Kingsburgh, California, The Briggs Family Estates
Blackness overtook everything and a persistent pounding that rattled through my head without rhyme or reason, accompanied it. A warmth radiated beside me and its weight pressed into my side. As my eyes peeled open, I squinted, fighting to see through the blurriness. I could just make out a slender form nestled against me. Comprehension came next. First, I realized the odd pounding in my head was a headache induced by the mother of all hangovers, and second, after a few more moments of consciousness, I came to understand that the enticing naked figure who lay sprawled against me was Tanner.
Panic swelled up inside of me, and my heart pounded at what seemed like a thousand beats per second. All thoughts of my dream swept out the window, I stopped myself from leaping out of the bed and running for the hills. Instead, I released a low groan and slipped Tanner’s arm off of me before rolling out of bed.
My stomach gurgled, and the room seemed to lurch as I staggered across it. I did it without waking Tanner and even more impressive still without collapsing into a whimpering heap. I looked around, trying to get my bearings and determine where my location. The former proved a little more difficult, but the latter seemed easy enough to determine. I’d landed myself back in my childhood home, the Briggs family estates.
I took several deep breaths, and a tremble worked its way down my spine. As drunk as we’d been, I doubted we’d been very quiet. There was the household staff and representatives from the Conclave coming in and out of the place day and night, not to mention all my cousins. Someone must have seen us. It would be only a matter of time before my grandmother learned about us.
“Shit,” I cursed and spun around in time to see my business partner stir.
She groaned, and I slipped back toward her, holding a hand over her mouth as her eyes slid open. She jerked back and slithered out of my grasp, staring up at me with wide eyes.
“Jek, what the hell are you doing?”
Without waiting for me to reply, she sat bolt upright, leaving her breasts exposed as she looked about, but showing a hell of a lot of care to leave her nether regions concealed beneath the coverings on my bed.
“Quiet!” I yelled and cringed, realizing just how loud I’d been.
“W-we didn’t do what I think we did, did we?” I asked.
She swallowed and nodded.
I paced, running my fingers through my mess of curls and matted blue locks. I wracked my brain trying to recall anything from the previous night after we’d left the bar together, but at first all I seemed to recall was the briefest impression of our lips locking as I cupped my hands over her breasts. The longer I thought, the more frustrated I became, but when I glanced toward Tanner, who stared up at me all white-faced and saucer-eyed, it came all came back. I clamped my eyes shut, a flash of my hands sliding away from her breasts and sweeping down to the waistband of her skirt.
Next, I slipped the garment free, working on her panties. Once they were gone, there had been a little surprise. If my heart had been pounding before, it was nothing compared to the way it hammered inside my chest now that the most recent recollection thundered through my awareness. I didn’t utter a single syllable, but rounded on Tanner, my gut sinking as flashes of our continued lovemaking rattled around inside my head. I hadn’t let what I found stop me, instead I found another hole ramming my cock up her round ass. Each time, she moaned louder and louder, pleading for more, and each time my hands, already clutched around her breasts from her backside, gripped tighter and tighter.
Still assaulted by the images from last night, I stood over the bed, every muscle in my body shaking as I reached down to pull the blanket free from Tanner’s form. I knew what I would find, but even so, when I whipped it away, I finally got a full view of her penis.
I had no clue whether Tanner expected me to throw the bedding off of her, or if I caught her off guard, but either way she didn’t take any action to stop me. The worst part was that she actually stood, mouth agape, eyes as wide as mine must have been. I’d always considered myself open-minded and accepting of transgender folk as much as any guy in a post-occupation Earth, but this shook me. I wasn’t attracted to women with extra bits… Was I?
I turned away, bile rising in my esophagus, heaving and panting as I fought to control my rioting stomach. Anger, guilt, shame and a whole slew of emotions washed over me as I tried to reconcile the images that flashed through my mind over and over again. I’d enjoyed what we’d done last night, but I didn’t quite know how to reconcile it. My thoughts turned to lectures on gender identities my teachers had given me throughout my formative years. I didn’t pretend to be an expert, but Gender wasn’t binary, it comprised a veritable rainbow of identities. I guessed Tanner fell somewhere in the middle between male and female. Seeing as she’d always presented as a woman and used female pronouns, she probably identified more on the feminine end of the spectrum.
