Kingsburgh, California, Conclave Headquarters
I’d just discovered yet another perk of being host to K’teth symbiote, and it was the dumbest damn thing ever. Why the hell did I need to see a doctor? My bond to Khala meant better health and longer life. So what the fucking possible reason would they need to subject me to the horrendous experience? At least I could take solace that my doctor’s visit was with an old family friend. An eccentric one, yes, but one who was also the most honest and forthright being I’d ever met.
I guess I should have realized. They expected all Conclave initiates to see the doctor, and like it or not, that’s what I soon would be now that my grandmother had manipulated me into joining their ranks.
Vakrexid lurched into the room, his tall bulbous head just clearing the doorway. He stopped, his eyes roving the area as his head bobbed about, giving me the impression that he was a novelty toy. His neck snapped around until his dull gray eyes fixed on me and a smirk creased my lips as I met his gaze.
“Hello doctor, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
“No,” the doctor stated. “It has been more than a while. You leave, you do not write, you do not communicate or even send a message. Your grandmother’s circulatory system was fractured. Most disagreeable behavior, Vakrexid is most disappointed.”
Leave it to the doctor to butcher a simple turn of phrase like ‘broken heart’. You would think after spending so many years around humans, he would develop a better grasp of the English language. It might have been funny if not for that sad cast to his eyes.
Vakrexid was a Dexagarmetrax, a species of humanoid which, like the Qharr, was that descended from ancient humans, taken from Earth and altered to serve the Phyrr Lesch an ancient and highly evolved species of human. While the Qharr were remade to serve as devout warriors, the doctor’s species were said to have been their servants and confidants.
The genetic differences between humans and Qharr were sparse. Enough so, we could interbreed, but when it came to the doctors people, they were just too different. They were functional hermaphrodites. Their language didn’t even have male or female pronouns. Instead, they only distinguished between a person and an object. I asked Vakrexid once why he used male pronouns and his answer was that he ‘rather liked the way they sounded.’ Couple that with the fact that his people alternated between first and third person when talking about themselves and Vakrexid came off as very eccentric.
“Look, doc, it’s a little more complicated. I’m back now, and it looks like despite my best efforts, I might be here to stay. I’m not sure I have much choice anymore.”
The doctor blinked and tilted his head back and forth. “Choice? There is always choice.”
I bowed my head and gnawed at my lip. “We both know why I’m here, so why don’t we get this over with?”
The doctor wobbled across the room before taking a handheld device out of a cupboard. ” Vakrexid trusts Khala will not attempt to feed on my bio scanner as she did when she first became joined to your great grandmother.”
“Am I ever going to live that down?”
Khala’s form materialized leaning against the wall, wearing nothing but a thin hospital gown which left very little to the imagination given that her nipples were visible through it. Once again, I reminded myself that the image she projected was an illusion. I don’t know if my symbiote had an exhibitionist streak or if she was trying to distract me, but if she kept this up, it might lead to some embarrassing situations. I was a man, after all. Well, at least for the time being.
“Vakrexid is befuddled, how does one live something down?”
Khala paused, and we both exchanged glances before my symbiote turned to lock gazes with me. “Doctor, can you see me?”
“Oh yes, most assuredly, but you did not answer Vakrexid’s question. I would very much like to understand.”
“It’s a human expression, doctor. What I meant to say was that despite that happening more than a century and a half ago, I still keep hearing about it.”
“Uh… Doc,” I held a hand up, glancing first to my symbiote and then peering at the doctor. “How exactly is it you can see Khala?”
“That is easy to explain. Vakrexid surgically implanted a bio-neural chip into my brain. It is attuned to the frequencies through which K’teth communicate.”
“Should have expected something like this from Vak–”
The doctor let out a high-pitched squeal as a thin and long wrinkled hand reached up to rub the end of his left face tube. “PLEASE! Do not speak Vakrexid’s name.”
Khala winced and peered at me with a shrug before her eyes settled on Vakrexid. “Sorry, not used to you being able to hear me.”
