Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates
“Dammit, it’s hot,” A voice spoke disembodied at first, but Khala’s memories resolved before me. They granted a view of a brilliant violet sky, cementing the idea that I was looking upon an alien world. My head craned around, or rather, I reminded myself, not mine, but the person whose eyes I saw through, that of my mother.
In the distance, the violet sky framed a red and baren world, a harsh desert which showed almost no signs of life. A stray plant, growing through a crack in the rock, or a half-dead brown huddled mass with spines, quivering more than a dozen meters away, just visible behind a cluster of boulders. The world was dying, its fate sealed centuries ago, probably before humanity had ever reached out to the stars.
I caught a whiff of roses, a scent that I’d always associated with my mother and a hand slid against my forehead, Sofia’s forehead, wiping sweat and dirt free as she hunkered down next to a pale-skinned, dark-haired fellow with a zigzag scar on his temple.
It was odd hearing my mother speak after so long. I wouldn’t have recognized her soft feminine voice at all, if it weren’t for her unique inflection, the barest hint of a central American accent combined with the tiniest impression of a Texas drawl. She’d lived all over the world, an archaeologist who dedicated her life to uncover evidence of the Phyrr Lesch on Earth, but she spent two of the biggest chunks of her life in those two areas.
Given her career choice, it was obvious why she had been so quick to join the Endeavour expedition.
“Something,” the man nodded, panting, and taking a sip from the tube of a hydration pack. “Can’t tell yet if it’s anything of note, might be just another damned stone. If you ask me, we’re wasting our time here.”
He glanced up, eyes lingering on my mother’s chest, which I’m ashamed to admit it took me a few seconds to realize he was staring at her breasts.
‘I wished he’d stop doing that.’ My mother’s voice said, echoing around in my skull.
‘I supposed you would be used to it by now. Humans get so hung up on these things. You’re an attractive woman and its simple animal instinct.’ Khala’s replied.
“Wait,” the man said, running his hands dusting dirt away from a smooth surface.
My mother leaned over the hole he had dug. “Is that a light?”
The two met each other’s gazes but didn’t say a single word before they both started tearing into the soil with their hands, throwing clumps of dirt away from the light without seeming to care where it might go. Within a few minutes, the two had unearthed a simple box that looked to be the same one I’d found aboard the derelict Endeavour all those years later.
“It’s sealed,” the man looked up, glancing at my mother’s chest one more time before meeting her gaze.
Sofia’s neck craned around, peering toward the horizon where the red sun was retreating, pale yellows and brilliant magentas already appearing in the soon to be darkened sky. “It’ll be night soon. Let’s get this thing up to the Endeavour. There we can set up a clean-room environment and get it opened up. Hopefully, it’ll shed some light on this place.”
She turned away, moving toward a dark hulking mass that may have been one of the Endeavour’s support pods. I never found out. The scene darkened, fading away into Khala’s consciousness, replaced by a new scene within the Endeavour’s bridge.
My mother was standing, glancing down at the pilot, the same young woman, whose dead body I had unstrapped from her seat. “What is it?”
The young woman’s voice was shrill, so high-pitched I winced upon hearing her speak, but I listened, hoping to learn some world-shattering truth. That was wishful thinking, but, even so, I was hearing the words of a dead woman. Something one of them said could provide some clue. I just hoped that if there was any subtext behind their words, I’d pick up on it.
“For all we know it could contain a Phyrr Lesch recipe for pupusas de chicharrón,” my mother stated the remnants of her Salvadoran accent, never so evident as in that moment especially when she rolled the double ‘r’s in Phyrr Lesch and chicharrón.
“I just hope whatever it is, we find out soon.” The pilot replied, her face stretching into a grin, as she gazed up at my mother with a smile. “It’s been three months and I’m already itchy for some action. Something needs to happen.”
Sofia Briggs bent over, kissing the young woman on the cheek, and placed both of her hands on her shoulders. “And it might be another three months. Don’t worry, mi pichoncita, the wait will be worth it, I’m sure of it.”
To say that it surprised me that my mother seemed to have such an… intimate relationship with the other woman was an understatement. I had no clue she’d ever shown the slightest bit of sexual interest in women, and, in that regard, I didn’t care. What upset me was that she would be so flirty with anyone while my father was still alive. It seemed like a betrayal, and it hit me like a physical blow to the stomach. A sob escaped my mouth, but by some mercy I had little time to mull it over. Khala’s memories soon took a very different turn.
