CHAPTER THIRTY: DEPTHS
Khoth sat in the chair in his mother’s quarters for long, silent moments. His mind was blank. In terms of whether or not to do as his mother had asked of him, he had realized from his first, visceral, negative reaction that he would not do this thing. He would not trick Jace to help the Alliance by pretending to love the young man and he would not use that love to manipulate Jace for the Alliance’s benefit afterwards. He was not adverse to the idea of using his body so much as hurting Jace’s heart.
Not only was it offensive to him on a deep, moral level--his Xi was practically trying to flee his body at the thought--but his Xa also rejected it for Khoth knew it would not work. The reasons were numerous from his own inability to lie convincingly to Jace’s intelligence. Jace would recognize the falseness of it all and reject him. That was even assuming Jace could come to have romantic feelings for him and that was uncertain at best. They were friendly. They were… whatever they were was in the nascent stages. Jace was human and he didn’t presume to understand all their ways, certain not their ways of courtship.
But his mother had made this a command. If he disobeyed it, he would very likely be exiled from the Alliance. Just at the moment when he could do the most good, he was being asked to destroy that opportunity. He needed someone not in the military that he could talk to and who knew his mother best. There was only one person who would fit this description and he had wanted to speak to his father earlier as well.
Khoth used the comm unit built into his mother’s desk to contact his father. His father answered his call immediately. There was a slight widening of his eyes seeing it was Khoth and not his mother on this call.
“Khoth, it is good to see you. I was not expecting your call,” his father said, “though, of course, it is welcome.”
So she did not tell him of her plan to order me to seduce Jace. Maybe she only thought of it after watching Jace and I together.
“I am not certain it will be welcome when I tell you why it is I am calling,” Khoth stated.
His father sat back slightly in his chair. He was wearing saffron robes that he only put on when his work day was over and he was relaxing. That was good, because Khoth needed to speak to him now. He could not delay.
“My Xi is filled with foreboding. Are you ill? Has something happened?” his father asked.
Since his father was in the privacy of their home and Khoth was in the privacy of his mother’s quarters, the distance that they normally practiced was diminished. This was good. He needed his father to feel how what his mother had asked him to do was wrong, even if he could not logically get there at first.
“I am not ill. I am very well. In fact…” Khoth paused here and realized, if not for his mother’s order, he was happy. “In fact, I have not felt so hopeful as now.”
His father gave him a gentle blink. “I am glad. Can you tell me what has changed things so radically since the hearing?”
Had the hearing just been that morning? It seemed a lifetime ago.
“I have met a human named Jace Parker,” Khoth stated and he explained everything from meeting Jace to the successful destruction of the Hive and even the time after it with the “junk food.” His father did not interrupt, that was not his way, he would wait until the end and then ask questions for clarifying purposes. It was his Justiciar training. Yet it was satisfying to tell his entire tale without interruptions.
When he had finished, his father murmured, “This is quite the remarkable set of events. Jace Parker appears… quite unlike the descriptions of humans we have had.”
“Jace is unusual among humans, but…” Khoth thought of Jace’s parents and the other humans he had met. “In truth, I believe we have been fed an oversimplified description of them--with an emphasis on their bad qualities--so that they gain no sympathy among the Alliance species. Humanity wishes to join the Alliance. They have been denied. No one has taken their side at this point because--”
“They are portrayed so poorly?” His father slowly nodded. “That would be a tactic I could see being used.” His father’s blue on blue eyes narrowed as he refocused on Khoth. “But I do not see you contacting me about this injustice, if it is so. Not so urgently, I mean.”
“I would not. Mother has… has commanded me to seduce Jace Parker in order to stop humanity using him and the Osiris as bargaining chips. She wants Jace’s loyalty to lay with me and, hence, the Alliance,” Khoth explained this in as cool a manner as he could, without using any of the anger he felt that she would ask him to do this deeply dishonorable thing.
