body was cold and wet, and I knew that if I didn’t get warm soon I’d probably freeze to death.

“I’ll help look,” Daniel volunteered his eyes wandering over to my breasts. Again, he turned bright red and quickly turned away.

Selina found my pants almost immediately and I tore them out of her hands and quickly pulled them up my legs. They were a pretty wet and they didn’t fit well at all since my waist was now too small to fit the pants properly so instead they hung uncomfortably around my hips. I had to roll them up as they were about four or five inches too long. Daniel found my shirt a few yards away, but it had a huge tear across the front which made it unfit to wear with any semblance of decency.

Daniel stared at my chest and this time it was me that blushed. I thought I would die from embarrassment just from the way he was looking at me. It was obvious he found me attractive, but there was also guilt on his face. I couldn’t understand why at first, but it came to me after a moment. He felt guilty because he couldn’t keep himself from looking. That sort of reaction was typical of Daniel.

“Let’s just go. We can find something for me to wear later,” I muttered folding my arms across my chest in a half-hearted attempt at modesty.

“No, I have an idea,” Daniel said and suddenly pulled his shirt off and tossed it over to me.

“Daniel, I can’t wear this,” I said holding the shirt in front of me. “Fuck, it’ll look like I’m wearing a dress.”

“It will cover you,” Selina chimed in.

She was right; I couldn’t exactly go around without something to cover my chest. I may have been able to get away with that as guy, but with my new body that sort of thing was bound to cause trouble. In the cold, it wasn’t exactly a good idea either. I quickly pulled the shirt over my head, and grimaced at the sight of the thing. It looked like I was wearing a damn tent.

“Hey what are you doing?!” I protested as Selina grabbed hold of the bottom of the shirt and started to twist it every which way then watched as she tied two ends of the shirt together. I’d seen women wearing shirts that way before, but I never expected to be doing it myself. The way in which Selina had tied it left a lot of skin exposed, but at least it covered those damn huge ass lumps sticking out from my chest.

“Let’s get out of here,” Daniel muttered and we were all quick to agree. As everyone turned to leave, I bent over to pick up the switchblade, retracted the blade and slipped it into my pocket.

Selina and I sat in the back this time, leaving Darrell and Daniel for the front. I guess she wasn’t too worried about me trying to feed this time around. In truth I didn’t feel the need to feed quite so strongly as I had so far. Although each time I looked at Daniel’s shirtless chest I felt a faint stirring inside of me and the part of me that was concerned over such matters wondered absently how well feeding on him would satiate my hunger. I could feel the sexual energy pouring out of him and part of me wanted to fuck him there and then. I shuddered and pushed all thoughts of feeding on Daniel aside.

Daniel started the truck up, and he blasted the heater as he backed the truck out. The heat felt pretty damn good to my freezing body and I folded my cold hands under my armpits to help warm them. I looked one last time at all the corpses surroundings the house and realized something, Mr. Gray hair wasn’t among the dead. I shivered, but kept my discovery to myself. I wasn’t even sure anyone else had noticed him. There really was no call to worry anyone. I doubt he would cause us any trouble for the time being. He would be looking for us again, I was sure of that, but not alone. For now he wasn’t a danger to us, and I didn’t want Daniel wasting his time trying to find him. It was more important that we get away.

“There are some things I need to tell you,” Selina said part way into the ride.

“I guess you do,” I muttered. I didn’t feel like talking, I hated what had happened to me, and I couldn’t stand the thought of living as a succubus.

Selina seemed to hesitate, and she seemed on the verge of telling me something, but her mouth clamped shut and she looked as if she were about to cry. For the second time that day, I felt a strong urge to wrap my arms around her and tell her everything would be alright, but I batted the thoughts away and watched as she struggled to say whatever was on her mind. “There was a succubus I met once,” she finally managed, “I was maybe twenty-one years ago or more. She confided in me in a moment of weakness. She told me she had just abandoned her infant son on the doorsteps of an orphanage.”

I felt cold chills trickle down the back of my spine and I stared at Selina with my mouth hanging open. No, it couldn’t be, could it? Then again how often did you hear of a child actually being dropped off at an orphanage like that? It wasn’t something that happened very often in this day and age.

“Did she say where she left the child?” I asked feeling my stomach clench into knots.

“Somewhere in Virginia, I think,” she said glancing at me as if to gauge my reaction.

“Oh god,” I muttered. A part of me wanted to grill Selina for information, but the angry, resentful part of me won out.

“Shit, I don’t give a flying fuck about her even if she was my mother. If she cared about me she should have at least given me a damn name,” I said bitterly. “Can we talk about something else?

Selina’s eyes widened a bit, but she nodded, “There are some things you’ll need to know. Not just about being a succubus, but about being a woman.”

“Can we talk about this later?” I asked. I didn’t intend to talk about it ever, but Selina didn’t need to know that.

The rest of the ride was pretty quiet; unsurprisingly I wasn’t the only one in a dark mood. It took well over an hour to get back to town. It wasn’t exactly the longest car ride I’d ever been on, but it felt like it would last an eternity. I was extremely self-conscious of my new body and Daniel kept glancing back at me through the rear view mirror. I’m sure he thought I wouldn’t notice, but each time I was all too aware of his eyes on me. Darrell of course had his eyes on Selina the entire time, but that went without being said.

Near the end of the ride, I let myself become lost in my thoughts. No matter what anyone said, I didn’t think I could bare living with the hunger. Selina claimed that if I were to keep on a regular feeding schedule I could control my urges, but the idea of having to live off people that way was abhorrent to me. My thoughts turned to the switchblade tucked in my pocket and I had to restrain myself from pulling it out. Soon I would get my chance.

“We’re here,” Daniel said suddenly snapping me out of my reverie.

‘Here’ turned out to be the home of Daniel’s parents. I’d never actually been inside, but Daniel had pointed it to me a few times while driving through town. The home was large, not a mansion by any means, but it was about the size you’d expect from the upper-middle class.

“Daniel, why have you brought us here? I don’t want to endanger your parents,” I said with sigh.

“Don’t worry, Mom and Dad can take care of themselves. Besides we’ll be safer here with me and some of my cousins guarding the place,” he grinned proudly back at me.

I groaned audibly, just what I needed, more people to die for me. I know these creeps had come into town searching for Selina, but they seemed just as willing to shoot at any one of us. Daniel had only gotten tangled up in this mess because of me and now he wanted to involve other people too. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be a problem much longer.

We all piled out of the car and followed Daniel up to the doorsteps. I twitched nervously as he rang the doorbell. I’d met his parents a few times before and they were nice people, but I wasn’t sure how they would react to seeing me in my new form. Hell if they recognized the shirt I was wearing as Daniel’s they’d probably jump to the wrong conclusion.

A tall man muscular man with platinum-gray hair appeared at the door, and as always I was struck by just how much Daniel resembled his father. Aside from the obvious age difference, Donald (call me Don) Corday could have been Daniel’s twin brother. Not only did they look alike, but they shared all the same mannerisms and even had similar personalities, except there was a certain tired wariness about Mr. Corday that Daniel didn’t have or at least hadn’t developed yet.

“Danny, thank god,” Don said wrapping his arms around his son. “Your mother and I have been worried sick. The police say there was some sort of shooting at your apartment.”

“Perhaps this discussion would be better held inside,” Selina said casting furtive glances to the street and back to the house.

“Daniel what’s going on? Are you in some sort of trouble?”

“She’s right, it’s probably better if we talk inside, Don,” I added.

Don’s eyes went wide when he met my gaze, but he nodded and cracked the door all the way open. Daniel’s mother, Linda rushed up to Daniel and threw her arms around his midsection. She held on so tightly that I thought she might never let go, but after a few minutes Daniel was able to coax his mother’s arms away.

Linda seemed to notice Selina, Darrell and me for the first time, and I couldn’t help but feel self-conscious from the way her eyes seemed to linger on me. “Who are your friends?” Linda asked. It was a simple question, but there was just a touch of accusation veiled in her voice that made me want to scurry away and hide behind a rock.

“Mom, Dad, this is Selina and Darrel,” he said motioning at each of them in turn. “And you remember Archie, my roommate, right?”

His parents exchanged odd looks, but nodded. “Well…” Daniel said trailing off looking as if he were trying to find the right words.

“I’m Archie,” I cut in.

“I think we better sit down,” Linda said with wide eyes.

Once we were seated on the loveseat and sofa, Darrell of course remained standing since Selina hadn’t told him to sit. This warranted a few strange looks his way, but neither Don nor Linda commented on it. It was Daniel that started the ball rolling and began to tell what had happened. Selina joined in and together they were able to more or less piece together the whole story. I let them keep at it, and tried my best to look as innocuous as possible. I didn’t much like the way Linda’s eyes kept straying over to me, and I would just as soon draw as little attention to myself as possible.

When they told Don and Linda the reason behind my transformation, I wanted to run screaming from the room. It took all my willpower just to remain sitting and I thought Linda’s gaze might bore a hole into me. The story took a while to tell, and they left a lot of the more graphic details out which I was glad for. I thought I might die of embarrassment if Don and Linda knew that I had tried to feed on their son. The silence that permeated the room when they were finished telling the story, was so thick I could have cut into it with the switchblade in my pocket.

Linda’s gaze was now focused entirely on me, and I wanted to sink into the couch and become a part of it just to escape the look of appraisal she was giving me. “Poor dear,” she said suddenly and I felt my eyes widen in surprise.

I had felt sure Linda was ready to strangle me, but her face only showed sympathy. Of course, that only seemed to make me feel even more self-conscious. I willed her to look away, but her eyes were like a pair of damn heat-seeking missiles they were relentless.

“What did you call these people that have been chasing after you?” Don asked absently stroking his chin.

I let out a sigh of relief when Linda’s gaze left me to focus on her husband.

“The Tenebris Petentibus,” Selina said as her eyes darted from me then to Linda.

“Latin isn’t my strong suit, but it I think it means, Seekers of the Darkness,” Daniel added.

Don and Linda exchanged sharp glances and they both mouthed the word “Hunters” and what sounded an awfully lot like “Order of the Sacred Heart” whatever the hell that meant.

“The Order of the Sacred Heart,” Daniel repeated. “You don’t think they’re related do you? I mean Hunters can’t be the only ones out there that hunt the unseen.”

Don stood and began to pace back and forth, “This is troubling news, Danny. Related or not these Tenebris Petentibus pose a threat to Ravencrest and all the unseen living here, were, witch, and vampire alike. It doesn’t bode well, not at all. Action must be taken, they risk destroying everything.”

Weres, witches and vampires? Daniel seemed to have held back on some key information. Clearly Ravencrest was much more than the sleepy little college town it appeared to be on the surface.

“What are we going to do, Don?” Linda asked.

“I think I need to have a chat with Burt,” he said walking over toward the front. “I’m sure he’ll want to call together the Alphas, but this is too big for just the weres, we can’t keep something like this from the Coven or even the girls of Delta Beta Zeta.”

That seemed like an odd remark. What the hell did a college sorority have to do with weres, witches and vampires? I’m sure the Alphas had something to do with the weres, and it didn’t take a genius to connect the Coven to witches, so maybe Delta Beta Zeta had something to do with vampires. Daniel had always seemed pretty insistent I stay away from them, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were blood sucking monsters. A couple of them did have a sort of spooky air about them, but it seemed a bit of stretch to call them vampires. Beside I’d seen them walking around in broad daylight.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be gone. Whatever you do don’t answer the door; I’ll see to it that a few of Daniel’s cousins are sent over. Whatever trouble has been brought on us, it’s not over yet, not by a long shot,” he said and just like that he was out the door.

“So, let’s see about getting you four cleaned, fed and dressed,” Linda said suddenly. Although she had spoken to all four of us, I had the feeling that her attentions were focused on me more than any of the others. I suppressed a groan, all I wanted was some time alone, but everyone seemed to be conspiring to keep me from doing just that. Of course, they didn’t know what I intended, how could they?

As I had surmised, Linda did seem to take a special interest in me. The few times I had met her she had seemed intent on mothering me, and that hadn’t changed. In fact she seemed even more focused on it than usual. I endured her attentions silently, but when she herded me into the bathroom and showed no signs of leaving I finally said something.

“Could I have some privacy, please?” I asked feeling my cheeks burn.

“Relax dear, you don’t have anything I haven’t seen before,” she said with a sweet smile.

I batted her hands away when she reached for the knot in my shirt, but she merely laughed and ignored my protestations. I sighed, and relented. Short of getting violent and forcing Linda out of the bathroom I saw no way to be rid of her. I wasn’t sure I could have overpowered her had I shown the inclination in any case. The woman was head and shoulders taller than me, and while not exactly muscular she had an athletic build. Even before my changes I think I would have had a difficult time beating her, the woman looked formidable. Once the knot had been worked free she pulled the shirt over my head and I quickly grasped at my breast to cover them.

“It’s hard to believe that just yesterday you were a boy,” she said giving my body an appraising look then continued. “Such a sad thing for you to have to endure such drastic changes.

“Yeah,” I muttered forcing back tears.

I don’t know if it was my new body or just all the stress of my changes, but my emotions were much closer to the surface than they had ever been and it was hard as hell to control them. Half the time I thought I might burst into tears, the rest of the time my temper flared at even the smallest things. Of course, I had never been very good at holding my temper in check even before meeting Selina. Now it seemed to rear its head at even the slightest provocation.

I glanced over at the mirror and got my first real look at my new body. My breasts weren’t nearly as large as they seemed when I looked down at them. They were on the large side, but not huge. A lot of women would love breasts like mine, no wonder Daniel had been unable to keep his eyes off me. My face had changed a lot too, and all traces of my former self, save for my red hair, were gone. I had large, beautiful blue eyes, soft kissable lips, and perfect skin. Not to mention my body, I had curves in all the right places, and not an ounce of fat otherwise. In short I was a walking sex-bomb, just like Selina.

“Come now dear, there worse fates than being transformed into a woman,” she said suddenly and I turned away from the mirror.

“I’m no woman, I’m a fucking monster,” I spat bitterly.

Linda sighed, and tried to console me, but her words only fell on deaf ears. I nodded and smiled appreciatively and let her think her words had touched me, but inside I wanted to scream. It took me a while to convince her I would be alright, but I finally managed it.

She had me strip out of my pants, then hustled me into the shower, muttered something about finding some decent clothes for me to wear and swept up my dirty rags from the ground as she left. Too late, she had carried off my jeans with the switchblade inside. Shit, if Linda pieced together why I was carrying that damn thing around, I’d never get to use it. Maybe she would see it and just think it was a pocketknife. Well, there was nothing I could do about it without chasing after Linda, and I wasn’t about to do that. That sort of thing would give me away more than anything else I could do. So I let her take it and hoped she thought I had it for self-defense.

Sighing I turned on the shower and gasped as hot water sprayed across my body. The water against my skin seemed more, intense, I guess is the word I would use. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means; in fact it felt pretty good especially as it splashed against my nipples. I looked about the shower and found some body wash. It was of the feminine variety and I was loath to use the damn stuff, but there wasn’t anything else available. I wasn’t at all surprised, the Corday home was on the large side and I wouldn’t be surprised if it had two or three full bathrooms. The lack of male or even gender-neutral hygiene products probably meant that Don and Linda used separate bathrooms.

I wasn’t about to use Linda’s loofa, so I made do pouring the body wash into my hands. I worked my hands across my body, and was surprised at how much more limber I was. I could reach areas I never had been able to as a guy. I knew women were more flexible I just hadn’t realized how much more. I finished quickly, showering only seemed to stress just how much I had changed and I really fucking disliked the reminder. It was major pain in the damn ass to soap up my hair with shampoo, besides being long my hair was too fucking thick and cleaning it proved to be a chore. Finally finished, I shut the shower off, and reached for the towel that Linda had left on the rack for me. I toweled myself, another act that only served to remind me of the changes.

My hair proved to be a problem, I tried drying off with a towel, but there was just too damn much of it. Linda appeared then with a bundle of clothes, and suggested I get dressed before dealing with my hair. The clothes belonged to Daniel’s younger sister, Anna, who was away at college. Linda hadn’t brought any undies so I pulled on the pants, they were a bit tight in the hips, but all around they were on the loose side. They were too long, but that wasn’t surprising since everyone in Daniel’s family was so much taller than me.

Next came the shirt, it was a light blue tank top, but surprisingly it had a built in bra. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but apparently they weren’t too uncommon. Of course, the shirt was too tight across the chest, but that was to be expected. Once, I was finished dressing Linda took my hair and wrapped it in a towel.

“I made up Anna’s old room for you,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said playing with the towel wrapped around my head. “I had some things in my pant pockets…”

“Don’t worry dear,” Linda said. “I put them on the nightstand in Anna’s room.”

“Okay thanks,” I said quietly. “I hope you don’t mind, but I think I’ll turn in early. It’s been a long strange day, and I need some time to myself to try and sort it all out.”

Linda, gave me a sympathetic look, and showed me to Anna’s room. I found the switchblade almost immediately, along with my wallet, cell and keys, but those didn’t matter it was the knife I was after. Finally, I could end it all.

I picked up the knife, and released the blade and started at it fixedly. I wanted to yell at the top of my longs and curse whatever cruel God had done this to me. I had never really believed in a God before, but the existence of the unseen and their supernatural nature didn’t fit into my view of a structured universe. If things like weres and succubi existed then perhaps there was a god as well. That begged the question, what cruel god would create creatures like succubi or weres? Maybe we weren’t the creation of a god at all, maybe we were the creation of the devil. If god could exist than why not the devil?

I hated what I was, what I had become. I didn’t ask for any of it, but I couldn’t live with the monster that lurked under the pretty facade I now wore. Being female was bad enough, but I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting people just to survive. Especially, if it was Daniel or someone he cared for. The world was far better off without me. I put the blade against the skin of my wrist, and closed my eyes. All it would take was one quick cut into each wrist, I felt my muscles tense and I prepared to take my life.

I couldn’t do it. Oh I tried, oh god how I tried, but I couldn’t find the strength of will to do that one simple act. No matter how I tried no matter how many ways I justified it I couldn’t do it. God, I was such a coward, I couldn’t even do the world this one small favor. My hands trembled, and I tried to clear my mind of all distractions, but I couldn’t keep the thoughts coming in. It was stupid, but I actually worried about getting blood on the carpet. Of all the things I could think of when trying to take my life I was concerned about staining the damn carpet. It wasn’t just that either, a sick twisted part of me liked to feed and that part of me very much wanted to live. My hands trembled and I let the blade fall to the ground and I sunk to my knees and wept.

Hate and self-loathing flooded through me and I latched onto one of my breasts in a half-crazed albeit futile attempt to tear it from my chest. Why the hell couldn’t I kill myself? I couldn’t live with what I had done, and I wanted it all to end so badly, but I just couldn’t do it! I couldn’t keep the tears away they came unbidden and I howled in fury.

It wasn’t long after that that I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up to see Daniel kneeling beside me. My screams of grief and anger must have drawn him into the room. I saw sympathy in his eyes, and it made me hate myself even more. “Archie, it will be okay,” he said as if speaking the words would will it to be so. There was so much certainty in his voice, I almost believed him.

I was such a horrible friend, he would be better off without me, but I couldn’t even take my own life and do him that one small favor. He deserved better than I could ever hope to be. Like a freaking girl I felt this urge to be held, so I selfishly wrapped my arms around his neck and wept. That proved to be a huge fucking mistake; I could feel my hunger start to build. I tried to push it away, but before I realized what I had done I found my lips locked around his. I hurriedly broke away, and stared at him in disbelief. From the look on his face, I wasn’t sure who was more shocked him or me. He tried to turn me away, but I grabbed at him and kissed him again.

A part of me screamed in protest, but my hunger quelled any rational thoughts and before either of us knew what was happening I had started to unbutton his shirt. He tried to resist, several times muttering something about ‘not wanting to take advantage’ but each time I flung myself at him with wanton abandon. To his credit he held out longer than I would have thought possible, but his resistance melted away like snow on a new spring day when I kissed him a third time.

I don’t know if it was him or me that removed my shirt, but I remembered him cupping my breasts and a moan escaping my lips as he did so. Finally, we penetrated me and I felt the energy pour into me. Oh god, it felt good, there was so much of it! I tried to reach for every last drop, but soon after I started it just stopped. For a brief panic-stricken moment I thought I had drained everything away, but then I reached out and I could feel it emanating from him. I just couldn’t touch it; I could drain anymore of it away. Something was stopping me from taking more. There was a barrier in my way and I could find no way to circumvent it. It was like someone had erected a brick wall between Daniel’s energy and me. Daniel’s cock pierced me again, and I gave up trying to feed. I didn’t give a flying fuck about feeding not when the sex felt so damn good.

Oh, god how the fucking hell could I let myself do such a thing? I had done what I most feared I would do: feed on Daniel, and I couldn’t trust myself not to do it again. I clutched the sides of my skull and gritted my teeth against all the emotions running through my head. At first, I felt anger at myself for what I had done, but after that… Shit, I needed to get away and think things over. My carefully constructed view of the world had been torn asunder, and I was so confused that I couldn’t tell up from down. Sex with Daniel had invoked feelings I never would have thought possible. Never toward Daniel, or any other man, but they were there and I wasn’t sure what to make of them.

Daniel was sound asleep and for once his unearthly snoring didn’t seem to bother me at all. Gently, I removed his arm from around my waist and slipped out of bed. On impulse I bent down and kissed him lightly on the lips, and quickly turned away after realizing what I had done. God, this whole succubus thing was really messing with my fucking head or at least that’s what I told myself.

I sighed and shook my head, then got dressed. I found my shirt hanging precariously from the closet door knob and my pants partially concealed under the bed. Once dressed, I bent down to where the switchblade had fallen to the floor and scooped it up. I didn’t know if I would use it, but it wouldn’t do to leave the thing lying around. I grabbed my wallet, cell and keys from the dresser and slipped out of the room.

The house was quiet and I found Daniel’s mother snoring in the living room. Shit, she was almost as loud as Daniel. She must have fallen asleep waiting for Don to return. I slipped into the kitchen and exited out the back door. I suspected that the house was under guard by then and I thought it might easier to sneak out the back way. I ran outside and hopped the fence, or tried to. I ended up landing flat on my ass, I had jumped plenty of fences in my youth, but my new body had an entirely different center of gravity. I felt my cheeks burn and I looked around to make sure no one had seen me.

I got back to my feet, and climbed carefully over the fence, and barely managed to climb down the other side without falling off. I left through the gate in the neighbor’s yard and nearly jumped out of my damn skin when I caught site of something lurking in the shadows. It took me a few second to recognize the shape of a bear. For a brief moment I thought it was Daniel, but then I realized it must have been one of his cousins. Don was no idiot; he must have figured that if the Tenebris Petentibus found us again, they might try to sneak up on us from behind.

I took a few experimental steps forward and the bear watched me with disinterested eyes and made no move to stop me. Hopefully Daniel’s cousin wouldn’t make the right connection and try to stop me. He probably thought I was some teenage girl sneaking out of her parent’s home, at least I hoped he thought that. I crept silently across the front lawn and made it to the sidewalk; the bear did not show any signs of following. Confident that he would not stop me I made my way across the street my destination firmly in mind.

“No id, no drink,” the thirty-something man of average build said irritably. Marvin’s was a quiet little bar that catered to a small group of regulars. It wasn’t the sort of place that most college students stepped inside and the proprietors and clientele liked it that way.

Well shit, I hadn’t even considered that the barkeep might try to id me. I didn’t even bother trying to pull out my own id, I doubt anyone would believe I was the same person in the picture. What the hell was I going to do? I just wanted to get good and fucking drunk and this guy was standing in my way. Well, desperate times called for desperate measures. I reached across the bar and grabbed the collar of his shirt. His eyes widened in surprise and I pulled him forward so that our faces were just inches apart.

“What’s your name?” I asked licking my lips hungrily.

“Greg,” he said eyes locked on mine in rapt fascination. He had fallen under my spell with no resistance whatsoever, and it made me sick just thinking about it.

“Well Greg, I would very much like a drink.” I said staring into his eyes hungrily. Faintly, I could feel my need to feed rise, but I batted it away with very little effort. Clearly, what I had taken from Daniel had been enough to curb my hunger or at least make it easier to control.

“Uh, sure. What will it be?” he said with a nervous grin.

“That Scotch over there would do nicely,” I said motioning to a bottle sitting behind the bar with my free hand.

I loosened my grip on Greg’s collar and he grabbed the bottle of scotch and put it down on the counter in front me. I threw a few bills down on the counter in front of him then I snatched hold of his collar and kissed him on the lips. It wasn’t until we’d broken away that I realized what I had done. I cleared my throat and averted my gaze. Shit, why the hell had I done that?

I waited for him to open the bottle, muttered a thank you then I swiped it off the counter and made my way to a table in the far corner. I sat down and closed my eyes, and took a long swig from the bottle. Shit, it burned going down, but if it got me drunk I didn’t care.

“Holy fucking shit,” I said slamming the bottle down on the table. My exclamation had nothing to do with the Scotch I had just drunk, but it did have everything to do with the beautiful pale-skinned brunette sitting across from me. She studied me with a set of pale gray eyes, and a predatory smile.

“Well now, this is a surprise. I always knew there was something different about you,” she said with an amused grin.

“Lillian,” I spoke her name with little more than a whisper. I didn’t know her particularly well, but we did have a number of classes together. She also happened to be a member of Delta Beta Zeta.

“I hardly recognized you when you stepped inside the bar, Archie,” she said her eyes boring into me.

“How the hell did you know it was me?!” I demanded and averted my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to meet her gaze.

“I have my ways,” she said with an amused grin.

“What are you doing in a place like this and what exactly do you want?”

She shook her head and laughed, “You don’t waste any time, do you? Quick and to the point, I like that. Well, if you really must know I wait tables here on weekends as far as what I want I’m merely curious.”

“Well you can just keep on being curious. I don’t know much if anything I’ve heard about vampires is true, but I’m sure as hell smart enough not to involve myself with one,” I said glaring at her. Okay, I didn’t really know for sure that she was a vampire, but she was definitely unseen.

I reached for the bottle of Scotch and lifted it to my lips; however, Lilly’s hand wrapped around my own and she forced it along with the bottle back down. Holy freaking hell she was strong, I tried to lift the bottle with all my strength, but it wouldn’t even budge.

“Now now, there’s really no need to be rude,” she said with a faint smile.

“What do you want? To drink my blood?” I said glaring across the table at her.

She rolled her eyes, “Like I said, I’m curious about you. I have a certain ability that lets me see what you might call auras. Both humans and unseen alike emanate them, but the aura’s I see around unseen are much stronger. Yours has always been rather interesting and I always knew you had to be unseen, but I hadn’t expected anything quite like this. When I saw your aura I knew instantly it was you, but at the same time your aura had changed. There’s a hunger that hangs over you, one very similar to what most vampires have, but you my dear are no vampire. So that begs the question: what exactly are you?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I lied.

“Now, now, didn’t your mother ever tell you it was impolite to lie?” she said gripping hold of my hand even more tightly.

“I don’t have a mother. I’m an orphan,” I grunted.

“That explains it,” she replied with an amused grin.

“If I tell you will you let go,” I said, she was holding so tightly I thought the bottle might shatter.

She nodded and flashed a smile.

“I’m a damn succubus,” I glared at her angrily. “Now can I get drunk in peace?

“Interesting,” she said releasing her iron grip on my hand. “So what exactly is it you feed on? Sex?”

“Something like that,” I replied dryly taking another swig from the bottle.

“You know what Archie? I like you and because of that I’ve decided to help you,” she said with a grin.

“Help me how?” I asked warily.

“You’ve undergone a drastic transformation. No one will believe you are who you say you are. I can help give you a new identity,” she said.

Shit, she had to know that what she was offering would be like the jackpot to to kime, well if I didn’t decide ll myself that is. “Right, and what exactly do you expect in exchange?” I asked warily.

“Does a girl need a reason to help a friend?” Lilly asked with mock wide-eyed innocence.

“Riiight,” I replied with a shake of my head.

“Look,” she said flatly. “I like you. I’m just trying to help you. Think about it, we’ll talk later,” she said patting my face then she leaned in and kissed me full on the lips.

“Mm, you taste good,” she said with a dreamy expression on her face as she turned to leave.

I was so shocked that I could only watch in stunned disbelief as she turned away and swept out of the bar.

I frowned down at the bottle of scotch in my hands in frustrated disbelief, I had already drunk half of the damn thing and I wasn’t even remotely drunk. Hell, I wasn’t even buzzed. I suppressed the urge to hurl the bottle across the room, and took another swig in an ever dwindling hope that it would help me get drunk. Apparently, my new body was incapable of getting inebriated which just sucked major ass.

Sighing, I put the bottle back down and pulled the switchblade from my pocket. I contemplated trying to take my life right then and there, but an ever growing part of me resisted those sorts of thoughts. With another sigh I took a drink from my scotch and slammed the bottle back onto the table. I set the knife down and started at it as if it held the answers to all my questions, but they didn’t come. I gripped the sides of my head and tried to think of something, anything that would help me to understand why this had happened.

A hand touched my shoulder and I closed my eyes and willed whoever it was to go away. I wanted to be alone, but the hand’s owner didn’t seem to get the message. Seconds ticked by but the hand kept its grip on my shoulder. I let out a loud sigh and looked up to find Daniel staring down at me. I knew he’d come searching for me eventually, but I hadn’t expected him quite so soon. At the very least I expected to be stone drunk by the time he showed up.

“Archie, why did you run off like that? You scared me,” he said taking the seat across from me.

“Yeah, well I scared myself and to top it off I can’t even get fucking drunk,” I said taking hold of the bottle of scotch by its neck with my thumb and index finger and wagged it in front of his face.

“I know it can’t be easy, but it’s not safe for you to be out alone,” he said with a shake of his head.

I started to laugh, I couldn’t help myself. “Safe?! You think I was worried about whether or not I was safe?”

“Archie…” Daniel started but he didn’t get a chance to finish.

“Shit, you know I tried to kill myself,” I said suddenly tears rolling down my face as I clenched the neck of the scotch bottle in an iron grip.

“It should have been easy. A couple of slashes across my wrists with this and it all have been over,” I said releasing my hold on the bottle, picked up the switchblade and clenched my fist around it.

I shook with barely contained rage and anguish as I continued, “I chickened out. I deserve to die after what I’ve done, but I’m too god damned selfish to do it.”

Daniel grabbed hold of my hand, forced the knife out of my grip and held it in front of his face, “That won’t solve anything. There’s nothing brave about taking your own life.”

“Tell me, Daniel, who would fucking care if I died? I have no ties to anyone or anything.”

“You’re wrong Archie, I would care,” he said quietly.

“Why? Why the fucking hell do you give a damn!? Why are you even friends with me? I treat everyone like shit, you included, and after what I did to you tonight I’m surprised that you want anything to do with me,” I said sobbing in near hysterics.

“When I first met you I admit, I thought you were a bit of a pain in the ass, but when I got to know you I realized that behind that bitter angry resentful person was a lonely guy who pushed people away because he was afraid of anyone getting too close,” he said putting a hand on my shoulder.

“What about tonight? You can’t just pretend that didn’t happen!” I yelled shame and self-loathing washing over me.

“Look, Archie,” he said gripping hold of my other shoulder. “I don’t blame you for what happened. I know you’re having trouble controlling your hunger, but to tell you the truth I wouldn’t mind having sex with you again, it felt good.”

“Daniel, don’t you understand how dangerous that is?! You are like a damn bottle of fucking water to me and I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep myself from draining you dry,” I said with a shudder. Something had kept me from feeding on him completely, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. I might have been a fluke, and I didn’t want him getting any ideas.

“Look,” he said casting furtive glances across the room. “We can continue this conversation back at my parent’s house, where it’s a little less public.”

“Okay, yeah. That’s probably a good idea,” I said biting my lip.

“I’m not the only one you would care if you died. Selina has been worried sick. It was all I could do to keep her from coming with me. If I didn’t know better I’d swear she was your mother or something,” he said moving to stand.

“Holy fucking shit,” I said staring at him wide-eyed.

No it couldn’t be, could it? True there were certain physical similarities, I mean we both had red hair and blue eyes and nearly identical hour-glass figures, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything for all I knew that was a trait common to all succubi. My mind flashed back to the truck ride to the Corday home. She told me she had met a succubus who might have been my mother, but why tell me that story if it weren’t true? Perhaps she had done it to test the water and see how I might reply. It might explain why she had seemed so upset when she saw how I reacted.

I’d been so intent on the idea of taking my life that I had let all the signs slip past me. The more I thought about it the more sense it made. She had known I was abandoned at an orphanage without me telling her. How the hell could she have known that if she weren’t my mother? Shit, it seemed like a stretch, but I had to be sure and the only way I was going to find out was to ask her. Shit, suddenly I was very eager to get back to the Corday place.

The ride back to the house was pretty quiet and uneventful. Daniel tried to get me to talk several times, but I really didn’t have much of anything to say. I answered with grunts and vague answers not really paying attention to what he had to say.

My thoughts were centered on the possibility of Selina being my mother. I mean, I really had no reason to believe it was true and the very idea seemed almost laughable but I had to know. We arrived back at Daniel’s parent’s house within just a couple of minutes. I knew something was wrong as soon as we pulled into the driveway. For one thing the front door was sitting wide open; for another, there were two bodies sprawled on the front lawn.

“Shit, what the hell happened?” Daniel said with a frantic edge to his voice. It sounded pretty fucking weird hearing him curse like that, Daniel very rarely swore.

He scrambled out of the truck and I jumped out following closely on his tail. He went right for one of the bodies on the snow-covered ground which turned out to be Darrell and checked for a pulse. “He’s dead,” he said between gritted teeth.

“Fuck, if Darrell’s dead…” I said leaving the sentence unfinished. If Darrell was dead that didn’t bode well for Selina. He must have died defending her. I looked down at the other body, which I assumed to be one of Daniel’s cousins, and checked for a pulse.

“Daniel, he’s alive,” I said with a relieved sigh.

Daniel didn’t give a reply he sprang off his feet and practically leapt into his parent’s home. I followed just a few seconds later. The place was a shambles; it looked like a damn stampede had passed through the living room.

“Daniel, thank God,” Linda said appearing from out of the shadows and flung her arms around her son.

She was joined by two more figures, one of which I recognized as Stu, the other I assumed was another cousin since he had the same muscular build as all the other Corday men. The other man had long auburn hair that fell past his shoulders, looked to be somewhere in his early thirties and looked for all the world like some god out of ancient antiquity.

“Mom, are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine,” she said with a sob.

“What’s happened here?” Daniel said gripping hold of his mother’s shoulders.

“It was those Tenebris guys you warned us about they came at us before we knew what had happened. There were so damn many of them we didn’t stand a chance,” the man with the long auburn hair said with a scowl.

“Where is Selina?” I asked with a lump in my throat.

“The hot redhead? She surrendered herself. She said it was the only way that they’d let us live,” Stu said with both arms folded across his chest.

“Fuck! And they just went with it?” I asked clutching at my forehead with both hands, gritted my teeth and resisted the urge to start screaming.

Linda shook her head, “I’m really sorry, Archie. After she surrendered they searched the house. They were looking for you and Daniel. Then they just left.”

“What?! That makes no sense. Why would they just leave?” Daniel said with a grimace.

“No, it makes perfect sense. They knew exactly what they were doing. Instead of looking for us in unfamiliar territory, they lure us right to them. They had to know that we would follow them if they took Selina. Shit, if we go after her we’ll probably wind up dead,” I replied.

“So we just let them get away with this?” Daniel asked incredulously.

“Hell no! That’s not what I meant!” I replied in frustration. “I plan on going after Selina even if I have to go alone. I just think we need to be aware what we might be headed into.”

“How? I don’t see any way,” Daniel said looking suddenly very tired.

“Maybe there is a way,” Linda put in. “One of the attackers was left behind.”

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Upstairs in the ba–,” she said and I leapt up the stairs without staying to let her finish.

I raced across the hall, and slammed the door open at the end with an audible bang and found a man sprawled on a bed inside. Blood coated his face and chest, but I didn’t see any wounds. I didn’t immediately recognize him because of his ragged state, but I realized that he was the man from Kona’s who had reappeared at the club later that night. He had warned me to stay home, both times. Shit, if only I had listened. His eyes snapped open and his face contorted into an angry scowl.

He looked ready to spring on me, but thankfully his hands had been tied to the bed post. I stepped over to the bed and brushed a finger across his cheek. I needed to learn what he knew, there was no way I could intimidate him, but he was a man and let’s face it I was smoking hot. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I had the advantage of being a succubus. I had this power over men, I hadn’t really given it much thought until that moment, but I knew it was there.

“Tell me where they took her,” I said running my hand down his face and licking my lips hungrily. I felt the urge to feed rise, but like at the bar I was able to bat it away with almost no effort.

For a moment his anger faded away and his eyes washed over me hungrily, but then he shook his head and the anger swept across his face again. “I’m not telling you a damn thing.”

“Okay, let’s start with something simple, Tell me your name,” I said leaning down and kissed him lightly on the lips.

“Lieutenant Robert Barns,” he breathed looking up at me with a look of longing.

“Archie what are you doing?” a voice asked from the doorway and I didn’t have to look to know that it was Daniel.

“Leave us, I’ll learn what we need to know,” I said coolly.


“I know what I’m doing,” I said turning around to lock gazes with him. Really I didn’t have a damn clue, but I wasn’t about to let on especially in front of Barns.

Daniel looked almost angry, and maybe even a little bit jealous, but he bit back whatever retort he had and nodded. Shit, I didn’t even want to think about what that meant. “Close the door,” I said my gaze returning to Barns. “Me and my friend have some things to discuss.”

The door shut behind me and I directed all my attention on Barns. At first he seemed resistant to me, but with enough time I was able persuade him to tell me everything I wanted to know. I think a part of me died while I interrogated Barns. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, but the succubus in me seemed to know exactly what to do in order to get what I wanted and I would have done almost anything to find Selina. For the first time I found myself enjoying what I was doing and it scared the shit out of me.

“What did you find out?” Daniel asked as I stepped into the living room.

“Well, I think I know where they took her,” I said biting my lip.

“Where?” He asked with an accusing glare.

“A few miles into the forest on the north side of town. Just a little ways past some old warehouse. From the way he described their camp it sounds pretty well guarded.” I replied staring at him wide-eyed.

What the fucking hell was his problem? Then it hit me like a damn ton of bricks, he thought I had sex with Robert. He was jealous, which invariably meant he had feelings for me. Shit, I hadn’t even been a chick twenty-four hours and he had fallen for me. I didn’t exactly know what the hell to say. A part of me wanted to tell him to fuck off, but there was another part that wanted to tell him there was nothing to worry about. Shit, maybe Daniel wasn’t the only one with feelings.


“We need to act quickly,” he said cutting me short.

“Shit, what should we do man?” Stu asked.

“Well you and Arnie are going to get in touch with everyone in the family who can fight and bring them up to where these guys are camped out. Archie and I will meet you there,” Daniel replied. I could only guess that the long-haired one was named Arnie.

“Don’t move,” a cold voice said in my ear just as an arm wrapped around my throat.

It was Barns, somehow he had escaped. I could feel something warm and wet dripping down my chest and I realized it was blood from his wrists. I could only surmise that he worked himself free from the ropes that had tied him down.

“Let her go,” Daniel growled taking a few steps toward us. It wasn’t entirely lost on me that he had used a female pronoun, but shit I was being held hostage it wasn’t exactly a priority.

“Come any closer and I’ll snap her neck,” he spat.

Something inside of me seemed to come awake and I howled in fury. I reached deep inside myself where my hunger lingered and reached out desperately for a way to break free from my captor’s grip. I found something, a power of sorts, and latched onto it. A fiery torrent of pain swept across my skin, and I thought I might burst into flames at any moment. The pain faded away and I knew something was different; Linda and Daniel were both looking at me with shocked expressions.

I could literally sense the lust that was being directed at me. It was so tangible I could almost see it radiating from everyone in the room and I thought I might be able to reach out and touch it. The strongest was emanating from Barns and it had a sort of angry feel to it, but there was a good amount of lust pouring out from Daniel, Stu and Arnie and I even detected a faint trace of it around Linda. I wanted it, I wanted to draw it all deep inside of me until there was no more.

“Holy hell,” Barns yelled and I felt his grip loosen from around my neck.

It was enough; my hand reached out for his wrist and slipped out from his grip. I swirled on him and smiled, his hands were trembling and he was looking at me with an expression that somehow managed to convey lust, hatred and fear at the same time. I reached out to touch him, but my hand only met open air as he backed away in hurried panic. I jumped at him and I clutched both of his cheeks in my hands.

“You are mine,” I whispered.

I’m not exactly sure how to describe what happened next. The swirls of angry sexual energy pouring out from Barns seemed to change; the anger faded away and took on a feeling of mindless submissiveness. A set of dull gray eyes looked back at me, and I shivered as I realized what I had done. In the same way that Selina had enslaved Darrell to her will, I had enthralled Robert. I backed away from him in a hurry and clenched my hands against my side trying my best to quell the horror at what I had done.

That wasn’t all though, I sensed there was something more I could do to him. It was hard to explain, but I felt a faint desire to start pouring some of my sexual energy into him. The urge was easy enough resist and I quelled it with relative ease. I had pretty fair idea of what would have happened had I given in to the urge and I knew then what Selina had meant when she said succubi could be made.

“What just happened?” Daniel breathed behind me.

“I-I just reacted. He won’t hurt anyone now. Not unless I tell him to,” I said looking down at my hands and realizing for the first time that they had a sort of purple cast to them.

“Archie, what did you do?” Linda said.

“He’s mine body heart and soul. He’ll do whatever I tell him,” I said reaching up to touch the pair of curled ram horns that were now protruding from my skull. They were just like the pair Selina had grown outside my apartment. Shit, if I had a set of horns it stood to reason I had a damn set of wings too. And, sure enough, when I reached for them I found a pair of wings sticking out from my back.

“Good god,” Linda gasped.


“Don’t call me that!” I snapped cutting Daniel short.

I didn’t feel like an Archie or Archibold anymore. That name belonged to someone else, someone who had died earlier that day. I just hadn’t realized it until then. Archie would never have done the things that I had done. “Call me Rachel,” I muttered bitterly turning back to face him.

“Rachel,” he spoke my new name as if testing it out. “Are you alright?” The lust poured out from him and it took all my willpower to keep my hands to myself.

I laughed bitterly and shook my head, “I’ll live.”

“Look if you’re not feeling up to it you can stay here and I’ll–”

“No! I’m going. I can’t leave Selina to those people,” I muttered cutting him short with an angry glare. I had every reason to hate Selina, it had after all been her that had awoken me and I brought the Tenebris Petentibus down on us in the first place. If she was my mother and she had abandoned me that was yet another reason to hate her, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel any malice toward her. I needed to know the truth, and I wouldn’t get it if she died.

“Then we better get going,” Daniel muttered.

I didn’t immediately answer instead I cast a furtive glance at Barns. Like Darrell, he wore a stupid grin on his face and there was a noticeable bulge in his pants. On Darrell the grin looked almost comical, on Barns it made him look like a damn lecher and the effect was creepy as hell. He didn’t do anything but stand there and stare at me like a damn fool which just made the whole thing seem even creepier.

I met his stupid ass gaze and shuddered. What I saw in those eyes was complete and utter submission. He would do anything I told him too, even if it meant he would die in the process. There was some sort of link between us and I could feel him in the back of my head. A small part of him resisted what had been done, but that portion of his consciousness was slowly fading away.

“Yeah, let’s just get out of here,” I said with a grimace and glared back at Barns one final time.

“Hurry up,” I muttered irritably as Barns climbed out of the truck.

Barns had long since given over to me completely and I had returned back to my human form. It was eerie as hell having him around, but for the time being I needed him. If we were going to attack Gray-hair and his lackeys, I would need Barns to protect me. Daniel had offered, but after the attack on his parent’s home he had become increasingly eager to strike back and somehow I doubted he’d make for a very good protector. I hated that I needed someone to guard me, but I was pragmatist. To be honest even before I turned into a damn succubus I hadn’t exactly been very capable of defending myself.

Barns leapt to the ground and just stood there with that damn lecherous smile on his face. I slammed the door shut behind him and glared at him angrily.

“Well don’t just stand there,” I growled and motioned for him to follow.

It was still dark out in the early morning and I could barely see a few feet in front of me. Daniel didn’t speak and neither did I. We walked quietly through the darkness until about ten minutes into our walk.

“We getting close?” Daniel said suddenly.

“Yeah, I think so. He did say it was a little ways off road,” I said quietly.

Daniel nodded, “I know an old game trail that might take us close.”

The old game path was nearly overgrown; thankfully it was just barely wide enough for us to walk through single file. Daniel and Barns had some trouble getting through at a few places where a tree or branch was blocking the path, but being much smaller I was able to slip through with much less difficulty.

We had only been following the trail a good ten minutes when I heard a sharp crack and when I swirled around to see what it was I found the muzzle of a gun pointed at my face. “Ah, fucking hell,” I muttered just before there was a sharp pain in the back of my head and everything went black.

“Oh God,” I groaned and the world came back to me in a rush.

“Arch–” Daniel’s familiar voice said from somewhere nearby.

My eyes snapped open and I found only emptiness looking back. It took me a few seconds for that we were sitting in the dark and I wasn’t blind. “–Rachel,” Daniel continued. “Are you alright?”

“Shit, what the hell happened?”

“It was our friends, the Tenebris Petentibus,” he muttered.

“Damn, how did they find us?”

“It was Barns.”

“Barns? No it couldn’t be he’s completely enthralled. There’s no way he could have betrayed us.”

“I overheard them talking when they thought I was still unconscious. He has some sort of tracking device on him,” he spat bitterly.

“Shit, Darrell probably had one too! That’s how they keep finding us.”

“It’s a good bet.”

“What about Selina? Have you heard anything about her?”

“No, but I can smell her, she’s somewhere here in camp.”

Abruptly light flooded the darkness and I was blinded. After my eyes adjusted to the new light I looked up to see Gray-hair standing above me. I looked about the space around me and I realized I was in a canvas tent, the sort that was typically used by the military. My ankles and wrists were chained to some sort of metal post that had been driven into the ground. I struggled against my bindings, but it was no use.

“I wouldn’t bother. Those chains are made from a silver-titanium alloy. They are particularly effective at restraining weres and vamps but they’re strong enough to hold almost anything else.” he said coldly as he popped an unlit cigarette into his mouth.

“You!” I spat.

“Why are you holding us? Why haven’t you killed us yet,” Daniel spat bitterly. I looked back to the source of Daniel’s voice, but I could only detect a vague outline, the chains prevented me from getting a full view. If they had me chained it was a pretty sure bet that Daniel was restrained in a similar manner.

“Kill you?” Gray-hair laughed. “Why would you think I wanted to kill you?”

“Because that’s what Hunters do,” Daniel growled angrily.

Gray-hair threw his head back and laughed, “Oh, I see you think we’re Hunters. No, the Tenebris Petentibus has very different goals from the Order of the Sacred Heart.”

“What is it you plan on doing with us then?” I growled staring up at him.

“You will learn soon enough,” he said as he pulled a lighter out from his pocket and lit the cigarette in his mouth.

“What have you done with Selina?” I demanded.

“Who?” He asked staring at me blankly, “Oh, you mean the other succubus? She’s alive for now, but that all depends on whether you cooperate. You see she’s outlived her usefulness, it would be a pity if I had to kill her.”

“If she dies I swear to fucking God that I will kill you if it’s the last thing I do,” I growled angrily and meant it.

“I can see you’re going to make this difficult,” he said coldly. “I just might decide you aren’t worth the trouble and kill you. You two have been responsible for the deaths of some of my best men. Don’t test my patience, what you did to Barns is reason enough to kill you. Because of you I was forced to kill him. It really was a pity he showed a lot of promise as an officer.”

“Colonel Steagan,” a new voice said from the entryway.

“Yes, Lieutenant Freeman,” Gray-hair said with a touch of irritation in his voice.

“You said to notify you when the other prisoner woke,” Freeman replied.

“Very good Lieutenant,” Steagan said his lips curling into a malicious grin and he turned to leave. He stepped back through the entry way then he swirled around and locked eyes with me, “Think about what I said, if you cooperate I promise you and your friends will live. I have no desire to end anyone’s life unnecessarily.”

The tent flap fell back over the entryway and the darkness enveloped us again.

“That bastard! What the hell do we do?” I growled a few moments later.

“I don’t know, there’s no way I can get through these bonds, not if they have silver in them,” Daniel muttered with a touch of resignation in his voice.

“So weres really are weak against silver?”

“Not just weres most unseen have an aversion to the stuff. The bonds must have a pretty low amount of silver or they’d probably make me sick if they didn’t kill me. They’d probably have a similar effect on you too.”

“You sound like you’ve given up.”

“Not yet, we still have reason for hope.”

“What would that be?”

“Stu and the others.”

Daniel was almost completely silent as we sat there in the darkness. Shit, I was going fucking nuts sitting there doing nothing ! I was terrified that Steagan would kill Selina and I wasn’t exactly very certain about my own life or Daniel’s for that matter. There was no way Steagan could be trusted it was obvious he had no compunction when it came to killing people and I highly doubted he’d let us live once our usefulness had been used up. That begged the question what the fuck did he want us for? He obviously had some nefarious purpose in mind, but what the hell could it be?

If only I could see Selina. God I needed to know if she was alright. It was torture not knowing whether or not she was really my mother, but if she died before I learned for certain I don’t think I could stand it. All my life I wanted a family, and now when I might finally have found a small piece of what I sought I could feel that piece slipping through my fingers. That’s when I started to pray, I’d never done it before, but I thought that if there really was a God out there maybe He might hear my pleas. I know it seemed strange for sex demon to be praying to God, but I was desperate and I needed something to cling to. Praying gave me hope, so I prayed away.

I don’t know if God even exists or even if He heard me, but at the time it seemed as if He had. I could hear shouting and then gunshots permeated the air and I knew that we were about to be rescued. Sure enough, there was a scream outside our tent and I heard a loud growl and few moments later the tent flap flew open to reveal Daniel’s cousin Arnie, looking for all the world like some vengeful god out of legend.

“You two alright?”

“We’ll live,” Daniel replied dryly.

Arnie stepped into the tent and let the flap fall behind him. I got a sense of movement, and I felt Arnie’s breath on my neck as he bent down to touch the cuffs around my wrists. He must have gotten hold of the keys because I felt something click, the cuffs popped loose and he moved onto my ankles. Finally I was free! Without waiting for Daniel or Arnie I burst out of the tent and felt my jaw drop as I saw the scene that was enfolding in front of me.

A couple dozen or so were-bears weaving through the camp attacking the Tenebris Petentibus, and the Daniel’s cousins were wreaking havoc. These were trained soldiers; they weren’t accustomed to fighting wild animals particularly ones with the intellect and cunning of a human being. The bears were just too damned fast for the soldiers, whenever one of Steagan’s men caught a bear in his sights the bear was on him before he could even pull the trigger. The bears were cutting Steagan’s men to pieces and the soldiers were helpless to stem the onslaught.

None of the crazy shit was important though, I had to find Selina before it was too late. My eyes scanned the camp and it wasn’t long before I caught sight of Steagan, he had an arm wrapped around her throat and a gun poised over her chest. “Bastard!” I howled. Steagan glared at me and I dived to the ground as he fired a round of bullets in my direction.

I leapt back to my feet once I was sure I was safe, but found no trace of the asshole or Selina. “Shit!” I growled and made for the last spot I’d seen Steagan. I caught a faint trace of movement and I lumbered after it. There was a brief glimpse of him as I rounded a corner, but I was forced to duck behind a tree as he let lose another round of shots in my direction.

“Steagan! You fucking asshole!” I screamed and jumped out from being the tree to continue my pursuit. I changed as I moved, I don’t remember calling up what I had come to think of as my demon form, but suddenly my skin felt as if it were on fire and I knew I was transforming. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t let it stop me. I just kept running I had to get to Steagan before he did something to Selina.

Abruptly all the air was knocked out of me and I tumbled to the ground. A pair of hands reached for my throat and I struggled to fend my attacker off, but I just couldn’t match his strength. Slowly, those hands squeezed the life out of me and I couldn’t do damn thing about it. I clawed at my attacker’s face in desperation, but he didn’t relent. I could feel the world fading away, darkness crept into the edges of my vision and I knew I had almost reached the end. Then suddenly I could breathe again. I looked up and realized my attacker had been flung away.

“Shit, that was close,” I coughed rubbing at my throat and looked up to meet the gaze of my rescuer.

“You okay?” Daniel asked sweat pouring down his body as he held his hand out to me.

“Yeah,” I answered accepting his hand. God, I wanted to feed. The lust was pouring from Daniel like a torrent, and it was all I could to keep myself from throwing myself at him.

“Why’d you run off like that?”

I let out a long sigh and gritted my teeth. I almost told him to fuck me there and then, but I was able to use my concern for Selina to anchor myself against my intense need to feed. I close my eyes and let rational thought slowly return to me. “Selina,” I answered. “Steagan ran off with her as a hostage.”

“We need to go after him. We need to–” he growled and stopped suddenly in mid sentence.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Someone’s coming,” he said suddenly.

“Come on, let’s go.”

“No, you go. I’ll stay and hold them off,” he said ripping his shirt off and unbuckling his belt.

“Daniel, I–”

“Go!” He yelled flinging his jean aside as fur started to sprout all over his naked body.

I gritted my teeth, bit back a tear, turned away and started to run. God, Steagan was going to pay.


“Don’t move any closer,” he growled swinging his gun so that it was aimed right at my chest.

It hadn’t taken long for me to catch up with Steagan I had him cornered at a dead end. Behind him was a blunt cliff face that dropped off into a hundred foot or more plunge. His only means of escape was through me and he knew it. Selina let out a soft moan, but she didn’t struggle. There was a sort of vacant look to her eyes and it wasn’t hard to see that something was wrong.

“What the hell did you do to her?”

“I gave her something to ensure she’d be more cooperative,” he muttered with a twisted grin as he slowly backed up to the edge of the cliff.

What the hell was he up to?

“Let her go!”

“If you say so,” he said and loosed his hold around Selina’s neck, and sent her tumbling over the edge of the cliff.

I screamed Selina’s name as I flew past Steagan only to fall to my knees at the cliff’s edge, but it was already too late. I watched in horror as Selina fell through the air and as her form became lost among the trees and foliage below. Hot tears rolled down my face and I shook with unconstrained rage and fury. Selina was dead, there was no way she could have survived a fall at that height. Steagan was going to pay, I would see to that.

I wiped the tears away from my face and got back on my feet. Steagan was nowhere in sight, obviously he had used Selina’s death as a distraction in order to get away, but why? Why not just shoot me? Fuck it made no damn sense. Well, I wasn’t going to catch him by just standing there. I broke out into a run and really started to put on the speed. I hadn’t noticed it before because I had been so intent on saving Selina, but shit I could run fast in my succubus form. I think it had to do with my wings; they flapped with each step and helped propel me forward. They weren’t large enough for flight, but apparently they weren’t entirely useless.

I came to an abrupt stop where a circle of trees had created a small clearing. There I found a bear battling it out with a six of Steagan’s soldiers. The bear looked haggard and seemed to be bleeding from several wounds, but that didn’t seem to stop it as it plowed into the nearest soldier in a berserk rage. I tried to move around the battle, but one of the soldiers caught sight of me and called out to his friends. One leapt at me with combat knife in-hand, but the bear was on him in a flash.

After the soldier had been dealt with I met the bear’s gaze and recognized Daniel’s familiar brown eyes staring back at me. Gunfire rippled into Daniel’s side and he fell to the ground with a loud groan. “Daniel,” I gasped and ran to side. The four remaining soldiers grouped up and moved to form around a circle around the two of us.

“Fucking bitch,” a tall scrawny fellow with black hair said putting his gun to my chest. I could taste the sexual energy pouring out from him and I nearly reached out to begin feeding, but I managed to stop myself. There really was no use, if I moved I was dead and I couldn’t use my abilities on all of them at once. I closed my eyes and waiting for him to end it, but then nothing happened. There was a sudden growl and my eyes snapped open as all hell broke loose.

Somehow Daniel had gotten back to his feet and was once again on the offensive. I had to act quickly; in the shape he was in I doubted Daniel could keep up his attack for long. There was a blood curdling scream just before he tore into the throat of the nearest attacker. The remaining three opened fire and Daniel let out a loud roar as he fell back down to the ground. I didn’t really think about what I did next, I just reacted. I jumped at the nearest soldier, which happened to be the tall skinny one from before, touched him on the cheek and felt his will drain away. In seconds he was mine and I didn’t waste any time.

“Kill them” I commanded.

My new slave complied and started shooting at his companions. He took out the other two before either of them knew what was happening and just like that it was over

“Oh God,” I muttered and fell to my knees in the snow beside an unconscious Daniel who had reverted back to his human form. He was completely naked and I could see that his side was covered in blood where the bullets had hit him. He was in bad shape and I was worried he would die. Abruptly, Daniel groaned and his eyes snapped open.

“The soldiers. What happened?” Daniel breathed weakly.

“They’ve been taken care of. Don’t talk you need to preserve your strength,” I muttered.

“Get your ass over here, numbnuts!” I growled at my bony ass thrall.

“Please talk, I think it’ll help me keep my mind off the pain.. Tell me what happened,” Daniel replied with a loud gasp.

“Take off your damn shirt,” I said glaring back at the soldier when I noticed he had gotten close.

“Steagan ran off with Selina as a hostage,” I said turning back to Daniel.

“Crap, I’m guessing you didn’t catch up to him.”

“No I did. I had him cornered, but he dropped Selina off a cliff ledge to distract me so he could get away,” I muttered bitterly as I forced back tears.

“He got away?” he asked with more than a little touch of bitterness.

I nodded and Daniel growled. “Shit, what are you doing here? You need to find that bastard and bring him to justice.”

“I’m not leaving you, Daniel. If you…” I trailed off tears cascading down my face. “If you died, I would never forgive myself.”

“Trust me I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. Being unseen does have its advantages. I’m sure it looks pretty bad, but weres are much harder to kill than regular people. Beside if I die I don’t want to go knowing that Steagan got away.”


“Rachel, promise me.”

“Alright, but if you die on me, I swear to god, I’ll fucking kill you.”

Daniel started to laugh, “I’ll be especially careful not to die then.”

I almost turned to leave, but on impulse I bent over and kissed Daniel on the lips. “I thought you didn’t…” he muttered breathlessly.

I shook my head, “I’m still not sure it would be such a good idea. I just… I just thought one last kiss wouldn’t hurt. Just in case…”

Daniel nodded in understanding, “In case I die.”

“In case I do,” I whispered softly.

“Hey you fucking pile of shit. Take that damn shirt and put pressure on the wound. Keep your eyes open if anyone shows up and they’re a threat shoot their asses,” I said turning to face the soldier.

“Rachel!” Daniel called as I turned to leave. “Be safe.”

“I-I’ll try. Goodbye Daniel,” I muttered feeling for all the world as if I was giving him my final farewell.


I had only a vague idea of which direction Steagan may have gone, so I broke out into a run and really began to put on the speed. Time slipped by in a blur and I couldn’t really tell how long I ran, but a part of me really wished it would never end. I could have kept running for hours without the need to halt, but I forced myself to come to a brief stop as I caught a blur of motion nearby, but it wasn’t Steagan, it was Daniel’s mother.

“Linda,” I called.

“Rachel, thank God. ” Linda breathed running over to me and throwing her arms around me.

“What are you doing here?”

“You don’t think I’d just stand idly by when my son had been captured do you? What happened?” she asked

“God Linda, Daniel he’s in rough shape.”

“Rachel, where is he?”

“He’s back that way,” I muttered pointed back toward the clearing.

“I need you to take me to him, Rachel,” Linda said quietly.

I shook my head, “Linda, I can’t. I promised him I’d go after Steagan.”


“He’s the one behind this whole fucking mess. He killed Selina,” I breathed.

“Selina’s dead? Oh, Rachel I’m sorry.”

“Look, I gotta go. I need to find Steagan before he gets away.”

“And I’m coming with you,” Linda said folding her arms across her chest.

“What about Daniel?”

I could see the conflict on Linda’s face. “I can’t let you go off alone, Rachel.”

“But Daniel!” I protested.

“And if you die? I’ve seen the way my son looks at you.”

“Fine, do you think you can track Steagan for me?”

“Sure if I knew his scent.”

“Shit, well I can’t…” I said and started to trail off. “Wait? What about cigarettes?”

“What about them?”

“He smokes; can you track him by the scent of the cigarettes?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Linda said closing her eyes and then they suddenly snapped back open.

“Come on. This way,” she said and broke into a run.

I hesitated only a few seconds then I burst into motion after her. She ran fast, but I had no trouble keeping up, in fact, I might even have been able to outpace her if I wanted too. She led me through the forest for several minutes and then we came to a brief stop as we caught sight of Steagan. I paused and watched him stumble through the trees, then without stopping to see if Linda were following I leapt back into motion and was on his heels in moments.

Without warning Steagan spun around and a hot stab of pain sliced across my left breast. I fell to the ground clasping at my chest in agony. I gritted my teeth against the pain and with a loud groan I moved my hand away from my breast and found blood on it. I looked down at my chest and found a huge gash across it.

“Bastard!” I spat glaring up at Steagan who held a combat knife in hand. Steagan drew his gun and trained it on me then carefully tucked the combat knife into his belt.

“No, tricks freak. You try anything and the succubus dies,” Steagan said his eyes locked on Linda.

And with a flash of inspiration it came to me. I was sure I knew why Steagan had dropped Selina from the cliff rather than fire on me, he was out of bullets. There was no way to be sure, but I didn’t really have much going for me. I wasn’t going to let Selina’s death be for nothing, Steagan would pay for what he had done. I was bleeding pretty badly and I knew that if I didn’t act soon, I might not have the strength. So, I leapt to my feet and sprung my body at his legs. We went down in a tangle of limbs and I knew that he would soon over power me. So I latched my hand onto his crotch and I began to suck him dry.

A familiar, and oh so glorious stream of sexual energy poured out from Steagan and into me. I didn’t need to unclothe him in my demon form; I fed right through the fabric of his pants. While it wasn’t as filling as it might be had I let him fuck me, it still felt quite wondrous. Steagan fell unconscious and with a great deal of effort I stopped myself from taking anymore. I didn’t want to kill him, oh no, I had a much more fitting punishment in mind for him.

“Rachel?” Linda said suddenly and I turned to face her.

Our eyes locked, Linda gasped and took a step back. I wondered what she saw in me that would cause her to react in that manner, but I decided it really didn’t matter. I could see the sexual energy emanating from her, it wasn’t very strong not like it would be coming from a man, but it was there. Briefly I contemplated feeding on her, but I shook my head and shoved those animalistic thoughts out of my head.

I ignored her and turned back to Steagan. This time I unzipped his pants and forced down the urge to feed. Just as I was about to pull open his boxer shorts, something gripped hold of my arm and moved it away. Linda had come over to me and wrapped her hand around my wrist. “Linda,” I growled. “Let go.”

“Are you sure this is what you want? Killing him won’t bring Selina back,” Linda said her eyes seeming to bore a hole into me.

“You don’t understand. I don’t plan on killing him. No, death is just an easy escape.” I laughed bitterly.

“Rachel, you don’t–”

“Let go, Linda!” I commanded glaring back at her.

