CHAPTER SEVEN - ALIEN BLUE
Jace felt like he was in dark water. But whenever he came to the surface, towards the light, blinding pain would fill him and he would dive down again to the safety of the dark. In those moments, he started to “surface” he would hear voices. They were indistinct and blurry at first, but then the voices would sharpen and he would be able to identify the speaker and what they were saying. The first time he surfaced, he heard his mother and father talking to one another about him.
“... is he? What happened?” his mother asked. Her normally calm voice, full of confidence and judgment, was uncertain and frightened.
“Sami says that Jace did it,” his father answered.
“Did what?” His mother’s voice was strained.
“Killed all of those Khul. Called that--that cylinder from the ship,” his father explained. “Sami said he was talking to an AI.”
“Artificial intelligence?” His mother’s tone was filled with a mixture of awe and fear.
“Yes, called Gehenna,” his father answered.
“And it’s real?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s real,” his father said.
So it was real…
Jace remembered then what had happened and why there was so much pain when he tried to wake up fully. Gehenna had told him. Warned him. He was lucky to be alive.
Remember what we practiced, Jace, she’d said.
I have no idea--
You will. I’m going to show you. Sort of like muscle memory, but in your brain, she told him. You are special. You can access Precursor technology that no one else can.
What? Why? How?
The pounding at the door was intense now. Metal screeched as the Khul ripped the bars off of the windows. He wondered why they didn’t have tools like lasers or something to simply cut through. But then again in Aliens the creatures hadn’t needed tools or weapons. They, themselves, were both. That appeared to be the same here.
Too much to answer right now. Just trust me that it is true, Gehenna’s voice was strangely unhurried and calming though he knew that she was probably more keenly aware than he was how bad it would be if the Khul got inside.
Walter’s granddaughter let out a wail of fear. “Grampy, I’m scared! The monsters are going to get in!”
“It’s okay,” Walter lied as he curled a protective arm around her. “It’s going to be okay.”
Sami turned to him. “Jace, is there anything you can do?”
“Y-yeah,” he told her. “Yeah, there is. Metal Rain.”
“I’m going to access a Precursor defense drone,” he repeated the words that Gehenna told him. “It should take out the Khul. All of them and their nearby ships. But I--I might uhm… bleed.”
“Bleed?” Sami’s eyes flickered over his face. She looked so concerned.
“Yeah, so I need you to keep everybody calm, okay?”
There will be screaming, too, Jace. You’re going to feel like your brain is being put in a blender, Gehenna warned. We haven’t fully connected yet and you haven’t fully… well, let’s just say that it’s going to be like trying to use the wrong current in a machine.
“I’m going… it’s going to be painful,” Jace told Sami as his mouth went dry. “Don’t let anybody touch me though or try to stop it. It’s the only way.”
Sami hesitated then gave a brief, jerky nod as she held George tighter against her chest. “I’ve got you.”
“Thanks,” he told her. He touched her arm that curled around George. “Really. For everything.”
She blinked. “I--”
“For everything,” he repeated, wanting her to know how much he’d appreciated her being friends with “weird” Jace Parker all these years when it had cost her socially. He hadn’t fit in anywhere, not in her world anymore than his other classmates, but she had still made a place for him.
Her eyes hardened then softened. “You don’t need to thank me. Your friendship is enough.”
Gehenna, let’s do this, he told the AI, fully committed to whatever would come next.
All right, I’m going to shut down your vision--
You will see but not with your eyes.
Just as one of the Cetix’s rammed its head through the door his vision went black. It was complete and inky darkness for a moment. But then a light--softly green and glowing--appeared. So faint and far off.
You see me? Gehenna asked.
The--the green light? He asked. It reminds me of when my dad and I went to the ocean. We were out in the middle of pure liquid darkness. But we had a single green light on the mast.
Yes, the light. She sounded pleased to be described that way. Now, I need you to see past me.
See past you? I can hardly see you!
That was true. The green light looked to be miles away. He squinted and tried to see beyond the green light. With that effort he was suddenly moving. Gliding. Flying towards the green light.
He stopped moving just as suddenly as he’d begun.
No, Jace, don’t stop. You were doing great! Gehenna urged. Look for what’s behind me.
