CHAPTER FIFTY-NINE: THE LAST ALTAETH
Jace let go of Khoth’s hand and stood up on shaky legs that he quickly firmed. Khoth’s own legs wouldn’t respond to him so he remained seated. He didn’t want to show Typhon and his father that none of them had known Jace was an Altaeth before that moment. Physical weakness in him would do this.
The revelation had shocked him, of course, and yet… it hadn’t. The clues the AIs had dropped all along the way, Jace’s unique connection to the Osiris even before he had been modified, and so much more had indicated a special biology that no one else had.
The Altaeth must have mixed with the local human population over time. And over the centuries, the millennia, there must have been strains that remained closer to the Altaeth ancestry. Typhon’s questions about Jace’s parents indicated that he agreed with this thought. Unique and amazing people. More advanced in intelligence and physicality. Born to be leaders and soldiers. Jack and Diane came together--likely two lines of Altaeth genes--and Jace was the result. Maybe they were drawn together by an ancestry they had no memory of. Maybe they had even been drawn to the Osiris itself by that same ancestry.
If I had not helped Jace, if I had followed the Rule of Duuskukeh, then the last Altaeth would have been lost. Maybe our only chance of defeating the Khul would be gone because of the Thaf’ell belief in our own superiority...
Of course, then there had been his mother’s behavior and Staed’s and who knew who else would come to threaten Jace. The irony that they would fail to recognize an Altaeth when they saw them was not lost on him. Khoth felt like he was going to vomit.
“Forgive me. I need… I need...” Jace gave a tight smile and bow to Typhon, not finishing his statement. Maybe he didn’t know what he needed.
Khoth desperately wanted to fix this. But what was there to fix? Jace was an Altaeth. A living Altaeth. The species that he and every Thaf’ell--every member in the Alliance really--had desired to understand, had sought to touch across time and space, and had dreamed of finding on one of their abandoned worlds. And Jace had chosen Khoth to be close to him, to be his protector, to be the one who understood him.
“Of course, Pilot. Is there something I can do to assist you?” Typhon asked, rising to his feet. “I would do anything to assist you.”
Khoth bared his teeth at that. He knew his father saw him as the older man shifted beside him. He knew that Thadden’s overwhelming concern had been to save him from his mother’s mistakes and dishonor. But Khoth was already saved. He had Jace. He had the Osiris.
Jace waved Typhon down. “No, no, everything’s… fine.”
“Pilot,” Khoth stood as well, even as his father tried to urge him to sit back down again.
Jace turned to him, but did not meet his eyes. “It’s all right, Khoth. I just need a moment. I...”
Khoth could almost see Jace’s Xi and Xa fighting in Jace’s handsome face. The sunglasses blocked the truth windows into Jace’s Xi. But the ripple of emotions across the visible part was enough to tell Khoth that Jace was on the very edge of control. With anguish, Khoth watched as Jace turned and half-stumbled, half-walked to the back of the vehicle--the canceaux--and stared out the window. Gehenna went wheeling after him making rather anxious beeps.
“Khoth, my son, sit,” his father urged.
“Jace needs me,” Khoth found himself murmuring, forgetting the honorific, forgetting propriety altogether.
“He indicated for you to stay so that he might recover himself,” his father pointed out. “Give him this moment then you may go to him.”
But his father did not understand humans--no, not humans--he didn’t understand Jace. Jace would gnaw off a limb before he put his burdens on others. No matter how heavy.
“The Pilot appears unwell. He did so earlier, too. I will make sure there is someplace cool and dark he can rest in. My private physician will see to him,” Typhon said smoothly and began tapping orders into the comm on his wrist.
“If anyone is examining our Pilot, it will be the ship’s doctor, Dr. Isa,” Davies snapped, coming out of the evident shock he’d been in after the revelation of Jace’s true nature.