Hands touched my shoulders and I craned my neck around to see Tanner standing behind me, her bare breasts pushing into my back. “Jek, I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out this way.”
“We were drunk. ” My voice sounded hollow even to my ears, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
Without looking at Tanner, I moved away, collecting my fallen clothes that were scattered throughout the room, and dressed, trying my damnedest to avoid even so much as glancing her way. I swallowed, attempting to moisten my dry mouth, but failed. I don’t know what our encounter might mean about my sexuality. As hard as I found it to wrap my head around, I kind of wanted to give it another go, which scared me more than anything else.
“Jek!” Tanner traipsed across the room, and seized my shoulders. “Will you look at me?”
I swallowed again, this time even harder, and met her gaze. It took all my willpower to keep myself from looking down at her crotch, but I managed. I just sat there frozen in place, my pants at my ankles, speechless. What the fuck was I supposed to say? ‘Congratulations Tanner, I liked sodomizing you, next time why don’t we see if you ass-fuck me instead?’ Okay, that last part didn’t sound so appealing, but my dumbass was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t think of a coherent thing to say. Instead, Tanner broke the ice.
“Talk to me, Jek.”
“C-can you get dressed? This is already awkward enough as it is.”
Tanner nodded and moved off, retrieving her discarded clothes. Slowly but surely, she dressed herself and I watched transfixed. Her panties went on first and as she slid them on, she reached inside and tucked her penis away, and just like magic the bulge seemed to take on the contours of something more feminine. It wasn’t foolproof, the entire area looked too large, but I doubted anyone would notice with clothes over it. I sure as hell hadn’t.
Before long she’d clothed herself, and I peered down at myself, realizing I still had my pants around my ankles. I rectified that problem, then grabbed my shirt and slid it over my head. Though our garments were just a little crumpled and wrinkled, we were as ready as we’d ever be to discuss the massive elephant in the room.
The whole thing started with a fair bit of hemming and hawing on my part. Tanner once again got the ball rolling.
“Jek,” she said, sitting her plump ass on the edge of my bed as I trotted back and forth across from her. “How much do you know about trans folk?”
“Well, I know that someone who is transgender doesn’t identify as the gender they’re born as or else doesn’t fit into the gender norms.”
“Right, more or less.” She pursed her lips then leaned back, hands perched on the bed behind her. “But most trans folk, myself included, prefer the term assigned rather than born.”
She fell back and closed her eyes, released a deep sigh, then continued. “I’ve been trying to tell you for years… Ever since that moment on Byrak when we almost kissed. Every time I come close, something stops me. I sometimes wonder if the universe is conspiring against me. Then…”
She opened her eyelids and turned her head, gazing at me. “Then this happens and you find out in the worst way imaginable.”
I stopped my pacing and my eyes darted toward her and gave my hair a good yank. “You can say that again.”
“I mean, don’t people like you… undergo re-sequencing to get rid of those… things?”
“Some do, but I’ve undergone all the re-sequencing and procedures I intend to. I like my dick, it’s the only part of my old body I wanted to keep when I first started through my transition and nothing’s changed in that regard.”
“Fine, okay…” I held my hands up and closed my eyes.
“I need to process this. I-I need some time to think it over. Once, I get through with my own transition.”
“Okay, not the best wording,” I paused, bile rising from the pit of my stomach at the mere thought of becoming a woman. “M-maybe then I can come to terms with this… Until then–”
“We forget this ever happened.” Tanner finished for me, sitting upright and meeting my gaze. Her expression was unreadable, but she had to be hurting.
I nodded, my ticker began pounding again, as I spoke the next few words. “It’s about time I accept my fate.”
Tanner stood, sauntering across the room, and planted both her hands on my shoulders. “It might be a little awkward with what just happened between the two of us, but I can help you if you like.”
