Battle For Earth: Coalescence (Chapters 8-10)

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Duvak's attack on our ship had left us devastated with little hope of escaping. Would we once again escape the clutched of the Qharr or would we face a gruesome and terrible fate as we fought to stay alive?

Author's Note:

A very big thanks to Zapper, Beyogi, Loki & Maggie Finson for providing valued input and assistance editing this story. Another big thank you to all those who participated in the following blogs Requesting help with a name for a race of aliens... and Questions about a human hair bracelet of all things. Although all participants in the former thread were very helpful (well, really both threads), I feel I need to thank Rasufelle and Elizabeth Jean both for their suggestions as those two inspired the final name for the Phyrr Lesch the most.

Chapter Eight               

Who was I, really? It was a question that had pounded its way through my head over and over since Kaya's death. Was I this wild Lexa a beautiful, untamed warrior-woman with superhuman strength, or was I Jellfree, unassuming cook and reluctant rebel. Those two identities were at odds and I couldn't come to grips them. After my transformation, I'd had very little time to reconcile my changes.

Events had happened so quickly that I'd been forced to set aside my insecurities and misgivings and fight for my life. Even after rescuing my sister, I'd been so caught up with our reunion and my budding relationship with Lily that my gender identity had taken a backseat to those things. Given that we were settled in the relative security of the nest I had a lot more time to really think things through, but I was no closer to understanding any of it.

It all boiled down to one question. Just a short time ago the answer would have been so simple, but I'd begun to build a new identity. Did I want to be a woman for the rest of my life? Khala had offered to return me to my former form, but I knew that I would be forced to change back to my feminine self sooner or later. Was it worth switching back and forth whenever it came time for Khala to mix her genetic code with a male’s and pop out another offspring? Did I even want to be a man anymore?

I really liked Lily, and I could see our relationship becoming a lasting one, but would she want to stay with me once I changed? I didn't even know if she was attracted to men. I should have talked it over with her, but every time I tried to broach the subject the words escaped me.

I felt my cheeks burn as I looked myself over in the mirror. I was wearing a little-slip of a black dress that clung to my figure and left almost nothing to the imagination. I had no idea what sort of fabric it was stitched from, but it was so light and airy that it almost felt as if I were wearing nothing. If I hadn't been for the bra, it would have been a lot harder remember that I wasn't naked. It dug into my back and was a little on the uncomfortable side, but it did make my knockers look pretty amazing.

The dress hadn't been my idea, far from it, but if I was going to be honest from myself I kind of liked the way it made me look. It was strange thinking that way. I just wished those feelings made me a little more certain about which path I was going to take, but instead they just heightened my confusion.

A party was being held in our honor that night. I personally didn't see the point of it, but according to Rayland the nesters seldom had a chance to celebrate and it was important for the community to be officially introduced to us. I didn't give a flying rat's ass either way, but it was just another compromise I was making in the interest of appeasing the nesters.

"Damn," came Becca's voice from the doorway. "You look amazing. I wish I could look half as good."

If my reflection was any indication I think my cheeks actually turned two or three deeper shades of red. "Thanks." It was all I could think to say without revealing my deep seeded doubts. My feminine side certainly liked having its ego stroked, but my masculine side wanted no part of it. I felt like I was at war with myself, two halves male and female battling it out for dominance. I wanted so much tell someone, to ask for help, or guidance but I just couldn't find the words.

I swallowed and looked my sister over. She was a wearing a little red number of a similar cut to my dress, except that it showed a lot less cleavage. "Don't sell yourself short. You look great."

There would have been a time that I would have been uncomfortable complimenting my sister's looks, but my feminine side didn't have a problem with it and my masculine side didn't put up much of a fight. I wasn't lying either, my sister really did look great. I was certainly the more well-endowed sibling, but that didn't mean Becca was hard on the eyes. Far from it. Her symbiote had yet to change her hair or eyes, but if what Khala had told me was true it was only a matter of time before my sister was sporting blue tresses.

"Damn," Lily pronounced poking her head through the door. "I've been so worried about the way I looked, but god with you two in the room no one's gonna pay me any mind."

Typical Lily, she didn't realize how beautiful she had really become. She looked in the mirror and still saw her old male self looking back at her. Yes, she had smaller breasts and a more slender frame than either of us, but a lot of that had to do with her height. Her proportions were more than generous and she had a figure that any potential lover, whether they were male or female, would have trouble looking away from. Her little blue dress clung to her figure in all the right places and it took all my restraint to keep my hands off her.

"I just want this night to be over." I grimaced placing a hand on my sister's shoulder. "Your symbiote still being mister talkative?"

She nodded then bit her lip. "Hasn't said a thing since he revealed himself."

"Well, there's that at least." Despite Khala’s assurances that it wasn’t possible I still had this fear in the back of my mind that Becca’s symbiote might try to transform her as Khala had done to me.

"Well," I grimaced glancing down at my breasts which looked like they were ready to bounce out of my dress. "Let's get going. We don't want this thing to start without us, do we?"

I'd never been to a party that I could remember, so I had nothing to compare the experience to, but I did know I didn’t particularly care for the experience, especially since I seemed to be the center of attention. I was the leader of our little group, and since I wasn't exactly hard on the eyes everyone's focus was on me.

The party was being held in the large, open area at the center of the nester chamber. Rayland led us to a small space at the center of the area which looked to have been cordoned off specifically for Bueller, the town council and our ragtag group. Bueller was standing, at a podium and he smiled and nodded at us as we entered the area.

The town council hadn't yet informed us of their decision save to say that they'd decided to offer us asylum for the long term. Whether that meant bringing the fight to the gray-skins or just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses was another thing entirely.

