CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX: EMOTIONAL STORM
There was a soft thump as the dropship made contact with the landing pad. The engines stirred the air and the robes and long hair of the waiting Thaf’ell were blown back. Typhon, looking handsome and virile, was hardly disturbed by it. In fact, it almost made him look like a movie star. The Tom Cruise of the Thaf’ell world, still able to look good even in backwash.
Where others put up a hand to block dust and dirt being blown into their eyes, Typhon merely squinted a little bit, as if he were looking off into the distance and something touched his soul. His long hair that was braided heavily with selchitte on the sides danced behind him like a white flag. His dark blue robes molded to his muscular, masculine form. So if Jace had hoped for a professorial type with a soft belly and faded looks, he would have been sorely disappointed. Typhon had the appearance of someone fit and at top of their game.
Jace swallowed the anger--and little bit of insecurity--he felt. Somehow he had to behave like what he was: the Pilot. An emissary that was going to change the Alliance. The one who had the logical answers for why others should follow him. Not a kid who suddenly felt out of his depth, jealous, and uncertain of himself.
The training didn’t address this, Jace thought morosely.
Khoth meant so much to him. He had since the very beginning. Coming to Haseon and realizing that he hadn’t won over as many hearts and minds as he hoped had brought him back to Earth in a lot of ways. But with Khoth beside him, he could weather whatever came. But what if Khoth wasn’t there?
Don’t be stupid. This is the guy that hurt Khoth. He wouldn’t want to go back to him no matter what support he’ll offer to my plans.
With the dropship down, everyone began to unbuckle their seatbelts and get up. Gehenna bumped eagerly against his legs. She was in her adorable ball form, rather than the scary spider form, and was clearly eager for him to set foot on Haseon and to meet Khoth’s father.
But Khoth has been exiled, Jace pointed out to her as he moved more slowly to get up. Did Nova send Thadden here to rub Khoth’s nose in that? Do you have any communications between them about this? I really should have been warned about him. More importantly, so should Khoth have been to emotionally prepare himself.
No, none at all. Their comms are free of any such discussions. In fact, they haven’t communicated at all so we didn’t miss anything, she answered with the “we” meaning her and the Osiris. Do you really think Thadden Voor is here to be cruel to Khoth? That’s terrible if true! Oh, I hope it isn’t true!
So do I, but I can’t see how this can be good. And Khoth doesn’t look like he has a clue either.
Khoth wasn’t moving quickly either, but maybe that was because Typhon was there as well as his father.
How big of an universal incident would it be if I punched Typhon? Jace wondered idly.
Oh, that would be so funny! A row of laughing faces bloomed before him then when he didn’t laugh, she asked, Uhm, that’s a rhetorical question, right? Gehenna had her one blinking light-eye look up at him as if his expression would tell her more than his actual thoughts would.
Yes, Gehenna. For now anyways, he muttered the last to himself.
Ah, you really might not want to! Gehenna sounded alarmed, and… excited.
Why not? Other than the obvious? Jace asked as he indicated that the others should precede him and Khoth out of the dropship. He needed to talk to Khoth before they went out there.
Because Typhon is here with his House to offer Khoth a place in it, Gehenna said.
Wait, what? Jace grabbed Khoth’s shoulder just as his Commander was moving into the aisle.
Khoth turned to look back at him, one eyebrow up, though regardless of Gehenna’s news they had enough to talk about before they emerged from the ship. “Pilot?”
“There’s… there’s something you need to know. Hold on,” Jace said.
Gehenna, explain to Khoth and I both what you mean, Jace demanded.
Immediately, words were scrolling over Khoth’s comm while Jace was hearing her in his mind. Evidently, this body did not have the ability to speak. They’d really have to fix that.
Gehenna’s roly poly body was moving around almost frantically in her excitement as she said, I guess there’s a way for another House to offer sanctuary to an exiled Thaf’ell. It’s only occurred a dozen times in a thousand years. But that’s what Typhon is here for!
