Kingsburgh, California, Spaceport
“Do you think you’ve frisked me enough, or should I bend over and let you stick your hand up my–”
“KAYDENCE!” My grandmother’s voice shouted from the next booth over, silencing me before my big fat mouth finished saying the stupidest thing imaginable.
I clenched my jaw shut and scowled, fixing my eyes on the agent who slipped the gloves from her hands and glowered back. As it so happened, my big mouth had gotten us in our current predicament.
Okay, before I go further, a bit of an explanation might be in order. After arriving at the starport, we passed through security just as any international or interplanetary traveler would. Standard enough stuff, I experienced the same ordeal every time I departed from or returned to Earth. This time there was a minor snag.
The agent, with who I had the pleasure of dealing, seemed to believe that it was suspicious that my IDEC didn’t match my current form. Go figure, huh? Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about all that hubbub with the UEA Fleet giving me safe passage? Well, yeah, they did, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t get a thorough pat down, now did it? Tanner only escaped the nastiness by sheer virtue of choosing a separate line from my grandmother and myself. And now you’re pretty much caught up, so I’ll return you to your scheduled programming.
“Despite what I can only describe as a winning personality, you’re clean. You’re lucky you have someone up high pulling strings for you. If it were up to me, well let’s say, with that attitude of yours and that unusual IDEC which I suspect is a poor forgery, I would toss you into a detention room and throw away the keys.”
My teeth were grinding as I watched that bitch turn her back to me and disappear through the opening, but the moment it slid shut, a smile touched my lips. I loved sticking it to the ‘man’ even if she was a woman. I suppose it was a little like poking the bear, but so many things were out of control it seemed a little liberating to act without lasting consequences… for a change. Even if I pissed the rest of the world off.
Okay, now I should probably be a good boy… girl whatever.
I cleared my throat, let the scowl slip back onto my face, grabbed my leather jacket from the hook on the wall and followed the bitch out the door. My grandmother waited for me outside, and if possible, she looked even more irritated than the good agent. Not surprising considering she got the supreme honor of getting patted down right alongside me.
She grabbed me by the shoulder, hissing out curses in my ear as she led me away from the angry eyes and scowling faces of the DTS agents.
“What the hell was that about?”
I stopped, jerked free from her hold and rounded on her, ready to shout out an angry retort. Then I realize that behind the furrowed eyebrows and clenched teeth, there was a spark of concern in her eyes. My irate response died on my lips in that moment of shocking clarity.
“It was stupid.” I said mumbling out a hasty response refusing to look in those eyes again. Not because I feared to face her wrath. I’d stared her down more than a few times. The concern was the part that got me. It gave me the heebie-jeebies even considering it. Weird, right?
“Kaydence, I know this is difficult. I may not be able to understand what’s happened, but I’m here to help if I can. I know you’ve always been a little hotheaded, but it’s never a good idea to antagonize people who have the power to ruin your life.”
Okay, so maybe the temporary high I got out of pissing off the DTS agent hadn’t been worth the thrill, but hell, can you blame me? Now it was time to return to do the whole adulting thing, so that I didn’t get myself in real trouble. It was best not to tempt fate, you know?
Clenching my eyes shut, I almost immediately snapped them open again. I looked into my grandmother’s eyes and all the years of resentment and anger boiled away. For the first time in my life, I understood. All the things Kaya Briggs did hadn’t been done to punish me or to force me to follow in Lexa’s footsteps. At least not in the way I thought. She only wanted what she considered best for me.
Oh sure, she’d been misguided, and we disagreed a lot, but I understood that her motives were much more selfless than I ever imagined. It didn’t make it right, but at least I understood.
“I’ve been a fool, but thank you, thank you for being here.”
Hot tears stung my cheeks, and I let my grandmother wrap her arms around me. I experienced a warmth, an emotional bond, that I thought lost to us forever.
“When you left, I feared I might never see you again. I pushed you too hard, I should have seen that it was a mistake. You’re so bright and intelligent, I wanted the best for you.”
And somehow we were both crying… A lot of guys would say it was because we were a couple of gals, getting all teary-eyed from an overdose of estrogen. Having been a woman for half a week didn’t make me an expert, but I’ll just call bullshit on that right now. Truth be told, even were I still sporting a cock and flat chest, I’d still be bawling my eyes out.
My grandmother cleared her throat and reached up to straighten my collar.
“Come on Jellfree, our ship will be waiting.”
For once, my grandmother’s use of my old name didn’t bother me. For some odd reason, I couldn’t help but smile as we moved deeper into the spaceport. The overwhelming feeling of helplessness that had been with me since I’d first became joined to Khala withered away and died. Replaced by an overwhelming sense of hope, the like of which I had never experienced in all my life. All was right with the universe again, I had my grandmother back.