That was another thing about the doctor’s people, they had a weird cultural inhibition about anyone but a life partner using their given name. It led to a fair amount of confusion in conversation, especially if the people involved weren’t aware of it.
Vakrexid’s eyes lingered on her for the longest time before he turned away, fumbling with the device in his hands. Scanners from before and during the occupation used a robotic arm or some sort of hovering unit that either extended out from the wall or the base of the device itself, but the newer ones were smaller and more portable. The technology operated on more or less the same principles, even using a broad scanning beam like the older units, but it had simplified to such a degree that it now only consisted of a small cylindrical rod a bit longer than my hand.
All the doctor had to do was hand me the scanner and away it went, beaming whatever information it gathered to a nearby computing unit which would analyze it and send it back to Vakrexid. And by whatever information, I mean everything, right down to the cellular level. If I had scrambled kylthash seeds for lunch, two weeks ago last Thursday, the doc would get that information on the readout.
The scan completed and Vakrexid swiped the simple, unadorned rod from my hands and glanced at a small display attached to the underside of his wrist. “Vakrexid is pleased to inform you that your health is most splendiferous!”
I wasn’t quite sure what ‘splendiferous’ meant or even if it was an actual word, but considering that it seemed to please him, I took it as a good sign and didn’t press him for clarification. The doctor glanced at Khala, giving her a dark glare, which coming from the Dexagarmetrax physician seemed a little odd, before grabbing a stool and hunkering down far enough that we matched gazes.
“Vakrexid is not certain I am the correct being to discuss this with you, since my race is hermaphroditic, but Vakrexid believes I may be one of only a few individuals who will speak to you without coating the truth in sucrose. Soon, Vakrexid does not have a precise timetable, your symbiote will transform you into a female in order to fulfill a simple biological function, reproduction.”
“Yeah, doctor, I heard all about it. In fact, we had a nice little talk about it on the ride to the Conclave.”
“Indeed,” Vakrexid tooted with a long drawn-out wail. “Then you–”
“I’m aware of all the options that would normally be available to me, but with Khala there are special circumstances.”
Vakrexid let out another high-pitched cry, his gaze fixated on Khala, who rolled her eyes and let loose a long sigh. She repeated the details of our conversation in the car and fell silent as the doctor’s gaze pierced her visage. She disappeared, and he jerked around to match my gaze.
He shook his head from side to side, then up and down. “Truthfully, Vakrexid would recommend giving a fully female body a try before pursuing another option. In almost every case the transformed host, suffered from what your people call gender dysphoria, but Alexana, seemed able to adapt to and even become most comfortable with her new form. I am no expert on human gender identities, but it seems likely her gender may not have been entirely masculine or feminine. She would never discuss it with Vakrexid. A ‘between’ form for lack of a better term requires more maintenance and has many more drawbacks speaking from a medical standpoint and because of this it is standard practice for a host to live in their new form for at least a year before providing such an option.”
“A year?” I chewed my lip and turned my head, a sinking feeling forming in the pit of my stomach. “That’s better than a lifetime. I guess that should give me plenty of time to think things over.”
“Ensure that your thinking is subterranean.”
Subterranean? I didn’t know what he meant, but I never got the chance to ask before the doctor lurched back to his feet and his lanky form wobbled out the doorway. I didn’t move to follow, but instead, sat there muddling over the shit storm that had been brewing since I first found the Endeavour. No matter what options I considered, I knew I was going to end up knee deep in excrement.
Whenever life got me down, there was only one sure fire solution, get blind stinking drunk. To be honest, it does nothing to resolve matters and most times it can make things worse, but fuck it, it sure was good while it lasted. In almost any circumstances I wasn’t too picky about my watering holes, since my shipping business kept me pretty mobile, but as long as I was in the area, I decided to visit one I didn’t have a particular familiarity, but which a certain parent of mine had been a regular.
Yeah, my dad used to spend his time there, after my mother died and before he offed himself. What can I say, I was in that kind of mood. Not just content in wallowing in my own misery, I had to wallow in Dad’s too.
