CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: FLY ME TO THE MOON
“Actually, I think I want my own ride up to the Osiris,” Jace said, his eyes fixed on the hovering spacecraft above them.
Osiris, send down the Storm Spike, Jace requested the ship’s AI.
It shall be done, the Osiris replied in its normal dry, inflectionless tone, but Jace could have sworn there was a touch of pleasure in it. It definitely wanted him on board.
“Aw, you don’t want to fly with me?” Thammah’s voice was full of amusement.
“No, Jace wishes to arrive at his destination in one piece,” Khoth answered simply.
Thammah let out a quick bark of laughter. “Are you making jokes, Commander Voor? If your mother hears those coming out of your mouth, she’ll really wonder if you’ve been infected… by humanity!”
“On the contrary, that is the Kyptoria II, not I, for a reason. So I am being quite logical.” Khoth snorted and shook his head. The selchilite in his hair clacked together.
“Yes, that reason is that I was saving you. I should get a ta’na just for that, let alone losing my ship!” Thammah laughed. “Are you really sure you don’t want a lift, Jace? It would be an honor to bring the Pilot to the Osiris.”
“Another time, Thammah. I’ve been waiting for ten years to be united with the Storm Spike,” Jace told her.
“Ten years,” Thammah let out a breath as if the very idea of being parted from the Kryptoria that long would have crushed her.
Maybe it would have. He was practically quivering at the idea of getting his hands on the Storm Spike’s controls.
My very own spaceship!
He supposed that the Osiris was his on some level as well, but the Storm Spike was more personal. Or, at least, it felt that way. He knew that ship backwards and forwards from the dreams. To actually be in it, to be piloting it, was more than just a dream come true. He found himself anxious to be flying.
A “small” section of the side of the Osiris opened--it looked “small” compared to the rest of the ship, but it was likely huge up close--and out of it flew two vessels: the Kryptoria II and the Storm Spike. Though both were Paladin-class spacecraft he could easily tell the two vessels apart. Thammah’s had bright purple lights and components while his had a spacey green color. He found himself smiling so hard that his face hurt.
“I felt like you did once. The moment I saw my first F-22 Raptor I fell in love,” his father said with a slightly awed smile on his own face as they watched the three spaceships.
“You’re going to feel like that again, Dad, once I teach you how to fly a spaceship like the Storm Spike,” Jace told him.
Another thrill went through him. He had always admired his father. Captain Jack Parker was Maverick in Top Gun but without the grating arrogance. Before it was clear that his multiple illnesses were not going to recede, Jace had dreamed of following his father into the military to fly jets. Now he would have the chance to do something so much better than that with his father.
“The Alliance has never let us touch one of their spaceships… well, not officially,” his father said.
“Let me guess… Thammah?” Jace’s lips curled into a smile.
His father nodded. “She had me on training wheels, but it was a thrill.”
The Osiris’ lights painted his father’s face with greens, purples and blues. Its lights were reflected in his eyes.
“Don’t sell yourself short, Jack,” Thammah’s voice continued over his comm. “You were pretty damned good. Now that we have a plethora of spaceships, you’ll be flying your own in no time.”
“A plethora?” Jace let out a bark of laughter.
“Just wait until you see the hanger bay, Jace,” Thammah said, awe staining her voice. “It’s like fucking Christmas!”
“You have truly adopted the vernacular of the locals, Flight Commander Pyrrhus,” High Councillor Nova Voor remarked.
“Oh, ha! Hi, High Councillor! Didn’t think you were on this channel,” Thammah said, but it was unrepentantly.
“You are on speaker,” High Councillor Nova Voor responded dryly.
“Sorry, Thammah. I only have my Syntheskin suit on,” Jace told her with a grimace.
“Well, I can’t very well be exiled further than I am, Jace!” Thammah chuckled.
Thammah proceeded to do several loops in her ship even as the Storm Spike gracefully flew to them and landed about thirty-feet away. Jace’s mouth was dry and his lips parted as the gangway lowered with a blast of cold air. He could taste his ship on his tongue. That faint bitter flavor of electronics and hot Calcanth.
“C’mon, Khoth, Mom, Dad. Let’s go,” Jace said as he stepped towards his ship.
But there was suddenly a blue hand in front of him, blocking his path. And it wasn’t Khoth’s hand.
“We need to speak, young man,” High Councillor Nova Voor aka Khoth’s mom stated with a lifted eyebrow.
“You do the same eyebrow communication as your son.” Jace pointed to the arched brow.
That had her other eyebrow lifting. “I see.”
“I have a feeling you guys are a lot alike!” Jace hoped that was true.