He was quite a bit nearer to her now. She wasn’t a pinprick of green fairy dust, but more a globe the size of a basketball. He tilted his head to the side and his whole perspective changed. It was then that he saw what looked like the scattering of sparks from a downed live electrical wire.
I see… something, he told her.
You’re going to connect with that. It’s the Osiris’ system. You connect and you’ll be able to activate Metal Rain, she said.
The name of a ship, Jace. The ship I’m on.
But Osiris is a human name and--
Yes, as is Gehenna. It will all make sense later. Now, Gehenna instructed and he thought he faintly heard screams but then the void of silence and blackness other than the green light and the sparks returned fully, go to Osiris.
He tried to put one foot in front of the other in order to walk to the wild sparks that snapped and dazzled in the darkness. That was when he realized he had no feet. He had no body.
Of course, you don’t. This is pure mind, Jace. Well… sort of, Gehenna chuckled. All you need to do is imagine moving and you will.
Jace stared at the sparks. He did not move.
Don’t just look at them. Want to be near them. Want to connect, Gehenna said.
He remembered how he had wanted to see beyond the green light. He remembered thinking he needed to be closer and so he had moved. Now he imagined himself right by the sparks.
And he was there.
He reared back as the sparks zapped and buzzed all around him. And were their screams? And thumps? And the shattering of glass? And someone praying? And…
You’re imagining Osiris as a downed electric line, Gehenna mused. That’s actually good and bad. Bad because--
It’s going to electrocute me? Jace laughed uncertainly.
The sparks now were coming off a coiled snake of line. The line ran off into the darkness.
But it isn’t! Well… it is. This time. But you--you will be able to withstand it, Gehenna told him.
It’s just going to hurt like a son of a bitch? He clarified, remembering what she had said earlier.
Yes, unfortunately, but I’m going to do everything I can to shield you, she told him.
You’re probably really wishing I had just agreed to go to you and not taken this detour, he said.
Not at all. I mean, yes, in a way. I wish to keep you safe, but it is not in your nature to turn away from those that need your help, she assured him, sounding thoughtful. That is why you were the perfect choice to be the pilot.
The pilot? Not, just a pilot? His eyebrows lifted.
Answers later, she said evasively and he had an idea that as many answers as she gave would only lead to more questions. All of this certainly had. Now the reason that you are seeing the Osiris represented this way is because you sense that the Osiris is not connected as it should be so all that power has nowhere to go. But if you connect to it, Jace, you’ll be able to direct where some of it goes.
To bring down Metal Rain? He guessed.
Exactly, she agreed, obviously pleased with him.
So… how do I connect with the Osiris?
You grab it! She said brightly.
I grab the downed electrical wire? He lifted an eyebrow.
Ah, yes, well, it sounds bad and unwise--
But you’re shielding me and…
He broke off as the screams he heard from the “real” world were deafening. He was being jostled.
Someone--Walter--was yelling, “We’ve got to get to the basement! They’re coming through!”
And someone else--Sami--responded, “He said not to touch him! He’s going to save us!”
“He’s going to die!” Walter screamed.
And I have to do this, Jace finished as those voices died away.
He didn’t hesitate. He snatched at the live wire.
Goddamn! What the Hell? Jace growled.
Try again, Gehenna sounded so patient, but he knew that there was no time left.
He crouched down, inches from the edge of the moving, sparking length of wire. He took a breath, stretched out his hands on either side of the wire, and caught it between both palms.
Then he was screaming.
If he ever had imagined what it would be like to grab a live wire in his hand and be electrocuted endlessly and not die it wouldn’t have been half as painful as it actually was. It felt like his blood boiled away and left blackened, smoking channels through his brain. It seemed like his eyes were boiling and popping as the electricity cooked them. Everything hurt.
But the darkness was no longer dark any longer. Instead he was seeing the schematics for a massive spaceship. A ship as large as the one in The Thing that they found in the ice, but this one was so much bigger and it wasn’t saucer-shaped, but reminded him of a skyscraper, but laying on its side.
Go inside, Jace. Follow the paths to the place I marked. That’s Metal Rain. You can do this! Gehenna urged him.
He wasn’t sure how he did it, but he “followed” one of the golden lines in the ship--likely some kind of conduit--to a cylindrical shape that was softly glowing.