"Ladies, and gentleman." He spoke into a small narrow tube that stuck out from the podium. I couldn't be certain, but it seemed to be responsible for amplifying his voice across the entire chamber. He paused long enough for the crowd to calm and quiet down then continued. "I'm sure it has already become public knowledge by now, but Sanctum has became home to a small group of heroic resistance fighters. They came to us a broken and weary lot betrayed by those they once believed to be friends and allies. We felt it was necessary to give them time to recover from their ordeals before official announcing their presence here."

I bit my tongue, forcing down the sudden urge to correct Bueller. It wasn't that anything he had said was a lie, it just sounded so... grandiose. Nothing I had done was the least bit heroic, it had all been for the sake of survival and the stubborn part of me that kept thinking there was still a reason to hope for a brighter future.

"Though they number only five they've done more to ensure our eventual liberation than any before them. Their leader, Alexana Briggs, and her sister Rebecca Anders were forced to watch as their parents were murdered by our conquerors and were only recently reunited after spending years apart. Their tech-expert, Lillian Freemark, is a survivor of nest Safe Haven, and as well as being particularly brilliant, has devoted herself to avenging her family and liberating the human race from the clutches of the Qharr. Matthew Farris, though only twenty seven is a seasoned veteran who has been fighting with the resistance for more than ten years and their final member, a Dexagarmetrax doctor, whose religion forbids me from giving voice to his name, has been trapped on Earth since the invasion and is an accomplished physician who has studied medicine on dozens of worlds.

Each of us reacted differently when our names were mentioned, I felt my body stiffen and managed a lopsided-grin and a curt nod. Becca bit her lip and started to tear up before she brought her hand up to cover her face. Lily managed a shy smile and waved at the crowd while Farris shrugged then followed Lily's example. The doctor's reaction was certain the most noteworthy. He did a little dance, jumping from side to side and waving his hands down below his waist before jerking forward and letting out a long warbling sound.

I hated that Bueller knew so much about our backstories. I'd been particularly tightlipped about our histories, but that hadn't kept some of the others, especially the doctor, from blabbing every little detail they could think of.

"Please extended to them the warm thanks they deserve and enjoy the food and drinks." Bueller finished then grabbed his cane from where it was leaning against the podium and hobbled away. I guess the president wasn't one for long speech which was a pleasant surprise. I hadn't been too keen on the prospect of listening to a long drawn out oration. He'd very obviously neglected to give a reason for Lily and my odd appearance, which would likely result in giving credence to the rumors. I was fine with that, the fewer people who realized I was host to an alien symbiote the better.

A fast up-beat tune started to play and I jumped attempting to detect a source. The lack of any visible musicians forced me to conclude that the music had been recorded at an earlier time and was being projected through speakers. I had vague memories of listening to music that was pre-recorded before the invasion, but the concept seemed so strange to me. Music could move a person to new heights, but just listening to a piece was nowhere near as fulfilling as being an active participant.

I'd never had much of a singing voice, but I'd been known to belt out a tune or two while working. It wasn't at all uncommon for slaves to burst into song while performing their daily labors. It often made the work day go by much more quickly. The Qharr liked live entertainment, and it wasn't that unusual for guards to join in on our songs. Still there was something about the way that the nesters moved in sync with the music. Dancing, I'd seen so little of it during my incarceration that it almost seemed unnatural.

I tried to reproduce their movements, but felt my cheeks burn when I realized a lot of people were staring. I glanced around, looking for some place where I might escape all that scrutiny, but then Lily grabbed bother my hands and pulled me close.

"No," Lily said standing up on her tip toes to peck me on the lips. "Don't stop... just relax, don't exaggerate your movement so much. Let the music flow through you. Let it move you, let the beat guide you. Watch."

She stepped in sync with the music, her feet swirling against the dance floor, each movement slow and sensual. She raised her arms above her head, putting her chest out and rocked back and forth. She danced around me her back pressing into my side, and she spun around and grinned up at me. "Try it out."

I swallowed and looked around feeling very self-conscious. Lily was a lot more comfortable with her body than I was, and during foreplay she'd shown a mastery of feminine sensuality that few natural-born women could match. Dancing, seemed like a natural extension of this ability and I just didn't think I had it in me. She'd always been a woman at heart, but I hadn't taken my form by choice. Still, I just couldn't say no to her so I bit my lip and stepped forward moving to the beat of the music.

"Better, but you're still too tense. Just relax," she whispered in my ear. I nodded, let out a deep breath then imagined it was just the two of us on the dance floor. I stopped trying to imitate the way other people had been dancing and just did what felt natural. A few times, Lily offered up encouragement or advice, but overall seem satisfied. I stopped thinking about what I was doing and just moved to the beat. The night stretched into a blissful eternity and I let the music take me away...

Chapter Nine               

Chapter Nine

Five days, passed and we heard nothing from the council and it was all I could do to stay sane. It was funny, but in the short time since I'd joined the resistance I had become so accustomed to being on the run that I was getting antsy just staying in one place. The fact that I was so conflicted with myself only made matters worse. I didn't want to think about it, but it was all I could do.

We'd all been asked to contribute to the nest in some way, and I had agreed. At the very least it gave us something to do, but unfortunately because of our experience Becca and I had both been drafted to work in the kitchen. It still loved to cook, it was second nature to me and I could do just about anything in a kitchen without putting much thought into. Which left my mind to wander, and wander it did.

The more I thought about it the more I realized, I didn't actually dislike being female, but a part of me still wished to go back to being male. There was just something about this body that felt wrong, it wasn't the breasts, the hips, or even the vagina. It was something else, something I couldn't quite name, but always there on the tip of my tongue. I felt wrong, not because I was female, but for reasons I couldn't easily define.