“The Maturins are here to offer me sanctuary?” Khoth asked as if not quite believing what he was reading. “That… that cannot be.”
Yes! While there was little chatter on comms between the members of the House, it appears that they met last night and decided! Gehenna stated.
“I would have to be a House vote. It would also have to be unanimous.” Khoth stared into the distance. His expression was unreadable.
“I assume Khoth still needs to agree to this,” Jace said as his gaze flickered over Khoth’s face, but he couldn’t read the Thaf’ell at all.
Yes, of course, and there are some other legal and sundry matters that would be required, but those other things are just window dressing. The only real thing would be Khoth’s acceptance, Gehenna told them.
“Why would he do this?” Khoth murmured.
“The Osiris thought he might be more open to things changing,” Jace said as he scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck.
“You did not mention this.” Khoth’s gaze was no longer distant, but sharp.
“I know, but Staed was there and… look, I should have said something, but I wasn’t certain… no, that’s not it. I didn’t want his help.” Jace found himself standing very stiffly. His head began to throb like it had in the past.
“Even though he could be of assistance to you in convincing the powers that be that your way is the correct one against the Khul?” Khoth’s eyebrows knitted together.
“Ah, yeah, even if that was true.” Jace shrugged, but the movement had his head throbbing harder.
Osiris, why am I having a headache? Jace asked.
I am monitoring your vitals. There is no reason for you to be experiencing pain, the Osiris answered.
“But that is illogical.” Khoth looked and sounded incredibly stern. “You hid this from me because I would not agree--”
“No! I…” Light flashed before Jace’s eyes and he was blinded for a moment. It was his light sensitivity coming back. Panic started to build in his stomach. He could not have an attack here and now. For god’s sake, he could not!
Again, there is no physical reason for you to be experiencing these symptoms, now the Osiris was sounding alarmed.
No, physical reason, but an emotional one, Gehenna piped in. Jace and Khoth are having their first fight! And with all the pressure of needing this to go well…
She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. Jace fumbled in the front pocket of his jacket and slipped out the sunglasses he’d had the Osiris fabricate for him. They were very dark and immediately the bright sunlight streaming in from the windows was eased.
“You believed I would have an emotional reaction and would put our mission in danger so you choose to act illogically to protect me.” Khoth had turned his back so that he was facing away from Davies and Dr. Hayter.
“No… okay, maybe a little. But why should you be exposed to that guy? There are a million ways to make this work. He doesn’t have to be a part of it!” Jace had to steady himself by putting a hand on the back of the seat. The headache was wrapping around his skull like a vise.
If Commander Khoth is going to cause this kind of distress in the Pilot then he should not be allowed--
The Osiris got no farther as Jace found himself screaming internally at the AI, NO! WHATEVER IT IS: NO! Khoth is essential the mission--
He is not essential. We could find you another--
No! He’s essential to me, Jace answered almost viciously.
Though the Osiris did not articulate it, he knew the AI was wondering if there wasn’t someone else who could play that role.
Khoth is the only one, Osiris. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand. It is what it is. Do I make myself clear? Jace asked.
Yes, Pilot. But if your body continues to be impaired at this rate, you will not be capable of exiting this vehicle under your own power, the Osiris stated.
Jace swallowed hard. He tried doing the breathing exercises that he used to when this would happen before. Khoth must have been emotionally upset because it took him a moment to recognize Jace’s distress.
“Pilot… Jace?” Khoth’s blue on blue eyes were focused on him.
“I know you think what I did was foolish. I should have told you. I shouldn’t have hid it,” Jace got out through gritted teeth. “But I’m human. I’m still human and I care about you and I didn’t want you to be hurt anymore by this guy than you have already. And here he is again to save the day. I want them all to see how noble you are, that your mother’s wrong and you’re right. That you did the hard thing and… and I don’t know.”
Khoth blinked, but then he shook himself. “I accept your apology. But you are unwell.”
