Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates
I groaned and slipped under the covers. The fabric shifted and remolded around my bare body. I might have found it disconcerting if it wasn’t so damn comfortable. The wonders of technology. Blankets that never wadded or bunched under your body, but shifted to keep you covered and comfortable were a luxury item to be sure, but God I’d missed them.
With a sigh, I made a mental note to reprogram the shades, so they wouldn’t open at such an ungodly hour, like they did around the rest of my house. In the years during my absence, Athilda, the house’s artificial intelligence, probably overrode my preferences. The AI’s logic algorithms would see no reason to maintain my settings once I no longer lived there.
An intelligent being might have seen fit to restore them once I returned, but an AI might not always connect those dots. Human engineer gave our systems limits to their deductive reasoning systems by design to prevent a true intelligence arising. It happened in the past, and the results had been catastrophic. Only the Qharr invasion and subsequent occupation of Earth were more devastating to humanity.
I clenched my eyes shut, willing all my unbidden thoughts to go away and let myself drift back into the world of dreams, but as it so often happened my brain wouldn’t shut the hell up. I sighed and sat upright, brushing a few loose hair strands away from my face as I peered across the room at my reflection.
My hair looked as if it had come out on the losing side of a battle against a pack of disgruntled hair brushes, but other than that, I would never believe that the woman who peered back at me had just woken up. There were no bags under her eyes or droopy eyelids. Most gals would love to appear so fresh in the morning, but I only winced. Was I even completely human anymore, or some kind of weird hybrid? Some people would say it was an improvement, but I didn’t agree. Flaws gave people character, without them there would be nothing to define us.
I shuddered and looked away.
“Athilda,” I called out to the house’s AI, prepared to tell it to adjust the settings on the shields, but stopped myself. Instead, I looked around the room and rattled my skull back and forth. “If anyone comes looking for me, tell them, to leave me the hell alone.”
“As you wish.” Came her crisp, emotionless reply. Athilda had a habit of taking requests a bit too literal, which meant she’d end up using my exact phrasing. That thought alone was enough to bring a smirk to my face, but it soon faded away.
Many AIs could simulate emotions, but my grandmother eliminated all personality subroutines from Athilda’s storage banks. I couldn’t recall her exact reasoning, but I kind of preferred it that way. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that an AI was a simulation, Athilda’s dull dispassionate tones left no doubt what she was.
I thought about getting dressed, but stopped. I’d already decided that I would not leave my room for the day. Why the hell should I dress? I didn’t bother closing the blinds either, my bedroom was on the top floor and given that the closest home was just a little shy of half a kilometer away, there wasn’t much chance my exposed wanderings through my room would attract any peeping Toms.
It was my day, no one would tell me what to do or where to go. Solitude was what I was after, but the more I paced, naked as the day I was reborn, I was never so aware that I would never have privacy again.
“Khala,” I whispered. I didn’t intend to summon her, but my symbiote must have interpreted my use of her name that way.
“So you’re looking to be alone, today. Is that what’s going on here?”
“No shit, Sherlock. Do have any other brilliant deductions?” Okay, that came off harsh, but so fucking what?
I didn’t reply, but backed my plump ass into the wall and slid down onto my haunches, my knees pressing into my nipples. I studied my symbiote and frowned.
“Who am I?”
She knelt down across from me and shook her head. “You’re the same person. A different face doesn’t mean–”
“Doesn’t mean that I’m any different on the inside? Is that what you were going to say?”
“More or less.”
“When I was fifteen, I swore to myself that I’d never become bonded to a K’teth or join the conclave and now look at me. I’m bonded to you, not just any symbiote, but Khala, the most renown of your kind in the galaxy. The same one who was bonded to the great and mighty Lexa Briggs.”
“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Your protestations ring a bit hollow to me. You insult and demean me, decry my kind and yet at the end of the day when your life was nearing an end, you released me from the stasis pod and we became bonded.”
“I was near death,” I replied, but it sounded hollow, even to my ears.