His father’s reaction was not one of hysterics either. His father controlled his Xi and Xa with a precision that Khoth admired, even though he was what Jace would have described as warmer compared to his mother. But in this, his father went very still and his expression went rigid. It was a reaction that Khoth knew only occurred when he was thinking of injustice.
“Are you querying me if you should do this or not?” his father asked.
“No, I am already determined that I will not do this,” Khoth answered. “It is… to put it simply… wrong. And, even if I could get past the moral implications of manipulating Jace Parker, I do not believe it could be done.”
“Do you believe he has feelings for you? Humans are ruled by their Xi,” his father said the last like a mantra then grimaced. “But you have said he is not like that.”
Khoth thought of the hug in the kitchen. He thought of how Jace had clearly panicked at the thought of Khoth leaving him and being sent back to Haseon. He thought of Jace’s smile. The first two things simply showed that after several traumatic events, Jace did not want to lose someone who had shared that loss and terror with him. The third--Jace’s smile--Khoth realized that was how he felt about Jace and not the other way around.
“I believe Jace has suffered trauma. I have been there for it. I believe he values loyalty. I gave it to him and he gave it to me. Could there be more?” Khoth found himself reflecting back on how Jace laughed, how he licked cheese from his fingers, how he watched Khoth avidly to see if he liked something or not, how he wanted to know everything about Khoth. He swallowed and said, “I do not know. While I am certain that the image of humanity we have been told is incorrect, I do not know them well enough to understand their courtship rituals.”
And that was true. He did not know if Jace cared for him more than he did Gehenna or Thammah. He did not know if it was possible for Jace’s Xi and his to merge. He realized though that he was feeling more interest in Jace than he had in anyone really ever.
“I see,” his father said quietly. “Are you asking me what will happen to you if you disobey a direct order from High Councillor Voor?”
“No, I already am aware that exile is the only option there,” Khoth answered. “Especially after my recent past actions, Mother could not spare me without showing clear favoritism and damaging her credibility.”
“So what are you asking? Or are you merely informing me of what you intend to do?”
His father’s fingers were now tangled together on his lap. There was a bleakness in his eyes that had not been there when they had begun their conversation. He fully expected Khoth to be exiled and to never see him again.
“I know that you do not speak to Mother about her decisions as High Councillor,” Khoth began.
“I do not, Khoth. If she comes to me for counsel, I will give it, full and unvarnished, but if she does not seek my input, I do not give it,” his father quickly said. “The people of the Alliance have elected her, not me, to lead them.”
Khoth had known he would say this. “You must break your rule this time.”
His father’s unhappiness deepened. “You know I am not refusing to do this because--because I do not… you are my son. My child.”
“She is wrong. Not just wrong.” Khoth put his hands on the desk and splayed out his fingers. How to explain to his father what were but half-formed thoughts and hunches? “I believe she is acting from her Xi and not her Xa.”
His father took in a sharp breath, but said nothing.
“My proof of this is… mostly unsubstantiated, but I believe I am right.” Khoth lifted his eyes from the table and said, “She has limited interactions with humans. She does not know Jace Parker. Yet instead of getting to know them and him, in particular, to even hear what they have to say, she suggests an ill-thought out seduction plan instead.”
“Would you agree though that the humans will ask for a place within the Alliance?” his father put forward. “Is she wrong in this?”
“No, I think they will ask for that and more,” Khoth answered. “It would be illogical for them to accept less. With the destruction of the Hive, the Khul will return to seek revenge upon Earth, who has no defenses capable of destroying them all and assimilating the entire planet. The end of their species. So either the Osiris remains on Earth or--”
“We send ships to protect them? Yes, indeed,” his father agreed with an inclination of his head.
“As to humanity wishing a place in the Alliance, in the past we have welcomed all species with a connection to the Altaeth,” Khoth reminded him. “Jace’s role as Pilot proves that humanity has as close--perhaps even closer--a connection to them than most other species already in the Alliance, including…” And this was hard to say, but logic demanded he say it, “the Thaf’ell.”