For a wonder, Linda’s hand loosened around my wrist and I didn’t hesitate to act. I don’t know if she would have tried to stop me had she known what I was about to do, but I didn’t intend to give her time to puzzle it out. I latched my hand around Steagan’s crotch and instead of feeding I began to send sexual energy pouring back into him. Every nerve in my body screamed at me to stop, but at the same time every instinct told me to keep at it. It was almost painful, in a way, giving up all that energy, but in many ways it felt almost as good as feeding. I gave him nearly everything I had, and then wrenched my hand away with a grunt of effort.

“Rachel, what did you do?” Linda muttered as I met her gaze. Her face had drained of all color and I was certain she already knew.

“I turned him. He’s a succubus now he’ll start changing soon,” I sighed weakly. God, I felt so dizzy, how much blood had I lost? I tried to stand, but fell back to the ground in a crumpled heap. “Tell Daniel, I’m sorry,” I muttered just before everything went black.

Beep… Beep… Beep… The sound pounded through my skull and I felt as if a hammer were striking my head with each repetition. My eyes snapped open and a let out a faint sigh when I realized that I was in the hospital. The source of the beeping was a heart rate monitor to my left.

“Well, it’s about time,” a voice said from the other side of the bed.

A girl with long brunette hair and green eyes was sitting by my side.

“Lillian, what are you doing here?”

“Well I was out on some errands and I thought I’d stop in for a visit,” she said with a slight smile.

“How sweet of you,” I muttered sarcastically.

“Isn’t it? You thirsty? I know I could use a drink.” She said leaning over to reach into a cooler that was lying on the floor. She produced what I initially thought to be a juice pouch, but quickly realized was a bag of blood.

“You want some?”

“No thanks,” I muttered suppressing a shudder.

“Suit yourself. You know most my sisters prefer the taste of warm blood to chilled, but there’s something about the way the cold blood sends shivers down my spine that just feels so good,” she said tearing a tab off the bag and began to suck out the contents.

“Why is it that you’re really here?”

Lily closed her eyes and after a long drink from the bag let out a sigh of pleasure, “I thought I’d come by and see if you’d thought about my offer.”

Of course, that was why she was here. What other reason would she have for paying me a visit? I almost told her no. I didn’t like the idea of being indebted to a vampire and I really didn’t think I deserved to have a life. Then again, I really didn’t think I was capable of taking my own life. And, there was Steagan to think of. I couldn’t just turn him and unleash the monster he was sure to become on the population. He would need to be reined in and tightly controlled, and since I had turned him that responsibility fell upon me. A new identity would go a long way in doing just that.

“Alright, I’ll do it,” I replied with a long sigh.

“Oh good, I knew you’d see reason,” she purred and planted a kiss on my lips.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, by the time I realized what she was doing I was so caught up in the kiss that I didn’t really care. I could feel the need to feed rise and I reached over to Lily to do just that. As my hand brushed against the fabric of her skirt something slapped my hand away and I quickly yanked it back.

“Naughty, naughty,” she whispered as our lips parted.

I could taste blood in my mouth and I suppressed the urge to spit it out as I scowled up at Lily. “You’ve really got to stop doing that.”

Lily let out a soft chuckle and stood to stand, “Come by the Delta Beta Zeta chapter house once you’re well enough. There are some details we’ll need to iron out.”

I closed my eyes and nodded; when I opened them again she was gone.

Oh, god I was so fucking ravenous, I needed to feed and soon. I wasn’t talking about food, of course, I needed sex and I needed it badly. It didn’t help that I was currently being undressed by a somewhat attractive female nurse. I had clumsily spilled my morning orange juice all over the front of my hospital gown and they wanted to make sure that I hadn’t gotten any in my wound. Really she could have been a seventy-five year old grandma and it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I was desperate to feed and anyone who had any sexual energy whatsoever would do. I had never fed on a woman before, but I doubted she would sate me as well as a man.

I was fighting hard not to use my abilities on her, but as she helped me out of the gown my hunger won out. I was just too damn empty, I needed a fill-up and unfortunately that meant feeding on the nurse. I grabbed hold of her by either cheek and kissed her deeply on the lips. For a moment, her eyes glossed over and she was under my spell, but she shook her head and whatever influence I had gained was gone.

She stared at me with wide-eyes and her hands were shaking as she held one up to stop my advances. Clearly, she was shocked by the suddenly attraction she felt toward me. “I’ve never, I mean–” she said, but I interrupted her protests with another kiss. This time when her eyes glossed over they stayed that way. Even straight women weren’t immune to a succubus’s charms, although it did take a little more work to get them going.

I hated myself for what I was doing, but my need to feed prevented me from thinking clearly. All I could think about was getting what I needed, and the nurse would be able to provide that for me at least to some degree. I would have preferred she had been a man, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I pulled down her pants and her panties followed, my hand latched over her cunt and I began to feed. It felt much different from feeding on a man, but that’s not to say it was unpleasant. Her sexual energy had a different flavor to it, it almost seemed light and sweet whereas the sexual energy from a man had a more meaty feel to it. When I was done the nurse’s eyes rolled back into her head and she collapsed to the ground in a crumpled heap. Although I had taken a lot of energy from her, it really hadn’t filled me up as much as it would have had I let a man penetrate me. I pulled the nurse’s pants back on, but left her lying on the floor.

I caught my reflection in the mirror and I glared at the eerily beautiful woman in disgust. I hated what I had become and what I needed to do in order to survive. What choice did I have? Hot tears streamed down my face and I turned my back on the mirror. I couldn’t bear the sight of that creature.

I was still pretty damn hungry, but the urge to feed was nowhere near as strong. I would likely be able to control myself at least for a while so for the time being feeding could wait. Absently, I patted my left breast where I had been cut and was surprised when I realized it didn’t hurt at all. I quickly unwrapped the bandage around it and felt my jaw drop when I looked down and found no sign that I had been injured.

Had feeding accelerated the healing process? Or was it simply a result of being a succubus? There was so much I didn’t know and now that Selina was dead I would have to figure it out for myself.

There was a knock at the door, I quickly grabbed the orange-juice stained hospital gown from the floor and slipped it back on. I ran to the door and flung it open to find Linda Corday standing in the doorway. She looked pretty haggard, and judging from her appearance she hadn’t gotten much sleep.

“Rachel,” she said. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“Well, I…”

Suddenly, she pushed past me and was on the ground beside the fallen nurse. “What happened?”

I closed my eyes and let out a sigh, “I got some orange-juice on my gown and she was undressing me to make sure that none had gotten in my wound when I lost control and fed on her.”

Linda started to say something, but I wasn’t listening. My breath caught in my throat and I simply stood looking out the doorway in shocked disbelief. “Selina!” I called out. I was ready to leap out the doorway, but then Arnie appeared. He just barely brushed past me, but it proved enough to set me off. Apparently what I had taken from the nurse hadn’t really been enough to give me control. Before I could do anything a pair of strong hands grabbed hold of me and I was forced back into the hospital bed.

I tried to protest, but all thoughts of what I had just seen were forced aside as the need to feed rose. Whoever had picked me up had a rather strong sexual presence and I very much wanted him to fuck me. That’s about when everything went dark…

Selina… Everywhere I went there she was, but no matter how hard I tried she was always out of reach. I ran through the empty halls of the hospital in the vain hope that I might catch her. Suddenly, she was there right in front of me, but then just as abruptly she was gone. I transformed into my demon form and ran as fast as I could. I turned a corner. A flash of red hair. A blur of motion. Nothing.

Everything was disjointed. Something was wrong. Where was Selina? Why couldn’t I find her? Why wouldn’t she stay in one place? Nothing made sense. The scenery changed. Flash. I was in the middle of a long road. Flash. I was standing in the forest. Flash. I was at my apartment. Flash. The Corday home. Flash. The hospital again. Flash. I stood in utter darkness. The world shifted, everything started to spin, and I fell to my knees clutching at my head. I screamed and the world was still.

I was in a hallway of sorts; there were rows of doors on either side, but no walls or a floor. Between the doors was only emptiness. I opened the first and watched with wide eyes. On the other of the door there was a bed levitating in the air. Atop it, Daniel was making love to a lavender-skinned succubus which looked exactly like me. The two shared a kiss, and he whispered something in the ear of the other me. She smiled sweetly, and with a set of clawed fingers she’s ripped into his chest and tore out his heart. She brought Daniel’s heart to her lips, took a bite out of it and moaned in pleasure. I screamed, and slammed the door shut.


I turned my back on the door and with shaky hands I opened the one opposing it. I was back at the cliff’s edge where Steagan had dropped Selina. Just like before, a figure was holding her over the edge, but it wasn’t Steagan, it was my male self. He smiled cruelly and dropped Selina off the cliff and once again I was too late to do anything. I fought back tears and fled, slamming the door behind me.

I opened a door on the other side and watched my female self stab Daniel in the back. Again I fled to the other side only to find my male self chopping a still-living Selina up with an ax. I went back and forth from door to door, each time witnessing the death of either Daniel or Selina by my female and male selves. I couldn’t stop. I had to go on. One of the doors would offer an escape.

Finally, I came to the end where one last door stood. I opened it and light flooded my vision. When I could see again, I was in a plain white room. My succubus self and my male self stood on either side of me, each glared at the other with looks filled with contempt.

“We will not give in to the hunger,” the male-me said grabbing hold of my arm.

“The hunger is everything,” the succubus said with an amused smile and grappled hold of my other arm.

Neither my male-self nor my succubus-self uttered a word. They merely glared at one another and began to tug on my arms. It was a horrible tug of war where my soul was the prize. “Enough!” I screamed suddenly and the tugging stopped almost immediately.

“I will choose for myself which path I will take. I will live with the hunger if I must, but I will never let myself become lost in it,” I screamed looking first to the succubus, who smiled and released my arm, then to the male-me, who nodded and let go. They each faded away and I woke…

“Oh, hell, that was weird as fuck,” I spat as my eyes snapped open.

“Rachel?” A voice said tiredly.

My eyes snapped to the side where Daniel was lying in bed beside mine. He was banged up pretty good, but it brought a smile to my face just seeing him alive. “How long have I been out?”

“Well, it’s been a few hours since they brought you in here, and you’ve been unconscious since then,” he said.

“She’s alive, Daniel. I saw her being moved on a gurney outside my room,” a muttered. “I have to find her.”

“Who? Selina? What are you talking about?”

I didn’t reply, I started fumbling with all the wires and tubes attached to me. “Rachel! Talk to me!” Daniel said suddenly.

I pursed my lips and sighed and started to explain how I had fed on the nurse and everything up to when Linda had showed up. “That’s when I saw her Daniel. They were wheeling her through the hall, but Arnie showed up I lost control and I tried to feed on him.”

“Look, I gotta get out of here. I need to know if that really was Selina I saw.” I started fumbling with the IV tube in my arm.

“Well, someone’s in a hurry to leave,” a voice said with a light chuckle.

“Holy fucking shit, don’t sneak up on me like that!” I exclaimed upon catching sight of Linda.

“What’s going on?”

“Selina… I think I saw her before I tried to feed on Arnie…”

“Well, she’s alive, but only just barely,” Linda said sadly.

“I’ve got to go see her,” I said reaching for the IV again.

Linda’s hand closed around mine and blocked me from doing anything with the IV. “I’ll see what I can do, but you need to stay here for now. You’re too weak.”

“God, I need to feed,” I said with a soft moan. The hunger was building and it was becoming very difficult to keep myself from feeding on Linda.

Linda quickly withdrew her hand and the hunger receded just enough for me to gain a small measure of composure. “The sooner I feed the better. I don’t think I’ll be able to control myself the next time someone touches me.”

“God, another second and I would have let you do whatever you wanted to me,” Linda stared at me wide-eyed.

“Yeah, all the more reason for me to get out of here,” I muttered bitterly.

I pursed my lips as I looked down at the bandage-wrapped form of Selina. It had been a few hours since I’d first been released from the hospital. Since then I’d managed to feed twice and I was pretty well satiated. Selina had been in a coma since they found her and I wondered if she would ever awaken. The doctors didn’t seem to confident about her chances of recovery, but I wasn’t about to let her die. The doctors were at a loss to explain it, but I was pretty sure I knew the reason why she was so unresponsive to treatment, she needed to feed.

I didn’t know what I was about to try would work, but it was all I could think of and Selina was running short of time. I should have tried it earlier, but I was afraid that it might have an adverse effect. I moved slowly over to her bed, transformed into my demon form as I did so, and knelt beside it then I reached inside her hospital gown and slide a finger inside her vagina. I let a slight shudder as I did so, then I began to funnel my own sexual energy through my finger into Selina. It was more or less the same thing I had done to turn Steagan, and I hoped that it would help replenish her diminished sexual energy.

All my instincts screamed for me to stop, but I kept the flow pouring into her until I could stand it no longer. I jerked my hand back and let out a loud gasp and waited for any indication that what I had done would help. The effects were almost instantaneous, her skin seemed to take on a much healthier glow and there was a sudden intake of breath as her eyes flew open.

“Thank God,” I muttered with a relieved sigh and grabbed hold of her hand.

“Archie?” she asked with wide eyes. “What happened? The last thing I remember was being captured by Steagan.”

So, I told her what had happened. I even told her about trying to kill myself and feeding on Daniel. I didn’t intend to, but somehow it slipped out anyway. There was one thing I managed to keep from her; my suspicions that she was my mother.

“God, there’s so much I didn’t tell you, but from the sounds of it you figured most of it out for yourself,” she said with a sigh.

“Selina there’s something I need to know. Are you my mother?”

Selina closed her eyes, “Is that what you think?”

Tears were streaming down my face, “You mean you’re not?”

“No,” she said with a shake of her head. “The story I told you about meeting that succubus who had just abandoned her child was true. What I didn’t tell you is that I strongly suspected she was my mother as well, but I could never bring myself to tell her by the time I worked up the courage she was gone. When I saw you after your transformation. I knew you were the child she spoke of, I mean there’s such a strong resemblance to both myself and–”

“–our mother,” I finished with wide-eyes. My hand was trembling and slow smile crept onto my lips. Selina was my sister; I think I could live with that.

Then I grimaced as struck by a sudden thought, “You know we had sex right? I mean does that bother you? Fucking your own sister?”

“Technically you were male at the time, but yes the thought had occurred to me. I may not have many sexual inhibitions, but incest is one line I hoped never to cross.”

“Yeah, I’d just as soon not think about it.”

“Then let’s not,” she said and I nodded in silent agreement.

“I was wondering when you would show up,” Steagan said glaring back at me as I approached. He was chained to the floor in the same silver-titanium cuffs that he had used to restrain Daniel and me.

He had already started to change, which surprised me, but when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. Selina had drained nearly all my sexual energy and it was only after feeding that I had started to change. When I turned Steagan, I’d channeled a good deal of sexual energy back into him which had obviously been enough to start the changes. The most dramatic change, of course, was all the age that had drained from his face. He looked to be around my age and he had thinned down quite a bit. His hair was now raven-black and he had lost some of his height and he had a much smaller build than before which gave him an almost boyish appearance.

“You’re probably dying to feed right now. Aren’t you?” I said kneeling down next to him and tracing my hand across his cheek.

Steagan trembled and I could feel his need for sustenance wash over me in deluge of longing and despair. “Here’s the deal: you tell me what I want to know and I give you some of what you need.”

“Never! I’d rather die!” he spat vehemently.

“Suit yourself,” I said with a shrug and turned to leave.

“Wait!” he called and I couldn’t help but smile. This was going to be even easier than I thought.

It took a great deal of coercing and threatening, but I eventually got what I wanted from Steagan. Normally, I think he would have been a much tougher shell to crack, but his desperate need made the job much easier. What I learned brought cold chills to my spine. Though Steagan and his ilk, called themselves the Tenebris Petentibus, they also refereed to themselves as Seekers as a sort of nickname. Their goals weren’t the annihilation of the unseen, like the Order of the Sacred Heart. No, in some ways what they intended was much more nefarious. They believed that by experimenting on the unseen they could make some sort of super human with none of the weaknesses and all the strengths of the unseen.

They would frequently take an unseen and use him or her to ferret out other unseen, sometimes it was willingly, sometimes they were coerced and sometimes their victim was completely unaware that they were being used. Steagan had hoped to use me and Daniel in this manner and had already used an unaware Selina to lure us to him.

“How is it that you’ve been tracking her?” I growled.

“The same way we found you in the forest,” Steagan laughed.

My thoughts flashed back to when me and Daniel were being held captive in the tent and our discussion about the tracking devices. “You had some sort of tracking device placed on her. Like Barns and Darrell.”

“Very good,” he said with a twisted grin.

“Shit!” I said jumping to my feet in sudden realization and started running for the door. I had to get to Selina and Daniel before it was too late. They were both still in danger.

The drive to the hospital, though only thirty-miles, was one of the longest in my life. Ravencrest didn’t have a hospital of its own so everyone that had been injured during the fight with the Seekers was taken to Brendsen. This was only my first trip back after returning to Ravencrest and I could shoot myself for leaving. I should have stayed with Selina, but I was anxious to get the truth out of Steagan. I was convinced that we were out of danger and both Selina and Daniel seemed well onto the path of recovery.

By the time we reached our destination it was dark, and I didn’t wait for Stu find a parking spot as I lurched out of the truck followed closely by my thrall. Since I didn’t know his real name I’d taken to calling him Tim. I sprinted for the hospital doors and suddenly lunged to the ground as I heard a familiar click. As if in confirmation bullets whizzed over my head, and I knew that I might already be too late. Apparently, the Seekers had given up on trying to capture me which could only mean they believed I was too big a liability to let me live. I reached deep inside where my inner succubus waited and called out to her, fiery pain consumed my body and quickly faded away.

I jumped to my feet and leapt into motion even as bullets whizzed past me. Tim followed me as quickly as he could. God, I could move fast, I was on the nearest of my attackers in seconds. I didn’t even feel a twinge of regret as I commanded Tim to kill him.

“Cover me!” I commanded as I lurched back into motion. I moved for the entrance with little concern for my own safety, if Selina or Daniel died my life would mean nothing.

Just before I gained the entrance I transformed back into my human form. I didn’t even worry about Tim; he was likely dead in any case. By changing I lost the advantages that my demon form granted me, but it wouldn’t do to have normals to see me in my altered state. I kept moving even as the pain became unbearable and just barely managed to make the doors as bullets shattered the glass doors behind me. There was a hot stab of pain in my shoulder, but it didn’t matter I kept moving. I didn’t even stop to see if it was a bullet that had hit me or glass from the shattered door. My mind was focused on one singular goal, saving my friend and sister and nothing would keep me from getting to them before it was too late.

I raced through the hospital without regard for anyone or anything. Several times I collided with a nurse or orderly, I wasn’t sure which, I stopped only long enough to insure they weren’t seriously hurt then I burst back into motion. My shoulder throbbed in pain, but I didn’t care all I could think about was Daniel and Selina. Several times someone tried to stop me, but I easily dodged them and sped past them on my way to Selina’s room since hers was the closest.

I didn’t bother with the elevators, that would take too long; it was the hospital after all. There were just too many people using them for me to get anywhere quickly. So I took the stairs, leaping up the steps with as much speed as I could manage. Finally, I made it to the level I needed and left the stairwell behind. I turned a corner, and I caught a flash of motion out of the corner of my eye. I leaped to the ground as gunfire erupted above. I didn’t escape unscathed a bullet slammed into my arm as I fell to the floor and I thought I might pass out from the pain.

I crawled into the nearest room, and pushed the door closed with my foot. “Fucking shit,” I cursed as I looked at my arm. It hurt like hell, and it was bleeding badly. My shoulder throbbed almost as badly and I was beginning to think I should have thought things through before leaping into the hospital like a bat out of hell.

“Miss, what’s going on? Are you alright?” A voice said and I realized with a start I wasn’t alone in the room. The woman was pregnant and looked about ready to burst.

“There are some very bad men shooting up the hospital,” I breathed gritting my teeth against the pain.

“Oh my god! What do we do?”

“You have a phone, right?”

She nodded and I let out a loud gasp. “Call 9-1-1, and whatever you do, don’t leave this room,” I said the irony of telling her to call emergency services from the hospital was not entirely lost on me as I climbed back to my feet.

I could hear gunfire outside the room, but for whatever reason my attackers seemed to have abandoned their pursuit of me. Which could only mean someone or something else had managed to grab their attention. God, I needed to get back out there, but if I went as I was now I didn’t stand a chance. I looked back at the pregnant woman, I wasn’t about to feed on her, shit I didn’t even want to think about what that would do to the unborn child she was carrying. Which left me with only one option; I would have to call up my demon form.

I only hesitated a moment, then I reached out to my hunger and felt the burning-pain ripple across my skin. I was still bleeding pretty badly, but my demon form had granted me renewed energy. The woman didn’t scream, she merely stared at me with wide-eyes as I pulled the door to the room back open. I expected gunfire to meet me as I flew out the door instead I found a large brown Kodiak which could have only been Stu and two corpses. He was bleeding in a few places, but no worse than me.

“Shit, you go after Daniel. I’ll take Selina,” I huffed. Stu let out a soft growl then spun around and sped away. I couldn’t help but stare after him as he flew through the hallway; it wasn’t every day you saw a bear tearing through a hospital.

I shook my head and turned away, only to find a gun aimed at my face. “Holy fucking hell!” I cursed.

“Fucking whor–” the gunman said, but was cut short as I slammed my knee into his groin. He dropped the gun and sank to the floor in a crumbled heap. I hesitated a moment then I bent down and unzipped his pants and looked down at his cock and bit my lip. I knew from my own experience and from Selina, that feeding accelerated the healing process, so I fed on him. When I was finished I could actually feel my wounds begin to close and let me tell you it felt weird as fucking hell. The bullet in my arm popped out and I could feel whatever was lodged in my shoulder pop out as well. The wounds didn’t heal completely, but the bleeding slowed to a trickle and the pain faded quite a bit.

I picked up the gun from where it had fallen then I got back to my feet and started back towards Selina’s room. Shit, I shouldn’t have stopped to feed. I just hoped I wasn’t too late.

As it so happened I wasn’t too late. In fact Selina had taken care of things rather nicely. When she found herself under attack she did the one thing succubi did best, she fed. When I came into the room I found her in the process of fucking the guy. My cheeks burned and I turned my back so I wouldn’t have to watch. I know I’d seen it all before, hell I’d been on the receiving end, but since finding out she was my sister I had no desire to see it again.

I tucked the gun into the back of my pants and waited for her to finish. It didn’t take long, once a Succubus started to feed it only took minutes for her to drain her victim dry. There was a dull thud behind me and I looked back to find that Selina had finished. The body of her attacker had collapsed to the floor.

“Shit, thank God you’re alright,” I muttered bending over the man and checking for a pulse, he would live.

“How do they keep finding, me?” she asked with a loud gasp as her eyes suddenly bulged out of her head. The energy she had just taken was starting to heal her injuries and I could actually hear some of her bones pop back into place. If I hadn’t shared my sexual energy with her twice already, I doubt she would have been in good enough shape to feed on her attacker.

“Steagan said they put some sort of tracking device on you,” I said after the healing process had finished.

“I led them right to Ravencrest… and to you,” she said with a sigh.

Before I could reply a huge burst of pain slammed into my back and I fell face-forward to the ground. It took me a moment to process what had happened and to realize that I had been shot. Shit, I shouldn’t have been so damn stupid. I heard footsteps from behind and I held perfectly still as they approached. With any luck whoever shot me would think I was dead.

“Oh God, Rachel,” I heard Selina say.

“Who would have thought a couple of succubi and a handful of weres would cause us so much trouble? Well, Colonel Steagan underestimated you I’m not going to make the same mistake. All you are is a liability. You know too much,” a male voice growled.

The pain was agonizing, but I knew that if I didn’t act Selina would die. So I reached for the gun still deposited in the back of my pants and rolled onto my back, opening fire as I did so. I’d never used a gun before, but all I had to do was pull the trigger. I mean at that range it was almost impossible to miss. He didn’t stand a chance as I emptied the entire clip into him and he fell to the ground dead.

“Rachel, thank God, you’re alive,” Selina said from above.

“Yeah, hurt… like hell though…” I breathed weakly just before losing consciousness.

When I woke in the hospital I was a patient again. Stu had managed to get to Daniel in time, and no one tried to get to Selina after I blacked out so all in all everything turned out all right. After feeding a few times my injuries healed rather nicely and I was released from the hospital. Daniel and Selina were both released a few days later. Daniel still had a lot of healing to do, but he was well enough to walk if somewhat gingerly. Selina seemed to be in perfect shape, feeding had done for her what it had for me and she showed no signs of ever having been injured. Which was pretty amazing when you considered how close she had been to death.

The really weird part was that no one remembered the attack on the hospital besides Daniel, Stu and myself. I even ran into the pregnant woman who’d seen me transform and she didn’t even bat an eyelash at me. I asked Daniel about it, and he said only that it was best not to think about. He inferred that the Coven was responsible, but didn’t seem to know much more. I’d never met anyone from the Coven and I was beginning to think I didn’t want too. If they could make people forget what happened at the hospital what else could they do? Maybe Daniel was right, it was best not to think about it. Not even the doctors commented on me and Selina’s miraculous recoveries. I’m sure the Coven had something to do with that as well.

Of course, there was still the matter of what to do with Steagan. Selina and I had taken turns feeding ‘her’ and she finally finished changing. The really disturbing thing is that I seem to have a small measure of control over her, but only to a certain extent. If I tell her to do something she will have a hard time not doing as I say, but with a great deal of effort she does seem to be able to resist. Selina says it’s always that way with Succubi that have been turned. Of course, if anyone saw ‘Stacy’, as we had taken to calling her, no one would ever suspect that she was Steagan. She was a bit slimmer than Selina and myself, but no less beautiful. She had raven-black hair, startling green eyes, a deceptively innocent face and a body that any straight man would have a hard time not soaking up.

Selina and I had grown pretty close over the last few months. With the tracking device removed she had decided to stay in Ravencrest with me. She was a godsend, and I knew that without her, I probably would have driven myself fucking nuts during that time. I was convinced she really was my sister; we looked too damn much alike for it to be a coincidence. I was content with that, even if we didn’t share blood, we were sisters at heart and that was enough for me.

And there was me and Daniel, when I was with him I could almost forget about being a succubus and just be a human being. After losing control again, and making love to Daniel I found that, like before, I could only drain a fraction of what he had. Selina was able to confirm what I had already come to suspect, weres were resistant to a succubus’ ability to feed. She had never fed on a were herself, but she had heard rumors from other succubi.

I knew that what little I took from Daniel would never be enough to sustain me, so I told him in no certain terms could we ever have a relationship. There was no way I could be loyal, and I knew Daniel well enough that no matter what he said, that it would tear him apart to see me take other men as lovers. So we tried to be just friends again, of course that didn’t really work out all that well. I kept losing control of my hunger around him, even when I was more or less satiated. The problem was that no matter how much I denied it, I had feelings for Daniel and deep down inside I wanted to be with him.

I almost left Ravencrest altogether, I knew it was the only way to keep myself from hurting Daniel, but I kept finding excuses to stay. It wasn’t until Anna came home for Christmas break that we found a way for us to be together. Before her return I’d never met Daniel’s sister, but I guess the time she’d spent at college she had changed a lot. It came as a pretty big surprise when brought her girlfriend, Roberta, home to meet the family. To their credit, Daniel’s parents took it pretty well, but it came as pretty big shock to find out their daughter was a lesbian.

It was a few days after her return and I thought I was alone at the Corday house. Daniel was off with some friends he had tried to get me to come along, but I just needed some time alone. Linda and Don were both at work and Selina was off doing God knows what. I thought I had the house to myself, I was wrong. When Anna had returned I volunteered to sleep on the couch in the basement so that Anna could have her room back. When I came up the stairs and found Anna and Roberta snuggled up in the living room I was a bit surprised, but I shrugged it off and made my way for the kitchen not wanting to disturb them.

It was about time for lunch and I was getting pretty hungry, so I made for the fridge and pulled out one of the salads Linda had set aside for me. I’d found out the hard way that my new body didn’t do meat so well, so now I was a strict vegetarian. I really didn’t suck so bad since my taste buds seemed to have changed along with just about everything else. It was fucking weird broccoli tasted a hell of a lot better than it used too, spinach too. Before the fridge closed I grabbed some dressing and a fork from the nearby drawer and plopped down at the table to eat.

A second later Anna pulled up a chair next to me and sat down. “We need to talk.”

“Okay,” I replied after swallowing the bits of salad in my mouth. I’d been afraid something like this might happen, judging from some of the odd glances I’d been receiving from her.

“I need to know what you’re intentions are toward my brother,” she said folding her arms across her chest.

Oh, great I’d really been hoping she wouldn’t open that particular can of worms. “It’s complicated.”

“Complicated how?”

“Is it safe to talk? I mean if there’s anything unseen…” I trailed off giving her a pointed look.

“It’s safe. Roberta went upstairs. Besides even if she overheard us she’s a were so there’s really nothing to worry about on that front.”

“How much did Daniel tell you about what happened with the Seekers?”

“I think I more or less got the gist of it, though he seemed unusually close-mouthed about you. I know you’re some sort of unseen but not much else.”

“I’m a succubus. I feed on sexual energies of anyone I have sex with,” I spat glaring down at my salad.

Anna pursed her lips and tilted her head back with a long sigh, “Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty damned complicated. So what? You’re afraid of what will happen if you have sex with Daniel?”

I could feel my cheeks burn fucking hell this was Daniel’s sister I was talking too! “That’s not the problem. Weres have some sort of resistance to the feeding process. The problem is that I want to be with him, but I can’t be loyal. I need to feed in order to live and I can’t get what I need from Daniel at least not enough of it.”

Her eyes lit up with sudden understanding, “Oh god. Poor Danny.”

“I know,” I muttered shaking my head as tears streamed down my face. “I didn’t ask for any of this. I mean just a few weeks ago Daniel and I were just roommates and I had no idea that the unseen even existed.”

“You’re Daniel’s roommate? He told me about Archie on the phone and he’s–”

“–A guy? Yeah it came as huge fucking ass surprise when I found out I was a succubus.”

“What happens to the person you feed on? I mean it doesn’t harm theme does it?” she asked suddenly.

“It can kill them if I’m not careful and take too much, but if I feed often enough I can control myself enough to keep that from happening. Usually, the person I feed on wakes up feeling a bit drained, and most the time they won’t even remember having sex with me,” I said with a slight shudder.

“God, you’ve never killed anyone have you?”

“Yes,” I admitted quietly. “I was still changing and one of Seekers attacked me. I lost control when he got too close and I wound up draining him dry.”

Anna nodded as if coming to a decision, “So you’re not going to do it again?”

“What?! No, of course not, not if I can help it!”

“Easy there, I didn’t mean any offense. I just had to know before I made this suggestion. I can tell you care deeply for my brother and I’m inclined to believe that you’ll do your best to keep yourself from harming anyone. I know my brother wouldn’t much like it if the girl he was dating was having sex with other men, but there might be another way. Can you feed on women?”

“Well, yeah but–” I said stopping mid-sentence as I realized just what she was saying. It was something I never would have thought of on my own, but would Daniel go for it? I mean a lot of guys thought lesbian sex was pretty hot, but it would still mean taking other lovers besides Daniel. I would have to feed a lot more frequently, since women didn’t fill me as much as men, but it might work.

“You’ve given me something to think about,” I muttered quietly.

“Whatever you decide just be warned if you hurt my brother, you better hope I don’t catch wind or I will hunt you down and make you pay,” she said matter-of-factly then stood and left me alone with my thoughts, my salad all but forgotten.

Fuck, I really loved to run, I don’t know why but there’s just something about it that really gets my blood pumping. That was one of the few things I liked about my new body, when I kept myself well fed I had pretty much boundless energy. Running gave me a way to focus that energy and it helped me stay sane. After my conversation with Anna, I needed some time to think and since my change some of my best ideas came to me while I was running. It was pretty damn cold out, but I didn’t care so long as the sidewalk was clear of ice.

I didn’t really have a particular destination in mind, but then I never really did when I ran. I became lost in the feel of my hair in the wind and the feeling of my feet pounding against the pavement. The sports of bra I was wearing helped to keep my breasts from bouncing too badly and I was glad I let Linda buy it for me. The Corday’s had put down a lot of money on me since I’d been living with them and I hated it, but what choice did I have? It wasn’t like I had any money of my own.

I stopped abruptly and was a bit surprised to find that I was on campus. I’d been avoiding Ravencrest University like the plague since my trip to the DBZ chapter house. I mean on the surface all the vampires I’d met seemed nice, but there was a sort of predatory air that lurked just below the surface that creeped the hell out of me. They didn’t just help me out of the goodness of their hearts and I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of them. The new identity hadn’t exactly come with no strings attached, there were two conditions. The DBZ girls got first dibs on any of my potential lovers and they didn’t want me making any more succubi. They didn’t want any competition after all.

The trip hadn’t been all bad; I did get a new identity out of the whole thing. And, I had to admit I didn’t dislike my new name, Rachel Linsey McKenna, it had a certain ring to it and best of all it wasn’t near as fucking weird as Archibold. McKenna had been Lily’s idea apparently I looked Irish, whatever the hell that was supposed to mean.

I don’t know if I would ever get used to the way people looked at me. Even if I wore the frumpiest outfit I could find it still wasn’t enough to keep those looks of barely disguised lust from the men and the looks of envy and contempt from the woman. Whenever I went out in public I got the same look and I was beginning to wonder those looks weren’t, at least to some extent, influenced by me being succubus. I know I was drop dead gorgeous, but the way people acted around me was just ridiculous. Maybe, people really did behave that way around attractive woman, and I was just over thinking it.

I turned my back on the University and made my way across the street and into the general direction of the Corday home. I still hadn’t made my mind up, but I was hoping maybe Daniel would be back and we could talk things out.

“Daniel, shit we need to talk,” I said folding my arms across my chest as he entered through the front door. I had beaten him back, but only by a few minutes.

He grinned and shook his head with a light chuckle. “Sometimes I have a hard time believing that you were ever Archie.”

“Oh? What is that supposed to mean?”

“It’s just that all your mannerisms have changed and you don’t act much like Archie, well aside from all the cursing,” he said with a grin.

It was true, I think in large part the way I carried myself had to do with being a succubus. I instinctively knew how to move in order to catch people’s eyes, and I did it without thinking. I supposed I had changed in other ways too, but I really didn’t think that had come with my physical transformation at least not directly. Everything that had happened had really brought a lot of my character defects to light and I really didn’t like a lot of what I saw about myself. I’d pushed people away for far too long, and I couldn’t take the thought of being alone any longer. Most importantly, I realized, I needed Daniel.

That final revelation had come to me with the strength of a physical blow and my hands trembled a bit at the mere thought of it. Archie really was dead, he never needed or wanted anyone at least not in the way I did. “Can we go somewhere private?”

“Sure,” he said a look of concern and worry passing across his face and quickly faded away.

We hurried up stairs and Daniel closed the door as he followed me into his room. “What’s up?”

“I-I. Oh fuck it. This is killing me. I need you, Daniel, I think I might even love you,” I said breathing heavily and staring at Daniel with wide-eyes.

“I thought we couldn’t be together. That your need to feed would never allow for it,” he said quietly wrapping his arms around me. As usual I could feel my need to feed rise, but I’d fed enough lately that it was a very faint stirring of my hunger. I pushed it back and looked up into Daniel’s eyes.

“I know what I said, but I talked with your sister and I think… that there might be a way, but it probably won’t be easy maybe not for either of us,” I said quietly.

Daniel took hold of my hands, “What exactly are you saying?”

“I need to feed and there’s no disregarding that, but men aren’t the only source I can turn too. I can feed on women.”

I watched Daniel’s face for any sign that he understood, but confirmation came in a different way. He kissed me and felt my legs turn to jelly as he swept me off my feet and we both landed on his bed. I wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we did next. Feeding felt pretty damn amazing, but what Daniel and I did was on a whole other level.

“So should we go downstairs? Mom’s making a big dinner tonight. She’d probably be upset if we don’t show,” Daniel said after a whole.

“Oh, I think we still have a little more time,” I said with a smile and planted a kiss on his lips.

Daniel grinned back at me as our lips parted, “You know I think you might be right about that.”

Daniel and I really pushed it to the last minute and we were finally forced to break away and make our way downstairs. We both looked a mess, and we reeked of sex, but no one said anything, well, no one except Tammy, but she really didn’t know any better.

“Rachie,” she said coming over and giving me a hug.

After the showdown at the hospital, I was a little surprised to find that Tim, my thrall, had survived. After the Seekers had been taken care of, there really seemed no reason to keep him around. That being said so long as he lived he would have been completely reliant on me and I really didn’t like the idea of being burdened with him forever. So I turned him, and Tammy was born. The girls from the sorority hadn’t been too happy when they’d found out, which was largely why they’d stipulated that I didn’t turn anyone anyone else to a succubus.

“You had sex!” she grinned at me proudly.

Tammy had no memory of her previous life and she was essentially an entirely different person. When I bent Tim to my will, I had destroyed almost his entire consciousness and only a small fragment had remained. He was able to understand my commands and do as I told him, but not much else. When I turned him into a succubus, the result was a sex-crazed bimbo with the mind of a five-year-old child.

“Tammy, inside voice,” I muttered quietly.

“Sorry, Rachie,”

“Come on, Tammy it’s dinner time.”

“Okay,” Tammy grinned and bounced after me as I made my way into the dining room.

Dinner was delicious and as always Selina, Tammy and I had our salad and the Corday’s ate a meal that was just a little too undercooked. The table was a bit crowded, but with the addition of a second leaf everyone fit. All my life I’d been looking for something and had never been able to find it. A family was what I had needed, and as I looked around the dinner table I realized I didn’t need to look any further. I’d found my family at long last.


The End

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Battle For Earth: Epilogue


Two years after Earth had been freed from the clutches of the Qharr, Lily
and I had built a new life for ourselves. Times were difficult as
humanity struggled to recover from the devastation wreaked by our
conquerors, but our future looked brighter than ever.

Author’s Note: A very big thanks to Zapper, Beyogi, Loki & Maggie Finson for providing valued input and assistance editing and beta reading this story. Another big thank you to all those who participated in the following blogs Requesting help with a name for a race of aliens… and Questions about a human hair bracelet of all things. Although all participants in the former thread were very helpful (well, really both threads), I feel I need to thank Rasufelle and Elizabeth Jean both for their suggestions as those two inspired the final name for the Phyrr Lesch the most.

Well, now that Earth has been freed from the Qharr, Lexa and crew’s journey is finally at an end, but I felt it only fitting that I give them a proper send off. So, here’s the epilogue.


The rich scent of garlic, onions, and broth wafted in from the bubbling soup pot and I paused a moment to savor the scent. Never, during the twenty-four years of the occupation had I been able to make anything with such a pleasant mix of tastes and smells. Now that Earth was free food wasn’t exactly plentiful, but there was enough to go around most of the time.

“Lex!” Thena called out and I turned to greet the girl with a smile on my face.

No, girl didn’t apply anymore, I corrected myself as she approached. Woman, was definitely the more appropriate term. My smile quickly turned to a frown as I got a good look at her face. She didn’t look happy.

“I just got off the comm with Jora. She’s won’t be able to make another delivery until Tuesday!”

I put both hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eyes. She’d come a long way from the slip of a girl who I’d rescued from New Anaheim just a few years ago, but she hadn’t lost her fiery determination nor her stubbornness. Frankly, I wouldn’t have her any other way as it proved an invaluable resource when it came managing the soup kitchen. I had been the one to put her charge, after all.

“I’m sorry. I’ll see what I can do. Resources are slim, but maybe we can figure something out.”

She nodded and bit her lip before brushing the hair out of her eyes. “Thank you.”

We had technology that helped us produce food in greater quantities, but our infrastructure hadn’t recovered enough for us to fully take advantage of it. It would take years before food shortages became a thing of the past. Edibles were scarce, but, unlike when the Earth was in Qharr control, nothing was held back. Even so, that day’s soup was a rare treat one which I doubted anyone would be able to duplicate for weeks if not months to come. There were no special occasions or circumstances. It was a simple matter of using up food supplies before they spoiled.

I stepped away, returning my attention to the pot of soup. Rebuilding Earth was a difficult task, and nearly everyone was doing their part. After being hailed a hero for my part in the battle for Earth I could have done practically anything, but I’d known from the very start there had only been one thing that had made me happy, cooking. So, I opened a soup kitchen determined to do just that. Unfortunately, my time in the resistance had changed me, I was no longer satisfied sitting back while others suffered. I had to do something more, which in turn led to me taking on more and more responsibilities.

Within just a year, I was overseeing dozens of such meal centers. Not surprising, it drew a lot of attention from the media and once again I found myself in the spotlight despite my best efforts. One thing led to the other and I somehow I found myself put in charge of the effort of feeding and helping those had been left destitute after the Qharr had fled Earth. It would have been fine if those were my only responsibilities, but my endeavors and my status as a hero led to me becoming a poster girl for the recovery efforts.

I knew there were people that felt I was wasting my time, but getting my hands dirty and working shoulder to shoulder with regular people helped give me a better idea how resources could be best utilized on a case by case basis. I didn’t get out as often as I’d like, going sometimes weeks or months between visits to various soup kitchens, but I always seized the opportunity when I could. Especially since, it afforded me the rare opportunity to cook.

I was confident there would come a time where soup kitchen’s like the ones Thena managed would become unnecessary, but that day was far off. Earth was a shell of what it had once been and recovery would take years. I just hoped that my child would live to see that day. I put a hand on my belly and quickly pulled it away. I bit my lip and cast furtive glances around. No one seemed to have noticed and I reached up to give my ponytail a good yank before returning to my work.

A part of me could scarcely believe that I had allowed myself to get pregnant. I mean, me of all people? I was a woman true, but I’d never been very feminine even after I had accepted my body. The fact that I would willing choose to get knocked up was the part that I couldn’t quite understand. I wanted to have Lily’s baby.

It was the absolute affirmation of my status as a woman and I couldn’t wait to hold my infant daughter in my arms. I let out a soft chuckle and shook my head. Four weeks pregnant and already I couldn’t contain my excitement. I hadn’t been this thrilled since… well ever.

I’m sure some would call her a freak of nature, but I didn’t care. She was what Vakrexid had called a binary clone, created by combining Lily’s DNA with my own and forming a fetus. None of it had been done in a lab or with test tubes, but by the genetic manipulating abilities of my symbiote.


A pair of hands slip around my back and I let them guide me around so that I was facing Lily. She too had been lured into bigger and better things, but her work allowed her to get her hands dirty far more often than mine. She had started small, repairing and retrofitting Qharr and humans ships to help support Earth’s growing trade and commerce infrastructure, but given that her experience made her uniquely qualified to the task, there became greater and great demand for her skills. She took on more and more clients, eventually even accepting a contract from the interim government. I lost track of the number of people she employed, but I could honestly say of the two of us she brought in a lot more money.

She was filthy as usual, but I didn’t hesitate before leaning in and sharing a kiss with her.

“You’re in a good mood today.” She smiled despite the dark circles under her eyes. We both put in a lot of hours working, but somehow we always managed to find a little time to spend with one another.

“I just saw, our old friend, the doctor.” I beamed back at her and ran a hand through her hair and kissed her forehead. In recent years she’d taken to wearing her hair short in a pixie cut. She said it was because she was tired of getting her hair caught while working, but I sort of liked it that way.


“He’s good. As jittery as ever, but he doesn’t seem quite as bad as he was during the occupation. The time he spent back on his home-world has done him some good.”

She kissed my neck and wrapped her hands around my waist whispering in my ear. “That’s good to hear, but I meant your appointment.”

I closed my hands and wrapped my arms around her in a hug and whispered back. “As good as can be expected. There’s not much to tell this early in the pregnancy.”

“Then what’s got you in such a good mood?”

I pulled away frowning at her and put both hands on my hips. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

“You mean your birthday.” She smiled coyly and bit her lip. “How could I forget something like that? Why don’t you–”

“Hey!” An all too familiar voice called and I turned to face my sister with eyebrows raised. She had her hands on her hips and her face was creased in a frown which was reminiscent of the terrible ‘look’. When her lips cracked into a smile and she shook her head I realized that she wasn’t being serious. “Aren’t you two supposed to be out of here by now?”

“I-I actually hadn’t told her yet.” Lily bit her lip and stared at my sister with big apprehensive eyes.

“What on Earth is going on here?” I spun around casting furtive glances at the two of them. They both shrunk back and I fought down my sudden urge to burst into a fit of giggles. If their reactions were any indications, I think, I’d finally managed to master the dreaded ‘look’. It wouldn’t do to spoil my triumph with a display of silliness.

“Well…” Becca scratched the back of her neck and pursed her lips before continuing. “It was supposed to be surprise, but Lily here is going to whisk you away for the evening out on the town while Matt and I helped Thena out.”

It seemed selfish to celebrate the anniversary of my birth when Earth was still licking its wounds. Humanity had been freed, but how many had been left homeless and destitute after the occupation had ended? I almost shut them down then and there, but as I looked the pair over and caught the look of anticipation in their eyes I got the feeling that they’d been planning this little excursion for weeks if not months. I just couldn’t tell them no.

I paused and bowed my head and held my hands up in defeat before letting Becca lead me away. It ended up being a memorable night, in every way you might imagine and in one that I could have never guessed.

It was later, we’d returned home to get ourselves prepared for the night out. Our house, while located in a more upscale area was far smaller than most people would expect. For someone who had spent most of her early years sleeping in a crowded communal area, it felt like we were living in a palace, and at times I even felt guilty about it. That being said, I could honestly say it felt more like a home than any of the places I had lived during the occupation. In truth, we could have afforded a much larger home, even with the limited number available due to reconstruction, but neither one of us felt comfortable living in luxury while so many suffered. It was just as well, the money we saved on housing allowed us to spend more of our hard earned cash helping those less fortunate.

I smiled and let my eyes wander around the room, studying the stills Lily had taken such great pains to find and frame on the walls. Most were recent and featured me and Lily together, laughing or smiling, a few were of family and friends both new and old, but then there were the older ones, a picture of Lily and her sister, and even one of her parents, my Mom and Dad before Becca and I had been born and another of my family before the invasion. Lily had salvaged some from her old nest and others from my uncle Harold. It amazed me how many she had been able to scavenge, but for every one she had found how many had been destroyed during the occupation?

I sank into the little couch and felt my smile tighten as I imagined what sort of photos might decorate our walls in the future. Our daughter, of course, would be a prominent fixture, but she was just the start. We hadn’t discussed it yet, but something told me more children would come, nieces and nephews, perhaps too. However many there happened to be no photo would be complete without Lily.

I bit my lip and looked up at the clock on the wall. Lily always took so damn long to get ready. What was it with her?

It was almost time for the nightly broadcast from the provisional government. It wasn’t often I was home in time to hear it and usually had to make do from the recaps. So, I clicked the holo system on and sank back down into the seat. I closed my eyes and let the sound of the broadcaster’s familiar voice filled my ears. It always brought a smile to my face to hear Neada reporting the days events.

As a well trained military force, the nester rangers, had been integrated into the existing command structure of the ERF. Given that both organizations had branched off from the armed forces of the United Earth their merger had been fairly seamless. Unfortunately, for Janet and Rayland their relationship didn’t exactly sit well with their superiors who believed it compromised the chain of command. In the end, Neada gave up her commission and accepted a position working for the civilian arm of the interim government so that they could be together.

Most of the broadcasts were reports on reconstruction efforts more than a few of which, mentioned me, but once in a while there was a rare update on the war between the remains of the Ascendancy and the Gieff Confederacy which had risen up as a direct response to the revelations considering their peoples origins. Since the infighting had begun the Qharr had retreated from the rest of the galaxy, letting the inhabitants of their respective territories fend for themselves. The Gieff Confederacy had been a little more open, even sending a delegation to Earth to issue a formal apologize for the transgressions committed against our people, but it was going to take a lot of effort on the Gieff’s part to mend the wounds the Qharr had inflicted.

This time around, the update was something a lot of people, myself included, had waited a long time to hear. “…the formation of the constitutional convention three months ago marks a first step toward independence from military rule, but some have criticized General Briggs for not taking greater steps to expedite the transition. Today, he came forward to address these concerns.”

There was a brief pause in the transmission then my uncle’s voice rang through the room. “Our goal is and always been a free Earth. The formation of a constitutional convention was a landmark step in that direction. I understand the frustration some have expressed that we aren’t moving fast enough, but democracy is a goal which must be worked toward with a great deal of finesse. We’ve laid the groundwork, and have made great progress, but we cannot make a transition before the right stones are in place. Today marks, yet another important landmark as I am pleased to announce the ratification of a constitution and with it a timetable for a transition to civilian rule.”

My eyes snapped open, just in time to watch my uncle’s face fade away and be replaced by Neada’s. I let a smile return to my face. “You did it, uncle.”

The broadcast continued, but I was so enthralled by what I had just heard that I stopped listening. In the near future humans would be making laws and deciding what was best for our world. It was what I always dreamed of and I felt hot tears sting my cheeks as I considered the implications. I had been asked to participate as a delegate in the convention, but had turned it down. That was the job for those with a better understand of the workings of governments. Not a reluctant resistance fighter, whose favorite pastime was cooking.

A knock at the door was what broke me from my reverie and I hopped from my seat to answer it.

“Alexana Briggs?” A man greeted me as I opened the door. He ran a hand through his graying hair and smiled at me.

“Yeah? Do I know you?”

“My name is Haru Nakamura,” he replied reaching up to adjust his necktie. “We’ve never met, but I believe you were acquainted with my niece, Kaya Brzezinski.”

“Oh, God!” I felt cold chills shoot down my neck as I stared at him noting a slight resemblance to the woman I had once loved.

“Forgive me if it is too presumptuous, but might I come in? I was rather hoping I could talk with you about my niece.”

I nodded, swung the door all the way open more than a little curious. I invited him inside and he graciously accepted a glass of amaretto from me as I took a seat opposite him.

“Now, what exactly can I do for you Mr. Nakamura?”

He slowly turned the glass in his hands, but didn’t drink from it as he stared at me with wide set eyes. “Miss Briggs, I have no family, no wife, no legacy to call my own. When I returned to Earth I had hoped to find my sister or even one of her daughters still alive. I do admit my reasons weren’t entirely selfless, I thought perhaps, that through them I could pass on something of myself, but now it is too late and they are all gone.”

I shifted in my seat, not exactly sure what he was getting at and more than a little uncomfortable with the implications. He continued heedless of my discomfort. “I suffer from a genetic condition which, in addition to rendering me sterile will soon result in my death. I’ve been to the best doctors I could find, even the Dexagarmetrax with all their advanced medical knowledge cannot help me. I’ve come to accept that I will die. It is not an easy thing to do.”

I nodded and bit my lip. I had looked death in the eye more times than I cared to admit and I recognize something of the cold acceptance that I’d experienced in Haru as he spoke and as strange as it might seem I didn’t feel quite so uncomfortable anymore. “I’m so sorry.”

“Please, I do not want your pity. I’ve come to ask you a favor. I understand you fought beside Kaya in the resistance. Tell a dying man about his niece.”

I stared at Mr. Nakamura for the longest time unable to speak. He didn’t say a word either and I thought that moment might go on forever. Then I surprised even myself, and with a quivering voice I began to tell him about Kaya. I didn’t tell him everything, few knew about my transformation from man to woman, my relationship with Kaya and especially our break up due to my transformation. Those things would only serve to mar Haru’s memory of Kaya. So I told him of her dedication, her passion for the fight against the Qharr, and you can bet I even told him about her fiery temper.

Tears streamed down my face as I spoke and I was more than a little surprised to find that he was crying too. When I finished he thanked me and slowly rose to his feet.

“Thank you, Ms. Briggs.” He said then turned away retreating toward the door.

“Wait!” I called after him. “You don’t have to go. There’s a lot we can still talk about.”

He shook his head and gave me a sad smile. “I wish you well, but I’ve already taken up enough of your time.”

He was almost out the door when he turned back to me one final time. “I know that because you are bonded to a K’teth symbiote that some do not fully trust your motives, but I believe you are an honorable woman. With the formation of the new government I believe we will need people to step up and take on leadership positions to help us recover from the scars of the war and the occupation. I think you would be more than suitable to the task.”

‘He’s got a point you know,’ Khala voice whispered in my ear. ‘I personally think Senator Briggs has a nice ring to it, don’t you?’

There would have been a time where Khala’s suggestion would have irritated me to no end, but we were beyond the petty disagreements of our past. When we were fleeing New York after the defeat of the Sub-Ascendant, our bond had undergone a fundamental change. One which, even after several years, we were still only just beginning to understand. There was no room for disagreement, because we understood one another at such a fundamental level, that it was impossible to distrust the other. There was no way either could lie or try to deceive the other, because we’d see through it. Our reluctant alliance, had grown into a friendship and deep love and affection for one another.

Khala and I had discussed creating a conclave that would represent the interests of her people and bonded hosts. There were only two K’teth on Earth at the moment, but with both being fully fertile queens, it was only a matter of time before new symbiotes were born. Many people feared the K’teth, they would need a public face to help people understand that they weren’t a threat and to help find willing hosts. There was more to it than that though, the K’teth had been used as weapons against the enemies of the Qharr for untold generations, forming a conclave would help protect them and offer a means by which they might escape the tyranny of their masters.

I didn’t reply to my symbiote and shook my head watching a Haru retreated toward the door. I called out to him one final time. He turned to me with those sad eyes and met my gaze.

I put a hand over my belly and bit my lip. “I haven’t told anyone this, but I’m pregnant with my first child. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to name her Kaya, after your niece.”

He nodded and his face lit up into the most dazzling smile. “I would be honored,” and with that last sentence he turned away and disappeared down the long corridor.

I sighed, shut the door behind him and stepped back into the living room where I found Lily. She later confessed to me that she had listened in on the entire conversation, but at that time all she did was pull me close and put both arms around me. Eventually, she led me from our apartment and out into the night where we celebrated. My birthday took on a whole new meaning and even when we went back home to make love to each other, Mr. Nakamura’s words stayed with me.

Humanity needed leaders now more than ever. My current position had been appointed and wouldn’t guarantee me a place in the new government. My status as a hero of the resistance would help garner me the sort of support I would need to run for office. I could give a voice to those who didn’t have one and I would be in a unique position to further relations between the K’teth and humanity. I could be a force for good in world where darkness had reigned for so long. Khala was right, Senator Briggs did have a nice ring to it.

The End

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Battle For Earth: Liberation


We had suffered so much loss at the hands of the gray skins, but we
would soon have our chance to bring them to justice. The final battle was coming
and everything was riding on us, but were we up to the task?

Author’s Note:

A very big thanks to Zapper, Beyogi, Loki & Maggie Finson for providing valued input and assistance editing this story. Another big thank you to all those who participated in the following blogs Requesting help with a name for a race of aliens… and Questions about a human hair bracelet of all things. Although all participants in the former thread were very helpful (well, really both threads), I feel I need to thank Rasufelle and Elizabeth Jean both for their suggestions as those two inspired the final name for the Phyrr Lesch the most.

Chapter One

All my senses were screaming that we’d just walked into a trap and if I didn’t act, we were all going to die. So I leapt to my feet and lunged at the woman, locking one arm around her neck and with the other I rested my pistol against her temple.

“I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but I want answers. Who the hell are you?!”

The woman tried to break free from my grip, but she didn’t have near enough strength. I squinted against a sudden influx of illumination as all of the woman’s companions trained their lights and weapons on me, but my eyes adjusted in mere seconds.

“I’m Mara Briggs.”

God she even sounded like Mara! “Wrong answer!” I growled forcing her away from her companions. “I was there when Mara died. I checked her lifeless corpse for signs of life. Hell, I even helped bury her. Why don’t you try again and tell me who the fuck you really are?”

The faux-Mara tried to push herself away again, but my grip was like iron. “You’re with the resistance then?”

I didn’t answer, but the impostor seemed more than willing to talk for the both of us. “I know this must be confusing for you, but the Mara Briggs who stayed on Earth was a clone. I am too, the original, died during the war.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“We’re with the Earth Reclamation Fleet. We’re the ones who sent the message; we’re here to implement the plan to retake Earth.”

I felt my resolve begin to buckle. The United Earth Defense Fleet had used clones during the war. It wasn’t that unlikely that the E.R.F. would use clones too. I loosened my grip and let faux-Mara slip free, but kept my weapon trained on her as she spun around to face me. She didn’t look angry as I had expected, but her features were soft and her eyes wide as she looked me over.

“Rebecca?” she turned to her companions and held her hand up. “Lower your weapons!”

I grimaced, my new form did bare a passing resemblance to my sister as you might expect from siblings, but the differences were obvious to anyone who had seen the both of us. This wannabe-Mara, assuming she was telling the truth, would only have memories of my sister as a child. Was it any wonder she’d mistaken me for my sister? “The name’s Lexa. Becca is my sister.”

“Lloyd and Muriel had another daughter? So they lived through the invasion.”

“Not exactly.” I shook my head looking around the empty street. What if a patrol ship passed overhead and spotted the lights? “Why don’t we take this inside? I’d rather not draw any undue attention.”

Dupli-Mara nodded, and signaled her subordinates to follow as we made our way back to the house. I stopped her just in front of the door. “I’ll warn you now, you’re presence here may not be very well received. I’m not the only member of my group who remembers Mara’s death. Keep your friends outside. You can bring one or two of them up, if you’re concerned for your safety, but it’s bound to get a little crowded if they all come along.”

She nodded and held her hand up to the men. They stopped in the middle of the yard and not a single one of them moved to follow her in to the house. Six took up guard around the door, and formed a half-circle around it. The remaining five guards circled around the building presumably to take up watch on the other side. My fingers twitched a bit watching them, particularly since our experiences with the Nesters, but I doubted they’d be much trouble since the weapons they were carrying were all phase-based.

She nodded, her eyes widening as she got her first real look into my eyes and I turned away leading her up the stairs where the others were waiting. I hesitated before taking the stairs, glanced back at Mara and shook my head. I stepped up from the final step and Lily was the first on her feet to greet us.

Lily gasped and brought her hand up to cover her mouth. “M-Mara? Good lord, h-how is this possible?

“Mara?” Becca asked. “As in aunt Mara? Didn’t you say she was dead?”

“She says she’s a clone.” I grimaced and glanced back at her. “She knew about the message from the E-R-F. I think she’s who we’re supposed to meet.”

“Mara,” I paused and held my hand out to my sister “This is Becca.”

“Rebecca dear, you don’t know how good it is to see you after all these years,” Mara said staring at my sister with a gentle smile on her face. “It was so hard for me to leave Earth knowing that your parents and you would be forced to remain.”

Becca didn’t look like she was quite sure what to say. She smiled and nodded at Mara and shrugged at me as if hoping I could give her some direction. I cleared my throat and turned to my aunt’s clone. “This is Lily, she’s our tech expert. She’s gotten us out of some tough scrapes with her knowledge and experience.”

Mara nodded and her gaze seemed to linger on her eyes. She pursed her lips and turned to look on Neada who was standing a bit back from the others and looked pretty uncomfortable. “This, is Janet Neada, a Nester.”

“Nester? I remember that term; it was mentioned during your initial contact.” Mara raised an eyebrow and glanced at me. “I watched a recording of the original message.”

“We’re separate from the resistance. We’ve managed to keep our culture and traditions alive by remaining hidden from the gray skins,” Janet stepped forward and held her hand out to Mara.

“Fascinating,” Mara smiled and shook Neada’s hand. “We didn’t anticipate that a separate faction would arise.”

“And you Lexa,” Mara continued turned back to me. “You both look so much like your mother and your father I can see a bit of him in you both. Tell me what’s become of your parents? And young Jellfree? He wassuch a bright young boy.”

“Our parents are dead,” I bit my lip and glanced at my sister. “As for Jellfree, he’s– well it’s pretty complicated, but you’re looking at him… her. It’s a really long story.”

“I suppose if it’s a long tale. It may be one better told another time.” Mara raised an eyebrow and stared at me with a thoughtful expression before turning to the rest of the group. “Well now, we’ve come a long way. I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

“You could say that again,” I glanced around the room. “But I’d rather discuss things somewhere a little more secure. I don’t want to take any risks. You never know who might be listening in in a rat hole like this. New Anaheim may have been left abandoned by the Qharr, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have eyes and ears in its decaying ruins.”

She nodded. “Point taken. Perhaps you could suggest a more fitting location?”

“Back at our ship.”

Mara studied me, and pursed her lips. She looked ready to object, but instead she smiled and held her hand out. “Show me the way.”

“Now about that complicated story of yours,” Mara said glancing back at me as we made our way through the ruins. “We have a long walk ahead of us, it seems like a good time to tell it as any.”

I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh before I turned to her. “You first. Failing some complicated ruse put on by the gray skins, you obviously haven’t been on Earth all this time. Tell me how you got past the shield grid around Earth and the network of defenses.”

“The Rhiannon device,” she said. “It’s an experimental leap drive that can jump within centimeters of the intended destination from light years away. It’s the only way we could have leapt through the shields and survived. Normally, when you leap you will often arrive significant distance away from the destination, say several kilometers, it’s not usually an issue when you’re traveling over long distances through the emptiness of space, but when you’re jumping through a planet’s defensive grid you can imagine what sort of problems you can run into.”

“I understand better than you might think,” I bowed my head. “A while back when fleeing the Qharr we were forced to activate our ship’s leap jump drive. By some miracle we made it, but we took a hit from one of their weapons before the drive activated and crash landed. It’s how you, the other Mara, died.”

“I’m sorry. This must be very strange for you,” she glanced at me frowning as she looked into my eyes.

I chuckled and bit my lip. “I’ve become accustomed to strange things.” I blushed, glancing down at my breasts. “After what’s happened to me I don’t think there are a lot of things that really surprise me anymore. Although, I admit seeing your face really threw me through a loop.”

“Tell me, what has been done to you. Are the Qharr responsible?”

“In a way, I guess you could say they are. If they’d never invaded Earth I never would have ended up like this, but the real culprit is the K’teth symbiote I’ve become joined with. She changed me when we first joined, so that it would have a female body to carry her offspring,” I turned away. “It’s taken some time, but I think I’m finally at peace with who I’ve become.”

“K’teth, I’ve heard that name before. During the war I remember reading reports of a group within the Qharr Ascendancy who called themselves the Edant K’teth. Anytime our troops came up against them, it didn’t end so well for our boys,” Mara said giving me a meaningful look.

“No, I don’t imagine it would have. The Edant, or the Qharr hosts, are capable of doing some pretty amazing things. They gain their abilities from their symbiotes, the K’teth, which is why they call themselves the Edant K’teth.”

“I take it you share these abilities?”

“More or less.” I met her gaze and saw the suspicion in her eyes. “You don’t trust me do you? I went through this with the other Mara too. She was… suspicious of my symbiote. She questioned Khala’s motives for helping me.”

“It’s cause for concern, certainly, which makes me wonder why you’re telling me all this.”

“I don’t like hiding. I’ve done enough of it to last me a lifetime. If we’re going to be working together I want you to know who and what you’re dealing with and I hope you would be equally forthcoming.”

She nodded a smile touching the corner of her lips as she looked me over. “So much like your father. Forgive me, I’ve worked most of my life in intelligence. I’m naturally suspicious of everyone, and unfortunately I can’t quite bring myself to trust this K’teth of yours. You say this being you’ve become joined with has motives which would suggest it is a thinking reasoning being. I don’t blame my counterpart for distrusting it, I feel the same way.”