“So that makes your convictions somehow less relevant? Or is it simple distaste for my kind, that makes you so antagonistic?”
“I don’t hate K’teth, if that’s what you think.” I met her gaze and released a deep sigh. “This is my life. I don’t want to live it being compared to Lexa. The best way to stand out if you’re a Briggs, is to not become host to a symbiote in the first place and most especially not a Queen.”
“Fair enough, but you’re bonded now. Could you dial down the hostility? I’ve bent over backwards trying to accommodate you. The least you could do is try to be a little more pleasant.”
“You don’t understand. Everything I’ve worked long and hard to make a name for myself, and now all that is moot. I should have just–”
“Just what? Left the Endeavour to drift in space?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to reply.
“Then I’d still be in stasis and your mother’s corpse would have remained frozen in space for untold eons.”
I so wanted to point out that I’d just followed coordinates given to me by Faioloese traders. There would have been a trail, someone would have followed up if I hadn’t, but the only words that I could croak out were “My mother”.
I cupped my face in my palms and closed my eyes, fighting back tears. Soon, a hand clasped my shoulder and looked to find that Khala was now sitting beside me. “You must have so many questions.”
I blinked and gawked at Khala with my mouth hanging open. All this time, I’d been so focused on the negative aspects of being joined that I didn’t consider there might be a way for me to benefit from the bond beyond the obvious reasons. Khala knew my mother, perhaps better than any being alive, and could cut through so much of the bullshit my grandmother fed me growing up.
Lexa… well, she was there too, but I was still trying to grapple with what that meant. She’d been there all those years, interacting with my mother, like Khala, but whether a shadow or the real consciousness of my great-grandmother herself, I had no idea. I wasn’t sure if either of my guests would be able to provide insight on that question, but Lexa’s presence set me on edge more than the symbiote ever could. She was, quite literally, the embodiment of everything I ever feared.
“Why did my mother leave?” It was the one question I’d been asking myself over and over for almost as long as I remembered. Kaya Briggs had always been evasive whenever the subject came up, and I’d never been able to wrangle a satisfying answer out of her.
I looked over at Khala and watched her bow her head and sigh. I was aware of another set of eyes on me, but I knew without shifting my gaze that they belonged to Lexa.
“Kaya didn’t tell you?”
“Kaya Briggs did what she does best, distort the truth.”
“Well, I can’t speak to Kaya’s reasons for–”
“Don’t defend her.” I stared back at her between gritted teeth. “Just tell me, please.”
Khala sighed again and rested her palm on the nape of my neck. “Your mother left because your father had an affair and she needed to get away from it all.”
All the puzzle pieces fell into place and a sob escape my lips as so many mysteries from my life made a lot more sense. Watt Briggs killed himself a few days after they called off the search for the Endeavour, but he’d been a mess long before that. Which is why I went to live with my grandmother instead of my father when my mother left.
My grandmother was always so circumspect about my father, but, as in all things, you can find answers if you knew where to turn. Like any family or social group there are gossips, but unfortunately when you turn to such an individual, in this case my Aunt Muriel, you have to filter through all the bullshit.
I remembered very little about Watt, but I was told I shared his temperament. I was not sure how to take that, considering he’d been a cheating, drinking layabout, but I tried not to read too much into it. I put myself into his shoes and let my imagination fill in the gaps. He blamed himself. If he hadn’t stepped out on my mother, she may not have left, and by extension she might not have disappeared. So, to escape his grief, he took his life.
“Shit,” I cursed, my hands shaking as I looked at Khala. “So that woman in your memories, the one she called her pichoncita, was her lover?”
Khala frowned, but nodded in acknowledgment. “Yes.”
Well, at least I knew the truth. My mother had been having an extramarital affair, in the technical sense, if not in spirit. Though she’d yet to file the right paperwork, their marriage was over.
I rose to my feet and turned my back to the pair of them. I was all too aware of my very naked body and I blushed with the realization that I was holding this conversation in the nude, but while it seemed as if they were staring at my exposed body, Khala and Lexa saw only through my eyes. Nothing in my line of sight revealed my nakedness to them, but I would have almost no chance of hiding anything from them.