And... I felt guilty, for not telling Lily and for a lot of things, including Kaya's death. I couldn't help but feel responsible, and I hated that our relationship had ended the way it had. She had been carrying our child and--I stopped looking around at the other people in the kitchen, who were busy going about their tasks, then wiped a tear from my eye--I felt like I had abandoned Kaya. It didn't particularly make sense, considering she was the one who hadn't been attracted to me, but emotions were seldom logical.

At least life in the nest wasn't too unpleasant; most of the people were friendly if somewhat distant. I did get a lot of odd looks and I'd had more than one would-be suitor knocking at my door. It was sort of flattering, but it was beginning to get old. Still, a few of them had been pretty good looking. If I hadn't been in a relationship with Lily I might have let them take me out on a date.

I sighed, mostly I'd been doing grunt work, peeling potatoes, cutting vegetables, and washing dishes, but at least I was doing something even if it gave me far too much time to think. What I wouldn't have done at that moment to smash or rip an opponent to shreds. That was something else I'd been thinking about a lot, violence. It came so easily to me, since I'd becomeLexa.

I hated to see people I cared about hurt, but the more primal aspect of my personality loved the violence and it scared the shit out of me. The question I kept asking myself was would it be any different if I had a chance to be Jellfree again? Was the violence something ingrained into my being and had only come out once I'd gotten a taste of it or was the answer more complicated? Maybe, it had nothing to do with my human aspect at all, but was a direct result of being joined with Khala. Somehow that didn't seem likely. I didn’t know much about my people’s history, but I’d heard enough from older slaves to know that humans had been blowing the shit out of each other for centuries before the Qharr, and thus the K'teth, had arrived.

As much as I tried to reason it out, the answers only seemed to pile up and so I bore my troubles silently hoping for answers that never came.

There were always rangers nearby wherever we went in the nest. Rayland said it for my own safety, but we all knew the real reason even if we didn't vocalize it. The nesters still didn't trust us, but none of us had any reason to trust them. Having a shadow all the time was nothing new for me, but it didn't mean I particularly liked it. At least, when we returned to the house they didn't follow us inside, but that wasn’t all that surprising considering that Lily had found more than one listening device in our quarters. One way or another, they were keeping tabs on us.

There wasn't a single place in the nest where we could hope to have a private conversation without being heard. Lily, Becca and I were the only ones who could communicate without tripping off any nester spy devices due to our symbiotes. Lily and I had to be careful what we said in front of Becca, but fortunately we did have the ability to communicate without being overheard by the other symbiote.

The nesters gave us free range of the main chambers and most the adjoining tunnels so long as we allowed the guards to follow us around, which meant it was almost impossible to find someplace where I could be alone. Most of the guards kept their distance so sometimes I could almost bring myself to believe that I was alone. Sometimes I liked being alone with my thoughts and I'd found a spot which seemed like the perfect place, a small cavern that overlooked a precipice so deep that I couldn't see a bottom. It wasn't the most spectacular site and it didn't seem to get much if any traffic which was exactly what I was looking for.

The chamber looked to be natural, but a metal safety rail had been installed at the rock's edge which suggested that at some point in the chamber's history it had probably received more traffic than it had in recent times. I was standing over the edge looking down into the darkness, and wondered just how far those depths went. Sometimes I felt as if I'd fallen over a precipice and had never stopped falling.

I asked myself the usual questions, who was I? Lexa or Jellfree or was there any difference at all? I tried to sort out my feelings, but as usual I wound up feeling even more confused and angry. What right did I have moping about when the world was in tatters? My problems seemed so small, so why then did I have so much trouble overcoming them?

What was I doing anyway? I had too many things to worry about to let these feelings get in the way. I turned to leave and nearly stepped face first into a set of big voluptuous breasts. I blushed and back away and caught a flash of auburn hair before I got a good look at Arianne's face. She smiled and studied me with a pair of cool eyes. She might have been younger than me, but there was just something about the woman that gave her the impression of being much older.

"Major Patterson, said you might be down here," she said walking toward the railing then leaned over and glanced back at me.

"You were looking for me?" I blinked surprised that the nester woman would have any interest in hunting me down.

"I've been hoping to speak with you for a while now," she smiled. "I just wish I didn't have to come as the bearer of bad news."

"Bad news? What do you mean?"

"The council has voted not to mount an expedition to New Anaheim," she frowned then shrugged.

"So that's it then? What exactly are we suppose to do, hang up our phase guns, and sit around in this fucking nest with our thumbs up our asses and wait for the gray-skins to come to us? Don't you people realize what's at stake here? It's bigger than your petty squabblings."

"I know," she folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes. "I voted in favor of the expedition, but I'm only one person. The other council members wouldn't see the truth if it hit them in the face. Bueller does, Krane does too, and I think with a little prodding I can get Jokeb to come around, but the rest are so afraid of the what ifs that they won't even allow themselves to ever hope for a brighter future."

"At least some of you do," I sighed then glanced back into the hole. "What exactly is it we're suppose to do now? This could be our only chance? My people will do this alone if we have to, but I think our odds would be much better if the nesters were to join us."

"Ranger!" she called suddenly and my guard appeared from around the corner. "You're excused."

"Ma'am?"

"You heard me." The ranger disappeared back down the corridor and she waited a moment before turning back to me.

"I've come to warn you, Lancaster Dahl is planning something. I don't know what it is, but I know that scheming bastard too well to believe anything else. Mark my words, you and your people are in serious danger. He's been holding secret meetings with just about anyone who'll listen and he has enough rangers who follow him to wreak some serious chaos," she sighed then bit her lip. "You need to leave, go to this meeting of yours, before Lancaster makes his move. With your abilities you shouldn't have much trouble escaping the nest."

"Why?" I asked as she turned to leave. "Why tell me any of this?"