“But,” she added glancing over her shoulder at Lily and Becca. “If it wanted to give us over to the Qharr I have no doubts that we’d have been met by a cadre of hunters. Still, I cannot for the life of me believe that this symbiote is completely on the level. No, for the time being, I will work with you.”

The look she gave me sent cold chills down my spine. She may not have shared the past twenty-four years worth of experience with the other Mara, but she was clearly every bit her equal. She had to know that my abilities gave me an enormous advantage against nearly any opponent, but she still had the confidence to give me an ultimatum. The Mara I’d known would have done the same thing.

She smiled and glanced back at Becca and Lily then turned back to me with a pointed look. “I assume that you’re not the only human who has become host to one of these symbiotes?”

“Just the three of us, so far.”

With that I stepped past Mara, moving beyond her companions and took the lead. I wasn’t feeling in a very talkative mood and it was probably a good idea if I kept my distance from her at least for the time being. She was a lot like the Mara I’d known, perhaps too much too much like her. It was unsettling to say the least.

A high-pitched wail so intense and so terrible shattered the silence of the city. Neada and fully half of Mara’s soldiers fell to the ground clutching at their ears. The sound was inhuman and it invoked the most basic primal instincts in all of us. I knew that sound, not because of my own experiences, but because of Khala’s. A brief image of a Qharr hunting party moving through a lush alien landscape tracking a pack of the beasts passed into my mind before fading away.

“Dre’ks.” I spun around looking for signs of movement. Thankfully, there were no beasts in sight, but then I heard the screams, human screams.

I turned to Mara and put my hands on her shoulders. “Whatever you do, don’t follow me. These things are almost completely immune to phase blasts. The Qharr hunt them with spears and knives.”

I leapt into motion, not waiting for a response or offering up any more explanation. I sensed, rather than saw, Becca and Lily on my tail, but I didn’t try to stop them they wouldn’t have listened to me anyway.

Another ghastly wail was followed by more human screams and I put on more speed knowing that if dre’ks had caught the scent of humans they wouldn’t last long. I came to a halt to get my bearings–Lily and Becca managed to stop in just enough time keep from bumping into me–when I thought I’d lost the trail, but then the screams came again. They were close this time, and I jumped back into motion–my two companions still on my tail–toward their source.

Just when I thought it was a hopeless case, we intersected the beasts’ trail and I shuddered as I caught sight of all the destruction they’d left in their wake. Once a pack of dre’ks took it into their heads they were going to do something, nothing would stop them, not phase pistols, not people and least of all the decayed and rotten remains of the buildings in the city. If the creatures came to a wall they didn’t let it stop them, they simply plowed right through it.

We found bodies as progressed scattered throughout the debris, but none of them showed any signs of life so we moved on. Finally, we came to the end of the trail inside a house just a few blocks away from our old home. We’d covered all that distance only to find ourselves right back where we started.

I didn’t bother drawing my pistols, I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Instead, I lumbered up the stairs at full speed only just managing to turn a corner without slamming into the wall. I heard growls and screams coming from the back bedroom and didn’t hesitate a moment as I pounced through what was left of the door. Three ferocious and very large dre’ks had a trio of kids backed into the corner of the room.

I had to do a double take when I realized it was the group we’d run into just a few days before. The oldest girl had a metal pipe clenched in her hands which she was using to fend off the beasts, but she was fighting a losing battle. Her arms were drenched in blood, presumably her own since dre’k blood had a sickly orange tinge to it. Her chest was heaving and she looked ready to drop, but that all changed when Lily and Becca came tearing into the room after me.

All three beasts spun around to face us and I heard Becca gasp as we got our first good look at them. They were huge creatures, the two largest, being close is size, at nearly a hundred seventy centimeters in length and the smaller approached a hundred-fifty. They had long muzzles with a double row of teeth and a pair of tusks on the side of their head. Their eyes were a sickly green and full of terrible malice. Their bodies were sleek and muscular and covered in scales and patches of fur. Their legs ended not with feet or paws, but with something resembling a thumb-less hand and each digit ended in a claw close to five centimeters long.

The foremost of the creatures, let out one of those inhuman and high-pitched wails. I brought my fist around smashing into the beasts head as it came tearing at me. It didn’t even blink, not that I knew for sure it had eyelids, but it snapped at me and managed rake the side of my arm with its teeth. I spun away and kicked it in the side of the head with every bit of strength I could muster.

That sent the beast tumbling away and crashing through the wall. I followed it through the hole made by its body, hoping to catch it off guard, but it was already back on its feet by the time I landed on the ground outside. It roared and slashed at me, but I jumped out of the way and it’s talons raked through the empty air.

“Khala, how the hell do I kill this thing?” I demanded from my symbiote, grabbing the beast by both tusks and sent it slamming into the wall of the opposite building. Despite our shared memories of the beast, I had no images in my mind of one actually being killed.

I heard roars in the distance, which told me that Becca and Lily, must be fighting the other dre’ks, but I was occupied fighting my own that I had no time to investigate.

‘Their throats,’ Khala replied. ‘Pierce their insides with something sharp and that usually does the trick.’

“Usually?” I gritted my teeth and leapt up in the air as the dre’k pounced toward me. “That’s so reassuring!”

‘They are resilient animals.’

“Yes!” I yelled between gritted teeth. “I’m finding that out now.”

I walked right into the wall and up its side as the creature pounced on me. It missed by mere inches, but had gotten so close, in fact, that I could feel it’s breath on my ankles. I needed a weapon, something which I could use to kill the damn thing. I might be able to do it in by smashing it with my fists, but the beast would likely do a lot of damage before I was able to take it down. It was better if I ended it as quickly as possible.

I lumbered up the side of the building and lurched up catapulting onto the top of the roof. I spun around looking in every direction, hoping to catch a gleam of metal, anything I could use as weapon and found it several buildings over on what had once been an apartment building. The source was an overhanging balcony balustrade that had gone to rust. With enough force, I thought I might be able to break one of the metal pieces free and use it as a spear. The only problem was getting there.

I heard scraping, and I looked down over the edge to see the dre’k crawling its way up the side of the building. “Dammit,” I cursed swirling away from the edge. “These things just don’t stop.”

I went tearing across the roof, leaping over the opposite edge when I got to the end and just barely managed latch onto the edge of the opposite building’s overhang. I scrambled up over the edge and looked over my shoulder to watch as the pursuing beast found its way onto the opposite one.

I was one roof over from the apartment complex. There was a lot more distance between the two building than the last two and the jump would be a lot more difficult to make, but I didn’t let that deter me. I took off running, giving myself a greater head start then yelled at Khala. “Just when I reach the edge, give me a boost.”

Khala didn’t answer, but I sensed the symbiote’s consciousness stirring inside my mind. I leapt over the edge of the building and lurched forward soaring across the expanse, my arms flailing uselessly through the air before finally finding purchase on the tiled surface of the apartment building. My stomach impacted the side of overhang so hard that I was left momentarily breathless. I almost lost my grip, but I managed claw my way up the edge at the last moment.

I glanced back over my shoulder, and yet again I found the dre’k crawling across the surface of the roof behind me. “How the hell do the Qharr manage to kill these things?” I asked no one in particular. I was beginning to seriously doubt the sanity of any gray skin who willingly hunted the beasts.

The roof was pretty unstable, and each time I moved tiles slid off their seating and over the side of the building. I moved carefully, but that didn’t keep me from losing my footing and almost falling over the edge. Fortunately, I managed to right myself in time, but it was about then that the dre’k found its way across the apartment roof, landing just a few feet away from me before letting out one of its’ God awful wailing howls.

It might have been a persistent beast, but it wasn’t particularly graceful creature and its’ efforts to get to me resulted in three entire rows of roof tiles coming free from their seating and sliding down over the edge of the building taking the creature down with them. “That was close,” I muttered under my breath then climbed over the edge of the building and dropped down onto the balcony below.

I heard the dre’k stirring from the ground and I knew it was only a matter of time before it made its way back up the wall. I knelt down next to the railing, found one of the more heavily rusted portions of metal and attempted to force one of the bars free, but they wouldn’t give. I gritted my teeth and kicked the bar with my foot, the metal groaned in protest and I knew I was on the right track. I kicked it again and one of the weld spots popped loose. I grabbed it with both hands and with one violent jerk managed to break it free. I had my weapon, now it was time to use it.

The dre’k was just beginning to ascend the wall toward me, and when I climbed up over the railing and dove off the edge, bar held in front of me and slammed it into the beast on my way down. I managed to leap far enough away from the creature to keep from going down with it, but my weapon was flung from my hands as I tucked and rolled.

I climbed back to my feet, just as the beast came lumbering at me. I dove out of the way and kicked it in it’s side as it went tearing past, but the blow had almost no effect. I cast my eyes about looking for some signs of my bar and caught sight of it resting on the ground a good five meters away. The dre’k came lunging toward me and I jumped up, stepping on it’s head and rolling across it’s body before landing on the other side.

I lunged forward, snatching up my makeshift weapon from the ground and spun around to face the beast. It lunged at me and I swung the bar at it hitting it across the snout. It snarled, but seemed otherwise unaffected by the blow. It lunged at me again, it’s jaw snapping and I threw myself forward stabbing the creature so deep into its mouth that I just barely enough room to maintain my grip.

My blow proved pretty devastating, and the beast attempted to jerk back, but the bar was lodged so deeply into it’s mouth that it couldn’t break free. I kept my grip and pushed forward with all the strength I could muster. The creature let out one last shriek then keeled over dead as I thrust my weapon deep into it’s brain cavity.

I loosed my grip on the bar and grimaced. I wasn’t about to try and free it from the creature’s corpse. It was lodged in there pretty good, but I needed something if I was going to help fight off the other two dre’ks, assuming Lily and Becca hadn’t dealt with the damn things already. I glanced up at the balcony and pursed my lips, there were always more where the first one came from.

I managed to pry loose another bar from the railing before making my way back to the house where I found another dre’k corpse. It didn’t have any obvious puncture wounds, but I only did a cursory examination before I heard the wail. I lurched forward, zooming through the city’s streets traveling nearly an entire block before I found the source of the sound. It was the third dre’k and it was doing an amazing job of fending off Becca and Lily who were pounding at the beast relentlessly.

Neither my sister nor my lover had taken note of me just yet, but that was about to change. I entered the fray at full velocity, and with a bit of a boost from Khala went soaring up in the air only to come slamming down a moment later my makeshift spear held out in front of me. The weapon actually managed to pierce the beast’s skin, but it did little to slow the creature. I yanked my weapon free from the creature’s side then spun away as it snapped at me.

“Becca, Lily,” I grinned at the pair who paused a moment to gawk at me. I ran up along the side of the beast and hit it with my bar as hard as I could where I’d pierced the skin. It shrieked and swung its tail around slamming it into my ankles and sending me flying away. The weapon slipped through my fingers and I heard it clang against the hard concrete somewhere behind me.

I was back on my feet in an instant, but the beast was already on top of me. It’s big muzzle was right in my face, and I shoved it away, planting a fist inside its eye socket. It roared and jerked back, swinging around to whip me with it’s tail a second time. I jumped back, only barely managing to keep from getting hit and spun away looking all over for my weapon.

“Lily! Becca!” I screamed. “Find the damn bar!”

The dre’k came charging toward me and this time I wasn’t able to dive out of the way. It’s tusks tore into my side pinning me against a piece of debris. I screamed hitting it in the snout with blow after blow. My attacks proved powerful enough to prompt the creature to pull away and I collapsed on my side clutching at my wound. I was only on the ground a moment, but when I rolled back onto my feet the creature had moved on.

Lily was battling the dre’k alone, and was doing a good job of keeping it occupied. I couldn’t see Becca, but I was sure she was still looking for the rod. I winced as my bones creaked and snapped back into place then I went lumbering across the street toward Lily and the beast.

I drew my phase pistols, and opened fire. They didn’t do a damn bit of good against the dre’k, but the bright flashes from the phase blasts distracted the damn thing long enough to get it off Lily’s back. I tucked my guns back into their holsters and came rushing back into the fight my fists beating into the side of the beast’s head.

It lunged at me and I jumped back doing a back-flip. Lily charged the beast slamming her fists into its side. Again, it shrugged off the attacks and I went charging at it with arms swinging. The beast swirled around and met me its’ massive jaws opened. Its’ gnashing teeth clomped down on my wrist and didn’t let go.

She came bursting onto the scene with speed that only a bonded human could matched, leapt up into the air and slammed into the beast with a the rod in her hands. The weapon pierced the skin of the dre’ks leg and it released its hold on my arm screeching in pain. She yanked the weapon free, then jumped forward and forced the bar into the creature’s eye socket. It roared again, rearing back, but Becca was relentless she kept at it and with one last thrust the creature let out one final groan and collapsed dead at my sister’s feet.

“Holy hell,” Becca said tossing the bar aside. “The Qharr actually hunt those things?”

‘It was a worthy hunt.’ A disembodied voice said and I stopped to glance at my sister. Her symbiote had spoken.

“Worthy isn’t the word I’d use.” I winced, bringing up my arm in front of my face just in time to watch the wound close.

“Let’s get back to those kids. That girl looked like she was in pretty rough shape.”

I spun around, intent on doing just that, but stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted figures moving in the distance. I had my pistols in my almost immediately. My gut told me it was probably Janet, Mara and the group of E.R.F. soldiers, but it never hurt to be cautious.

I watched them approach motioning for the others to get down as I steadily crawled my way through the ruins. Becca and Lily followed, much to my irritation, but I didn’t want to give us away so I didn’t say a word. I tried motioning at them, but Lily and Becca merely shared a nearly identical look of defiance. I glowered at them and rounded a corner. I let out a sigh of relief and leapt back onto my feet, my guns slipping back into my holsters as I approached Mara and her group.

“You weren’t supposed to follow me.” I grimaced moving past her.

“Wait, where are you going now?” Mara demanded drawing a phase pistol and training it on me.

Janet, who had followed Mara’s group in, stepped forward, but I held my hand up before she could interject.

I swirled around and yanked the weapon out of her hands and stood there with it clutched in my grip. Clearly what I had told her earlier hadn’t quite set in. “Those dre’k were attacking children.”

I tossed Mara her gun, spun away and traipsed off toward the house where we’d left the children. I just hoped they hadn’t fled. If the girl really was injured I need to get her to the doctor before it was too late.

The little boy and girl looked up at me their eyes wide with terror as I knelt down to check their older sibling for signs of life. The moment my fingers touched her neck she stirred and I let out a sigh of relief as her eyes shot back open. She tried to pull away from me, but she didn’t have much fight left in her and her attempts failed.

“Dammit!” I called over my shoulder as I pulled the girl’s shirt up revealing the wound on her belly. It was gushing pretty badly and I didn’t really have anything to stem the blood.

“Rodriquez,” Mara snapped her fingers at one of her soldier escorts.

One of the soldier’s pulled her helmet free revealing an appealing face with wide-set eyes and thin lips, dropped down on her knees on the other side of the girl. She slipped a pack over her shoulder and unceremoniously dumped on the ground at her side. She started rummaging through her bag, producing bandages, a bottle of clear liquid and strips of something that looked an awful lot like rawhide leather.

“She’s in bad shape,” Rodriquez said glancing up at Mara. “Normally, I wouldn’t recommend moving her, but I doubt, in these conditions, that we’d want to keep her here.”

Dupli-Mara nodded. “Do what you can for her,” she paused then turned to face a trio of soldiers. “Lewis, Patterson, Dorian, prep a stretch. I think the young lady would benefit from the attention of a certain Dexagarmetrax doctor which if I’m correct is waiting for our friends back at their ship.”

I felt my eyebrows twitch, but I didn’t say a word as Rodriquez started working on the girl. Mara could have easily know about the doctor by studying recording of our transmission with the E-R-F, but there was something about the way she spoke when she mentioned Vakrexid that suggested that there may be more to it than that. Maybe it was just my imagination. I shook my head and watched the medic do her work. She had already gotten the wound cleaned and had started to apply the strips of leather.

Her siblings had given up any hopes of resisting and instead stood off to the side and watched us with wide eyes as Rodriquez worked. As for the patient herself, she’d lost consciousness soon after the soldier had started work on her.

“They’re synthetic flesh, we call them flash strips. They’ll affix to the wound and keep any dirt or grime from getting in,” Rodriquez glanced over at me perhaps noticing my interest.

“Then what are the bandages for?”

“To keep the wound bound tight,” she replied glancing at me. “At least until we can get her to this doctor of yours.”

Lewis, Patterson and Dorian returned several moments later with their packs and produced a collapsible stretcher from inside their packs. Careful not to harm her, we got the girl loaded up on the stretcher and started back toward the ship with her two siblings in tow.

Chapter Two

By the time we found the clearing outside the city where we’d landed the ship the night sky had softened and taken on the brilliant reds and oranges of the early dawn. Mara stopped in her tracks, her eyes wide with wonder as she looked up at the morning sky.

“Patterson, how long has it been since you’ve seen a sunset on Earth?” Mara said placing a hand on the soldier’s shoulder.

“Never,” he replied back, his voice muffled by his helmet. “And neither have you.”

Mara smiled and let out a dramatic sigh as she glanced back at him. “I gave up trying to differentiate my memories from the original Mara Briggs years ago. They are as much a part of me as they were her and for all intents and purposes I am her. ”

“Yeah, but there’s only one of you,” Patterson replied pulling his helmet free from his head revealing a shockingly familiar set of features. “I got stuck with a mug identical to hundreds of my clone brothers and all of us share the same memories until the moment we popped out of our tubes. You might be able to maintain the illusion that you are the same person as your originator, but the rest of us ain’t so lucky.”

“Holy fucking hell,” Janet cursed stepping back with her hand cupped around her mouth. I couldn’t blame her for her reaction. I was struggling to wrap my head around it, too. Save for a few less lines of age on his face, Patterson was a perfect doppleganger for Rayland. It hadn’t quite sunk in that he shared the same last name as the major, but given that Rayland was a clone it made a certain amount of sense.

“What’s wrong?” Ray-wannabe, grinned looking first at Neada, then glanced at Becca, Lily, and me. “You all look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“You just a lot like someone we know,” I shook my head and walked past him before turning to Mara. “Come on, we need to get our patient inside the ship. Or have you forgotten?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “But the girl is in relatively stable condition and we could do with a bit a rest. Your ship is not in sight which leads me to believe that it’s still some distance away.”

“It’s a whole lot closer than you think,” Lily said twirling her fingers around a lock of her hair.

“Oh, what did you do, bury it?” Lewis grinned chuckling at his joke. No one else seemed to find it funny. I rolled my eyes and turned away before closing my eyes and stepping forward.

“Holy fucking shit, she disappeared,” a voice cursed and I spun around to face the owner. It belonged to one of the soldiers, a lanky fellow whose name I’d never learned. I leaned forward and poked my head through the energy barrier which invoked some fairly amusing results. Half of Mara’s men looked ready to bolt and the rest looked like they might not be far behind.

“A holocloaker,” Mara said a smile touching the corner of her lips. “And a pretty sophisticated one from the looks of it. I’m surprised any survived the invasion.”

“You’d be surprised how much old junk is sitting around,” Lily said glancing at Mara. “That is if you know where to look.”

Mara stepped through the cloak field and stopped dead when she got her first look at the ship. “One of the omega-seven prototypes,” she mused looking it over with a fine eye before turning toward me. “We were so close, but the technology came too late. The omega-sevens were the basis for everything the E-R-F has now. If we could have developed the technology sooner and had enough time to work some of the kinks out of the early prototypes, the outcome of the war might have been different.”

“Yeah, and we’d all live happily ever after and there’d be soft little kittens and puppies for us all to snuggle.” I met her gaze and then drew very close so only she could hear. “I’ve spent most my life regretting what happened. I gave up on changing the past a long time ago. The best we can do is change the future.”

I stepped past her moving toward the ship without waiting for the others to follow. The front exit ramp was open and Vakrexid poked his head through and locked eyes with me. “Vakrexid is most gladdened to see you.”

“I thought I told you to keep the front ramp closed. If we had needed a quick takeoff, we’d have been royally screwed.”

“Vakrexid is most apologetic, but I opened the ramp so that Vakrexid could more easily bring in the supplies that I have gathered. Going in and out through the airlock was most tedious.”

“Supplies?” I blinked. “What sort of supplies?”

“Edible plants, herbs, the carcass of a deer,” Vakrexid tweetled back at me.

“You killed a deer?”


I closed my eyes and shook my head then glanced back over my shoulder. “Whatever, just… we have a new patient for you. She’s on a stretcher, the folks from the E-R-F are carrying her in now.”

“The E-R-F?” The doctor twitched lurching down the ramp to watch as Lewis and Dorian carried the young girl through the cloak field, but his eyes were on someone else entirely.

“Mara.” His voice was a whisper. “She is with the E-R-F?”

Vakrexid didn’t seem surprised, merely curious, and I was beginning to see certain pieces of the puzzle that was the doctor fit into place. He’d known Mara, our Mara, for a long time, perhaps that relationship had extended back further than we’d all thought. Either way, he had been her friend and confidant for many years. Who knows what she might have told him?

He ran across the clearing toward the group where he met Mara and clasped his hands atop her shoulder.

“Hello doctor,” she said reaching up to touch one of his hands. “It has been a very long time.”

“Truly? Are you not a clone? Has Vakrexid encountered this version of Mara before?”

“No doctor, I’ve never personally met you, but I have the memories of my predecessor. Her experiences belong to me now.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Vakrexid understands. We shall make much discourse later! For now, I have a patient to attend to!” He exclaimed running toward the stretcher. “Take the girl inside. Hurry, hurry, hurry!”

The duo of soldiers carrying the stretcher, appeared at the bottom of the ramp, lugging the girl up into the ship. I matched gazes with Mara who pursed her lips and followed the others into the bowels of the vessel. I waited a moment and followed Lily, Becca and Janet in.

We got the girl and her two siblings tucked safely away in the infirmary before we retreated to the bridge with Farris in tow. He was still in fairly rough shape, but the doctor had given him permission to leave the infirmary and he had jumped at the chance. The command center was crowded with Mara and her crew present, to say the least, but there was enough space to accommodate all of us.

“Shit.” Farris shook his head, thrumming his fingers against the console and stared up at Mara with eyes wide. “I can’t be the only one who’s weirded out by this. Mara risen from the dead and of course, we have Mr. Smile’s look-a-like standing in the corner. I can’t be the only one who noticed that, can I?”

“They’re both clones, Matt,” Becca said running her hand through his mop of hair.

“Well, I know that. I knew Mara for ten years before she died and… Rayland, just look at the guys face. Not even a hint of a smile, or a grin or even a damn smirk! It’s god damned unnerving!”

“Rayland?” Patterson tweaked an eyebrow. “This Rayland fellow who you say looks so much like me. Is he another clone?”

Janet nodded. “He is… he was one of the last clone batches from before the invasion. He had a defect and was scheduled to be terminated, but one of the doctor’s working in the cloning facility saved him from his fate, eventually repairing the defect with a mechanical implant and raised him as her own son.”

Patterson nodded in understanding. “Well, that certainly explains it. I was always told the last of the Pattersons left on Earth went down defending New Nuremberg.”

“Well,” Mara cleared her throat and looked around the room. “This is all just so fascinating, but I do believe we have more pressing matters to discuss, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I replied batting the hair out of my eyes as I surveyed the room. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to say. I’d spent so much time leading up to this point that I hadn’t planned for anything once we’d reached it. The resistance was pale shadow of its former self and we’d been carrying on hoping for a miracle.

Now that supposed miracle was the figurative elephant in the room, I wasn’t quite ready to accept it. Particularly when it took the form of my dead aunt, a woman I’d never would have described as warm and inviting in the first place. It all seemed too damned good to be true and there was a voice screaming in the back of my head to run and keep going.

I bit my lip and leveled my eyes on Mara. “What exactly is it that you’ve come to do here?”

“Like I said,” Mara replied. “We’ve come to retake Earth.”

“What do you think you can do with ten soldiers, a handful of resistance fighters and Dexagarmetrax doctor?”

“You don’t honestly believe that I brought just ten soldier do you, dear?” Mara pursed her lips and leaned back in her chair.

“Okay,” I paused, gritted my teeth and clasped my hands together. “Just how many soldiers did you bring along?”

She narrowed her eyes and a slow smile formed on her face just before she gave her response. “More than enough to do the job, I should think.”

“Right and what exactly would that involve. What’s your plan to drive the gray skins from Earth?”

Mara smiled and clasped her hand over mine. “All in good time, dear child, all in good time.”

I pulled away and leapt to my feet clenching my hands at my side as I rounded on her. “God! You’re no different than the other Mara. I spent weeks trying to get her to trust me and now I’ll have to do it all over again.”

She didn’t flinch, but instead slowly craned her neck to look up at me with those cool calculating eyes so like the ones that had belonged to the other clone. She clasped her hands in her lap and frowned. “Did you expect any less? Earth is hanging in the balance. I will not risk humanity’s future on a group of rag tag resistance fighters I know almost nothing about. Familial relations aside, can you honestly say that you trust me completely?”

“No,” I admitted sinking back into my seat. “But, we have plenty of time to work things out, don’t we?”

“Yes, dear, yes we do.” She replied, a smile forming on her face that sent cold chills down my spine.

What the hell sort of trouble had I gotten us into this time? The more I talked with her the more trouble I had distinguishing her from the old Mara. It seemed so odd that after almost a two and a half decades of separate experiences that the two had deviated so little from one another. I wasn’t quite sure what that might implied, but it made me shudder nonetheless.

A high-pitched wail filled the room and the sound was so similar to that made by the dre’ks that I spun around to face the door both phase pistols in hand. I wasn’t the only one, Becca, Lily and half of Mara’s soldiers all swirled around ready to pounce on the vicious beast that had attempted to sneak in on us. Fortunately, the only creature that came lumbering through the door was the doctor.

“Vakrexid has glad tidings to share!” he proclaimed holding his hands up in the air giving the impression that he was about to conduct a piece of music. “The girl will survive!”

“That’s splendid news, doctor, why don’t you join us? I’m sure you can help us clear some things up. You’ve examined Lexa, tell me what you think of these K’teth.”

The doctor tilted his waist back and forth and let out a low warble. “The K’teth? Most fascinating creatures. Vakrexid could go into great details about their biology! Their cell structure alone is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and their–”

“Doctor!” Mara held her hand up cutting the doctor short. “I’d love to hear about it all later, but I was referring to the individual parasites. Are they dangerous? Can they be trusted?”

“Dangerous? Most certainly, but only to those who are enemies to their hosts. The K’teth bonded to Lexa and Lily can almost certainly be trusted, but Vakrexid is most sorrowful to inform you that I believe the third symbiote is most untrustworthy.”

“And why would you say that?”

“He became joined to Rebecca after the death of his previous host and has been most uncooperative. Vakrexid does not believe he has communicated with Becca since first being joined with her.”

Mara’s head jerked sideways and she studied my sister with those eyes. Becca lurched back almost as if she’d been dealt a physical blow and looked back at her with her mouth agape. It was clear Mara wasn’t turning out to be quite like what Becca had expected.

‘Lexa,’ Khala’s voice wafted into my mind like the scent of a meadow of flowers carried into a building through a window. ‘Let me speak to her.’

‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ I replied. ‘The old Mara never did warm up to you. I doubt this one will be any different.’

‘Please, just… trust me.’

I bit my lip and winced as I stared at Mara. There was certain pleading tone to the way Khala spoke that hit just the right nerve that I finally closed my eyes, let out a deep breath and relinquished control to my symbiote.

“Lex?” I felt a hand on my shoulder and Khala craned my neck to match gazes with Lily who’s eye grew wide when she looked me over. And she mouthed Khala’s name just before taking a single step back.

“No,” Khala said standing up tugging at the hem of my shirt. “Lexa is… how is it you humans put it? Taking a fiver?”

“Oh the parasite,” Mara leaned back in her seat and folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve been wondering when you might rear your head, but honestly I hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon. What is it that you want?”

“I am not parasite, my relationship with a host is more of a symbiosis.”

“That remains to be seen.”

Khala narrowed my eyes and I felt my fingernails dig into my palms as she clenched my fists at my side. “I went through this with that other contemptible woman. What must I do to convince you people that my daughter and I are only interested in securing the future of our race. The battle for Earth is the only chance at liberation my people has seen in the many millennia since our creation. Our goals are not so different. Why is it so hard for you to understand?”

“Is that it, then? You want your freedom?” Mara’s eyebrows twitched. “Well, forgive me, that just clears everything right up. I mean, if you said it, it must be true.”

“Kyll phy’es!” Khala cursed turning away before spinning back around and glaring down at Mara. “What is it that you want me to say?”

“The truth!” Mara yelled jumping to her feet. “There’s more to it, I can see it in your body language and your eyes!”

“I’m not human!” Khala yelled. “Whatever physical cues you think you’re picking up are purely in your imagination!”

“Vakrexid can think of a reason.” The doctor held his hands up.

“Oh?” Mara pursed her lips, her head jerking sideways to glance at the doctor.

“Yes, Vakrexid stumbled across something quite astounding and I suspect that the symbiote may have come to the same conclusion. You see humans are the originators, the first race, the race from which the Phyrr Lesch created the Dexagarmetrax and the Qharr.”

“WHAT?!” a voice howled in my head and I cast my eyes around looking for the originator only to realize that it must have belonged to Becca’s symbiote.

“Doctor,” Mara said bringing a hand up to message her temple. “What exactly led you to this conclusion?”

“Vakrexid was able to procure a sample of Qharr DNA. I was most curious as to why humans could become joined to the K’teth so Vakrexid began to make comparisons to a human sample. I noticed many similarities, but it was only on impulse that Vakrexid took a sample from myself and made the comparison. It is irrefutable. Humans share far too many genes with both of our species. You are the originators.”

“Dear god,” Mara turned pale and collapsed back into her chair. “This… could change everything.”

The revelation was particularly disturbing, but there was still one thing that I couldn’t quite get out of my head. The doctor had said that he suspected Khala had known this all along, but I couldn’t quite grasp why he would come to that conclusion. Perhaps Khala sensed this or perhaps she had just decided to come clean because she spoke up without any prompt from me.

“There is a legend of sorts… something the first H’ra passed down to all her daughters. The Vyr, an unruly race of primitives that the Phyrr Lesch took from their world to serve as protectors and servants, but those they trained as warriors weren’t as fearsome against the might of their enemies as they had hoped. So in order to make their protectors more powerful they created the K’teth. Unfortunately, with their new found power, the Vyr rebelled and the Phyrr Lesch had no choice but to end them. Eventually, using the first ones as a basis they created the Teljir a race of hand-servants, presumably the ancient name for the Dexagarmetrax and Edant their loyal guardians, and the K’teth were remade to serve the race who would eventually come to call themselves the Qharr.”

Everyone was staring at me… at us, with wide eyes and Khala swallowed before continuing. “Since I’ve first become joined to Lexa, I’ve grown more and more certain that humanity was in fact this first race, but I never thought I’d ever be able to confirm it. You must understand, if I thought anyone would believe me I would have said something!”

Mara looked me… Khala up and down then turned away and stalked out of the bridge motioning for her minions to follow but paused at the door. “We will be in touch. I’ll be returning to my ship. For now I feel I must digest this newest information. I trust you’re not going anywhere.”

Khala relinquished control and I looked back at her and nodded. “Not, for the time being, at least.”


They departed and I collapsed back into my seat. My god! It couldn’t be true, could it?

I tapped my fingers against my console, as one of the status lights started to blink red. A holo-image appeared in the empty air in front of me and I gripped my armrests feeling the material crumble under my hands. Mara’s face appeared, distorted by the aging holo-projector, leering back at me from her own communication station. I tried to keep my face as neutral as possible, but somehow I doubted I was completely successful. Either way, Mara got right down to business.

“You’ve yet to transmit the coordinates as promised.”

“Yes, yes.” I grimaced and waved my hand at her. “I was just getting to it.”

“There, that ought to do it.”

“British Columbia?” She pursed a lip. “These nesters, are you quite sure they can be trusted?”

“No, but I’m not exactly sure you can be trusted either. Unless you plan on bringing in more troops, or you can pull an army out of your ass we need the nesters. I just hope there’s still someone there with a friendly ear otherwise we’re shit out of luck.”

“Lovely, such… colorful language. It will be some time before we’ll be able to get under way. I’ll contact you when we’re ready. Defiance out.”

The image fizzled and faded away and I glanced over my shoulder at Janet as she entered the bridge. “You really think this is such a good idea?”

“I’m not sure you’re really left with much choice, but assuming Rayland was successful in fending off Dahl and his cronies I think you’ll stand a reasonable chance of convincing my people to join you.”

“Well, I’m just a little more concerned about having another one of those coil guns pointed in my face.”

“Oh, please.” She rolled her eyes. “We won’t even have to land. Rayland and I have a system in place for just such an occurrence.”

“Excuse me if that doesn’t fill me with confidence,” I mumbled leaning back in my seat.

I wasn’t sure what was keeping the E-R-F ship from taking off, but I kind of doubted Mara would be very forthcoming if I confronted her about it. I didn’t mind quite so much, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to get some alone time with Lily fall through my fingers. “Janet, would you be so kind as to keep an eye on things here?”

Chapter Three

The moment the door closed behind my back, Lily spun around and locked her lips around mine, sharing a kiss that was so passionate that I would have thought it had been months, instead of days, since we’d last made love. We collapsed into bed and I felt her hand slip into my shirt undoing my bra with much more ease than she would have been able to manage just a few short weeks ago. There was a soft click as she undid my belt buckle and slipped my pants free.

She sat up just long enough to pull her shirt over her head and I started work on her bra before she even had it completely free. Her hands clasped around my breasts and she leaned down to kiss my neck as I started to work her pants free. She squeezed free from her slacks and the next thing I knew she plunged her fingers into my vagina and I was howling with pleasure.

We both had a lot of stamina due to our symbiotes and we could probably have gone on for hours, but after a twenty minutes of lovemaking we’d both had enough and Lily collapsed at my side her naked breasts pressing against my side as she put an arm across my chest. Neither one of spoke for the longest time, perfectly content with each other’s company.

I twirled a lock of her hair with my index finger and l found myself thinking of the future. What would a free Earth be like? What would be our place in such a world? All I knew was cooking and fighting, neither of those skills seemed like they’d be in very high demand once the dust had settled.

“Lexa,” Lily said suddenly and I turned to look into those brilliant magenta eyes and smiled.

“I know that we haven’t really been together very long, but I just wanted you to know that–” She was trembling as she reached up to touch my face. “–I love you.”

My heart leapt into my throat and I thought I might choke. I was so taken aback that I could only stare at her with wide eyes with my jaw hanging open like an idiot. My stomach knotted up and it was all I could do to fight down the rising sense of panic that rose up inside my mind.

In a moment of crystalline clarity, I realized I felt the same way, but my mind was screaming at me that we were moving too quickly. It had taken months for Kaya and me to finally admit that our feelings had moved beyond simple physical attraction and a mutual fondness. The same thing had happened in less than half that amount of time, and it scared me.

“Oh, god,” she whispered and started to pull away. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said anything. Now I’ve gone and screwed everything all up.”

“Lily I-I.” I grabbed her hand and pulled her close, but the words that I so desperately wanted to say wouldn’t come and her face became more panic stricken by the moment. She leapt out of bed and started to dress.

I knew that I had to say something quick, but all I could do was watch was stare at Lily and watch her slip slowly from my fingers. Why was I being so stupid? ‘SAY IT!’ Khala’s voice howled through my mind so loudly that I gripped the side of my head willing her to be silent.

Lily was dressed and had started for the door when the entire room shook and she was sent tumbling down to her knees.

“Shit!” I cursed and scrambled out of bed realizing what must be happening. As much as I wanted to say something more, I knew that it wouldn’t matter one bit if we were both dead. You’d be surprised how quickly you can get dressed when you knew We both went tearing toward the bridge and Lily, being the first inside, leapt through the doorway and found a seat.

“What the hell is going on here?!” I yelled jumping into the pilot’s seat.

Lily dropped down in from of the sensors consoled and yelled back over her shoulders. “There’s a human ship overhead, must be the Defiant and a hostile ship. Looks like a Qharr cruiser. Our new friends are taking a lot of heat.”

“Dammit,” I cursed and fired the engines. Knowing that we probably didn’t have time for it, I bypassed preflight and sent the ship rocketing up into the sky.

“The Defiant’s shield’s are down!” Lily called out.


I hesitated a moment as a plan formulated in my head. It was risky, and had a pretty good chance of killing us all, but if successful it might buy them some time.

“Lily, get the shields up, if the damn things even work and prepare intercept the destroyer’s fire.”

“You gotta be fucking kidding me” Lily called over her shoulder. “We’ll be lucky if we last ten minutes!”

“It will be ten minutes longer than if we did nothing. Besides, I’ll gladly sacrifice everyone on this ship if it means giving the Defiant a fighting chance!”

“Shield’s up!”

I sent our ship darting forward. The cruiser fired on us, but it didn’t seem to have any effect. Our ship swooped in taking up position between the two ships.

“I should tell you,” Lily said a slight tremor in her voice. “I’m not for sure on this, but it’s possible that more fire we take the more unstable the reactor will become.”

“Neada, open a communication line to the Defiant.”

“It’s open!”

“Defiant, this is Lexa Briggs. We’ve taken some of the heat off of you is there any chance you’ll be able to get your shields up?”

“We’ve got our engineers workings on it, but it’s not looking good,” Mara’s voice responded through the comm line. “We’re currently working on another solution. Hold tight.”

Neada closed the comm-line and opened an audio-only line to the destroyer when I told her to. I wasn’t sure what the Defiant had planned, but if I could keep the gray skins in the destroyer distracted maybe they might be better able to get the drop on them.

“Hello,” I said injecting as much cheerfulness into my voice as I could muster. “This is Lexa Briggs on the pleasure ship, Sugar Pie. How are you today?”

“This is the Inquisitor ship Tyrs Phydar. Human ships, stand down at once and prepare to be boarded.” The hard-edged and guttural voice of a gray skin replied through the intercom.

I simpered and moaned feeling a smile stretched across my face as I thought of what to say. “Ohhh, both at once? Someone’s feeling adventurous today. Tell you what I’ll set my ship down and you and I can have a one on one meeting, just the two of us. I know I’d certainly like that. You sound like big strong strapping Qharr man. I love me some gray meat, but I must warn you I take my dicks up the ass.”

I winced, and gritted my teeth. I hadn’t intended to go quite so far.Lily’s jaw dropped and it was all I could do to keep myself from bursting out laughing. The Qharr had some pretty strong taboos against inter-species relationships. One of the guards back at compound Het’ma had had a fetish for human women and Duvak had executed him on the spot when he learned of it. It was one of the few ways I knew of to get the gray skins good and angry with very little provocation.

“Listen to me closely foul hu-man yhulda. I will only say it once more. Land your ships or be destroyed.”

“You’re no fun,” I said letting out an exaggerated sigh and pouted before realizing that it was an audio-only line. “Tell you what if I let you frisk me will you promised to plunge that big gray dick of yours into my–”

I stopped short as the comm line ended and destroyer opened fire again. “Something’s happening,” Lily called out. “The shield reactor’s energy levels are spiking! We need to shut that thing down or we’ll be vapor dust.”

“Not yet!” I gritted my teeth bracing myself as we were jostled around by another barrage of fire.

I had Neada open up the comm line again. “Defiant, whatever you’re going to do, you better do it now. I don’t know how much longer we will last. The shield reactor could go critical at any minute.”

“Defiant!” I screamed when I received no reply.

“Copy, resistance ship. Hold tight, we’ll be executing our plan in just a few more seconds.”

After the comm line closed back down I craned my neck so that I could get a good look at Lily. “Head back to the engine room, and take Becca with you. Try to see if you can do something with the reactor. If you have to try to drain some of the energy with your symbiotes. Maybe that will cool the damn thing down if nothing else works.”

Lily nodded, and with my sister in tow went tearing out of the room.

There was a bright flash of light from the view screen and the Defiant disappeared from sensors only to reappear on the opposite side of the destroyer. It opened fire and before the gray skins targeting sensors could pick up on the ship again. It disappeared with another flash of light and reappeared about a quarter way around the destroyer and blasted it with all guns blazing.

Again and again, the Defiant would jump at some random interval and disappear before the destroyer could get it scopes on the other ship. Its’ shield started to buckle and finally fizzled under a final volley of phase cannon blasts struck the Qharr ship and sparked a series of explosions. It started to lose altitude and I watched it fall from the sky for a moment before returning my attention back to the shields, leapfrogging into the next seat over.

The reactor’s energy readings were approaching dangerous levels, but there was some good news, at least. It wasn’t building up quite as quickly as it had been before. Whatever Lily and my sister were doing seemed to be having some effect or that’s what I hoped. Satisfied that we were out of danger, I initiated the shield shut down procedures, but hit a bit of a snag when the console displayed an error message.

“Shit!” I screamed and leapt back over to the pilot’s station making sure to turn on auto pilot before lurching out of the seat again and went tearing down the hallway toward the engine room. I found Lily and Becca both huddled around the reactor, a tall clear metal tube which was glowing so brightly it came close to blinding me. I joined them touching both hands against the transparisteel and felt the storms gates come flooding open as Khala began to feed. It came crashing into me with the full force of a dre’k and it was only by sheer force of will that I was able to maintain my grip.

I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes, and screamed out at Lily. “If there’s some sort of manual shut-off for this thing. Now would be the time to use it!”

‘Better hurry,’ Khala said. ‘I can only repair so much radiation damage. The levels aren’t too high yet, but if you let them build too much longer we’ll all die.’

“Lily, you hear that?” I panted, but she didn’t respond.

Instead she knelt down, one hand still touching the reactor cylinder, and reached for something near Becca’s feet. She placed her hand inside a small indent in the floor, big enough to accommodate a large pair of human hands, and pulled. A small section of floor plating popped free and she stared at it transfixed before glancing up at me. I nodded and she pulled the switch.

Nothing seemed to happen, then all at once the room started to quake and tremor, the reactor blazed even brighter and started to hum. I backed away, and prepared for what I believed was our imminent death, but with one last shudder, the light flashed and began to fade away. Relieved, I sighed, and held my hand out to Lily who looked up at me and shook her head. She climbed up to her feet without my help and left the room without sparing me another glance.

I swallowed and watched her leave. I wanted to call out to her, to tell her anything, but I hesitated again. Something was holding me back and prevented me from telling her how I felt. It wasn’t quite time for me to get bogged down in my relationship woes no matter how much it hurt. We needed to get the hell away from the wreck of the destroyer before any other Qharr vessels happened on us.

Forcing thoughts of Lily out mind, I shook my head, bit my lip and fled the room with my sister in tow.

“Lexa, please sit,” Mara held her hand open to me as I poked my head in the door. A bit of a smile touched the corner of her lips and for the first time it actually seemed to lighten up her eyes.

I stepped inside and took a seat across from her at the small desk at the end of the room. Our two chairs, the desk and a bed were the room’s only furnishings lending the room a distinctly Spartan appearance. She leaned down, producing a brown bottle of liquid and two glasses from one of the desk’s drawers. “I believe I owe you an apology.”

I fought to keep my face neutral as I studied her features. She seemed genuine, but with Mara, any Mara, who could say? I arched an eyebrow at her. “Oh?”

She poured a little bit of the liquid into each glass, not even filling it to the top, and gently pushed one across the desktop toward me. “I’ve misjudged you. I was so concerned about that K’teth of yours that I failed to see the lovely young woman that you’ve become. That was a very brave thing you did today. Your parents would be proud.”

“T-thank you.” I grabbed the little glass from the table and sniffed the liquid inside. “Almonds?”

Mara smiled and took a sip from her glass. “Amaretto, it was one of your father’s favorites. In fact, he’s the one who introduced me and your uncle to it or I suppose I should say he introduced the original Harold and Mara to it. I’ve developed a certain fondness for it, but as you might image it’s rather hard to come by these days. It’s made from a base of almonds, though I’m surprised you recognize the smell. I would have thought they would be hard to come by on Earth.”

“To humans, yes, but the Qharr seem to like them. Duvak, the gray skin who enslaved Becca and me, would often ask me to use them to garnish his meals.”

“I take it you were a cook?” Mara asked this actually seemed to surprise her.

“I was head cook of my compound before I was forced to join the resistance. I seem to have a knack for preparing Qharr cuisine.”

You were forced to join the resistance?”

“Is this alcoholic?” I stared down at my glass and sniffed at it. Mara nodded and I hesitated before taking sip. It was on the bitter side, but it had a much more pleasant taste than the alcohol Strave used to stash away.

“It’s not like it sounds. Kaya, my girlfriend at the time,” I choked on the words. “Staged an attack on the Overseer, a regional authority, and Duvak assumed I was in on it. So I was left with the choice to either join the resistance and have a chance at living or wait around to face the music. Naturally, I chose to live. In a stroke of dumb luck, I managed to kill the Overseer who was bonded to Khala. It’s how we ended up together and why I ended up like this.” I motioned down at my breasts.

Mara nodded and took another sip from her glass. “Kaya? Wasn’t she a part of your group? I’ve watched the original communication between you and–”

“She died,” I said wiping a tear from my eye. “Forgive me, this is a touchy subject. Kaya and I didn’t exactly end our relationship on the best of terms.” I left out the part about Kaya being pregnant. I’m sure she could do basic math, and revealing that little tidbit would reveal that I’d only been in the resistance a very short time. I doubted that would fill her with much confidence.

“I’m sorry.”

I finished off my glass and set it down on the table. It actually left me feeling a little a warm, which wasn’t an altogether unpleasant sensation. “So did your engineers figure out how the Qharr were able to take down your shields so easily?”

Mara nodded. “A faulty array. The Rhiannon device puts a lot of strain on the shield systems. We believe it’s how the Qharr were able to find us so easily. The array was emitting a large amount of energy which their sensors must have picked up. We’ll be able to repair the damage, and the Colonel has ordered a full diagnostic so it shouldn’t happen again.”

“That’s fortunate,” I said. “The last thing we need is two ships without full functioning shields.”

“Yes, well since you brought it up. I talked to one of our engineers and he believes it would be possible to stabilize your shield reactor. The omega seven prototypes shields operate on the same principles as ours. The issues is finding the parts, I doubt it’s something that we’d just find lying around and we didn’t exactly bring along any spares.”

“Maybe we can get your engineers together with our Lily and have them exchange ideas. She’s self-taught, but her tech knowledge has gotten us through some pretty close scrapes. She might even know of some place where we can scavenge parts. Lord knows she had to get hers from somewhere.”

“Very well, I’ll talk with the Colonel. I can’t make any promises, but he’s a smart man even if he’s a bit of an ass. I’m sure he’ll see the benefits.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll return to the ship. I have some things to see too. I haven’t spent much time with our guests, and the good doctor informs me that the oldest girl will probably be returning to consciousness soon.”

“Do send the doctor my regards and tell him he’s welcome to visit the Defiant. It would be good to catch up with him.”

I nodded and smiled back as her as the door swooshed open. “I’ll tell him, thanks for the drink.”

Chapter Four

The E-R-F ship had originally been designed to tow other vessels’s out of a battle and we’d utilized that feature to dock our ship atop the Defiant. Unfortunately, it meant relying on Mara and her people for transport, but its advanced stealth technology kept us better hidden from the Qharr. I was willing to take the risk if it meant keeping my people safe, the few of them still alive.

Mara and her people had been monitoring Qharr communications and hadn’t yet found any mention of the destroyer’s attack on us or its destruction, but given how much trouble the resistance had been causing them it seemed unlikely they’d give us a heads up by transmitting that kind of information through unsecure channels.

I finally made my way through the accordion connecting our two ships and my first stop was the infirmary. For once the two younger children weren’t lurking about and I could only conclude that Becca had finally been successful at luring them away from their older sibling so that they could get some much needed rest. “How’s the patient, doc?”

“Most better.” He warbled. “Vakrexid has taken her off sedatives. I am expecting her to regain consciousness anytime.”

“Sedatives? Doctor, where’d you get sedatives?”

“Vakrexid made them from plants and herbs I collected.” His long hands traces across his face tubes and jerked away as the girl gasped and sat up.

I brushed past the doctor and as she slipped her feet over the edge of the bed. I was quick enough to grab the girl’s wrists and gently push her back down into bed before she could get very far. It wasn’t that I wanted to keep her detained, but she was in bad shape and any movements she made could wind up making things worse.

“You!” she screamed fighting to break free from my grip, but she wasn’t in any shape to fight even if I didn’t have K’teth enhanced strength. Still she did get in one good kick to my ribs that hurt, just a little.

“It’s alright,” I said releasing my grip and backed slowly away. “I’m not going to hurt you. You were pretty badly injured. Do you remember?”

“I remember those things,” she shuddered and stared up at me with big wide eyes her gaze darting toward the door. “Where am I? Where are Fade and Whisper?”

“You’re on a resistance ship. As far as Fade and Whisper I’m not quite sure what you mean by–”

I stopped abruptly pursing my lips as understanding dawned on me. Fade and Whisper were the names of the two younger children. The pair had been so tight lipped that no one had been able to even so much as learn their names. “You mean your brother and sister? They’re fine, they’ve barely left your side since we brought you to the ship.”

She nodded, glancing at the door again. “I want to see them, now.”

“Doctor, would you be so kind as to grab Fade and Whisper for our new friend here?”

“Most assuredly!” Vakrexid replied running out of the room, before I’d even finished the second sibling’s name.

I folded my arms across my chest and stared down at the young girl all the while shaking my head. “If you think you’re going to go bolting out of here with your brother and sister in tow, think again. I don’t want you to think that you’re a prisoner here, but until you’ve healed up a bit, I’m not going to let you go anywhere. Besides, we’re at least three-hundred meters up in the air. There really isn’t anywhere you could go unless you want to take a long plunge.”

I could see her jaw tighten and she glared up at me looking for all the world as if she wanted to sock me in the face. “You’ll let us go, when I’ve healed.”

“If that’s what you want,” I replied dropping down on the makeshift seat the doctor had constructed. “My name’s Lexa by the way.”

She glared at me and bit her lip and for several seconds I didn’t think I’d get a name from her, but finally she spoke.


“Thena, that’s an unusual name.”

“Yeah, well what the fuck sorta name is Lexa?”

Clearly, it was going to take some time for Thena to warm up to me. We’d saved the girl’s life and had been met with nothing but hostility. I had a feeling that winning her over would be no small task. She’d never been given a reason to trust another human being not even one who’d probably saved her life.

“Mommy!” A tiny little voice squeaked at the door and a pair of little heads burst into the room and threw their arms around Thena.

“Mommy?” I blinked, never once had it occurred to me that the two tow-headed little children might have been Thena’s children. She didn’t look old enough to be the mother of a seven-year old.

“Why the hell is it any business of yours?” She asked upon breaking away from the hug.

“You’re right, it isn’t.” I turned away meeting the doctor as he stepped into the infirmary. “Take good care of her, doc.”

“Of course, Vakrexid would never do otherwise.”

I shook my head and chuckled as the doctor cocked his head. I took the opportunity to convey Mara’s message to the doctor then made my way back to the bridge where Becca and Lily were waiting. “Lil’ could you give us a minute, I need to talk to my sister.”

Lily glared at me, gritted her teeth then stormed out of the bridge without a word. I winced and watched her go all the while shaking my head. It hurt, but every time I tried to discuss our

“Becca. ” I placed a hand on my sister’s shoulder and met her gaze as she spun around in her seat to look at me. “We need to talk.”

She nodded and bit her lip. “About my symbiote?”

I squeezed her shoulder. “I know it’s been difficult for you, but he hasn’t exactly been very talkative. I think it’s time we do something about that. ”

“I-I wish I could help, but—” Becca stopped mid-sentence as a voice wafted into the room.

“I grow weary of hiding. I believe it is time for me to come out of my shell to borrow a phrase from your language, but I will do so on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“I want my host to give me control of her body for the duration of our talk. I’ve only been bonded to two different Qharr in my short life and neither has bestowed on me such an honor. I have memories of the experiences from my foremothers, but something tells me that I need to experience it for myself to truly… appreciate it.”

My eyebrows shot up and I gritted my teeth. “Becca?”

She back away and clenched her hands at her sides as she glanced at the doorway. She turned back to me, closed her eyes and let out a long sigh just before they snapped back open.

Becca’s shoulders were normally so slumped and she had such a sad look in her eyes all the time that I knew immediately that I wasn’t looking at my sister. Her movements were stiff and ridged, like a piece of machinery whose gears were slipping. When she stepped forward she stopped to balance herself against the console. When the symbiote looked up at me there was none of the usual warmth, but instead I found myself looking into the steely core of his soul. I shuddered and looked away. Was that what others saw when Khala took control of my body?

“I was right. My memories don’t quite compare to the experience. I would have never guessed it would be so… difficult to make this body move.”

I folded my arms across my chest and studied the symbiote in my sister’s body. His stiff machine-like movements aside, there was something very masculine about the way he moved. The symbiotes hands slid up the front of my sister’s body before cupping her breasts as a frown creased her delicate face. “This body is so… soft. The Qharr are all rough edges… even the females. Your kind is very different. It’s difficult to believe that you are the originators.”

“You have reason to doubt it?”

“No, I may not able to manipulate the form of my host on the same scale as a H’ra, but I can still sense the essences, that which you call DNA, of my hosts. I cannot deny the similarities. I believe this Vakrexid of yours speaks the truth though I never would have come to the same conclusion on my own.”

I winced and glanced around. It was a good thing the doctor wasn’t around he’d be throwing a fit. The fact that the symbiote would so carelessly violate the doctor’s believes was more than a little unsettling to me.

“Then you chose to join us, brother?” Khala asked appearing by my side. For a change her hair was done up in a pixie cut, and I did a double take when I took in her fresh-faced and more youthful appearance. I had no idea what had prompted the change, but she didn’t even look old enough to be called an adult. More like a silly teenager playing dress-up.

“Not yet, I must think over the matter some more. I cannot betray the ascendancy. I have given it my loyalty. Surely, you can understand that.”

“What has the Ascendancy done to deserve it? The Qharr enslave us, and treat us like property. We don’t even a warrant a name! Don’t you want to be free?”

My sister’s face stretched into the most god-awful smile. “We can never be free sister. We will always be dependent on our hosts. I am not so sure these humans are a better choice. I must watch and wait.”

My sister’s form melted and she fell to her knees so suddenly that she was already back on her feet before I had reached her. I met her gaze and put both hands on her shoulder more than a little relieved to see my sister’s eyes staring back at me. “I-I’m fine.”

“That could have gone better.”

“W-what do we do now?”

“The same thing as the symbiote, we watch and we wait.”

“We’re just coming into range now,” Lily said breaking me out of my reverie.

Had it really been so long? I sat up in my seat and let out a loud yawn and rubbed my eyes. Maybe my time spent reflecting had involved a little more time snoozing than I cared to admit. I brushed the hair out of my eyes and craned my neck over my shoulder. I hadn’t risked opening up a long-rang communication line for fear of being detected, but a short-range one was much less of a risk.

“Right, Janet,” I said my voice sounding a bit slurred to my ears. I shook my head and cleared my throat. “If there ever was a time for you to contact Rayland I think it would be now.”

I vacated my seat and Janet swooped in just a moment later her hands manipulating the controls after spending on a few short seconds to study the interface. “Let’s see we don’t want to transmit so that everyone and their dogs can hear so let’s toggle the power output and–” She looked up at me probably realizing that she’d been talking to herself, and returned her attention to the interface with reddened cheeks.

“Wait,” I said putting a hand on her shoulder. “Do you really think this is such a good idea?”

Lily, leapt out of her seat and leaned over to look over the console. “The only way the Qharr could pick up this transmission was if there were within about a kilometer,” Lily said. “I’m not reading any ships nearby so the risk is minimal, but there’s nothing to keep the nesters from listening in.”

“Not likely,” Neada replied. “I’m encrypting the transmission. Rayland’s the only other person who knows the decryption key. Even if someone does manage to decrypt the transmission, Rayland and I worked out a code that should leave them scratching their heads.”

Neada didn’t stop to wait for a response, instead she mashed one of her fingers down on the ‘transmit’ button. “Masterson, this is Lady Luck, do you copy?”

The only answer was silence and Janet frowned glancing first at Lily then myself and gritted her teeth before trying again. “Masterson, do you copy? This is Lady Luck, please respond.”

Again, she was met with silence. She frowned and had opened her mouth again, when Rayland’s voice responded. “Lady Luck, this is Masterson, I read.”

Neada leaned back closed her eyes and let out a sigh of relief before speaking again. “Masterson, will the man marry today?”

“It took a lot to take back the mink, but I think luck is a lady. Just be aware it may not be my time of day.”

“Copy, Masterson, what are your recommendations?”

“Just, sit down the boat’s rocking.”

“Roger, Masterson,” Janet pursed her lips then released her finger from transmit button. “Good news and bad news. Rayland took back the nest, but things are still pretty tense. He’s optimistic about our alliance, but you’ll probably want to tread carefully.”

“You got all that from that nonsense?” I asked staring at her dumbfounded. “What the hell does a mink or a boat have to do with any of that?”

Neada pursed her lips. “It’s a code that Rayland and I devised if the worst should happen. It’s based on an old Earth musical. I have what you could call a fondness for them.”

“A musical?” I messaged the base of my nose and held my hand up to her. “You know what, never mind, I think I’m better off not knowing. Lily get us detached from the Defiant and set the ship down. Just, don’t shut off the engines I want to be able to take off at any moment.”

“Send a message to the Defiant, tell them we’re setting down, but ask them to stay in the air above us just in case we need them to provide cover fire.”

“You expecting trouble?”

“I just don’t want to take any risks,” I spun around and was almost out the door when I turned back and bit my lip. “Lily, I’ll be waiting at the airlock. Extend the side ramp as soon as you’re able.”

Phase pistols drawn, I stepped down the ramp, eyes ready and alert for signs of danger. Janet was right behind me, as was the doctor who had his tangler clenched firmly in his hand, Becca, who still didn’t look comfortable holding a weapon, and Lily who had a phase rifle resting on her shoulder. Neada was the only person who didn’t look ready for a fight, but I did notice she kept the snap on her holster unsecured.

As my feet touched damp soil of the surrounding clearing I held my hand out for the others to stop. I heard something rustle and had both of my weapons trained on the source within the blink of an eye. Fortunately, the source turned out to be nothing more than a forest creature, a rodent judging from its size, who’s tail end I caught sight of just as it went scurrying away.

I grimaced and lowered my weapons then waved the others forward. We crept from the open clearing into the forest and I motioned for Janet to take the lead. This was her terrain, I’d be a fool not to have her take point when she knew it better than any of us.


The sound of a twig, my eyes darted around until I found what I was looking for, a figure perched behind a tree. Lily must have seen him before me because she reacted must faster than I could have. Yanking him from his hiding spot, she shoved him against the tree and pinned him with her elbow digging into his chest.

I raised my phase pistol and trained it on the man, who looked to be a ranger, judging from his attire. He was armed only with a single phase pistol and I snatched it from his belt and tossed it over my shoulder for my sister to catch.

“What have we here,” I said, studying him doing my best Mara impersonation and keeping my face a mask of cool indifference. “A ranger no doubt, but are you friend or foe?”

“Friend!” He blurted out shaking with terror as he stared down the barrel of one of my pistols. “I-I didn’t even have my weapon drawn.”

“He has a point,” Lily said glancing over her shoulder at me.

“Vakrexid is most suspicious. If he was a friend, why did he not reveal himself to us?”

“I didn’t know who was coming and by the time I realized who you were. This one–” He jerked his head at Lily. “Had me pinned against the tree.”

“Which makes me wonder why you wouldn’t have your weapon drawn,” I said pressing my gun into the side of his cheek. “If I had to guess I’d say you were hiding from someone or something else and didn’t see us coming at all.”

His face lost all color and he started to stammer and stutter incoherently.

“Perhaps, I can clear this up.” A new voice said and I swirled around to face the owner as he crawled outside of the brush.

I slipped my pistol’s back into their holster and grimaced at him as he grinned back at me. “Rayland.”

“Miss me?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

He chuckled and pushed past me, placing a hand on the other ranger’s shoulder. “Corporal,” he said patting the other man on the cheek before turning away. He pulled his phase weapon from its holster then spun around, firing a single shot that landed directly in the center of the other man’s forehead.

Lily staggered away from the corpse of the ranger and let the body fall to the ground and spun around to look at Rayland her jaw hanging open and her eyes wide.

“That man is responsible for the death of no less than five of his fellow rangers. It was the least he deserved,” Rayland said between gritted teeth. “I just wish I could round up the rest of the rat bastards who ran off and show them the price of betrayal like I did the Corporal here.”

“Rayland,” Janet said. “What’s happened here?”

“You took out Dahl and most of his men, but a few escaped into the wilderness. Haven’t been able to round ’em all up just yet, but their numbers are dwindling. The whole damn thing cut my force in half and the worst part is Bueller fell in the crossfire.”

“Oh God.” Janet gasped, closed her eyes and leaned against a nearby tree. “What about the council?”

“We lost Schmitz and Estez, but the rest are alright if a little on the jittery side. I don’t think we need to worry about any more insurrections for the time being, but I wouldn’t say the council has been very cooperative since Bueller died. We are lucky though, they made Le Fonte interim President and rumor is they’re going to make it permanent.”

“Arianna?” I blinked. “Isn’t she, I don’t know, a little young for the job?”

“She stepped in and helped put things back together once we had Dahl taken care of. The other members of the council were too afraid of their own shadows to do anything, but keep themselves locked away in their homes with their thumbs up their asses.”

“That ship overhead,” he said gazing back over his shoulder in the general direction of the Defiant which was hovering in the sky about our ship. “It looks human built.”

“It is,” I replied putting my hands on my hips and staring off in the same direction. “It’s an E-R-F ship. That message we received from them was a date and time for a meeting.”

Rayland raised his eyebrows and a smile touched the corner of his lips just before fading away. “Well, that’s good news. I assume they have some sort of plan?”

“I’m sure they do, but I’d be damned if I know what it is, they haven’t exactly been very forthcoming. Maybe they’ll a little more open with you. Who knows? Maybe having a familiar face around, like yours, will help.”

Rayland raised his eyebrows, but didn’t say a word as twenty rangers, armed to the teeth, appeared from out of the forest. Their attire had helped them blend in so well that none of us had seen them coming.

“Holy shit.” Lily drawing her weapon and slipping it back into its holster so quickly that no one, save me, noticed. I couldn’t blame her for being jumpy; I’d almost done the same thing.

“Come on boys,” Rayland said spinning away and waving at them over his shoulder. “It’s time to move out.”

I stopped Rayland, putting a hand on his chest just as he had started to move forward. “I really don’t think it’s such a good idea for us to go back down into the nest. Grab the president and whoever else wants to come along and we’ll meet them aboard the Defiant.”

He nodded and looked back at me between pursed lips. “Give me an hour or two, Le Fonte shouldn’t be too hard to convince, but with the rest of the council afraid of their own damn shadows I don’t know how many I’ll be able to drag along.”

Janet moved in line with the rest of the rangers and in mere moments they all dispersed disappearing into the trees without a trace. Becca, Lily and I all shared looks, and turned away headed in the opposite direction. Overhead, the Defiant hovered in the air and I stopped to stare up at the great ship in wonder realizing just how well it represented its namesake. It was a human-built ship hovering in the sky in defiance of the gray skins on a world they’d trampled underfoot.