“Tell me about my mother.”
Khala spoke with a steady, gentle whisper as she told me of my mother in simple words. There was a warmth in the way she spoke, and I felt somehow comforted in knowing that there was a being who loved my mother with all her soul. This put a smile on my face.
Two more days passed, and I remained shut inside my bedroom the entire time, save to relieve myself. On the third day, the world intruded upon my solitude. I suppose I would have found my own way, given enough time, but hell, was it too much to ask for some alone time?
I woke with a start early that morning, sensing a shadow hanging over me. I squinted, brightness assaulting my eyes where before there was only a comfortable all-encompassing darkness.
“Kayde?” A soft and silky smooth voice asked from out of the abominable illumination.
I jerked upright, glanced down, and pulled the covers over my breasts. I squinted again, trying to clear my vision, and stared off into space until my tired eyes adjusted to take in the room around me.
“Tanner?” I asked, my mind still mired in grogginess.
“Yes, sunshine, it’s Tanner. Now would you get up, already?”
I groaned, fell back into bed, curled up inside my blanket and turned away.
“Come back in an hour, Kayde’s not in right now.”
She ripped my blankets free and grabbed me by the shoulder and forced me to match gazes. “We gave you two days to wallow in self-pity, now it’s time to rejoin the world, princess.”
The gears and cogs in my head were starting to turn, and I scowled and forced her hands away. Given my recent transformation, I might object to Tanner’s adoption of the term ‘princess’, but she whipped that one out whenever someone acted like a crybaby or was being self-involved. I knew which applied to me, but I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of admitting it.
My cheeks scorching, I started to rethink the whole sleeping topless thing. This wasn’t the first time that Tanner barged into my quarters while I was asleep, nor did I believe it would be the last. Now that I sported a set of bazoongas, the whole scenario was a tad more awkward. Even if she possessed a pair of her own.
“Tanner, is that really necessary?”
She paused, made a big show as if thinking about it, before nodding “Definitely.”
“You might have at least let me stay covered up.”
She cocked her head, cracked a smile, and leaned in so she could get a good look at my breasts. “Nah, then I wouldn’t get such a good gander of the goods.”
She snorted and exploded into a fit of giggles as I stormed through my room. I grabbed the first top I got hold of, a sweater which had been sitting in that dresser since I was about sixteen, and slipped it over my head. It seemed huuuge on my tiny little frame, but at least it gave me back some little smidgeon of my modesty.
“Tanner, I don’t have any idea what you’re hoping to accomplish, but I really think I need to–”
“You are going to get your stinky ass in the shower, then the two of us are going out on a little shopping excursion.”
My eyes scanned her, raised a single eyebrow and tucked my arms over my chest. “Oh?”
“You need clothes. Stuff that actually fits and oh, maybe a bra or three! Look at you Kayde, you’re a mess. The sooner you get this over with, the sooner you can get your life back in order.”
I paused, expecting the disembodied voice of either Alexana or Khala to chime in and offer some unwelcome and sage advice, but by some small mercy neither did. I pursed my lips and dropped my fists.
The next thing I knew, Tanner had thrown her arms around me and my face burned again. Her embrace invoked certain interesting… warm and tingly thoughts. Her lips pressed against mine, a bit of panting, and a helluva lot of heaving… and her penis sliding into my new vulva. I stiffened, my eyes growing wide, and pushed her away. Tanner stumbled back a few steps, braced herself against the wall and peered at me like a deer caught in headlights.
“Sorry,” I whispered and cleared my throat. Despite my new diminutive stature, as a joined host I could snap Tanner in two. “Still don’t know my strength.”
“Look, I’ll get cleaned up and meet you outside in, say thirty minutes?”
Tanner nodded and disappeared out of the room. I let out a sigh of relief and made a beeline for the adjoining facilities. As I closed the door behind me and undressed, I realized Tanner had been right about one thing, I really did smell bad.