“My son…” High Councillor Nova Voor’s eyes slid over to Khoth, who stood there looking for all the world that he did not await her judgment, but Jace was pretty sure he was bracing himself internally for something unkind to be said. “My son has many good qualities that I do not possess. For example, I am not so… patient as my son, however. I cannot be, Jace Parker. I am responsible for all of the Illumen Alliance.”
Jace had several pithy replies he could have made--would have made--if she’d been mean to Khoth. Not to mention being blocked from the Storm Spike had him irritated. Plus he was tired. But she was the High Councillor and, maybe more importantly, she was Khoth’s mom. So he bit back words he would regret and smiled at her. The best bet was honesty. That seemed to work well with Khoth. She might be harder-edged than her son, but he was betting that they shared more than just the elaborate eyebrow-raises and the same high cheekbones.
“Before this afternoon, you didn’t even know I existed,” Jace pointed out. “Before a minute ago, you didn’t know that the Osiris could fly again.”
“Meaning?” she asked. Both eyebrows were lifted high.
Khoth’s eyebrows were drawn together, also in confusion. Jace could tell though that he was relieved Jace was being polite.
“Meaning that neither you--nor I, for that matter--could have possibly formed any plans around the current situation. We couldn’t possibly be relying on each other for the present moment or the near future,” Jace told her, though that actually wasn’t true on his side. He had been thinking of what he would do when she arrived. “We should get to know one another. Not jump to conclusions or rush to make plans.”
High Councillor Nova Voor was silent for a long moment. Then there was the faintest smile on her lips. “I see. That is… logical on one level.”
“I need time--we need time--to figure all of this out,” Jace replied.
“That figuring out requires me to understand all of the Osiris’ systems, not to mention Gehenna’s,” she said. “And, of course, to understand you. The Pilot.”
“No, that’s what you want to know,” he continued on amiably. “But there’s a lot to figure out outside of that.”
He gestured in a stirring motion between her, him, Khoth, his parents and the general.
High Councillor Nova Voor stood straighter and crossed her arms at the wrist behind her back. Yet again another Khoth move!
“Before you, Jace Parker, humanity has had little to recommend itself to us,” High Councillor Nova Voor told him.
General Intoshkin’s face purpled. “Now, look here--”
She continued, “But, clearly, we overlooked something for the Osiris chose you as the Pilot. It is like the Altaeth themselves shining a spotlight on a species. So who are we to look away?”
Jace was not comfortable with this. It seemed so wrong on so many levels. But she was an alien. She had different belief systems. He was sure that he would learn things that repulsed him just like he would believe things that would repulse her, but he, somehow, had to keep an open mind and a civil tongue.
“I’m not some pinnacle of humanity, High Councillor. Humanity is… good and bad. Just like every species, I imagine. But what I’m trying to say is that--even without me being the Pilot--humanity has always had something good to offer you and the Alliance,” Jace told her.
She merely inclined her head. He didn’t know if she believed him or not, but she wasn’t going to say one way or the other.
“You are correct that we have much to discuss and I wish to discuss it starting now,” she finally said.
His shoulders slumped.
“Mother… High Councillor,” Khoth quickly amended, “much has occurred today for Jace--”
“Do you think he would welcome you pointing out a weakness?” High Councillor Nova Voor asked.
Jace was pleased when his mother spoke up, “Khoth’s consideration for Jace’s well being, both mental and physical, has been incredibly appreciated.”
Khoth’s head was lowered but he glanced over at Jace’s mom.
“I see,” High Councillor Nova Voor said, but he wondered what she did see.
Jace was just as quick to defend him as Khoth had defended Jace. “Actually, I’m grateful for the out. I am exhausted. And I’m in no fit state to talk to you as I should. You can call it weakness, if you want, but I just call it reality.”
“The Khul do not rest,” she said quietly.
He was pretty sure they did, but there were enough of them that it didn’t matter. There was only one of him, however, and he needed a break.
“I understand what’s at stake, High Councillor. I was aboard that Hive.” His smile died altogether. That gray heaviness that he’d felt before after the last Khul ship had been sent to destruction fell upon his shoulders again. Being with Khoth and being silly with junk food had helped. But it hadn’t been enough. “I had to kill people I have known and cared for all of my life today because of the Khul.”
He did not use euphemistic language to describe what he had done and he saw his parents flinch at those words. But he had killed people, to end their suffering, yes, but it had still meant killing them.
“Humans have… limitations. We will work within those,” High Councillor Nova Voor stated.
Jace almost laughed, because it was so like Khoth’s “superior” comment, but he had a feeling that Khoth’s mom wasn’t often laughed at and it might come out wrong.
“I’m going to help with the Khul,” Jace assured her. “But we need an understanding and then we need a plan. Those two things don’t come necessarily quickly.”
She blinked slowly. “I can agree with that.”
Jace saw Khoth’s eyes widened fractionally. He was surprised that his mother appeared--and maybe “appeared” was the operative word here--reasonable.