We met up with Tanner a short while later. My tears were dry, but there was some concern that my face might still be red. Either Tanner was too polite to say anything (not freaking likely) or else Khala’s healing capabilities had taken care of the redness and it didn’t show on my face. Given that my grandmother’s countenance didn’t show any signs of having shed tears, it must have been the case.
“Well, I’m assuming since you’re both here that it went well?”
“As well as a good frisking can go.” I replied, glancing toward my grandmother with just the slightest little smile.
Tanner narrowed her eyes and put her hands on her hips, perhaps looking to glean some information from the two of us. Neither of us cracked. I couldn’t speak for my grandmother, but I didn’t much feel like sharing. The frisking had been unpleasant, but what had followed had been illuminating. It seemed too personal to blab to anyone, even Tanner, in whom I had shared so much, and least of all in the middle of the spaceport.
When we made it to our dock, the UEAF vessel was waiting. An officer stood at attention outside of the ramp. He looked so out of place in his dull gray uniform against the backdrop of the spaceport and the sheer variety of humans and other beings coming and going. I came to a screeching halt as I caught sight of a dark form approaching from the east. Tanner followed my example, but my grandmother veered off course, making a beeline for the figure.
“Oh, shit,” I cursed under my breath, and stopped to marvel how odd it sounded when I swore with my new voice before I was off treading toward the newcomer. When we were close, I craned my neck back and stared up at the towering form of the Qharr ambassador Nyvok with just a little lump in my throat.
“Chairperson Briggs,” he said, his booming baritone cutting through the noise of the crowded spaceport like a hot knife through butter. So powerful, was his cadence, that several nearby travelers took a wide berth of him. Of course, that could have something to do with his stature and the fact that he was a gray skin, but the voice was probably a contributing factor.
My grandmother nodded and held a hand out first to me, then to Tanner. “You’ve met my granddaughter, of course, and this is her business partner, Tanner Grace.”
“I did not expect to see you or your kin here… And your associate,” he added the last part nodding toward Tanner. “Though given the circumstances, that would seem to be a miscalculation. I should have anticipated that the one called Arnoff would seek your expertise.”
“And he’s sought yours too, has he?” Kaya Briggs asked, folding her arms across her chest. Despite what she might say, I could tell from her body language that she wasn’t comfortable around the Qharr. Given that his ancestor had been the slave master of her mother, Lexa Briggs, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.
Khala was no different. If she’d had insides that resembled anything but a blob of goo, they would have been twisting and turning. She made no appearance, but Lexa, or her shadow, or whatever the hell she was, wasn’t so shy. Her illusory form materialized, scowling up at the ambassador with undisguised hatred burning in her visage.
I glanced at my grandmother and furrowed my brow. Her mother had just materialized out of thin air and she didn’t even so much as bat an eyelash? When a voice whispered into my ear, understanding dawned on me.
‘They can’t see her, nobody can, except you and me,’ Khala said appearing a moment later, leaning against my shoulder.
‘Why?’ I thought toward her, not wishing to make our conversation public.
‘I can’t even begin to tell you.’ She shrugged and glided forward, stood beside my great grandmother’s form and tapped a finger against her temple. ‘All I can say is that she seems to have turned into a permanent fixture inside my head.’
‘You don’t have a head.’
‘Fair enough, I was attempting to borrow from your human vernacular. Suffice it to say, she’s become a permanent resident inside my consciousness.’
She disappeared so suddenly, with no fanfare, that I lurched back. I was quick to recover, my attention returning to Lexa and Nyvok. She paced back and forth before the towering Qharr, shaking her head and muttering under her breath. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but coughed, receiving a few odd looks from the others.
It had the desired effect, Lexa’s head snapped around and her brilliant magenta eyes focused on me. To the average person a joined host’s eyes were disconcerting, but for someone like me, who had spent most of his… ahem… her life around all things K’teth and Conclave, they didn’t trouble me so much. Lexa’s gaze on the other hand was so powerful, so very intense, that I took a step back when our eyes met.
“It’s amazing. A hundred and sixty years later and one of Duvak Nakyrr’s descendants wears the same face. I thought I had moved past the tortures inflicted on me, but when I see that mug, my blood just boils with hatred. Oh, how I want to pummel him and beat his face into mush like I did Duvak’s, but I can never act on those impulses. I’m just a shadow in Khala’s and my great-grandchild’s minds. The latter is so ashamed of my legacy that he wouldn’t even use my name.”
She took another step toward me, glanced back toward Nyvok, scowled and disappeared as Khala had. I found everyone in the groups’ eyes on me.
“Earth to Kayde, is anybody in there?” Tanner asked, waving a hand in front of my face.
I bit my lip, grabbed her hand out of the air and forced it away from my face. “I was just talking to Khala.”
“Right, well… Should have figured.”
I kneaded a hand into the back of my neck and grimaced before taking a few tentative steps forward. I paused long enough to wave the others on, then continued toward the UEAF ship. They got the message. Soon enough, they followed suit.