A long shower, and a good fifty minutes later Tanner pulled me kicking and screaming into the daylight. Okay, so there wasn’t so much a violent struggle as several muttered curses and a lot of grumbling, but I had to get that visual in there. Despite my complaints, I did see Tanner’s point. I needed clothes and it wouldn’t do me any good to keep myself holed up while the world moved on without me.
Getting ready had been easy, I mean I only had one outfit that fit. I wore the same clothes I had the day of my transformation, save for a fresh pair of panties. My grandmother had seen fit that the cleaning staff laundered that outfit while I’d been wallowing in my own misery.
I expected the cold to assault me when I stepped out into the open, but when I did find myself outside, a pleasant breeze wafted through the air. Though it had been cold and unpleasant such a short time ago, it was now a more seasonable temperature.
Despite my condition, I couldn’t help but smile. This was home, the place I’d spent years of my youth trying to escape. Now that I had realized my worst fears, a growing part of me wouldn’t mind if I stayed. That’s not to say that I still wasn’t itching to run for the hills, but it wasn’t as much of a driving force as it had once been.
I glanced at Tanner, who looked at me between pursed lips. She looked worried, which freaked me out a little.
“Kayde, I’m sorry if I went a little far this morning. I thought…”
“That you’d continue our little game.” I finished rubbing a hand across the back of my neck. “Forget it, it’s fine.”
“Good, but it’s time we moved past these games, and the innuendos that never lead to anything. I crossed a line just now, and I should never have treated you that way. I think what happened the other night, took things to a different level.”
“Jek…” She winced. “Sorry, Kayde. You should know that the whole K’teth thing, and your transformation… None of it’s a deal breaker for me.”
I stopped dead in my tracks, as a car pulled up in front of us, and stared at my business partner with a slack jaw. This talk was a long time in coming, but I hadn’t quite expected it so soon. I always suspected Tanner might be at least bi-curious. The furtive glances she cast toward other women’s posteriors or the times her eyes lingered on a nice bit of cleavage were enough to arouse my suspicions, but there’d always been a little of doubt in my mind.
“Tanner, we’ve been over this. I need time to get my bearings before I can even think about it.” My hand reached out for the car door, but I held it there without opening it.
“I understand, trust me.” She took a step back and brushed a few stray locks out of her eyes. “After our night together and… Everything else, I was worried that your feelings had changed.”
I bowed my head and erupted into a frenzy of manic laughter. My fingers slid free from the door panel and I grabbed her by the shoulders.
“I have no idea what I feel right now. Everything is so confused and jumbled, I’m struggling to sort it all out. Fuck, I’m not even sure which team I’m batting for anymore. I realized my sexuality wasn’t quite as hetero as I’d led myself to believe, but now… I got these.”
I cupped my breasts in my hands, then dropped them, clasping my fingers around the panel again. “Once, I get everything sorted out… Believe me, if there is ever a time where I think we can take the next step, you’ll be the first I tell.”
Tanner pressed her lips together and nodded. I pulled the door open and held it, waiting for her to climb inside. She leaned in, furrowed her brows and kneaded a hand along the base of her neck. “Uh, Mrs. Briggs, I didn’t realize you would be coming along.”
“There’s been a change of plan. Get inside the both of you. We need to get to the spaceport.” My grandmother’s muffled reply came from within the vehicle.
My grandmother leaned forward, peering through the doorway, matching gazes with me. “There’s been an attack from a creature very much like the one you encountered on the Endeavour.”
“Well gee,Ttat sounds like fun and all, but, say, here’s a better idea: why don’t we all just book our asses the hell out of here. If you’d seen what those creatures can do, trust me, we’re much better off putting as much distance as we can between us and that thing.” I said and turned as if to leave, but stopped when Tanner clasped her grip on my left shoulder.
“Enough with the smart mouth, the creature is dead. I doubt it would pose a threat.” My grandmother replied, teeth gritted.
I shook the ol’ noggin and glowered at my grandmother as I climbed into the vehicle. Once Tanner was inside, the car took off. Despite Kaya Briggs’ reassurances, I suspected that some major shit was going to go down.