It made me think our little ship needed a name, something that represented the spirit of the resistance, but nothing said that quite as well as Defiance. Then it struck me, if we were going to defeat the Qharr we’d need to be relentless. What better thing to name our ship?

I smiled and stepped onto the ramp leading into the ship. I’m not sure what it was, but something told me why might actually pull this thing off.

Chapter Five

The defiant was so bright. That was the first thing I had noticed upon stepping through the airlock. The Qharr preferred things dark, so none of the ships or domiciles had been particularly bright, and the Relentless had never been the most luminescent of an environment. I suppose there hadn’t been much need for lighting, the ship was a prototype after all.

There was something about the ship that was off putting, it wasn’t the brightness though, that I liked. No, it was something about the place. Everything was so crisp, sterile and uniform. Each room was virtually identical from the last and each corridor too. It was a wonder they could travel the decks of the ship without getting lost.

“Thrum, thrum, thrum.” It was the sound of Lily’s fingers against the conference table, a long dull gray slab that exemplified the design of the interior of ship. Faux-Mara had invited us aboard only to dump us inside the conference room and left us to stew. Lily wasn’t the only one who was getting tired of waiting, Janet was pacing back and forth across the length of the room, the doctor was sitting at the head of the table behaving quite sedate for once, and Rayland looked ready to doze off. Arianne on the other hand, sat at her seat patiently hand clasped in front of her with a smile touching corners of her mouth.

Finally, the door slid open and in marched Mara accompanied by a severe looking man in a uniform. “I’m sorry about the delay,” she said with a smile that didn’t quite extend to her eyes. “Colonel Morris here had some security concerns that needed to be addressed.”

“Yes, when introducing an unknown element,” he said with a sneer, his eyes falling on me before he glanced at the doctor and Lily. “You must take a certain number of precautions.”

Mara cleared her throat and took a seat setting a small computing device on the table in front of her.

“Sit, Morris,” she said without looking up. The Colonel moved to comply and she studied her little device, her fingers pecking at the screen before she looked back up and eyed me with that shrewd calculating look that was so uniquely hers. “Now, we do find this talk of your little disagreement in the nest a little how should I put it? Off-putting?”

“Well, I can’t really say I’d argue with that.” Arianne grimaced and ran a hand through her long auburn tresses. “It was more than off-putting to have men I’ve known my whole life kill each other in front of my eyes. I’m ashamed of what Dahl has done, though thankfully he has been brought to justice.”

“Be that as it may, we are preparing to retake our world, Miss Le Fonte, I can’t commit my troops to an engagement with so many unknown variables. When I go into battle with someone I damn well expect him to watch my back. How can I trust a single one of you to do that when you’ve spent so much time shooting each other? The plan will go forward with or without the assistance of the nesters or the resistance.” Colonel Morris slammed a fist onto the table in front of him.

“Now, now Morris there is no reason to be so terribly rude,” Mara shook her head and turned to Le Fonte giving the other woman the same penetrative glare that I’d come to associate with Mara. “Trust is the biggest issue. None of us has any reason to trust the others, but we must find common ground if we are to retake Earth.”

“Well said. Might I suggest a joint venture between our three groups? It would give our men an opportunity to get to know one other and hopefully get a good measure of each group’s mettle,” Le Fonte said meeting Mara’s gaze without even blinking.

“Now you see, I told you there was no reason to be such a pessimist, Colonel,” Mara said turning toward Morris who had a sour expression on his face.

She turned back toward Arianne and smiled. “What would you suggest dear?”

“The Relentless!” I blurted out suddenly and my cheeks burned as all eyes in the little conference room turned to me. “I mean, that’s what I’ve decided to call our ship. The shield reactor is faulty, but Mara’s people believe it can be fixed. If we could find the parts, having working shields would be pretty damn beneficial.”

“It would be helpful, but a supply run isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Arianne frowned and glanced over at me. “A simple supply run isn’t going to help our people get along better. They need a challenge, something that would force them to work together.”

“It wouldn’t be simple by any means.” Lily shook her head and bit her lip. “Few things ever are on Earth with the gray skins in control of damn near everything. I know somewhere where we might be able to pick up the parts we need. There’s an old junk yard where the Qharr dump old derelict ships. There aren’t any human vessels, but if we can work out what we need I might be able to find something that would work.”

“Salvaging parts from human ships is one thing, but you’re talking about using components from Qharr vessels. Their systems while similar in function operate on entirely different principles.” Mara shook her head. “Qharr and human tech just don’t meld.”

“Oh yeah,” I reached inside my jacket and yanked one of my phase pistols free of its holster and slammed it down on the table in front of me. Mara’s people had confiscated the power-cells when we first entered the ship, but I didn’t need them to prove my point. “This pistol can use power-cells from both human and Qharr weapons and I’ve been using them for weeks now. They seem to meld just fine to me.”

“A phase pistol is one thing, but–”

“But nothing!” I cut Morris short and glared at him between gritted teeth. “Lily is brilliant. She’s founds ways to do things with Qharr tech that your people probably haven’t even dreamed of. The only reason we were able to move around so freely was because she found a way to fool Qharr satellites into thinking we weren’t even there. If she says she can do it I believe her.”

“Be that as it may,” Mara said clasping her hand over mine. “The president does have a point. Such an errand doesn’t exactly fit the criteria of what she has in mind.”

Lily shook her head and tapped her index-finger against the table. “We used to mine the place for parts all the time, but then the Qharr caught wind of it and started patrolling the area. It won’t be easy to sneak in, and getting out will be just as hard. There’s a pretty good chance we’ll run into trouble. That is what you wanted, right? Something that would force us to rely on each other.”

“Right,” Arianne nodded.

“What we really need is another ship,” Mara said. “We could dig up one of the other omega-sevens, but that would involve yet another repair job.”

“Not to mention, the weapons are severely outdated in the Relentless.” Lily crinkled her nose and glanced at me with a shake of her head. “I had to burn out the phase emitters just so we could disable the weapons on a single destroyer. It’s going to be a pain in the ass retrofitting the Relentless. That is assuming we can even find the parts. I’m not sure I’d want to do it on a second ship too.”

I bit my lip and gritted my teeth as an idea suddenly popped into my head. “I-I think I might know where we can get another ship. When we snuck into the compound to rescue my sister we had help.”

“Oh god.” Lily groaned and messaged the base of her nose. “Not Velspatt again.”

“You weren’t even there,” I replied glaring over at Lily.

“No, but Kaya told me all about it. I just don’t think consorting with the Ghrev crime syndicate is going to work out so well for us.” She did make a valid point, but the angry set of her jaw was any indication I think her antagonism had much more to do with my failure to return her declaration of affection.

“She may be a criminal, but I get the feeling she hates the gray skins just as much as us. If I can convince her to–”

“That a pretty big if,” Mara stated. “What’s to say this Velspatt won’t just turn you over to the Qharr? Criminals are hardly the sort we want to be consorting with in any case.”

“I won’t deny that Velspatt may not be the most likely choice for an ally, but she came through for us in the past. She has no reason to turn us over to the Qharr, or she would have done so the last time we visited Salt Lake. All I want here is to take a small team into the city and reach out to her. If she says no, fine, but think of what we’ll have gained if she says yes.”

“Very well,” Mara nodded. “I’m not in complete agreement, but part of being in an alliance is making concessions. You can take your team into the city and I think another group can find this junk yard. I think I should tell you that I believe we may need to accelerate our plans. The longer we stay on Earth the more likely we are to be found by the Qharr.”

“Why don’t you tell us a little more of this plan of yours? Enough beating around the bush! What makes you think we’ll be willing to risk our lives when you won’t even tell us what the hell it is you’re doing here?” I stood bolt upright out of my seat pressing both fists into the table.

Mara stared at me calmly, her eyes smoldering holes into my soul, but not about to be cowered, I sat back in my seat to glare directly into her eyes. She thrummed her fingers against the table and pursed her lips. I didn’t break eye contact and she cleared her throat before finally speaking. “Soon, if anyone is captured during our little excursions and the Qharr are successful at interrogating them I don’t think I have to tell you how disastrous that would be for us. If you make it back, then I will tell you, dear.”

“Fuck, how the hell did I know you were going to say that?”

Mara smiled and clasped her hands in front of her. “Now, why don’t we start making preparations? The sooner we get underway, the better.”

“I’m not about to let this go, Mara. I swear God if you don’t give me something I will walk. You may think you can do this without us, but I’d be very surprised. Earth has changed a lot in the last two decades and a half and the only people who can tell you what you need to know are those of us who have been fighting and dying here on Earth.”

Mara pursed her lips and clenched her jaw. Her facade of calm serenity fell away and I could see the anger smoldering in her eyes. “I believe I can risk giving away part of the plan seeing as it must now change.” We planned to foment an uprising among the human population here on Earth, but the fall off the resistance has made those plans all but impossible. As you said, you and your co-patriots in the resistance have been the ones fighting and dying. You are the only ones who could have successfully infiltrated the compounds and cities. Neither the E-R-F forces nor the nesters have the appropriate knowledge.”

“Then maybe it’s time to consider a different tactic,” I replied. “What if we undermine the very fabric of Qharr society? They are a race of warriors who pride themselves on their honor. How do you think they’d react if they learned that the humans were the first race?”

“First race?” Rayland asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I blinked, and stared at Rayland in surprise. I would have figured Janet would have filled him in, but I suppose there hadn’t been much time for that. I bowed my head and closed my eyes ready to tell him everything, but it was the doctor who spoke first.

“Vakrexid has discovered that both my own race and the Qharr share an astounding number of genetic traits with humans. Far too many to be of coincidence. Vakrexid can only conclude that the Phyrr Lesch, our creators, used humans as basis for our two races.”

“You’re kidding me, right? After all these years no one’s figured this out? You can’t honestly tell me that at no time during the war did anyone thing to analyze of Qharr DNA? Or the Dexagarmetrax for that matter? How many years did your people have contact with Earth before the war?”

The doctor blinked and let out a low-pitched keening warble. “My people had been in contact with yours for many years, but Vakrexid was among the first physicians to study with your people. There are many cultures for my people to study and forgive me, but your medical technology was considered quite primitive by galactic standards. So there was very little to draw other doctors here.”

“Okay, so maybe it’s understandable that the Dexagarmetrax wouldn’t have figured it out, but what about humans? We must have done our own genetic research. I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I were at war with a race with superior weapons technology I’d certain look into creating bioweapons. Wouldn’t that have led them to discover the similarities between the Qharr and humans?” Rayland asked with just the hint of his usual smile touching the corner of his lips.

“He’s right,” Colonel Morris said. “We’ve known about the genetic similarities between the Qharr and humans for a long time.

“What?” Mara’s head turned sharply and she stared at the Colonel her jaw hanging open in what looked to be genuine surprise. “Why wasn’t I apprised of this, Colonel?”

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but it was on a need to know basis.”

“Need to know basis! I have higher security clearance than you!” She said her hands pressing into the table so hard that her fingers were turning white.

Morris jaw tightened and he clasped his hands atop the table. “The discovery was made just before the start of the war and it was all kept very quiet from the start. I’m sure you can understand that this sort of news would cause ripples of controversy through our society particularly with religious groups. We’d already made contact with the gray skins and while it hadn’t been particularly amiable it wasn’t exactly hostile either. A team of diplomats with a small military escort, which I was a part of, was sent to Kyrll, a world on the edge of Qharr space to open diplomatic relations with the sub-ascendant living on that world.”

“Kyrll.” Mara gasped and she brought both hands up to cup her mouth. “Dear lord, that’s a stone’s throw away from Ismara Prime. The war didn’t start over some territory dispute did it?

“No, that’s just what the public was told,” he said with a slight shake of his head. “The Qharr killed the diplomats. I and a few others barely escaped with our lives. Two days later the gray skins attacked Ismara Prime heralding in the beginning the war.”

“Fucking hell.” Lily only mouthed the words before speaking aloud. “Then the war, really everything, can be traced back to that single diplomatic mission. Why the hell would the gray skins start a war over something like this? Wouldn’t they want to know where they came from?”

‘Khala?’ I thought at my symbiote. ‘Do you have any insight?’

‘No, the Qharr wouldn’t see the first race as a threat. They should have welcomed you with open arms. I was always told that your diplomats had started the war by making an aborted attempt on the sub-ascendant’s life. Something else must be behind this. It bears telling you, Jykarr Bynd, the former sub-ascendant of Kyrll spearheaded the war against humanity and it was over lobbied to have himself appointed sub-ascendant of Earth. The Prime-Ascendant of course, could not refuse given his status as hero of the war and obliged. Jykarr rules to this day.’

“Jykarr Bynd,” I muttered the name in what I thought was a quiet tone of a voice, but soon had everyone in the room looking at me. “I bet you anything that it was all his doing, the war, the invasion of Earth, everything. He was the sub-ascendant of Kyrll before everything went to hell but the real question is why? Why would he want to enslave humanity?”

Mara sighed, thrumming her fingers against the table. “We could spend months trying to reason it out and never get anywhere. The only way we’re going to uncover the truth is if we seek it out.”

“One thing is for certain. If you are right about Jykarr, I don’t believe he’d want anyone to know about his people’s link to humanity. Perhaps that is even why he started the war,” Rayland mused stroking his chin more than a hint of his usual smirk returning to his face. “Which is why we need to find a way to get this information out in the open. If the grays skins learn of this it could undermine the entire occupation of Earth and could help tilt the scales in our favor.”

“Yes.” Mara nodded. “I agree, but we need to find a way to transmit this message to the whole of Qharr society living here on Earth.”

“New York,” Lily said suddenly and everyone in the room turned to look at her. “That’s where the sub-ascendant supposedly lives, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but what’s that got to do with any of this?” Colonel Morris demanded staring at Lily with an undisguised look of contempt.

Lily, shrank into her chair, and her face turned red as she stared at the Morris with wide eyes. “Well I was just thinking that the sub-ascendant is supposed to be able to send planet-wide transmissions. If we could send a strike team into his palace we might be able to use his communication array to relay the information.”

“Yes we could, if we knew where the sub-ascendant’s palace was located, but most Qharr don’t even know. They’ve kept the location under wraps after the resistance destroyed his first home,” Rayland said then cleared his throat when I glanced at him with a single raised eyebrow.

“We monitor Qharr communications,” he replied with a shrug.

“Actually,” I said tapping the side of my temple. “We do know where it is. Khala told Mara, the other one; where it was when she tried to interrogate her, but I’m not sure attacking his palace is such a good idea. Can you imagine what that place would be like? I doubt it will be as easy as sneaking into a slave compound and the last time we tried to do that we almost didn’t make it out.”

“It would be risky, I’m sure,” Mara pursed her lips and let out a long sigh. “But it may be the only option left to us if we are unable to incite an uprising. In the meantime, I believe we have preparations to make. The sooner we get underway, and get this all done with the sooner I’ll reveal the final pieces of the plan to you.”

“We just need to decide on teams.”

“Naturally,” Mara nodded. “I assume you wish to lead this expedition into Salt Lake City yourself.”

I nodded. “A large group will draw too much notice. I don’t think I should take any more three people, counting myself, into the city just to play it safe.”

“Very well, it may not be a bad idea to lend you a crew to man your ship. If you need to leave in a hurry they could have the ship prepped and ready to take off.”

“That seems like a wise precaution. Lily, will obviously have to accompany your people on the part run, and Farris is still in pretty rough shape it might be better to let him sit this one out. The doctor will probably want to stay with his patients, which is just as well a Dexagarmatrax walking the streets of a Qharr occupied city would draw a lot of notice and as for my sister–”

Mara held her hand up before I could finish and slowly started to shake her head. “Rebecca, will stay here at the nest with me. I’ll be getting to know the nesters better and I think I’d like a representative of the resistance present. This Farris friend of yours is in rough shape, I wouldn’t want to subject him to many hours at the negotiating table.”

I felt my jaw tighten and I gritted my teeth as I stared across the table at Mara. I didn’t like the idea of leaving my sister with the nesters after everything that had happened. It was one thing meeting with Rayland and Arianne, they were friends, but actually going into the nest was another thing entirely. I didn’t like the idea of Becca sticking around without someone to protect her. Then again knowing my sister she’d probably insist on staying to protect Farris. I grimaced and bit my lip meeting Mara’s gaze.

“Absolutely not! I don’t want my people stuck in that death pit especially if someone gets it into their heads to continue what Dahl started.”

“That won’t be an issue,” Mara replied. “I have no intention of infringing on the nesters. We’ve brought along a number portable housing units which can be constructed in a matter of hours. They each come rigged with a holo cloaker and are highly defensible. If trouble comes to us, believe me when I say we’ll be ready for it.”

I sighed and brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I can’t speak for Becca, but it may take some doing to convince her to stay. She’s her own person, the choice is hers. I won’t stand in her way if she whatever decision she makes.”

“Very well, I will talk with her.” She cleared her throat and turned back to me with a smile. “Now, dear have you thought about who you’d like to bring along on your team?”

“Rodriquez and Neada.”

“You can have Rodriguez, but it would behoove us to have Major Patterson’s second in command along on the main trip. Don’t you think? If anything were to happen to the major we’d need her to develop a working relationship with our troops. I’m sure your friends in the nest could make a suggestion.”

“I know a man,” Arianne said finally speaking after a long silence.

She had a shrewd smile on her face and I realized she had been kept quiet, not because she was intimidated, but had allowed us to carry on in order to get a better gauge on us. She reminded me of a predator carefully studying its prey preparing to pounce on it. The moment Mara glanced in Arianne’s direction; the pretty auburnette dropped the sly look and stared back at the older woman with wide innocent eyes.

It was a dangerous game to play. She could pretend to be the spineless young leader and have Mara think she had her eating out of her hands, but when the time was right she could show her teeth and sink claws into Mara’s back revealing that she hadn’t been quite so spineless after all. Of course, if Mara caught on the whole thing would be shot to hell, but I had no intention of telling her. It might be interesting to see Mara squirm for once.

“President, I’ll be glad to talk with your man. I can’t make any promises, but I given the circumstances I’m not sure I have a lot of choice in the matter.”

“Then it’s settled,” Mara smiled evidently oblivious to Arianne’s little scheme.

“Right.” I cleared my throat and stood back up. “I see no reason to delay things. We’ll make preparations tonight and tomorrow we’ll head out. Assuming that everything goes well, we’ll meet back here.”

“Perfect, the guards outside the door will escort you back to your ship. I’ll be sure to send Rodriquez over after I’ve briefed her.”

She gestured with an open hand toward the door and we didn’t linger quickly finding our way back to the umbilical that led back the Relentless.

Chapter Six

I laid back in bed and sighed as I stared up at the ceiling. The idea had been to catch a few hours of shut-eye while I was waiting on Mara and Arianne to send their people over, but I hadn’t been sleeping well since Lily and I had stopped sharing a bed. Every time I tried to talk to her, I just made things worse. She didn’t even yell at me, I think I could have handled that. She acted like a wounded puppy and I couldn’t bring myself to look into her eyes anymore.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes and ran a hand through my long mass of tangled hair. It was wrong of me to spend so much time muddling over my ailing relationship when the fate of the entire world hung in the balance, but no matter how much I told myself this, thoughts of Lily came to me unbidden. If only I had spoken up when I’d had the chance the distance that had grown between us would have never even come about.

There was a tap at the door and I sat bolt upright, happy for an interruption. “Come in,” I said pecking at my hair and hoping to make it at least a somewhat presentable.

The door slid open and in walked Rodriquez. It was the first time I’d seen her out of her body armor and while I’d known she had an attractive face I hadn’t quite realized the rest of the package was just as alluring. I coughed and shook my head and felt ashamed for thinking such things. I don’t know if it was the absence of Lily’s touch or the fact that our relationship was on the rocks, but I was having trouble keeping the more carnal part of my mind caged up. It had only been a few days since I’d gotten some, but for whatever damn reason all I could think of, when I wasn’t thinking about Lily, was sex, sex, sex.

“Mara said she’d brief you, so I doubt I need to tell you what our mission is, but I’m sure you have questions.”

“You can say that again, she said you asked for me. Why?” She asked staring back at me lacing her arms on her hips and leaned against the wall.

“Honestly?” I shrugged and lurched to my feet. “You’re one of the few from Mara’s group whose name I even know that isn’t a total meathead.”

“Meathead?” Rodriquez let out a low throaty chuckle. “You’d be surprised.”

I raised my eyebrows, but didn’t press the matter. I was curious to say the least, but I wasn’t really sure I wanted to know what she had meant. Even so, she told me anyway.

“You should know. I’m not like the other soldiers.”

“And you wonder why I picked you?” I asked. “The rest of those guys will stand out like a sore thumb the moment they step into the city. I think you would have a better chance at blending in than the rest.”

“Look I’m flattered, but that’s not what I meant. I’m a bit like that Rayland friend of yours. A defect, a clone who should have been terminated.”

“Then why is it that you’re still around? The E-R-F, doesn’t exactly seem like the types to rely on a piece of faulty hardware.” I winced, closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. “I’m sorry that came out sounding a little harsher than I’d intended.”

“I’ve heard worse.” She shrugged. “I’ve developed a bit of a tough skin. There are only a handful of people who know about my defect, but it’s not exactly physical as with your friend.”

That definitely had my curiosity peaked. “So it’s mental?”

“You could say that. Though I’m not quite sure my problem could be described so simply. It’s funny, if it hadn’t been for some random little computer bug I never would have existed. In short, this body was flashed with the wrong memories. It should have been given the recollections of Susan Rodriquez, but somehow I ended up with the mind of a medic by the name of Maximilian Everly.”

Understanding dawned on me and I bit my lip as I studied the other woman. “That’s one hell of a revelation, but why tell me?”

She shrugged and bit her lip. “Because you’re bound to find out sooner or later and because I figured you of all people would understand.”

“Mara told you that I used to be a man, didn’t she?”

Rodriquez nodded. “She thought I could talk to you. I’ve struggled living in this body from the moment I first came awake. Mara’s the only reason I’ve been allowed to live as long as I had. She sees me as her project, something to fix. Honestly, I’m not sure I can be fixed.”

“I know the feeling, but to be completely honest if you’re telling me this because you think I can give you some insights I’m not really sure I’ll be able to give you what you’re looking for. Adjusting has been a rough road for me. I’ll help you if I can, but my first priority is driving the Qharr from Earth. If we get a chance, I’d love to talk some more, but for now I need you to concentrate on the mission. Can you do that?”

“Yes, it’s why I’m here. If I couldn’t concentrate on the job at hand Morris would have had me put down a long time ago.”

“Good.” I put a hand on her shoulder and reached into my pocket with the other. “I’ve compiled a list of supplies. I want you to work with your people and if they have anything we’ll need they’ll be willing to part with.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She nodded, paused at the door and turned back to me. “What would you prefer I call you? I’m accustomed to dealing with a little clearer chain of command.”

“I’d prefer, you call me Lexa.”

“Alright,” she replied. “And you can call me Max.”

“Becca.” I scratched the back of my head standing in the doorway of my sister’s quarters. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“If this is about this whole Mara thing, I’ve already decided to stay with Mara and help with the negotiations.”

I nodded and scratched sat down on the edge of her bed. “Actually, I already knew Mara had talked to you. Are you really sure you want to stay? After what happened the last time–”

Becca held a hand up cutting me short. “Lexa, I can take care of myself. Honestly, if it weren’t for Matt I’d probably go with you, but I can’t just leave him alone with Mara.”

“Alright.” I bowed my head and ran a hand through my long blue locks. “I’d stay with you if I didn’t think this were so important, but another ship could really come in handy and–”

“Lex.” She planted her hand on her hips and gave me a pointed look. “You don’t have to explain I understand.”

“Now,” she continued folding her arms across her chest. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on between you and Lily?”

I stopped and stared at my sister for a long moment, caught by surprise, but I probably shouldn’t have been. It was stupid to assume that no one had caught on when the two of us barely even talked to each other and when we did it wasn’t especially cordial. I shook my head and fell back into the bed my hair falling into my face. “I’m not sure I want to talk about it.”

Becca flicked the hair out of my face and looked down into my eyes. “Come on, I can’t stand seeing you like this. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

I pushed myself up, resting my weight on my elbows and bit my lip before finally relenting. “Lily told me she loved me.”

“Oh, well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

“No, I mean, I don’t know! She just sprang it on me, I sort of panicked and froze. Before I knew it the Defiant was under attack and by then it was too late. Since then, I’ve spent every waking moment regretting what had happened. I know I could have handled better, but the last woman who told me she loved me was Kaya and you know how that turned out. What should I do, Becca?”

My sister collapsed onto the bed and ran her hands through her thick mop of hair. “Well, that explains Lily’s behavior. I guess the question is, do you love her too?”

I closed my eyes, massaged my temples and let a little moan escape my lips. “I do, I really do. It’s just I’m worried we’re moving too fast. What if she leaves me? What if one of us dies? I just can’t lose her like I did Kaya. I don’t think I can handle it.”

“Well,” Becca said a little bit of a quiver in her voice. “I understand better than anyone, but if you do nothing you will lose her. Besides.” She pushed herself up and leaned over me her hair tickling my arm. “Can you honestly say you’d want to erase everything that had happened between you and Kaya? When Coran died I found myself wondering if I would have been better off if we’d never met, but now…”

She trailed off a tear touching the corner of her eye before she continued. “But now, I wouldn’t take our time together away for all the world. He made me feel special in a way that no one else has ever…” she paused her eyes growing wide as her cheeks turned bright red.

“Well, maybe someone else has,” she said a slow smile creasing her lips. She cleared her voice and batted at her bangs. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I think I do. I’ve been an idiot and I think it’s time I do something about it,” I replied just before pulling myself up to my feet and rushed out the door to find Lily.

“God-dammit, Lily!” I grabbed her by the wrist and spun her around so she would face me. “Would you just listen to me?”

Lily jerked reacting as if I had stabbed her in the gut and I reached out to touch her face even as she fought to break my grip. She slipped loose and collapsed to the ground at my feet staring up at me with wide eyes. “This is it, isn’t it? You’re going to break up with me.”

It was my time to jerk backward, collapsing against the airlock hatch. So that was why she had been trying so hard to avoid me over the last few days. It seemed so obvious looking back on it, but I’d been so caught up in what I should have said I didn’t stop to think what Lily might have been thinking.

I was still afraid, but I couldn’t just let her leave without telling her how I felt. Tears were winding their way down her face and I knelt down next to her and place a hand on her shoulder. “Lil, this has never been about that. The truth is, since you said those words I’ve been terrified. I kept telling myself we were moving too fast, but it’s not that. The truth is I’m afraid of losing you just like I lost Kaya, but if I stand by and let you walk away it’s not any different.”

“What are you saying?” She stared up at me, the tears starting to dry up.

“What I’m saying, Lily, is that I love you,” I grabbed her by both cheeks and pecked her on the lips.

I could feel her trembling and she fell forward collapsing into my arms. “God, it’s so good to hear you say that.”

I felt her lips on my neck and a slow smile form on my face just before she pulled my chin down for a kiss. I closed my eyes and became lost to the sensuality that was an odd contrast to the excitement that was bubbling inside of me. I loved Lily, and as clichéd as it sounded I wanted to shout it from every rooftop and tell the whole world.

It was strange, I had the same feelings for Lily that I had for Kaya, but the two were as different as night and day. Kaya had been like a reactor that had gone critical ready to explode at any moment. Lily was more like her new namesake, soft and delicate, but whenever I looked at her I felt my heartbeat kick into overdrive just like it had with Kaya. I didn’t want the moment to end, but like all good things it eventually did. Too soon, in fact.

“Well, this is awkward,” a voice said.

Lily jerked out of my lap with a suddenness that startled me. I cleared my throat and stood up to face the newcomer. Though we’d only met once, his name was one I didn’t have any trouble recalling. “Councilor Schmit.”

“I’d prefer Jokeb, if you don’t mind,” he said showing almost no emotion on his face. “Arianne tells me I’ve been picked to accompany you on an expedition. As you might have guessed I’m just giddy with excitement.”

I wasn’t quite sure if he was sincere, but given that his voice didn’t mirror his supposed enthusiasm I tended to think he was being cynical. I studied the squat little man and wondered why the president would have chosen this man to accompany me. He wasn’t much to look at. He was short, balding, and middle-aged with touches of gray touching his temples. He wasn’t overweight though I couldn’t say he was exactly fit either, but it was hard to tell since he was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants.

“Jokeb, I don’t really mean to be rude, but–”

“You wanna know what makes me so special?” He asked a glint of amusement in his eyes. “I grew up in Salt Lake. If the city’s layout hasn’t changed much in the last two decade and a half, and I see no reason to think it has, I know a few hidey-holes we can use if the going gets tough. I may not look it but I’m pretty good in a fight. I was a soldier and a bit of a brawler in my younger days.”

“Very well,” I replied. “I have Alex Rodriquez, the other member of our expedition, gathering supplies. The list isn’t very extensive, but there were some things she was having trouble rounding up. Would you mind working with her to see if you can’t wrangle up the last few items?”

He stared at me and I felt his cold eyes studying me. A smile touched the corner of my lips, but still he didn’t speak. I raised my eyebrows and matched his gaze. “Is there a problem?”

“I’m not sure yet.” He grinned then calming walked away. “I’ll get your precious supplies if I can,” he called back over his shoulder just before disappearing around a bend in the corridor.

“Interesting fellow,” Lily said a moment later. “Hard to read that one. Sure hope he doesn’t wind up becoming a liability.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I just wish I knew what the hell that was all about.”

She leaned and pecked me on the lips resting her head up against my shoulder and sighed. “I gotta get going soon. I only came back to grab a few things from the Relentless. Colonel Morris isn’t exactly the type you wanna keep waiting.”

We shared another brief kiss before she too departed disappearing in the same direction as Jokeb. It was probably the last time I’d get to see her before we left for our missions and a part of me worried that it might be our final meeting. I worried for her, but I think that was part of being in a relationship. Lily could fend for herself, and if all went well we’d see each other again. It was the best I could hope for and sometimes hope is enough.

Chapter Seven

We parted ways the next day; I took the Relentless with Rodriquez and Schmit and left Morris in the Defiant with Lily as part of the crew. Becca wasn’t happy to stay at the nest, especially after what had happened, but I’d managed to soothe many of her doubts. I just wish I could say the same for myself.

We arrived at the city about midday and the three of us set out immediately. We were just approaching the Salt Lake City limits when I stopped Jokeb by placing a hand on his chest. Alex came to a stop behind him and I craned my neck back glancing at the towering skyscrapers of Salt Lake City. “You need to loosen up, both of you. You’re going to stand out if you go traipsing into the city with your heads held high like that.”

Schmit grinned and didn’t say a word, but Rodriquez more than made up for his silence. “Why do you say that?”

I palmed my forehead and sighed. “You’re supposed to be slaves who’ve spent the past twenty-four years living under the shadow of the gray skins. Do you know what that does to a person? It breaks you; it makes you give up hope. Hang your head a little when you walk, don’t make eye contact with anyone, look at your feet. Maybe hunch over a little bit and whatever you do, you stay out of the way of the Qharr. Don’t talk back, hell don’t talk at all, unless you’re spoken to directly.”

Jokeb grunted and looked out to the city. “I’ll play along and do your little monkey dance, but I’m a little more worried about getting into the city.”

“Yeah,” I nodded looking out toward the city. “But if we pull this off it’ll all be worth it.”

Rodriquez looked out on the city and grimaced. “I’m not so sure we can pull this off.”

“Now, now, girl there’s no need to be a pessimist. I for one think it seems like a worthwhile venture.”

With that I turned sharply to examine Jokeb. His tone of voice was neutral, but the way he’d emphasized worthwhile made me think he was being ironic. I wasn’t about to waste my time mincing words for clarification. As longs as Schmit did his job he could think whatever the hell we wanted.

“That reminds me, it’s about time I did something about these eyes and hair.” I said grabbing a fistful of blue locks and holding them in front of my face. ‘Khala would you care to do the honor.’

‘It would be my pleasure,’ she replied sounding almost chipper for a change.

My scalp started to itch and I shook my head as hair fell away. I was bald just long enough to feel the breeze tickle my crown, but then I felt new locks cascade down my head. My eyes burned and I forced them shut only to snap them back open a moment later once Khala had finished.

“Damn,” Jokeb said snorting as he looked me over.

“God.” Rodriquez gasped and stared at me with wide eyes. “Does it hurt?”

“Mostly, it just itches, and burns a little.”

“I don’t get it why don’t you just keep it that way? Wouldn’t you rather just blend in?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” I shook my head and glanced back at the city. “Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of explaining it. Maybe I’ll tell you later, but for now I’d like to get this done with. The quicker we get our asses into the city the quicker we can get the hell out.”

“Papers.” The Qharr at the gate demanded holding a massive paw out in front of me.

I reached inside my jacket and produced the asked for documents. The guard, a towering gray skin whose skin had an almost bluish tinge to it, studied them with furrowed brows. When he let the papers drop to the ground at our feet I knew that it was a bust.

“Get down!” I yelled tossing my rucksack aside producing a phase pistol from inside my jacket and slammed it into the chest of the guard. He staggered back and I spun around opening fire on the other three guards. I took one down with a head shot and managed to hit another in the shoulder, but the fourth leapt out of the way before my shots could hit home.

“Inside now!” I yelled at Jokeb and Alex as the gate started to slide shut. I slammed my shoulder into the first guard who had recovered from my initial blow and went dashing toward the opening right on my companions’ tails.

“That went well,” Jokeb called over his shoulder as the gate came crashing into place behind us.

“Yeah, you’re telling me!” I called craning my neck back and cursed as I caught sight of cadre of guards in hot pursuit. “We’ve got company!”

I stopped dead in my tracks and spun around using my phase pistol to take down three of the bastards with carefully aimed shots to the head. Phase blasts pelted me, but I’d become so accustomed to my immunity to energy weapons that I didn’t even flinch. Flashes of phase bolts came sizzling past me from behind as Alex and Jokeb opened fire behind me and I managed to take out another gray skin and grazed a second before the remaining five guards were on top of me.

I jumped up sailing above the bastard’s head and spinning around in a back flip I landed on their tails and started blasting them before my feet even hit the ground. Three fell against my sudden barrage, but the remaining two managed to lurch out of the way. The first, a slender example of Qharr womanhood, charged at me her fists swinging and I spun away landing a blow in her side.

I wasn’t so fortunate with the second guard, who smashed his fists into my side before I even saw him coming. I took a bit of a tumble and landed rather ungracefully on my ass. Before I could climb back to my feet the Qharr woman hit me with powerful kick in the ribs. I stumbled back, but after I regained my footing I kicked out and managed to sweep her feet out from under her. The second guard slammed into me, but I dislodged him and plant a fist into his face. He went down like a sack of potatoes and I spun around to face the female guard and saw a dozen or so guards dashing through the city toward us I

“Well crap,” I muttered and took off running. Schmit and Rodriquez fell in sync behind me and we went tearing through the streets of Salt Lake the gray skins in hot pursuit. I fired a number of shots over my shoulder and so did my companions, but it’s damn near impossible to aim when you’re running even with abilities like mine.

“Jokeb, Alex” I screamed as we turned a corner into a side street. “No matter what happens just keep running. If I go down, do whatever it takes to complete the mission without me.”

Joken grunted in what I hoped was an affirmative as I spun around on the balls of my feet to face the deluge of oncoming pursuers. I gritted my teeth, screamed at the top of my lungs, and went charging right at them. I even managed to pick off four guards with my pistol before I landed the first blows with my fists.

“Fatherless dre’ks!” I screamed bashing one of the bastards in the skull before kicking another across the chest. Another pounced on me, but I leapt up and over his head. He was quick on his feet even by human standards and I soon found myself facing him. He was short and slender, small by Qharr standards, but still much bulkier than your average human.

He swung a fist at me, but I raised my pistol and shot him in the face. Before I could fire off another shot another guard smashed into me and sent the pistol clattering to the ground. I cursed, but didn’t even bother lunging after it. Instead, I yanked the guard’s own weapon from its holster and shot him dead. I killed two more guards before my filched weapon was forced out of my hands by the tall slender Qharr woman from before.

I threw my fist back to hit her, but she was thrown aside as a short and squat figure came slamming into her with surprising force. I had to do a double take when I realized it was Jokeb, but I didn’t have to time to reason out how he might have pulled off such a feat of strength. I dodged another attack, and pounced on my new opponent. I made short work of him and the next two after that. I swirled around ready to take on another only to find that Jokeb had picked off the remaining few.

“Come on.” He motioned me forward and we both joined Rodriquez, who had lingered in the distance, a moment later.

I glanced back over my shoulder and was relieved to find that there were no guards in pursuit for the time being, but that could change any minute. “We need to find some place to hide.”

We dashed down an adjoining street only to come to a screeching halt. It was packed from one end to the other with a whole host of different species including Qharr, Ghrev, humans and a dozen or so more aliens that I couldn’t name. I almost turned away, but then I caught sight of a familiar face. I pushed my way through the crowd and took off after her. Jokeb and Alex called after me and I glanced back at them furiously motioning at them to follow. Unfortunately, when I looked back Velspatt had disappeared into the crowd.

It didn’t help matters when I took notice of the gray skin guards working their way through the crowd. I cursed under my breath and ducked under a nearby awning and a few seconds later Jokeb and Alex joined me.

“Shit,” Alex said gripping the side of her head. “What the hell are we going to do? There’s no way we can fight Qharr in a crowd like this.”

I bit my tongue, and stopped myself from pointing out that Rodriquez hadn’t done a lot of fighting during the last fight. “I’d rather not hurt any of these people–” I stopped and glanced around at the crowd. I wasn’t concerned in the least about injuring Qharr, but there were plenty of innocents of other species who might get caught in the crossfires. “–but there’s too much at risk for any one of us to get captured. What we need is a way out.”

Jokeb grinned then and threw a thumb over his shoulder. “That ain’t no problem. Come on.”

We zigzagged through the crowd and the guards on both sides of the street moved closer and closer boxing us in. We were just seconds away from being trapped, but then Jokeb veered right so suddenly that I almost kept on walking straight forward. As it was, I barely managed to keep myself from running into a rather large and menacing looking Credknot before I following after Schmit.

A moment later we stepped out into an alley barley wide enough for us to walk through single file. I never would have even known it was there had it not been for Jokeb, the gap between the two buildings had been almost perfectly concealed by the awnings from the market carts and booths. It was a good thing it was an open ended alley or we might have been trapped there.

At the alley’s end, I realized just how wrong my earlier assessment had been. There were two paths that led right and left at the end, but they were both closed off from the outside streets. Fortunately, that didn’t mean there weren’t other routes we could take. A single metal door, long rusted over from disuse, was all that stood between us and our escape. Hopefully, the building would provide access to the next street over, but there was just one problem the door mechanisms were rusted stuck. That wasn’t much of an impediment for us, but this time it wasn’t me that forced the door open, it was Jokeb.

He slammed into the door with his shoulder and it popped open with a groan of protest providing just enough room for him to squeeze through. Alex and I were pretty quick to follow him through and the room went dark a moment when the door clanged shut with another metallic clank.

A beam of light cascaded out from a small cylindrical tube clenched in Max’s hand and I spent a moment taking stock of my surroundings. We were in some sort of storage room which was lined with shelves, most of them empty, here or there was an empty box or a piece of equipment too heavy to be carried out by scavengers, but I didn’t see anything that justified further investigation.

Joken grunted and spun around just in time to watch him send one of the heavy metal shelfs crashing down in front of the door. “That ought to hold ’em off.”

“Assuming they’ll even find this place,” I replied glancing back over my shoulder. “Either way I say it’s time for us to make our exit. If they do find their way here I want to be long gone before they show up.”

We did just that exiting out through the opposite door and found ourselves back on the streets. From there we made our escape disappearing into the crowds of the next nearest roadway.

I collapsed against the wall running a hand through my hair as took several deep breaths. My heart was racing, but considering that we’d just spent the last four hours playing cat and mouse with the Qharr that wasn’t much a surprise.

This time I was fairly certain we’d managed to give them the slip, but Rodriquez was keeping a close eye on the window just in case.

“Okay, Jokeb. Now that we’re settled I think it’s about time you clarify things,” I said.

“Clarify?” He grinned scratching at his beard as studied me with those deep set eyes. “Let’s not dance around with our words. You wanna know how I can mash faces so easily, is that it?”

Mash faces? That seemed like an odd way of putting it, but I bit my lip and nodded. Jokeb gritted his teeth and let out a long sigh before pulling his shirt up over his head.

“Hey look.” I held my hands up and scooted away. “I don’t know what–”

Jokeb let out a low throaty laugh then turned his back to me revealing a long column of metal that protruded from his back where his spine should have been. It was segmented, each section having the appearance of a vertebrae and there were tiny silver strands threading out from the each segment like snakes burrowing down into his skin.

“There’s a lot of names for people like me. Cyborg, bionic, biomechs, fusers, and probably half a dozen others that you won’t hear mentioned in polite conversation. I ain’t immune to phase fire like you, but I’m stronger than most Qharr and I can take a beating like no other.”

I nodded and let out a long sigh of relief as he pulled his shirt back over his head. “Sorry, I thought you might have had something else in mind.”

He didn’t answer, but instead he grinned and shook his head.

“How long do you think it will be before they give up the chase?” Max craned her beck back turning away from the window to glance over at me.

“Well they’re Qharr so probably never,” I replied sinking down to the floor. “But things will probably die down a little in a couple of days. We’ll need to disguise ourselves though and stay out of sight as much as possible when we’re traveling through the city.”

“Three days doesn’t hardly seem like enough time,” Jokeb replied his hands thrumming against the floor. “We oughtta settle down and wait the bastards out.”

“I don’t believe this,” Max palmed her face and shook her head. “You might be comfortable hiding in a hole, but I don’t think we want to stay in the city long term. The sooner we get out the better.”

“You’re one to talk,” Jokeb narrowed his eyes and glared at Max. “Your people ran away from Earth with their tails tucked between their legs and left the rest of us to the Qharr.”

Max clenched her jaw and looked almost as if she were ready to scream, but I held my hand up and stopped her before she could issue her retort. “Max you’re right, we can’t afford to stick around the city for very long, but we do need to wait the gray skins out. We’ll watch the streets and see how it goes, but if five days go by without incidence and guards are still roaming the city in full force I will go find Velspatt all by myself.”

“Just you?” Max raised an eyebrow and turned back to the window. “I know with your abilities you can do some pretty amazing things, but even you aren’t invincible.”

“No, but you can’t walk up a wall or leap across rooftops,” I replied feeling a huge grin stretch across my face as I caught her eyebrows shooting up. I guess she’d underestimated my abilities after all.

“Jesus,” she said, with slight shake of her head. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

I grunted and sank down the rest of the way to the floor. “Jokeb try to get some sleep. Max, you have first watch, wake me up in a few hours, and I’ll take a turn.”

I drifted off in no time and faded into the darkness of a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Eight

Five days came and went and the Qharr patrols showed no signs of letting up. Which gave us plenty of time to think, fortunately we’d packed in enough foodstuffs to last us those five days. Well, once we rationed them. Water was another matter entirely, but we managed to procure some through a quick trip back into the street and some less than honest means.

Five days of sitting around gave me plenty of time to think and given some the more recent revelations I had plenty of fodder. I’d been so caught up with Mara’s return from the grave and everything that had happened since then that I’d barely given myself much time to think about it, but it had to come up sooner or later.

The Qharr were human or damn near close to it. My whole life there had been no doubt in my mind that humans were less violent than the Qharr, but if we had been used as a template for the gray skins could that really be true? I’d seen the horrible things humans could do to one another and I’d experienced more than a few of them myself.

I was always so sure that the horrible things humans did were a result of the way in which the gray skins had tread upon us. They had taught us to commit atrocities, but that didn’t ring true anymore. The truth was we had the same capacity for violence that our oppressors did, but then what separated us from them?

I didn’t know, but despite all that I was resolved to keep up the fight. Before the war humanity had managed to put aside all our differences and unite as we reached out to the stars. If we could do it once, why not again?

Delving into human and Qharr nature weren’t the only things that kept me occupied. Jokeb wasn’t much of a conversationalist, but Max was more than happy to chatter. Given that we’d both been forced into bodies of the opposite sex, although through very different means, we had a lot of things to discuss and she was more than happy to do so.

“It’s strange, but I can’t help but wonder. I’m so different from the other Everlys, but I’m not much like the other Rodriquezes either. We know a lot of our behavior is ruled by genetics, but a lot is shaped by our personal experiences. How much of me is a product of genetics and how much is by my own experiences?” Max said rubbing a hand against her temple. “And maybe some of it is influences by my sex. I have the memories of a man, but the body of a woman. There aren’t any clones like me, I just wonder…”

“You need to stop worrying your pretty little face off. You are who you are, and the only things that makes you that way is because you choose to be that way. The second you woke from your tube you were different from anybody else. You’re experiences are gonna be different and you are gonna make different choices,” Jokeb said with a suddenness that startled us both.

Max pursed her lips and glared at the little man. I’m not sure she took well to being called pretty. I could certainly understand where she was coming from. I’d never cared to be called that myself.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” I replied shaking my head. “I think I understand or at least I do better than most. After I was joined, I was transformed and I really came to know my violent side. I’ve done things I’m not proud of and frankly I never would have believed that I was actually capable of. I found myself blaming my symbiote, and the body that she had forced on me. Anyone or anything, but myself.”

“I didn’t know who I was or what I had allowed myself to become, but I even started to think of Lexa and Jelfree as two separate people. I eventually realized that whatever name I chose to go by I’m still the same person. Those violent acts I’d committed weren’t the fault of my symbiote or my body. I had chosen to do those things and I would have done so regardless of what face or sex I happened to wear. I guess that’s why I had my symbiote give me a new face, as a way of showing I had moved past all that.”

“Are you done yet? Or do you think we need to sit and discuss this for another five days?”

“Weren’t you the one that wanted to settle in for the long haul?” Rodriquez turned to Schmit with a crooked eyebrow.

“I was, but after five days of listening to the two of you yammer on I can’t much stand the thought of sticking around.”

I bit my tongue forcing back the response that was so close to escaping my lips and climbed to my feet.

“I don’t suppose there’s any need to wait longer. Don’t wait up for me,” I said just before disappearing from our little hidey hole and into the darkness of the city around us.

Finding my way through the city was difficult, not just because the streets were dark and unlit, but because I wasn’t quite sure where I was going. I knew what direction I needed to take, but the city was big and face it a girl can get lost when traveling amongst those big towering structures. Especially when she’d spent most of her life living in slave compounds, the cities were a different kind of beast entirely.

The streets were mostly empty save for a smattering of Qharr here or there. Fortunately, it was dark enough that I was able to slip past them pretty easily. In all the slave compounds I’d visited in my travels, there was always a curfew for humans so it seemed likely there was one in the city as well which would explain the absence of humans in the streets.

“Shit,” I cursed under my breathe and dove into the shadows just as a Qharr patrol came marching down the street. A moment later they disappeared around a corner and I let out a long sigh of relief before looking straight up. Most of the buildings on the street were close enough together and low enough to the ground that traveling by way of rooftop seemed like the best way of keeping out of sight.

I was in what was once probably a business district where tall skyscrapers reached into the night sky. The buildings looked to be in pretty decent shape, which led me to believe they were still in use. I was relieved to find that the windows were dark when I launched myself up the side of the nearest building.

When I was on top I got a better view of the city around me, but it did little help point me in the right direction. I was almost ready to make my way back down to street level when Khala chimed in. ‘Keep going forward.’

“Yes, mistress. Your wish is my command.”

“Smart ass,” she replied her facade appearing out of the open air. “I was trying to give you directions.”

“Directions? How the hell can you make heads or tails of all of this?!” I held an open hand out gesturing at the cityscape before us.

“We need to go west, right? Trust me I have an internal compass. Just keep headed in that direction and we should find our way.”

I watched Khala’s image fade away and then after a running head start I leapt over to the next rooftop. I continued on like that, jumping from roof to roof until I came to the end of the street. From there I was forced to leap back down and sneak across the street and was back up on the opposite rooftop in no time. I continued on like that for several hours, once in a while Khala would point me in the right direction.

Whenever I came back down to street level it got harder and harder to dodge the patrols, but somehow I managed to squeeze through each time. That being said there were half a dozen close calls and when I finally neared the Ghrev deli I was never so glad to find the place.

I was a little disheartened when I saw the deli and realized that the lights were out, but, face it, that’s not exactly a surprising development considering what time it was. I ducked behind a corner just as another patrol passed by. Once they’d disappeared back into the darkness I crossed the street and found my way to the back.

The back door was locked, but that wasn’t exactly much of an impediment for someone like me. I slammed my shoulder into the door and after the third strike it gave away. I rushed forward flying inside with my phase pistol readied only to stop dead in my tracks.

Three very large and well armed Ghrev were standing opposite me with phase pistols drawn. A smaller specimen of Ghrev womanhood was standing in the corner, but she looked no less fierce than her cohorts.

“Velspatt,” I said and tucked my pistol away.

“Just what exactly is it that you think you’re doing, hume?” The sleek and slender Ghrev asked gliding across the floor so gracefully that she almost seemed to moving in sync with some silent tune.

“You don’t recognize me,” I said brushing the hair away from my eyes. “But then you could blame you? I’m not exactly wearing the same face that I was last time.”

“Hume, I grow impatient. I don’t know what nonsense you’re going on about, and I don’t really care. Tell me who you are and what you are doing here or my associates will open fire.” Velspatt stepped forward holding an open hand to her three companions.

I folded my arms across my chest and shrugged. “Do it, see what happens.”

Velspatt turned away, and let out a long low-pitched growl. I don’t know if there was some sort of meaning to her bellow, but her flunkies responded to it as if there was. They raised weapons and blasted me with a volley of phase blasts and I felt an influx of energy as Khala absorbed it all up.

“Hatect brûalten,” one of Ghrev cursed as the three lowered their weapons.

Velspatt spun back around to face me and she let out another growl studied me with those strange reptilian-esque eyes. “You are no ordinary human. Tell me, you wouldn’t happened to have come in contact with a K’teth symbiote lately, have you?”

“As a matter of fact,” I said tucking my thumbs into my waistband. “I have and you guessed as much the last time we met.”

“The last we met?” she asked slowly stepping forward. “I remember meeting another human who had been invaded by one of these K’teth. I admit there is something familiar about your scent, but there is a distinct difference. Are you perhaps a member of her clan?”

“You could say that, I am her.” I put my hands on my hips and gritted my teeth. I briefly thought of appealing to Khala for help, but thought better of it. What could she do short of transforming me back to my previous form anyway?

“And I suppose you have a means of proving this? I presume you’ve come to me with a reason in mind and I’m afraid I’m not in the habit of doing business with beings that cannot substantiate their claims. I’m sure you understand.”

I let out a long sigh and shuddered. I’d definitely have to get some help from my symbiote on this one. ‘Khala is there anything you can do?’

‘I think I can manage something, but I must warn you it will be painful. I’ll be able to dull the pain, but this isn’t something I’ve done before so it may not be possible to shut the pain out completely.’

‘It won’t be permanent will it?’

Khala answered in the negative and I reluctantly allowed her to have a go at it. She got to work immediately. I felt the skin on my face begin the ripple. I grunted and fell to my knees. It contorted and stretched and when I looked up at the Ghrev they all took a step back from me. I thought Khala was done, but then I felt the changes reverse themselves. It was all over in a matter of minutes and when I stood back up I saw the Ghrev each take another step back. Clearly whatever it was Khala had done had spooked them.

“Aupe haurm cre!” Velspatt yelled looked almost as if she were ready to bolt. She stared at me her nostrils flaring for what must have been several minutes before her muscles finally relaxed. “You can change your form.”

“Yes,” I said with a nod finally getting an inkling of what my symbiote had done. “Though it’s not something I like to do very often. It’s rather painful.”

Velspatt let out a long hissing laugh. “Yes, I can understand why.”

She approached me and ran a clawed finger down my cheek. “I like the way you smell,” her voice rumbled in my ear and I shuddered and quickly pulled away.

“Velspatt, so help me if you don’t back off I will flatten your face.” I raised my fist up and pulled it back more than willing to make good on my threat.

Her hand ran down my back and she grabbed at my ass. I yelped and swatted at her hand. She withdrew her hand, all the while laughing. I gritted my teeth, and rounded on her. “If there is one thing you can ever be sure of Velspatt it’s that I won’t ever be one of your conquests. If you even so much as touch me again I will do something we’ll bother regret.”

Velspatt turned away and walked a half a dozen steps before spinning back around to face me. “I think we can do business.”

I raised an eyebrow and watched her pace about the room like a caged animal. “As I recall you owe me a favor.”

“Assuming that you are in fact the same human who killed the corrector, then yes I believe I do, but how can I be sure you are? Your ability to transform is only proof that you can change your form. I must say I was rather impressed that you were able to duplicate the smell from the other hume, but even that could be a trick.”

“Just how the hell am I supposed to convince you, Velspatt? I’m here to collect on my debt if you’re not going to repay me maybe it’s just better if I leave,” I said and turned away ready to leave.

“I don’t believe that will be necessary. I don’t know what it is, but I believe you. It seems unlikely that another K’teth would find it’s way into another human.”

“Well.” I spun back around and eyed the Ghrev crime lord suspiciously. Her turnaround seemed a bit too sudden for my liking, but I needed her help so I didn’t press the matter. There would be plenty of time to discover whatever secret motives she had later on. “I believe it’s time get down to business.”

I looked down at the getup I was wearing and felt my cheeks burn. It would have been one thing if it had been something that skirted the edges of decency, but the sheer crop top and loin cloth I was wearing left nothing to the imagination. I might as well have been wearing nothing at all. Certainly the outfit matched the part I was going to play, but it was not what I had in mind when I’d gone to Velspatt.

She of course had outright refused use of her ship, but that didn’t surprise me in the least. Fortunately, Salt Lake City had a space port which was what allowed me to fall back on my second idea and with Velspatt’s help I might just be able to pull it off. Assuming she wasn’t up to something with this little scheme of hers, but it was a risk I was willing to take if it meant getting my hands on another ship.

“Damn,” Max said from the doorway. I spun around to face her and I think my face must have turned an even deeper shade of red when I caught her looking at my chest.

After my meeting with Velspatt I’d returned back to our little hideaway and retrieved Max and Jokeb. Velspatt had been kind enough to offer us food and shelter, something which I could hardly refuse considering that we had virtually no rations left. The accommodations certainly beat the tiny little rat-hole we’d spent the last five days tucked away inside.

I cleared my throat and quickly covered my chest as I fought down the urge to go scurrying away. Her cheeks looked about as red as mine felt and she quickly ducked her head behind the huge piece of snowy white animal fur she was holding in her arms. “Velspatt told me to bring this in to you. She wanted you to wear it while out in the city.”

“How thoughtful of her. Now I won’t’ freeze to death,” I replied eagerly snatching the fur out from her arms and draping it over my shoulders.

“Not to mention your modesty. If it was me I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing that.” Rodriegez bit her lip and shook her head. “You sure about this?”

“About as sure as I can be. Believe me I’m none too thrilled about this outfit, but I’ve learned sometimes you have to make compromises to achieve your goals,” I replied pulling the ends of the fur together so that they covered my breasts. “I don’t think I have to tell you how beneficial it would be to have another ship, do I?”

“No, but I don’t think I have to tell you the consequences if we fail. Tell me do you really trust Velspatt?”

“No,” I replied grabbing fistful of fur with each hand. I wasn’t sure what animal it might have belonged to, but it was certainly soft. “I’d be an idiot if I did, but at the moment she’s our best bet so we’ll play along… for now.”

“I’m not sure I can do that, Lexa. This whole thing has me on edge.”

“How do you think I feel?” I grimaced and looked down at my ridiculous little outfit before I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, I understand, I really do. You’re a soldier, right?”

Max nodded and met my gaze, stiffening just a little bit as she stared me down. “I am.”

“Concentrate on your orders. If this goes to pot it will be my fault. I don’t want you worrying about something that is out of your control. Do you understand?”

She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”

“Good, now are you clear on what you have to do?”

Rodriquez nodded again a slow smile gradually stretching across her face. “This oughtta prove to be one of the more interesting ops I’ve ever been involved in.”

“Me too,” I grinned back at her then shuffled out the door and waved for her to follow. It was time for me to play my part.

Chapter Nine

The iron collar snapped around my neck and I clenched my fists at my side barely able to keep myself from smashing the head of my Ghrev taskmaster, a foul tempered Ghrev with pale white scales and strange all-black eyes. I hadn’t yet learned her name and given the way she treated me I had no interest in doing so. She was actually in on our little scheme which was why I became so angry when the bitch got rough with me. She clipped a chain onto my collar and yanked me forward all the while muttering under her breathe in the Ghrev language.

Her initial jerk had been so unexpected that she actually managed to pull me forward a few steps, but the second time I braced myself and when she yanked on it I didn’t budge an inch. The bitch spun around, dropped the chain and came rushing toward me.

“You are a willful and insolent hume,” she said getting right in my face and barring her teeth at me. “I have been dealing with this gray one for many years. He will find it very unusual if I am easier on you than other slaves. If he learns of my deceit and you fail it will be detrimental to my business dealings.”

“And you wouldn’t want that, would you?” I met her gaze and when she started to turn away I reached out and grabbed her by the throat. The end of the chain she was holding went clattering to the ground as she reached up to try and pry my finger free, but my grip was like iron and her efforts futile.

“I may look like another puny human to you, but I could end your life with just a little squeeze. Which I will do if you try anything funny. Understand?” I squeezed just hard enough to give her an inkling of how strong I really was and loosened my grip.

“I will attempt to restraint myself,” she replied letting out a long drawn out hiss and backed slowly away. She bent down to pick up the chain and pulled on it. She wasn’t as forceful as before, but there was an urgency to the way she was yanking.

She led me through the streets and I certainly drew a lot of attention. I pulled my fur as close to my body as I could, but there was only so much of it and I showed a lot of skin no matter how I tried. It certainly didn’t do as much to keep me warm as I would have liked let alone preserve my modesty.

Everywhere I looked eyes were on me, most of the men and a few of the women looked on me with hungry expressions, but there were a lot of people who looked at me with contempt. My outfit identified me as a croucher, and there were few things slaves hated more than a human who so willingly served the Qharr except perhaps the gray skins themselves. A part of me longed to call out and tell them that I was not what I appeared, but sanity and reason kept me from acting out on that impulse.

Fortunately, the trip through the city, while humiliating and more than a little chilly, was brief enough that it didn’t scar my dignity too deeply. The space port was massive monstrosity of a structure, whose interconnected insectine domes spanned three entire city blocks and stood as a stark contrast to the towering skyscrapers of the city.

My Ghrev escort led me into a side entrance that was barely visible from the street and down into a dark and dank tunnel. We took so many twists and turns that I don’t think I could have made my way back on my own. Though I’m not sure it would have mattered, if everything worked out, I’d be taking a different way out.

“Eurunteso,” a deep voice said the moment we stepped into yet another access corridor.

I glanced about and watched as a tall dark-skinned Qharr stepped out from the shadows. I had to do a double take when spotted the prominent belly hanging from his massive frame. Not once in my twenty-four years living as a slave had I ever met an overweight gray skin. Our invaders prided themselves on their physical appearances to the point that anyone who deviated from the norm was looked on as less than desirable.

“Portmaster Myndurk,” Eurunteso replied clenching a scaled hand atop my shoulder and pushing me forward. “I’ve brought you another treat.”

I bit my tongue and fought down the urge to smash things before I bowed my head and fell down onto my knee in front the portmaster. I slowly raised my head and put on my best vapid expression. He knelt down and reached out to my cheek, his fat calloused hands slowly messaging it and it was all I could do to keep from punching the bastard in the face.

“Beautiful,” he whispered in Qharr before jerking back to his feet.

“Eurunteso, you always come through for me. This hu-man female may very well be the most luscious sampling yet. Tell me, where is it that you find these girls?”

“If I revealed my methods, I’d be out of business, would I not?” Came Eurunteso’s reply. “I really must leave; I have business to attend to. If you would be so kind as to pay me, I’ll let you get to your pleasures.”

“Very well, if you so insist.” Myndurk messaged the underside of his jaw, a gesture which indicated he was irritated, but either Eurunteso didn’t pick up on the cue or else she didn’t have as good of a grasp of Qharr body language as I did.

He produced a small satchel from his gun belt and tossed it to Eurunteso who snatched it out of the air and let out a long hiss. “Enjoy,” was all she said before she dropped the chain and disappeared back down the corridor. It was probably because she was looking right at me, but I got the feeling she hadn’t been talking to Myndurk when she said it.

“Come, precious one,” my new ‘master’ said as he reached down to pick up the chain. I didn’t say a word, but once he turned his back I permitted myself to give off the slightest shudder just before he led me away.

The door clicked shut behind us and I slowly backed away from the portmaster, until the chain was completely taut. He yanked on it and I let myself be pulled toward him until he had his massive arms wrapped around me. “Human women are so soft, so warm, and so very different from Qharr females.”

I pursed my lips and looked up at him . The Qharr were a rough, and hard edged people, but surely the Phyrr Lesch must have left something resembling humanity within their psyche. It was just enough to stop me from killing Myndurk right there and then, but only just barely. It wasn’t however enough to keep me from beating the fat bastard senseless.

I broke loose from his grip, and slammed him into the wall. He crumbled collapsing to the ground at my feet and I bent down wrapped the chain around his neck and pulled it just tight enough that I’m sure it was more than a little difficult to breathe.

“Alright,” I gritted my teeth staring him down. “I’m only going to say this once. I need the access codes to open the side bay ports on the north end of the building.”

He didn’t answer, but I hadn’t exactly been expecting him to be cooperative. I tightened the chain and batted his hands away as he flung them up to try and forced me away. “You ready to give me an answer or will I have kill you? I don’t care either way. I’m sure I can find another way to get those bay doors open and I certainly would not mind ridding the world of another gray skin.”

Again he was silent and I slammed a hand into his head. “No? You disgust me you know that? It’s bad enough that you people enslaved us. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been beaten by one of your kind, and I hate the whole lot of you, but you, your worse than all of them. The Qharr have taken our freedom, but that’s no enough for you, is it!? You want our fucking bodies too! What would your friends think if they found out you liked getting a little human nookie? You’d be regarded as a sexual deviant, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what your people do with deviants. Now, are you going to tell me what I want to know, or will I have to kill you? I’ve killed more Qharr than I can count, believe me I won’t be shedding any tears once you’re gone.”

I didn’t expect to get anything out of him, the Qharr were notoriously difficult to intimidate and even harder still to interrogate, but Myndurk didn’t seem to be made of very stern stuff because he crumbled like dried dough. “You can open the ports from the adjacent computer terminal, but you will never make it that far. The guards will kill you before you make it halfway through the building.”

“I think you’ll find I’m a little harder to kill than your average human,” I said reaching up to my collar and snapping the hinge in two before tossing the two pieces aside. “I guess now there isn’t much reason to keep you alive, is there?”

I pulled my fist back ready to deal a devastating blow, but as I stared back at Myndurk, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sure he was an evil, disgusting excused for a gray skin, but I was sick and tired of all the killing. I snatched one of the collar halves from where I’d thrown it and slammed it into the side of his head. His eyes rolled into the back of his skull and he slumped down to the ground, blood dripping from the side of his head where I’d hit him.

I took a moment to compose myself, and felt my cheeks burn anew as I looked down at the ridiculous outfit that I was wearing. The thought of traipsing about through the spaceport wearing almost nothing at all wasn’t exactly the most appealing idea in the world. I’d never fought naked and I really didn’t think I wanted to give it try. Stealth seemed like it was probably the better choice.

