CHAPTER FIFTY-SEVEN: SELCHITTE
Khoth watched the back of Jace’s head as the young man exited the dropship. Jace’s steps were sure and strong. His chin was lifted up. There was a smile on his lips, but the dark sunglasses that covered his eyes hid whether it was real or not.
Jace had been through so much in the last few days. There had been no downtime for the young man. From the moment the Khul had attacked Earth, Jace had been active except for all too brief sleep hours. And now he was forced to deal with the Alliance and the Thaf’ell.
And my past.
Worrying about Jace had one benefit, he was so focused on the young man that he did not look over at his father or think about why his father would be there. At least until Jace, all smiles and yet somehow distant, greeted Thadden and Typhon.
“Justiciar Voor. Justiciar Moturin. From our welcome by Staed, I expected the military to greet me, but instead it's the judiciary. Have I broken your laws already?” Jace’s smile flashed brighter to indicate he was joking, but there was too much of an edge to his voice.
He’s in pain.
Jace had not offered to shake either Thaf’ells’ hand. In fact, Jace’s hands were curled into half fists, the fingernails digging into his palms.
To center himself.
Gehenna rolled over and leaned against Jace’s right leg. She looked up rather adoringly at him with her single eye. Jace smiled down at her and petted her head. That caused his one hand to uncurl. Khoth wished he could reach over and uncurl the other as he linked their fingers together. Davies and Dr. Hayter hung back, observing everything and everyone, mutely. Well, Davies was lasered in on them, but Dr. Hayter was turning around in a slow circle and smiling in delight as he took in Haseon, even though it was only the space port. But still, there were plenty of ships coming and going and the city of glass was in view.
“Pilot, you must not think that High Commander Staed’s behavior was approved by all,” Typhon said smoothly.
He spoke in fluent English, which startled Khoth. When had he learned that and why? He’d assumed that like his mother and others on the Council--and seemingly everyone in the Alliance--that Typhon would view humans as lesser and certainly wouldn’t deign to learn their language. Yet he had.
“His actions were approved by the Council, surely?” Jace lifted an eyebrow. He spoke in perfect Thaf’ell.
It was his father who spoke then, and his voice was as stunning to Khoth’s ears as his words, “The Council is in flux. To say the least.”
Khoth swallowed. It took all his strength to not look at his father and not to reach up and touch the bare spaces on the sides of his head. He’d never truly thought to hear that beloved voice again. Soft, dry, but with hints of amusement and tenderness.
Why is he here? Is this some kind of punishment from Nova? To dig the dagger in deeper? Does she truly hate me so?
“Factions?” Jace asked, a smile that seemed fragile was curling his lips. “Yes, of course. And you both represent a different one. Different from High Councillor Voor’s though?”
Khoth’s stillness felt like it had turned him to stone. Where was his mother? She had made a deal with Jace to be his greatest booster with the Council yet she was nowhere to be seen. Again, would she send his father and torture them both because they had to act as if they didn’t know one another? He felt almost nauseous from the very idea. Hate him, she might. But his father? He knew this could only be causing his father pain even though he, undoubtedly, agreed with Khoth’s exile. So why had she done this? Maybe she was down to no one else she could trust.
“It depends,” his father said. “But, Pilot, I have a great favor to ask you.”
“Whether I grant it depends, too. What do you want?” Jace asked, and though those sunglasses covered his eyes, Khoth knew Jace looked at him then.
“To greet my s-son,” his father’s voice cracked a little.
There was a very long silence other than the flapping of the Justiciars’ robes in the wind that was sweetened with the scent of flowers. Jace’s expression was tight. Faint lines of displeasure appeared around his mouth and the muscles in his jaw worked.
Jace finally snapped, “Can you run that past me once more, Justiciar Voor--”
“Not Voor,” his father interrupted softly.
“Not… not Voor?” Jace asked sharply.
“No, not any longer,” his father said.
The wind blew and his father’s selchitte clacked. Khoth’s eyes darted to them. They were different. They were changed. They looked… his eyes slid to Typhon’s selchitte and he saw some matching ones there. His gaze jumped to the others in Typhon’s party and recognized the same colors and configurations in their hair.
“You call Khoth your son, but he is exiled and so that’s forbidden. I heard in no uncertain terms from your wife that Khoth is no longer recognized as a member of your family, let alone the Alliance!” Jace practically spat out, his anger over his view of the injustice of it and his pain mixing together.