“Uh, I’m getting something here,” a voice said from across the bridge, a man in his late thirties, and another face I recognized from among the corpses aboard the Endeavour. “It’s big… Might be a ship.”
“Can’t be. If it were a ship, there’s no way it could–” My mother’s lover stopped mid-sentence, her hands sliding across the control surface. Before spinning around in her seat and matching the gaze of the captain. “He’s right, sir. The computer isn’t able to recognize the configuration or the energy signature, but it is a ship.”
“Try opening a communications line. Something tells me that this new–“
“They just opened fire, sir.”
“Evasive maneuvers. Return fire.”
“Sir, I’m detecting an alien life sign in the corridors. I don’t understand how, but they seem to have penetrated our shields.”
The entire ship rocked, and my mom just caught herself on the console before taking off running toward the exit, all the while cursing under her breath. “¡Hijo de puta! La caja!”
Soon she was running through the corridors at a speed that only a joined host could match. Not even slowing when she hit the corners, but rather running across the side of the wall and to the floor again. Given her speed, she reached the research area in a fraction of the time that I had in my explorations, inputting her code, and bolting through the door the moment it slid open.
“¡Gracias a Dios!” She exclaimed upon entering. “It’s still here.”
She moved across the room, stopping just shy of the counter. A single gasp escaping her lips as her hands grabbed at her chest where a giant fist had struck, cleaving clean through her back and out the front right through her heart. The hands slid free and my mother collapsed to the ground, having suffered a blow even Khala could not heal, my mother made use of her few remaining seconds. I was no doctor, but something told me that it was Khala’s abilities keeping my mother alive in those precious few moments. Her hands went for her waist and she unhooked the stasis pod from her belt, clenching it in her hand.
“Khala,” she spoke the symbiote’s name. “If you ever see–” She never finished, a gurgle escaped from her mouth and the light, which twinkled in her eyes, faded away. I imagined the thoughts that must have been going through her mind. Had her final recollections been of me, or perhaps my father? Trembles racked my frame, and tears welled up in my eyes as the image of the Conclave chamber supplanted Khala’s remembrances.
As the sights and sounds of the real world returned to me, my head tilted around the room looking from face to face and it wasn’t until sound escaped my lips that I realized Khala was still running the show. Tears were streaming down my face, but whether they were mine or Khala’s I couldn’t even guess. Khala relinquished her control over my body and my grandmother’s arms wrapped around me.
It was odd having so much twisted into one big knot inside of my stomach. Cold chills wriggled down my back in response to what just witnessed. Red hot fire flushed my cheeks as my mind seethed at what that creature did to my mom, and hot tears stung the corners of my eyes over what had been lost. I stiffened. Kaya Briggs clenched me so close that my breasts were throbbing. The resulting awareness of my feminine form turned my cheeks an even brighter shade of red. I should be focused on the matter of the Endeavour and my mother’s death, but having these sensations, so new and unfamiliar, only served to highlight how different my body had become.
I almost pushed my grandmother away, when I sensed eyes on me, but I had enough tact to realize that would have been a bad idea. My grandmother came to her senses and released her hold. She snapped around as Colonel Cayne cleared his throat.
“Everything that, the parasite was kind enough to show, coincides with what we’ve been able to gather. We aren’t certain, but the Endeavour’s logs and navigation data were wiped. Given Meinhoff, the Colonel in command’s, psychological profile and UEAF standard procedures, I suspect he ordered the ship into a blind leap and destroyed the logs after failing to activate the self-destruct mechanism, which was damaged by the initial attack.”
“And why would he do that?” The lean woman with prominent crow’s feet asked.
Cayne clenched his jaw and met her gaze without blinking. “If Meinhoff had an incling that these mysterious aggressors were a threat to Earth, he would have sacrificed every single member of the crew. I never knew the man, but I have read his psychological profile. There was nothing he wouldn’t have done in the defense of Earth and the outlying colonies. He might have sabotaged the ship given enough time, but we’ve found no evidence of that which suggests he may have taken the only action open to him before his death.”
“And the missing crew member?” My grandmother asked.