“Good. So, it’s been a really long day probably for all of us. I need to--to get familiar with my ship and sleep,” Jace added.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. There wasn’t yet the feeling of sand in his eyes, but he was tired. He should be more exhausted after what he experienced, but his super-charged body was taking care of that. But he needed to recover before he could face the Illumen Alliance and humanity and hold firm to the idea he had.
Humans are limited, after all, he thought mirthlessly.
“What do you suggest?” High Councillor Nova Voor asked.
“That we all convene tomorrow,” Jace told her. “After everybody’s had a chance to talk amongst themselves and rest.”
High Councillor Nova Voor nodded after a moment. “I do need to speak with my son.”
Jace’s eyes flickered to Khoth and panic beat in his chest. He really wanted Khoth with him when they checked out the Osiris. Though, like he had said, sleep was necessary so how much checking out would there be? Not much. And did Jace expect Khoth to sleep with him? Cuddled up on an alien bed in the Osiris? That was absurd! And yet, Jace felt an internal quiver. Khoth’s steadying presence was allowing him to process things better. Now Khoth had to go with his mother. Would she let him return after all the decisions he’d made that she might think compromised the Alliance?
“I’ll return him to you,” High Councillor Nova Voor said with another of those faint smiles.
Jace blinked rapidly as he realized that she read in his expression his need for Khoth’s presence. For a race that seemed to have little love for emotions, they certainly understood them.
“Yes, that would be… good. But only if Khoth wants to, of course,” Jace said.
You made him Commander of the Osiris! Gehenna cried, clearly liking Khoth’s presence too. She can’t keep him from us!
That was sort of a joke--
No, it wasn’t! You meant it! He’s part of the crew! Gehenna wasn’t taking any of his excuses.
Khoth has to make that decision. He’s part of the Alliance. She’s his mom. If he wants to be with us then he will, Jace was telling her that as much as he was telling himself.
Jace met Khoth’s blue-on-blue gaze.
“I will meet you aboard the Osiris before your sleep period,” Khoth stated.
Jace swallowed. “Good. That’s… that’s good.”
“Would you like accommodations on the ground or will you remain on your ships?” his mother asked High Councillor Nova Voor.
“I would request accommodation aboard the Osiris,” High Councillor Nova Voor stated simply.
“That won’t be possible at this time,” General Intoshkin interceded smoothly.
Though Jace wanted to tell the general that wasn’t his call, he didn’t want to open up any possibility of High Councillor Nova Voor being on the Osiris. Though he was certain the Osiris could corral her and her people, it just didn’t feel like a good idea to have her in his territory.
“Then we will return to our vessels.” High Councillor Nova Voor’s gaze swung over the destroyed Area 67 base.
Jace knew that no one had been harmed. The Osiris had cleared everyone out of the area before it had launched into orbit. But there was quite a bit of damage to the base. He saw that his mother was regarding it with a little bit of exhaustion as well.
“Jace, I think that you should just take your father up to the Osiris for now,” she said. “I need to get the cleanup managed.”
He saw General Intoshkin open his mouth to, undoubtedly, say that he wished to accompany Jace and his father. But then, he appeared to have a change of heart, and said, “Would you have Thammah pick me up, Jace. You and your father should have a good time flying together.”
“Of course, general.” Jace gave the man probably the first genuine smile he had since he met him. He touched his suit’s forearm comm. “Thammah, you will have a passenger. General Intoshkin would like a ride to the Osiris.”
“Will do! I’ll be right there, general!” Thammah then proceeded to do another loop.
The general watched her flight maneuvers with a little bit of trepidation. “I do hope she’ll fly me directly there.”
“No chance, general,” his father said with a grin.
The general touched his stomach and looked a little green. Jace just shook his head.
“We should return to the Ashaton, my son, to discuss things,” High Councillor Nova Voor said to Khoth.
Khoth straightened and crossed one arm over his chest and bowed his head. “Of course, High Councillor.”
Jace felt more than a trace of sympathy for Khoth then. He couldn’t imagine calling his mother by her rank. He wondered if he’d have to at some point. Somehow calling out “Mom!” in the middle of proceedings with the Illumen Alliance didn’t exactly scream professionalism.
But Jace’s feelings were even more mixed as with a bob of her head at him, High Councillor Nova Voor started towards her ship and Khoth followed after her. That yawning sense of instability opened in Jace’s chest. He nearly reached for the Thaf’ell Commander.
With quiet strength, Khoth said to him, “I will return.”
“Right. You better. You’re the Commander of the Osiris,” Jace’s voice sounded surprisingly weak.