Khoth wanted to soothe the young man, even though this was about him. But Jace felt everything so keenly and expressed it seemingly for him.
“I am well aware of what Nova has said and done, but like many of those things the exile was wrong, too,” his father said.
Khoth truly couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He could hardly breathe. What was going on here? The selchitte. His father still calling him “son.” The Moturins here and ready to offer him sanctuary. Was he the only one they had offered it to?
“So…” Jace was openly glancing between his father and Khoth. “So what does this mean? Khoth isn’t exiled or--”
“Nova controls the Voor so Khoth is exiled from them, but I am a cousin to the Moturnin line,” his father touched his chest as he said this. It was a very faint connection indeed, though all the ruling Houses shared some blood from intermarriage over the years. “And Typhon has been so good to allow me and my son to return to that line.”
Khoth gasped. The sound was like what one made when one exited deep water after holding one’s breath for a long time. “What are you saying?”
“That neither of us belongs to House Voor any longer, my son,” his father said and stepped towards him.
“You… you chose to--”
“I chose what was right. Who was right,” his father answered. “That was only logical.”
His father cupped Khoth’s head. His hands were directly over the missing hair that would have held his selchitte. Khoth trembled. His vision blurred as tears threatened to roll down his face. He felt like he was coming apart. Like Jace earlier, he knew that this could not happen. Not in public and certainly not here and now. He must get a hold of himself. Jace’s hand gently grasped his wrist and the trembling stopped. Jace was there. They were together. All was well.
He looked up into his father’s eyes and saw similar traces of tears. He covered one of his father’s hands with his own and allowed himself one moment of tenderness by turning his head into that familiar hand. His father’s thumb brushed over the orbit of Khoth’s eye, over his ta’na. He smiled tremulously.
Then both of them broke apart. Stepping back from one another. Not out of a desire to do so, but for propriety. They had shown too much intimacy for Thaf’ell society. And he would not make them question his father’s decision to choose him any more than they already must.
“We realize your plan was to meet with the Council, Pilot, but the reality is that there is no Council right now to meet with,” Typhon said to Jace. “Not one that is recognized by all in any case. There is chaos.”
“Is High Councillor Voor not in charge?” Jace asked.
“It depends upon who you ask.” Typhon shrugged. “I know that you thought she would be a good bet to force the Alliance to change, because of her passion to secure the Alliance. And perhaps she will be still useful. But she must fight and win back her position on her own.”
“You think if I put any weight behind her--”
“That she will have no authority. She will be seen as your puppet and nothing more,” Typhon advised. “She must win this fight on her own. Best you are nowhere near it.”
Jace frowned at this, but didn’t object. Typhon was very good at politics. Khoth had watched him move through the ranks and somehow come out unscathed, but his enemies all had daggers in their backs. He was telling Jace the truth, but only because it likely served him.
“But my family’s compound is open to you and your people,” Typhon said with great magnanimity as if it were only Jace who benefited from this offer. “I can see that your companion--”
He was pointing to Dr. Hayter who had started to wander off a few steps even as Davies put a hand on his arm to guide him back. But Dr. Hayter realized he had been recognized.
“Ah, Dr. David Hayter, at your service.” Dr. Hayter beelined to Typhon as if he were the most fascinating thing in the world. “I dare say, your accent! You’ve been watching the BBC, haven’t you? That’s how you learned English so well.”
Typhon blued, which Khoth had never seen him do before. He gave a dry cough. “I hope it is an acceptable imitation.”
“Oh, it’s wonderful! Quite wonderful!” Dr. Hayter beamed.
“Dr. Hayter is a linguist. I brought him along especially to help improve our translator. There’s so much that can be missed,” Jace said.
“Even by an AI like the Osiris?” Typhon’s eyes dropped to Gehenna.
“The Osiris would say ‘no’, but that’s just one opinion,” Jace answered dryly.
Having heard Dr. Hayter’s insights into himself and his mother--and that being the true reason the doctor was along--Khoth was eager to hear what he thought of Typhon.