His father’s slightly widening eyes told him that he had made a surprising point.
“We have demanded nothing more from species willing to enter the Alliance than this so humanity should be included for this simple fact if we are not being hypocritical,” Khoth pointed out.
His father slowly nodded. “That has been our practice.”
“But humanity has yet more to offer. The Osiris is a unique ship. It has capabilities to construct new weapons, armor, medicine, and, potentially, far more,” Khoth said.
He suspected that the Osiris could manufacture ships, but he did not know this for certain.
“It can create Altaeth technology?” his father’s voice was almost breathless, which just showed how awe-inspiring the Osiris was.
Khoth nodded. “We have no idea yet what the Osiris is truly capable of, or for that matter, what the other AI--Gehenna--can do. She is quite the mystery as well. And both she and the Osiris are connected to Jace. Are controlled by Jace, if he so chooses to exercise that control.”
“I can see why your mother wishes such technology on the side of the Alliance,” his father stated.
“But that’s just it. She can have it. Give humanity a seat at the table. Humanity is part of the Alliance. They have a vested interest in defeating the Khul and making the Alliance safer for everyone. I know Jace feels this way. We have Jace and the Osiris at our command,” Khoth stated.
“That would be… logical,” his father said carefully and his fingers tightened around one another.
Khoth saw that his arguments were working so he pressed on with what he considered irrefutable proof of the illogic of his mother’s actions, “But instead of bargaining with humanity on those terms, Mother commands me to--not just seduce Jace--but somehow make him so besotted that he would betray his people, his parents, and his friends and also sabotage humanity’s chance to join the greater universe for… me? A person he just met?”
“She saw you together… perhaps she saw a chance--”
But Khoth obliterated that argument, Even if humans were as base as they have been described or I was his soulmate, such a plan would fail! But, they are not--Jace is not--anything like that. No matter how he felt for me, he would never trade all that away. No matter what her prejudices against humans, Mother is not so blind as this, unless… unless she was desperate and grasping at the flimsiest of chances. Chances that could blow back upon us. Because Jace would see my seduction as a betrayal, Father. While it might not end things with humanity and the Alliance, it would cool them considerably.”
His father did not blink. He appeared to be even controlling his breathing. This meant that his father knew something. Maybe a lot of things. He thought of Daesah’s journal. She had written of her frustration with the Alliance’s decisions to shrink in on itself. His mother had spoken about a lack of ships that could be spared. While Khoth had not experienced himself any deprivation in terms of ships, weaponry and armor, that did not mean that there weren’t any. He had not heard of any large caches of Altaeth technology recently. Maybe not in a long time. Was the Alliance simply running out of ships to fight the Khul with?
The Osiris has maps of planets with more Altaeth technology, not to mention its ability to create such tech itself. That ship and its AI are worth giving humanity every seat on the Council if this is true. But no one relinquishes power easily.
“Father,” Khoth started and found his mouth dry. If his father confirmed what he feared then the Alliance and his mother’s desperation were understandable. “Father, is the Alliance having difficulty finding enough tech to fight the Khul?”
His father’s expression remained tightly controlled in that it showed nothing. “If your mother were to have confided in me about such a thing, you know I could not tell you.”
“But if it is true then there is yet another reason to give humanity entrance to the Alliance and a seat on the Council!” Khoth slapped his hand on the table. His Xi was practically electrified as was his Xa. Both sides of him were as one at this.
“Khoth, calm yourself.” His father made a gesture for his Xi to simmer.
Khoth though was not going to calm himself. Not about this. Not when he realized that this was the fight his sister had been having before she died. This was her legacy.
“Daesah wanted to go after the Khul, Father,” Khoth stated crisply. “She thought this constant retreat was a mistake, one that the Altaeth, themselves, recognized. Was she unable to implement her plan because we did not have the ships and weaponry and armor to accomplish it?”