I stepped inside, glancing around the old pub as I made my way toward the bar. There wasn’t much to distinguish it from other watering holes I’d frequented, but given that my family had a long history with this establishment, I couldn’t help but experience a connection to the place.
I plopped down at the bar and stared into the eyes of one of the most striking women I’d ever seen. Though the two of us had only met once many years back, I recognized her as the proprietress, Minny Patterson. Her youth had slipped away from her many years ago, if the touch of gray in her hair was any sign, but was something in those deep blue eyes and creamy chocolate skin that made her beauty even more appealing. Had I not had my mind on other matters, I might have asked if she was interested in a little romp between the sheets, despite the very obvious age difference. I was more intent on drowning in my despair.
She pursed her lips and did me a once over before speaking. “Watt’s son, right?”
I nodded, sneaking a glance at her chest. She was showing enough skin for my eyes to get a glimpse of some rather nice cleavage. She had a nice set for a woman her age, but that was neither here nor there.
She didn’t press me for more information, but leaned down and looked me in the eye. Maybe she sensed my mood, or maybe she didn’t care. Either was fine by me.
“What will it be?”
I glanced around the bar again, bit the inside of my cheek, and rocked my head. “Anything but Amaretto.”
She whipped out a nice frosty mug of beer, sliding it across the bar, so it skidded to a halt right in front of my face and for a moment I sat there watching it froth. I stretched a hand out, but before my fingers would even so much as grasp the chilled glass of the mug, a hand landed on my shoulder. I froze, and tilted my head around to meet the gaze of the person who had interrupted me in my misery and swallowed, hard, as I got a good look at her. She was breathtaking, a nice round ass, breasts I could kill to suck on and a face of an angel, if you believed in that sort of thing, and she was touching me. Oh god, I liked it when they touched me.
“Can I sit?”
I swallowed again and nodded, my mouth hanging open just a little. Truth was, I may have drooled a bit. Hey, don’t look at me like that. She was fine with a capital F, and I didn’t care who had sent her. I was still wallowing in self-pity, but when a woman who just oozes sex and femininity offers to sit next to me, there isn’t a chance in hell, I would tell her no. I caught just the subtlest hint of perfume as she shifted her nice plump ass on the stool next to mine. Her brilliant blue eyes locked on mine again and a smile touched the corner of her lips.
“Jek, you alright?”
What? I hadn’t told her my name. How then did she —
I blinked and shook my head, then gave the tall leggy brunette a second once-over. It was Tanner. Though my business associate was attractive, she sported more of a tomboyish make-up free look. That night seemed to be so great an exception that I failed to recognize her. In my defense, I’d never seen her wearing cosmetics beyond a little lipstick.
My heart racing, I took a sip from my drink. Tanner and I had always been flirty, but neither of us ever acted on our innuendos. I had no idea why she showed up looking like that, but you didn’t have to be a genius to realize it wasn’t to discuss business.
“So,” I cleared my throat before taking another swig. “How did Gerrknotttt go?”
“I’ll have what he’s having,” she said motioning to Minny then smiled over at me.
“Qor already found another supplier by the time I arrived, but it turned out fine. There’s growing demand in the Phorrnam province, so I was able to unload it pretty easily and at a better price.”
“Good,” I said, twirling a finger around inside my beer.
Now that the shock of seeing Tanner so gussied up was over, I slipped back into my downcast mood.
“I take it that coming home hasn’t been a very good experience?” Tanner asked, picking up on my mood.
“Oh, about as bad as I expected. Well, worse really.”
I grimaced and turned back to meet her gaze again. “I’ve spent the last five years trying to forget the Conclave, the K’teth and the whole fucking mess, but now, now I have a damn symbiote in my head who’s very presence makes it impossible to forget any of it. That’s not even the worst part!”
‘Hey!’ Khala’s voice rattled through my head in protest, but I ignored her.
I threw my hand out, hitting the glass and sloshing beer all over the counter, and my cheeks burned when I realized everyone in the room was looking at me. I hunkered down in my seat and lowered my voice. “You wouldn’t know what it’s like having the specter of swapping out your manly bits for a cookie and a pair of melons hanging over you, would you? It’s just swell.”
