CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE: THE POWER OF LANGUAGE
Jace, Davies, Gehenna, Dr. Hayter and Khoth took their places in the dropship. Thammah was in the pilot’s seat. It had been decided that only the six of them should go to the surface of Haseon for the moment. At least, until some kind of formal agreement was made and it was safe for others to come.
Dr. Hayter looked like a man whose Xi was about to explode. He had been allowed to accompany them as the only civilian crew member, because Jace wanted him to have as much access to the Thaf’ell language as possible. Khoth found this odd because they would all be using their universal translators and only when a party decided to block translation would that not be in play. And he, not Dr. Hayter, would be the one to translate then.
Jace’s expression up until the point he saw Gehenna had been neutral with moments of tensity. He was, Khoth knew, disappointed by the Alliance’s decision to meet them with warships. Staed had not fired, though his weapons had been at the ready, and his fleet had simply flown beside the Osiris as the much more massive ship gracefully entered orbit around Haseon. The ship with the general and Jace’s mother would not arrive for at least another few hours.
As Jace clicked his seatbelt shut, he said, “Tell me the plan again that required Gehenna to look like a Star Wars astromech droid?”
Khoth sat beside him while Dr. Hayter and Davies sat opposite them. Gehenna could not take a seat as she was ball-shaped with a small domed head that rolled around between them. He doubted that the astromech droid in Star Wars had her outer skin, which was made of calcanth and had the ability to shift to match her surroundings. She could literally disappear, which likely was the point.
“She’s cute, right?” Davies asked.
“She’s adorable. Disney knows how to make cute droids like BB-8 here… or is it GH-8?” Jace grinned.
Gehenna beeped happily at them as she rolled over to Jace and pressed her round body against his legs like an eager animal wanting to be petted. Jace did, in fact, stroke her shiny sides, which had the single red light on the domed head glowing brighter with excitement.
“I checked with Flight-Commander Thammah and confirmed that even the Thaf’ell find this form non-threatening,” Davies said.
“She’s adorable on a universal level,” Jace agreed.
“Like Dr. Hayter, we want them to see her as non-threatening and barely pay attention to her at all until...” Davies sent a meaningful look at Gehenna.
The smooth ball of calcanth suddenly burst apart. Eight legs tipped with vicious points emerged while the headlamp became a laser. Everyone jumped as the suddenly “not cute” droid moved sinuously on the dangerous limbs. Gehenna lifted one of those limbs up and Khoth saw that it was geared with a saw, a spike and other weapons. Each limb was an army of one.
“Okay!” Jace laughed as he awkwardly patted Gehenna’s head. “I think the general is going to like this form even more than the Terminator one.”
“And, of course, Gehenna was kind enough to explain to me that she can hack into Altaeth tech so that their weapons should be mostly useless against us, or if they decide to imprison us, they won’t be able to hold us very long,” Davies said.
The Osiris also had this capability, though Khoth wondered if there was some kind of distance limit. But, regardless, both AI were available to them when they landed.
“Quite impressive. Both of you,” Jace said as Gehenna became the adorable ball once more and beeped lovingly at him.
“I dare say, how am I like Gehenna in this situation? She is quite impressive, but I only have one form!” Dr. Hayter blinked.
He reached for Gehenna too. She wheeled towards him and he laughed as she spun around in front of him
“I am curious about that too, Lieutenant-Commander Davies,” Jace said.
His eyes were bright and Khoth wondered if Jace really didn’t know the connection that Davies had made between the linguist and Gehenna.
“Yes, while on the outside Dr. Hayter appears to be an eager, slightly naive scholar, the truth is that he is highly skilled at reading and interpreting body language, even that which is far different than your own,” Davies remarked. “I’ve read your file, Dr. Hayter. Your ability to learn languages and psychologically profile the person speaking is impressive.”
Khoth discreetly looked at the linguist’s file. While he had concentrated on the positive qualities that Jace was looking for in a crewmate--someone open to new experiences, cultures and people, among other things--the truth was that Dr. Hayter had been in the military and had worked extensively in psy-ops. He had a whole set of skills that Jace hadn’t seemingly cared about, yet now Khoth wondered if Jace had cared about them very much and not just for this mission. Perhaps this was the reason that the linguist was truly along.