“But as I was saying, it appears like your people are very interested in seeing something more of Haseon than the spaceport.” Typhon looked indulgently upon Dr. Hayter who was now being herded back to the group by Gehenna. Her ball form lightly bumped into the doctor’s legs and he reluctantly came back. “I can assure you that the Moturin Compound has many fine pieces of art, parts of our history, and pleasant gardens to enjoy. And it would be a better place to speak on than the tarmac.”
Khoth stiffened. “If the Pilot was to accept your offer, we would be showing favor to whatever faction you represent, Justiciar Moturin, without knowing exactly what that faction represents.”
“True, but you know something about us. We don't believe you should be exiled for stopping Nova Voor from killing innocents and imprisoning the Pilot,” Typhon remarked with a slight smile. “Isn’t that a good start?”
Khoth stared at Typhon’s handsome face. He remembered how he used to feel heat in his belly every time that Typhon looked upon him and a desperate desire to please. No longer. Now Typhon wanted his attention and there was some kind of justice in that. At least Jace would think so.
“And you will only discover more if you come and speak with us. Don’t you wish to talk with your father and meet your new House, Khoth?” Typhon asked softly.
“My loyalty is to the Pilot. I have made no other,” Khoth stated.
He had cut off his selchitte. He had cut off his ties. Typhon would try to use the bonds of love with his father to compromise Jace. But he would not do it.
“My son is right to be cautious after all that has happened,” his father said, trying to soothe the sting in Khoth’s words.
Not that Typhon appeared stung.
“You are honorable to the core as always,” Typhon remarked.
“I am certain my father made clear to you that I disobeyed a direct order from the High Councillor before she undertook those actions you spoke of,” Khoth said coolly. “So I was not exiled for those particular acts.”
He saw the faintest blush on Jace’s cheeks and the Pilot lowered his head as if embarrassed or ashamed. But Jace had acted honorably. He had not been the weak, malleable thing his mother had suspected him of.
“Yes.” Typhon inclined his head. “But, as you told your father, such an order could only have led to dishonor and ruin. So you saved the Alliance twice at least in your actions.”
“The Commander would never have done what she asked even if it would have worked,” Jace said quietly.
Typhon’s smile grew sharp. “I’m sure you think that shows more of his honor. In human terms, perhaps it does, but in Thaf’ell to not do something that costs little and would bring great reward is illogical.”
“Costs little?” Jace’s eyebrow lifted. “You hide your emotions, especially the physical aspects of them. You save them for when you are behind closed doors. Yet you would have me believe that those same emotions--repressing them, ignoring them, or God forbid, following them--costs little? I’m sorry, Justiciar Moturin, but I am not the one who doesn’t understand the Thaf’ell in this matter.”
His father smiled and chuckled softly. “You would make a good Justiciar, Pilot. You cut through to the core of things.”
“They say the worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves,” Jace said quietly and he looked discontented as if looking at something inside of himself.
But Jace doesn’t lie to himself or anyone else.
“Could you excuse us for a moment?” Jace asked.
“Of course.” Typhon appeared completely unruffled that Jace was not jumping to take him up on his offer.
Jace gestured for Khoth to step aside. Dr. Hayter remained and spoke to the Justiciar with Gehenna almost keeping guard on him. They moved over to Davies.
“Well, this adds a level of complexity,” Davies remarked with a mirthless grin. “They want you to be family, Commander. Oh, and they’ve got some great ideas about what the Pilot can do on behalf of the Alliance. And it would be their controlled portion of the Alliance.”
“I am well aware of that, Lieutenant-Commander Davies,” Khoth replied.
“More than aware of it. I’m betting you are already thinking of rejecting it because they’re offering you so much,” Jace said.
One of his hands was up at his right temple, rubbing a circle into the skin there. Khoth knew that Jace needed to be out of the sun and sitting down. More water and rest would be optimal. He could get Jace that at the Moturin Compound.
“And you are considering their offer more than you otherwise would, because of how much you believe it will give me,” Khoth pointed out.
“Good god, it’s like that Christmas story where the lady cuts her hair to get a watch chain for her husband and the husband sells the watch to get her some pretty combs for that hair,” Davies remarked dryly.
“I do not see the point of that story.” Khoth frowned.
“It means that they loved each other so much that they were willing to part with their most sacred possessions to give the other something special,” Jace said.