Tanner furrowed her eyebrows, frowned, and averted her eyes. I took another swig of my drink and watched her do the same. I could guess why my business partner had come, and under any other circumstances I would have jumped at the opportunity. It was damned terrible timing for us. My life was a shambles, and it looked like our paths were about to veer in different directions.
We were always flirting, making little jokes about each other’s fabulous asses or whatever else occurred to us, but we’d never gone beyond that. Leap travel was instantaneous. I think if we’d been alone in the Hawk for a longer stretch of time something might have happened, but we’d each had enough space that we’d been able to keep the ridiculous charade going for almost five years. I could only guess at Tanner’s reasons, but something told me they probably weren’t so different from mine. Now, things had gotten so complicated that I wasn’t sure if any time would ever be right for us.
Tanner spoke my name. Just the slightest tremor in her voice and I felt her hand reach out to touch mine. “Do you ever think about us?”
And there it was, just as I’d predicted. The reason she had come.
If it was possible, I think my cheeks might have burned an even deeper shade of red, but I blurted out a reply despite my nerves being on fire.
“I’d be lying if I said no.”
“The timing is wrong, I know that Jek and I’m sorry about what’s happened to you. I really am, but I don’t want any regrets. If you go through with…” She paused, squeezed my hand and continued. “It and I don’t act, I’ll regret it.”
“What are you saying?”
“I… Care for you and I’m going on a limb here, hoping that you feel the same way.”
“You spring this on me, now?!” I gasped and stared at her with wide eyes.
“All those weeks ago, when we visited Moyrrda, with that huge waterfall and the sunset you said was the prettiest thing you’d ever seen. That would have been the perfect time to come on to me, but now right before I lose my manhood? Come on, Tanner. That’s just not fair.”
Her lips trembled and her eyebrows shot way up, and I half expected her to storm off, but she surprised me. Had I known what she intended I would have pulled away, but she came at me so fast that I just froze. She grabbed the cuff of my shirt and pulled me forward, her arms sliding around my back as she kissed me so deeply and so passionately that it left me gasping for air when she broke away.
I stared back at her, so dumbstruck that I couldn’t form a coherent thought, much less speak, but I didn’t need to say anything since she spoke first.
“You should know that whether you look like a guy or a girl, you’re still the same person to me. It won’t be a deal breaker.”
“Th-that’s good to know,” I mumbled, and downed what was left of my beer.
What I can remember of the rest of the night went pretty much how I planned as I drank myself into a stupor. Tanner’s presence was the only exception, I hadn’t expected her and I sure as hell hadn’t known that it would leave such a lasting impression. I could still feel her lips pressed against mine even as my inside shrank at the thought of becoming a woman. We locked eyes once or twice as Minny flung drink after drink at us, and I got the sense that there was something Tanner wasn’t telling me.
She did not speak after her confession, and neither did I. Perhaps she sensed that if she pushed me further, I might resist. Instead, I found myself unable to stop entertaining thoughts of our bodies entwined, making love. As the alcohol ate at my inhibitions, everything dimmed, and my baser instincts took hold. I don’t remember much, but I recall wrapping my arm around Tanner’s waist as we stumbled out of the bar, wasted beyond reason.
A blur of motion. Everything was so gray, warped and twisted.
I staggered forward, the ground shifted and turned under my feet. I screamed, but no sound came.
Pounding. Hammering on wood, a woman’s voice called out, muffled by God knows what. I couldn’t, would never, understand. I panted, heaved, yelled out in pain, but nothing ended my torment. It wasn’t right, it was never right. Could never be rectified, the price was too high.
I ran through the woods, down a corridor, still panting, still heaving. Breasts jiggled on my chest, I laughed, then screamed. NO!
“I’m not Lexa. No, never Lexa. Not Lexa.”
‘Find her, set her free.’ More pounding, the woman, her voice. Still muffled. More pounding.
“I found her. I found her. She’s dead.” I wept. Cried out. My voice. A female voice.
“What more do you want?”
The hallway ended. A mirror. Lexa was looking back at me.