“Oh, yes, that’s very true. I studied everything from your standoffs with High Councillor Voor, Pilot, and, of course, I’ve been studying Commander Khoth extensively.” Dr. Hayter beamed.
Khoth frowned slightly. “You’ve been studying me, doctor?”
“Oh, yes! And Flight-Commander Thammah, of course. And before the two of you, there were two other Thaf’ell that I watched very carefully.” Dr. Hayter continued to beam even as Khoth’s eyebrows rose.
He knew instinctively that the other Thaf’ell and likely Thammah too had not looked at Dr. Hayter with anything of real interest. Thammah likely had indulged him in learning some dialects of Thaf’ell, but he was certain that she hadn’t thought Dr. Hayter was studying her as much as the language. But he had been. And he wondered how many of the humans were more than what they appeared.
“But you’re been watching the Commander the most, I take it?” Jace asked, seemingly completely unsurprised by this.
Dr. Hayter bobbed his head so fast and furiously Khoth wondered if it might snap off.
“Goodness, absolutely!” Dr. Hayter turned his round, bespectacled face towards Khoth and said, “Though you are quite different than your mother in your Xa both of you share a rich, inner life that propels you to make the unusual decisions you do for a Thaf’ell!”
Khoth frowned more deeply. “Doctor, I am afraid that you are mistaken about my mother… and myself as well. But it is an understandable mistake due to our current circumstances.”
“Oh!” Dr. Hayter’s eyes widened behind his glasses as he rocked back and forth. “So you both don’t have a highly transgressive inner nature?”
This struck Khoth as so wrong that he opened his mouth and little came out at first. He glanced at Jace, but the young man did not meet his gaze. Did Jace agree with Dr. Hayter?
The dropship lifted off at that moment, giving him a chance to collect himself.
“We’re on our way, gentlemen. I have to admit I didn’t think I’d be back on Haseon again anytime soon,” Thammah’s voice came over their comms.
Though Khoth would have preferred everyone to be wearing hard suits, they were dressed in their formal uniforms without any weapons. But truly what would keep them safe were neither the suits nor the weapons nor even Gehenna. Jace’s control of the Altaeth tech was what would do it. And Khoth still believed that his people would act honorably in greeting them. But he couldn’t help but think about Davies’ Tenth Man. He found himself putting an asterix against any belief he had to remind himself that he really didn’t know what the Alliance was capable of in the state it was in now.
“You don’t sound all that happy about it, Flight-Commander Thammah,” Jace said.
“Oh, Haseon is beautiful, but just wait until you meet its people. You’ll be eager to be back on the Osiris post haste,” Thammah chuckled dryly.
“Well, you are staying on the dropship, keeping her warmed up and ready to go,” Jace remarked just as dryly.
“You have a reason to believe we’ll need to leave in a hurry, Pilot? Other than the obvious that is?” Thammah’s voice lifted even as she kept it calm.
All of them had been staring out the windows as the dropship was making its way out of the hangar bay and into space, but they all looked immediately at Jace.
Jace lifted a hand to ease their fears. “No, I think we’re going to be fine. Well, as fine as we can be with the Alliance on edge, but you know, fine.”
Everyone nodded as if that made a lot of sense to all of them except for Khoth.
“Can you quantify the percentage chance that things will not be… fine?” Khoth asked.
Jace gave him a smile. “If I said 50-50 would that give you comfort or would that make you more uneasy?”
“I would not have an emotional reaction to it,” Khoth stated. “It would be another fact I would use to prepare myself.”
Jace nodded. “I don’t know the percentage chance, Commander Khoth. Things are very fluid right now. As many facts as I have, what I need to know will be how people react to me, to us, to the ideas.”
Jace’s left hand was right near his and Khoth felt Jace’s desire to touch him almost like a physical thing. But Jace’s hand didn’t move.
“The situation is fluid. We should be prepared for anything,” Khoth said.
Jace nodded. “Yeah, but have hope.”