Still a weapon would have been nice. I glanced around the room, spotted a phase pistol, and retrieved it from where it had been left atop the table. A layer of dust covered it and I wiped it clean as best I could with my hands. All the Qharr I’d ever known were meticulous to the point of obsession when it came to caring for their weapons, but it seemed Myndurk was more than a little careless in that sense.

A part of me wondered how a deviant could rise to such a high position as portmaster, but no matter how I spun it I just couldn’t think of a reason. Then the answer came to me, it was corruption. I’d already witnessed signs of it within the ascendancy. The Qharr were always beating their chests declaring how honorable they were, but there were at least a few that had proved they could go against the very values and principles that supposedly motivated every action a gray skin warrior took.

I shook my head and bit my lip, glancing down at Myndurk’s unconscious form. I probably should have killed him, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’d given me enough reason, but I was becoming more and more convinced that the more beings I killed the more like the Qharr I became.

I spun away and hit the door running at full speed. I had avoided killing one slimeball, but I very much doubted if any others of his kind tried to stop me I’d be able to be left with a choice. My mission was just too damned important to let it go to pot because I couldn’t do what was necessary.

I dove for cover behind a patrol ship, and bit my lip as I craned my neck to glance around the corner. I’d spent the last hour navigating the maze like corridors before finally finding my way to the main hangar bays and it hadn’t exactly been the easy finding my way through. There were guards everywhere, most of which I’d managed to evade, but the two I’d run across just a few moments ago hadn’t been quite so lucky.

I’d made short work of the pair, but there hadn’t been any good places to stash the bodies so it was only a matter of time before they were discovered. Worse still, there were at least thirty gray skins lurking about the hangar. I didn’t know what they were all doing there, but there were more than enough of them to give me trouble if I chose to take a direct approach. I needed to think of something more subtle, but for the life of me I had no idea what that could be.

I almost laughed out loud when I realized what I was going to do. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but it would get the job done… or so I hoped. I dashed across the empty space of the hangar and leapt behind the next ship. I jumped behind a second and third before finally finding what I was looking for a guard close enough that I could grab him without anyone seeing. Which is exactly what I did. I slammed the butt of my weapon in the side of his head and managed to render him unconscious before he made much sound.

The next part of the plan was a little more difficult. I had to get into the fighter without being seen all the while dragging my captive along with me. I was getting really tired of the Qharr and their god damned bio locks. The bastards just couldn’t make it easy could they?

With the unconscious guard in tow I edge around the back of the patrol ship and found my way to the door on the side. I glanced around making sure that none of the other gray skins had caught sight of me or noted the absence of their peer, but the coast still seemed to be clear. I placed the guard’s hand on the door panel and once the door slid open I immediately dragged him inside.

From there it was just a matter of getting the ship up and running. Unfortunately, it didn’t go unnoticed and before it was even off the ground I spotted a half a dozen guards making a beeline for my position. As luck would have it, the weapons were one of the first systems to come online and I opened fire with the phase cannons blasting the bastards to hell before they could get close enough to pose any threat.

Once, I got the ship up off the ground I panned left then right firing additional volleys to take out the other guards.

“So much for minimizing fatalities,” I said letting out a long sigh before spinning around to face the northern doors. I paused, then panned left and right again, disabling the other ships before turning my attention to the hangar bay doors. Opening fire on them probably wasn’t the best of ideas since the plan was for the others to wait on the other side. So I set the ship down, and scrambled back out a phase pistol in hand fully ready for whatever trouble might come my way.

I made it all the way to the control panels without meeting opposition. I worked quickly using a hand print of a fallen warrior to disengage the biolock and activate the panel, but I felt the prick of something sharp against my neck and froze before I could actually work any of the controls.

“Hu-man,” the typically deep baritone voice of a Qharr spoke into my ear. “Step away from the panel.”

I did as my would be captor suggested and spun around to face him once he’d pulled the blade away from my neck. He had a phase gun trained on me and I stared back at the guard letting him think that I was intimidated by his little show. He didn’t yet realize exactly what he was dealing with or else he would have never leveled the pistol at me. The knife was the bigger threat. Nevertheless he kept it gripped in his left hand.

I leapt at him, slamming my fist into his chest and grabbing at his knife hand, but somehow he managed to slip free. Surprised I pulled back, but not before he stabbed me. He managed to embed the thing into the right side of my chest, slicing clean through my nipple until it hit the bone of my ribcage. I screamed and dropped my phase pistol and slammed the back of my hand into his chest. His phase weapon clattered to the ground, but that didn’t stop the bastard from rushing me.

He was quick, even by human standards, but I was still quicker. I hadn’t been as attentive as I should have been and in returned I gotten stabbed. My opponent pounded his fist into my face and he got one hit in before things finally took a turn in my favor.

He swung his fist, but I brought my arm up in front of my face and blocked the blow. Again he tried to attack, and again I shut him down. I butted my head into chest and I felt a rush of satisfaction as he staggered back a few steps. I took the opportunity to yank the knife free from my chest and slashed out with it slicing him across the chest.

Violet blood spilled out from the wound, but it didn’t slow him down. He came charging at me, howling with the intensity of a rabid dre’k, but fortunately I’d been expecting him and dove out of the way. He stopped, throwing his hands down on the console to steady himself, and spun around so he could lung at me.

When he was almost on top of me I leapt aside and slammed the blade deep into his side. I jerked back pulling the blade out and when he swirled around to face me I stabbed him in the throat.

I turned away before his body even hit the floor, not wishing to watch the life slip away from his eyes. I don’t think I’d ever been so relieved than when I got the side bay door open. Even when the chilling winds came rushing in and brought goosebumps to my skin, the sight of Jokeb, Max, and ten Ghrev brawlers more than made up for my discomfort.

They scuttled inside and I let the door clank shut behind them. Jokeb barreled toward me with a speed that belied his squat little frame. He grinned and held my pistol out to me glancing at the blood that had dried on my now-healed breast. “You run in to trouble?”

“No.” I snatched the gun out his hands and felt my cheeks burn. “Not any more than usual.”

Jokeb chuckled and turned away. “Personally, I don’t mind looking at you as you are, but Max here as brought you some clothes.”

I stiffened a bit, but didn’t reply to his sentiment. Had I seen an attractive woman in a practically unclothed state as I was, I would have had a hard time not staring. It didn’t necessarily make it right, but I wasn’t about to make an issue out of it. Jokeb’s statement might have made me uncomfortable, but at least he was honest. Maxine approached, and I think my cheeks burned even brighter when I realized that her gaze had also strayed. I coughed and Rodriquez’s eyes grew wide and she quickly turned her head away practically forcing the satchel she was carrying into my arms.

Grateful for the chance to be fully clothed again, I tore the bag open and pulled out a tank top and pants from the bag. I dropped the furs, but left the rest of my scant little outfit on as I slipped the new clothes on top of it.

“Let’s get this done with,” I said as I turned to the group of armored and helmeted Ghrev. “I’m sure the gray skins know we’re here. We need to act before they put the whole place under lockdown.

The space port was massive, and hangar in which we’d made our entrance was one of many. The main reason I had been able to infiltrate the north bay was because it was the smallest and had the most lax security. There was only one bay that we needed and unfortunately it was the most heavily guarded. It was central bay where they kept all the big ships were kept including, the K’larr, a Rynnal class destroyer, the largest and most power size of ship in the entire Qharr armada.

We made our way through the corridors of the space port and at first it was pretty easy going. The crawlspace we took was mainly for maintenance access and was only used sparingly, but when we got closer to the central bay it gave way to much larger corridor which was in use and that’s when things started to get sticky.

A pair of Qharr technicians stopped dead in their tracks and turned back to us with wide unblinking eyes. Nobody moved, not us nor them, but when a third gray skin climbed down the ladder from above, well that’s when everything went to hell. He took one look at us, let out probably the most gut-wrenching, ear shattering scream I’d ever heard from any species and charged right at us, with fists swinging.

I was perfectly fine just lettings the bastard come to us, but I guess Jokeb had other things in mind. He lurched forward and went rushing to meet the gray skin. The technician was the first to attack, but Schmit ducked away and countered with a powerful blow to the chest.

For once I didn’t even have to lift a finger, the Ghrev took out the other two technicians with quick and devisive force and when I turned back to Jokeb, he too had managed to finish off his opponent. Had that been our only fight the whole affair would have been as easy as baking up a batch of fryll leaves. Unfortunately, before we could even so much as take half a dozen steps, a cadre of guards came sliding down the ladder one after another.

I don’t know if they’d heard the other Qharr’s screams or one of the technicians had tripped an alarm, but I suppose it didn’t matter. Either way the end result was the same.

Fighting in the narrow tunnel was difficult and we lost two of our Ghrev allies in the first few seconds, but we outnumbered them by nearly two to one and in the end we would have won the fight just from sheer numbers.

When it was all said and down, I looked down at the still-sizzling corpses of the guards and grimaced.” We’ve managed to get this far unnoticed, but it looks like the cat is out of the bag now. I don’t think the tunnels are our best option.”

Rodriquez nodded and glanced up at the ladder biting her lip. “Only other choice is we go back up to the surface level. There’ll be a lot more guards, but honestly I don’t like the thought of getting trapped down here if things get bad.”

We all shuffled up the ladder and that’s when yet another group of guards found us. They were firing at us from a distance and had managed to find cover behind a large support pillar which made hitting them pretty damn hard. I picked a few off with a couple well aimed head shots, but their numbers kept on growing and unfortunately they managed to take out another two members of our Ghrev escort.

Something had to be done, and as hesitant as I was to go charging in like I would have not so long ago, I was beginning to realize that I might not have any other choice. If they kept us pinned down they’d be able to pick everyone off one by one until I was the only one left. Our numbers were limited and they could easily call in reinforcements.

“Rodriquez,” I ducked behind the doorway and bit my lip. “I’m going in.”

I dashed forward and shuddered at the familiar buzz of power as phase bolts blasted and peppered my skin. I reached the gray skins, and slammed into them before they could even stand to greet me. I killed one and knocked a second to the ground before the remaining three even got remotely close to me, but that’s not for lack of trying.

“You are the one we were warned about,” One of the guards, a hulking female whose skin had an unusual violet tinge to it, said swinging a massive fist at me.

The blow hurt, but I’d suffered worse. I countered, beating her across the chest with one fist and following up with another with my second. She staggered back and I turned to meet the other two guards who were trying to get the jump on me. The first, a giant with a claw-mark scar across his mouth, threw his fist out at me, but I grabbed it out of the air and slammed it back into his face.

There was a crack, maybe I broke his wrist, but I didn’t really spare the time to check. Violet rounded on me, but rather than continue a fight I would have won anyway I drew my phase pistol and opened fire, blasting her into oblivion. I managed to kill scarmouth with another blast, before another guard, a lean-muscled fellow knocked into me and sent the weapon tumbling away.

I growled and kicked out hitting him across the chest and sent him soaring away and I spun around to face the next opponent, but my companions had already taken care of that. They’d finished off the remaining guards with their phase weapons. I snatched my weapon back up from the ground, wiped the sweat from my forehead and glanced back at Max and Jokeb as they approached.

“You got any idea how much further we have to go?”

Rodriquez pursed her lips and ran a hand through her hair. “Not far, the layout Velspatt provided has been pretty accurate so far. We shouldn’t have more than a couple hundred meters.”

“A couple hundred meters?” Jokeb clenched is jaw and glanced over his shoulder. “This place is crawling with gray skins, I’m liking this whole thing less and less.”

“Well then let’s not dally.” I waved them forward, but didn’t wait for a response before taking off at a run. No one called after me, and I took that as a good sign especially when I looked back and noted that they were keeping up just fine. A lot of that had to do with the pace I’d set which any fit human should be able to match.

We ran into trouble again along the way, and while they Qharr were appearing in greater and greater numbers we were able to take them all out. Unfortunately, our Ghrev friend’s numbers were dwindling away. By the time we’d reached the last intersection before the central bay there were only three of them left. I stopped just before we reached it, creeping around the edge until I could get a good look on the other side.

I cursed silently and backed away from the edge, turning to the others and mouthed the words. “We’ve got company.”

“When I swing around the corner, you open fire with everything you got,” I said glancing back at Jokeb and Rodriquez before taking off.

I charged the group of almost a dozen guards phase fire plastering me, the wall and the Qharr. My companions managed to kill three guards before I’d even gotten close enough to confront the group. I took out two more a moment later, blasting them with my own pistol before the remaining six rounded on me.

The corridor was wide, but face it you can only fight so many opponents at once without the other ones getting in the way. So three guards hung back and exchanged fire with Rodriquez and Shmit while I took on the other three. I was fast, but there was only so much I could do. I was looking to end it quickly, but each time I leveled my weapon on one of the guards the other two would shut me down.

I grimaced and tucked my weapon into my waistband. Clearly, they weren’t going to make it easy for me, but they were mistaken if they expected me to just lie down without a fight. I slammed my fist into the nearest, an averagely built Qharr whose only distinguishing feature was an eye-patch over his left eye and sent him reeling away just as the second, a female with a shaved head, pounced on me. She grabbed me by the shoulders and lifted me up and slamming me into the wall with enough force to really disorient me.

It had happened so quickly and I’d been caught so completely off guard that she actually managed to slam me into the wall two more times before I was finally able to recover. I kicked out slamming my left foot into her chest and grunted as she went flying away and I took a bit of a tumble as result.

I scrambled to my feet and had just enough time to take stock of the situation and realized that my allies had managed to take out two more guards while I’d been occupied by just the one. Patch-eye came back and took a swing at me, but I grabbed the knife from his belt and slashed it across his chest. Baldy was right on his tail and I stabbed at her with the knife, but just as I pulled back for another blow there was a blinding flash of light.

When my vision returned to me a brief moment later, I was able to watch as she collapsed to the ground clutching at a gaping phase wound. I pounced on the next guard only to watch, yet again, as a blast also shot him dead. I rounded on the final guard, and this time I was the one who ended him. It was quick, he didn’t seem to put up much of a fight almost as if he knew his death was inevitable. It was an odd way for a Qharr to go out, but not all gray skins were cut from the same mold.

“Well,” I said stepping away from the dead bodies of the guards and approached the intersection where the others were waiting. “That was fun.”

“Ain’t the word I would use to describe it.” Jokeb replied with a shake of his head and raised his weapon. “You know things are gonna get a lot worse in that central bay.

“I believe that goes without being said,” one of our Ghrev companions and said in agreement.

I stopped dead in my tracks and turned sharply to stare at her. That voice… Could it be? “Velspatt?”

She let out a low growl, and cocked her helmeted head. “It seems I have given myself away, but at the moment I believe we have a mission to complete, don’t we?”

I didn’t know what scheme Velspatt had cooked up, but there had to have been a reason for her to conceal her identity. It didn’t sit particularly well with me, but I couldn’t spend much time mulling it over. She was right. It was time to hijack ourselves a ship.

Chapter Ten

When we stepped inside the central bay, there was a solitary figure waiting for us. His blue hair betrayed him for an Edant K’teth, but his massive two and half meter frame was enough to give any sane person pause, even one bonded to a symbiote. He watched us as we stepped into the domed chamber, but didn’t budge an inch as we slowly approached.

The bay was so massive I couldn’t even begin to guess at its size. The destroyer which was huge even by itself, and took up more space than any other ship, but from where it was resting in the chamber it looked positively tiny. On either side of it, the chamber plunged into a deep crevice that housed fighters, patrol ships, and other smaller ships.

When our friend finally moved, it was so sudden that I didn’t even realize it had happened until he was finally on top of us. I came to my senses just in time, pushing Jokeb out of the way and spinning around to face the bastard just as he planted a blow in my chest. I flew back through the air slamming into something with a loud bang and a sickening crunch.

One of the Ghrev let out a low gutteral scream as I pulled myself up and out of the pile of scraps. I grunted and rotated my neck as my bones snapped, cracked and popped back into place. I was a little slow getting back on my feet, but once I did I took off running toward the fight. The mysterious Qharr was tearing into a second Ghrev, while Velspatt, Jokeb and Max backed slowly away.

He finished off the Ghrev in no time, but by then I was ready to take him on. He spun around to face me, moving far faster than his towering frame should have allowed for any Qharr even one joined to a symbiote. I slammed my fist into his chest, he grunted a bit, but it didn’t seem to have affected him much because he didn’t budge an inch.

“Shit,” I cursed just a short moment before he grabbed me by the throat and lifted me up off my feet.

“Powerful for a human. I believe you are the one I’ve heard about,” he spoke in a low tenor, which was unusual for a Qharr especially one of his size. “I can feel the symbiote, it must seem so liberating for you. The power!”

I struggled under his grasp, trying to get his fingers free from my neck, but his grip was like iron and it was all I could do to suck in what little air I could. “Fuck you,” I said, coughing out a reply.

“Such defiance,” he replied lifting me even higher and produced a long bladed knife from his belt. “It’s a pity I have to kill you. If your species’ leaders had shown the same determination during the war I don’t think I would have pushed to invade. So many of your kind are unworthy… so weak… so frail. Maybe then…” he trailed off leaving the rest of his sentence unfinished.

I felt cold chills shoot down my spine as I stared down at him in shock. He could only be the sub-ascendant, Jykarr Bynd, the bastard responsible for the invasion of my world and the enslavement of my people. It stretched credibility that we had just wandered on him by accident. No, somehow he had known we were coming.

I felt the cold metal of the blade touch the skin of my neck and I called out to my symbiote in a final desperate plea. “KHALA DO SOMETHING!”

Fortunately the wave of distorted gravity my symbiote sent hurtling at the bastard arrived just in time. His hand was yanked out from around my throat as he was suddenly thrown away from me and his weapon shot away clattering against the metal floor planks in the distance. My landing wasn’t exactly graceful, but Khala softened it so at least there was that.

I scrambled to my feet and screamed at the others to run. Needless to say no one stopped to argue, but they weren’t moving nearly fast enough. Only K’teth enhanced speed would be enough to outrun the sub-ascendant and unless Khala was ready to spontaneously give birth to a litter of symbiotes that just wasn’t going to happen. She might have managed to surprise Jykarr once, but I doubted she’d be able to pull it off again.

I glanced over my shoulder and cursed as I watched Jykarr roll back to his feet. He jolted forward and I spun around to meet him as he came lumbering down the path to meet us. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to win in a contest of strength, but I was pretty sure I was faster than him. If I could keep him busy I just might be able to keep him off the others long enough for them to escape.

I dove forward and planted a blow in his side then ducked away as he slung his fist in retaliation. I risked a quick glance over my shoulder just long enough to be assured that the others were retreating and returned my attention back to the sub-ascendant just in time for him to plant a blow square in the middle of my face. It wasn’t as powerful as the last one, but it was strong enough to send me spinning away.

He stomped forward attempting to continue his pursuit of the others, but once I recovered I went tearing after him and slammed into his back. This time he actually staggered forward a few steps and when he roared and spun back around to face me I took off running in the opposite direction. He took the bait and lumbered after me letting out a long drawn out howl of anger.

I ran at top speed, Jykarr kept right on my tail, but never quite caught up to me. He let out another growl and I glanced back just as he came hurtling through the air toward me. I ducked and took off running back in the opposite direction. I heard a loud thump behind me, but didn’t dare stop to look. Instead I continued on my way back toward the others.

I had almost reached them when something grabbed at the back of my neck and the ground was torn out from under me. “I must say you’re very difficult to kill. I’m almost tempted to keep you alive so I can see how you’d do in a fair fight.”

I didn’t answer, but I guess Jykarr didn’t care because I soon found myself dangling in the air in front of his face like sanfai hanging from the window of a Ghrev deli as he studied me with his three malevolent eyes. “I really can’t let you live.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” I replied squirming to break free from his grip, but his massive paws just wouldn’t come free. Unfortunately, Khala’s gravity trick didn’t do much good either as his symbiote managed to dispel the attack just as soon as it hit.

I thought for sure, that my time had come, but when Jykarr pulled his fist back he abruptly lurched sideways and I toppled back to the ground. I kicked, scratched, clawed, and pounded my fists into the sub-ascendant before I finally managed to break free. I was still a little mixed-up from being tossed around like a ragdoll, but when I finally managed to pull myself together and saw Jokeb grappling with the much larger being it didn’t exactly take require an understanding of hyperjump mechanics to reason out what had happened.

Jokeb was amazingly strong, but even with all his cybernetic enhancements he just didn’t have the power or the abilities to defeat his towering opponent. The nester was a brawler, someone who got along in fights because of his superior strength, but now that he was facing an opponent who was both more skilled and stronger his deficiencies as a fighter were really showing through.

I waited for an opportunity then I sprang forward, forcing Jokeb aside before the sub-ascendant could land a blow to his face. I slipped forward and leaned in real close, but since he was so damn tall I had to whisper much louder than I would have liked. “I know the truth. I know you’re little secret. Humans are your progenitors, the first race.”

That definitely got his attention and when he spun around to swing his fist at me I took off and just barely managed to duck out of the way. I went running away and he came tearing after me howling and screaming like a mad dre’k. I’d expected my statement to get him going, but the reaction I received was far and beyond anything I had anticipated.

This time I wasn’t just trying to distract him. I actually had a target in mind. I dashed a good ninety meters, spotted a glimmer of metal, dove down sliding across the smooth stone floor of the platform on my knees and swooped up Jykarr’s fallen knife from the ground. I swung around to meet the sub-ascendant’s rush and slashed him across the chest. He howled and countered by slamming his fist into the side of my head. I stumbled back, but managed to recover just before his fists came swinging at me again.

I ducked and slipped past him making a beeline for the catwalk leading to the destroyer’s platform. He wasn’t far behind, but that was exactly what I wanted. About midway I stopped and spun around to face him as he came rushing toward me. I slammed the blade into his side just as he came barreling toward me and yanked it free as he recoiled away from me.

“Dre’k gryydda!” He exclaimed just as his fist slammed into my left shoulder.

I was sent reeling away and it was only through Khala’s intervention that I managed to stay on my feet. “I’d rather be Dre’k bile than a flaming pile of honorless shit.”

He cursed again, but this time I didn’t quite catch what he said.

I gritted my teeth and rounded on him returning his blow with what I intended to be a slice across the chest, but just as I brought blade down his hand came up to block it and wassevered from just below his wrist. It was a fluke, made possible by the weapon’s finely-honed razor edge, but even missing a hand the sub-ascendant was not about to let me gain the upper hand.

He bellowed a cry so riddled with unbridled rage and hatred that it actually gave me pause which was what tripped me up. He backhanded me and the blow took both Khala and me by surprise. The blade slipped from my fingers and I was sent up over the edge of the railing. I just barely managed to grab hold of the edge of the catwalk. My grip was tenuous at best and I didn’t even have time to climb back up before the sub-ascendant’s shadow loomed over me. He was quick to act, stomping his hard calloused six-toed feet into my hands.

I glanced down over the edge to realizing that I could probably survive the fall with my symbiote’s help, but Jykkar would make quick work of my companions by the time I made my way back up. I dodged his first few attempts to strike my fingers, but the fourth blow struck my right hand and I felt my left begin to slip. By some miracle I managed to swing my arm back up and wrap it around the railing before he struck my other hand.

This time I had a better grip, but if we kept up this pace it was only a matter of time before he managed to dislodge me. That’s when inspiration struck, I could use Khala’s gravity bending abilities to climb around the underside of the catwalk and make my way back up on the opposite side, but before I could enact that plan Jykkar spun away from me and suddenly lurched back and plummeted over the edge of the railing.

Confused, I glanced down over my shoulder, and watch him plummeting as he grappled with a much smaller opponent. I hung my head then propelled myself back over the edge of the railing.

“Oh, my God!” Max cried, but I just couldn’t bring myself to look her in the eyes especially when she spoke his name. “Jokeb.”

He had sacrificed himself to save me, something I was finding more than a little difficult to swallow, but unfortunately I didn’t have time to let myself drown in my woes. I fully expected the sub-ascendant to survive and it wouldn’t take him more than a few minutes to find his way back up to our level and by then I expect to be long gone. I bent down to pick up the sub-ascendant’s severed hand and the fallen weapon then turned to Max and Velspatt. “I don’t suppose either of you can fly a Qharr ship?”

“I can.” Velspatt hissed and placed a clawed hand on Max’s shoulder. The medic flinched, but held her ground as she glanced up at the towering Ghrev crime lord.

I gritted my teeth holding the sub-ascendant’s severed appendage in one hand then with the other, I sliced down with the knife and cut it clean in two. Violet blood got everywhere, but I fought down my revulsion and held one half out to the Ghrev crime lord. Velspatt snatched it from me barred all her teeth glancing down at as if she were looking at her next meal. “Is there a particular class of ship you’re in the market for?”

“One of the smaller cruisers, something that can carry a team of a few dozen, but can be run by a skeleton crew,” I replied looking around the chamber and pointed at a cruiser parked near the north wall. “There, that Pylkar class ship ought to do the trick.”

“You two get going, head north and I’ll take a fighter and meet you outside the city,” I added before spinning around on the balls of my feet and turned to leave.

“Wait!” Rodriquez called after me. “There aren’t any fighters nearby! What is it you’re planning?”

I craned my neck back to meet her gaze. “I have something to take care of. Hurry, get going, you really don’t want to stick around for the fireworks.”

Max bit her lip, nodded then with Veslpatt took off running toward the ship in question. I turned away from them and went the opposite direction straight toward the destroyer.

In mere moments I had access to the destroyer and after a quick trip through the airlock I was sprinting down the corridor. I needed to find a control panel, but the K’larr was huge and the Qharr were minimalists in all things. There would be a few control panels in the corridors, sure, but on a larger ship they’d definitely be few and far between. Finally, I found one and slammed the half-hand down on the control and let out a sigh of relief when it finally gave me access.

The Qharr used a standard interface for nearly all their computers so navigating it was no problem, but certain features were buried to prevent just anyone from being able to access them. Finding a layout of the ship was easy, but gaining access to other systems was an entirely different story. I would have liked to just switch on the self-destruct, but even with the sub-ascendant’s bio-signature there was no way I could trigger it without access codes. Fortunately, there was always another way.

I called up a map of the ship and once I had a clear idea of where my destination was I went speeding down the hallway. The reactor from the K’larr was nearly twice the size of the Duvak’s old destroyer, but worked on more or less on the same principle. It was an easy enough task to drain out the reactor coolant, but when I made my way back to the fighter bay that’s when things got sticky.

It started with a shriek that raised the hairs on the back of my neck, followed by a thump in the corridor behind me, and when I spun around to face whatever new danger had arisen. This threat wound up being one I had already faced. That’s not to say the danger he presented was any less real. I only lingered long enough to discover his presence then I bolted putting on as much speed as I could. Unfortunately, my max speed proved to be too fast in the narrow corridors that twisted and turned far more than any built by humans would have.

It was a long chase through the corridors and each time I slowed to turn a corner, the sub-ascendant got closer and closer. Fortunately, Khala came up with a solution that allowed me to go zooming down the corridor without worry of slowing. The next time I approached a bend my feet were moving so fast that I went right up onto the wall and just kept on going. Unfortunately, Jykkar’s symbiote duplicated the trick and the bastard managed to stay right behind me.

Even with his unusual strength, I was still faster than the sub-ascendant, but only just barely. I managed to put some distance between us, but not enough that I could lose him. If I tripped or stumbled he’d be right on top of me before I could recover. I gritted my teeth and put all my concentration into running. What I was doing was dangerous, the corridor’s weren’t designed to be navigated at such incredible speeds, the only reason I hadn’t completely biffed it was because of my enhanced reflexes and Khala’s little gravity trick, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a mistake.

I had almost reached the fighter bay, when it happened. There was a control panel with just enough of a lip that when my foot hit it I was sent slamming back to the ground, hard. I scrambled back to my feet, but Jykkar pounced on me before I could get away. He slammed his good hand into me and forced me into the side of the wall with enough power to make my bones creek.

I felt a few of them pop back into place as I clawed and kicked at Jykkar. He tightened his grip around my neck and I gasped, futilely trying to bring in air. I thrashed about kicking out with my legs as hard as I could and I found purchase in a rather sensitive area. I fell down to my knees and crawled to my feet even as air flood back into my lungs.

I glanced back over my shoulder and felt a slow grin form on my face as I observed Jykarr laying on the ground clutching at his injured crotch. The Qharr prided themselves on their ability to conquer pain, but there were some injuries that even they couldn’t just shrug off. The funny thing was that his symbiote could have easily dulled the pain, but no self-respecting gray skin would ever debase themselves that way.

I spun away and went running back down the corridor toward the fighter bay. It didn’t take the sub-ascendant long to recover, but by then I’d already gained a pretty sizable lead on him. I heard his furious roar just moments before I heard his massive feet pounding against the metal floor grating in rapid succession. I was in the fighter bay in an instant, leaping over the railing, propelling myself toward the nearest cluster of fighters. A much louder thud soon followed me, but I didn’t look back. I had to reach my destination before Jykarr could catch me.

Finally, I reached a ship and I slammed the sub-ascendant’s half-hand down onto exterior control console. The hatch popped open and I leapt forward crawling up the side into the cockpit. Once inside, I reached up to pull the canopy back down just as Jykarr leapt up the side of the side after me. I got it closed before his fist came smashing down, and it impacted with a very loud thud. Fortunately, transparisteel was strong enough that even K’teth enhanced strength wouldn’t break through it. I got the engine up and running in just seconds, by bypassing pre-flight procedures and had my requisitioned fighter off the ground in no time.

The sub-ascendant wasn’t through with me yet. The bastard still clung stubbornly onto the fighter as I went zooming out the side of the bay doors which had started to close. I put on the speed and weaved around even rolling the fighter around onto its’ back, but no matter what I tried Jykkar maintained his grip. I could only guess his symbiote was using some extension of its gravity manipulating abilities to help him keep his hold.

Worse yet, he wasn’t my only problem, the K’larr was coming awake, its’ crew must have boarded and started the engines. Yes, I had sabotaged it, but there was probably still enough coolant to run the reactors for several minutes. Which was more than long enough, for them to blow me out of the sky and if they launched with enough pilots I’d have to worry about fending off fighters too. Fortunately, Velspatt and Max had already made their escape from the space port, so if I could keep the gray skins occupied there was a chance they’d be able to escape the city.

I sent the fighter shooting straight up toward the open bay doors and out into the darkness of the night. I guess they must have figured it was futile trying to close the hatch, as fast as my ship was moving I would have found my way out of the bay long before the doors could have closed.

Fighters came pouring out of the destroyer and I sent mine diving down toward the streets of the city. It was a risky move, the roadways of Salt Lake were more than wide enough to accommodate three or four fighters side by side, but navigating at such high speeds didn’t give me much time to compensate if anything went wrong. A full dozen fighters followed me down into the streets and I gritted my teeth as I realized that I’d be leading them on one hell of a chase.

For my plan to work, I needed to keep the destroyer in close proximity to the space port. This meant I’d need to stay near and keep both the destroyer and the fighters occupied.

Jykarr was doing his damnedest to disable the fighter, slamming down into the sides of the engine compartment, and tearing into the hull with his bare hand. Clearly, it was time to do something about my little pest problem. I swooped down and spun the fighter around onto its side and turned a corner scrapping the fighter against the side of a building. I pulled away and was only just barely able to gain control as the ship wobbled and jerked liked a drunken krym.

I’d managed to dislodge Jykarr from the front of the fighter, but when I craned my neck to glance back over my shoulder I let out a string of silent curses. Somehow he had found a handhold on the tail of my ship, but that would have been a minor annoyance if that had been my only problem. The pursuing craft had begun to open fire blasting away with no regard for the safety of the nearby denizens of the city, human, Qharr, or otherwise.

I don’t know if hunters in the other fighters realized it was the sub-ascendant who was hanging so precariously from my tail or if they were willing to sacrifice one of their own to bring down a threat. The latter wouldn’t exactly fit into the Qharr code of honor, but I’d seen more than enough evidence to suggest that they were not above breaking their own rules.

I went shooting straight up into the air hoping that I could shake the bastard loose, but no matter how much I twisted and turned, zig-zagged and shook he just couldn’t be dislodged. My ascent did have an unforeseen benefit, however; the Qharr ships didn’t anticipate my move and went zooming past. I gritted my teeth, reversed my course and went diving down to the ground at a speed that would make even the most stalwart of Qharr warriors think twice. Once, I was down close to the ground I spun around so that the fighter’s belly was facing up toward the night sky.

I slowed and brought the fighter down so that it scraped the ground. What followed was a the sound of tearing metal, a whole lot of sparks and what was no doubt a very painful experience for the sub-ascendant. I shot back up and righted the fighter more than a little relieved to discover that I had managed to dislodge the rat bastard–though somehow I doubted that I’d actually killed him–and even more relieved to realize that my ride was still in flying shape.

Unfortunately, that’s about when the enemy fighters found me, I shot upward and swooped around to face them, phase cannons blaring and managed to take out one of them with my volley before shooting past them. Again, I zoomed straight up, topping one of the city’s many skyscrapers in just a few seconds and went flying straight toward the destroyer which still loomed above the space port like the specter of doom that it really was.

More fighters came pouring out from the massive insectine hulk and I hung there in the air long enough to make sure they saw where I was going just before I dove back down toward the surface. On the way down I met the original group of fighters head-on blasting another out of the sky as I zoomed past. The two opposite groups of Qharr ships met and when two of them collided and plummeted to the ground in a knotted mass of burning shrapnel. That brought the final number down to nine and I wasn’t exactly real crazy about those odds.

“Hu-man,” a voice buzzed over the comm, but since I was a little busy swooping in and out of the city streets it didn’t exactly seem like a high priority for me to respond. I did however recognize the voice, it belonged to my old pal the sub-ascendant.

Phase canon fire blasted my tail, the first that had managed to find it’s way through my shields, but lucky for me it only did minimal damage. I cursed and glanced down at the display, the destroyer’s reactors had been bubbling and brewing long enough that I figured that it was just about time it’s supply of coolant should have burned away. Which meant it was about time for me to make my leave.

I did barrel roll barely managing to evade a long string of phase fire before diving down a side street where I was forced once again to dive out of the way of an obstacle which took the form of a metal arch with what might have been a statue of a bird atop it. The first of my pursers wasn’t as lucky as me and dove nose first into the arch going down in a blaze of fire. A second and third collided with the flaming debris and both exploded with bright flashes just as brilliant as the first.

“Hu-man, I know you can hear me,” the sub-ascendant’s voice buzzed through the comm system a second time.

“Yeah, well I’m just a little busy at the moment. What the fuck do you want?”

“Only to tell you that if you survive your encounter with my forces when next we meet I will see to it that your death is excruciatingly painful,” he replied his voice taking on a menacing edge.

“Well, I’m just so glad we cleared that up. Load off my mind,” I replied back and switched the comm off. As much as I just loved bantering with the bad guys I had much more pressing things on my plate like the six fighters who were trying to blow me to freaking smithereens. Well that and the massive ball of flame that rose from just a few streets away.

Though, I didn’t have a direct line of sight to the destroyer, I had no doubts it was the source of the massive wall of flamesthat burst outward stretching out through the streets, consuming entire buildings and wreaking destruction in its’ wake. I felt that all too familiar sinking feeling in form in the pit of my stomach. “Just great.”

The other fighters must have seen it too because they immediately ceased fire and put on the speed. I did the same and our dogfight quickly evolved into race against time, one where there would be only one winner. The blaze continued to expand and within the blink of an eye consumed three fighters. I gritted my teeth and sent my craft rolling into a side street just as the wall of fire consumed the final three fighters.

I sent the ship rocketing upward hoping, that I might be able to escape the blast, but the flames just kept coming. Warning lights flashed on my console and I glanced back in time to watch the flames consume the tail of my fighter. I lost all power and as I lost momentum the fighter went hurtling back down toward the ground. I tried to pull on the damn ejection mechanism, but it groaned and an error message strolled across the console indicating mechanical failure.

I closed my eyes, took in a deep breath of air and waiting for the inevitable to come, but then an odd thing happened… I didn’t die. My eyes snapped back open and I glanced around me. I could see the flames consuming the city off in the distance, but somehow I was zooming through the landscape, the nose of my vessel pointed straight down at the ground. I remained aloft, which didn’t make a lick of sense sense until I looked up.

A Pylkar class ship flew in the air above me, and all the pieces suddenly popped into place. I switched the comm on and craned my neck up as a huge smile formed on my face. “Max, is that you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” came her reply.

“Velspatt, I’m impressed. Not many pilots could swoop in like that undetected and grab someone with a tractor.”

“It is as your people say child’s play.”

“Lexa, I really hate to say it, but we’re going to have to make a quick exit. Once we get to safety we can get you outta the fighter an–”

“It’s not a problem,” I replied cutting Max short. “Just get us somewhere safe. I can handle a little more time in this tin can if it means staying alive.”

“Copy, we’ll talk more later.”

I sank back into my seat and let out a long sigh. With the space port destroyed along with all or most of the ships in the vicinity it was doubtful there were many vessels available to offer up pursuit. Of course, those that did survive, assuming any had, were probably a little more concerned about the smoking crater I’d left in the middle of the city.

My fighter in ruins, I closed my eyes and let the world pass me by as a smirk touched the corner of my lips. Any day I survived an encounter with the Qharr was a good one in my mind.

Chapter Eleven

I sat opposite from Mara and waited patiently as she poured us each a glass of Amaretto. I didn’t have to ask her the reason for our meeting since we’d both known it was coming. The mission into Salt Lake had had more significance than either one of us had let on.

Obtaining a ship was important, but there had been another purpose for the trip. One which only Mara and I had known anything about. There was a leak, and we weren’t sure where it had originated, though Mara was adamant that it had not come from the ERF forces. I wasn’t quite so convinced, but hadn’t voiced my dissent. It was better to allow her to think I agreed than let my divisive opinion destroy our partnership which was tenuous at best. We had hoped the mission would help us root out the source but I hadn’t been as successful as I had hoped.

My willingness to sacrifice the Relentless in order to save the Defiant had been the deciding fact, in Mara’s eyes, that I could in fact be trusted. I, on the other hand, didn’t doubt Mara’s desire to retake Earth, but I also knew she’d betray me if it meant achieving her goals. Which was why I was so cautious in my dealings with her.

“Did you uncover anything?” She asked taking a sip of her glass while simultaneously pushing mine forward.

“Nothing,” I said, glancing down at the amber liquid, but at the moment I refrained from partaking.

“I’ve told you about the mission, but…” I trailed off finally lifting my glass to sip at the drink.

“But there was something you wanted to add?” Mara asked finishing off her drink and placed the glass down on the desktop.

“Yes, everything happened as I described, but it seems odd to me that the sub-ascendant just appeared as he did. Someone had to have tipped him off and to be honest it seems a little strange that the ruler of a Qharr controlled world would drop everything just to hunt a trio of humans who fought their way into a city. Something more is at work here.”

Mara paused pushing her glass away with the back of her hand before clasping both appendages in front of her.

“I agree, it’s very obvious that there is a leak, but I’m not sure if it’s taken the form of a traitor. This whole situation has a different feel to it. The Qharr obviously have information they shouldn’t, having received bit and pieces, but if they knew the full extent of it, I think they would be taking much more drastic action to find us.” “What is clear, is that the sub-ascendant has taken a very keen interest in you. Though I can’t say I am surprised, the fact that humans can be joined with K’teth symbiotes represents a danger to the Qharr ideology. It suggests a similarity to the gray skins that I’m not sure someone like him would be comfortable with.”

“That’s it,” I snapped my fingers, before downing the last of my drink as I studied my aunt’s clone. “He sees me as a threat. I’m bonded to a symbiote and assuming that he did previously know that humans are the progenitors of the Qharr that would be very good reason to want me dead. I still can’t guess why he might want to keep this knowledge under wraps, but so long as I’m alive his secret isn’t safe. I’m a link to the truth and he knows it.”

“An interesting theory, one in which I’m inclined to agree with, but it’s conjecture without any proof.”

“Does it matter? It changes nothing. We are still set on the same path, aren’t we?”

“To be sure,” Mara said with a quick nod. “Though I will urge caution. There is an information leak whether it be in the form of a traitor or something else entirely remains to be seen. Speak of our meeting to no one, not even that lover of yours and definitely not your sister.”

I gritted my teeth and nodded. Although Mara had shown remarkable trust in me, it had not extended to Lily and especially not my sister who she believed was being influenced by her symbiote. I stood to leave and had my back turned to Mara before I spun back to face her.

“I would urge you to do the same,” I said matching her gaze.

She didn’t even so much as blink and a slight smile touched the corner of her lips. “Be ready. I intend to call a meeting tomorrow. Bring that little mechanic friend of yours and that foul tempered fellow. I’ll worry about the rest of the invitations.”

I nodded, but didn’t say another word before disappearing from the room. It was, after all, time to pay my little mechanic friend a visit.

“We have two weeks,” Morris said setting his tablet down at the center of the table, around which Mara, Arianne, Farris, Lily, the doctor and I were seated, and turned to a seemingly ordinary section of the wall. He tapped his fingers against it and the whole thing flared to life with all sorts of holographic images.

“Two weeks?” Arianne asked folding her arms across her chest as she studied the Colonel. “Isn’t that a bit… quick?”

“It doesn’t give us much time, true, but Ms. Brigg’s actions in Salt Lake City have presented us with a unique opportunity,” Morris said glancing back over his shoulder. “Nearly a fifth of the Qharr warships here on Earth were destroyed. If we can attack before they are able to replace them we would have an enormous advantage on the battlefield.”

“Battlefield? Jesus, you guys sure talk big, but I ain’t seen nothing that makes me believe you have the sorta fire power that needed to retake Earth. This ship of yours, what did you call it? The Defiant? Is impressive, but it takes more than a single ship to win a war especially when you’re dealing with a society of warriors like the goddamned gray skins,” Farris said pounding a fist against the table.

Farris was just as charming as ever, but still it was nice to see he had recovered even if he could be a lot to take in. It certainly seemed to put a smile on Becca’s face which made it all worth it. I wondered why Mara would elect to invite Farris, my sister’s boyfriend, and not allow Becca to join the meeting. He would certainly share everything with my sister which pretty much defeated the purpose of leaving her out in the first place.

It was clear, that even in spending all that time with my sister Mara had not come to trust her, but at least they’d seemed to have been successful in easing the tension with the nesters. More importantly rangers from other nests were willing to join the fight and had started to descending upon Sanctum. The place was becoming positively crowded and I’d elected to spend my time away from the nest whenever possible.

Morris narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw, but it was Mara who replied. “I must say I am rather surprised to hear that sort of talk coming from someone who has fought with the resistance for so long. We are well aware of difficulties involved in retaking Earth, but suffice it to say that we have enough reason to be optimistic about our chances.”

“I fight the gray skins cause I ain’t good at much else,” Farris replied folding his arms across his chest. “Besides I never said I wasn’t going to fight. I just wanted to know if we stood a reasonable chance. That’s all.”

“Yes,” Lily spoke up from her corner. “You people have been quick on promises, but I think it’s time you showed us some proof.”

I watched Lily, my cheeks burning just a little at the memory of our little reunion celebration and shivered just a little as a consequence. It had one of our more passionate couplings, and things took an interesting turn after Lily had brought out a new toy. I bit my lip and forced those thoughts aside. They weren’t, after all, conductive to the business at hand.

I was just glad her little outing with the ERF had been successful and she had returned safely. Her party had encountered trouble at every turn, but had managed to bring the parts needed to fix the Relentless. She’d told me all about it, the first leg of their journey had been more or less uneventful, but the moment they’d stepped out onto salvage yards they found themselves pursued through the scrap heaps. For two days they had played cat and mouse with the enemy patrols before finally giving them the slip.

Forced to retreat, they’d made another run at the salvage yards, this one was successful, but after returning to the Defiant they found themselves once again pursued by gray skin ship. It was only by using the Rhianon device that they were able to escape.

I shook my head and gritted my teeth as I turned my gaze to Morris. “I for one am not going to go marching into battle without some assurances you can actually provide the sort of forces necessary. The resistance is almost non-existent. I won’t risk the few of us left without good reason.”

“There’s good reason,” Mara stood and joined Morris next to the holo screen. She reached for the wall, but the Colonel put his hand on her shoulder and held her in place.

“Colonel it is time,” Mara said placing her hand over his and looking up at her with a gentle smile that seemed just a little alien coming from her. “Don’t you think?”

“Very well.” Morris nodded and backed away taking a seat at the table.

Mara cleared her throat and tapped her fingers against the wall. An image flared to life, trickling across the display revealing an image of a ship, but the like of which I had never seen. “This is the Valiant, the flagship of the Earth Return Fleet, and the most powerful of our ships. It is roughly analogous to a Qharr destroyer and has more powerful shields and more fire power than anything the Qharr can throw at us.”

She tapped the screen again and an image of a similar ship appeared on screen. “This is the Dauntless, another destroyer-class vessel, we have five more ships which are virtually identical along with twenty cruisers, like the Defiant, and more fighters than I can count. We’ve managed to make a number of allies and they’ve each made sizable contributions to our fleet. If we can bring down the shields around Earth, we stand a chance of retaking our world, but we can’t do it without you.”

I nodded glancing around the room in hopes of determining what the others might be thinking, but unfortunately their faces were unreadable masks. “Lily, you know more about this than I do, what do you think?”

She pursed her lips and thrummed her fingers on the table, and glanced up at Mara. “Taking down the shield won’t be easy. I’ve done the calculations, and as near as I can figure the absolute minimum number of shield emitters necessary to maintain a functioning barrier around Earth would be eighteen–one of which would have to be a control station–there are at least twenty-four that the resistance was able to find which means some of them are probably redundant. Assuming that we were able to account for all of them that means we’d need to simultaneously bring down at least seven of them to destabilize the entire grid.”

“We’ve determined that there are thirty-two in total, but you’re right a good number of them are redundant,” Mara replied tapping her fingers against the wall again calling up another display showing the Earth and a bubble surrounding it. “We’ve analyzed the grid array and found a weakness and have been able to determine that we will only need to bring down three in total.”

“How the hell did you figure that out?” Farris asked. For once his voice was devoid of its’ harsh tones, but wide-eyes and arched eyebrows suggested that he was probably just curious.

Mara eyed Farris her face devoid of all emotion, just before a smile cracked at the corner of her lips. “You don’t think we’ve spent the last twenty-four years doing nothing, do you? We’ve made considerable advances in our technology since the war. You’ve seen firsthand our stealth technologies, but another big leap has been in our sensors. In short, we can see through Qharr shields and have had several successful scouting missions in which we were able to make detailed analyses of the shield grid and the defense forces here on Earth.”

She tapped two spots on globe, indicating a place near the Eastern edge of North American and a second in South America. “There are two control stations, one for each hemisphere, when either is compromised the other is more than capable of compensating for the first, and the system can, for short periods of time, function without both, but if we simultaneously take them out along with a standard emitter it will be too much for the system to handle and the entire grid will come down.”

“These control stations…something tells me they’re not going to be easy to get to,” Arianne said running a hand through her long tresses.

“New York, New York, and Orsorno, Chile,” Morris said clasping his hands in front of him as he glared across the table at Lily.

“Specifically, the Sub-Ascendant’s Palace and the second would be the residence of Gydaresh Hykarr, Overseer of South America,” I said relaying the information provided by Khala. “Neither, will be easy to get into, but we’d already figured we’d have to make a run at Jykarr’s palace. Of course, you knew all this already, didn’t you?” I turned to Mara and studied her.

“There is only so much our sensors can tell us, but we did believe that both structures must have been of some significance beyond being control stations. Some of our analysts suggested that they could be residences of Qharr authorities, but we never had any way of knowing for sure. Much of their communications traffic is encrypted.”

“So all this business about retrieving another ship was because of this?” Farris shook his head and gritted his teeth. “Why the hell didn’t you people just bring more with you?”

“Because the Rhiannon device is still experimental and the Defiant was the only ship with a working drive. There are several that were scheduled to be fitted with one, but the process can take weeks because each must properly calibrated to the ship it’s installed in. Given the circumstances we believed it was best to join the resistance here on Earth as soon as possible.”

“That is most wise!” Vakrexid pronounced from the corner squirming and writhing like a worm stuck on a hook.

“Now,” I said clasping both hands together as I looked around the table. “Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, just how exactly are we going to pull this off? We need a plan of action.”

“That,” Mara said a slow smile forming on her face. “Is why I invited you all here.”

“No, no, NO!” Lily screamed dropped her wrench as she went tearing across the reactor room and pointed from one coupling then where it was supposed to go and did the same with the second. “This one goes there, that one goes there? You could have blown out the power relays.”

Darinson gritted his teeth, and furrowed his brows, but nodded silently and corrected his mistake. Lily and the ERF technicians didn’t seem to get along very well. All of her knowledge of mechanics and reactor tech was self-learned, and quite frankly she was brilliant, but she had her own way doing things that didn’t exactly jive with the way our allies worked.

They followed protocol and had a set of procedures. Lily had learned to do what she could with the tools she had which were usually few and far between. She’d already been forced to make changes to the power systems of the Relentless, but it was causing a bit of a headache for the ERF technicians who weren’t accustomed to working with a system that was clearly in need of a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or the luxury to complete such a task so Morris had ordered his men to work with Lily to get things done as best they could.

I was there mostly to help with the heavy lifting otherwise I stayed out of the way and did as Lily said. It was very obvious she knew what she was doing, and I definitely didn’t have the foggiest clue. I could probably find a way to blow it to shit, but that’s about as far as my technical expertise ran. Mostly, I just watched in fascination. Lily’s face was covered in grease and grime, sweat covered her cloths and her hair was a mess, but somehow she never looked more beautiful to me.

She’d come a long way from the quiet and timid little man I’d first met not so long ago. Sure, she could still be shy and sometimes had a hard time expressing herself, but she was far more confident than her former self had ever been.

She approached me, tossing her wrench aside with a flick of her wrist and slid her hand across her forehead wiping the grease clean. She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside. “We have a problem.”

I let her lead me away, and I stumbled feeling a brief surge of dizziness before I felt her lips lock around mine. I kissed her back and slipped my hand into her shirt. One thing led to another and we found ourselves back in our quarters and I forgot all about my odd little moment of disorientation.

Chapter Twelve

It seemed a tragedy that we should spend so much time fixing up the Relentless only to hand it over to our ERF allies, but given that the resistance had more experience operating Qharr tech my newest acquisition seemed the better fit for us. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean it would be any easier for us to get into New York. Lily’s little transponder trick wouldn’t fool the city’s sensors once we got close, and while we had managed to forge a transponder signal, with the help of Morris’s technicians, no one knew if they were going to buy it.

Entry into the city was going to difficult, and in the intervening weeks we’d only come up with one possible avenue of entrance. There just wasn’t a lot of information available. Unlike Salt Lake, New York was locked down tight and passage in and out of the city was controlled by the Qharr. Worse yet we were traveling into Manhattan-island, which was cut off from the rest of the city and since it was the center of the Qharr government on Earth it would be much more heavily patrolled. Humans were never given leave to exit the city even for special errands so that presented yet another difficulty.

It was one mission where so much was riding on a simple little gimmick. Not that it was much different from our usual mode of operation, but we weren’t traveling around the more sparsely populated regions around Salt Lake or Canada. This was an entirely different ballpark and truth to be told the prospect terrified me, but we were already committed. So there was nothing to do, but get underway.

“Lily, are we ready?”

“Bringing the engines online now,” she stopped and stared back at me with those big magenta eyes. “Should I launch the ship?”

“No, open a communication line to the Defiant and the Relentless. Let’s give everyone our last goodbyes.”

“Renegade,” Morris said with a nod from the bridge of the Defiant his green-tinged image just a little off due to our ship’s un-calibrated holo-emitters.

Mara was a little more talkative, but her countenance was no less muddied or distorted. “Thank you, for giving us use of the Relentless. We’ll try to bring her back in one piece.”

“If we’re successful, we won’t need her in one piece,” I replied rapping my knuckles against the console wishing that it were made of wood. “If we’re not well… I don’t think I’ll be around to complain.”

Morris stepped forward drawing almost as close to his holo-camera as was possible. “I don’t think I need to tell you all how important this is so I’ll just say this. Good luck, and God speed.”

I nodded and was about to issue a reply when he blinked out, having apparently closed the communication line without waiting for my reply.

“Lexa dear, I really do wish you and your crew the best of luck and if you happen to make contact with the ERF forces after we’ve successfully brought down the shield grid I do hope you’ll send them my regards,” she paused staring at her holo camera with the strangest look in her eye. “There’s someone with them who will be very happy to learn you’re alive.”

Her image fizzled away and I shook my head, not entirely sure what she could have meant with that last remark? Who on Earth, or in the ERF forces, cared one bit if I was alive or dead? I put the matter out of my mind and looked around the bridge. Locking gazes with each of my crew in turn, starting with Becca, then Farris, Rayland, Vakrexid and Max before finally settling on Lily. There were other members of my strike force, but they were the ones I could lean a shoulder on when things get tough.

“Lil’,” I said clearing my throat and turned away so no one could see my eyes watering up. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

And with that simple command, the Renegade went soaring up into the sky beginning the hours-long flight toward New York.

Chapter Thirteen

“Grephhak!” A deep and guttural Qharr voice demanded through the intercom. We’d reached New York and were awaiting admittance into the city, but the port master was giving us the third degree. I don’t know if he was suspicious or if he did this with all ships, but it was beginning to grate on my nerves.

“Port master!” I yelled back in Qharr, my voice artificially deepened by a vocal emulator which I was wearing around my throat attached by a snug nylon collar. Too bad no one had thought of it earlier such a device would have saved us a lot of trouble especially when coupled with the visual illusion of a real Qharr face. “I grow weary of these questions. Why is it that you delay me? I seek admittance will you give it to me or must I continue to answer these pointless questions!?”

Max’s jaw dropped and she turned to look at me like I was insane. Rayland grinned and let out a low throaty chuckle and folded his arms across his chest. Clearly he wasn’t surprised by my behavior, but I think he knew me well enough by that time to understand it was all an act. Max on the other hand didn’t really know me or the Qharr so her reaction was pretty much what I would have expected. The gray skins did not take kindly to such inquests they saw it as a question of their honor.

“I do my duty to the sub-ascendant and the empire as you well know Captain Breyga. I only have one more question, answer me or don’t, it makes no difference to me, but if you do not cooperate I will not admit you into the city.”

“Very well,” I replied between gritted teeth. It was irritating and while I hadn’t had any trouble answering the questions as yet, I worried what would happen if he asked one we hadn’t anticipated. So far I had told him that we had entered the city on an errand for a local Qharr official, one Mourrd Wyldyr who we had selected because we’d intercepted audio transmissions that said he was out of town, and had given him detailed information about the size of the crew the contents of our cargo hold as well as the technical specifications of the ship.

“I’m curious captain, my logs indicate that Castigator Wyldyr left the city almost a week ago. He will not return for several more weeks, what business will you attending to in his absence?”

“We’ve been sent to retrieve some of his personal effects as well as attend to some certain familial obligations.”

“You are kin then?”

“Yes, I have been adopted into the family’s second circle,” I replied with a slightly raised voice. A second circle was a group of trusted friends and servants who are considered so close to a family that they are able to act on behalf of them and in some cases can even serve as heirs or guardians to children of deceased parents.

“Gel’pan Garm, you have permission to enter the city. I’m sending over a flight itinerary deviate from the set path and you will be gunned down.” he said giving the Renegade’s forged name.

I didn’t bother replying, but instead clicked off the comm switch and let out a long sigh of relief. Cutting the line short like that was considered rude, but given my irritated responses to the port master it wasn’t at all unexpected. The Qharr leaders most of have been worried about incursions into the city to include such a stringent array of questions and risk offending their honor-conscious citizens.

I hit the throttle and sent the Renegade lurching forward, following the path set out by the port master. I didn’t intend to deviate from it one bit, but this whole plan had me on edge. A part of me wanted to turn the ship around and flee to some place far far away, but I was never one to be cowed so easily. Even if I did succumb to such an urge I could have never forgiven myself. The future of Earth was riding on our mission if we failed there would be no hope whatsoever for humanity.

Qharr controlled New York had six boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island, Hudson-Bergen, and Manhattan. The last of which was our destination. A lot of the reason we’d decided to masquerade as servants of Mourrd Wyldyr was that he owned and operated his own personal dock on his property which as you might have guessed was located within the Manhattan metropolitan area.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t reached Manhattan yet. First, we had to get through Husdon-Bergen, which had only become a borough for one simple reason. The gray skins had felt Manhattan was too vulnerable on its’ east side so they built up the New Jersey counties Hudson and Bergen along the opposite side of the river and dammed up the river making it impossible to access Manhattan by water.

When I’d first seen Salt Lake I couldn’t believe how massive it was, but it paled in comparison to the New York. Its towering structures dwarfed the other cities’ and made it seem an isolated hamlet in comparison. The buildings were dark, looming structures that thousands of ships ranging in size to small one-pilot vessels to larger cruisers like the Renegade zoomed, swirled and sped around in long streams.

The buildings of Qharr-built section of the city had a dark, almost organic look much like any structure built by the gray skins, but I’d never seen a skyscraper built by our self-declared masters. Most of their buildings were large, yes, but not at all like those in New York. Why they had elected to replicate the edifices of New York was a question I couldn’t quite grasp. Perhaps, there was some strategic reason that escaped me, but something told me that it had more to do with the ego of the sub-ascendant than anything else.

We had found our way through Hudson-Bergen and into the dirtier and grimier sections of Manhattan. Most of the structures were human built, like the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center, but scattered amongst them were more than a few built by our oppressors. Each one of latter was a match for or was even taller or grander than the former. Yes, it was becoming more and more clear that ego was involved in the creation of the gray skin skyscrapers. To their line of thinking if an honor-less society of humans could be these amazing structures it goes without saying that a much more superior race like theirs could top them.

When we got closer to Mourrd Wyldyr’s estate, the comm buzzed and I waved my hand at Lily to answer it. The port master’s face appeared on screen and I felt a sinking feeling in my gut as I looked over his three-eyed countenance. “Captain Breyga, we’ve found a… discrepancy. I just spoke with Castigator Wyldyr and he’s never heard of you. I’m afraid I’ll have to impound your ship pending an investigation.

“Shit,” I cursed and waved my hand at Lily. The comm line dropped and my fingers zoomed across the control interface sending the Renegade down into the deepest bowels of the city. Phase cannon blasts splattered the ground in our wake, but more than a few hit home. Fortunately, our shields held up against the bombardment, but with so many blasts pounding into us it was only a matter of time before they gave out.

I zigzagged through the city streets, sometimes forced to turn the Renegade on its side to fit through a particularly narrow side street. If navigating the avenues of Salt Lake had been difficult, flying through the roadways of New York was worse especially considering that our cruiser was so much larger than the single pilot fighter I’d taken on my little joyride the last time.

To start with we had a trio of three fighters on our tail, but each time we turned a corner we picked up a few more until we had a full squadron blasting fire up our asses. Coming up on a dead end I was forced to climb straight up in the air, and even then it was a close call. The belly of the Renegade grated against the wall of the building and no doubt producing sparks and an extremely unpleasant shriek of scraping metal.

Lily managed to hit one of the fights with a phase blast. It careened into a second as they both went slamming into the wall and consumed three more fighters with a fireball that was powerful and large enough to give our ship a good shaking. When I topped the building, I looped over it and took a nose dive back down toward the ground.

“What are you doing?” Max’s voice protested from somewhere behind me. “The mission is a bust we need to escape and regroup.”

“No, this is our only chance. If we fail now, it’s going to be even harder to get back into the city. I will not give up when we’re so close!” I yelled back at her between gritted teeth as I leveled the ship.

“Get buckled in!” I called back over my shoulder right before glancing down at my nav display and reaffirming that I was indeed headed toward the Sub-ascendant’s estates.

The thought I had was wildly reckless and not exactly in keeping with the new path I was trying to take for myself, but under the circumstances the only two other options were buckling down and hiding or running away with our tails tucked between our legs. Neither option was particularly appealing for obvious reasons, but if anyone else caught wind of what I had planned I kind of doubted they’d be very open to the idea. Not that I was about to open the matter to debate, sometimes a leader had to make decisions at her own discretion.

More phase blasts peppers our shields as another half a dozen fighters joined those already pursuing us. I sent the ship soaring up and flipped around taking up position behind the fighters and Lily blasted them with our phase canons managing to take out four of them before they even knew what hit them. The others managed to evade her attacks, five swooped up and took up position behind me while the remaining four dove down side streets presumably so that they could swing back around to meet us.

It didn’t matter if they caught up to us or not, we’d almost reached our destination and by then their pursuit would have proven to be all but pointless or so I hoped. I twisted and turned down a side street and went rocketing down a wide avenue toward Jykkar’s home. It was massive structure that spoke volumes for the ego of the sub-ascendant.

It was not a skyscraper, but much more closely resembled a fortress which stretched across three entire city blocks and must have been eight-hundred meters wide or more. It stood twenty stories tall and was so black that it almost seemed make the surrounding area darker. It was unadorned in the usual gray skin fashion, but seemed to lack the organic look of most gray skin structures. Nor did it have the usual insectine appearance I’d come to associate with Qharr, it looked like a cancerous black tumor that had grown out from the ground.

“Brace yourselves,” I screamed sending the ship diving down toward the palace. A particularly well-aimed phase blasts struck us and the ship rocked just a moment before Lily screamed out that the shields had failed. From there it only went from bad to worse, shot after shot pelted the Renegade and it wasn’t long before I lost complete control f and we went down in a blaze of fire.

Chapter Fourteen

After we hit, I was up on my feet before the dust had even settled, thanks to Khala, but I couldn’t say the same for the others. Dyssa must not have been as quick to dispel the effects of the gravity. When Lily finally staggered from her seat she was more than a little uneven on her feet. Becca, was pretty shaken up and had a cut on her arm that her symbiote hadn’t attended to yet, but was in otherwise good shape. Farris looked more angry than anything else, but when I went to check on Rayland that’s when my breath caught in my throat.

I thought for sure we was dead, but then his eyes snapped open and his face stretched into a grin. “Well, hello there!”

I rolled my eyes and turned awake grabbing Max by the shoulder and shaking her awake, but when she didn’t move my heart leaped into my chest. I thought for sure she was dead, but when I reached down to check for a pulse I let out a long sigh of relief.

I took a look around and shook my head. One of the nester soldier’s hadn’t been too lucky. A small piece of pipe, no wider than a half an inch had struck her in the chest clean through her heart.

“Dammit!” I cursed turning away from her corpse and gritted my teeth. Too many people had died already. That’s not to say going in I hadn’t expected casualties, but her death was on my hands. It had been my choice to make a run on the Sub-Ascendant’s estates knowing full well what could happen.

“Rayland,” I said my voice barely more than a whisper. “Go check on the strike team and get them prepped. We need to get moving, it won’t take the gray skins long to crack through the hull. I want to be ready when they do.”

Those weren’t the only preparations that we made, weapons were gathered, explosives packed up and the very last was the most important step. Getting inside the building was going to be hard with more than a few warriors and dozens of fighters ready to fire on us once we stepped out into the open. If it weren’t for the equipment we’d brought along we would probably die before we even got close. Fortunately, there was something inside the ship that could tilt the scales in our favor, a holocloaker. If they couldn’t see us they couldn’t hit us.