Wake it up, Jace! Gehenna told him.
She didn’t tell him how. She didn’t need to. All he did was “touch” it and suddenly the cylindrical shape burned as bright as the sun. Jace closed his eyes to the searing light and then…
“...his eyes are bleeding! Oh, no, Jace! You’re bleeding! Are you okay?” Sami was pleading with him. “They’re--they’re dead, but you’re--you’re--Jace, please answer me!”
Jace opened his eyes. It was hard. His lashes were wet with a substance that was almost tacky, sticking his eyelids together. But he managed to pry them apart. He was on the ground in Walter’s front room. The bay window was shattered. The bars were wrenched to the side. But there were no Khul worming their way through the open space. He looked at the door. It was hanging by a thread. But there were no Khul there either.
“Can we touch him now, Sami?” Walter asked. His voice was so tentative.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Jace?!” Sami cried.
He could see her legs. He frowned. Yep, he was definitely down on the ground. He had to get up. He had to…
There was no answer. And he nearly shrieked as he tried to reach the AI. His mind… God, his whole head throbbed. He reached up and put his hands on his temples but quickly brought them down. It hurt to touch his skin.
“Jace?” Sami asked again, her voice full of tears.
“Khul?” he whispered.
He tasted copper on his tongue. He smelled copper when he breathed through his nose.
Blood… still alive though… damn… so much pain…
There was a ringing in his ears, but it was strangely muted. Everything was muted. The pain was… so bad. He wanted to vomit. He might do that. But not here. He had to get outside. Something… he had to get outside.
“They’re… they’re all dead, I think,” Walter answered for Sami. “Did you do that, Jace? How did you do that?”
Jace put one foot on the ground--he was on his knees now--and tried to lift himself up. He staggered. Walter touched his shoulders and he nearly shrieked as the pain sloshed like acid through him. He wouldn’t have been surprised if he was smoking, burned through and through, by what he had done.
Gehenna? He called again.
He thought he heard the faintest reply, but it was drowned out by the agony in his head. He forced himself to his feet. He wobbled, but stayed upright. He really was going to vomit. Maybe then he would feel better. Walter’s house was trashed anyways. He gave out a few burbling chuckles.
“Are the monsters gone?” George asked around the three fingers that he’d managed to stuff in his mouth.
“Yes, Georgie, they’re gone,” Sami told him, sniffing. Tears of relief, Jace hoped.
“Here…” A girl said. Jace barely recognized her as the birthday girl as she pushed a wet towel into his hands. “You’re--you’re bleeding a little.”
He had a feeling from the look of pity and horror in her eyes that it wasn’t a little. He brought the wet towel to his face. Touching his head was a mistake. He gasped and dropped the towel.
“Jace, what can we do?” Walter asked. “You need a--a hospital? Can someone call--”
“No,” Jace said.
His voice sounded thick. His tongue was too big for his mouth. He had to go outside. He staggered to the door. He touched it and it simply fell down. He stepped outside and saw the glowing cylinder. The defense drone that had rained down death upon the Khul.
There were so many of them. Their acidic blood though was not pooling. Instead, they looked dessicated. That was likely good. That much acid on the ground would have caused a dangerous vapor to rise up and gas them. He picked his way through the dead towards the cylinder.
It was over a hundred feet above him. It glowed and spun. He heard a whirring from it. An electronic hum. He reached up to it. Would it still respond to him? Were they still connected?
Gehenna? He called again into the void.
He did hear a whisper this time.
...brought… someone… help you… her voice came to him in an almost ghostly tone between bursts of static and pain.
He still had the gun that he had thought connected them. He’d stuffed it in the back of his pants at some point. It was against his skin, but Gehenna still sounded so far away. That was when he’d heard the footsteps. He turned his head.
And a man--a blue man--was running towards him. This man--he was male for sure--was over six feet and had the perfect V-shaped torso that melted into long, powerful legs. The exo-suit he wore hugged his form. He had long white hair with beads in it that clacked as he ran. His ears were pointed and pierced with golden rings. There was a darker blue tattoo over his right eye.
His eyes… they’re blue too. All blue like the purest of skies…
It was clear that this being was an alien. Blue skin! Blue eyes! And he had weapons that were similar in design to the pistol Jace had taken from the soldier. And beyond him was a spaceship.