"Call me naive, but I believe there is hope for our world. I don't know what it is, but from the moment I first saw you I knew that if we are to be liberated you will be the key. I will not let that sniveling bastard do anything that will jeopardize the future of this world."

"Th-than-thank you." I was so flabbergasted that I could barely form a coherent word.

"I have to go now. Lancaster doesn't know I'm on to him, but the ranger who was guarding you is in his pocket. I'm sure he's gone to report to that little ratfink. The sooner you act the better. I don't think he'll wait much longer and if he realizes we're on to him he may accelerate his plans."

She disappeared down the tunnel leading out of the cavern I glanced around the room one final time then leapt into motion, revving up my speed to full throttle as I took off down the tunnel and back to the house before it was too late.

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I slammed into the ranger guarding the door as I approached. He didn't even see me coming, and he wilted under the force of the blow. I didn't know if he was working for Lancaster or not, but there was no way for me to know for sure. Better to render him unconscious than to risk it.

I blasted into door with enough force to send it shooting off from its hinges. "We're leaving!" I yelled rounding on my sister and Farris before I realized what they were doing. The fair-haired dope had his hand up my sister's blouse and they were prodding and groping each other and looked to be well onto their way to rounding home plate.

"You bastard!" I yelled my vision turning red as I tore him off my sister and slammed him into the wall. I gripped my hand around his throat and pinned him against the wall. "What did I say, Farris? Do you remember what I told you?"

"Jeff!" my sister screamed and I felt her touch me. I whipped my hand out and was about to backhand her when the red cleared and I realized what I had nearly done.

I loosed Farris and he landed in a heap at my feet. "Don't touch my sister again."

"Lexa," Becca shook her head and backed away from em. "What's gotten into you?"

"I warned that bastard, what would happen," I gritted my teeth then closed my eyes and let out a deep breath. "But, I will deal with him later. We need to get the hell out of here. Where are the others?"

Her jaw tightened and I caught a glimpse of the old Becca as she stared at me in defiance before she wilted away and the new worn and tired Becca returned. "Lily's in your room, but I haven't seen the doctor all day, he's probably lurking in the infirmary. Look, Jeff, I-I'm an adult. I don't need protecting, I'm going to be with whoever I want."

I shook my head and looked into her eyes. "We're not discussing this right now. We're leaving, I don't think the nest is safe for us anymore. I'll explain later, just go grab Lily and start gathering anything you might think be useful, but pack light. I'll go find the doctor, be ready when I'm back. We might have to fight our way out."

She nodded, and looked like she wanted to say more, but I was back out the door before she could issue a response. I would have grabbed my phase pistols, but in the interest of satiating the nesters I'd given up the power cells. Not that I really needed them, they helped me kill things faster, sure, but I didn't really need weapons to do that. I was a weapon.

I made my way to the infirmary, but came to a very abrupt halt when I found myself confronted with a half a dozen rangers all of them armed to the teeth. "Lexa, I'm really sorry, but you'll have to come with us," Corporal Jake said stepping forward. He had a coil gun, identical to the ones the inquisitors had used on us. We'd left them all back on the ship, clearly the nesters had collected them without our permission. "Dahl would like to speak with you."

"Okay," I said holding my hands up giving a show that I was intimidated by their show of force. It wasn’t too difficult of an act to pull on them considering one of them was carrying one of the few weapons capable of harming me. Jake nodded then waved his Qharr-sized rifle at me. "Get in front, I want to see your hands."

"Why are you doing this, corporal?" I asked him as slowly moved toward the cluster of guards. "We're not your enemies."

"No, you're not, but we can't risk the security of this nest. We've built a nice life here, you should have been happy with our offer of sanctuary instead of bringing us into this fight of yours."

"Our fight is your fight, can't you see? So long as the gray-skins occupy this world we can never be free," I said stopping in the midst of the rangers who had parted for me.

"We've got too much to lose." He shook his head, then raised the muzzle of his rifle and trained it on my back. "Keep moving, get in front or I'll open fire."

"Open fire," I raised an eyebrow. "You really think you can take me? The gray-skins tried using those things against me and I still kicked their asses."

"J-just step forward!" He yelled his fingers twitching as he glowered back at me.

I recognized all the rangers in Jake's group, some of them I'd practiced with, others had guarded me. I'd even had friendly exchanges with a few, so what I did next didn't sit particularly well with me, but unfortunately they didn't give me any choice. I pounced on Jake, but before I could take the gun from him three shots hit me in the chest. I howled in agony and yanked it out of Jake's hands. I slammedit into the side of his head, dropping him, before rounding on the next pair.

Khala dulled the pain, but his attack weakened me enough that the other rangers got the drop on me. A saw a flash of metal out of corner of my eye just before brilliant white light filled my vision and stabbing-hot pain slammed into my ribcage. I fell to my knees, and as my vision cleared I saw a second knife come slicing down toward me. I fell down onto my back and caught the descending blade between my feet. My attacker, Corporal Evans, tried to yank the weapon free, but I still had the upper hand when it came to strength. I twisted my legs, he lost his grip and I let the blade fall to the ground before jumping back to my feet.

"That was a mistake." I glowered at Evans then smashed an open palm into his face. He dropped and I had just enough time to yank the first knife from the side of my ribcage before the other rangers were on me. One of them had retrieved the coil gun, but I slammed into him, knocked it out of his hands and flung it as far away as I could.

They were all wearing body armor, and I knew better than to hit them below the shoulder as it would absorb too much of the impact. I took the first down, with a single blow to the head, and kicked him across the chest sending him toppling into two of his companions before rounding on the final ranger with an open-palmed blow to the face.