I didn’t even bother moving it, I just slammed my open palm into the activation switch and let the device do the rest. I wouldn’t know if it was working until I stepped out in the open, but given that it had been tossed around pretty good in the crash there was good reason to worry. Quite frankly it was our only hope, so there was nothing to do, but give it a try or wait for the gray skins to come for us. Either way, our mission would end that day whether we succeeded or fell to the onslaught of our enemy’s fire.

“Go, go, go!” I screamed as I went tearing across the open space between the wreckage of the Renegade and the sub-ascendant’s residence.

Besides the nameless nester we’d lost five members of our strike team, which put our total number down to forty-four. It didn’t seem to be enough, but it was the largest number we could have conceivably fit inside the Renegade and not overwhelm the life support systems.

Phase cannon blasts pelted the ground around us, but none of the shots even came close and I opened fire with my twin phase pistols shooting a pair of hunters. Clearly, the holocloaker was working, but there was nothing from stopping the gray skins who were already inside the barrier or ones who are on the outside from coming in and attacking us.

“Lily!” I screamed as we approached the wall.

She complied, setting a small explosive device on the wall, and we clasped our hands over our ears as the section in front of us was blasted to bits. I was last to climb inside, waiting for every last member of our crew to make it, but as the last five soldiers came tearing toward the opening, a phase blast shot down from above and blew them to smithereens.

I ducked inside just in time to avoid any harm to myself, but even so Khala managed to absorb a lot of energy from the blast. Unfortunately, it also consumed portions of my shirt and pants. Enough remained to maintain my modesty, but only just so and it would not take much, for what little remained of my clothes to be torn from my body.

I didn’t spend much time worrying about it, which I doubt would surprise anyone since the moment we stepped inside the building we were assaulted by a cadre of Qharr warriors who took down three more our guys before any of us could blink. Lily pounced taking down one guard by blasting him in the chest and a second with a slice of her knife across his throat. She looked so small, going up the massive gray skins and yet she was like a whirlwind demolishing anyone who stood in her path. There was a terrible sort of beauty about the way she moved and I wondered if that was how I looked when I fought.

I didn’t let my awe keep me back for long, I hopped in opening fire and took out three guards right off the bat, but when I turned to meet a fourth he grabbed me by the throat and tossed me away. I hurtled back and my arms twirled uselessly through the open air before I landed a quarter of a dozen meters on the opposite side of the corridor. I landed hard without any sort of cushioning effect, which probably meant Khala had been caught off guard by the attack too.

I lurched back to my feet and slammed myself into the nearest attackers and opened fire on a second and third before ducking out of the way as a fourth pounced on me. He would have gotten me, if it hadn’t been for Becca who entered the fight by throwing her slender form at the hulking gray skin. I turned to take on another opponent, but one of our Nester friends blasted him away before I could even so much as lift a finger.

We overwhelmed the guards in the corridor with sheer numbers, but that particular advantage was fleeting at best. Our strike force was large, but our crew didn’t even remotely compare to the total number of gray skins in Jykkar’s compound. The entire future of the planet was riding on our venture, and so far we’d gotten lucky, but it was going to be one hell of a fight getting where we needed.

“Rayland,” I said turning to the Nester Major then glanced down the left side of a three-way fork. “You take Becca and your crew down that way. I’ll take the center path, and Lieutenant Teadman you take Lily and the rest of the men that way.” I threw my thumb over my shoulder down the right corridor.

Each crew consisted of an even mixture of nesters, ERF and the handful of us that were left in the resistance. I took the doctor and Rayland took Farris and Max which meant Teadman’s team had Lily, but given that she had more technical know-how than anyone else put together and her K’teth enhanced strength, speed and reflexes meant she was by far the most valuable remaining member of the resistance. My stomach churned at the thought of what might happen after we separated, but I knew it was the logical thing to do. We shared a brief kiss, just before my sister rushed in and all three of us embraced.

No one said a word, as we split. We knew the importance of what we were doing. Some of us would die and if any of us survived something told me that it would not be an experience we would want to remember. Even so, we would soldier on, if for no other reason than our path had already been laid out for us. We would fight because humanity had no one else to rise up on their behalf.

“Vakrexid can hardly contain myself. It will be most tumultuous, will it not?”

“Yeah doc, it’s going to be a blast,” I mumbled under my breath as I stopped to peak around a corner.

“A blast?” He asked his big bulbous eyes blinking rapidly, in wild and seeming wild movements. “Vakrexid detects no blast.”

“Never mind, it’s just a figure of speech. Just be quiet would you, this is easily ‘the’ most heavily armed compounds on Earth. We don’t want to attract any un-do attention, do we?”

“Vakrexid would think not, but I have been wrong before.”

I didn’t respond to that, I just rolled my eyes, gritted my teeth and let out a sigh of relief when the doctor grew silent. He was just so alien, sometimes it was hard to believe that his people had descended from humans. He seemed so oblivious to everything. As much as I hated to admit it, we were more like the Qharr than the Dexagarmatrax, as most the differences were cultural. The doctor had a different way of looking at things which made me think the Phyrr Lesch must have altered his progenitor’s brain chemistry. I could never know for sure, but something told me it was to make them either more obedient, or docile, or perhaps both.

“Get down!” I yelled pushing him out of the way as a stray phase bolt came rushing down the corridor.

It struck me in the chest, leaving a sizable hole in my shirt. I didn’t let any sense of modesty deter me, however, I rushed forward slamming a fist into the face of the offending gray skin. He crumpled under the force of the blow and I turned to meet the next opponent. She jabbed the barrel of her weapon into my neck and opened fire. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but it happened to be a coil gun.

I dropped to the ground clutched at my throat gasping for breath or would have if I could have drawn any in. The bullet must have lodged itself inside the air passageway preventing the flow of air. It was one of those many moments since joining the resistance that I’d come close to death, but this time it felt different. The usual fear washed over me, but this time there was despair. Fortunately, my stubborn defiant nature set in before I let it consume me. I had to survive, I had to press on. I wasn’t so arrogant to believe that our mission wouldn’t succeed without me, but the more fighters we had the better chance we stood.

Khala voiced screamed out inside my head just before air flooded back into my lungs. I gasped taking in as much as I could just before leaping back to my feet. My vision was still blurred and fuzzy, but that didn’t stop me from grappling with my attacker and forcing the gun out of her hands. I turned it on her, blasting a hole through her dense skull.

My vision was clearing up, but I didn’t have much time to celebrate. A trio of guards came dashing toward me. I clenched my teeth, opened fire on the first, a gangly fellow whose proportions were a more than a little lean for a Qharr, shooting him dead, then swung the rifle around like a club, which sent the second reeling away.

Phase fire, surged and fizzled all around me splashing the walls and splattering, first against his shoulder, then against his chest and a third and final shot took him right in the mug. His body collapsed to the ground, his countenance little more than a steaming crater.

Three more guards went down and I turned my attention to the final one who had ducked inside a doorway. His only weapon was a single phase pistol, but when I approached him he stood to face me, fists clenched at his side as he let out a single roar of defiance. I struck slamming him in the chest. He staggered back, but shrugged off the blow with much more ease than I expected. I hit him again, but he caught it in his hand.

Rather than grapple with him I release my hold, drew my pistols and blasted the bastard to bits. I re-holstered my weapons and grabbed the rifle from his steaming remains before turning back around to face Private Beckman, my ERF techie who had a small handheld device clasped firmly in his massive paws. “Is that thing picking anything up?”

He had more the look of a brawler than a tech expert, but after hearing him arguing with Lily I was certain he was more than capable. He wasn’t accustomed to unconventional thinking like my Lil’, but he did know his way around a computer network. He stared up at me as he always did, that hungry look in his eyes and nodded. “There’s a dampening field which is interfering with sensors. I can only detect a handful of grays and our own people. Anything above this level isn’t showing at all.”

“Shit,” I said slowly shaking my head as I glanced down the corridor. “Why can’t anything be easy? It’s always climbing up stairs or through secret tunnels. Why can’t we ever just go on a mission and find the baddy without having to jump through a shit-ton of hoops?”

He nodded, his eyes lingered just long enough on my breasts to make me want to haul off and smack him. I got a lot of hungry looks from the ranks of the ERF and nesters and was starting to get used to it. It sounded cliched, but it made me feel like a piece of meat rather than an actual human being. I hated being objectified, but any time I found myself getting angry over it I felt like a hypocrite. How often had I looked at a woman the same way? Lusting after one because of her body rather than her personality or her intellect.

Beckman nodded. “Ma’am? I-I’m not sure I know how to answer that question.”

“Doctor, you take point. If the gray skins see you, they’re going to be much less liable to open fire.”

“Indeed! Though it not a certainty!” He replied letting out a long drawn out squeal. “Vakrexid shall proceed with caution. Triggers pulled much too quickly could result in a very early end for me, but worry not death is not something in which I fear!”

“Good to know, doc.” I grinned wiping the sweat from my brows. “We need to find a set of stairs or lift or even a damn access hatch.”

Beckman nodded throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “If this thing is correct there should be a stairway down that way, but there’s a half a dozen guards blocking the path.”

“Right, of course there is,” I said with a nod before holding my hand out. “Doc, care to do the honor?”

Vakrexid blinked and cocked his head sideway before craning his neck and turning his head a complete hundred-eighty degrees. “Vakrexid does not understand why it would be an honor, but I shall move forward boldly and with much stealth!”

The doctor didn’t need any prodding to get going, but his movements couldn’t exactly be described as stealthy. He lumbered through the hallways his feet clattering and clomping against the organic-resin floors. Fortunately, I had anticipated this, and had set him down the path hoping that he’d distract the guards long enough for us to put them down. Given the gray skin’s aversion to harming his race it seemed unlikely that they would open fire especially since they’d see and hear him coming from a mile away.

It felt a little bit like I was throwing him out to the wolves, and felt a pit form in my stomach as my guilt began to gnaw at me. I could try to justify it all I liked, but the truth was the doctor was my friend and I had put his life in danger. I almost called out to him to retract my previous order, but by the time I did we’d already happened upon another group of gray skins.

The first four were easy enough to take out, but when I caught a flash of blue hair from the fifth that’s when I realized she was going to be a little more difficult to kill. The sixth ran off, presumably to call for reinforcements, before anyone could stop him. Which left our pal, the Edant K’teth.

She was a little short for a Qharr, and if I was an accurate judge her people’s standards her slender, sleek and well-toned body marked her as a great beauty. The rare pinkish hue of her skin was a feature I’d never seen before, but I instantly recognized it. She was part of a rare sub-race of Qharr, known as the Gieff who were said to be among the most agile of warriors. According to what Duvak had told me they had their own unique culture and religion and for the most part stayed apart from the rest of Qharr society. She lacked the usual tattoos and markings of other gray skins, which suggested she hadn’t completely given up on her Gieff upbringing. Why this particular warrior had chosen to join with her cousins was a peculiarity I doubted I would ever have the answer to. Then again… I had been wrong before.

The Gieff female pounced, her pinkish-gray skin glistening with sweat and the natural Qharr sheen. I was down on the ground before I even realized what had happened, but as her fist hurtled down toward me I scrambled back onto my feet and backed away hoping to regain my composure. My opponent remained hunched over then glanced up and met my gaze.

“You! Human you are as fast as they say,” she replied speaking with an accent so thick that it was barely intelligible. The typical Qharr accent was harsh and gutteral. Hers was singsongy and I probably would have found it charming if she hadn’t just tried to kill me.

“You’re pretty quick… for a Qharr. You caught me off guard, but believe me when I say it will not happen again.”

“I am not Qharr!” She replied between gritted teeth before leaping toward me.

I jumped back scrambling away and slammed my fist into her side. She retaliated hitting me across the face with a broad swing to my jaw. She was obviously much stronger than me, but the gap wasn’t nearly so wide as it had been against the other Edant K’teth I had come up against. Her speed however, was going to make things difficult. Every time I’d come up against an opponent bonded to a K’teth my speed had been my only advantage, but she was proving herself to be more than a match.

She pounced grabbing me by the throat and pinned me against the floor. “I am disappointed. Are you not the one who killed Corrector Taevok Typel and High Inquisitor Duvak Nakyrr?”

“That would be me,” I said barely able to form the words because her hand was gripped so tightly around my throat. “But it wasn’t just them. I’ve killed my fair share of guards and hunters too.”

“Why should I care? These kyffa could all die and I would sing no songs for them. They speak of honor without truly understanding what it means. They enslave entire races in the name of the gods who abandoned their children. They are fools.”

“Then why are you fighting alongside them?” I asked digging my hands into her fingers trying my best to break her grip.

“I have been tainted by the touch of a K’teth beast. I cannot return to my people so I fight for the only reason that is left. The joy of battle, the pleasure of destroying my enemies and in the hopes that the ancestors may see my many victories and grant me a home in the afterlife, but it should make no matter to you. To you, I am the one who is about to end your life.”

“Not.” I said between gritted my teeth and slammed my fist into her face, “freaking likely.”

“Do you know how many times I’ve been in a strangle hold?” I asked just before kicking out and striking her in the chest. This time I managed to dislodge her and I staggered back to my feet just in time to see her do the same. “Jesus you Qharr are so damn predictable.”

“I am GIEFF!”

We circled one another, each of us looking for a weakness, but neither of us seemed to find one. While we were shuffling about I got a good look at the rest of my group, who had been forced to retreat when after a cadre of Qharr guards had happened upon them. I returned my attention to the Gieff who was unlike any opponent I had faced before and if I was going to be honest it was likely she could say the same of me. She may not have shared the same culture and values as the other Qharr, but she was still standing in my way. She had to be brought down quickly. She posed a threat I could not ignore, but she had already proven she was a skilled warrior and I wasn’t sure she could be defeated through conventional means. It was time I changed tactics.

“You serve the sub-ascendant.” I said making it a statement rather than a question. When she failed to reply I took it as a confirmation rather than an outright denial. “He has no honor.”

“What do you know of honor human? You are lost creatures who live their lives empty of direction or cause.” She leapt toward me slamming a fist down toward my head.

I caught the blow, but only just barely and the strength of it forced me against the wall. “I know enough about honor to know that the Qharr Ascendancy is corrupt. I know that the Sub-Ascendant has been hiding a truth about my people that is so shocking it could very well destroy the foundations of Qharr society.”

“Why is it that you continue to speak? I wish only to fight.” She yelled and sent her fists crashing down toward me. Fortunately, I managed to lunge out of the way just in time and they went slamming into the wall instead.

She roared and spun around to face me, but before she could attack Khala’s voice rang out. ‘This truth is relevant even to you, Dynara!’

Apparently, the Gieff woman had enough of a reputation that Khala had heard of her, but I could say at the moment if that was a good or a bad thing.

The Gieff stopped dead in her tracks and studied me without making a single movement or gesture. “What relevance would that be, spawnling?”

‘”The humans are the progenitors!'”

Dynara’s reaction was not at all what I would have expected. She didn’t speak or utter a word, but simply turned away and went dashing through the corridor until finally disappearing up the stairway.

“The fuck?” Beckman said stepping forward scratching at the back his neck.

I almost ran after her, fearing that she might raise the alarm and jeopardize our mission, but something told me that she wasn’t a threat to us any longer. I let her go and instead turned away putting my mind on the task at hand. Perhaps, it was a stupid decision, but she had disappeared so fast I would have had a hard time finding her anyway.

Chapter Fifteen

I stepped up from the stairwell and ducked around the corner of the adjoining wall right alongside the others and placed a hand on the shoulder of Sandler, a young clone who had the eyes of a veteran despite his fresh face.

“Trouble?” I didn’t speak aloud, electing to mouth the word instead, but he seemed to understand.

He nodded and threw his thumb at the wall where presumably the trouble I had inquired over was brewing. Considering our location and our present predicament it wasn’t exactly a big mystery what was waiting on the other side of the wall, but I had to get a look nonetheless. I crept forward on my hands and knees and once I’d gotten close enough I risked a peak around the corner.

The was the usual cluster of guards, but had it been just them I wouldn’t have seen it as much of a reason to worry. Unfortunately, two of the guards happened to be Edant K’teth.

“Shit,” I cursed and gritted my teeth.

“It can never be easy,” I repeated my previous protest and gritted my teeth before holding my hand out to Teadman. I didn’t even have to speak the words. He slipped the item in question into my hands and I only hesitated a moment before taking action.

I jumped out into view of the guards, and raised my weapon. I had three rounds, but only one hit its intended target. The first Edant K’teth died the moment my bullet pierced her heart, but I wasn’t so lucky with my next two shots. I hit the other joined Qharr in the shoulder, but the third shot whizzed past and hit an un-bonded guard in the side, downing him.

I cursed and dropped the coil gun, tossing it at the second Edant K’teth as he came zooming toward me. It didn’t have much effect, other than to draw an annoyed grunt from my attacker, but it distracted him just enough that I was able to get the first blow in. My attack didn’t do much more to make him angry, and he was pretty damn quick to retaliate, hitting me across the face with a blow that had me seeing stars. Fortunately, I managed to shake it off in time to block his next strike.

“Damn you,” I cursed pummeling him with blows across his abdomen. He staggered back and I pressed the bastard swinging a fist up to hit him across the jaw.

He recovered and swung a massive fist at my head, I managed to duck just in time, but he slammed me into the wall with a second blow before I could even blink. I dropped down as he swooped in for another attack and I swept my foot out from under him. He collapsed and I leapt up on top of him, repeatedly slamming my fist into the wound on his shoulder.

Everything had happened so fast that his symbiote hadn’t quite managed to heal the injury, but it was starting to close up. Fortunately, my attack had the exact opposite effect. He howled and tried to fend me off, but I braced myself against his swinging fists and just kept hitting him. His attacks grew more and more frantic until one of them managed to do the trick. I was thrown off him and into the opposite wall with damn near enough strength to knock the wind out of me.

He was on top of me before I could recover and grabbed me by the shoulders sending me slamming into the wall with bone-breaking force. I could feel my bones pop back into place as he pulled me free, but before they could set he slammed me into the wall again. The others tried to help, one soldier even grabbed a coil gun and tried to shoot him in the back, but my opponent swung around using my body as a club. The attack sent him tumbling to the ground and the Edant K’teth slammed me into the wall again. I screamed and struggled to break free, but the more I writhed in his grip the more it tightened.

That might have been the end of me, but I had a trick up my sleeve, literally. I elbowed him, thus freeing my arms and slipped a hand inside my sleeve. The pain was pretty intense, since my left arm was broken, but I gritted my teeth and let out a victory cry as my hand found purchase on its intended target. I slammed my hand out and stabbed the bastard in the chest.

He let out a startled cry and dropped me. The impact sent shooting pains through my whole body, but I managed to climb to my feet with more than a little effort. Bones popped into place and wounds closed in on themselves as Khala absorbed energy from one of the reserve power cells strapped to my thighs. I wasn’t completely healed and frankly, if I were in a situation that I could afford to step back and call it quits for the day I probably would have, but hell I didn’t really have that option, did I?

My opponent charged straight at me, but I leapt to the side and grabbed him by the shoulder as he passed. I slammed him into the wall, with damn near the amount of force he’d used on me. It definitely left the bastard dazed, so I did it again, and again. I was more than a little satisfied to hear his bones crunch, but I knew that his symbiote was probably a whole hell of a lot better fed than mine and would probably heal up just fine. So, before he recovered I plunged my knife deep into his heart letting him collapsed to the ground at my feet.

That did the trick, and by the time I returned my attention to the remaining guards I was more than a little relieved to discover that just one of them remained standing and even then he didn’t prove much of a threat. I stepped forward, his eyes grew wide and he booked it down the corridor.

“Coward,” I said, letting out a deep breath of relief and slipped my knife back into my sleeve. The path to the building’s communication center was just a stone throw away. Maybe, just maybe, we could make it.

Despite my previous optimism, the route to the control room was not an easy one. We encountered three more groups of guards, but only one more Edant K’teth. She put up a damn good fight, but I guess I was more determined than her. Unfortunately, the resulting fight left me separated from the group. There was nothing to do, but continue on and hope Rayland could get the remaining members of the group out of this mess alive.

By the time I reached the communications room, I think it went without saying that I was feeling pretty ragged. The doors clanged shut behind me and I got my first good look at the room. The sickly green color of the walls and floors suggested they were made from or were given a generous coating of Kylthash, a sort of organic substance that while soft and malleable in it’s natural form, could not be broken or torn once processed without an insane amount of force which went without saying was beyond that of even a host to a K’teth. There were two sets of doors the first were the ones we just entered and the second were across the chamber on the opposite wall, but given that they were made from the same substance, they looked pretty damned impregnable.

I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise as I cast my eyes about again. I put on all the speed I could muster, moving toward the doors so fast that I slammed right into them. I tried to pry them open with every bit of strength Khala could give me, but they wouldn’t budge. I rushed across the room to the other side, but the other set were sealed just as tight.

“Dammit,” I cursed glancing back as I stepped toward the communications console in the center of the room.

By then it was pretty obvious that I’d stepped into a trap, but my trip to the communications console pretty well confirmed it. The screens were dead and none of my attempts to activate the computer system did any good. Clearly the sub-ascendant had been prepared for our arrival which meant…

My head snapped around and I made another run at the door as a single figure stepped inside the room, but it slammed shut just seconds before I could reach it. I spun around, turning to face Lily who looked like she’d been through a meat grinder.

“Dammit!” I cursed grabbing Lily by the shoulders. “Where’s the rest of your group?”

“We got separated. We ran into a few Edant K’teth on our way here,” she shook her head and stared up at me with wide eyes. “I drew them away on a merry little chase to protect the others. I barely survived the resulting fight and eventually made my way here.”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think we’ve walked into a trap. The walls are lined with Kylthash and the doors too. I can’t break through no matter how hard I try.”

“What about the console?” Lily didn’t wait for me to answer, but instead dashed across the room toward the object of her inquiries. Her hands zooming across it’s dark surface with such speed that even I couldn’t make out her movements, but when she stopped and let out a long string of curses I knew she’d come to the same conclusion as me.

She returned and knelt down, her form falling out of sight as it slipped behind the control surface. I couldn’t see what she was doing, but she popped back up just a few seconds later, her face creased with a frown. “There’s a biolock on this thing. I’ve never seen one this sophisticated. Give me a few weeks and I might be able to bypass it, but even then, this thing has three factor authentication… it would be damn hard, maybe beyond my abilities.”

I can’t say I was surprised. Why lure us into this trap, with a big juicy communications array as bait if they were just going to hand us access? We’d been had, and as much as I hated to admit it, there was only one conclusion I could come to, we’d been betrayed.

My mind raced as I spread all the possibilities out in front of me. Who among us could possibly want Earth to remain in the hands of the Qharr? We’d done so much and fought so hard, I couldn’t imagine any human who would want to stop what we’d put into motion. Then it struck me, any human, but not all of our allies were human, were they? The more I thought about it, the more it made sense, but I shook my head fighting back tears.

There was only one non-human who could have been in the position to betray us. I shook my head, and gritted my teeth. The doctor could not be responsible. I refused to believe it. There had to be something else at work, but try as I might I couldn’t unravel the mystery.

I’m sure, given the chance, that my mind would have supplied itself a thousand different theories, each less believable than the last. In a way it was fortunate that I didn’t have to put myself through that, but it was only because of the catastrophe that followed. The furthest set of doors swung open and a figure was thrown through the air landing a half-a-dozen yards away from me.

I rushed toward her and had just enough time to identify the unconscious form of Max before a massive figure burst into the room with a form that looked absolutely tiny in his bulging arms. The sub-ascendant had found us wearing a typical stone-faced Qharr expression, but for someone who’d spent years living amongst and serving gray skins his body language spoke volumes. Jykarr was consumed by rage and hatred to the point that I kind of doubted he was operating at a very rational level.

He threw, the crumpled form in his arms aside and slammed the door shut behind him. I couldn’t see her face, but her blue hair was enough to tell me it was Becca. I scrambled across the room toward my sister, but the sub-ascendant intercepted me, picked me up and grabbed me by the throat. “This is the end, but before I destroy what’s left of your resistance you should know that you’ve been betrayed.”

I gasped struggling to draw air in as I wheezed out my response. “Already came to that conclusion. You overgrown mother… humping bastard!”

His grip tightened and I clawed at his hands, but as I’d come to expect from the bastard he was just too damned strong. He pulled me close and I could feel his breath on my throat as he spoke again. “It was one of the most recent of your friends to enter the room. Care to guess which one?”

He threw me back through the air and I slammed into the opposing wall with so much force that I felt something snap. In the past I’d felt bones crack and even break, but this was different. This time, it was my spine. There was an odd absence of pain and I was very afraid at the implications. Was it Khala’s doing or was it a sign that something was seriously wrong? I got my answer and it sure as hell wasn’t the one I wanted.

I slid back down to the ground collapsing into a useless heap. I tried to climb to my feet, but didn’t exactly get the sort of response from my limbs that I was hoping I would. My arms seemed to work just fine, but where anything below my waist was concerned I couldn’t even flex a pinkie toe.

‘Khala!’ I cried out.

Her reply was more than a little testy. ‘I am working on it! Fixing spines isn’t like healing stab wounds or mending bones! If I do it wrong, I could seriously damage your body to the point that it would be beyond repair.”

‘Fix it!’ I replied twisting my upper torso to get a better view of the fight between Lily and the sub-ascendant which had broken out sometime after he’d flung me away. I even tried to climb onto my feet again, but without cooperation from my limbs my efforts proved futile.’I don’t care if I never walk again after today! Just get me up! I won’t watch that bastard kill the woman I love!’

‘I will do what I can,’ Khala replied. Her voice was neutral, but I got the sense from our mental bond that she was not very receptive of the idea at all. Frankly, I didn’t care if she liked it or not even if she was trying to protect me. I had to get back into the fight.

Lily was doing a fantastic job at keep the sub-ascendant occupied. She was faster than me and was using her speed to her advantage, dancing around the bastard as he swung his massive paws at her tiny little frame. Even so, I knew what Jykarr was capable of and I worried that sooner or later he would find a weakness and exploit it.

Lily seemed to have worked out a system, running around him and making quick jabs before speeding away again. The sub-ascendant made any number of counterstrikes, but each time Lily dove out of the way. She kept at it. No matter how long the two battled Jykarr just shrugged off Lily’s blows. The problem was that he was too powerful and the Qharr’s superior stamina meant that the longer she kept him busy, the better chance he had of subduing her once she started to tire.

I cursed and crawled forward, but soon gave up. A sob escaped my lips when I saw Jykarr grab Lily by the shoulders and sent her hurdling away. She was quick to get back onto her feet, but judging from her ungraceful landing I kind of doubted it had been easy. She seemed a little sluggish from that point onward and I worried what would happen if Jykkar managed to hit her again. Lily was fighting hard and was doing damned admirable job, but it was growing more and more obvious that even though she was doing her best, she was no match for him.

I clenched my fist and pounded the floor growing more anxious by the second as I watched Lily struggle against her massive opponent. Khala drained away another reserve power cell and within moments I felt a change. Finally, I could feel my feet, but when I tried to climb up onto them I flopped back down to the ground. Muscles, twitched and it was almost like a light had fluttered on. I could move again. I let a smile form on the corner of my lips as I slowly crawled back onto my feet. I crept forward, a new purpose in my steps as I made my way toward Lily and the sub-ascendant. They were on the other side of the room and Jykarr had his back to me which was exactly what I needed.

I gritted my teeth and leapt forward. I threw my arm around his neck and started clawing at the flesh around his spine. He might have had superior strength, but he was still just a flesh and blood being like any other Qharr. I tore through several layers of skin, as Jykarr hopped around attempting to dislodge me from his back. I swung and slid around trying to find good handhold, but his berserk movements didn’t exactly make it easy.

Finally, I managed to stabilize my position by clawing my way up his back and tightening my hold around his neck. When I started to tear at his flesh again. It was a little disheartening to discover that it had already healed up, but I didn’t let it keep me from continuing. He screamed out and before I even realized it he’d managed to slam me back down into the ground.

Given my recent injury, getting back up proved to be a little more difficult than it should have been. I tried climbing to my feet, only to collapse, yet again. My face smacked right into the Kylthash and I gasped and clenched my fist as a shadow fell over me.

I crawled onto my knees, but Jykkar grabbed me by the shoulders and hurled me away before I was able to stand. I slammed into the wall and fell down to the ground face first. I pushed myself up onto my elbows, and tried my very hardest to launch myself back up, but each time I was knocked down it was even harder to get back onto my feet. I heard footsteps and I turned my head fully expecting to see the sub-ascendant come to finish me off.

A slender figure stepped into view and I found just enough strength to push myself onto my ass so that I could face her. “Becca, thank god.”

Another figure, this one blood-stained, approached, limping forward an arm clutched against her side. “Get away from her, you bitch!”

I blinked, my mind reeling as I glanced from my sister to Max and back again. Jykarr had hinted that one of them had betrayed us and I bit my lip trying to decide which one it could be. The choice was obvious, I pulled one of my phase pistols free and trained it on Max. “Don’t take another step.”

She paused and her face contorting into a grotesque display of pain as she held both hands out, one of them stained with her own blood. “Just listen to me. I’m not the one you should be worried about. I know this has got to be hard to hear, but I think your sister has been brainwashed. She’s betrayed us all.

“Impossible!” I yelled my hands shaking despite my best efforts to keep the gun stable. “Her mind hasn’t been bent. The doctor ran tests on her, we would know.”

“Okay,” Max said between pants. “Then it’s something else, but you’ve got to believe me. She’s the one who’s responsible for this. My people are coming and if we don’t bring the shield down the battle for Earth will end before it’s even started. Think about it, if I had betrayed you, I could have turned you over to the Qharr any time during our trip to Salt Lake. We sat huddled in a building for three days. I could have turned you in to the Qharr right there and then. What need for pretense?”

Doubts surfaced and I bit my lip glancing at my sister. There was something different about Becca. It wasn’t so much her physical appearance, but the way she held herself and the wild look in the eyes. I knew then and there that I wasn’t looking at my sister. I felt a cold chill run down my spine as I looked her in the eyes. Max was wrong, it wasn’t Becca who had betrayed us. It was her symbiote.

I don’t know how he had gained control of my sister without her consent, but I knew that it was him calling the shots. The how or why wasn’t important. I clenched my fist, gritted my teeth and let out a primal cry of fury as I scrambled back onto my feet. I grabbed Becca’s body by the shoulders and slammed into her at full speed pinning her against the closest wall with just enough force to hopefully disorient the symbiote.

“Becca,” I whispered in her ear. “I don’t know what he did to you or why he’s managed to take control of you like this, but I need you to come back to me.”

The symbiote didn’t exactly respond very warmly to being thrown around and despite my efforts I didn’t get through to my sister. My eyes grew wide as I felt something slide into my chest. I gurgled and stepped back, blood dripping from my mouth. I reached up touching the handle of my very own knife sticking out of my chest just about where my heart was.

I gasped, for a moment convinced that I was witnessing my last moments. Then I came to a little realization, my heart was still beating. The symbiote had missed it by mere millimeters. Either, he was a bad aim or Becca was fighting him. I had an opportunity that was too good to be passed up. It was time to play possum. I let my eyes slide into the back of my head and I collapsed.

“LEXA!” Lily’s cries were almost too much to bear, but I forced myself to remain still.

‘It’s time to remember.’ Khala’s voice trickled through my consciousness as disjointed images and voices echoed through my mind. The world fled from me, and my consciousness slipped away until I was consumed by darkness.

“We have a problem.” Lily’s voice drifted in, a whisper that reverberated through my mind with the power of a scream. It took me a moment that she hadn’t actually spoken to me. The voice had drifted in from some dark corner of my mind. The world just slipped away and a strange sort of stuttering image took its place.

I got the strangest feeling of deja vu as I looked over and I felt breath catch in my throat as I realized exactly why that was. There had been a moment after I had returned from Salt Lake that Lily had said those exact words to me. I’d felt a moment of dizziness just before we returned to our quarters to make love.

‘Sorry,’ Khala’s voice whispered. ‘That memory was a fabrication. You’ll understand why soon enough.”

“I found a listening device attached to the outside of the hull.” Lily’s voice and image resolved themselves into crystal clarity.

“The hull?” My own voice replied, but the words seemed like a distant echo spoken from far off. I hadn’t spoken them and yet I didn’t feel as if someone was speaking through me.

‘Khala!’ I cried out to my symbiote.

‘Watch Alexana. Clarity will come.’ She gave no other explanation, but I was so transfixed by what I saw that I didn’t press her further.

I studied Lily, taking in all the details as I sought to comprehend what had happened. “Listening device? You don’t mean that the Qharr have been…”

Lily shook her head, some of the sickly green grease on the back of her arm streaking across her forehead as she absently rubbed the sweat away. “I might have found it sooner, but it was a tunneler designed to embed itself into hull and eventually find its way inside the ship. We got lucky, the tunneling apparatus on this one failed or it probably would have picked up enough to screw us royally.”

I gasped, feeling the images around me cascade with a rainbow of colors as realization took hold. I knew what was happening, I was witnessing a memory, my memory.

“How long do you think it’s been there?”

“Can’t be certain, but best guess is when Duvak attacked the Renegade. I’ve never heard of anyone using them except inquisitors. I think they fired it at us when we were making our escape. The impact didn’t register on our sensors because they’re designed to make a soft impact.”

“It would it explain a lot.” I felt my hands on my hips as my past self let out a long sigh. “Do you have any idea what, if anything, was transmitted.”

“Listening devices don’t keep a record of what’s transmitted for obvious reasons, but I was able to dig through our sensor logs and decode what the Renegade’s sensors originally mistook for background noise. It only managed to catch snippets of information, but it did send along a few things that could cause us some trouble.”

“Shit,” I cursed running a hand through my hair as I turned away from Lily.

I clenched my eyes shut, gritted my teeth, before turning back toward her. “I need to hear everything.”

The rest came in a flood of images that rushed through my mind at such speeds that it became almost incomprehensible. The images resolved before slipping away until all I saw was darkness. I could feel the gears turning as my mind processed what I had witnessed. Finally, I understood.

Chapter Sixteen

My awareness of the present returned, but I kept my eyes shut as I let my sense of hearing slowly return. A renewed sense of clarity had awoken within me. Becca’s betrayal which had so deeply devastated me just mere moments before had been revealed for what it truly was, a ruse. It probably would have hurt a lot more, but it was hard to feel that way when I had pulled the wool over my own eyes.

My memories had been repressed by my symbiote at my request, to ensure that my reaction would seem genuine. All to distract Jykarr, to keep him from guessing our true plans. There were other motives, but they would become clearer all too soon.

It was hard keeping my eyes shut when I knew the sub-ascendant was so close and Lily was fighting for her life, but for our plan to work I had to remain still. Before too long, a blood curdling scream rang through the chamber and I knew Lily had been downed. I just hoped it had been Becca who’d struck the blow and not Jykarr.

“They’re both dead,” Becca’s voice said. She spoke so softly that I had strain my ears just to make out each syllable. “You have what you want. You can finally crush the resistance.”

Jykarr didn’t speak for the longest of time, but I could hear the sounds of movement. I risked opening my eyes and watched, his back turned to me as he moved toward the console. I bit my lip, feeling my heart beat harder in my chest as my deepest fears came to life inside the darkest corners my mind where those sort of things were manifested. Had he bought it?

A shadow fell over me, and moment later I watch Becca’s form move slowly toward the console, joining the sub-ascendant at his side. Jykarr manipulated the controls and it flashed to life presenting the holographic image of a Qharr whose face was laced with scars.

“Supreme Inquisitor Ry’kk,” Jykkar’s voice rumbled through the chamber in his native tongue. “Have the human fighters been dealt with?”

“We’re having more trouble containing them than we had anticipated, Sub-Ascendant. They are illusive, they are a credit to their race.”

“You almost sound as if you admire them, Supreme Inquisitor. Do not make the mistake of fooling yourself into believing they are anything more than wily prey. They are clever, intelligent even, but they are not worthy enough to be considered equals. Put them down as you would a pest, but do not underestimate them.”

“As you speak it, your voice is but an extension of the Prime Ascendant. Glory be to him and to you.” The holographic image fluttered and died away and before I could even so much as bat an eyelash, Jykkar had his hand around Becca’s throat.

“Your usefulness is at an end,” he said raising her until she was at eye level. “Did you really think I would let you live?”

“Fuck, do you think she’s stupid,” I said lurching to my feet and pulling the blade free from my chest.

“Sorry to say this buddy, but you’ve been had.” I stopped just long enough for the wound to close before leaping into motion, slamming into Jykkar, my knife cutting through his chest as easily as if it were butter. The force of my impact was enough to send all three of us careening to the ground on the other side of the console.

“Lily!” I screamed out shaking my head as Jykkar’s hand rose out of the tangle of limbs to latch onto me. “THE MESSAGE!”

I didn’t know if she heard me or even she was still alive, but I soon had other problems. Jykkar, lurched back onto his feet, sending both Becca and myself rolling away. He grabbed me, flinging Becca away like a rag doll and lifted me off my feet. “Reveal to me what you have done and I may spare your life.”

My face stretched into what I could only guess was a rather gruesome grin and I started laughing as a recording of voice echoed through the chamber and presumably throughout all every communication channel on Qharr-occupied Earth. “Citizens of the Qharr Ascendancy, I am Alexana Briggs, leader of Human Resistance Movement here on Earth. The gray skins would want you to believe that the resistance has fallen, but believe me when I say we are still very much a threat to continued Qharr occupation of Earth.”

Jykkar howled, sending me flying away, lumbering across the room toward Lily, but it was already too late. The damage had been done. Lily dove away as he came tearing toward her, only just managing to avoid his swinging fists. The recording continued and I rushed across the room, slamming into the bastard as he made a move on the controls. Jykarr and I collapsed again, and Lily, once again at the console, let out a high-pitched squeal followed by a ‘woop’ of elation.

“I’ve disabled the shield control! The other teams must have done their part the whole barrier is coming down.”

“Today, we have a very specific goal in mind and should we be successful there’s a good chance that no human shall ever again suffer at the hands of our self-proclaimed masters again. My human brothers and sisters and every single Qharr citizen here on our Earth has had the wool pulled over their eyes. The sub-ascendant is the perpetrator of a lie so damaging that it could very well shatter the very foundations of his people’s society. I have been told for almost the entirety of my life that humanity was enslaved because we were an honor-less and worthless race, but the truth is a lot more complicated. Jykarr Bynd started the war against humanity. Not the other way around as the Ascendancy has always wanted us to believe. I can only guess why he would do it, but we have uncovered something which I believe he dearly wants to keep hidden.”

The sub-ascendant howled, backhanding me and as I staggered back he started toward the console again. This time it was Lily and Becca who intercepted him, Becca face to face and Lily from behind. My sister lunged at him, grabbing the knife that was still embedded in his chest and twisting it as Lily, armed with a piece of paneling from the console, clubbed him in the back of his knees. He swiped at Becca, hitting her across the cheek and sending her slamming flat into the ground.

He turned his attention to Lily, but I leapt over the console and pounded my fists into him. He shrugged the blow off and grabbed Lily by the throat sending her swirling away. He rushed toward me, but I lurched aside. He slammed right into the wall with enough force that it actually seemed to daze him. It was enough to give me hope that we were finally starting to hurt the bastard.

“Humans are the progenitors of the Qharr and their cousins the Dexagarmatrax. We believe that their creators, a race that legend tells us are called the Phyrr Lesch, used our people as a genetic template. Don’t believe me? Let the facts speak for themselves. A copy of our findings are being transmitted along with this recording. All one needs to do to confirm they are true is run a genetic comparison between the three races and you will find that our genetic structures are far too similar for it to be mere coincidence.”

Jykarr was finally beginning to weaken. When I slammed my fists into the sub-ascendant he actually staggered back and let out a below of pain.

“What does this mean for humanity? It means our enslavement has been a lie, a veil by which the gray skins could conquer us. Rise up, push back! We need your help. Today along with our allies from the Earth Return Fleet and the Nester Alliance we are fighting to bring down the protective shield around Earth. Should we be successful there is an entire fleet of allied ships that will fight to the very end to ensure that every last gray skin is driven from our world.”

The sub-ascendant backhanded Lily who had launched herself at him and sent her stumbling away. Becca pounced on him next, but he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her into Lily. I launched myself at him next, but as with the others, he was ready for me. He slammed a fist down, and sent me sprawling backward onto my ass.

“As far as the general citizenry of Qharr Ascendancy are concerned. You have been ruled over by a corrupt and dishonorable system that has finally shown its true colors. They speak of honor and pound their chests proudly and yet they have perpetrated a lie against you so great that it demands action. If you are truly honorable than you must be as horrified by this news as I am. Fight with us or stay out of the way. If choose to side with your government and resist, you are the enemy, and you will share the fate of Jykarr Bynd and his cronies. One way or another, tonight, Earth is ours.”

With this final comment Jykarr roared with a ferocity that was so inhuman, so bereft of anything a self-aware being should have been capable, I actually shuddered. He came charging toward me again and just as before I dodged out of the way, but unfortunately he stopped himself before he could slam into the wall again.

“Give it up, you overgrown piece of shit!” I screamed at him. “You’ve lost, you’ve been made. Everyone knows you for the honorless bastard that you are.”

A third time, he charged me and this time I wasn’t able to get out of the way. He pinned me against the wall and I gasped as he rammed something cold and sharp through my chest. “You! It is only because of your symbiote that you have been so successful. You humans are worthless. I would have exterminated you all long ago, but the constraints of our so called honor system would not allow me to eliminate you. Now I see that allowing you to live was a mistake.”

I spat in his face, splattering it with blood. “So you enslaved us instead? No doubt hoping we’d give you a reason to finally kill us all off.”

He slid his weapon out from my chest, but before I could make a move he plunged it back in. “Do you realize what you have done? Our society will be torn apart, there will be civil war. We’ve kept the galaxy in order. Now it will be thrown into chaos. It is everything I feared.”

“You’ve kept the galaxy clutched in your iron fists. How many races suffer under your tyrannical rule? It’s time you relinquished your hold and let the galaxy get along without you.” I coughed up more blood, all of it going right into his face.

I heard Lily and Becca cry out, but even as he held me against the wall he managed to fend them off. He swept his other arm out and a long metal blade swept out from his wrist and sliced out at them. My view was blocked by his hulking form, but their cries at least told me that the attack didn’t kill them right off the bat.

“I will prolong your death as long as I can. I will bleed you, until there isn’t a drop left of your blood.”

He stabbed me again and pulled the blade out to impale me a fourth time, but this time I managed to knock his arm aside and kick him in the chest. He barely budged, but it I just enough wiggle room to slither out of his grasp and crawl away. I was still bleeding as I climbed back to my feet, but Khala drained the last of the energy from my phase pistols and the spare energy cells and I could feel the wounds begin to close as I spun around to face the sub-ascendant.

Lily and Becca came tearing toward us, and before I could pounce on him, Jykarr swept his fist out and slammed it into the side of my head, sending me reeling into the nearest wall. When I recovered, I lurched forward, but he’d already moved away to take on Becca and Lily.

When it came to fighting a single opponent, three was a bit of a crowd. So instead of joining them, I took off running across the chamber and once I’d gained enough momentum, sent myself hurtling up the side of the wall and up onto the ceiling. I position myself above them and waited for an opening, hoping that if I hit the bastard hard enough I might finally be able to do some real damage.

Back and forth they went across the chamber, and I clenched my hands and unclenched them over and over. I gritted my teeth and growled, but still I didn’t get a good opening. Lily and Becca were doing their damnedest to subdue their towering foe, but they didn’t seem to do much damage. He knocked Lily out of the way and a moment later Becca pounced on him, leaping up and onto his back throwing her arms around his neck in a strangle hold.

He roared and spun around doing a complete three-sixty as Becca wobbled around on his back. Finally, he managed to grab her by the ankle and sent her rocketing into Lily who had only just barely managed to climb back to her feet. I had my opening, Khala reversed her hold on the ceiling, and I was sent hurtling back to the ground. I slammed down, hitting the bastard atop the head with every bit of strength I could manage.

At last, I’d found a way to hurt the gargantuan bastard. He went down like a sack of fucking potatoes, but before I could congratulate myself he was already climbing back to his feet. He seemed a little dazed and I burst forward kicking him in the side hoping that it would keep him from regaining his footing. Between myself, Lily and Becca we must have him at least a several dozen times, but our best efforts only served to delay him.

He seemed to have regained his composure when grabbed Lily by the neck and took off. He slammed into the wall, but instead of wailing on her as I expected he held his free hand out. I was already running toward them when something extended from his wrist and I dove at the bastard grabbing at his bladed appendage. He kicked out, hitting my left knee with the underside of his foot and I fell back sprawled out on the ground behind him.

I was quick to scramble back up, but I wasn’t fast enough to keep him from plunging the blade directly into Lily’s abdomen. Neither was I able to stop him from running her through a second time. I was back on my feet before he could do it a third time, but when I moved to stop him he pulled his other hand away from Lily’s neck and swiped out at me with it as another blade flew out from his wrist. I was able to bend back at the waist in time to avoid getting sliced open, but the blade was so close I felt it slice through the air.

I rolled down to the ground out of reach of the second blade as Becca came charging toward us, but as he brought it around he sliced her halfway through the chest. I don’t know if she hadn’t seen the wrist-blade or if she had simply built up too much momentum to stop. Either way, the effects were devastating and her blood splattered all over the ground as she collapsed. I cried out and fell to my knees at her side in a futile attempt to restrict the bleeding.

Her wound was not healing, and there was a sinking feeling in my heart that told me her symbiote was out of juice. I gritted my teeth and craned my neck around to watch the sub-ascendant pump Lily full of holes. Dyssa was doing pretty well healing them up, but how long could she keep up? Sooner or later he’d bleed her dry. Symbiotes could heal a lot of wounds, but replacing blood wasn’t something they could quickly enough to sustain a host who had lost large amounts of it. He could have just stabbed her through the heart and finished her off, but he was too sadistic for that. He wanted her to suffer.

I screamed and jerked back up onto my feet, my hands clenched at my side. I saw every misdeed, committed against me by the Qharr flash before my eyes. I witnessed the death of my parents, but this time it was Jykarr who had murdered them. I saw him beat and tortured those I cared about, I witnessed him leading the inquisitors who had taken down the resistance bunker, I even witnessed him killing Kaya and now the bastard was trying to take away the two people in the world I cared about the most.

Everything the Qharr had done to me and my people were his doing whether directly or indirectly were as a result of his actions. I was angry, no fuck that, I was furious, I wanted him dead. My vision turned the most vibrant crimson and I let out a blood curdling howl as I rushed toward him.

I wasn’t acting on a rational level, I’d been reduced to a wild beast. All I knew was that I want the fucker dead. There was no Lexa, no sub-ascendant, no Lily nor Becca. There was just the beast I had become and my prey.

I moved forward, swooping in with liquid grace and grabbing him by the arm I pulled him away from his victim. My prey tried to stab me with his twin wrist-blades, but I ducked to the side and grabbed by him the wrist. My fingers wrapped around the edges of the blade and I yanked on it as hard as I could. Blood dripped down the edge of the blade, mine, but I didn’t care. I grunted and let out a cry of defiance as it tore loose from where it had been fused to his bones.

Like, a tiger cub who’d just grown her claws this predator finally had herself a weapon. My prey howled in fury as my hands found better purchase on the blunt end of the blade. I tightened my grip and raised my weapon as he slammed his down. I growled, just barely able to block the blow.

Speed was the only means I had to gain an upper-hand and I took full advantage of it and lurched forward circling him at greater and greater speeds. I slashed him on the back of the knee cap, in his side, and across the chest, but each of the wounds healed. He was resilient prey.

I growled and stopped dead in my tracks, giving him enough time to catch my scent before I zoomed off again. He followed me. I kept going straight moving up the walls, across the ceiling then back down again, and little by little the gap between us grew greater and greater. I lurched sideways, and watched as he zoomed past. He corrected for his error pretty quickly, but I was almost on top of him by then. I plunged the blade into his chest as he spun around to face me.

It went clean through and he reached down to grip the blade, before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed to the ground. I blinked and looked around, the red faded from my vision and I realized what had happened. I rushed to Becca and Lily, whose bodies’ were sprawled on the floor a few feet away from each other.

I checked for signs of life and found a pulse on each of them, but how long would that last? Lily was completely unconscious and her visible wounds while relatively small had not completely healed. Dyssa had clearly been overwhelmed by number of wounds sustained by her host. I bowed my head and gritted my teeth against the tears that came washing down my face.

Becca’s condition hadn’t changed, other than the amount of blood that had pooled under her body. She was conscious, but not exactly coherent. I collapsed beside her and just let the floodgates open. What point was there left in fighting? Lily and Becca were the only bright spots in my life. If I lost my sister and the woman I loved… I left the thought unfinished as a sob escaped my lips.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and for the briefest of moments I thought that it was a friend offering up condolences, but when I reached out to touch it I realized two things. First, the hand was way too damn big, and second there wasn’t a single person in the room capable of offering condolences. I tried to get up and fight, but it was already too late. Jykarr picked me up and slammed me back down into the ground with so much force that I didn’t see myself getting back up in the foreseeable future.

I watched through tear-soaked eyes as he knelt down next to me and put one of his massive paws down to hold me in place. Violet blood dripped out from the wound in which the wrist-blade was still embedded. “I have spent years keeping the truth hidden from my people and now you have taken that all away from me. Don’t you understand? The Phyrr Lesch abandoned us! All our talk of honor and privilege of the chosen race is gre’k fodder! We are nothing, but what we have made ourselves. Now that my people have learned the truth, that illusion is gone. I will end your existence for taking that away from us!”

Unable to move, or fight back I closed my eyes waiting for the end to come, but it never did. I heard a gasp and looked up to see that the sub-ascendant’s body had fallen back and away from me and was twitching as if he’d been caught up in a seizure. Confused, I glanced around, and came to a sharp realization once I saw Lily’s hand clasped around his ankle.

I didn’t waste time wondering how she had managed to subdue him with a simple touch though, quite frankly at that moment I didn’t care. Instead, I sat up, with strength that I didn’t know I possessed and placed one of my hands on his body. Then Khala did the unthinkable. She fed on the energy of the other symbiote. It was supposed to be impossible, an ability that Khala had always insisted was beyond her capability and yet somehow she and Dyssa were draining Jykarr dry.

The moment my hand touched his flesh I felt strength return to me as new images flooded through my mind. At first I believed that the originated from Jykarr, but I’d been so wrong. Those thoughts and perceptions were so powerful that they overwhelmed my senses and the world flashed away into nothingness.

Colors, most green, some red, a smattering of blue and a whole lot of yellow filled my vision. At first the images were, blurry and ill defined, but they slowly coalesced forming the picture of a forest left wild and untamed by the absence of technology. It was as beautiful as it was alien. I was moving, but I had no control of the speed or direction. Was this how Khala, nearly always an observer, seldom the one controlling the actions?

Panting, but who? Was it me? Was I the one running through the forest? Had I given control to Khala? Why was she running? How had we gotten there?

“Oh, I cannot be too late! I simply cannot!” A booming baritone voice called out in despair. The language was not English, but was as guttural and as harsh as Qharr. I understood it, and yet I knew I’d never heard it before in my life. Still, it seemed familiar somehow.

I wanted to look around to see who had spoken, but I couldn’t. None of my limbs would move. I was simply an observer along for the ride, but for what I couldn’t even begin to guess.

‘Khala!’ I cried out hoping that my symbiote might answer, but even she could not hear me… or else would not answer.

Gradually the forest gave way to grassland with only a smattering of trees and in a structure loomed in the distance. A tall and foreboding tower that stretched so high into the night sky that I wondered if it might not stretch into eternity.

I felt determination, and desperation rolled into a strange knotted ball of nerves and emotions. It wasn’t projecting those feelings, but they were as strong to me as if they were mine. I called out again, hoping someone would listen, if not Khala then perhaps whoever was in control, but no matter how much I screamed or yelled no one answered they just kept running.

Finally, the structure loomed in front of me so close I could touch it. I felt my neck pull back and wonder paired with awe washed over me. The building was more a skyscraper than a tower, but was unlike any I had ever seen before. There were no adornments nor, windows just plain charcoal gray stone, the only break in the facade was the entrance which was a simple opening with no door.

My neck returned to eye level and those feelings of wonder and awe that had washed over me only moments ago were supplanted by the earlier feelings. My captor started running again, even faster than before and… more frantic. What was driving this person, this being, onward?

The inside of the building was a remarkable as the outside for the simple fact that it was so unremarkable. Nothing differed, everything was perfectly symmetrical and was composed of the same drab stone. What was this place and who would have built it? It was one thing to build a structure to invoke wonder and awe to those who looked upon it, but this place was something else entirely. Who could take pride in such a structure?

“Master, Master!” The same voice as before screamed out and I was sent veering sideways into another simple, unadorned doorway. Finally, I stopped and a form detached itself from the dark. A Qharr, or at least I thought at first, but her features were too soft. She drew closer, stepping into the light revealing a very human-like pair of breasts. She brushed honey hair away from her rough, angular featured and placed her hand on my shoulders or rather the shoulders of the person who had spoken. She looked like some sort of hybrid of human and Qharr.

“Husband, you are too late, father has passed into the nether realm

“Gyff, what will we do without him to lead us? The masters abandoned us. All except him. He alone remained to guide us. Now even he is gone.”

“We will persevere. It is what he would have wanted.”

Tears cascaded down her face, but the voice of the one in control pushed past her. It was dark, but there was slight luminescent glow in the distance revealing the outline of a figure resting on a simple bed pad. He drew closer and knelt down beside the unmoving form. When he drew close enough, I felt the hairs raise on the back of my neck.

It wasn’t possible, it didn’t make any sense. It was a human man, old and emaciated. One who had very obviously passed away. “Hail Myrrh, High Lord of the Phyrr Lesch.”

“Hail!” Gyff’s voice echoed in the distance.

I screamed and the world around me fractured, and faded away.

I blinked and sat bolt upright. I was back in the real world. I shook my head to clear it and tried as I might to wrap my head around what I’d just seen, I just couldn’t quite reconcile it. They were memories of Jykarr’s K’teth, but why had it passed them on to me. What I’d seen suggested that Phyrr Lesch were human, but how was that possible? They were an advanced space faring race that lived thousands of years before humans had ever touched the stars.

‘I am ready to die.’ A voice rang through my head, it sounded tired and weary. The depth of emotion I felt conveyed to me was so intense it almost felt as if it were my own. This being was tired of life. It wanted nothing more than to end it’s long and miserable existence.

I glanced over at Jykarr, his form was still inert and I bit my lip and glanced at him. The voice could only belong to his symbiote, but why wait so long to speak?

“What was it that you just show me?” I held a hand over Jykarr’s shoulder so as to restrain him if he began to stir.

‘A memory from my past.’

I gritted my teeth and let his words settle in. I had never imagined that there might be a K’teth who was so old that he might actually remember the Phyrr Lesch.

‘Revered elder,’ Khala’s voice whispered in my mind so full of awe and reverence I could actually feel it bleed through our bond. ‘How could the Phyrr Lesch have been human? The people of this world had not even discover the wheel when the Phyrr Lesch ruled the galaxy.”

‘My memories of those times are vague, and had been passed on by mothers far older than me. Much of the truth had already passed into myth by the time I was born. It was said that the Phyrr Lesch were an advanced race on a world populated primarily by it’s more primitive cousins.’

‘And the Gieff?’

“Descendants of both Qharr and Phyrr Lesch. There is more,’ Jykarr’s K’teth whispered. ‘Touch the sub-ascendant, once again.’

I did as he suggested, but this time there were no images or flashes, just a strange tingling sensation in the back of my mind.

‘The knowledge you need will unfurl with time. There are many mysteries to which I do not have the answers, but perhaps you will succeed where I have failed. Now end it, before he comes awake again. Give me the peace I have desired for so long.’

“Why should we trust anything you have shown us,” I whispered staring at Jykarr’s unmoving form with wide eyes. “You could have withheld your abilities from your host at any time.”

‘NO! I am a slave. An addict. The substances that Jykarr has used to increase his strength beyond that of other Edant K’teth left me unable to resist. At first I tried, but I could find no way to overcome it. Forgive me.”

The symbiotes were every bit of the victim, just as the humans who Jykarr had enslaved. I bowed my head and uttered words that I never would have believed I would ever utter. “May you find peace in the next life.”

I yanked the broken and twisted blade free from Jykarr’s chest and without even a moments of hesitation I plunged it into his heart with what seemed like far less force than was necessary. It was enough. All three of his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he was finally dead.

I only lingered over his broken form, long enough to confirm he was gone before turning to Lily. She smiled and nodded at me, before pulling her shirt up to show that her wound had in fact been healed. I squeezed her hand and lightly pecked her on the lips before turning my attention to Becca.

I found my sister right where I had left her. She had lost consciousness and her skin had taken on a pasty pallor. I crawled over beside her and felt frantically for a pulse and I gasped and turned away.

Becca was gone. I collapsed to the ground and let out a long keening howl. There had been so many deaths, and I had fought so hard to prevent my sister from becoming one of them. Now, I’d lost her too, the only piece of my old life, the old me was gone. I felt… so alone. So angry.

A part of me just wanted to die, but one thing kept me from giving in. Lily. Draining Jykarr might have healed her wounds, but Dyssa couldn’t replace all the blood she’d lost. If she didn’t get help, she’d die. I wiped the tears from my eyes and stood up. I thought, I heard something and when I spun around ready to face whatever new threat had arisen.

Dynnara, the Gieff warrior from earlier burst on the scene tearing through the double Kylthash doors with more than a dozen Qharr warriors in tow. I didn’t speak, but rather held my hands up to show that I was unarmed and watched her approach. She stepped so close that I could feel her breath on my cheeks as she studied me and still neither of us spoke. Finally, she put a hand on my shoulder and spun around to face the others. “I must know.”

Her eyes turned back to me and I felt Lily’s weight against my side. I met her gaze and caught the look of warning in her eyes before turning back to Dynnara. She was right to be worried, but I was so very tired of fighting. If there was even the smallest chance that Dynnara could be convinced then I had to try.

“Show us sister,” a voice spoke, Dynnara’s symbiote.

‘Open your mind. Know the truth.’ Khala’s words echoed through my mind before the world descended into the darkness once again.

This time the images were grand and sweeping, generations of memories from the Jykarr’s K’teth flashed before my eyes in mere moments as they were shared with the Dynnara. I couldn’t say how much of what I saw belonged to the elderly symbiote and how much had been passed down to him, but the sheer magnitude of it all was staggering. It started with great ships ascending into the sky above an alien world. I couldn’t say for certain, but something told me it was Tel’c.

The images blinked blurred and suddenly I was watching through the eyes of the unnamed Qharr as he ran toward the great tower. Again, I witnessed him mourn the loss of the Phyrr Lesch who so resembled a human before the image flashed again. More visions coalesced inside my mind until they resolved themselves into that of a dimly lit room.

A Qharr child lay on the ground atop a bed pad as a slender figure knelt over her. This time the images were disjointed, broken even, but the meaning behind their words was fairly clear even if their exact translation was lost to me. Once again, I was seeing through the eyes of another, a Qharr from the distant past. The woman, the child’s mother, had features, just a little too soft for one of her kind, though much more harsh than Gyff. There were a pair of breasts on her chest, but their prevalence was such that they could have been easily overlooked. It was clear that she had the same Phyrr Lesch ancestry as the other woman. Perhaps, she was a daughter or a grand daughter.

The child spoke, she wanted to know where they had come from. The mother answered in a soft soprano, far softer than any Qharr voice. She spoke of the Phyrr Lesch in hushed tones, but there was an undertone of anger that spoke volumes. They were the creators, she told her daughter, they had created the Qharr to bring peace to the galaxy. They were…

It was so difficult to decipher, but the meaning behind the words slowly became evident as she continued. The Qharr had been created by using a primitive relative to the Phyrr Lesch as a template. These primitives were similar to the creator species, in that they could interbreed, but the creators were more advanced, more intelligent. Some of the meaning behind her words was lost on me, but I got a sense she was relaying something that had a deep spiritual meaning for her.

When she spoke of the Phyrr Lesch, there was the barest hint of contempt, but when she spoke of the other species, the so called primitives there was a feeling of reverence and awe. The creators were great and powerful, but they had abandoned the Qharr. They did not deserve their reverence, but their hatred. The ancestors were more worthy, and by exploring their origins it was believed that they could better understand their true purpose and not the one in which their creators had forced upon them.

Her neck craned around and I got the sense she was speaking to whoever’s eyes I was seeing through before everything faded to black and new images flowed through my mind.

Many were angry that the Phyrr Lesch had abandoned them, but others believe they had departed for reasons beyond their understanding and that they would one day return. Their society devolved becoming more tribalistic and fractured. Soon the two factions were even fighting amongst themselves, and as time passed knowledge passed into myth. The Qharr’s religion became more dogmatic and their society more xenophobic. Once, they explored the stars with the technology left to them by the Phyrr Lesch, but centuries of war consumed them, much of their knowledge was lost and they no longer had the means to touch the vast expanse of the galaxy.

Millennia passed and the wars continued until finally one rose up from the ranks of an insignificant Qharr clan and became their leader… their Prime. He saw and understood that the destructive path his people had taken would lead to their eradication. It took him more than twenty years, but he managed to unite his people under one banner. He became the first Prime Ascendant, under him the infighting amongst his people ceased and for the first time in many centuries, they began their first successful campaign against those now called the Gieff.

The Gieff lost. They’re population was decimated and they were driven into the more isolated regions, the islands and deserts of Tel’c. There they were hardened and gained a reputation as fierce warriors. Centuries passed and the hatred between the two Qharr clans softened, but never died out completely. The Qharr rediscovered what had been lost, the technologies of their creators, but the Gieff chose to remain isolated and apart. They remained tribalistic and sought to live a simpler life while the Qharr sought dominance of the stars.

Chapter Seventeen

The vision didn’t fade away, it simply blinked out and I was back in the real world staring at the Gieff woman as her chest heaved. Dynnara lurched back and she fell to her knees, but her eyes never left me. Her companions jumped forward weapons at the ready to scorch us with their phase rifles, but she held her hand up and climbed back to her feet.


She stood there in the silence eyeing me up and down before a slow, but steady shiver ran up and down her body. She turned to the other Qharr and her face cracked into a smile that looked damned peculiar on her alien face.

“She spoke the truth.”

Dynnara drew close again and placed both her hands on my shoulder bowed her head and touched her forehead to mine. “You are progenitors, the heirs to the race from which we sprung. You must not be cast down as Jykarr Bynd has done. Forgive us.”

I took several steps back and let her hands fall away. She remained were she was standing, studying me with her trio of eyes.

“I’ve lived a lifetime under the thumb of the Qharr.” I shook my head and bit back tears. “I’ve watched my parents, the woman I once loved, and my own sister fall by your people’s hands. I-I can’t forgive those things. Not ever.”

She bowed her head and took three steps back. “Then I will help you. At least in some way the mistakes of the past can be undone. Earth belongs to you, let us fight the injustices of the Qharr people. If we can bring others to our path and fight against those who seek to continue your enslavement–”

“You’re talking about civil war!” Lily said her voice trembling as she stepped forward on trembling legs, bracing herself on the counter of the communications console. “Would you really betray your own people?”

“The Gieff and Qharr have warred with one another for as long as any of us can remember. I will shed no tears over the death of those who would turn their backs on the first race.”

I cleared my throat and glanced over my shoulder, a sob escaping my lips as I looked upon my sister’s corpse. Max moved forward, wincing with each step, before stopping and putting a hand on my shoulder. “We’ve done our part here. Lily needs medical attention and she damn well isn’t the only one.”