A Paladin-class spaceship…
Gehenna had brought this alien being here to help him. To help get Jace to her. And then he collapsed. So much pain. It had drained the last of his strength. He’d fallen into the alien’s arms and begged the alien to take him to Gehenna.
And that was how he had found himself here. In this place between consciousness and unconsciousness. Listening to his parents talk about him as if he weren’t there.
“Do you think…” His mother’s voice was so low and filled with guilt and shame and dread, “that it has anything to do with--”
“Yes,” his father answered her.
“But there was nothing before! It was just--”
“Yes, I know. But it has to be, Diane,” his father’s voice was insistent.
“I want to interview Sami and Walter. I want to interview everyone who was there,” his mother’s voice was filled with the determination of command. “I will understand this. And, Jack… if anyone else asks--”
“I’ll make sure no one does and that they get no answers,” his father said gruffly.
“Because if anyone else even so much as guesses what he can do…” His mother let the sentence hang.
“I know, Diane. It’s going to be all right,” his father’s voice was soft. “We’ll keep him safe.”
“Will we?” His mother’s voice quavered, but then she was the colonel again, “Yes, we will.”
And then he fell into darkness again. He surfaced again to hear his father speaking to someone else. That someone else sounded male, cultured and powerful. He also sounded stubborn as all Hell.
“Tell me about your son,” the someone else said.
“Commander Voor,” his father began patiently, but firmly. “There is nothing that I can tell you at this--”
“How did he cause--you call the ship Osiris, yes Osiris--to function against the Khul?” Commander Voor asked.
Jace was able to just crack his eyelids open. He recognized where he was. The institutional green walls with the paint peeling, the fluorescent lights that buzzed above him, the smell of age… he was in Area 67 in its hospital wing where he’d spent too much of his life already. The lights were too bright and he immediately shut his eyes again.
“Who says my son did anything of the sort? We have no idea why the Osiris reacted that way. Perhaps it was simply because the Khul attacked and triggered--”
“The majority of the Khul were headed towards this base,” Commander Voor’s voice was crisp. “I just spent the greater part of five of your hours destroying them. No, the Osiris did not attack those Khul who were heading straight towards it. If the Osiris was protecting itself, it would have attacked the nearest group of Khul, but instead, it went over to one home where your son was.”
His father was silent for a moment then said, “Many people were there.”
Commander Voor didn’t think that this lie was even worth acknowledging. “Who is Gehenna?”
“Gehenna? I don’t--”
“Your son wanted me to take him to this person. Who are they? Where are they? Why would he need or want to see them?” Commander Voor inexorably continued on.
Why isn’t Dad telling him the truth? Why doesn’t Mom want anyone to know what I did?
“I think we’re done here. My son is quite ill. You can see that with your own eyes, can’t you?” His father’s tone was brusque.
Jace cracked his eyelids again and turned his head slightly to the right where the voices were coming from. He caught sight of the blue alien who Gehenna had brought to him to help. His father’s back was to him so he didn’t see Jace was awake, but this Commander Voor did. Yet he did not tell Jace’s father.
Instead, Commander Voor stated simply, “Your son stated he needed this person, Captain Parker, and he wanted me to assist him. It would be best for you to tell me what you know so that I can assist. Perhaps this Gehenna can help him.”
His father grabbed the door to Jace’s room and opened it. He gestured to Khoth to leave. “I don’t answer to you. And the Illumen Alliance has made it quite clear that it doesn’t want humanity as part of it. So… I suggest you take your questions elsewhere, because you’re not getting answers here.”
Commander Voor’s gaze slid to Jace for just a moment. He didn’t say anything about Jace being conscious, not that it lasted long. Just as he left the room, Jace sank back into darkness again.
“Captain Parker, you’re needed,” a young male voice said in that clear, crisp tone of a military officer.
“I’m not leaving my son,” his father said.
“But it is General Intoskin, sir,” the young man’s voice faltered a little. “He asked for you specifically.”
His father let out a sigh and Jace heard him get up. He must have been sitting in a chair by Jace’s side. “All right, I’ll meet him. But you stay outside my son’s room and let no one inside. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” Jace could hear the salute in the young man’s voice.
He felt his father’s hand on his right shoulder. “I’ll be back, Jace. Everything will be okay.”