“Illogical? Yeah, I know.”
“No, it is… I hope that the Thaf’ell--the Alliance--lives up to that,” Khoth said.
“It will.” Jace smiled again. He gestured towards the windows. “Haseon is beautiful.”
They all looked out at Haseon. The planet completely dominated the view. His homeworld glowed in the darkness like a jewel. Khoth’s heart twisted in his chest seeing it. Jace had offered to let him stay behind on the Osiris and not face his homeworld and his former people. The young man feared that this wound was too fresh. Would always be too fresh.
The lightness of Khoth’s head from the lack of selchitte seemed to confirm this. Every time he moved and failed to hear them clacking had been difficult, but that was before he was returning to familiar places where all eyes would be on the shorn spots. He remembered Jace’s rage that he had to be the one to bear the burden of exile while his mother did not. Would she bear seeing him better than him seeing her?
“Why do you think my mother and I are transgressive?” Khoth asked, dragging his gaze from the window to Dr. Hayter.
The linguist turned back towards him with Haseon reflected in his eyeglasses. “Oh, well, it’s obvious really. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. How many Thaf’ell would do as you have done? Not just leave everything behind? But also do so because of hope?”
“When I said hope with Jace--”
“You were using a human idiom, yes, I know!” Dr. Hayter nodded as if a pleased teacher with a student. “But you do hope.”
“Jace… the Pilot is the best person to end the danger of the Khul. There are logical reasons for my choices--”
“Yes, of course, but that is not why you did it. Not completely. Logic can only get you so far,” Dr. Hayter said. “It is a good starting point, but it is not the end all and be all.”
“For humans, perhaps not.” Khoth crossed his arms over his chest.
“I see. I have not so much offended you as made you worry that you are not Thaf’ell enough. Forgive me. I admire you greatly. So few could do what you’ve done,” Dr. Hayter said softly.
Gehenna bumped against Khoth’s legs and made a sad sound. Back in her ball shape she looked so innocuous. But nothing was its surface. He felt Jace’s pinky finger line up against his own. The warmth there reminded him that he was already home and Haseon was just a place and Dr. Hayter was giving him his opinion. If he feared that opinion then wasn’t he just proving the point that he wasn’t acting logically at all?
“What about my mother?” Khoth asked.
The linguist now looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Ah, well…”
“I wish to know, Dr. Hayter. I will not be offended. I need to understand who she is and what she and I share to be as useful as possible to the Pilot,” Khoth said. “What do you see when you look at her?
“Well.” The linguist stroked his chin. “She is interesting in the extreme. On the one hand, she knows full well that, logically, if there is not enough tech to support the entirety of the Alliance that she must draw back to a position that she can defend.”
Khoth slowly nodded. “By not doing so, she may be putting all of the Alliance in danger.”
“Hmm, yes. I think there is an element of pride in not wishing to retreat.” Dr. Hayter pursed his lips. “The Alliance is something of a point of pride, a point of honor. The Thaf’ell have kept the other Alliance species safe. She did not want that to change under her rule.”
“Yet she wouldn’t ask for help even though she knew that help was needed,” Davies murmured.
“The Thaf’ell…” Jace began and stopped, his gaze swinging to Khoth. Khoth made a tiny nod to tell him to go on, to say what he wished to say, what they all needed to hear. “The Thaf’ell believe they are superior to the other species. How can you be that if you’re asking for assistance? When you have to admit that your way isn’t working?”
“So that is why she was willing to do whatever it took to get the Pilot and the Osiris, including violating her own codes and those of her people, because she knew just how desperate things truly are,” Dr. Hayter explained. “But I think there’s more that I don’t quite know yet.”
Desperation. That was a logical thing to deduce from her behavior. Not only had she lost her daughter when Daesah was killed, she had lost her High Commander, the person she likely confided in more than even her own husband. Daesah and their mother had always understood each other.
“My sister,” Khoth swallowed, “my sister was High Commander before she… was killed by the Khul.”
“Your sister knew about the difficulties the Alliance was in?” Davies asked.