The remaining, rangers the three I'd sent toppling to the ground were struggling to climb to their feet, but I managed to take two of them out before they'd risen to waist-level, the third unfortunately, got the drop on me. He leapt onto me from behind, the barrel of his rifle digging into my throat. I elbowed him in the shoulder, forced the gun out of his hand and slammed it into the side of his cheek. Either I hadn't hit him as hard as I intended or else he was made of tougher stuff than his compatriots, but I caught a flash of something white drop from his mouth. I could hear it hit the floor with a soft 'ping', and he stumbled back obviously disoriented from the blow. I hit him again, and this time his eyes rolled into the back of his head then toppled backward landing atop his friends.

I glanced around, it was getting late, but our confrontation was loud enough to have attracted some attention. I spotted several, sleepy-eyed nesters poking their heads out doors or glancing out windows. A few had even left their homes to watch me fight the rangers. I had this brief thought that I should defend my actions, but somehow I doubted it would do any good. The people had seen me take down a group of their protectors. These people were only just coming to know me, somehow I doubted they'd believe anything I had to say. I grimaced, shrugged at the gawking onlookers, and stopped just long enough to pick up one of the fallen weapons before I sped off toward the infirmary. If the corporal and his group had been looking for me, then it was a good bet that Lancaster had sent more of his pawns after the doctor.

"It is most fascinating, is it not?" The doctor's voice wafted through the entrance just before I burst into the room.

Vakrexid was poised over a console and Doctor Yu was standing beside him apparently too absorbed too have given notice to me. "I-I can't believe it. How could this go undiscovered after so many years?"

"Not so surprising, Qharr tissue decays most quickly once it leaves the body, making genetic comparisons quite difficult. Qharr do not allow themselves to be taken prisoner, it is considered a grave dishonor. It was only because Vakrexid acted quickly to preserve this sample that it was still viable" he replied.

"Doctor," I said stepped up behind the two. They both jumped and spun around to face me.

"Ah Lexa, your chest is most bloodied. What has occurred? Do you require medical attention?" the doctor inquired his hands jerking back and forth.

“No, doc. Khala’s taken care of me.”

"Of course, It is most good to see you. You will not believe what Vakrexid and Doctor Yu have--"

I held my hand up, stopping him short before he could go into one of his long-winded explanations. "Later doctor, the nest isn't safe for us anymore. We're leaving."

"But you do not understand this is most momentous! This discovery could unravel the very fiber of the Qharr soc--"

"I don't care, unless it's something that can help up escape Dahl's clutches. If it's not relevant to our current situation I don't want to hear it."

"You have been injured!" Vakrexid said as his long delicate fingers pulled the bloody cloth away from the wound in my side.

"Like I said, Doctor, I'm fine, Khala is taking care of it. We need to get out of here, NOW!"

"I see, Doctor Yu, it has been most pleasant working with you, but it appears that Vakrexid must now depart," he tooted and turned to me. "I am ready."

I turned to leave, but then stopped and turned to Doctor Yu. "I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but if you know of any alternate escape routes I'd really love to know them.

"You're right I don't," she said folding her arms across her chest. "But I know Dahl and he's sent people after you it probably doesn't bode so well for Rayland. My son seems to think highly of you and that’s good enough for me. Find him, and he can get you out safely."

I nodded then smiled at her. "Should have thought of that myself. Doctor," I turned to Vakrexid. "Keep behind me, if things get sticky stay low to the ground in case any stray phase bolts or bullets come your way."

"Oh, yes, most assuredly."

We departed back through the tunnel and made our way back into the main nester chamber. The rangers I'd taken out earlier were still sprawled unconscious upon the floor. We stopped just long enough to collect the power cells from their rifles and we were on our way. We had a little trouble getting back to the house, but I made short work of those who stood in our way.

Chapter Ten               

Lips, locked around mine, a tongue swirled inside my mouth, and I became lost to the slow sensuality of Lily's kiss. I pulled away, reluctantly, then cleared my throat and looked her over. She blushed and glanced around the room. "I-I was worried."

I smiled, and cupped her face in my hand before turning to my sister. "Are we ready?"

"Yeah," she nodded and tossed me my phase pistols harness and all. I slipped it on and popped a pair of power-cells into the handles. I passed one to my sister, and the third and fourth to Lily and Farris. Besides my twin pistols, we only had three other weapons which meant we had just enough to power all our weapons. Not that we'd need it any time soon, it took weeks of prolonged use to drain your average power-cell. I'd have offered someone else my spare pistol if I thought they'd take it, but the truth was with my abilities I could make more use of them than the others.

"Watch your aim, and shoot to disable if you can help it. I don't want any of you killing any rangers unless you're left with no choice. They're not our enemies whether they realize it or not," I winced running my hand over my now mostly healed wound. "Be on the lookout, they filched at least one coil gun from our ship they probably have the other two. I had a pretty close call with Corporal Jake. I really don’t care to repeat the experience."

"Well, I think I've had about enough of this place as I can stand. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready to get the hell out of here." I gritted my teeth and spun around, slamming the door to our dwelling open and leapt through the door.

Farris was the first out the door after me, barring his phase pistol in front of him ready for whatever trouble might come our way. "Tell me, oh wise leader, just how the fuck are we supposed to find a way out of this place. If we go out the way we came in they'll be able to pick us off one by one through those gun slits. If they got a coil gun they could probably take you and Lily out pretty easily."

"You don't think I haven't thought of that? I get the feeling, those slits aren't the only defenses. That whole tunnel is a perfect place to lay down traps and I don't want to get caught in any them. We find Rayland, hopefully he can show us another way out. If not, well then, we'll find our own way out."

"You really think that grinning bastard will help us?"

"You got any better ideas?" I rounded on him and forced myself to look away when an image of him defiling my sister popped into my head. I shook my head and forced the image out of my mind. Survival was a little more important at the moment. "He's our best hope of getting out of this place alive."