“You have a ship prepped?” Tanner asked, staring out the window, her hands tracing across the seal as our craft hovered across the landscape toward the spaceport.
“Not as such, the conclave’s ship is in use and my personal transport is… Under repair.”
This drew Tanner out of her daze and she turned to stare at Kaya Briggs with unblinking eyes. “How do you plan on getting to wherever the hell we’re going then?”
“The UEAF, has been gracious enough to send transportation.”
I leaned forward in my seat, folding my arms across my chest, but blushed and lowered them the moment they pressed into the globes on my chest.
“Isn’t air or even star travel going to be problematic? I mean, my IDEC doesn’t exactly match this mug…”
I ran a hand across my face and paused, glancing at my hand in surprise. My skin was so soft, so like a baby’s that it seemed… almost alien. Few women had such smooth skin, but I guess it made a sort of sense.
Khala had remade my body from the cellular level. In some respects, it was like that of a newborn. My flesh was newly grown, which meant it hadn’t seen years of wear against the elements. It also made me look younger than I was, which some would say was a bonus. I wasn’t so sure of that.
Tanner’s hand clenched my shoulder. I coughed and shook my head. I didn’t call attention to her use of the wrong name. I cringed, but couldn’t say why.
“Sorry, I was just, um, thinking,” I said, looking into my hands as I rubbed my finger together.
“Right, well. Your IDEC shouldn’t be an issue, the Colonel’s men have been fully appraised of your situation and they took measures to ensure you can pass through security.”
“Since we’re on the subject. Shouldn’t I, I don’t know, do something about my identity chip? In the off chance, I get the opportunity to have a real life?
“I’ve already made arrangements for that. It should take a few weeks, but once all the proper forms have been processed, you will have your IDEC reprogrammed.”
“Well then, yay for that.” I waved my hands up into the air, making a show of being excited, but the truth was I had mixed feelings about getting my IDEC updated. If I wanted to travel or continue to run my business, I needed a valid form of identification, but it also meant once it was changed, as far as the UEA government was concerned, I was and would always have been Kaydence Briggs.
My display of enthusiasm didn’t come across as sincere, no surprise there, as both Tanner and my grandmother rolled their eyes.
“I almost hate to say this, but since we’ll be out and about, is there any way we could hit the stores? If I’m going to keep wearing a bra, I would like one that fits a little better. This one hurts.”
Good Lord, what the hell was I saying? I held my hand up, gritted my teeth then pointed a finger at first my grandmother then Tanner.
“Wait! I swear to God, if either one of you makes a jab about me wanting to shop, I will get out of this damn car. Shopping is the last thing I want to do.”
I paused, brushing the hair from my face, but felt my cheeks burn anew as I realized just how feminine the gesture must have looked. “It’s a matter of necessity. I need clothes, but I don’t want them. Shopping is not exactly something I’ll enjoy.”
My grandmother nodded, an expression on her face that was hard to read. Tanner smiled and rested a reassuring palm on my shoulder. If anyone understood my predicament, it was her. She’d gone through the same experience, but in reverse.
There was just one little problem. Her touch invoked thoughts of our lovemaking and produced the slightest shiver. I guess she sensed my discomfort. Tanner’s eyes grew wide. She withdrew her hand and bit her lip. I felt like a great big transphobe, but I couldn’t get the image of her dick ramming its way up my ass, out of my thick skull. It made me uncomfortable, and… a bit turned on.
Never mind that I’d been the one to butt-fuck her, my imagination had created this image that freaked me the fuck out. Granted I was a woman now, and you know joined hosts had a history of changing sexual preferences when they underwent their transformations, but Tanner didn’t land on the male side of the gender spectrum. So where did that leave me?
Frankly, I’d been attracted to her before I changed, so it didn’t offer me any more clarity. It was confusing as hell, and I just wished I’d find some way to come to terms with the whole mess.
One day, very soon, I would have to decide, but for now I was more than happy wallowing in self-misery. Hey, I’m nothing if not honest… at least when it comes to me.