His father remained silent.
“That’s why she was interested in the Osiris. She had heard rumors of its ability to create new tech. Perhaps there would be clues how to create more ships,” Khoth theorized, feeling with every word that he was right.
His father lowered his head.
“If we work with humanity, we can potentially accomplish Daesah’s vision for victory against the Khul,” Khoth stated. “It was what at least some of the Altaeth believed too. We would, at least, push the Khul back and keep them back unlike the position we are in now.”
“That is a powerful vision you have, Khoth. If humanity were to truly commit to it--”
“They will. But it doesn’t matter what I believe. We will see where they are tomorrow, at the meeting,” Khoth responded. “So why is Mother not allowing the possibility of this into her plans? Is there any logical reason she should not negotiate in good faith with humanity?”
His father cleared his throat. “Her leadership has been questioned recently by Councillor Ardath Ulgex.”
“I’m well aware of her dislike of Mother.” And, of course, Councillor Ulgex’s dislike of Khoth, too.
“It is more than dislike and it is more than just her, more than even the Thaf’ell,” his father said, and tiredly ran a hand across his forehead. “I doubt your mother has the votes to bring humanity into the Alliance.”
“Perhaps before, but now?” Khoth frowned.
“As you said, Khoth, the depiction of humanity as brutish, immature and led entirely by their Xi is held by many, by all, of the member species and, most definitely, everyone on the Council,” his father’s voice was rushed as he said, “There are many on the Council and in the majority species of the Alliance who believe that we have let in too many species under the first rule you mentioned and who will not open their minds to a new vision of humanity.”
“So they will not allow humanity to join us? No matter what new information is provided to them? No matter that it is rank hypocrisy to deny humanity a place with us?” Khoth’s tone was clipped.
The Thaf’ell were superior for many reasons, but the greatest of those was that they acted logically. It was only logical to negotiate with humanity and give them many of the things they were asking for. Perhaps they could negotiate that they would be considered for addition to the Council in X amount of great cycles, after they had proven themselves to be good members of the Alliance. From what he had seen of General Intoshkin, he believed the military man would relish the chance for humanity to prove themselves. He thought that humanity might be reasonable. Later, they would press. Probably that “later” would be too soon for many and “too long” for humanity.
“I agree that your logic is sound, Khoth, but people often mistake wants for facts all the time,” his father told him sadly. “They will craft whatever narrative they need to support the outcome or belief they have. And the Thaf’ell are far from immune to this. We are, in fact, masters of it.”
His father’s wry smile had Khoth feeling like a child. For in that moment, he realized that his father was right. He wanted to deny it. To fall back upon what he had been told, rather than what he had observed, which was that the Thaf’ell did, at times, act irrationally and paper it over with faux facts. Yet he couldn’t retreat from what he now knew. And, strangely, it was the memory of Jace’s smile that had him pushing past the denial and really thinking about what his father had said.
“Is Mother one of these people who does not like humanity?” he found himself asking.
“I do not think that is what is motivating her,” his father answered. “Because, as you said, even if humanity were as basic as described, how could you turn Jace completely to our side in so short a time?”
“I could not,” he said out loud and inside he said, I will not.
“If she came to you with this command, which is one so unlikely to work then it must be because she believes she had no other choice,” his father said. His gaze was fixed upon Khoth as if to imprint the next words upon him, “If the Alliance is running out of tech, if she has no negotiating power to give humanity what it wants yet we desperately need the Osiris and its Pilot, what depths would one go to?”
The lengths of asking a son to whore himself?
But Khoth realized that was not the greatest depth, no matter how bitter a taste that left in his mouth. It was desperate and wrong and dishonorable. But there were worse things.
She brought a fleet, Khoth realized with a fresh wave of horror. Not to protect Earth, but to conquer it and take the Osiris and her Pilot. And there was one more thing his mind offered him, What will the Osiris do to protect itself and its Pilot from such an attack?