Khoth’s gaze slid to Lieutenant-Commander Davies. The man had already expressed awe at Jace--an unsettling interest, in Khoth’s view--but he must have thought Jace was human then. Had this changed his mind about Jace? Would he view Jace with suspicion now that he knew Jace wasn’t human? Davies was representing humanity’s interests, he was a spy for General Intoshkin, so what was he thinking?
Davies had half-risen from his seat. One of his hands was balled against the window. His eyes flickered over Jace’s back. His expression was not one of awe, disgust or fear. But concern. Davies was worried about Jace. Not being human didn’t appear to matter to him. Khoth found his dislike of the man reducing somewhat.
“What would a human doctor know about Altaeth physiology?” Typhon remarked coolly. “Especially one that has just learned that other species exist off world? I’m sorry, but no matter how skilled she may be, this is beyond her. ”
Of course, Dr. Isa would be instructed by the Osiris in how to assist Jace. But, more likely, Jace would be required to go back into the pool to be healed. Yet Khoth did not think that there was anything physically wrong with Jace. It was a mental and emotional shock. Too many of them.
“What would the Thaf’ell know of Altaeth physiology?” Dr. Hayter asked, his stare sharpening behind his glasses. Suddenly, he no longer sounded like an absent-minded professor, but a tightly wound being about to leap. “The Pilot… the Pilot appears to be the last Altaeth there is and you’ve found no others. No bodies even, correct, Commander Khoth?”
“That is correct,” Khoth answered.
Jace was still Jace. Khoth had known he was remarkable and worth following before this revelation. Jace had not changed for him.
“So, your physician will know nothing of Altaeth biology either,” Dr. Hayter stated firmly.
“A physician with a familiarity of all the Seeded Species’ biology will have far more of a better starting point than one without,” Typhon answered, his voice still calm, but a little clipped. Typhon didn’t like to be second-guessed. He never had been and no one, other than these humans, would dare do so. “Besides, Dr. Faelar Xyrynore is discrete. Bringing your physician down will hardly go unnoticed. This is what is best.”
Typhon continued to tap on his wrist comm. Khoth slapped that hand down. Typhon, startled, looked up at him. His father had drawn in a deep breath. Khoth drew himself up to his full height. The Rule of Duuskukeh had nearly led him astray not too long ago. Maybe there were more Thaf’ell practices he should ditch.
“You will explain yourself, Justiciar Moturin,” Khoth demanded in a low, cold voice.
“Khoth!” His father sounded alarmed.
But Khoth held up a hand to silence his father. His father let out a choked sound, but went silent. Khoth had never disobeyed his parents--until Nova--or the status quo of society. But Jace was all that mattered to him and the crew of the Osiris after that. If he lost this proposed “family” with the Moturins, so be it. He would not allow anyone to interfere with this.
Typhon slowly lowered his hands to his lap and asked evenly, “What can I answer for you, Khoth?”
“It is Commander Voor,” Khoth corrected.
Typhon’s eyebrows lifted, but he nodded.
“How did you know that Jace was an Altaeth?” Khoth asked.
“I told you. It was the only logical explanation for him being the Pilot--”
“No.” Khoth stared at him.
Typhon let out an uncertain laugh. “Khoth--Commander, I do not see why you disbelieve--”
“You spoke English perfectly,” Khoth stated. “The human language takes considerable time to learn. Dr. Hayter, could you learn a language in the time from Jace’s transition to now?”
“No, I could not. Justiciar Moturin would have had to have been studying it for some time before Jace became the Pilot.” Dr. Hayter pushed his glasses up his nose. “Even assuming the Justiciar has greater intelligence, it just simply wouldn’t be possible. Human languages are very different from most of the Seeded Species’ tongues. And English is… well, it has so many delightful quirks that being fluent in it would be exceedingly difficult. I would say he has been studying for months, if not years of Earth time.”
“So I have an interest in human languages. What does that prove?” Typhon shrugged, but there was a small smile on his lips as if he wanted Khoth to figure out his lie.
“The likelihood of such an interest is slim. But, even if you were not lying, why was there nothing on the net regarding your contact with my father?” Khoth demanded.