I gritted my teeth and nodded, unable to form the words, but even through the tide of grief and anger I knew she was right. I just wish I could see a way of us getting out alive. I shook my head and turned back to her and clenched my fists at my side. I took a deep breath before managing to force out a reply. I didn’t voice my concerns instead I looked around the room, careful to avoid lingering over Becca’s bloodied form.

“You have a suggestion?”

“If I can contact the Valiant, I think I can convince them to send down a drop ship, but they won’t risk an extraction in the middle of a firefight. So, we’ll need to put some distance between us and the action.”

Lily bowed her head taking in a deep breath of air before turning to me. “I-I don’t think I can make it. I can barely walk as it is.”

“I’m not leaving you… or Becca,” I clenched my hands at my side and walked to my sister’s body with slow deliberate steps.

Dynnara brushed past me and leaned down beside her body. “I shall carry this husk.” She slid an arm around Becca’s waist and turned to me as she hefted her up in her arms. “I will treat it with all due reverence and respect.”

I wanted to believe Dynnara was completely on the level and that should would do as she said, but her use of the word ‘husk’ didn’t fill me with the most confidence. A part of me wanted to force Becca’s body from her arms and carry her myself, but I bit my lip and turned away grabbing Lily by the shoulder as one of Dynnara’s hunters held the door open for us to pass through. I didn’t like it, but the Gieff was our best bet of getting the fuck out of there alive.

The Kylthash which coated the walls of the communication room had also granted the place a measure of sound resistance, but the moment I stepped through the doorway my ears were assaulted with the sounds of explosions and the much fainter sound of screams. The sheer intensity of the roar from the fighting was almost overwhelming and we hadn’t even made our way outside.

I pulled Lily close and felt a cold shiver trickle down my spine. I’d always hoped and dreamed this moment would come, but, until recently, a part of me hadn’t quite managed to believe it ever would. Humanity had suffered for decades under the rule of our oppressors and finally it was our time to fight for our freedom. Finally, the battle for Earth had begun.

Tears streamed down my face as I held Lily close to me. She’d lost consciousness sometime during our flight, but I could still feel her chest rise and fall. I fought my way through the tangle of Qharr with one hand. Firing off shots, as best I could weighed down by her inert form. It severely limited my ability to fight but I would not abandon her. Lily would get to safety and Becca would receive a proper burial even if it brought about my own demise.

It was all just a blur, phase bolts and bullets whizzed all around, but none of it mattered and I continued on somehow avoided any serious injury from the coil guns. I must have been hit maybe a dozen times, but most were from far off and all healed.

As we battled out way out, more of our friends joined us, but their faces were a blur and were soon forgotten as I continued onward. Lily was the only presence that registered and even then it was a vague nebulous presence. Farris cries when he saw my sister were enough to call up my attention, but even then it didn’t last long.

Finally, we reached the courtyard and the fog that had fallen over me finally lifted as I looked up to witness something I thought my eyes would never see. A destroyer, but not one of Qharr make, it was a human vessel reigning phase fire down on Qharr ships which were attempting to launch. Other ship’s joined it, some were recognizable as human, but many of the smaller ones were not. The ship’s were a hodgepodge of designs and colors, suggesting that the ERF had allied themselves with a number of different alien cultures.

“Thank God!” Max’s voice called out beside me. She clasped a hand over the left side of her throat and spoke. “Rodriquez to Valiant. Requesting extraction.”

She paused and I got the sense that she was listening to a response. I never heard one, but she must have had a comm implant. “Confirm, Sergeant Maxine Rodriquez, M-O-S Sixty-Eight Whisky Two, five-niner-bravo-seven-six-charlie-delta.”

She turned to me and glanced up at the one of the great skyscrapers. “We need to get higher, there’s too much weapons fire this close to the ground. They won’t risk bringing a drop ship down this close to the fighting.

“Farris!” I screamed out forced to raise my voice in order to be heard over the roar of the battle. “Take Lily!”

Farris did as he was commanded silently and reverently slipping my lover’s body out from my arms. I felt tears well up in my eyes at the sight, but I fought them away. I could mourn later… for the time being I had to keep my head.

“This way,” I called to the others just before I took off, running toward one of the great structures.

A wave of Qharr bodies swarmed through street in every direction. An endless sea of gray which stretched as far as the eye could see. We fought our way through the throng of beings headfirst, with all the grit and force of will that we could muster, but it was difficult going since the torrent of aliens seemed intent on making their way in the opposite direction.

No gray skins stopped to challenge us, but they seemed intent on getting out of dangers way. Few Qharr would cow to the threat of death, but like any species they had more than a smattering of common sense. An aerial battle taking place overhead with stray phase canon blasts and flaming debris plummeting toward the ground could end a life rather abruptly. Death while fighting an enemy was one thing, but death by falling wreckage or friendly fire wasn’t exactly the most heroic or honorable way to die.

We were less than a dozen meters away from our destination when we were finally confronted. Three hunters stopped, peeling away from the throng of fleeing Qharr and trained their weapons on us. Normally, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but those weapons were coil guns. I raised my weapons and opened fire killing the first two with a couple well-aimed shot to each of their chests. The third opened fire before I could do him in and I was forced to dodge out of the way. Fortunately, my companions scattered and Dynnara took the bastard out with a single shot to the head.

I expected that to be the end of it, but I should have known better. Instead of warriors we found ourselves confronted by an angry mob of civilians. I guess they didn’t take too kindly to us killing the warriors. There wasn’t a hunter among them, but they were still part of a culture obsessed with the warrior’s way. They might not have the training of a soldier, but most of them would still probably be better fighters than the average human.

“Fuck,” I whispered under my breath and lurched forward letting out a long stream of curses and insults in Qharr.

I holstered my weapons and held my hands up. It was time to try something a little different. I glanced back at Dynnara, cleared my throat then choosing my words slowly and deliberately I began to speak to the Qharr in their own language. “Brothers and sisters. Too much violence has been done between our two people. You are angry and understandably so. You have been lied to. We are not your enemies.”

They immediately rushed forward and I slammed my shoulder into the foremost attacker as she came at me. “Well, fuck. Fat lot of good that did.”

I raised my phase pistols prepared to open fire, but they were ripped from my hands. I screamed and ducked down as a fist soared toward me. I smashed the offending bastard in the face and moved on to my next victim, a rail-thin Qharr woman with the worst under-bite I had ever seen. I made short work of her and slammed my shoulder into a third who tried to come up on me from behind.

For every one Qharr I took down, three more took his or her place and it wasn’t long before I myself surrounded by more opponents than frankly I knew what to do with. How exactly was I supposed to fight several dozen opponents at once? They’d win by sheer numbers alone.

Farris was the first to collapse against the oncoming onslaught. He tried valiantly to fend them off, but the burden of Lily’s unconscious form was simply too great. Max fell next and one of the few remaining ERF soldiers was the third. I couldn’t tell if they were alive or dead, but I did hear a few screams from Dynnara before they closed in on me. Vakrexid’s tall bulbous head, which towered over that of even the tallest Qharr, was the last thing I saw before the weight of the bodies forced me down to the ground.

A squirming dogpile of writhing Qharr collapsed on top of me and I pressed back. I tried vainly to break free, but when I thought I might finally push through, the weight suddenly doubled. I screamed out and collapsed to the ground, unable to do anything but let myself be pulled the rest of the way to the ground.


Khala’s distress squirmed around inside my mind like a serpent slithering across my skin. It was probably the strangest sensation I had ever experienced and I wasn’t sure whether it was a good sign or bad one. Her emotions were so wrong that they almost seemed to have taken on a physical form, but they faded away just as quickly. They were replaced by a sudden influx of energy that burst out from my body and exploded into my attackers sending them flying away in all directions.

At first, I assumed that this was yet another application of Khala’s gravity manipulating abilities, but this felt different.

‘The Tyrsh!’ Khala’s voice was full of awe and wonder and I reached out to her with my mind. There was an instant connection, for a few seconds our minds became one and I understood. The Tyrsh was an ability said only to be available only to K’teth joined to the first hosts. It happened when the bond between host and symbiote was at its strongest. It was an energy discharge that could stun hundreds of enemies at once. Unfortunately, it didn’t make any distinction between friend or foe.

Knowledge of the Tyrsh wasn’t the only thing that came to me. A flood of memories and experiences, I knew everything there was to know about Khala and her previous hosts. Our consciousness was joined in a new way, a way that was so complete so intimate that there was no differentiating between me or her. We were united in a way that I never would have believed possible until that moment.

Dozens of Qharr came running across the distance, treading on the fallen bodies of their co-patriots. Dynnara, was the only one unaffected by the Tyrsh and we stood together as the oncoming onslaught. I had hoped to use this new ability again, but it had nearly drained me. There was simply no way, I could hope to call it up again without a massive energy intake.

I didn’t realize how weak I really was until the bastards were on top of us. I swung my fist at an opponent and didn’t seem to do much of anything except piss him off. He grabbed me by the throat and slammed me and slammed me down to the ground. None of my blows seemed to do a damn thing. It was as if the Kytash had drained away all my enhanced strength and reflexes. I called out for help, but Dynnara was a little busy.

I screamed out in defiance, but even that was an exercise in futility. The world seemed to slow down to a crawl and I thought that the end might finally come. There was no hope of rescue, there was no hope of survival. At least I could die knowing that the ERF might have a fighting chance.

I heard screams, and shouts followed by the sounds of struggle. My attacker was ripped away from my body and I felt a pair of hands pull me up from my feet. I blinked and looked upon my rescuer, unable to fathom what had happened and I couldn’t have been more surprised. Dynnara, looked me in the eyes and she smiled. Damn, I was never going to get used too that.

Lily was standing a short distance away, conscious again, and looking even more worse for the wear than the last time I’d looked upon her. Everywhere else I turned I saw Qharr fighting Qharr. It seems as if a pack of gray skin had come to rescue us. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but one thing was certain, I never in my wildest dreams would have ever expected one of our conquerors, let alone a whole squad of them, to come to our aid even after Dynnara joined ranks with us.

“Dynnara!” I yelled barely able to hear myself over the roar of the battle and pointed up to the building. “Can you get us up there?!”

Her head snapped around and her eyes locked on the spot where I was pointing. She screamed at the top of her lungs pointing at four warriors then turned to me. “If that is what you wish.”

The Qharr hunters moved with the brutal efficiency that few could match and struck at those who remained within the perimeter that had been created upon their arrival. The remaining fighters pushed out, peppering those who resisted them with a deluge of phase fire that devastated the rioting masses. Those that remained fled before their attacks unable to withstand the onslaught of the devastating blasts.

The bodies of our fallen attackers were slowly cleared away and I let a sigh of relief as each one of them was revealed to be alive. Some were in worse shape than others. Max’s face was a mass of bruises, Lily still looked pale and the doctor’s arm hung from his side uselessly, but Farris by far looked the worst. Even so, he climbed to his feet with a stubborn set to his jaw, and scooped my sister’s corpse up. I think he was as determined to give her a proper burial as I was.

I bit my lip and turned away fighting away the tears, but even so a few managed to stain my cheeks. I retrieved my pistols from the ground then cleared my throat and turned to Dynara. “Show us the way.”

Our fight up had been far less eventful than our flight through the streets, but when we got to the rooftops things got just a little more interesting. Fighters zoomed through the sky blasting at each other in the distance as they fought for arial domination of the sky.

If it had been just human and allied vessels fighting the gray skins it wouldn’t have seen quite so jilting, but many of the ships fighting each other were Qharr. It seemed almost incomprehensible, but we had succeeded in a way I never thought possible. The revelation that humans were the first race had clearly had a profound effect. The soldiers of the empire were actually rebelling. It was the outcome we had hoped for, but not one I had believed possible.

Max was yelling into her comm the moment we found our way onto the roof. “This is Sergeant Maxine Rodriquez, M-O-S Sixty-Eight Whisky Two, five-niner-bravo-seven-six-charlie-delta. I’m sending our coordinates now. We need immediate extraction. Repeat immediate extraction.”

She gritted her teeth and turned to me with a shake of her head. “A transport is inbound, but it may be a bit before they reach us.”

I nodded and paused for a moment to take in the battle. I’m sure there was fighting all over the city, but what little of it I could see was centered around the sub-ascendant’s residence. They were far enough away that we weren’t in any immediate danger, but that could change pretty quickly. The allied vessels were a hodgepodge of ship’s design. The human fighters were easy enough to pick out, the shared the sleek characteristics of their large counterparts, but the allied vessels were another matter entirely.

There were the orange and black dagger shaped vessels that sped through the air so fast that I wondered how their pilots could maintain control, then there were the blockier red and gray craft that flew at what I could only describe a more leisurely pace and blasted the enemy craft with powerful shots from phase canons that looked like they belonged on a much larger vessel like a cruiser and finally there were the cone-shaped craft that were a bright-blue color and covered in spikes.

Vakrexid flapped his one good arm and waved it out at the battle. He warbled and let out a high pitched squeal before turning back to me. “Those blue ones are Dexagarmetrax fighters!”

A brief image of the doctor at the helm of a fighter popped into my head and for a moment the goofy image even managed to bring a smile to my face before the weight of everything came crashing back down onto my shoulders. Again, I found myself fighting the urge to curl up into a ball, but I batted it away. I couldn’t allow myself to become distracted not when we were so close. I had to survive, if for nothing else than for Becca. She wouldn’t have wanted to me just to give up.

“Take cover!” Max screamed as a trio of Qharr fighters zoomed toward us.

I dove down and found cover behind some a large piece of machinery. If those fighters happened to spot us and opened fire, my hiding place wouldn’t offer up much protection, but it was more than suitable to conceal me. Unfortunately, the fighters weren’t fooled. I don’t know which of us they spotted, but when they stopped dead, hovering in the air above us I knew cowering behind the machinery wouldn’t do us any good.

I stepped out from cover and held my hands up. “Everyone stay down!” I screamed out as I walked slowly toward the edge of the roof. Maybe, there was a way I could fool the fighters into thinking I was alone. A phase canon put out a lot more energy than a rifle or a pistol. I wasn’t sure if I could survive the blast, if they decided to open fire, but I stood a much better chance than the others.

Fortunately, I never had to find out. A series of brilliant flashes slammed into the fighters each of which were sent careening down toward the ground where they exploded with blasts far more brilliant than the ones that had taken them out. When the resulting flashes cleared a human ship zoomed toward the building and stopped near the edge. A ramp extended from the side as a door on the side hissed open.

A lanky man, with a balding head stuck his head out and motioned forward. He spoke his voice artificially amplified by his helmet. “Sergeant Rodriquez!”

Max lurched into motion, yelling, screaming and frantically waved her hands as she motioned for all of us to follow. Most of us were already in motion, but I stayed back to assure that everyone was finding their way then turned to Dynnara who was staring at the transport ship with wide eyes.

“You coming?”

She turned to me and smiled again. “It would be an honor, but my place is here. There is a battle to be fought and perhaps even a war. The Ascendancy has committed a grievous sin and must be made to answer for what it has done.”

I bit my lip and cupped my hand around her right bicep. It was not a gesture I would have ever imagined making to a Qharr, but it was one that I believed was well deserved. It was a way of offering a fellow warrior well wishes and victory on the battlefield. I couldn’t help, but smile when she returned it.

“Go!” She yelled switching to Qharr just before she spun around and started yelling orders at the cadre of warriors that had accompanied us.

I didn’t say goodbye, that would have seemed hollow compared to the moment we had just shared. I climbed into the transport and collapsed on the ground beside Farris and my sister’s corpse. Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I finally allowed myself to morn. I had high hopes for Earth, but my future seemed much dimmer without Becca.

Even with working inertial negators the transport shook and rattled as it rocketed into the sky, but I couldn’t have cared less. My people were being carried away to safety and my part in the fighting was finally done.

Chapter Eighteen

Eyes closed, I leaned over the railing resting my head against the cold surface of the transparasteel as I stood a short distance away from the bed where Becca’s body had been placed. We had successfully made our escape and had been welcomed aboard the Valiant, the flagship of the ERF fleet, but there had been so much happening with the battle that we’d been shunted aside and forgotten. I didn’t blame them. If I had a battle to win, I wouldn’t be too worried about observing pleasantries.

At least, they had taken the time to escort us to the medical bay and treat our injuries. Well, those of us that needed it anyway. I opened my eyes, and bit my lip. Looking around at the others. Farris was seated next to my sister, his head bowed and both of his hands clasped in front of his face, the doctor was studying a display panel in the corner and Lily, who was in much better shape after receiving a blood transfusion, was standing beside me both hands on the rail. She leaned close to me and put her head on my shoulder. She didn’t say a word, and she didn’t have to. If anyone understood what I was going through it was Lily.

I glanced out the view port and shook my head. There was a sad sort of beauty in the destruction I witnessed there as the opposing forces ripped each other to shreds, but all I could think was how senseless it had all been. Our world had been invaded and enslaved and for what? Because the sub-ascendant had feared the truth about the connection between our two races. The end was near, but everything I ever cared about had been taken away from me. Except Lily. I took her hand in mine and squeezed it. Without her I would have nothing.

“This is most befuddling!” The doctor cried out and I craned my neck around to get a good look at him.

“Doctor, what is it?” Lily asked her hand still gripped in mine as she jerk sideways to meet the doctor’s gaze.

“Vakrexid is examining the scans of Rebecca’s body and cannot detect any sign of decay. She has no heartbeat, and no respiratory activity. This should not be possible.”

“What are you saying, doc?” Farris looked up his eyes red from all the tears he had shed.

“Neural activity! How can this be?! It should not be possible. Vakrexid cannot explain it… and yet. The symbiote! That must be it. Somehow it has managed to preserve Rebecca’s higher brain functions.”

“Doctor!” I screamed out. Not even realizing I had moved across the room until my I found my hands gripped around his shoulders. “What does that mean?”

“It means Alexana,” he said putting both hands on my shoulders. “That Vakrexid can revive your sister. Excuse me, Vakrexid must confer with my ERF colleagues.”

The doctor pulled away and I watched him jerk across the room unable to believe that it could be possible. I followed him, seeking more answers, but he spun around and gripped his hands around my shoulders. “No time to talk. Time is most important. Vakrexid needs you to displace your body from this place. Please, depart the infirmary at once!”

Vakrexid turned away and I felt a pair of hands pulling on mine. I let those hands leading me away. Once, the door had snapped shut behind us I turned to find Lily gazing up at me with those big magenta eyes. For most of our relationship, I felt as if I had always been the one looking after Lily. She’d always seemed… so delicate. Now I was the fragile one, the one who needed to be held. She wrapped her hands around me and we watched from the waging battle through the corridor view port.

Military vessels weren’t the only ones we witness strewed amongst the fighters and flagships. Civilian ships, merchants, cargo transports and the like fled Earth atmosphere, either disappearing with a flash of light or were destroyed by stray weapons fire. Most were of Qharr make, but there were a few of alien design. I wondered briefly if one of those vessels belonged to Veslpatt, but I had no way of knowing. A part of me really hoped the crime lord had managed to escape.

As the battle waged more and more gray skin ships turned against the main fleet, joining the human and allied vessels as they fought for dominance. The tide had turned in our favor, to be sure, but the implications of Qharr fighting Qharr went beyond this one battle. It meant civil war within the empire. If we succeeded in retaking Earth, which was looking more and more likely, our chances of maintaining control would be much greater if the gray skins remained occupied by an internal conflict.

We stood there transfixed by the spectacle, horrified, and yet, unable to look away. To me, it was almost as if by watching the battle we were, in fact, witnessing a physical manifestation of the doctor’s struggle to resurrect my sister. Each time a human vessel was destroyed or damaged I swore that I was seeing my sister’s death reaffirmed. She was dead. How could she be resurrected?

More Qharr ships fell before the growing might of the allied forces until finally so few remained that there was no doubt who the victors were.

“This is General Harold Briggs with Earth Return Fleet calling for all Qharr forces to stand down for immediate surrender. Any ships that fail to comply will be immediately fired upon.”

The voice which played over the intercom sounded older, and more worn than the one I’d heard from the message in the biometric key, but it very clearly belonged to the same man. Or did it? The ERF relied on clones to fill it’s ranks perhaps this Harold Briggs was a clone… or maybe the one left on Earth had been. Either way it was very unlikely that they were the same person.

The opposing Qharr ships didn’t surrender, but neither did they put up a fight. Instead they vanished with a bright flash of light. They’d fled with their tales tucked between their legs, an act that didn’t exactly fit within their code of honor. Those gray skin vessels that had joined forces with the ERF didn’t take long to follow until the only ship’s that filled they emptiness were human and allied vessels.

Humanity was free at last!

“Becca!” I said practically leaping across the room as the doctor motioned me inside the room.

As I drew close I could see her chest rise and fall, but her eyes did not open. Tears were streaming down my face as I reached out to take her hands. She didn’t move or respond in any way, but I felt a surge of joy when my fingers clasped around hers. Her hands were warm! “She-she’s going to make it?”

I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to look into Vakrexid’s large bulbous eyes. “The symbiote did not survive, but his efforts were not in vain. Many of her internal organs were damaged and we were forced to replace them with artificial replacements for the time being. When she is in a more stable condition we will need to clone permanent implants, but it will be some time before we’ll be able to grow them. Fortunately, the ERF has the capability to produce mass quantities of blood on demand so Vakrexid was able to–”

I smiled and threw my arms around him, cutting him short in the middle of his rant. “Thank you.”

The doctor’s frame stiffened for moment just before I felt his arms slip up my back as he returned my hug. “You are most welcome.”

It felt so… miraculous after having so much taken away and now to have Becca given back. There were no words to describe the joy I felt. I pulled away and glanced over my shoulder at my sister’s inert form. “How long until she regains consciousness?”

“It is most difficult to predict.” Vakrexid let out a long mournful wail. “This situation is most unprecedented. It is unlikely that she will awaken for several days, but Vakrexid cannot say for certain.”

I nodded and walked over to my sister’s resting place and put a hand on her shoulder. “I can live with that if it means I’ll get to hear her voice again. I hope it’s alright with you, but I think I’ll keep watch over her until she wakes up. I thought I lost her twice already. I don’t intend for it to happen again.

“Indeed.” Vakrexid scurried away and I took a seat beside Becca’s bed and took her hand.

For the longest time, Becca was the sole object of my attention. Oh sure, I was aware of Farris along with the added presence of Vakrexid, and the ERF doctor’s scurrying about, but I wasn’t concerned about their presence and paid them no mind.

After a time, I felt a hand slip around my waist and a head lean against my shoulder. She’d been away debriefing the ERF commanders. I’m sure I’d be asked to do the same soon enough, but at the moment I was being given my space. The general probably had something to do with that, but I didn’t ask. Lily’s squeezed my free hand and I squeezed back. That moment stretched into an eternity and I closed my eyes letting a flood of warmth rush through me.

Khala’s presence was strong in my mind and a smile touched the corner of my lips as I felt an outpouring of love and support. Our relationship had always been tenuous at best, but that had already started to change. I cared for my symbiote and it was now obvious she returned those feelings. Earth would be need to be rebuilt and I couldn’t imagine that happening without the support of every willing being, human, K’teth or even Dexagarmetrax.

“Thank you, Sergeant Rodriquez,” a lone figure said from the view port. I couldn’t see much of his face, but his gray hair at least told me he was well past his prime. “You’re dismissed.”

Max threw her hand out in a salute and turned around on the balls of her feet before disappearing through the doorway. The figure turned toward me, once the door slid shut behind him, and smiled. He stroked his bearded chin and studied me with a pair of fierce steel-blue eyes that showed nothing but kindness. He looked so much like my father that for a brief moment I actually believed I was looking upon the spectre of Lloyd Briggs, but there was something about his bearing that gave his true identity away. It was my uncle, Harold Briggs.

He turned back toward the view poor staring at that great blue marble that was the Earth and sighed. “For almost twenty-five years, I’ve waited for this day. The day that I would return home and retake the world I’d been forced to flee all those years ago. Now that I’ve succeeded, I scarcely know what to do with myself.”

“Your job is hardly done, General. There are still thousands of Qharr left on Earth and after that there will be a world to rebuild,” I said walking slowly toward the view port.

I touched the glass and looked out at the expanse. I sensed his eyes on me and turned to meet his gaze when he started to speak. “I don’t think I was fully prepared.”

I nodded. “It was certainly an enormous task.”

“It was, but that is not what I meant. I wasn’t prepared for how much you remind me of your father.”

I bit my lip and turned away shaking my head. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t remember much about him.”

“You must have a lot of questions.”

I sighed and let out a soft chuckle. “I think I could probably say the same about you.”

Humanity was free, but so many questions were still unanswered. Our origins and how they related to the Phyrr Lesch were a big part of the puzzle, but there was still so much we didn’t know. Something told me the General probably knew much more about me than I did him. I’m sure the ERF had already sent up dozens of intelligence reports regarding the resistance, the K’teth, me, and our experiences, but sometimes you couldn’t truly get the measure of a person until you looked them in the eyes.

“I image we’ll have plenty of time to fill each other in on the particulars of what has transpired today and everything that has happened since the invasion, but for now… I’d really like to catch up with you and your sister. Once she has recovered, of course.”

“I’m still a little amazed by what happened. I-I thought I lost her.”

He moved toward the corner of the room where a beat-up looking wooden desk rested, a stark contrast to the uniformly cold steel bulkheads of the ship. He pulled a drawer open and set a familiar bottle filled with amber liquid atop the desktop. “Amaretto?”

I nodded and let a slow smile form touch my lips as he slid a glass toward me. I took it in both hands and took a long sip. “I’m really starting to get a taste for this stuff.”

“I take it Mara shared a drink with you?”

“Yours did. Is she alive? I haven’t heard a thing about her since the battle.”

He nodded, setting his glass down after finishing off the rest of his drink. “She’s a little worse for the wear, but the doctors aboard our medical frigate, the Nightingale, tell me she’ll make a full recovery.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“It must be disconcerting meeting different iterations of the same person. I know from personal experience that it can be rather unsettling.”

“You can say that again. The first time I crossed paths with your Mara, I was so shocked, I was ready to put a phase blast through her head. Of course, the Mara who stayed on Earth was a clone too, wasn’t she? I don’t even remember the real Mara.”

“I’m not surprised, you were very young when she passed away.”

“You know the truth, then? About who I am.”

“I know about the K’teth and how you became Alexana.”

“Any you, you’re a clone?”

“Nothing so interesting, I’m afraid. I’m the real McCoy, the dull old bland original Harold Briggs. With all the quirks and flaws that come with it.” A smile touched the corner of his lips and realize he was trying to get a laugh out of me.

I smiled, and chuckled softly before I stopped and gave him a good hard look in the eyes. He wasn’t like anything I would have expected and in small part of what I had lost. I smiled and after a bit of coaxing I started to tell him the story of my life. There was a lot of pain in my past, but for once telling it all didn’t make me sad. Nothing could dampen the joy that swelled within me at that moment. My sister was alive after her symbiote had sacrificed it’s own life to save her, I had been reunited with an uncle I believed dead and after twenty-four years of enslavement I was finally free. For the first time for as long as I could remember life was looking pretty good.

Comments, no matter the length, are very much appreciated. If you liked this story please take a minute to leave a review or even just to tell me you liked it. Criticism is welcome so long as it is constructive and I will gladly answer any personal messages or emails you want to send my way.

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Battle For Earth: Coalescence


Duvak’s attack on our ship had left us devastated with little hope
of escaping. Would we once again escape the clutched of the Qharr or would
we face a gruesome and terrible fate as we fought to stay alive?

Author’s Note: A very big thanks to Zapper, Beyogi, Loki & Maggie Finson for providing valued input and assistance editing this story. Another big thank you to all those who participated in the following blogs Requesting help with a name for a race of aliens… and Questions about a human hair bracelet of all things. Although all participants in the former thread were very helpful (well, really both threads), I feel I need to thank Rasufelle and Elizabeth Jean both for their suggestions as those two inspired the final name for the Phyrr Lesch the most.

Chapter One

Kaya was dead. The same thought repeated itself over and over in my mind. I had witnessed the death of my parents and countless friends over my short twenty-eight years, but Kaya’s was different. My parents’ demise had a vague and distant memory and life under the gray skins had taught me to expect loss, but this was too much. The mother of my child had been killed right in front of my eyes by the very same bastard who had killed my parents.

I screamed, producing a howl of pure primal fury that sounded inhuman even to my ears and pounced. I slammed my knife into his chest and yanked it free with a speed and strength that no other human could match then I stabbed again and again filling his torso with stab wound after stab wound. The ferocity of my attacks was such that Duvak could do nothing to counter me. In a few short moments I had him pinned against the ground. His wounds were starting to heal–no doubt the work of his symbiote–and I knew that the small blade would not be enough to kill my former master. At least not in the way I’d been using it.

I brought the blade away, gritted my teeth and readied myself to plunge it into his throat, but before I could Duvak wrapped his massive paw around my hand and forced it away. He pushed back into me, the knife clattered to the ground and I was thrown away with near-bone-shattering force. He didn’t give me a chance to recover before rolling on top of me and started pummeling me with blows.

I kicked out at Duvak with both legs and was able to gain just enough room to escape his grasp and jump back to my feet. I lunged at him, but before I could even blink he slammed his hand into my throat and pinned me against the ground. Duvak may have rallied, but his counter attacks were only serving to make me angrier and even more determined to end his life.

I swung at him with my one free arm hitting him in the side of the head. He grunted and stumbled backward bringing a hand up to steady himself. I slid back down onto my ass, snatching up the knife then pounced on him slamming it into his chest as hard as I could. He jerked back and the blade slid free from his chest. I stabbed him again, this time with enough force that the guard and part of the handle were plunged into his chest. I twisted it and pushed it farther in until it was firmly embedded then I planted a fist in his jaw and watched as he spun away. He collapsed to the ground in front of me.

I fell to my knees in front of him, pressing my arm into his throat as I gritted my teeth and glared down at him. “Die you bastard!”

Duvak coughed spraying my face with blood. I narrowed my eyes and brought my free fist up. I slammed it into his face as hard as I could then brought it back for another strike and another. I just kept hitting him and on the fifth strike, I heard his skull crack. On the tenth blood, pieces of bones and brain matter splattered all over me. Even as my fist smashed through his face, completely obliterating the bone underneath, I just couldn’t stop.

“DIE!” I screamed pummeling what was left of his face with blow after blow and even after I had beaten it to a bloody pulp I continued pounding at his head.

Something touched my shoulder and I looked up to find Lily frowning down at me. “Alexana,” she said biting back tears as she shook her head. “He’s dead.”

I gasped and looked down at what was left of Duvak’s head, shuddered and rose to my feet wiping the blood clean as best I could. My whole body shaking and when I turned to look around, I found all eyes on me. The fighting had momentarily ceased and for a moment I simply stood there staring at my hands and trying to fight down the urge to vomit.

I’d had my revenge, Duvak was dead. So why then did I feel so empty? I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry, but I had just enough sense left to realize what a bad idea that would be. I locked my eyes on the opposite side of the field where the gray skins were watching me, and as if obeying some unspoken cue they opened fire.

Most of the blasts were phase bolts and they weren’t directed at me, but four of the hunters had some large and cumbersome-looking weapons which were trained on me and Lily. I’d never seen their like, but as soon as I saw them I knew that they were responsible for the stabs of pain I’d felt while battling Duvak. Which meant they were some sort of projectile weapon and capable of doing both me and Lily harm.

At this point, I wasn’t in the best state of mind as obvious by the way I’d pounded Duvak’s skull to mush and my own safety and well-being didn’t even come near to topping my list of priorities. I charged down the corridor screaming at the top of my lungs and slammed into the nearest of the hunters before she could open fire. I killed her, then rounded on the next, but before I could attack a barrage of bullets blasted into me.

I grunted, gritted my teeth against the pain then pounded my fist into the nearest of my attackers. After three strikes he was down and I lifted up his body just enough to provide cover as the other two gunners opened fire. My skin started to itch and tingle and I could feel something pop out as Khala healed the wounds. It happened a half a dozen more times and each of those instances that a bullet was pushed out, my enhanced ears could hear the sound of the bullets’ splashing into the muddy ground.

I rushed forward, with the corpse raised in front of me and slammed it into the nearest of the hunters. The third gray skin collapsed to the ground against the brunt of my attack and I spun around ready to pound on the final gunner. He put two bullets into me–one in my shoulder and another struck just a few inches away from my heart–before I was on top of him. I clenched my hands around his weapon, and forced it out of his grip.

He actually got in a few punches before I was able to subdue him. He struggled, but snapping his neck put an end to that. I heard a low growl from behind and swirled around to watch the third gunner spring toward me. I jumped aside then jammed my elbow into his back forcing him into the same cluster of boulders that Duvak had corned me inside of. From there I made short work of him, by grabbing him by the back of his head and slamming him into one of the rocks.

There were only three hunters left after I had taken care of the gunners, and I didn’t even have to raise my hand. Lily took out two of them and Farris finished off final one with a rapid succession of shots. I closed my eyes and fell to my knees, letting out a long drawn-out sigh. “Th-that takes care of th-those bastards, but what about the rest of them. The ones on the destroyer?”

“The way I see it we have two options,” Rayland replied. “Simply put we can either run or fight.”

“Fight? How the fuck are we supposed to do that? We don’t have any damn weapons on that tub!” Farris yelled his voice taking on a frantic edge.

I opened my eyes and found my sister hovering over me. She pursed her lips and eyed Farris then turned back to regard me with wide-eyes. “Couldn’t we board their ship and disable it, or something?”

“Yes, it’s either that, or we run. Like Rayland said.” I nodded fighting back tears as I folded my arms across my chest. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m sick of running. I’ll go into the ship, the rest of you stay here.”

“What!?” Lily and Becca protested in unison each taking a step forward.

“Lil, besides me, you’re the only person here who has even the remotest chance of being able to fly this thing. It’s better if I go alone anyone else would just slow me down.” The words made perfect logical sense, but in truth I didn’t want anyone else to come along because I was afraid that they’d get themselves killed. At least, if I went the only person who could be harmed would be me.

“Fine,” Lily said clenching her fists at her side as she glared at me.

My sister bit her lip and stepped back. “Just don’t die on us, okay?”

“I don’t intend to.” I whispered stepping toward the exit hatch. “Just make sure the ship’s ready. I’ll be back, shortly.”

Chapter Two

I have to admit, a part of me really got a kick from the look the guards gave me when I let the corpse I’d propped up in the airlock viewport collapsed at their feet. I quickly dispatched the first, but the second gave me a little more grief. He head-butted me, just hard enough to disorient me, then took off running.

I caught up to the wry bastard and slammed into his legs. We both went sprawling to the ground, but not before a loud screeching howl echoed through the corridor. I slammed my fist into the side of his head and untangled myself from his inert form as Khala’s form materialized in the corridor. “Well, that didn’t long.”


She folded her arms across her chest and pointed up at the ceiling. “The alarm.”

“Yeah, speaking of which. Now would be a very good time to tell me where to go!”

“I don’t know the ship’s exact layout, but your best bet is to find the engine room which should be in the back of the ship. From there you can do a lot of damage and, fortunately for us, they’re not as well guarded as the control room or the weapon room. You better hurry, it won’t take them long to find you.”

I nodded and took off running down the corridor, moving at speeds that even a member of the Edant K’teth would be hard pressed to match. My advanced reflexes and eyesight allowed me to turn corners without slowing down, but when I found the corridor packed with gray-skinned guards I was forced to come to a stop.

I slammed into the foremost sending him, and the duo behind him sprawling to the ground with bone-shattering force. The six remaining guards pounced on me much faster than I had anticipated, but not so quickly that I wasn’t able to counter. I blocked the first guard’s attack with my right hand then pounded my fist into the chest of the next attacker. His head snapped back and he collapsed to the ground.

A hand grabbed me from behind and I coughed as something sharp burst through my rib cage. I gasped and glanced down to see a long blade protruding from my chest. I elbowed my attacker and I fell to my knees as he slid the blade free. Blood dripped from my mouth, I grunted, and gritted my teeth as wound began to heal, but not before I felt it slide its way into my back again.

‘That blade came dangerously close to hitting your heart. You need to neutralize that weapon before one of these sons of diseased dre’ks manages to kill you.’

“One of these days, Khala, you and I are going to have a long talk about stating the obvious.”

I reached back and yanked the blade free then sprang to my feet. I gritted my teeth, clutched the weapon in my hands and spun around, slicing the bastard that had stabbed me clear in half.

“A sword, really?” I glanced at the hilt in my hand then dropped the blade. It was more than a little cumbersome in my little hands and I doubted I could keep a good enough grip around the massive hilt to make for a practical weapon. So, I dropped it. I heard screams from the other side of the corridor and I swirled around to face the remaining guards.

I un-holstered my pistols opening fire before any of the bastards had any hope of reacting and screamed out at the top of my lungs. I had responded to my rage and grief by acting on my most primitive impulses to attack with my bare hands. The pistols had remained all but forgotten until that moment, but I made up for their lack of use with a vengeance spewing out phase fire as I spun around in a half-circle.

I took three guards out with my initial barrage and another two, moments later, with a couple more well-aimed shots. That left two guards, one was creeping around behind me with a sword clenched in his hands and the second, whose repeated attempts to blast me with a phase rifle were growing beyond tiresome, stood opposite me on the other side of the corridor.

“First those damned projectile weapons and now swords.” I shook my head as the blade-wielding Qharr came barreling down toward me his weapon cutting through the air with a fluidity and grace that was impressive.

‘They look like ceremonial blades,’ Khala offered up an explanation. ‘Likely ones that have been in their families for generations. They’re not often used in battle, but most are centuries old and have been used to spill blood in the past. I never quite understood why so many warriors bothered keeping them at all, even if the silly things were mounted on a wall or bulkhead, it just seems like such a waste of space. In a way it’s almost refreshing seeing them being used.’

“Oh, yeah, refreshing is definitely the word I was thinking of.”

I ducked out of the way as the pair opened fire, but he managed to slice me across the cheek. The cut was nothing Khala couldn’t handle and sure enough I could feel the telltale signs of her healing ability begin to do its work. The second guard picked that moment to drop his pistol and come charging at me. I slammed a fist into his chest and knocked him aside before returning my attention to the first just in time to see him thrust his blade out toward me. I tried to twist out of the way, but it didn’t happen quickly enough. The tip pierced my temple and went clean through my eye-socket.

He yanked the blade free, and I collapsed to the ground, blood dripping from the now empty socket as I cupped my hand over it. I gritted my teeth and called out to Khala, but was forced to duck out of the way as the blade came crashing down again. This time I only just barely managed to avoid getting hit, and felt a sob escape my lips as I rolled away. If it hadn’t been for Khala I’m sure I would have been a goner.

Even if the injuries wouldn’t have killed me, she dulled the pain just enough for me to keep fighting.. I dove down to the ground and snatched my pistols up then leapt onto my feet, slamming into the nearest of the two guards, before spinning around and opening fire on the one armed with the sword.

The first survived my attack and rammed into me from behind pinning me face-forward against the wall. He was pretty big and unusually strong even for a Qharr, but still not strong enough for me. I broke his grip around my wrists then elbowed him as hard as I could.

He staggered back and I before he could recover I planted an open palm into his chest and sent him careening into the opposite bulkhead. I pulled my gun back out and sent a volley of bolts sizzling into his chest. He didn’t last very long against this new attack and he was dead before his body hit the ground.

I turned away and took a few steps forward, then reached up to touch where the bullet had entered my head. The wound was already starting to heal; I just wish the same could be said for my eye. My hand traced the edges of the socket, which was still empty, and shuddered just before I dropped my hands to my side.

“Please, tell me you can heal that.” I glanced back at Khala whose image was standing in the corridor behind me.

“I can, but you’ve already been injured quite severely. I haven’t yet finished repairing your internal organs a task which is taking a considerable amount of energy. Re-growing an eye is much more difficult than healing wounds. I’ll need to feed on something a little more substantial than the paltry bits of energy I gain from phase blasts.”

“Just keep me fit enough to fight,” I replied before taking off the corridor. Whatever physical harm had been done to me, it didn’t seem to impair my ability to move around, but I had the feeling that had more to do with Khala than anything else. Had I been in a better state of mind I might have been more concerned about my injuries, which sounded quite severe, but at the moment all I cared about was disabling the destroyer and getting my people away safely.

I took off down the corridor and heard the odd snapping sound which indicated footsteps clanging against the organic-resin floor in the corridor behind me. I felt a stabbing pain in my lower back and stop just long enough to pull a long dagger free. I cursed, but didn’t stop to meet whoever had thrown the weapon. Since there weren’t any joined Qharr in their numbers, there was no way they could keep up with me and I quickly outpaced them before they could attack again.

Several times, I heard feet beating against the floor behind me and two times I found myself confronted by a group of guards blocking my access. Fortunately, I was able to disable or kill them and continue on my way before the pursuing guards were able to catch up.

Finally, I came to a stop in front of the engine room, but the entrance was guarded by ten Qharr guards all of which were armed with weapons of the long and sharp variety. Fortunately, I was able to spy them from around a corner and they hadn’t yet taken notice of me. I didn’t see any other entrance, which meant I would need to fight my way in.

‘How are you doing for energy?’ I asked Khala a sudden thought occurring to me.

‘Battling those Qharr and healing your wounds has taken a great deal of my reserves. I’ve drained what I can from your pistols, but can’t risk taking any more. I wouldn’t want to leave us defenseless. If you’re planning anything drastic you may wish to try a more low-profile approach,’ she replied.

‘What about the gravity thing? If you could get me up on the ceiling, I think I could sneak up on them. I would only need a few seconds.’

‘It would be possible, but… difficult. Keep it brief.’

I nodded, then bit my lip and leapt onto the nearest wall and from there I was able to bound up the side of the wall onto the ceiling. It was an oddly surreal experience looking ‘up’ at the floor, but I didn’t let it distract me from my goal. Up until that moment, most of the fighting I’d been doing had been in narrow corridors and hallways which wasn’t exactly the most practical place to try out my abilities. Crawling around on the ceiling was a new experience and I made a mental note to remind myself to practice a few things out. I certainly wouldn’t want to find out the limits of my abilities the hard way.

I flattened myself against the ceiling, crawling toward the cluster of gray skins guarding the door. Apparently, the Qharr didn’t take as take as much pain to sand down their ceilings as they did their floors and walls. Several times my breasts scraped against a piece of hardened resin which was jutting out from the surface at an odd angle. It was rather painful, but I bit my lip and continued on. Any noise I made would reveal my presence to the guards below.

I got into position, then drew my pistols and jumped down into the center of the unsuspecting group. I was able to bring my foot down atop the head of one of the guards, knocking him flat to the ground and rendering the bastard unconscious. I opened fire, the moment my feet touched ground, taking out four guards before any of them were able to counter.

One of the guards drew his pistol opening fire as he caught sight of me. Fortunately, it was of the phase variety and only served to give me a slight tingle of pleasure. I jumped up; kicking him in the chest then blasted it full of holes with my phase gun. Another guard attacked me, but this time I felt a flash of red-hot pain as something sliced through the skin of my breast.

I confronted the one who’d sliced me up and sent him toppling into another of his cohorts before moving on to my next victim, a slender lean-muscled female who by coincidence was also missing an eye. She charged me, perhaps hoping to catch me by surprise, but I anticipated her attack and dodged it then kicked her in the back of her legs and sent her toppling into the pair who I had knocked over before. All three collapsed into a tangled heap and I turned to face the final guard who had one of the projectile weapons trained on me.

I jumped out of the way, just as she opened fire and instead of hitting me her shots thudded into the wall. Before she could shoot off another round, I jumped on her slamming my fist into the side of her neck. She screamed, and spun around trying to dislodge me, but I had a good grip and her efforts proved to be futile. I did a somersault flipping above her so that I landed facing her back then drew my guns and opened fire.

The final three guards were still pretty dazed from my prior attacks and I was able to finish them off with a few quick shots. With a weary sigh, I re-holstered my weapon, and made my way into the engine room.

As I had expected, the chamber was pretty large, and like any room constructed by the Qharr the wall were covered in that familiar resin. Many medium-sized and all of the larger ships had two separate engine rooms, one which housed the FTL drive and a second which housed the antigrav engines. Because, both types of engines worked on entirely different principles they didn’t have any inter-working parts and thus were kept in separate compartments.

The easiest way to disable the ship was to cut the reactor coolant line, the problem was that there was a lot of it and I needed to make a gash big enough to drain it quickly, but slow enough to allow me enough time to escape. I found the coolant tank, which was impossible to miss considering it took up almost half the room and followed it until I found the external fuel line. I made an incision which I hoped was big enough, then spun around and found my way into the corridor.

There were about a dozen gray-skins waiting for me, but I didn’t stop to fight instead I put on the speed and leapt over the entire group leaving them behind to choke on my dust. They fired after me, but by that time I’d already put a good distance between us and their attempts were proven futile.

Before long I found my way to airlock, and in moments I was on the other side safely outside the ship. Khala must have been doing something to keep me moving because the moment I stepped inside our ship and the hatch sealed behind me I collapsed to my knees, at Becca’s feet, feeling suddenly drained of energy.

I slid my legs out and leaned against the door, then looked about realizing for the first time that the others looked almost as bad as I felt. It was hard to tell from all the mud, but it looked like they’d picked up more than a few scrapes and bruises since I’d left them.

Rebecca gasped bringing her hand up to cover her mouth and quickly knelt down beside me. “Dear lord, what did they do to you?”

I shuddered and covered my empty eye-socket feeling self conscious under the scrutiny of first my sister then the others. “It’s not as bad as it looks, Khala’s working on it, just get us out of here fast. If I was successful that ship could blow any time and I’d really like to get the hell out of here before that happens.

I stared at my sister and let out a long sigh of relief. “So it looks like you guys had a bit of a party while I was gone.”

“You could say that.” Rayland grinned, hovering over my sister’s shoulder. “We certainly had more fun than the gray-skins who attacked us.”

“Perhaps I should have a look at you. Your wounds look to be most severe,” the doctor said picking my sister up and setting her down a few feet away. “Excuse Vakrexid you were in the way.”

“I told you, I’m fine! I yelled reaching out to push the doctor away, but I was so weak that he didn’t even budge an inch. I could only guess why Khala might have taken away my abilities, but I had a feeling it had to do with my injuries. She’d been bolstering my strength and I think now that I was safe she’d stopped.

“Maybe, I’m in worse shape than I thought,” I admitted dropping my hand away from my face and surrendered myself to the doctor’s roving fingers.

‘You’ll be fine,’ Khala said, her voice sounded flat, lacking all of its usual emotion and personality. I don’t know if it was the strain of healing me or if she was just tired, but it was a little unnerving. ‘I’ll keep it short. You’re in bad shape, a lot worse than I originally put on. I drained the rest of the power from your pistols… which helped a bit. Just try not to move and as soon can get me more to feed on. I need to focus on healing you so you may not hear from me until you’re in better shape.’

“It is most difficult to say without any of Vakrexid’s equipment, but I believe your symbiote will be able to heal you sufficiently given enough time.”

“Just what I wanted to hear. ” I closed my eyes–make that eye–and groaned. A moment later, I felt the doctor scoop me up in my arms and I opened my remaining peeper just in time to watch Rayland take off toward the control room. I had lost a lot of blood and I was having a lot of trouble concentrating on what he said, but I’m pretty certain it was something along the lines of ‘she’s safe. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

The doctor, by contrast, set a much slower pace, no doubt; because of my injuries and I was never so thankful. He took me down the corridor and was about to veer into the doorway of the crew quarters when everything suddenly lurched sideways. The doctor must have lost his grip because the next thing I knew I felt a bright flash of pain as I was slammed quite forcefully into the bulkheads. I felt the darkness creep into the edges of my vision and I thought I might lose consciousness altogether. Somehow I managed to hang on. Once things had settled a bit, I felt a hand on my shoulder and I heard Becca calling my name.

“Lexa, are you alright?”

“Just once, I’d let to get a ship, that had working inertial negators,” I grunted barely managing to pull myself up into a sitting position. “Guess that means… we’re making our escape”

“Indeed,” the doctor said climbing to his feet and shaking himself off like some wild animal. “That is a most likely assumption.”

“Let’s get you, into the bridge and strapped into one of the harnesses,” Becca put her hand on my shoulder. “I think it’s a good bet this ride is going to get even bumpier.”

“Yeah,” Farris groaned from far off. “It’s not a bad idea for the rest of us to do the same.”

“Most assuredly,” the doctor agreed wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “Let us be quick. It is likely that Lily shall be forced to make many evasive maneuvers to evade the Qharr ship.”

No one put up any argument and with Farris’s help the doctor got me safely strapped into one of the seats on the bridge. Lily issued a brief greeting and stopped what she was doing just long enough to show concern over my well-being, but she was soon forced to return her attention to the controls. At first the destroyer stayed right on our tails, but soon they started to lose altitude and we all let out a collective sigh of relief. Explosions rippled across the hull, and the ship went plummeting down to the earth below before bursting into a brilliant ball of flames. We lingered only moments before Lily’s fingers scrolled across the control surface and sent the ship hurtling into the night sky.

Chapter Three

“Kaya!” I screamed sitting bolt upright and looked around the dark room. It took it a couple moments for it to register where I was and a few more to realize that I had been dreaming.

Kaya’s death had been real enough, but it still hadn’t quite sunk in. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, but when I did my dreams were plagued by visions of her death. I kept second guessing myself wondering if there hadn’t been some way in which I could have saved her.

Hot tears stung my cheek as images of her lifeless corpse flooded through my mind. A void had formed within my soul and I could think of no way to fill it. Never again would I hear her laugh, cry or even curse. Hell, I think I would even miss that manic fire of hers that had gotten us into so much trouble.

My child, it too was dead, and wasn’t sure how I could come to terms with its passing. Kaya pregnancy had still been in its early stages and at first the prospect of its birth had scared me, but that no longer was the case. My grief over the child’s demise was nearly as strong as that for Kaya.

To make matters worse I had begun my first period. My emotions were so raw and wild I couldn’t even begin to guess how much of it was because I was menstruating and how much was my grief. I just wanted to collapse into a heap and just let the grief and rage wash over me like a tempest storm, but I had other concerns. I couldn’t afford to let my feelings get the better of me.

I bit my lip and pulled the waistband of my pants open and slipped my hand inside. I sighed and pulled the disposable pad, the doctor had given me, free and reached under the bed to grab a replacement. According to the doctor, the only reason I hadn’t had a period up until that point was that I had been carrying the infant Dyssa in my womb. In some ways my body had reacted as if I’d actually been pregnant, but since I hadn’t experiences the usual symptoms like, breast growth, lactation and morning sickness. Thank God for that. Since, my womb was now K’teth-free I could menstruate with the best of them.

The bleeding was irritating, but Khala claimed she was suppressing some of the more unpleasant symptoms and while I wasn’t getting the full treatment, I couldn’t understand how any woman could put up with such horrible discomfort every month. It was one of the reasons I was considering taking Khala up on her offer to return me to my original form, but something kept stopping me.

We’d been on the run from the Qharr since we’d escaped the destroyer. We even had a few close calls, but had managed to evade them for the time being. Every time we thought we’d eluded them another of their damn ships would show up. Once I’d recovered from my injuries Lily and I started taking turns at the helm, trading places every four hours so that we could stay alert and fresh. We were starting to get a pretty good grip on the controls.

Rayland had made several attempts to convince me that we needed to take shelter with the nesters. Like Kaya, I wasn’t sure they could be trusted, but as much as I distrusted him I was growing more and more convinced that it was our only choice. I knew that I would have to make my decision soon, but there was one thing holding me back, our scheduled contact with the Earth Reclamation Fleet.

As long as we stayed in the air and kept moving, it would be a lot harder for the Qharr to peg our position when we made contact with the fleet. Rayland insisted that we would be able to safely communicate with them from his nest, but I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want to be responsible for repeating the tragedy of Safe Haven. Fortunately, I wouldn’t have to wait much longer; we were due to make contact on that very day.

I rubbed my eyes; the new one just didn’t feel right. It kept tingling. Maybe it was just my imagination, but since Khala had re-grown it, everything seemed to have more of a bluish tint than it had before. I dropped my hands then climbed to my feet and made my way to the door which slid open as I approached. Becca and Farris were waiting for me in the corridor. My sister had been treating me with kid gloves since I’d been injured making my way into and back out of the inquisitor ship, and considering the severity of my wounds I’m not sure I could blame her, but even so it was starting to get on my nerves.

“Anything eventful happen?”

“Not really.” Farris frowned folding his arms across his chest as he glanced down the corridor in the direction of the bridge. “We gonna do this or not?”

“Matt.” My sister pursed her lips and placed her hand on his shoulder. “She just woke up give her a minute.”

“I’m fine!” I gritted my teeth and shuffled past the two of them then sighed and turned back to my Becca. “I’m as eager as Farris to get this done with.”

Becca didn’t put up any further resistance and the two followed me to the control center where Lily, the doctor and Rayland were waiting.

“Lily, are we ready?” I asked moving to her side and placing a hand on her shoulder.

She craned her neck to look up at me, and bit her lip.”Yeah, I’m not detecting any Qharr ships nearby, but that could change if they detect our transmission.”

“We’ll try to keep it brief then,” I said then turned back to my sister. “Becca, care to do the honor?”

Even after her initial activation, my sister was the only person still able to get the long-distance communications array up and running. Which meant that if we ever lost her we’d likely lose complete contact with the Earth Reclamation Fleet. I wasn’t about to let that happen, I’d sooner die than lose another person that I cared about. Kaya’s passing would be the last, at least within our group, if I had anything to do with it.

My sister initiated the array with the key and nothing happened. I spun around in my seat to eye my sister who looked about as confused as I was.


“I-it’s not working. I don’t know why. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.”

“Here let me… wait–” Lily said stopping short before furrowing her brows and toggling the controls. “I’m getting a message, text only. It looks like a bunch of random numbers intersected by hyphens apostrophes and spaces.”

Lily shook her head and eyed the display. “I think maybe they’re using some sort of code and… what’s this? I’m getting more. It says here that communications have been compromised and to avoid further attempts at communication… and this is weird… ‘to unravel the mystery seek the failure of Pyrpygym’.”

“Pyrpygym?” I rubbed my forehead, closed my eyes then turned to the doctor something suddenly occurring to me. “That doesn’t mean anything to you, does it doctor?”

“Indeed,” he replied bobbing his head up and down. “It is the name of Vakrexid’s father’s brother’s sixth foreparent. He was a mathematician.”

“Oh, I’m sorry; I didn’t realize it was a name. I know how your people fe–”

“NO! Please, apologize not. Names of those who have passed into the final library may be uttered by anyone.”

“So, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ve contacted the doctor’s homeworld. Any idea what Pyrp–” Farris paused, closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. “–uh, whatever his name is, failure happens to be?”

“Yes, most assuredly, Pyrpygym was one of the most celebrated minds of the time, but few know that he was a strong proponent of switching over to an eight-based numerical system. After his failure to convince the Regents of Rumination to make the change, he was most offended. He retired and did not re-enter public life even to the day he died eighty of your years later.”

“Yeah, didn’t need the life story,” Farris grunted. “Think maybe the answers with this eight-based number system?”

“Most assuredly,” Vakrexid bobbed his head.

“It can’t be that simple, can it?” I paused then turned back to the screen. “Doctor why don’t you take a look? In the mean time, I think it’s time we get the hell out of here.”

“Vakrexied concurs,” he tooted leaning over the console next to Lily. I sighed then shook my head and turned to Rayland. “I need some coordinates, I think it’s finally time I take you up on your offer.”

“Sure,” he said his eyes widening a bit in apparent surprise.

After he stepped up beside me to input the coordinates, I sent the ship blasting off into the open sky and toward what I hoped was the relative safety of the Rayland’s nest.

“Canada, again?” Farris’s eyebrow twitched as he paced back and forth behind me.

“British Columbia this time,” Lily noted absently.

“Alberta, British Columbia, what difference does it make?!” Farris cursed. “It’s fucking Canada, there’s nothing there!”

“Simmer down Matt. Don’t you think you’re overreacting, a bit?” Becky messaged his back and rolled her eyes.

I grimaced then glared back at him over my shoulder. “There’s plenty of things in Canada, but what’s important is what’s not there. We’re going to hide from the Qharr remember. Seriously Farris, what’s got you on edge, anyway? And hell would you stop pacing, it’s bad enough flying this thing and listening to you bitch. Just stop it would you?”

“Okay, okay, I get your damn point. I hate that we always have to hide from the gray skins and I don’t trust these nesters either. How much longer is it, I’m getting tired of waiting.”

“Farris you want to drive this thing?” I gritted my teeth and cast my gaze back over my shoulder at him.

“You know I can’t.”

“Then shut the fuck up! Jesus!” I glanced at Lily who grinned from ear to ear. She seemed to find something humorous about our exchange. I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out at her then shook my head, and cleared my throat. “We’ll be coming up on Rayland’s coordinates here pretty quick. Sit tight and just be quiet, okay?”

“And there it is…” I blurted out a moment, calling up sensor readings. “Looks like there’s some ruins below, not picking up any human life signs.”

Rayland grinned and leaned over the console, getting a little too close for my tastes. “Did you really expect to?”

“No, not really,” I grimaced then shoved him away. “Get out of my face Rayland.”

His only response was to tighten his grin. I bit my lip and returned my focus to the sensor readings. “The mountain’s a little on the small side, but there’s a lot of forest so we could probably conceal the ship near the tree line like we did in Alberta.”

A little on the small side was an understatement, it was really more of a glorified hill than an actual mountain, but I wasn’t about to argue that point with Rayland.

“Put the ship down there,” Rayland said motioning at a portion of the view screen displaying a small clearing nestled inside a section of the forest that was just big enough to accommodate our ship. “That’s probably about the closest we can get.”

“Looks tight, may want to get strapped in guys. This is going to be a rough landing.”

Lily was one of the first to strap herself in, which seemed a bit odd considering her capacity to defy gravity, but then again she hadn’t had as much time to flex her muscles as I had. I guess she wasn’t as confident in Dyssa’s abilities as I was in Khala’s.

The others followed Lily’s example, but I opted to remain unrestrained, I found the straps a little too confining. The doctor was the last to buckle up; the straps were just a little too small for him and had to be adjusted to accommodate his lanky frame and even then they were pretty damn tight. I turned away and began the procedures for landing. Though I was getting a better hang of the human-styled controls I was still have a little trouble mastering them, even with the extensive flight experience Khala had passed on to me. Even after Lily repaired the damaged thruster.

The ship shuddered and groaned as I brought her down and I could feel my teeth chatter during one of the more violent quakes. Finally, it touched ground with a dull thud and I let out a sigh of relief as I turned to Rayland. “Well, I sure hope I don’t end up regretting this.”

“Trust me.” He gave me one of his insufferable grins then threw his thumb over his shoulder. “We going or not? I’m sure my people think I’m dead or worse. So you can understand that I’m pretty eager to get back.”

“Yeah, just let me initiate the deactivation process,” I muttered tapping the controls and watched until the panels all blinked off.

Rayland led us out the ship and into the surrounding forest where we began our long hike through the wilderness.

Chapter Four

“Rangers!” Rayland yelled at the top of his lungs. “Stand down!”

Our attackers lowered their weapons just as Lily and I were nearly on top of them. We glanced at each other then back at Rayland before taking several steps back.

“Major Patterson,” a woman said stepping out from among the circle of rangers. She was at least four or five centimeters taller than myself, had long brown hair done up in a ponytail, a pair of penetrating sea-green eyes and was moderately attractive, in a bulky muscle-bound sort of way. “We expect you back a lot sooner.”

“Yes, well Captain Neada sometimes things take an unexpected turn,” he replied grinned from ear to ear.

“Sorry, for jumping out at you like that Major, we weren’t sure if it was really you or not,” she grinned at him and swirled her hair around her finger. It was a gesture that seemed at odds with the tough-soldier impression that she gave off, but who was I to judge someone based on her appearance?

“Ah, hell, apology accepted Captain Neada, just try not to do it again. You scared the bejesus out of us. Say, I don’t suppose you brought along an extra holocloaker did you?” Rayland said glancing over at Kaya and then Lily with a grin and a wink.

“No, I’m afraid we just brought the one, sir,” Neada replied reaching up to yank on her pony tail.

“Damn, well there’s no help for it. If those gray-skins find the ship we came in they’ll be able to track it right to us. Callwell, Lourne take the cloaker and follower the trail back. You’ll find a ship parked about eight klicks down the path. It should be easy to spot, the damned thing is parked right along the treeline. Use the cloaker to hide it then head back to the nest, we’ll meet you there,” Rayland said glancing first a tall man with close-cropped blond hair and then a slender woman with shoulder-length brown hair.

“Yes sir,” the two replied in unison, retrieved a large metallic cylinder from the pack of another soldier, and disappeared in the direction our group had just come.

“There,” Rayland grinned back at us. “Told you we would take care of it.”

“Take care of it?” Farris folded his arms across his chest and glared at the other man. “What the hell have you taken care of exactly? And what in God’s name is a holocloaker?”

“A holocloaker takes images from the surrounding area and uses them to create a three dimensional illusion which blends in perfectly with the terrain and seamlessly hides anything within a square kilometer of the device,” Captain Neada replied frowning at Farris and studied him with a pair of cool eyes.

“We use them when we’re out hunting. They’re pretty handy for hiding our campsites or to provide cover when a Qharr patrol ship passes overhead,” Rayland added.

“Ah yes, Vakrexid remembers you humans using similar technologies before the Qharr invaded this world,” the doctor said letting out a high-pitched wail.

“May I speak freely sir?” Neada asked staring at the doctor with what could only be described as a look of uncertainty.

“Speak Neada.”

“Sir, are you sure about these… people? I haven’t ever seen anything like this creature here,” she said pointing at the doctor then turned to look at Lily. “These two… are you sure they’re entirely human? I get the heebie jeebies just looking into their eyes. ”

“Ah, hell,” Lily averted her eyes and seemed quite uncomfortable as she gripped my hand and stared at the other woman with wide eyes.

“Can’t really comment on how human they are, but I do know that if it hadn’t been for these people, Captain, I wouldn’t have made it out of the compound alive.

“Very well, sir,” she nodded took another uncertain look at Vakrexid, Lily and me then turned away.

“Now,” he said his frown stretching back into a smile. “I think it’s time for us to depart, don’t you? If you want to chat while we’re moving that’s fine, but the longer we’re out in the open the more likely the gray skins will find us and without that holocloaker we won’t be able to hide from them if they happen on us.

I pursed my lips, shrugged then held a hand out to Rayland, “Lead the way.”

“I’d hoped you’d say that,” he said just before he spun around and started back down the trail.

“This is most delightful!” the doctor exclaimed as the trail came to an end in front of a sheer rock face.

“Funny,” Farris said coming to a stop behind him. “I was just thinking the exact opposite.”

The doctor hunched over and bent down to study a small shrub and began to pick a number of small red berries from the plant. “BERRIES! If Vakrexid boiled these with the right edible lichen I can make a most delicious juice.”

Rayland chuckled then slowly walked over to put a hand on the alien’s shoulder. “Well doc, if you can wait just a bit longer I promise you that you can have all the berry juice you ever wanted.”

“Truly?” the doctor asked cocking his head back and forth. “Are we near this nest of yours, then?”

“Yep, as a matter of fact Lily and Lexa over there are standing right in front of the entrance,” he smirk stretching into a full blown grin as Lily and I shared a wide-eyed glance.