Khoth blinked. Love. Davies knew that he and Jace cared for one another? It had been only a sub-cycle and they were discovered? Khoth remained very upright. Perhaps he was misunderstanding this. Humans were strange at times. But their leaps of logic were quite accurate as well.
“The point of it is that you’re both sacrificing something thinking that it’s for the good of each other, but if you do that, you’ll have a useless chain and hair combs,” Davies pointed out. “So let’s not do that. Let’s get both of you something you want.”
Jace grimaced and brought the massaging hand down. “Truthfully, I don’t think there’s much choice but to go with Moturin. There’s no one else greeting us. I suppose we could saunter into town on our own.”
“That would not be wise,” Khoth said.
Khoth imagined the reaction of the Thaf’ell. Some would be fascinated and curious but most would be afraid. And that was actually a logical reaction considering what Jace could do and the fact that they didn’t know he wouldn’t hurt them. Humans, after all, were supposed to be mere animals controlled by the basest notions of their Xis. That he had ever believed this sounded absurd to him now, but he had.
“Right.” Jace rubbed harder. “And I believe Typhon’s right about Nova. We can’t help her. We need her to come out of this swinging and strong to help us.”
“My father has left her,” Khoth stated.
Jace grimaced. “I--I’m not sorry about that. He’s right to have chosen you. Thaf’ell or human logic.”
“There is only one logic, Pilot. But yes, the point is taken,” Khoth answered.
“Aren’t you glad he did it?” Davies asked.
Khoth crossed his arms at the wrists behind his back. “I have not yet had the time to evaluate the pros and cons of this development, Lieutenant-Commander Davies. But I pointed this out because without my father’s steadying presence, I fear Nova's emotionally compromised state will only increase. Even if she were to win, I do not know if she could or would help us.”
“We’ve got to think about that. We need her strong,” Jace said.
“Only if she’s on our side, thanks,” Davies huffed.
“We’ve definitely got to think about that.” Jace grimaced.
“If we go with House Moturin then we might lose our chance with her,” Khoth pointed out.
“Maybe.” Jace rubbed both temples now.
They needed to get Jace out of the sun. He needed rest. There was no perfect answer. In cases such as this it was best to take what was offered. His eyes slid to Typhon and narrowed, but then he saw his father speaking gently with Dr. Hayter. His heart thudded heavily inside of him. Could he give up his father twice? Yes, for Jace he could. But maybe doing so wasn’t the right thing.
“We should accept the offer of hospitality, but make no other decision,” Khoth suggested. “My father and Typhon have shown great elasticity in their thinking. Typhon learned English. He could not have done so overnight.”
“Which means he’s been thinking of humanity as an ally?” Jace asked. The rubbing eased.
“He must have been. And he’s done something by inviting my father and myself into his House that few others would do. No others would do that actually,” Khoth amended.
“But he has a reason to do this,” Jace said with a glance at Khoth.
Khoth frowned. “As does any House that wishes to advance itself and has the ambition to--”
“No, I mean…” Jace looked over at him and down again. “Perhaps he just wants you and your father as part of his… family.”
It took Khoth a moment to understand even as Davies frowned in confusion. Jace thought that Typhon wanted him back as a lover or even something more permanent. The idea wasn’t absurd exactly. But while Khoth was certain that Typhon had a certain cold fondness for him, it wasn’t the burning passion that would cause him to shake the Thaf’ell world like he’d done. No. If his sexual relationship with Khoth was worth anything in Typhon’s mind it was how he could use it to get closer to Jace and the powers of the Altaeth. But he could say none of this in front of Davies. Not directly.
“My value to him is only in what it can do in regards to you, Pilot,” Khoth said with a firm press of lips. “But that is a bare branch for him. Still, he has points in his favor for us. Few are stronger or more storied than House Moturin,” Khoth explained.
“I saw all his selchitte,” Jace said. “That’s a lot of history and accomplishments.”
“Indeed. He inherited some, but he earned the rest. He would be a useful ally,” Khoth said. “And we could still bring my mother to our side by… by showing her how you are like Daesah. Someone that balances her. Someone she can trust.”
“Someone that stole her husband and son from her,” Davies murmured.
“That is one way to look at it. Or, she may see the logic, that both I and my father find Jace worthy of our trust and that she should do the same,” Khoth answered.
“We can always hope.” Jace smiled genuinely this time. “Okay, so let’s see the wonders of the Moturin Compound.”