Khoth hesitated a moment. For a second, Jace thought he might hug him again. That would have felt amazing, but, of course, Khoth did not. He just nodded once more and turned on his heel. Jace watched him go and tried to tell himself it was not for the last time. Khoth would return. He would insist on it.
“Ready to go, champ?” his father’s voice was studiously neutral.
Are you all right, Jace? Gehenna asked, her pincers coming up to touch in front of her.
I’m fine. It’s just…
He’s been there for all of it, Gehenna stated. Since the very beginning really. Now you feel alone in this. But you aren’t!
No, I’m not. And he’s coming back, Jace said as he watched Khoth enter his mother’s Paladin-class ship.
“You did incredibly well, Jace,” his mother said as the gangway closed and Khoth was lost from view.
“Did I? I don’t really know,” Jace answered her, his chest feeling tight as the Paladin-class ship’s engines ignited the same blue color as Khoth’s eyes.
“You controlled the rules of engagement,” General Intoshkin told him with a bright smile. “Set her back on her heels! First time I’ve ever seen her concede anything at all.”
“I highly doubt she thinks she’s conceded anything,” his mother replied dryly. “She’s biding her time. But you have given her pause. You behaved admirably.”
The ships from the Ashaton were all rising above the ground. There was the hot, dry smell of their exhaust that reminded him of heat lightning. Then they were all shooting towards the sky.
“We do need to discuss our strategy regarding what we want from the Alliance,” General Intoshkin stated.
“Protection for Earth,” Jace guessed.
“Of course, but that’s just for starters.” The general rubbed his hands together. “We want a seat at the table. We want to be a part of the Alliance. Not just a part, but a deciding part.”
“But humanity doesn’t even know aliens exist yet,” Jace protested with a furrowed brow. “Don’t we have to sort that out first?”
“That is going to take time, Jace. Time we don’t have,” his mother admitted slowly. “We have people who do know who are suited for diplomacy.”
“Like?” Jace asked.
Her lips twitched. “Me, actually.”
He blinked. “Oh. Oh!”
A blush heated his mother’s cheeks. “I’ve been playing that role in a small way with all representatives from the Alliance. Now, I can play a larger role and represent humanity to the Council and beyond.”
Jace had no doubts that his mother would be brilliant at it. “Yeah, well, yeah, I see that. You’d be perfect.”
“I’m glad you think so, because your word is going to have a lot of weight,” she told him carefully.
At that moment, Thammah landed. The gangway practically popped open and her voice came from inside, “Woo hoo, general! Time to get on board the Thammah train!”
The general snorted. “It’s hard to believe that she’s the same species as the others.”
“I think she was exiled for that reason,” Jace replied. “But I like her.”
Another member of the crew! Gehenna cried.
Yeah, I think so, Jace agreed.
“I’ll see you in the Osiris,” the general told them and headed to the Kryptoria II with a half dozen soldiers following after him.
As soon as the gangway closed, Jace said to his parents, “I’ve got some ideas that I want to run by you both. About being… independent.”
“I thought you might go that route. If you aren’t under the US Military’s command, you’ll have more room to maneuver,” his mother agreed.
“Yeah. I have humanity’s best interests at heart. And I want us to be part of all of this,” he told her. “But General Intoshkin can’t be calling the shots. Not even… not even you guys can be.”
He was surprised when both his parents exchanged a glance that seemed to indicate this wasn’t a surprise to them.
“You’re a natural at this, Jace,” his father said with admiration, but a little sadness too. “You were chosen as the Pilot for a reason.”
“I just know what I want right now,” Jace said, his heart feeling heavy in his chest as he looked for Khoth, but didn’t see him standing there like always.
“You need to be careful showing her how much you like Khoth,” his mother broke in.
His head jerked towards her. “I… he’s a friend!”
His mother’s eyebrows rose. It was almost a Khoth-like rise. “Of course, he is.”
“He is!” Jace sounded a little shrill. “He’s just… been there. For all of this. And he’s handy with weapons!”
And he gives really good hugs.
“He has a lot of competing interests, Jace,” his father said in a relatively neutral way. “Just… remember that.”
Jace wanted to protest. But neither of his parents was truly saying anything that wasn’t true. Yet… Khoth mattered to him. Really mattered. And he couldn’t deny that either.
“I’ll remember,” Jace said finally.
“I’ll see you both later. I need to go and take care of things here,” his mother said.
Both of them hugged her. She actually turned and patted one of Gehenna’s tentacles as she passed, going towards the soldiers and a Jeep that awaited her, which had Gehenna practically floating twelve feet into the air. Her crush had noticed her! Jace bit down on his snickering.
Then with a renewed sense of purpose, he asked, “Ready to fly, Dad? Maybe to the moon and back?”
His father’s eyes widened and a grin fixed itself on his face. “You can even fly me to Jupiter and Mars.”
Jace grinned. “That’s just the start.”