Khoth gave a sharp nod. “Yes, and she believed that the Osiris was the key.”
“And your mother sent you to the Osiris?” Dr. Hayter guessed.
Another nod. Khoth turned his head so that he was staring into Jace’s eyes. “My mother confided in my sister, trusted her judgment, recognized that Daesah saw the universe differently than she did. But instead of seeing that as a challenge to her authority, she saw it as a counter. Someone who balanced her, I think.”
Jace slowly nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
“You are like Daesah in so many ways,” Khoth said and the urge to run the back of his hand down Jace’s cheek left a bitter taste in his mouth. “But you are more, because you are the Pilot. You can actually accomplish what Daesah only hoped.”
“Well! That’s the answer then.” Dr. Hayter rocked back and forth in his seat with a pleased expression on his face.
“What is, Dr. Hayter?” Jace asked. His cheeks had flushed a delicious pink as if he knew what Khoth wanted to do.
“Make High Councillor Voor see you as her counter. Not a challenge. But someone who can balance her,” Dr. Hayter said.
“See me as Daesah? That’s a tall order, doc,” Jace admitted.
“But not impossible! No, no, not impossible at all! She did listen to you in the end,” Dr. Hayter pointed out.
“They sent warships to greet us,” Khoth remarked dryly.
“Ah, but that was just them rattling their sabers! It was to be expected, even if a little disappointing.” Dr. Hayter beamed again. “Pilot, I know we’ve always hoped that the aliens we met would be so much more advanced than we are. So much wiser and more enlightened.”
“Yeah, not saying that they aren’t just…” Jace scrubbed the back of his head.
“But this is actually better. We can understand them. They can understand us. We’re all muddling through together,” Dr. Hayter said with a contented smile. “Oh, look! Buildings! My, aren’t they beautiful!”
Over Jace’s shoulder, Khoth could see the curved long hanger of the spaceport that was just outside of Ylore’s limits. The city itself glittered and reflected the multi-colored sky on its reflective surface. It was almost dazzling.
“Prepare for landing, gents,” Thammah said over their comms. “It’s a beautiful day in Haseon. For you unsophisticated humans, it is 74 degrees fahrenheit. There is only 20 percent humidity. No chance of rain. So you’ll be very comfortable after the desert.”
“Thanks, Thammah,” Jace said. When he caught the others looking at him. “I’m not going to say everybody’s title all the time. Not when it's just us, okay?”
“I think that is linguistically efficient! And it brings a greater sense of comradeship,” Dr. Hayter pronounced.
“Good, I’m glad. Because it was getting old already.” Jace grinned.
“Let me guess, you still want us to call you Commander?” Davies asked.
“Yes, I do and you will call him Pilot. Discipline can be eased going down, but not up,” Khoth answered simply.
“Understood, Commander.” Davies didn’t look annoyed at all.
“We’re landing! Oh, and, of course, there is quite the meeting party!” Dr. Hayter gazed, open-mouthed, out the window.
Jace groaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
But Khoth didn’t catch the rest of what Jace was going to say. For though there were several low-level functionaries--his mother had not met them herself just as Jace had not met her, he supposed--waiting to greet them, there were two people whom he couldn’t quite believe were there. His heart was in his throat with dread.
Justiciar Typhon Moturin stood in the stately dark blue robes of his office of the High Court. He was accompanied by various other members of his illustrious family and houses that were attached to him. Khoth both was and wasn’t surprised by Typhon’s appearance here.
Their relationship had ended long ago and Khoth’s heart was untouched by it despite how tangled it had been. Meeting Jace had unwound his mind in many ways about how one-sided that relationship had been. But there had been one aspect that they had never settled between them. Typhon disapproved of his mother’s plans for the Alliance and he had always urged Khoth to take a stand.
Now Khoth had.
And Typhon had decided that the political winds were in his favor. Khoth wished to tell Jace that this was a good thing that Typhon was here. If the Justiciar was throwing his weight behind the Pilot then that meant there was a political will outside of him to do so.
But it wasn’t Justiciar Typhon Moturin who drew his attention. It was his father. His father was standing there, all alone, waiting for him.