"She's right Matt, we don't have any other options," my sister said staring at me apprehensively. She looked like someone who was staring at a coiled snake, ready to strike and she was looking right at me. I'd seen that look in Becca's eyes plenty of times, but not once had it been directed at me. It made me feel sick and I thought I might throw up, but then my stomach rallied and I shook my head. That look had shaken me to my very core, and I realized just how close I'd come to killing Farris. The worst part was that I deserved that look. I didn't like Farris, I definitely didn't like the budding relationship he had going with my sister, but killing him wasn't the answer.

I would have to deal with it later as much as it pained me to put it off we didn't have the luxury to stand around while I sorted out my feelings. We needed to get away, and then I would eat humble pie. I just hoped Becca could forgive me. I still didn't have to like Farris, but I definitely needed to reassess the way I'd been treating him.

I charged down the corridor, screaming at the top of my lungs as the rangers' fire came splashing into me. Each charge sent a trickle of power coursing through me and I shuddered as I plowed into the nearest guard. Lily was right there firing her single pistol, as my twin pair blazed brilliantly through the tunnel. We made short work of the pair, injuring them sufficiently that they wouldn't be able to fight but it looked as if the nesters had a surprise in store for us as another pair of guards rounded the corner.

An arrow zoomed through the air and I dove out of the way. It appeared that rather than try and create an advanced projectile weapon like the Qharr, the nesters had elected for a more low-tech solution. Given that I managed to kill overseer with nothing more than a broken table leg it didn’t exactly seem that far-fetched that they could do me in with a bow and arrow. I dodged a volley of arrows and slammed my fist into the face of my chosen target, a tall ranger with a shaved head and a pair of brilliant blue eyes.

He was down for the count, and I moved onto the next, but Lily had already taken him down.

"Shit," Farris cursed coming up behind us panting from overexertion. "You sure you know where you're going? This is the sixth tunnel we've taken and we haven't seen any signs of the detention area that ranger you interrogated mentioned."

"This is the one, unless he lied to me. Either way, we'll find out soon enough," I replied and then without waiting for him to catch his breath I took off back down the corridor. Lily was only a step behind me, and together the two of us carved a path through the corridors ensuring that our companions had safe passage.

The tunnel's end was almost in sight, we were so close that I could see the cave mouth less than a dozen meters away, but we came to a screeching stop when we found another pair of guards both with arrows nocked. I jumped out of the way as they released their bows, but Lily was just a second too slow. One of the arrows lodged itself into abdomen just below her waistline and she fell backward onto her back.

I screamed, and all I wanted was to crawl across the floor and fall cradle her in my arms, but I had just enough sense to duck and take cover instead. For a moment, one of the longest moment's of my life, I thought she was dead, but I peaked around the corner just long enough to see chest rise and fall. There was a brief flash of pain and I clasped my hand around my ear realizing that one of the bastards must have nicked me. I leapt back onto my feet, pouncing on the pair of rangers and disabled them before they could fire off more shots.

I could hear the 'ping' of metal against the floor as the projectiles popped out from my wounds. I grunted and shivered as I felt the injuries begin to heal. I craned my neck back and watched Lily climb to her feet with the doctor's help. "You alright?"

She nodded, and rubbed at the now mostly healed wound on her chest. "That was a lot closer to my heart than I'd care to admit."

"I know the feeling." I grimaced and shook my head as knelt down to grab a still-holstered phase pistol from one of our assailants. There was a brief surge of power as Khala absorbed the energy and I tossed the second to Lily whose symbiote quickly did the same.

Together, we stepped through the door and once on the other side, I was gratified to discover, that the ranger had not in fact been lying when he'd told me where Rayland was being held.

He and Neada were locked in opposing cells, and about a dozen other rangers were locked away in half as many. I didn't bother looking for keys, I approached the door to Rayland's cell and slammed my foot into the lock. It groaned, but held. It took three more successive blows to knock it open.

"Man am I glad to see you," he said grinning from ear to ear.

"Well, we're just lucky Dahl and his goons underestimated us." I grimaced then spun around and watched as my sister unlocked Neada's cell using a key she had no doubt procured from one of the fallen ranger guards.

"I don't suppose you know another way out of the nest, do you?" I glanced back at Rayland. "I'd rather not use the front door."

"Yes, there's an alternate escape route we can take. Free the rest of my men and I can show you where it is."

Rebecca had already begun to approach the other cells, and was in the process of releasing each of the captive rangers. I didn't want to wait any longer than we had to so I started on the opposite side of the line of cells, and managed to mash open two cells before my sister finished opening the remaining four.

"Neada, I want you to go with Lexa and her group. Help them find a way out and do whatever you can to make sure they reach New Anaheim in time." Rayland put his hand on her shoulder.

She shook her head. "Send someone else, I'm staying here with you and helping you take that bastard down."

"No," he shook his head. "You know the escape tunnels better than anyone. I need to stay and fight Dahl. That means I need someone to go with them that I can trust."

"To hell with it," she said yanking him forward then locked her lips around his in a long passionate kiss. "I don't care who knows anymore. I don't care if I lose my commission. I can't bear the thought of losing you. I thought I lost you once already. Try to stay safe."

Rayland looked around the room, the other rangers looked positively flabbergasted, but he merely grinned then returned her kiss. "I'll stay safe, if you promise to do the same."

She nodded, then turned to me, all hint of the emotions she'd displayed just moments ago replaced by the cold air of a professional soldier that normally surrounded her.

"Follow me."

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Neada stopped just long enough to snatch a pistol from one of the guards I’d downed. She led us back into the main chamber, but only briefly. We took another side tunnel which led up with a gradual incline. "The route to the surface is pretty roundabout and it will involve some climbing. We've laid out a lot of traps along the way, so make sure to follow my lead unless you like the prospect of a thousand foot drop."