Jace’s headache had receded a little bit with Khoth’s concern. “It’s just stress, I think.”
“You faced down a whole Hive without issue, but now you are quite unwell,” Khoth pointed out.
“You being angry with me does that,” Jace admitted.
Again, those elegant eyebrows rose. “Even if I was upset with you, Jace, that is not permanent. It does not affect the feeling in my Xi for you.”
Khoth’s voice was so soft. None of this was professional. But he just couldn’t care enough to hide this. Khoth was his rock.
Davies and Dr. Hayter had reached the door. It wasn’t open yet. Both men were looking back at him with confusion. Davies was as alert as a rat terrier in front of a burrow. Though Dr. Hayter appeared vague and was blinking a lot, Jace was now sure that nothing got past the linguist.
“You mean a lot to me, too,” Jace whispered and looked up into Khoth’s face.
There was such tenderness there that Jace’s breath hitched in his chest. He forgot the headache.
“You must not compromise the success of our mission because of me,” Khoth said.
“Sorry, can’t help it and won’t stop,” Jace said with a helpless shrug. “I’m not built like that.”
Khoth grimaced faintly. “Then… you must trust in me that when I tell you that I have no feelings one way or the other regarding Typhon that I am telling you the truth. And you need not be concerned for me if using him will advance our position.”
Jace’s breath caught again, but this time in pain. “We can do this another way.”
“But we may not need to, depending on what Typhon wants for this act of… selflessness.” Khoth looked distant again.
“Khoth… what do you want to do? I mean… you wouldn’t be exiled any longer if you joined House Maturin and…” Jace’s voice dropped off.
Gehenna, is there something expected of Khoth for this? I mean does he have to give them anything? Jace asked, feeling an oily sickness fill him.
Gehenna guessed that he only wanted her to answer to him as she sent privately, In the dozen cases that are reported in Thaf’ell databanks, the exiled party usually had something valuable to offer such as off-world assets.
But Khoth doesn’t have any off-world assets, does he? Jace asked, even as he already knew the answer.
No, but in one of the sanctuary cases the parties uhm… well, it was the equivalent of a human marriage, Gehenna’s voice was small.
Marriage? He wants to marry Khoth? His headache was pounding now.
There’s nothing to indicate what he wants! At least, nowhere I can access, Gehenna told him.
Khoth wouldn’t want that… but…
Now Jace really wanted to punch Typhon. But there was even less ability for him to do so. The man was offering Khoth the one thing that Jace could not: re-entry to his people, his home, his position, everything. All Jace could offer him was a ship and danger, along with a ton of adventures. But the Thaf’ell valued their family so much they outwardly wore their family history in their hair as their most treasured possession.
Maybe that’s why his dad is there, Gehenna. If Khoth agrees to join House Moturin then he doesn’t lose his father, Jace said.
Oh, yes, that would… that would make sense, she said, her voice dipping just as his had at the realization of what was going on here. But Khoth doesn’t have to marry Typhon! That’s not required, remember?
But it would be expected and--
Unless Khoth were able to give him something just as valuable, Gehenna pointed out. The one person who married in had no assets. But Khoth does in a way! He’s the Commander of the Osiris and--
He has access to me and all we find. Jace breathed out. He’ll have control over where the Alliance goes.
“Khoth, I…” Jace’s gaze slid to the other two men over Khoth’s shoulder. They were looking anxious now. He understood. They were delaying. The people outside were waiting. The questions were growing. But he had to let Khoth know that he would support him no matter what. Isn’t that what he had to do? How could he deny Khoth his family and his people again? “Oh, fuck it, Khoth, there’s no where to have this conversation but here. I need you to know…” Jace’s throat went suddenly tight. “I need you to know that I…”
Jace tried to swallow, but emotions were sticking in his throat. Because what if Khoth wanted to be with Typhon? What if Khoth was relieved that this adventure was over before it began and he could be professional all the time with Jace? What if--
“Jace?” Khoth lightly grasped his shoulders.