I smiled and clasped one hand over hers. Though I still wasn’t sure how I felt, I found her offer of aid oddly comforting. “O-okay.”
A cold shower, and a long hover ride later, found Tanner and I walking down the corridors of the Conclave Headquarters. Things were strained between us even after hashing everything out. A part of me wished I’d come alone, but I’d been so terrified of what lay ahead that I didn’t have it in me.
I needed someone to act as a buffer against my grandmother’s forceful personality and Tanner was the best possible candidate. I suppose I could have given my uncle a ring, but I had no idea where Zed Briggs was or what he was up to these days. Even if I did, the prospect of again explaining that whole Endeavour thing wasn’t very appealing.
At least Tanner understood what I was going through. I just wish I could get the image of our lovemaking out of my head.
I visited the Conclave enough times that I knew all the twists and turns of the maze like corridors, but it didn’t mean I was any less intimidated and if Tanner’s wide-eyed stare was any sign, she felt the same way. Khala was her usual cool and collected self. There didn’t seem to be much that would unsettle my symbiote. Given her age, she must have transformed dozens if not hundreds of hosts, it probably didn’t faze her anymore.
If you walked into Conclave headquarters without knowing where you were, you might think you stepped into any old office building. You kind of expected the place to have a distinct appearance given that its reputation was larger than life, but there were no distinguishing features. The walls were all a dull gray and uniform, but at least they weren’t unadorned like the inside of the Valiant. Artwork, the sort of flowery affairs of which my grandmother seemed so fond, graced the walls, but as we stepped into another side corridor, the one which led into the council chambers, we stopped dead in my tracks. Portraits of the original founders and other members of note lined the hallways.
Tanner broke away and sidled over to Lillian Briggs’ portrait, who besides being Lexa Brigg’s wife, was my second most famous ancestor and a hero of the battle for Earth. She’d been the founder of Briggs Aerospace and Engineering, the source of all the Briggs’ wealth and the biggest producer of ships in the entire UEA.
“She was a childhood hero of mine, you know,” Tanner brushed the hair out of her face and smiled.
“Everyone always talks about Lexa, how her leadership helped the fractured remnants of the resistance defeat the sub-ascendant, but where would they have been without Lily? She was a brilliant self-taught engineer who’s knowledge and expertise helped get them out of more than a few tight binds. And she was a trans woman, someone who overcame her shy and introverted nature and helped bring about an end to the tyranny of the Qharr.”
I stepped up beside her and glanced at the portrait of Lexa that hung beside Lily’s. “I’ve spent my life trying to separate myself from Lexa’s shadow that I never gave Lily much thought. She was so much a part of the great Alexana Briggs’ life that she might as well have been the same damn person.”
I peered into the eyes of Lexa and Lily’s portraits, hands touching the nameplates beneath each frame. These were the two women without whom the Conclave would have never come to exist. Both were striking, but for the first time as I looked into those magenta eyes, I think I understood Lexa Briggs. She had been as much a victim of circumstance as I, but she made the best out of her situation and used the abilities granted to her by her symbiote to help retake Earth and defeat the one responsible for the occupation, Sub-Ascendant Jykarr Bynd. Lily’s achievements had been no less noteworthy, but her story didn’t resonate with me.
Like her wife Lexa, Lily had been assigned male at birth, but, unlike her wife, identified as female from the moment she could distinguish the difference. Raised in a nest, one of dozens of such communities where select groups of survivors of the invasion hid away hoping to wait out the occupation, Lily would have lived her life out in the safety of her home, if the Qharr hadn’t found and discovered her nest and obliterated it from above. The only known survivor, Lily, was rescued by the resistance, and once among their ranks she discovered she had an affinity for repairing and even modifying human and Qharr tech. Her skills made her invaluable, and she was a member of the team that helped rescue her future wife Lexa from internment in a slave compound.