“We don’t have any idea. The mysterious aggressors may have abducted her, or perhaps she’s drifting in the missing pod, in some godforsaken void halfway across the galaxy. With no evidence, we can only speculate.”
“This is troubling,” an unfamiliar voice spoke, letting out a high-pitched wail, prompting several council members to take furtive steps back. The Dexagarmetrax dignitary stood dwarfing everyone else in the room, including Vakrexid and Nyvok. “Whoever or whatever attacked the Endeavour represents a genuine threat. Hetzapledra does not believe we should ignore it.”
“Nor I,” Nyvok said, rising to his feet. “I have at my disposal, the destroyer Qellanas, and it’s likely I can convince the High Gieff Huntmaster to lend me one, perhaps two more destroyers. With that sort of firepower we could assist the United Earth Alliance in routing out this new threat.”
“Indeed,” the Dexagarmetrax ambassador spoke. “Hetzapledra cannot make promises without first conferring with my government, but Hetzapledra can say that there will be much eagerness to join in the investigation if there is even the slightest possibility of discovering the secrets of the originators.”
“Thank you.” Cayne nodded. “I appreciate your offer of aid, but as I am not authorized to organize a strike force, I cannot commit to any course of action. Later today, I’ll be briefing General Arnhoff, and I’ll pass along your sentiments. The Endeavour’s recovery is a piece of a much larger puzzle. We need to consider this creature that Ms. Briggs…”
He paused, holding his hand out to me. “Was kind enough to recover which is, in and of itself, quite the specimen.”
“Our scientists are examining the corpse, but we can infer something very important from its existence. Our mysterious friends, whoever they may be, have created a mindless beast to do their bidding. Which means we can ascertain two key details about its existence.”
“And what would those reasons be, Colonel?” Nyvok asked.
“I would think it would be obvious, they don’t wish anyone to see them.”
“And the other reason?” I asked, reassessing my initial appraisal of Cayne. He was a cold-hearted and insufferable jackass, but he was far more intelligent than I’d given him credit.
“That they believe this creature is so formidable that they don’t see a reason to give it more than the most rudimentary intelligence and given that it was able to massacre the Endeavour’s crew they would seem to have very good reasons to believe this.”
“It almost got me too… If it hadn’t been for Khala, it might have been another twenty years before someone found the Endeavour again.”
“Ladies, gentlemen, enbies please try to remember that this is a formal meeting, things are getting a bit… out of hand.” My grandmother spoke up, having regained her composure.
“If it’s just the same to you, Chairperson Briggs, I believe it’s time I leave. The General will want to hear about all this and I believe we’ve covered the important pieces.”
“That’s it?” I blurted out before I even realized I’d spoken. “What are we supposed to do now?”
Cayne glowered and shook his head. “We wait.”
He took a dozen steps as if to leave, then paused, and glanced back at us, the scowl still on his face. “And pray our new friends don’t come out to play again.”
He left, the door slamming shut behind him, his footsteps beating against the floorboards for several seconds until it faded away. No one spoke, but we all were hanging on those last few words. I couldn’t speak for the others, but what they had left me wondering whether anything in the world would ever be right again. The biggest problem? I was pretty sure that I was right on the money.
The council dispersed after Cayne’s departure and I made my own excuses, departing for the Briggs estates. I considered booking a hotel room, but that was just a little difficult considering I didn’t have any valid identification that matched my new body. Until I could update my IDEC, the only sort of places I could get into wouldn’t have been on the up and up.
At least my grandmother and Tanner had respected my pleas for solitude and I retreated to my room, never so eager to be alone. Perhaps, they sensed, what I would never speak aloud. I’d seen myself naked, after my initial transformation, but I hadn’t had the time to process everything and get a feel for my body. Now that I had some alone time, that was about to change.
I stripped out of my clothes, letting my jacket and top fall into a heap on the ground in front of the full-length mirror on the southern wall of the room. I was short, not that I’d ever been very tall, but I’d lost at least fifteen centimeters. There were more than a few people in the Briggs family who were vertically challenged. Which for most of my family, was a trait inherited from Lily, but in my case, my new diminutive stature may have had more to do with Sofia Briggs, who had been just a few centimeters shy of my current height.
I stared at my reflection, scowling at the pretty girl who was looking back at me. Hands slipping behind my back, I unhooked the bra. I closed my eyes, exhaling in relief, and stood there with my hands cupped around my bare breasts.