I didn't bother mentioning that Lily and I could probably survive such a tumble, and Becca too if her symbiote decided to cooperate. I merely nodded and followed the ranger until she led us to an apparent dead end.

She knelt down, pinching a seemingly innocuous piece of rock jutting out from the wall. The cliff face in front of us disappeared replaced by an opening that was less than a meter and a half tall. She produced a light and flicked it on before turning back to me. "This tunnel is a little cramped, but we should all be able to fit in there. The engineers who dug out these tunnels were hoping that a shorter and narrower passage would make it difficult for any would-be Qharr pursuers to follow people through."

"Makes sense," I nodded. Even the most broad-shouldered humans couldn't match the overall width of our masters. Hell, Duvak had been considered downright diminutive by his people's standards and his shoulder width had been more than double mine even before I'd been transformed.

Farris grimaced and let out a bit of shudder. "I hate enclosed spaces."

"Buckup cowboy," Neada glanced back at him without a trace of humor or irony in her voice. "We're going in."

"Don't worry, Matt," my sister came up beside him eying me warily. "I'll be right there with you the whole time."

I turned away and was the first to follow Neada in, eager to break my sister's gaze. The entryway was just a little wider than the rest of the tunnel and further we got in the narrower the passage was. The doctor seemed to be able to travel through the tunnel with surprising ease. Yes, he had a more slender frame than us humans, but he was also by far the tallest member of our group. He crawled on all fours, shuffling through like it was the most natural thing in the world.

There was a decided upward slope as we crawled our way through the tunnels and I could hear some of the others grunts and groans as the climb became more and more difficult. The climb was less physically taxing for me, but still it was a challenge to find the right handholds and stretch my arms out.

Neada didn't have any trouble finding her way up and she set a pretty grueling pace as we made our ascent. I paused and glanced back over my shoulder to watch the others. The doctor was working his way up at a much slower pace, there were some places that his elongated form just didn't fit, but somehow he managed to squeeze his way through each time he ran into a hard spot. I caught occasional flashes of Farris's platinum hair, but couldn’t catch a glimpse of either my sister or Lily.

"Neada, why don't we stop for a second and give everyone a chance to catch up."

She looked back at me, and nodded without saying a word. I studied her face, then pursed my lips and chuckled as something occurred to me. "You know I don't even know what your first name is."

Her jaw stiffened and I saw a flash of anger in her eyes before her features suddenly softened. "It's Janet."

Something was bothering her, that much was obvious and it didn't take a genius to figure it out. "I'm sorry," I said.

"Sorry? For what?" She snapped then gritted her teeth and let out a long sigh.

"You'd rather be back in the nest fighting with Rayland wouldn't you?"

"Even if I did, orders are orders, it's not my place to question them. I don't really see how it concerns you."

Clearly I'd hit a sore spot and I got the feeling that would be a bad idea to press any further. Instead, I cleared my throat and changed the subject. "This the only escape route? Seems like a pretty tough climb for people fleeing for their lives."

"No, there are other ways out." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "But this one is known only to a few people Dahl and his lackeys are not among those people. It made sense to use a path they wouldn't be guarding.

She leaned down, and craned her neck, and I did the same my eyes following her gaze. The doctor had made significant headway while Neada and I were talking and he was less than four meters behind me. "Everyone, doing alright?"

"Just, wonderful." I heard Farris's muffled reply. "Becca's here too. Can't see Lily, but Becca says she's doing fine."

Neada rolled her eyes, and looked away resuming her assent. "Come on, we need to hurry."

I don't know how many meters we traveled before we finally climbed up out of the tunnel, which by then was more vertical than horizontal, but we'd so spent so long in that damned hole that I was really coming to understand why Farris hated confined spaces so much. It was just good we'd had so many hand and foot holds or our ascent would have been much more unpleasant. There'd be too many close calls as it was. Lily and I had our symbiotes to heal whatever, cuts, scrapes and bruises we had developed as we climbed, but the others weren't so lucky. Even Becca, despite being joined, had come up with raw and bleeding hands.

"This." Farris panted collapsing face-forward to the ground just outside the exit. "Is the last freaking time you get me to climb through a damn tunnel."

"We still have a ways to go," Neada said casting her lights around the cave. "It'll be a difficult hike, but there won't be any climbing involved. We'll take a ten minute break and then depart again."

"Shit, ten minutes?!" Farris groaned then sat up. "You've got to be shitting me."

"Need I remind you, that we are on the run? It's because of you people that we're in this mess to begin with!" Neada rounded on Farris, her fists barred at her side ready to pounce on him.

"You're blaming us?" I snarled getting so close that I could feel her breath on my cheeks. "You're the ones that offered us shelter! What have you people been doing while good people died fighting the Qharr. I watched the gray-skins kill my parents and was forced to serve the bastard that murdered them. I lost my aunt, and the mother of my child. So don't think you can lecture us about who’s to blame for this mess. If you had been out fighting with the resistance to begin with--"

"We'd have been killed off just like your people were." She flexed her hands and backed away. "We've made mistakes, but... we'll never get anywhere if we don't cooperate. I know I haven't exactly been the most pleasant traveling companion, but I'm willing to try if you are."

I nodded then bit my lip and glanced down at Farris. "Give us an extra ten minutes we'll be ready then."

"Fine," she nodded then turned away. "I'll scout ahead."

She departed and I glanced around locking eyes with Becca for a moment. She shuddered and turned away. I sighed then turned to Lily. "Stay with the others, I think I'll join Ne--Janet."