After nearly losing her life, Lily was implanted with a symbiote and the rest was history. I shook my head and felt cold chills trickle down my back. I had spent so long running from my family’s legacy. Now I had no choice but to accept it. I clenched my hands at my side and gritted my teeth. I was not going to be just another descendant of Lexa and Lily. They had been great women, and I doubted I would ever match their achievements, but perhaps I didn’t need to. All my life I’d been running away, it was time to give my life focus. If I made my own name and did something, neither of them had ever dreamed. If I unlocked the secrets of the Phyrr Lesch, once and for all stopping all the speculation, I could stop living under my great grandmothers’ shadows.
The Phyrr Lesch had been an ancient race of humans, who had left Earth long before Homo sapiens had even discovered the wheel. At least that was the position of the Conclave. Some people didn’t subscribe to their assertions which were based on memories passed down to Khala from another symbiote whose motives had been just a bit suspect.
Either way, one thing was for sure, the Phyrr Lesch were a powerful race of people who had conquered a pretty big chunk of the galaxy, used genetic manipulation at a level no one has matched since, giving rise to the Qharr, the Dexagarmetrax and the K’teth as a result, and left a pretty damned lasting impression considering that no one had heard sight nor sound from them in over ten-thousand years.
We would have stayed there a lot longer, ruminating for God knows how long, but I sensed a presence and turned to watch as a towering giant cast his shadow over me. Tanner was late to the party, but she spun around to face the newcomer just about the same time as Khala gasped.
‘Duvak?!’ two voices called out, reverberating through my skull. One belonged to Khala and the other— Okay, perhaps they both came from Khala, but what was with the chorus effect? I craned my head back so I could look into the newcomer’s eyes as he drew closer.
In all my twenty-five years, I hadn’t seen more than a handful of Qharr on Earth. Even after all the time since the occupation, people weren’t very forgiving of their conquest of Earth and the gray skins were hesitant to travel to a world where they were so hated. Even if that planet was the place from which their race had sprung.
Most of those Qharr I’d seen before now were on Gerrknotttt, where they maintained trade relations with the Credknotts. I backed away, peering up at the towering mass of muscles. He held his hands open and up in front of his chest, showing he had peaceful intentions.
“I am Ambassador Nyvok Nakyrr,” he said with a deep resonating voice which was typical of his race and nodded.
‘Nakyrr,’ Khala said. ‘Then you are–”
“A descendant of Duvak Nakyrr?” The Qharr finished rubbing two fingers along the left side of his neck before tracing a hand through his thick mop of blue hair. His colored locks identified him as Edant K’teth, just the gray skin way of saying he was joined with a symbiote.
The Qharr weren’t the most expressive species, at least not in the human way, but they had developed a pretty sophisticated series of body and hand gestures meant to convey their emotions. If a Qharr was happy, angry, or sad, they could show which by using those gestures and it was as natural for them as smiling or frowning was for us. Never once had I regretted not learning to read Qharr mannerisms until that moment.
“Jek Briggs. Tanner Grace.” I nodded up at him and held my hand out to Tanner, hoping for all the world that Nykarr was as bad at reading human facial expression as I was at reading his body language. I was fucking terrified and that must have shown on my face. He barely paid Tanner any heed, nodding toward her before his eyes fixed on me.
“A scion of Lexa Briggs, then? It is an honor. Alexana was a noble warrior, her feats are not without renown even on Tel’c.”
My eyebrows shot straight up, and I hummed and hawed, my heart pounding even harder at the massive Qharr’s pronouncement. “Uh… didn’t Lexa… erm kill Duvak?”
“They were enemies, true,” he said, staring at me with those three amber eyes. For a moment I wondered if I’d insulted him and he might not attack, but he shook his head, a human gesture, and continued. “Duvak was an honorable warrior. Had he known the truth behind the lies of your world’s occupation, I doubt he would have stood by and done nothing.”
“Well, I guess we’ll never know for sure, seeing as he died before the truth got out.” That seemed to get under his skin, if his stiff posture was any indication, but he must have had better self-control than I did because all he did was bar his teeth at me and nod. “So, it would appear. I hope you have a pleasant day.”