Jace wanted to open his mouth and agree but his lips felt welded together. He felt a brief squeeze and then his father was gone. Jace worked on opening his eyelids and lips. He actually managed to issue a sigh. His eyelids unsealed themselves and he winced as the illumination from the overhead lights was blinding. He lifted his left arm to shield his eyes and saw that there was an IV attached to it. He blinked stupidly. Pain meds? Maybe a liquid form of the drug the doctors here had prescribed for him?
He clutched his temples as pain rippled through him.
I’m sorry, Jace! I’m sorry! But I’m here! You’re so close, Gehenna said. You’ve got to get to me so we can complete the connection.
Her voice then fuzzed out, but he could still feel her.
Now, I just have to get to her.
Jace sat up in bed. Agony poured from his head down his spine and spread to the rest of his body. He collapsed on his side, curling into a ball, holding his head. He felt something hot leak out of his nose and he saw crimson spread across the sheets.
Blood… oh man, this is not good! I have to get to Gehenna!
But he clearly wasn’t going to do it on his own. Maybe when his father returned he could explain…
No, Dad might not help me. He’ll think I’m just sick. Or even if he does believe me, he’ll be afraid that Gehenna will do something bad to me. There’s only one person who's interested in getting me to Gehenna...
“--can’t go in there! Captain Parker’s orders!” The young man’s voice rose up shrilly outside the door.
“I am not bound by your military,” Commander Voor stated coldly. “Remove yourself from my path--”
“No! Captain Parker said--”
“Let him in!” Jace called. There was a confused silence. Jace repeated, “Let Commander Voor in!”
Every single word was like sticking a dagger in his brain and jiggling it about. But he didn’t care. He was willing to shout down the rafters to get the alien in here.
“But your father--”
“I know, but I want to see Commander Voor. My father… just didn’t want me disturbed by--by people I didn’t want to see,” Jace said.
Another silence and then the door opened and the alien--the blue alien!--came inside and regarded Jace evenly. Then he saw the blood coming from his nose and it seemed he moved so fast. He was by Jace’s bedside with a gauze he’d grabbed from somewhere cleaning off the blood.
“What is causing your distress?” Commander Voor asked as Jace took the gauze from him and held it to his still bleeding nose.
“Gehenna,” Jace stated.
He realized his error when those blue eyes widened for a moment. “But I thought you said--”
“No! I mean yes, I mean, I need her. She can help me,” Jace told him.
“You are very confusing. I hope that you are not confused,” Commander Voor stated.
“You’re speaking English--”
“Yes, it is a simple language to learn,” Commander Voor said.
“I thought maybe Gehenna was letting me understand you, but… you talked to the guard so… ah! My head!” Jace put his hands to his head.
Everything grew dark for a moment, but then came back into focus. Commander Voor’s face filled his vision. The alien’s furrowed brow and frown told Jace that he was going to get Jace “help” and that would put an end to him getting to Gehenna, who was the only thing he needed.
“Gehenna is here. On the base. I can--can feel her,” Jace told him. “I need to get to her. She can… uhm, fix this.”
He gestured to the blood that still dripped from his nose before dabbing it with the gauze.
“You are very certain of this.” It was a statement and not a question.
Jace began to nod, but the corkscrewing pain in his neck stopped him. “Yes, I know it to be true. I have to get to her, but I can’t--can’t do it myself.”
“And you want my help?” Commander Voor’s voice was soft. “Even though it is likely against your military’s rules and your parents’ wishes?”
“Because it is. My parents care for me. They can’t think logically about this,” Jace told him.
Commander Voor nodded. “That is true. They are ruled by their Xi for you are their only child.”
“Yeah, exactly. But you--you want to know what’s going on and Gehenna knows that,” Jace guessed. It wasn’t that big of a leap considering what Khoth had said to his father. “So… will you help me?”
Commander Voor was silent. His gaze was distant. He was clearly weighing the risks versus the rewards. Finally, he focused on Jace’s face. “I will help you.”
“Great. Okay, we need a wheelchair and--oh! Hey!” Jace cried out.
Commander Voor had lifted Jace up in his arms as if Jace weighed nothing at all. “Carrying you is faster. Tell me where this Gehenna is and I will take you there.”