Lily nodded and I spun away, running after Neada in the hopes of catching her. It didn't take me long to find her, she was making her way up a path that looked pretty treacherous. She didn't see me, and was traveling eastward and I was facing north which gave me a good look at her face. She was crying. I'm sure she had left because she wanted to be alone, but I didn't like the idea of our only guide falling and injuring herself because there was no one there.

"Hey Janet!" I called and she stopped, her head snapping to the side to meet my gaze. There were still tears on her cheeks and as if realizing for the first time that they were there she reached up to wipe them clean.

"Something wrong?"

"Fine," she said then cleared her throat. "I just had something in my eyes."

I nodded. "Mind if I join you. Two eyes are better than one after all."

She glanced at me, and bit her lip. As suddenly as if someone had flicked a switch, her features hardened and her facade of cold detachment returned. "You said that the Qharr killed the mother of your child? I don't mean to pry, but if that's true you may be the most convincing crossdresser I've ever met. Most woman don't look as good as you do."

I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at her a moment, completely dumbfounded. I'd just assumed that Rayland had told her about my past. She was his second in command and his lover, I didn't expect him to have held anything back from her.

"I'm not a cross dresser. I didn't always look like this. The rumors you've probably heard about the Qharr experimenting on Lily and I aren't true. I'm a woman now, but I was born a man. Lily and I... and Becca are hosts to something called a K'teth symbiote, mine transformed me when we first became joined and I've been stuck this way ever since." I left the part out about Lily's transformation, in my eye she'd always been a woman even if her body hadn't quite matched her self-image.

"That explains why Dahl is so eager to be rid of you." She studied me, she didn't look angry or disgusted as I had expected, just curious. "I assume that K'teth thing is the reason for your... abilities?"

I nodded. "I'm surprised most people don't take it so well. My own aunt trapped me in an interrogation and, well you've seen how Dahl reacted."

She shrugged. "Major Patterson trusts you."

"Major Patterson? You're in love with the man and you call him Major Patterson?"

"I'm a soldier, it's not appropriate for me to call my commanding officer by his first name. Then again it's not really appropriate for us to be dating, is it?"

"Why not? I mean if he makes you happy? If there's one thing I've learned is that if you find someone you really care about, you should never let them slip through your fingers. Don't worry about what other people think or who you offend, just be yourself." I said stopping in my tracks as my own words reverberated through me. Those words hadn't been intended for Neada at all. I'd just realized what had been bothering me for so long and I knew what choice I was going to make regarding Khala's offer. I just wish I would have realized it sooner.

"It's not something either of us planned it," Neada continued not even realizing that I had stopped. "There's been this sexual tension between us that we've been fighting for years, but then one day I don't know what happened we were alone. We kissed and... well I'm sure you can guess the rest." She blushed brushing her bangs out of her face. "We've been hiding our relationship for so long it's become almost second nature. I didn't want to live with the lies any more. I hate pretending when there's no one I'd rather be with. Now one of us will probably have to step down. I've worked so long and so hard to get where I am... I never thought I'd sacrifice everything for the sake of a relationship."

I ran to catch up and she glanced over at me wiping more tears from the corner of her eyes. "Look at me I'm a mess. All I can think about is whether or not I'll see him again! I thought I lost him when he went to go find you. I-I don't know if I can go through that again."

I sighed and shook my head. I understood now why Neada had been so brusque with us. "When I changed. Kaya, my girlfriend at the time dumped me. She wasn't attracted to woman and our relationship was a mess even before I'd changed. Then we found out she was pregnant. It hurt not being with her, I don't really think I ever stopped loving her. Now she's dead and so is my child. I'm probably going to spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I'd never been joined with this damn symbiote."

For once Khala didn't offer up any protests and I was glad for that.

"This is supposed to cheer me up?"

"If one of you die... at least you left it on good terms. At least you won't have any regrets. I wish I could say the same for Kaya and me." I paused then smiled. "Rayland is a good man. He could be pretty annoying sometimes, but his heart always seemed to be in the right place."

She glanced back down the path and stopped in her tracks. "It's been twenty minutes, hasn't it? We should probably go back."

I nodded and let her lead me back down the trail. We made our way back down the trail and she stopped me just outside the chamber where the others are waiting. "Lexa."

"Yes."

"Thanks."

"Your welcome," I smiled and together we returned to the chamber. It was strange, but I guess our talk must have done Neada some good from then on out it was like we were dealing with a completely different person. I was just glad whatever I had said was of some help. Neada had dropped a bombshell that day by revealing her relationship with Rayland and it wouldn't be long at all before I dropped a bombshell of my own.

As we traveled I only grew more convinced I'd made the right decision. The problem was telling Lily... and my sister. Hopefully, once I ate humble pie Becca would be able to forgive me and Farris too. Things were going to change, to be certain, but I think it would be for the better. I hoped Lily understood, I didn't want to lose her.

Our struggles were far from over, it took us more than an hour to finally make our way out of the caves and another thirty minutes once we got outside just to get back to the ship. It didn't seem to have been disturbed when we found it, which was fairly difficult because the holocloaker was still concealing it. All we had to do was get inside and take off, but if there was one thing I'd learned since joining the resistance few things were ever as easy as they seemed.

Naturally, I was weary. Dahl's rangers could have easily beat us to the ship and I full expected an ambush. We approached the ship and started up the ramp. I fully expected someone to jump out at us at any minute, but no one did. We found our way inside, and were almost to the control room when it happened. Corporal Jake appeared out of thin air almost like a specter rising up from the depths of the past.

"Shit," I heard Farris curse.

I didn’t catch much of what Neada said, but I did hear the words “personal holo cloaker” escape her lips just before the Corporal acted. He had one of the coil guns, and he opened fire as soon the cloak lifted. I didn't have time to react, I didn't have time to do anything before the shots rang out. Then only darkness.

To be continued...

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