The ringing began then and the flashes. As his emotions built, Jace found the old ailments had not left him, merely crept away to the dark corners to hide and the earlier light sensitivity and headaches were nothing to this.
It is an emotional storm, Gehenna murmured.
Pilot, you should return to the ship, the Osiris’ voice was clipped with concern.
I can’t! I can’t! This will go away! This has to go away!
He covered his ears with his hands. What if Khoth left him? What if he was alone in all of this? The Osiris and Gehenna and everyone was great, but Khoth kept him centered. Khoth made him feel human, which was crazy because other humans should make him feel human, but they didn’t. They saw him as the Pilot. Even his parents were a little awed of him and unsure. But Khoth never forgot who he was.
“Jace, Jace, can you hear me?” Khoth’s voice finally seemed to break through the ringing.
“Yes,” Jace gasped. “I need some…”
“What do you need? Do you want to return to the ship?” Khoth asked. “Thammah!”
Thammah popped out of the cockpit. There was a scowl on her face, probably brought on from simply being on Haseon’s surface, though she might have recognized Khoth’s father and thought some kind of fuckery was up. But she had no idea the whole of it, immediately smoothed away. She came to him.
“What’s wrong with Jace?” she asked, forgetting his title at that moment.
Davies and the doctor were there too.
“Is it stemming from his earlier illness?” Davies asked. Of course, he knew about that.
“Perhaps it is something about Haseon’s atmosphere,” Dr. Hayter suggested as he checked his comm, “though I see it is comparable to Earth’s. Though alien pollen or any such thing might cause a reaction.”
“No, no, it’s not pollen. I just…” Jace licked his lips. “Can I have some water?”
“Of course!” Thammah darted towards a panel on the ship.
It opened at her touch and bottles of cold, clean water were revealed. She handed it to Khoth who opened it for him and pressed the top to his lips. He gulped the water down even though he wanted a drink that was a hell of a lot stronger than water. He really wanted his quarters on the Osiris with the lights off and only the dim planets above him and Khoth’s arms around him. He felt the Osiris determine to take control of the dropship and bring the back up. It didn’t care about the Thaf’ell or the Alliance. They could find other allies regardless.
No, Osiris, don’t do this, Jace commanded.
“I’m sorry everyone. I’m fine.” Jace breathed through his nose and out of his mouth. “I just… had a moment. I’m good now.”
He forced himself to straighten his shoulders and smile. Smiling hurt. Everything hurt. But he was back in control of himself. He was asking these people to put their lives in his hands and he had just freaked out. That was bad. So bad. Even though everyone looked understanding and concerned, they needed him to be in control fully at all times.
I will review exactly the circumstances that brought this attack on, the Osiris stated. It will not happen again.
But Jace wondered if there was such an easy fix. If Gehenna was right that he was having an “emotional storm” then unless he didn’t have any emotions, this would happen again. He’d bobbled the other night at the party. Now this. He breathed deeply and drank the rest of the water. Maybe he was irretrievably broken in some way. Maybe for as much as he was “dealing with” everything that had happened to him in such a short time, he was actually just compensating and Khoth was papering over the soft spots. He didn’t know. But he had to get it together. The Osiris was right that this couldn’t happen again.
Another smile as he tugged his jacket down. “Well, I think we’ve kept them waiting long enough. Let’s get this party started.”
“Jace… Pilot,” Thammah quickly corrected, “they can wait as long as you need them to.”
Jace turned his head slightly to the side. He couldn’t turn his head all the way due to pain. But it was receding. “No, we all know I have to go out.”
Khoth’s one hand was still on his shoulder as his other took the empty bottle from him. There were shadows in those blue on blue eyes. Jace worried what was going on behind them. Was Khoth thinking of doing something noble and foolish to “help” Jace by sacrificing himself and his freedom? Probably. Well, he wasn’t going to let that happen.