“Entrance?” Lily blinked. “All I see is a solid rock wall.”

“That’s exactly what you’re meant to see,” Neada replied slowly walking toward Lily and me before kneeling down on the ground beside us. She palmed a small rock alongside the wall and with the blink of an eye a control interface appeared just to my right. Neada climbed back to her feet tapping out a code that must have been at least ten digits long. In response the wall in front of me flashed and in its place an empty cave mouth appeared.

“Carder, Mackay wait here by the entrance until Callwell and Lourne show up. Everyone else, inside the cave,” Rayland said issuing his command with a firm but calm voice.

We all shuffled inside and Mackay, a tall-lanky woman with long red hair, and Carder a brown-haired man of medium build, took up guard on either side of the entrance. Neada was the last inside and upon entering she tapped her fingers against another panel and the opening vanished just as suddenly as it had first appeared.

“Shit, no lights,” Farris cursed from somewhere to my right.

“Just wait a minute. Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Neada replied a moment before the cavern was flooded with bright light.

I winced and reached up to shield my eyes, but then dropped my hand. My enhanced eyes were capable of adjusting the light much quicker than other humans. Lily being a bonded human had the same advantage, but she wasn’t the only one. Vakrexid seemed completely unfazed by the sudden salvo of illumination.

I happened to glance over and watched Farris as he traced his hands across what had been the cave mouth. “Shit, it’s seamless. How the hell’d you do it?”

“We use a modified class-three force shield emitter to generate the feel of solid rock and a holocloaker casts a seamless illusion on top of it,” Rayland replied glancing back at Farris with a single raised eyebrow. “Now if you all would join me on this platform we can take the lift down to the tunnels.”

“Uh… platform?” Lily asked with furrowed eyebrows as she glanced around the room. “I don’t see any platform.”

Rayland rolled his eyes and let out a long exaggerated sigh as he slowly shook his head. “Have you learned nothing yet? It’s disguised by a holocloaker. You see this indent in the ground here?” he asked kicking his foot against a depression in the cave floor. “It marks the center of the lift platform. Now, everyone gather around me. There’s more than enough room for all of us. Just make sure you keep close.”

We all shuffled onto the platform as Rayland guided us each into position, then with a satisfied nod he kicked the depression three times in a row, paused and kicked it twice more. The floor lurched downward beneath our feet. Becky and Farris both stumbled, apparently caught by surprise by the lift’s sudden movement. Our enhanced balance prevented Lily and I from stumbling or maybe it had more to do with our symbiote’s gravity defying abilities. Either way I really wasn’t sure. Rayland, Neada and the other rangers didn’t stumble, but that was probably because they’d known what to expect and had braced themselves.

The lift’s speed increased dramatically as we moved further and further down into the mountain until its velocity had reached such a point that Farris and Becky both looked as if they might lose their meals. I had a feeling that if it hadn’t been for Dyssa and Khala, Lily and I would probably be looking pretty green in the face too. Vakrexid head was bobbing from side to side, but I had no idea if that was because he was motion sick or if he was just being his normal twitchy self. The elevator came to a very abrupt stop and Rayland glanced back at us grinning from ear to ear, “Well boys and girls. This train ride has come to an end. Please watch your step as you exit the vehicle as there is a bit of a drop.”

I peeked out from within the lift and pursed my lips as I found myself looking down a long and dimly-lit corridor that had no end in sight. “How many people live here?”

“We’re on the larger side for a nest, but that being said there are only a few thousand of us living here,” Neada replied stepping off the platform to join Rayland.

“Come,” he said beckoning us forward. “I’m sure President Bueller will want to talk with you, but… I think given the circumstances, he’ll forgive me if I give you guys a few hours rest before you have your little chat.”

“Great,” I muttered with a shake of my head. “Can’t wait for that. Well, might as well as show us to our quarters. I’m probably not the only one who’d like to get some sleep.”

Vakrexid made a high pitched warble then put a hand above Rayland’s head and started to shake his fingers. “Vakrexid doesn’t need to retire, but I would very much like some of the promised berry juice and some edible lichen if there is any to be found.”

Rayland chuckled then reached up to place a hand on the doctor’s shoulder, an effort which looked pretty awkward considering the doctor’s extreme height. “Let me show you to your room, and I’ll see what I can do.”

The walls were too neatly cut to have been natural, but the tunnel was far too long to have been dug out by hand without a massive labor force. It was far more likely that it had been excavated with machinery, probably before the invasion. I didn’t spot any guards as we came in, but there were a number of holes set at even intervals within the walls which I assumed were gun slits. Anyone who found their way inside the tunnel without being invited was likely to find themselves fried to a crisp by phasefire before they could take any action to defend themselves.

Rayland took a sharp turn into what I initially mistook for just another portion of wall, shattering the perfect illusion of solidity. Neada and the other rangers followed Rayland, without losing stride, hell they didn’t even blink! The image didn’t seem to have been created by a holo cloak, but was an optical deception, which I suspected was created through a combination of carefully cut stone and the right lighting.

I only hesitated long enough for a brief study of the opening, then ushered the other resistance members–who were gawking at the illusion with wide eyes as if expecting it leap out at them–through the gap.

We walked another ninety or so meters then made another sharp turn into yet another illusory opening which, after another couple dozen meters, led into a massive cavern. To say that I was astounded, was like saying a pot of simmering water was at a full boil. I was completely and utterly flabbergasted, not because of the size of the massive cavern, but because of what I saw jutting out of the walls. There were buildings, well over a hundred of them, and they looked as if they had been carved from the very rock of the cavern itself. Whether or not the structures had been sculpted from an existing chamber or if the entire thing had been carved out by machinery was anyone’s guess, but the ceiling certainly looked natural.

The buildings by themselves were nothing to write home about, they were unadorned and featureless rectangles and each was nearly identical to the last. They were stacked, four atop each other, and side by side so that eight of the houses sat in a single cluster with a set of stairs on either side. It was hard to say looking from the outside–I had no idea how deep each of the buildings went into the wall–, but I had the feeling they were built more for optimum occupancy than comfort. Each separate unit had two small windows that I assumed were glassless, on the front facade and a single door on the side which exited directly onto the stairway.

More stairways led down into a large empty field, for lack of a better term, which I supposed must have been some sort of meeting area. Dozens of enormous support pillars, spaced at even intervals extended from the floor up to the ceiling on its eastern and western sides. Along northern and southern edges were two large buildings, much larger than the other structures, but of an identical style. I doubted either had been designed with the intent of habitation in mind, but there exterior gave no clues to what their purpose might be.

“This way,” Rayland said hardly giving us enough time to take in the view before he strode forward, taking us down a wide path, which from the looks of it, circled the entire chamber. The city was far from empty, but its denizens kept a wide birth of us, watching us from a distance with expressions that showed their curiosity and a fair bit of caution.

“I-I gotta know,” Becky said look around with wide eyes. “If we’re so deep underground why’s it so warm in here?”

I blinked, that hadn’t occurred to me at all and I’d spent several months in compound Vyl, a mining complex situated deep underground, when I’d been traveled around with Duvak. In addition to the cold, the conditions there were brutal to say the least and I shuddered a bit as images I’d long tried to suppress were forced into the forefront of my thoughts.

“Right.” Neada nodded glancing back at my sister. “This whole place is powered by geothermal energy which in addition to keeping the lights on it also helps keep it nice and toasty even during the coldest winter months.”

“How do you keep the Qharr from detecting any energy signatures? I mean you must have massive energy requirements,” Lily asked staring up at the ceiling with wide eyes.

“Not as much you might think,” Rayland said slowing so that he could walk in sync with Lily. “We use hybrid biolights which require very little power and last decades without need of replacements… and as far as the heating goes we funnel heat up from the geothermal vents directly into this chamber and a few adjoining ones… Well, after all the harmful gases are filtered out. Since the chamber is shielded all the Qharr will detect, if they happen to pass by which they do from time to time, is the natural geothermal activity from the mountain.”

“We live quite simply for the most part,” Neada added moving up beside Rayland. “We don’t use too much tech if we can help it. We have some more energy-intensive devices, like medical and communications equipment, but we only ever power them up when there’s a reason for it, which isn’t very often.”

“This way,” Rayland stopped in front of a set of stairs that led up into one of the clusters of buildings. Like everything else in the chamber they were carved from the stones of the chamber itself.

As we approached the dwellings, I was able to make out numbers and letters displayed on the side of each building. We stopped at one labeled ‘2F’ and Rayland turned back to us, his usual grin replaced with a light smirk. “You’re fortunate we had a place available, space is at a premium and we only vacate homes if they’re in need of major repairs. Fortunately, they just finished renovating this unit.”

“This is somebody’s home? I don’t like the idea of–” Rebecca started to protest, but Neada cut her short.

“Our lifestyle requires certain sacrifices. Don’t give it more thought; there are many here who would gladly give up their homes for heroes from the resistance.”

“Alright, well…” Rayland clenched his hand around a strange knob protruding from the door, twisted it then swung the door open. “It isn’t much, but it’s all yours for as long as you stay with us.”

The interior of the house was just as spartan as the exterior. We stepped inside a small dimly-lit and unfurnished room. The walls, ceiling and floor were all made from the same dull and drab stone as the exterior, but at least it was warm. I’d stayed in much worse places, so I wasn’t about to complain.

Next, Rayland led us back into the rooms where we told us we’d be staying. There were four of them; each looked as if they could house five or six people if they all slept on the floor. Fortunately, the rooms were each furnished with a strange sort of double-decker bed. There was no doubt that Lily and I would share a room, which left a room for each of the remaining members of our crew. The rooms were small, but not so cramped that we didn’t have enough room to stretch our feet.

“Why don’t you get some rest?” Rayland suggested with a gentle smile which, for once, actually seemed sincere.

I agreed and in short order, Neada and Rayland departed leaving the rest of us to our own devices. A quick peek out the door, revealed a pair of centuries guarding the entrance to our new abode. I wasn’t even remotely surprised by this, and I couldn’t blame the nesters for being wary. I’d have done the same thing if the situation were reversed; still it set me on edge. How much did we really know about these people? Could we really trust them?

I retired to bed with Lily in tow, with those thoughts on my mind. I eventually drifted off to sleep entangled in her warm embrace all my thoughts and worries shedding away with the promise of uninterrupted sleep.

Chapter Five

I’m not quite sure what caused me to come awake, but when I reached up to rub the wariness from my eyes I realized that my cheeks were wet. I must have been crying in my sleep, but for the first time since Kaya’s passing I had no memory of my dreams.

Lily and I had opted to share the bottom bed since we had so few opportunities to spend time together since Duvak’s last attack. I didn’t have much room to move around, and I really didn’t want to wake her up. So I slipped my arms around her and kissed her on the forehead and closed my eyes.

I probably would have slipped back off to sleep, but then I heard Khala’s voice ring through my head and with a tired sigh I let my eyes slide back open.

‘What!?’ I thought at her gritting my teeth and glared at her illusory form, which was standing over the bed with arms folded across a non-existent chest.

“There’s something you should know.”

‘What’s so god-dammed important that it can’t wait a few hours?’

‘The symbiote who was joined with your former master is still alive.”

“Oh, god.” I sat bolt upright or tried too. I ended up hitting my head on the bottom of the top bed. I winced, laid back down and rubbed the sore spot then turned to Khala. “I take it he’s joined with someone?”

I heard Lily stir beside me, but Khala continued apparently headless that my lover was coming awake. “I assumed he had passed away with Duvak, but last night I detected his presence. I don’t believe he had completed the bonding process which would be why I hadn’t detected his presence until now. I didn’t believe it was possible, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.

“Do you know who he’s happened to join with?”

“No it could be anyone from our party. I wouldn’t even rule out the Dexagarmetrax,” she replied then her image vanished. ‘but if I puzzle it out you’ll be the first to know.’

Lily yawned, then leaned in and pecked me on the lips. “What was that about?”

I relayed what Khala had just told me and I watched her thoughtful expression turn to a frown. “That can’t be good.”

“Not much we can do about it until he shows himself. I don’t think he’ll be able to cause anyone harm. Probably the worst he can do is withhold his abilities from whoever he’s taken as a host.”

“Still, we should be careful if he ever finds a way back to the Qharr he’d be able to reveal the location of this nest and tell them about our contact with the ERF.”

“Hadn’t thought of that.” I shook my head. “Which is all the more reason we need to find out who he’s bonded with.”


“Rayland, did say that his people had medical equipment, right? Maybe they can do a scan and see what turns up.”

“He might just try and feed like Khala did when she was first bonded with you.”

“Either way, we’ll know who our K’teth has taken on as a host. I’ll talk with Rayland about in the morning,” I grimaced and shook my head.

“You sure that’s wise? What if Ray’s the one who’s carrying the symbiote?”

I shrugged. “It’s not like the K’teth can do anything even if he knows we’re on to him.”

“Right,” she nodded then sunk down back into my arms. “Let’s try to get some more sleep. We have a big day ahead of us.”

I didn’t feel much like sleeping, but regardless when I laid my head down on my pillow and closed my eyes, the world fled before me and I drifted off.

“Is this the position, known as forking?” a voice asked from the conscious world.

I gasped and came awake with a start and Lily stirred beside me. “D-doctor?” I quickly pull the covers up, and over my bare breasts. “What are you doing?!”

“Vakrexid has come to wake you. Rayland has returned. He seeks you,” he tooted then knelt down next to the bed so that he could get a better look. “Is it forking? It looks most uncomfortable.”

“Forking?” Lily asked, shrinking under the covers as she stared at the doctor.

“I think the doctor’s getting his phrases mixed up again. We were spooning, doc, not forking. Forking involves more… penetration.”

“Ah, yes, yes, that seems correct. Please hurry, Major Patterson seems most impatient,” he said then spun around on his heels and was out the door before either Lily or I could say a word.

“Well, I guess that’s that,” Lily crawled out of bed and I let out a sigh of regret as she started to dress herself. Her hair was messy and she had dark circles under her eyes, but in that moment she’d never looked sexier too me. She glanced at me with eyebrows raised and while her expression looked sincere, her voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“We really don’t want to leave the good major waiting do we?”

I climbed out of bed, and then wrapped my arms around her waist, my breasts pressed up against her back. “No time for a quickie?”

She rolled her eyes then broke free. “As much as I’d love to take you up on that offer, I’m already dressed. What’s got into you anyway?”

I back away and shook my head. “I don’t know… it’s just the stress of the last few days I guess.”

“Tell you what.” She gave me a coy smile then spun around and pecked me on the lips. “Tonight, we can lock ourselves in here and ‘fork’ each other until we drop.”

I snorted and let out a soft chuckle then locked my lips around hers, and shared a long sensual kiss before breaking away. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

Lily seemed a lot more hesitant to pull away after that kiss, but in a display of remarkable restraint, she tossed me my shirt, turned away then said, “Get dressed, and I’ll meet you outside,” just before vacating the room.

“…and so priest says–” Rayland was grinned from ear to ear as I entered; chuckling at what was no doubt another of his distasteful jokes.

“Rayland, can we put a lid on the jokes, for now? Isn’t it about time we get down to business?”

He let out an exaggerated sigh then cleared his through. “Oh, alright that suits me, I guess. In any case Bueller’s pretty eager to meet with you.”

Becky, sniffed her arm pit then scrunched her nose up. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d like a chance to freshen up before I meet with anyone.”

“You look positively lovely and as for the smell goes Bueller suffers from anosmia so he won’t catch a whiff of your… alluring scent.” He coughed, cupping his mouth in a vain attempt to hide his grin. “Besides he’s no stranger to a little dirt and grime, Bueller served in the war and was a ranger for some time after the occupation. You spend as much time in the trenches as he did, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how you become accustomed to the sort of conditions you and I are all too familiar with.”

“Just lead the way,” I messaged my temples and gritted my teeth. Something told me that it was going to be a long day.


I winced and glanced at Lily who melted behind a pair of rangers. She was so small that she was almost perfectly concealed behind their bulky forms. I gritted my teeth and held my head up high, not willing to let myself be intimidated by a few odd looks and comments from the on looking nesters who had come out in droves to watch us pass through their city.

Word of our arrival had clearly passed through the town’s rumor mill, but judging from the looks the people were giving us, especially Lily, the doctor and myself, they weren’t sure what to think. Several times I glanced sideways and watched someone take a step back, offer up a curse or gasp once they’d met my gaze. It had to be the eyes. I’d become accustomed to them, but they really were an odd sight.

It put me on edge and made me question the sanity of my decision to come to the nest. I’d forgotten what it felt like to be scrutinized for my appearance and I can’t say I liked the way it made me feel. Lily had even less experience dealing with it than I did, but if these nesters were going to work with us they’d just have to accept us for who and what we were. The doctor seemed completely oblivious, but whether or not it was because he’d grown accustomed to such treatment or that he really was heedless of the attention we were getting, was anyone’s guess.

Fortunately, our trip through the city was brief. I’d been expecting him to lead us down into the depths of the chamber where the two larger buildings were located, so I was a little bit surprised when Rayland led us up toward another cluster of houses. I’d been expecting an official meeting with whatever puffed up dignitaries the nesters could have mustered on such short notice, but clearly Rayland’s people had a more private get together in mind. Which was fine by me, I’d been force fed Qharr etiquette and formality all my life, the last thing I wanted was to have some stuffy meeting with a bunch of fat-assed politicians.

Rayland stopped at the entrance and turned back to us. “I’m sure the council will want to meet with you sooner or later, but this is just an informal gathering. Bueller isn’t anything like what you’re probably expect. I know how you feel about our people and like it or not I think a lot of those feelings are justified, but Bueller has been fighting for our nest to join the resistance for years. In fact, he’s the reason I was sent out to find you in the first place so try not to antagonize him, he’s your best chance at pulling this thing off, okay?”

“I’m not Kaya, Ray, I know how to hold my tongue,” I said, and bit my lip as I fought back tears. God, had I really just said that? “J-just let’s get this over with.”

Rayland nodded and I was never so thankful to see him turn his back. I’d gotten a good look into his eyes before he turned away and the sympathy and understanding I saw there was almost too much to bare. I shook my head and followed him through the door. Had I really just seen that? That look he’d given me was so unlike the Rayland I’d come to know that I was having trouble believing that I’d actually witnessed it.

We all followed him into the dwelling, which was almost identical to ours, inside and out, then a pair of rangers closed the door behind us presumably taking guard on the outside of the door. A few stills hung from the wall, and a beige sofa sat in the center of the room facing the door, but there weren’t any other furnishing or decorations. A tall man, with fair-hair that was fading to gray with charcoal gray eyes and a neatly trimmed beard, hobbled toward us leaning heavily on a well-worn wood cane.

“Ah, Major Patterson, you’re timing as always is impeccable,” he said with gentle, yet firm voice full of confidence and authority.

I could see why the nesters had chosen him as their leader, here was a man who displayed a level of confidence I hadn’t seen in another human being as long as I could remember. The Qharr didn’t like their slaves to have backbones, and of all the people I’d met Mara was probably the closest to Bueller in that respect. However, Mara had always conveyed an air of secrecy that made me feel as if she was manipulating me.

I was naturally suspicious of everyone, one of the hazards of growing up in conditions where you were more likely to be betrayed than receive the loyalty of your friends, but there was something about that man that made me want to throw caution to the wind and trust him. Don’t get me wrong, I was no sucker and wasn’t about let that happen. Trust had to be earned not given.

I stepped forward breezing past, Rayland and held my hand out. “I’m Lexa Briggs, I command what’s left of the resistance.”

Bueller’s grip was firm, but mine was firmer. I put just enough strength into the handshake so that I knew it had to be uncomfortable, probably even a little painful, but the nester leader only smiled and met my gaze. “It’s a pleasure.”

I released my grip and let him withdraw his hand, he chuckled, and flexed his hand. “Major Patterson appraised me of your… abilities, but I wasn’t expecting, quite so hands on of a demonstration.”

“Believe me, that was only a fraction of my strength, if I wanted to I could have broken every bone in your hand,” I said with smile, letting just a hint of malice enter my voice.

“I’m certainly glad you showed some restraint then.” He grinned, and cleared his throat. “I understand that you may feel a certain amount of antagonism toward the nesters, but I hope you’ll be able to put those feelings aside.”

I bit back the response that was on the tip of my tongue. “Let’s get down to business then. You need us and we need you, and right now neither of us has any reason to trust each other; that sound about right to you?”

“More or less.” Bueller looked uncomfortable, which suited me just fine. We’d have to work with him, but that didn’t mean I had to like him. Bueller was a man who was accustomed to being obeyed, and I wasn’t going to bend over backwards just to make him more comfortable no matter how much we needed his help.

There was a tense silence as Bueller studied me. His expression was hard to read, but I don’t think he was angry just frustrated. Finally, he broke the silence and I was never so glad. “I am sure you can understand, but I would like to have our doctors look at you. The major has assured me that these K’teth–” he paused as if trying the word on his tongue for the first time then continued “–of yours don’t pose a threat, but you can never be too cautious.”

“Actually,” I pursed my lips and brushed my hair out of my eyes. “I was going to suggest the same thing. There’s a chance an unfriendly symbiote has bonded with one of us and I’d like to know for sure.”

“From this inquisitor that was pursuing you… Durak was his name?”

“Duvak,” I corrected. Rayland had certain been thorough when reporting to his superior. “All I ask is that you allow our doctor to work with yours. He’s had more opportunity to study K’teth physiology than your guys so I’m sure you’ll benefit from his knowledge and expertise.”

“INDEED!” the doctor warbled throwing both hands up in the air and waving them around so fast that they were a blur.

Once he was calmed down I coughed and glanced back at him. “He is a bit ecentric, but–”

“Say no more,” Bueller cut my short. “I met a few Dexagarmetrax before the war and I know of his people’s peculiarities. I’m sure our doctors would be glad for his help. It’s been a long time since either of them had another physician around for a good brain picking.”

“Vakrexid does not believe that would be a very good idea at all. Brains are most sensitive, mine in particular, such an activity would more than likely result in Vakrexid’s death.” The doctor’s already wide-eyes grew even wider and as I stared at him I was reminded of a bird ready to take flight.

“Doctor,” Lily whispered place a hand on his arm, being too short to reach his shoulder. “It’s an expression, it means they would bounce ideas off you.”

Vakrexid seemed to relax, but then he shuddered. “How does one bounce an idea?”

Lily sighed and messaged her temple. “They’d want to get your opinion.”

“Ah, yes, of course, of course.”

“Standing from a security stand point. I don’t like the idea of having a hostile K’teth in our midst.” Rayland frowned then turned to me with raised eyebrows. “What sort of risk would there be, assuming you’re right?”

“Not a whole lot. As we’ve already established a K’teth may only gain control of its’ hosts body if it has been given permission. Other than that, about all he’ll be able to do is listen in on our conversations. He can communicate with other K’teth and joined hosts, but only at close range,” I replied. There was more I would have liked to say, but I didn’t think it would have been a good idea to say anything more in the presence of the symbiote. I had an inkling of how we might rid ourselves of him and I definitely didn’t want him knowing what I had in mind.

I didn’t like revealing anything to the nesters, but for the time being they had me over a barrel. Cooperation was a two way streak and like it or not I’d have to give if I ever wanted to take. “As far as potential hosts go, it could be anyone who was present during Duvak’s death… Well except Lily and me.”

“Since you’re already bonded to symbiotes.” Rayland looked like he’d just downed a whole vat of Jum’kar juice. “And as one of the people present it’s just as likely to be me as Matt or Rebecca.”

“Not to mention, the doctor,” Lily added. “If humans can be bond with K’teth there no reason to think a Dexagarmetrax can’t too.”

The moment those words left Lily’s lips, Vakrexid’s head turned sharply and he stared at her cocking his head from side to side. He didn’t say a word and for the first time since I had met him, I wondered if there was something he wasn’t tell us. What sort of secrets might the doctor be holding back?

“I must say I find this highly disconcerting,” Bueller said fingering his beard. “Major Patterson, I want you and your resistance friends to report to the infirmary immediately. We can continue this discussion later, once Miss Brigg’s suspicions are either proven or disproven. I’d like to know if one of those things is hiding in our midst.”

“Yes, sir,” he snapped a salute then spun around on the balls of his feet. “This way.”

I turned to follow Rayland, but stopped and let the others follow him through the door. There was something about the whole situation that just didn’t add up. Not necessarily the predicament with the nesters, but the K’teth. What was it about them that I was missing? The puzzle pieces were there in front of me, but I couldn’t find any matches. I needed to see bigger piece of the picture before I could put them all together.

I glance over my shoulder, at Bueller who met my gaze. I gave him a curt nod then swept out the door resolved to unravel the mystery of the K’teth before it was too late.

“Vakrexid can hardly contain his excitement.”

We were in the infirmary where the nester doctors had already begun their scans of Rayland. Unlike, the main chamber this cave looked natural, with the exception of the ceiling which had obviously been chipped away to help accommodate large pieces equipment. I couldn’t guess at the purpose of any of it, but it must have served a useful function at some point. The nearly circular cavern was large, but nowhere near the size of the main one. It had two dozen beds spaced at even intervals around its edges. The scan bed sat in the center of the room, and was surrounded by four quarter-circle-shaped counters which were positioned around it leaving plenty of room for people to move about.

The scan bed didn’t have a hovering upper unit like the one the doctor had used on me, but, instead, had a pair of arms which passed over Rayland’s feet and hovered over his body until they reached his head where they paused for briefest of moments before retracting back into the side of the bed. I couldn’t say whether the nester’s version of a scan bed was any more or less advanced than the one the doctor had used, but it was just as impressive in its’ own respect.

“I’m glad someone is enjoying themselves,” Farris grimaced as he watched Rayland sit up. “I don’t particularly like the idea that I might have one of those things inside of me.”

Becky shuddered and put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not the only one.”

“Vakrexid thinks it would be fascinating.”
‘It would be a learning experience for the symbiote, no doubt,’ Khala voice echoed inside my head. ‘I mean to be bonded with a Dexagarmatrax…. they’re certainly an interesting species.’

I ignored Khala and watched Rayland step down from the scan bed. “I’m not showing anything unusual. I believe you’re clean.”

“Vakrexid concurs,” the doctor said moving over to the small screen set into the scan bed where the pair of nester doctors were huddled. “He is not joined. Although… there is a strange celluar residue in–” Vakrexid’s body sudden stiffened and turned to stare at Rayland.

“It’s alright doctor, you can say it,” Rayland smiled and let out a soft chuckle. “It’s not exactly a secret in these parts.”

“What, what is it? What’s going on?” I stepped forward, clenching my fists at my side, as I prepared myself for trouble.

“He is a clone,” Vakrexid said. “This is most strange. Vakrexid did not believe the nesters had the resources necessary for such a process.”

“We don’t,” said one of the nester doctors, Yu, a slender woman of Chinese descent who looked like she may have once been quite beautiful, but whose looks had been ravaged by age. “During the war I worked with the United Earth fleet growing clones. I discovered a flaw in one of them before he his accelerated growth cycle had been completed and was scheduled to be terminated, but I managed to convince my superiors that if we could study him we might be able to prevent the flaw from appearing in any future batches. We had him on ice and when the Qharr seized earth… I couldn’t bring myself to leave him to die so I thawed him and brought him here with me to the nest.”

“Flaw, what sort of flaw?” I demanded.

“Nothing too alarming,” Rayland grinned. “I produce too much serotonin, it’s a neurotransmitter which contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being among other things, but overproduction has its downsides and if left untreated it would eventually kill me. Fortunately, Mom… Doctor Yu, was able to fit me with an implant that helps to keep my serotonin at much more manageable levels.”

“Well, that explains a few things,” I said with a shake of my head. No wonder the damn fool always had a smile on his face.

“That’s just cold,” Lily added with a shudder. “They wanted to kill you just because of he had his neotransmitters are all messed up?

“Neurotransmitter imbalance,” Yu corrected.

“That’s all very interesting and everything, but can we get this over with? I’d really like to know if I have one of those things in me,” Farris leapt over the counter and jumped on top of the scan bed.

“Doctor Carver, can you cover that? I’d like to spend some time with my son,” Yu nodded toward her colleague, a skeletal and tiny old man with almost no hair remaining but a few white tufts that stuck out above his ears like the froth from boiled jyll’kar broth.

“Son? How does that work if he’s a clone?” Becca asked.

“Rayland was the physical equivalent to a eight-year-old when we arrested his growth. Generally, a clone is flashed with his or her memories once they’ve neared the final stages of their development so when I brought him out of stasis he had no memories or any sort of education. He was a like an infant. I devoted myself to teaching him and in so doing I developed the same feelings and affection that any mother would have for her child.”

“You’re clear,” Doctor Carver croaked from beside the scan bed. “That is… if my new colleague here agrees.”

Vakrexid scrambled across the counters surrounding the scan bed so that could confer with Carver. “Indeed.”

“Becca you’re up.” Farris hopped down from the scan bed and threw his thumb over his shoulder.

My sister licked her lips, and gave me a nervous smile. “Wish me luck.”

I followed Becca over to the scan bed, leaving Lily alone with Rayland and his adopted mother. Farris had lingered near the scan bed and together we watched my sister climb up and position herself back down atop it.

“Please try to hold still,” Carver said just before activating the scanner.

As soon as his finger mashed down on the console I could feel the symbiote stir and I felt my heart sink when I realized what it was that I was feeling. Becca was the host. I’m sure the K’teth knew that he’d been had, but I really couldn’t say if that contributed to what he did next. Though, it was oddly surreal to be witness to an event that so closely mirrored one of my own past experiences.

Becca skin started to glow and the lights above started to flicker as the he began consuming energy.

“Crap,” I muttered realizing that besides the cosmetic differences the nester’s scan bed did differ from Vakrexid’s old one in one important way. It didn’t have its own fuel cell, it was tied directly into the nester’s main power source. Which meant Becca’s K’teth now had unfettered access to a massive supply of energy. I did the only thing I could think of, I grabbed my sister by the ankles, threw her over my shoulder and leapt out of the way.

My normally perfect balance was thrown off by the weight of my sister and I careened face down onto the floor on opposite the counter. Becca was thrown free of my shoulder and landed a few feet past me her feet pounding into the back of my head. I grunted, then rolled onto my back further away from my sister.

I shook my head and glanced up as Farris approached, but he sped past me and knelt down next to my sister.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I think so,” came my sister’s belated reply.

A moment later, Lily was down on her knees next to me and I heard her repeat Farris’s question.

“The only thing wounded is my pride,” I mumbled, then climbed to my feet glancing over at my sister. “This… could be a problem.”

Becca stood, somewhat shakily, with Farris’s assistance then turned to me tears biting the corners of her eyes. “Please, do something I don’t want this to change me like yours’ did to you.”

“That’s shouldn’t be a worry,” Khala said smiling smugly as she appeared by my side. “Males aren’t capable of manipulating their host’s cells on the same level as queens. The worst he’ll be able to do is make a few cosmetic changes.”

“Shit,” Becca breathed taking a few steps back and turned her head to stare at the exact spot where Khala was standing. “Where’d she come from?”

“Who?” Farris asked, but no one bothered to answer him.

“I can feel him,” Khala muttered stepping toward my sister and drew close enough to place a hand on my sister’s shoulder. “Looks like our friend has finally decided to finish the bonding process, but the question is will he come out and play?”

She scowled when her question failed to draw a response and she gritted her teeth and glared daggers at Becca. “Like it or not, brother, you’re stuck with us. If you want to hide inside your host that’s your business, but you must realize that as far as the masters and many of our brothers and sisters are concerned you have been irrevocably contaminated by this human you’ve joined with. In their eyes it would have been better if you had allowed yourself to die along with your former host.”

Again, he didn’t answer, and Khala howled in impotent fury before disappearing with a flash and a bang. Becca looked around the chamber and started to shake her head. “No, I don’t want this thing inside of me. Get it out! SOMEONE JUST GET IT OUT!”

I wrapped my arm around her and she just melted into my arms. “Becca I’m sorry, if there was a way the doctor would have found one by now. I think you’re stuck with that symbiote for the long run.”

If their cells weren’t completely joined then it seemed reasonable that there was a better chance of symbiote and host being separated. I’d had this faint hope that we’d be able to rid ourselves of him by doing so, but Khala’s pronouncement that our new friend had completed the bonding process had shot that prospect to bits. Now Becca was stuck, just like Lily and me and there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it.

Chapter Six

I leapt up the side of the chamber walls, zooming across the surface of the rock in great leaps that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. I jumped into the center of the ceiling. I crouched and looked down at all the rangers and my fellow resistance members then pushed against the surface under my feet and went plummeting back down toward the ground. I did a back flip just before hitting the surface and landed on my feet.

“Damn,” I said with a shake of my head as I looked about the small chamber.

Raylen’s men had been taken off guard by my trip up the side of the wall, but it had only been enough to keep them off me for a few seconds. The others would be no help as they were all busy. Even Lily, who was finally getting a real chance to flex her muscles, was having trouble keeping them at bay. God there were so damn many of them! I waited the rangers out and when the first of them came tearing across the chamber floor I ducked as he swung the butt of his rifle at me and I slammed my fist into his stomach as hard as I could.

He went flying back and toppled into three of friends. His body armor had absorbed most of the impact, but my attack was powerful enough to leave him dazed for several seconds. His companions, on the other hand, were back up on their feet in an instant. Say what you would about the rangers, but they were a damned tough lot. Lily and I had them beat by a landslide, but still it was pretty impressive. Their armor was of a type created during the war and had been designed specifically to fight the Qharr. It was capable of absorbing a lot of kinetic energy, but there was only so much it could do against K’tetch-enhanced strength. Which was why he had been thrown away from me instead of shrugging it off as he had with some of my less-powerful attacks.

The other three rangers came speeding toward me and I braced myself for their attacks. The second and third raised their rifles as clubs and I let the blows come as I held out my open palm which impacted the first’s shoulder, and sent him spinning away. He collapsed to his knees and I hit him across the chest with a round house kick. He went down and stayed down, and I turned to take on his two friends who had been joined by the ranger who’d gone soaring a moment before.

I ducked when one of the rangers, a lanky woman who had a shock of short red hair done up in a pixie cut, and spun around diving at another who I only realized was Neada after I’d gotten a good look into her eyes. Of course, that didn’t stop me from sending her tumbling down on her ass, but I did feel bad about it. Pretty soon she was down for the count and I jumped up to my feet dealing a blow against fire-hair’s chest before she wilted under the force of my attacks.

Then it was just me and the last ranger. He looked fresh-faced and I doubted he was old enough to have reached twenty five years. Which meant I probably only had four or five years on him, but there was some quality about him that I couldn’t quite name made him seem much younger. He pounced at me, and I grabbed him by the arm and sent him hurtling away from me. He bounced back and was ready to pounce on me when Rayland suddenly called a halt to the fighting.

My opponent let out a deep breath and smiled at me. “That’s pretty damn impressive. The Major told us what you were capable of, but I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“I have to admit sometimes even I’m surprised by the things I can do.” I shrugged brushing my hair out of my eyes. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from saying any more. No one among the nesters knew about the K’teth save Bueller and Rayland and it had been decided that it would be best if the general nester populous was kept in the dark. Even the rangers weren’t in the know, but that hadn’t stopped them from speculating about Lily and my appearance or our abilities. At the moment the presiding theory was that we were victims of genetic experimentation at the hands of Qharr scientists.

“Name’s Jake by the way,” the ranger said scratching the back of his head.


“Yeah, um, so listen. You wanna grab a drink or something. My cousin makes this…well it’s pretty terrible moonshine to be honest, but it’s about the best you can get arou–”

“She’s spoken for.” Lily appeared and put her arm around me adopting an almost comically possessive posture.

“Oh, oh, well, sorry, that was… unexpected. Well, it was a pleasure,” he said then quickly fled his cheeks burning bright red.

Lily pulled away then frowned watching him disappear. “That was awkward. You know I caught one the ranger’s sneaking glances at my ass when he thought I didn’t notice. It was… weird.”

“I know the feeling,” I muttered, pulling her close and kissed her.

I admit that I had an ulterior motive for doing this. I had this hope that if the rangers saw us displaying our affection, that it might help stave off any would be admirers. While Lily had been a little slower to develop a figure, she’d grown into it quite nicely and I could hardly keep my eyes off her whenever she was around. Still neither one of us had much experience with this sort of thing. I had received more than enough attention for my own liking, but only two men had been very forward in their interest, one of whom I’d slept with then found out he was a traitor and the other had was a dirty philander who was married to my sister and tried to rape me. I didn’t exactly have a very good track record when it came to turning men down. Well, the more reasonable ones anyway…

I guess our little smooch wasn’t enough for Lily because once we broke apart she pulled me in close again kissing me with a lot more tongue than I was accustomed to. When we finally did break, I was left feeling breathless and I wanted nothing more at that moment to make dirty passionate love to her. Unfortunately, we had an audience. I had a feeling that such a public act would have the exact opposite effect that I wanted.

“Well, I just got word from our Dexagarmetrax friend,” Rayland approached glancing back at Jake, grinning from ear to ear. “Seems he’s cracked that code the ERF sent us.”

Us? I grimaced and folded my arms across my chest. Where did he get off acting like he was part of the group? I still wasn’t convinced he could be trusted, but I needed to play ball. So I gritted my teeth and dropped my hands. “Best news I’ve heard all week. He still in the infirmary?”

“No, Mom finally managed to herd him out. He’s back at your place.”

I nodded. “Right, well… Lily and I will head back and talk with him. I’m sure the rest of the crew could use something to eat, that was a pretty good workout.”

“Right, I’ll have Neada show them into the mess… I can escort you to back to the house and have something brought over for us to eat.”

I almost said something, but then bit my tongue. I didn’t want Rayland to tag along with us at all, but I doubted he’d take no for answer. If I were in Bueller’s shoes I would never let a potential security risk like me or Lily walk around in my home unwatched. Besides if I let the nester’s keep guard there was no way they’d be able to point their fingers at me if anything went awry.

“That’d be good.”

“Vakrexid, apologizes. It should not have taken me so long, but it was much more complicated than Vakrexid had originally assumed. You see, in early life Pyrpygym had a rare language processing disorder, similar to one that occurs in your species known as dyslexia, which caused him to write characters in reverse order. Because our scientists learned how to cure this disorder when he was still very young, it is not a fact that is well known. Which is why Vakrexid had not thought of it!”

“That’s why none of it made any sense then it was backwards?” Lily asked.

“No, Vakrexid reversed the order of the numbers, then applied the formula then reversed the results. Vakrexid tried several different permutations and this is the only one that turned up coherent results.”

“So then what is it?” Rayland asked. “What do all those numbers mean?”

“They are coordinates, followed by a date and a time,” Vakrexid replied.

“And how do we know that they’re correct? I mean it’s not like they really gave us a set of directions,” Lily asked frowning as she stared at the doctor.

“How do we even know we can trust this message? If the Earth Reclamation Fleet was compromised the Qharr could have sent this message to bait us,” Rayland glanced at the doctor an uncharacteristic frown marring his face. “Where exactly are these coordinates?”

Vakrexid produced a small tablet computer and held it out to Rayland. “New Anaheim.”

“A-and the date?” I asked.

“August thirtieth at 22:13.” Vakrexid replied tooting absently as thrummed his fingers against the table.

“Whoever sent that message did their homework. New Anaheim is my place of birth and as for the date and time that’s my birthday. I was born on August thirtieth, in twenty-two thirteen. They must want us to meet them, but can we risk it? Those dates were a matter of public record before the invasion.”

“Vakrexid believes this information is genuine,” the doctor said. “With the exception of Mara no human would have the necessary knowledge. Since she is dead only one of my kind, in particular a clan-mate, could have been able to encrypt the message in such a way that Vakrexid would know how to decrypt it. The Qharr do not have any form of contact with my people. It is most unlikely that they would be able to compose such a message when only a handful of my people, all of them my relatives, could do so.”

“I don’t care what you say I still don’t like it.” Rayland shook his head.

“Maybe there’s another way,” I said. “If we showed up early we could set up an ambush. We could spring any traps before they were set.”

“I’ll discuss it with Bueller. In the mean time I think it’s best if we kept this between the four of us. There’s no telling what would happen if this sort of information got out… especially if it got into the hands of your symbiote friend. I have difficulty just believe this Khala and Dyssa can be trusted. The fact that your symbiotes don’t get along with your sister’s introduces an unstable element.”

I didn’t like keeping things from my sister, but I understood Rayland’s logic and as much as I hated to admit it I agreed that it was better to be cautious. An uncomfortable silence followed and it wasn’t broken until the nester cooks arrived with our meal that it was broken.

Chapter Seven

To say that I was nervous was an understatement, but at least it kept my mind off my conflicted self-reflection. We were waiting outside the council chambers and never before this point had the weight of leadership weighed me down than that moment. I didn’t have any idea what to say, but that was only part of it. I wasn’t just representing myself; I was representing the entire resistance, the few of us that were left.

The building, like every other nester structure that I had entered was a blocky and unattractive affair that had very obviously been built to serve a purpose and not provide eye candy. I wrapped my arm around Lily’s shoulders and pulled her close. She smiled and set her head on my shoulder.

Lily and I shared a seat, Becca and Farris sat on a bench opposite us, getting far too cozy with each other for my tastes, and the doctor had remained standing at his own insistence with closed eyes and remained almost unnaturally still.

“You’re going to do fine,” she whispered in my ear just before the massive set of unadorned double doors creaked open.

Rayland poked his head through.”They’re ready for you.”

I nodded, then took Lily’s hand and stepped through the door, Farris and Becca remained sitting, they had not been invited to this meeting. Becca, because of her symbiote and Farris because Rayland had advised Bueller of their relationship. The doctor trailed, opening his eyes and lurching into the chamber with a suddenness that was starling. Rayland closed the door behind us and I gritted my teeth and fought down the sudden urge to make a break for it.

After traveling through a short hallway we entered directly into a small circular chamber, which had a raised platform, ringed with seats, and was just high enough to force us to crane our necks in order to look upon those seated above. There were nine of them counting Bueller, but the platform was large enough to have supported at least double that many.

“My friends,” Bueller pronounced using his cane to prop himself up so that he could overlook the entire room. “You all know why we have gathered. Friends from the resistance have come to us seeking shelter and now they need our help.”

“Our help?” A tall willowy man, with small flat nose, glanced down at us, with cold eyes. “It seems to me that we’ve already given them enough of that.”

“Representative Dahl,” Bueller chided pounding his cane against the floor producing a loud resounding thud. “You will have time to speak when I open the floor for discussion.”

“Of course, president.” Dahl gave a smile that was all teeth and reminded me of a predator ready to pounce and bowed his head.

Bueller cleared his throat then continued. “Many of us are not acquainted so I believe it would behoove me to give you an opportunity to familiarize you one with another. He started by naming each member of the resistance and then held his hand out to each representative offering up an introduction. He started with Lancaster Dahl, the disagreeable fellow from before, who had a thin jaw and permanent scowl on his face, next was Jokeb Schmit a short man who wore a calculating expression that was hard to read, then came Jacklyn Estevez an aging woman who might once have been considered beautiful decades ago, Jeremiah Krane a man who couldn’t have been much older than myself, Arianne Le Fonte a strikingly attractive woman with flowing auburn hair, Rena Kinkaid who had an easy smile and a friendly demeanor, Della Everly a severe-looking woman with studied our group with keen eyes, and finally Minka Dubcek an eccentric looking woman who had her hair done up in a bun and was fur sweater that was so old and worn that clumps of hair looked to have fallen off.

After the introductions Bueller looked about the room. “Today, we take an important step forward. It was been more than twenty-four years since our world was taken from us. Rather than fight against the invaders we have chosen to cower in our caves and let others fight and die in our place. This was an act born of fear and desperation, but we can no longer afford to stand idly by. They come to us with renewed hope and a new purpose. They have made contact with a remnant of the UED Fleet calling itself the Earth Reclamation Fleet and hope to collaborate with them to formulate a plan to retake our world. The floor is now open for discussion.”

“You speak pretty words, President Bueller, but let’s not sidestep what must be everyone’s biggest concern. These resistance fighters you’ve allowed within our midst, must be commended for their bravery in fighting the gray-skins, but surely you cannot be so blind as to trust when at least three of their number have allowed themselves to infested by these K’teth creatures,” said Jokeb who glared at Lily and me with undisguised contempt.

“Infested. I may very much coming to loath that word,” Khala said appearing beside me.

‘I’m not too fond of it myself, but look at it this way,’ I thought as I glanced at her with a shrug. ‘At least he didn’t call you a parasite.’

“Look.” I stepped forward, meeting Jokeb’s gaze. “You have every reason to be suspicious. To be honest, if I were in your position I’d feel the same way, but we’ll need to put our suspicions and doubts aside if we’re going to work together,” I shuddered spinning around so that I could get a good look at all the representatives.

“Believe me, my symbiote has done things to me that are beyond disturbing, but she’s had several opportunities to betray me… to betray the resistance and she has never once done so. I sincerely believe that she wants to be free from the Qharr just like you and me. Lily and I have powers and strength far beyond an ordinary human don’t let that go to waste. I want to fight those bastards, they’ve killed… far too many of the people I care about.”

Kaya’s name had been on the tip of my tongue, but I every time I uttered it I found it was all I could do from breaking down which was about the last thing I could afford to do at that moment. She was always on my mind, and it was hard enough just thinking about her, but at least when I did I could keep my feelings from showing on my face. I may have looked calm on the surface, but inside I was a mess. It wasn’t just because of Kaya, but everything else too.

“Oh, I don’t doubt that,” Jokeb replied narrowing his eyes and I shook my head to clear my thoughts as his squirrelly little eyes studied me. “At least as far as the human host is concerned. The problem is how can we know which one of you is actually speaking?”

“This is annoying,” Dyssa said her imaginary form leaning against that of her mother’s. “How can we ever hope to convince your people of our intentions when we are continually met with suspicion?”

‘Can you really, blame them?’ Lily asked. For a moment I actually thought she was speaking aloud until I saw her face and realized her lips were not moving. ‘It’s not like you’ve given them a reason to trust you.’

“The question is… will we ever be able to do enough to convince them?” Khala asked.

‘Either way we have an agreement. Unless you plan on going back on your word,’ I said folding my arms across my chest as I stared at her with raised eyebrows.

“Never!” Khala and Dyssa both yelled in unison.

“Let’s say for a moment that these, symbiotes, can in fact be trusted. What of the third one? How can we be sure it won’t betray us?” Lancaster said leaning over the edge of the platform so that he could look me directly in the eyes.

“I will not see our people led into ruination because of these parasites!” A new voice yelled and both Lily and I jumped as we turned to look upon the speaker, Jacklyn Estevez.

“Well so much for them not calling us parasites,” Khala said with pursed lips just before vanishing. Dyssa glanced at the spot her mother’s image had just vacated and let out a long sigh before, she too, disappeared.

While Lily and I had been conversing with our symbiotes the chatter among the assembly members had continued. I silently cursed myself for allowing myself to be distracted then opened my mouth to speak, but to my surprise the doctor spoke first.

“Vakrexid, can vouch for them. I have been able to determine with nearly complete certainty that the symbiotes cannot consciously influence their hosts. Any human, or Qharr, joined with a K’teth would remain completely independent from the entities. They can only gain control if the host allows it and most certainly only for a very short time.”

“Forgive us, if we do not take the word of an alien at face value,” the Jeremiah Krane said folding his arms across his chest.

Jacklyn, clenched her jaw then turned to stare at the doctor a slow smile forming on her face as I caught glint of amusement from her eyes. “Please pardon my young… friend Jeremiah, he is too young to remember the universe as it was before the invasion. So excuse me as I explain to my fellow representative. This alien, as you put it is a member of a race of people known as the Dexagarmetrax. They are a species of scholars, they value truth above all else. For them lying is a reprehensible crime tantamount to murder.”

Jokeb grimaced and scowled at the elderly woman. “That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be some sort of deviant.”

“Doubtful,” Arianne said her long auburn tresses draping over the edge of platform as she leaned over to get a better look at us. The top two buttons of her blouse were undone and I got an amazing view of her cleavage. That is, until Lily caught me looking and elbowed me in the stomach.

“There are very few criminals among the Dexagarmetrax. Let’s just assume that this doctor is speaking the truth it still does not mean he is infallible. He could have made a mistake or been led to a false conclusion. Still, I am inclined to believe him,” Arianne continued apparently heedless of my wandering eyes.

“How exactly is it that you know this?” Jokeb frowned glancing at the much younger councilor in surprise. “You weren’t even a twinkle in your parent’s eyes when theQharr invaded.”

“You may behave as if I’m just another pretty face, Jokeb, but unlike you I know how to read,” she said with cool disdain as she twirled her bangs around her index finger.

“How Representative Le Fonte knows this is immaterial, since she happens to be correct,” Jacklyn said with a slight tremor to her voice.

“Our own doctors have examined our friends in the resistance,” Bueller said tapping his cane against the floor to silence the room. “They’re reports are far from conclusive, but they’re results would seem to agree with the Dexagarmetrax’s conclusions.”

“Would seem to?” Jacklyn asked. “You took one hell of a risk bringing these rebels here, president. They could very well bring the Qharr down on us. I will not risk the security of this facility for sake of these people. We’ve already lost one nest to the gray-skins, I will not allow us to repeat the mistakes of Safe Haven.”

Lily stepped forward and looking up at row of the councilors as if seeing them for the first time. “What do any of you know of the mistakes of Safe Haven? None of you were there to watch as the ones you cared about were butchered by those bastards!” She was shaking with rage and I placed a hand on her shoulder as she let out a deep breath then continued speaking.

“The leaders of Safe Haven would have found a big bottomless whole to drop us down and wash their hands of us. They wouldn’t have taken us in like you did. They were paranoid and afraid of their own shadows. The reason Safe Heaven fell is because they… we were too damned arrogant for their own damn good. You can’t stay hidden from the Qharr forever, sooner or later they will find you and when they do, I hope you’re ready. Safe Haven wasn’t and looked what happened.”

“Ah, yes, our alleged survivor. You give a compelling argument, but much of what you said could be applied to your resistance, could it not? You come to us, a few survivors of an organization, that because of its arrogance was all but obliterated and you dare to preach to us?” Representative Jokeb glowered down at her. “If we move against the Qharr I fear that we will be doomed to repeat your mistakes. The gray-skins are like a force of nature there is no fighting them.”

“You can’t really be serious?!” I yelled glared up at the ratty little bastard in disbelief. “There may not be much left of the resistance, but the E-R-F represents our only chance at ever being liberated from the gray-skins, isn’t that worth taking a risk?”

“Hear, hear,” Bueller tapped his cane against the floor. “Before they came to us the Alexana Briggs and her band–” he paused then held his hands out to me. “–received one last message from the fleet. It took them some time to decode it, but it contains coordinates, a date and a time. I believe it would be in our best interest to at least investigate.”

Della Everly cleared her throat then pursed her lips and stood up. “I’ve heard enough. I thank our friends from the resistance for joining us today, but whatever decision this council comes to I believe should be done so without their presence. Alexana and her compatriots have done an admiral job making their case, but due to the sensitivity of the topic I believe a more private meeting would be appropriate.”

“I concur,” Lancaster Dahl said.

“As do I.” Jacklyn said leaning back in her chair.

“Very well.” Bueller glowered at the three representatives, but nodded and pounded his cane against the floor. “We will reconvene on the morrow privately. It was my hope that we could come to this decision as partners with our friends from the resistance, but clearly that is not to be the case here. I suppose then there is no reason for us to linger, meeting adjourned.”

The doctor went tearing out of the room without a word running at so great a pace I actually worried he would topple over, but he kept his balance, at least, until he disappeared from the room.

“Well,” Lily grimaced snatching my hand out of the open air. “That could have gone a lot better, but at least they didn’t do anything too drastic.”

I shrugged looking around the chamber and watched the council members depart. “Let’s just hope something good comes of it.”

“I’m sure it will.” She smiled and tightened her grip on my hands and led me out the room. She had that suggestive smile on her face that I’d learned could only mean one thing. Not that I was complaining, I was always up for a little fun in the bedroom.

Chapter Eight

Who was I, really? It was a question that had pounded its way through my head over and over since Kaya’s death. Was I this wild Lexa a beautiful, untamed warrior-woman with superhuman strength, or was I Jellfree, unassuming cook and reluctant rebel. Those two identities were at odds and I couldn’t come to grips them. After my transformation, I’d had very little time to reconcile my changes.

Events had happened so quickly that I’d been forced to set aside my insecurities and misgivings and fight for my life. Even after rescuing my sister, I’d been so caught up with our reunion and my budding relationship with Lily that my gender identity had taken a backseat to those things. Given that we were settled in the relative security of the nest I had a lot more time to really think things through, but I was no closer to understanding any of it.

It all boiled down to one question. Just a short time ago the answer would have been so simple, but I’d begun to build a new identity. Did I want to be a woman for the rest of my life? Khala had offered to return me to my former form, but I knew that I would be forced to change back to my feminine self sooner or later. Was it worth switching back and forth whenever it came time for Khala to mix her genetic code with a male’s and pop out another offspring? Did I even want to be a man anymore?

I really liked Lily, and I could see our relationship becoming a lasting one, but would she want to stay with me once I changed? I didn’t even know if she was attracted to men. I should have talked it over with her, but every time I tried to broach the subject the words escaped me.

I felt my cheeks burn as I looked myself over in the mirror. I was wearing a little-slip of a black dress that clung to my figure and left almost nothing to the imagination. I had no idea what sort of fabric it was stitched from, but it was so light and airy that it almost felt as if I were wearing nothing. If I hadn’t been for the bra, it would have been a lot harder remember that I wasn’t naked. It dug into my back and was a little on the uncomfortable side, but it did make my knockers look pretty amazing.

The dress hadn’t been my idea, far from it, but if I was going to be honest from myself I kind of liked the way it made me look. It was strange thinking that way. I just wished those feelings made me a little more certain about which path I was going to take, but instead they just heightened my confusion.

A party was being held in our honor that night. I personally didn’t see the point of it, but according to Rayland the nesters seldom had a chance to celebrate and it was important for the community to be officially introduced to us. I didn’t give a flying rat’s ass either way, but it was just another compromise I was making in the interest of appeasing the nesters.

“Damn,” came Becca’s voice from the doorway. “You look amazing. I wish I could look half as good.”

If my reflection was any indication I think my cheeks actually turned two or three deeper shades of red. “Thanks.” It was all I could think to say without revealing my deep seeded doubts. My feminine side certainly liked having its ego stroked, but my masculine side wanted no part of it. I felt like I was at war with myself, two halves male and female battling it out for dominance. I wanted so much tell someone, to ask for help, or guidance but I just couldn’t find the words.

I swallowed and looked my sister over. She was a wearing a little red number of a similar cut to my dress, except that it showed a lot less cleavage. “Don’t sell yourself short. You look great.”

There would have been a time that I would have been uncomfortable complimenting my sister’s looks, but my feminine side didn’t have a problem with it and my masculine side didn’t put up much of a fight. I wasn’t lying either, my sister really did look great. I was certainly the more well-endowed sibling, but that didn’t mean Becca was hard on the eyes. Far from it. Her symbiote had yet to change her hair or eyes, but if what Khala had told me was true it was only a matter of time before my sister was sporting blue tresses.

“Damn,” Lily pronounced poking her head through the door. “I’ve been so worried about the way I looked, but god with you two in the room no one’s gonna pay me any mind.”

Typical Lily, she didn’t realize how beautiful she had really become. She looked in the mirror and still saw her old male self looking back at her. Yes, she had smaller breasts and a more slender frame than either of us, but a lot of that had to do with her height. Her proportions were more than generous and she had a figure that any potential lover, whether they were male or female, would have trouble looking away from. Her little blue dress clung to her figure in all the right places and it took all my restraint to keep my hands off her.

“I just want this night to be over.” I grimaced placing a hand on my sister’s shoulder. “Your symbiote still being mister talkative?”

She nodded then bit her lip. “Hasn’t said a thing since he revealed himself.”

“Well, there’s that at least.” Despite Khala’s assurances that it wasn’t possible I still had this fear in the back of my mind that Becca’s symbiote might try to transform her as Khala had done to me.

“Well,” I grimaced glancing down at my breasts which looked like they were ready to bounce out of my dress. “Let’s get going. We don’t want this thing to start without us, do we?”

I’d never been to a party that I could remember, so I had nothing to compare the experience to, but I did know I didn’t particularly care for the experience, especially since I seemed to be the center of attention. I was the leader of our little group, and since I wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes everyone’s focus was on me.

The party was being held in the large, open area at the center of the nester chamber. Rayland led us to a small space at the center of the area which looked to have been cordoned off specifically for Bueller, the town council and our ragtag group. Bueller was standing, at a podium and he smiled and nodded at us as we entered the area.

The town council hadn’t yet informed us of their decision save to say that they’d decided to offer us asylum for the long term. Whether that meant bringing the fight to the gray-skins or just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses was another thing entirely.

“Ladies, and gentleman.” He spoke into a small narrow tube that stuck out from the podium. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to be responsible for amplifying his voice across the entire chamber. He paused long enough for the crowd to calm and quiet down then continued. “I’m sure it has already become public knowledge by now, but Sanctum has became home to a small group of heroic resistance fighters. They came to us a broken and weary lot betrayed by those they once believed to be friends and allies. We felt it was necessary to give them time to recover from their ordeals before official announcing their presence here.”

I bit my tongue, forcing down the sudden urge to correct Bueller. It wasn’t that anything he had said was a lie, it just sounded so… grandiose. Nothing I had done was the least bit heroic, it had all been for the sake of survival and the stubborn part of me that kept thinking there was still a reason to hope for a brighter future.

“Though they number only five they’ve done more to ensure our eventual liberation than any before them. Their leader, Alexana Briggs, and her sister Rebecca Anders were forced to watch as their parents were murdered by our conquerors and were only recently reunited after spending years apart. Their tech-expert, Lillian Freemark, is a survivor of nest Safe Haven, and as well as being particularly brilliant, has devoted herself to avenging her family and liberating the human race from the clutches of the Qharr. Matthew Farris, though only twenty seven is a seasoned veteran who has been fighting with the resistance for more than ten years and their final member, a Dexagarmetrax doctor, whose religion forbids me from giving voice to his name, has been trapped on Earth since the invasion and is an accomplished physician who has studied medicine on dozens of worlds.

Each of us reacted differently when our names were mentioned, I felt my body stiffen and managed a lopsided-grin and a curt nod. Becca bit her lip and started to tear up before she brought her hand up to cover her face. Lily managed a shy smile and waved at the crowd while Farris shrugged then followed Lily’s example. The doctor’s reaction was certain the most noteworthy. He did a little dance, jumping from side to side and waving his hands down below his waist before jerking forward and letting out a long warbling sound.

I hated that Bueller knew so much about our backstories. I’d been particularly tightlipped about our histories, but that hadn’t kept some of the others, especially the doctor, from blabbing every little detail they could think of.

“Please extended to them the warm thanks they deserve and enjoy the food and drinks.” Bueller finished then grabbed his cane from where it was leaning against the podium and hobbled away. I guess the president wasn’t one for long speech which was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t been too keen on the prospect of listening to a long drawn out oration. He’d very obviously neglected to give a reason for Lily and my odd appearance, which would likely result in giving credence to the rumors. I was fine with that, the fewer people who realized I was host to an alien symbiote the better.

A fast up-beat tune started to play and I jumped attempting to detect a source. The lack of any visible musicians forced me to conclude that the music had been recorded at an earlier time and was being projected through speakers. I had vague memories of listening to music that was pre-recorded before the invasion, but the concept seemed so strange to me. Music could move a person to new heights, but just listening to a piece was nowhere near as fulfilling as being an active participant.

I’d never had much of a singing voice, but I’d been known to belt out a tune or two while working. It wasn’t at all uncommon for slaves to burst into song while performing their daily labors. It often made the work day go by much more quickly. The Qharr liked live entertainment, and it wasn’t that unusual for guards to join in on our songs. Still there was something about the way that the nesters moved in sync with the music. Dancing, I’d seen so little of it during my incarceration that it almost seemed unnatural.

I tried to reproduce their movements, but felt my cheeks burn when I realized a lot of people were staring. I glanced around, looking for some place where I might escape all that scrutiny, but then Lily grabbed bother my hands and pulled me close.

“No,” Lily said standing up on her tip toes to peck me on the lips. “Don’t stop… just relax, don’t exaggerate your movement so much. Let the music flow through you. Let it move you, let the beat guide you. Watch.”

She stepped in sync with the music, her feet swirling against the dance floor, each movement slow and sensual. She raised her arms above her head, putting her chest out and rocked back and forth. She danced around me her back pressing into my side, and she spun around and grinned up at me. “Try it out.”

I swallowed and looked around feeling very self-conscious. Lily was a lot more comfortable with her body than I was, and during foreplay she’d shown a mastery of feminine sensuality that few natural-born women could match. Dancing, seemed like a natural extension of this ability and I just didn’t think I had it in me. She’d always been a woman at heart, but I hadn’t taken my form by choice. Still, I just couldn’t say no to her so I bit my lip and stepped forward moving to the beat of the music.

“Better, but you’re still too tense. Just relax,” she whispered in my ear. I nodded, let out a deep breath then imagined it was just the two of us on the dance floor. I stopped trying to imitate the way other people had been dancing and just did what felt natural. A few times, Lily offered up encouragement or advice, but overall seem satisfied. I stopped thinking about what I was doing and just moved to the beat. The night stretched into a blissful eternity and I let the music take me away…

Chapter Nine

Five days, passed and we heard nothing from the council and it was all I could do to stay sane. It was funny, but in the short time since I’d joined the resistance I had become so accustomed to being on the run that I was getting antsy just staying in one place. The fact that I was so conflicted with myself only made matters worse. I didn’t want to think about it, but it was all I could do.

We’d all been asked to contribute to the nest in some way, and I had agreed. At the very least it gave us something to do, but unfortunately because of our experience Becca and I had both been drafted to work in the kitchen. It still loved to cook, it was second nature to me and I could do just about anything in a kitchen without putting much thought into. Which left my mind to wander, and wander it did.

The more I thought about it the more I realized, I didn’t actually dislike being female, but a part of me still wished to go back to being male. There was just something about this body that felt wrong, it wasn’t the breasts, the hips, or even the vagina. It was something else, something I couldn’t quite name, but always there on the tip of my tongue. I felt wrong, not because I was female, but for reasons I couldn’t easily define.

And… I felt guilty, for not telling Lily and for a lot of things, including Kaya’s death. I couldn’t help but feel responsible, and I hated that our relationship had ended the way it had. She had been carrying our child and–I stopped looking around at the other people in the kitchen, who were busy going about their tasks, then wiped a tear from my eye–I felt like I had abandoned Kaya. It didn’t particularly make sense, considering she was the one who hadn’t been attracted to me, but emotions were seldom logical.

At least life in the nest wasn’t too unpleasant; most of the people were friendly if somewhat distant. I did get a lot of odd looks and I’d had more than one would-be suitor knocking at my door. It was sort of flattering, but it was beginning to get old. Still, a few of them had been pretty good looking. If I hadn’t been in a relationship with Lily I might have let them take me out on a date.

I sighed, mostly I’d been doing grunt work, peeling potatoes, cutting vegetables, and washing dishes, but at least I was doing something even if it gave me far too much time to think. What I wouldn’t have done at that moment to smash or rip an opponent to shreds. That was something else I’d been thinking about a lot, violence. It came so easily to me, since I’d becomeLexa.

I hated to see people I cared about hurt, but the more primal aspect of