I nodded, and Nyvok spun around on his heels, disappearing down the opposite side of the corridor, and I issued a long breath once I was sure he couldn’t hear me.
‘If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that he was Duvak returned from the dead. Aside from his height, the resemblance was uncanny.’
“I’m just glad he’s gone.” I shuddered and glanced over my shoulder, just before making a beeline toward my grandmother’s office, which was probably where the Qharr had just come from. “I thought for sure he would rip out my spine and use it as a jump rope.”
Tanner didn’t say a word, but followed me, glancing over her shoulder every few seconds as if expecting the towering gray skin to come back. He never did, a fact for which I was very grateful.
‘Well, you insulted his ancestor.’
‘The next time I say something stupid like that, would you do me a favor and tell me to shut the fuck up? Something tells me if I ever get that close to a gray skin again and I let my mouth run off like that, they might not be so forgiving.’
‘You’re a descendent of the progenitors, they might cut you more slack than you think, but I’d hold your tongue just in case. The Qharr don’t like smart-asses.’
“Most beings don’t…” I trailed off, speaking aloud, and drawing an odd look from Tanner, before stopping before a solid oak door and tapped the nameplate on front. “Especially ones named Kaya Briggs.”
‘Hey, when we first encountered Nyvok, what was with that whole double-voice thing? That was a little weird,’ I thought at my symbiote.
‘That’s a bit hard to explain. Perhaps we should discuss it when you’re not so… pre-occupied,’ she replied, a slight quiver in her voice.
I furrowed my brows, but before I had an opportunity to press her, the door swung open with sudden and violent force, almost as if my grandmother had been standing beside the door waiting for us. “Jek, I’m glad you’re here.”
I pointed a finger at my chest, grinned and stared at my grandmother, trying my best to come off as innocent. Which is to say, I failed miserably. “What me? There’s got to be some sort of mistake.”
I swore a smile touched the corner of my grandmother’s lips, but if one had, any sign of it faded away.
“The Conclave is meeting later this afternoon.”
“And that pertains to me how?”
“They’re meeting about the Endeavour. They’ll want to hear what happened from the horse’s mouth.”
“A little notice would have been nice.”
“We called it at the last minute, the government has reached out to us.”
“And we’ll see what the colonel has to say, when we meet with him this afternoon.”
I grimaced and glanced back at Tanner, who was leaning against the wall, a little way down the corridor, her eyes averted and trying her best not to look our way.
Kaya grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me close, wrapping her arms around my middle section and I stiffened, but despite my discomfort I found myself returning the hug. “Jek, I’ve missed you so much.”
To say that it shocked me was an understatement, but for once it was in a good way. I pulled away, meeting her gaze, and bit my lip. “Uh, yeah I missed you too.”
I glanced down at my hands, turning them this way and that, more than a little apprehensive about what was about to come, but knowing that sooner or later I would have to give in any way. Best to do it under my own terms, instead of resisting until the bitter end. Besides, the sooner I got it over with, the sooner my prerequisite year as a woman would be up.
“Jek, what’s wrong?”
“I-I, uh,” I coughed clearing my throat and turned away, finding it a little difficult to put my thoughts into words. I was about to give up one of my defining characteristics, okay? So give me a break. “What time did you say the Conclave was meeting?”
“Four,” she replied, folding her arms across her chest and frowned at me.
“That’s probably enough time.”
She didn’t even say the word, ‘what’, but was the question mirrored in her eyes and I blurted the response out before she spoke. “Maybe, uh, it’s time I let Khala do her thing.”
“I take it, this also means you’ve accepted membership within the Conclave?”
I paused, hesitating as what little remained of my composure melted away. “Yeah, I guess it does.”
I had no need to explain myself from there. If people knew one thing about the K’teth, it was that queens required a female host in order to reproduce. It went without question that if a male became bonded to a female symbiote, well, eventually he would end up with a pair of ovaries. My grandmother placed a hand on my cheek, looked into my eyes, and smiled as she led me away, Tanner following a few feet behind. I almost yanked my hand free and bolted through the hallway, but there are some things you just couldn’t run away from.