“This is so weird.” I whispered. I sensed movement and my eyes snapped open, taking in the sight of a tall statuesque woman with blue hair and the most intense magenta eyes I’d ever looked into.
“Holy hell!” I let out an ear-splitting and totally manly scream, before I backed away, covering up as best as I could with my bare hands.
“I told you we should have warned him,” the woman said, folding her arms across her chest and glancing toward the space where Khala appeared out of the nothingness.
“What the actual fuck is going on?” I asked, between clenched teeth.
I turned to my symbiote’s conjured form, hoping for some sort of explanation, but as I got a better look at the intruder, I got an odd feeling I’d seen her somewhere before. Then it struck me, and my breath caught in my throat.
“Well, yes, technically.”
I dropped my arms, abandoning my futile efforts to cover my chest, and rounded on the form of my deceased ancestor. When I pounced on her, my fingers passed through empty air. With both fists clenched at my sides, I rounded on Khala and repeated my question.
“What is going on?”
“How much has your grandmother told you about the final battle for Earth?”
“A lot, can’t say I was listening to much of it, but she was always droning on about it, so I suppose at least some of what she told me must have stuck in my head.”
“Did she ever explain to you that the mental bond between Lexa and I underwent a fundamental change after we defeated Jykarr Bynd?”
“Yeah,” I bit my lip and glanced towards Alexana Briggs, feeling those eyes pierce into my soul. “Something about your emotions and thoughts being much closer to the surface to the point that you knew what the other was thinking, and you had some electrical discharge thingy that let you disable a bunch of Qharr hunters at once.”
Khala nodded, a smile touching the corner of her lip as her eyes darted toward Lexa. “Not how I’d put it, but yes, more or less.”
“I’m guessing this somehow leads to the part where you explain why there’s a weird facsimile of Lexa Briggs is standing in the middle of my bedroom.”
“Yes, you see, our bond left an imprint of Lexa’s consciousness upon my mind.”
“So, this is Lexa Briggs?” I glanced toward Lexa, who smiled and shrugged.
“Well, that depends on whether you believe that I’m greater than the sum of my memories and experiences.” The shadow of my ancestor spoke, pacing and every now and then glanced my way.
“Did my Mom know about this?”
“Yes,” both symbiote and great-grandmother answered in perfect unison.
“And my grandmother?”
Lexa shook her head and tucked her hands under her armpits. “My passing was very hard on Kaya. To find out that my consciousness had continued on inside of your mother would have been very difficult for her to accept.”
“So, that’s a no.”
“Wait, that weird double scream I heard when we first met that gray skin ambassador, Nyvok. That was you and Lexa, wasn’t it?” I asked, spinning around on the balls of my feet to stare each down before my gaze settled on my great-grandmother.
“Guilty,” she replied with a shrug.
“This is weird, maybe weirder than these.” I cupped my breasts and shook my head, my heart pounding inside my chest.
“That I know a little something about,” Lexa folded her arms. “That’s why we decided it was time for you to know about me. I can help you, guide you through this troublesome time, help you become the woman that society expects you to be.”
“And if I decide that path isn’t for me?”
Lexa bit her lips and let out a sigh. “I guess we’ll come to that road after your year is up.”
I shivered, not because it was cold, in fact my room was toasty, but because the whole thing was all sorts of freaky. Being saddled with Khala was bad enough, but to learn that the vaunted Senator Briggs’ consciousness was rattling around inside my head, had kicked the creepiness factor clear up to a ten. Which is to say, not as creepy as a ship full of corpses, but still up there.
I bowed my head and erupted into a fit of hysterical giggles. I know with everything that had happened, my head wasn’t screwed on just right, but hadn’t realized how close I was to breaking.
“This isn’t going so well…” Lexa spoke, glancing sideways at Khala.
“You think!?” I yelled, my eyes just about ready to bulge out of my head.
I turned my back to the pair of them and dropped my pants, then without another word I collapsed into bed. Closing my eyes, I willed both to just go away. I guess it worked because I didn’t hear so much as a peep from them for the rest of the night. Instead, I spent my time staring into space, lost deep in thought. Terrified of what new twist the coming day would bring.
By some small mercy I drifted off to sleep and my subconscious mind took me to a place far, far away.