His father stirred behind him. Khoth’s gaze slid to him. Thadden was frowning.
“You came to me in person, Typhon, and required that we speak offline and away from any comms, cameras, everything,” his father said.
“Yes, so that Nova or any of the others would know our plans,” Typhon answered.
“It wasn’t just for that,” Khoth stated.
“No, but it was mostly for that,” Typhon agreed and spread his hands. “I promise that you will have your answers once we are in the compound. How is that? All my secrets will be laid bare to you, Commander.”
“Commander, can I speak to you? Now?” Davies stood up and grasped his right forearm and tugged him away from the others, towards Jace.
Jace stared out at the city, seemingly oblivious to everything else. Jace put a hand on the canceaux’s back window. He was likely seeing the city with new eyes. Not just the wonder of an alien world. No. For it was not alien to Jace. It was his people’s city that the Thaf’ell simply lived in.
Jace, hold on.
Lowering his voice so the others couldn’t hear him, Davies said, “We need to abort this mission now. If we get to the compound, there is no telling if we’re getting out of it.”
Khoth’s gaze slid to the front of the canceaux and the pilot’s compartment. Davies was right. The compound was near the center of the city, though it was large and set off with non scaleable walls and extensive security both physical and electronic. Typhon’s secrets suddenly seemed dangerous. Khoth would have to overcome the pilot and then fly them back to the space port--
“There’s no need for that, gentlemen,” Jace’s voice was warm and filled with affection, but it didn’t reach beyond them to the others. “If I didn’t wish to go to the compound, we wouldn’t be going.”
Both Khoth and Davies’ heads snapped towards him. Jace was facing them. His back rested against the window, ankles crossed and one hand petting the top of Gehenna’s head-dome.
“Pilot,” Davies said as he marched over to Jace, “Typhon managed to pull off things that we didn’t know about in advance. He might have some way of blocking you from the Osiris just like the Khul did.”
Jace nodded. “Your concerns are noted, Lieutenant-Commander. But I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with. It was more that I didn’t know what to look for, because I wasn’t aware…” Jace paused, licked his lips, and his eyes flickered to Khoth’s then away as if ashamed. “I wasn’t aware of certain things. You can’t know to look for something if you don’t know it's there.”
“Pilot, if you’re certain…” Davies let that sentence hang.
Jace leaned towards him and grinned. “We have Gehenna to save us if I’m wrong.”
Gehenna beeped authoritatively. She didn’t show her weaponry though, keeping up the appearance of a cute ball.
Davies let out a hiss of breath, but he straightened his shoulders and said, “As you will, Pilot.”
He then turned and headed back to his seat. The others were openly watching them, except for Typhon who had resumed his tapping. Khoth wondered exactly what he was ordering next. But Jace would know…
“Come here… please, Khoth,” Jace said and gestured for him to approach.
Khoth joined Jace at the back of the canceaux. Gehenna twittered up at him. Across his comm came the statement, Jace needs you! He’s really upset! Khoth nodded at her. He knew. He was here. He resisted the urge to touch Jace. Jace shifted to look up at him.
“Hey,” Jace said, his voice soft, uncertain and a little blasted. The earlier calm and certainty slipped a little. “Are you--are you okay?”
Khoth blinked. Was he all right? It was Jace who had been shocked to his core…
“Yes, my Xi is… relatively at ease. Is your Xi… are you all right?” Khoth switched to human words.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Jace gave a faint laugh. “You know I didn’t know about--about the Altaeth thing until I said it here, right? The AIs kept it from me.”
Gehenna made a soft, sad boop. She pressed tighter against Jace’s leg.
“I deduced that.” Khoth nodded. “You believed yourself… human. That was important to you.”
Jace flashed a smile that Khoth was sure didn’t reach his eyes. “I did. Except I didn’t. You made me feel… human. With you, I was still Jace.”
Khoth felt an ache in his chest. He asked softly, “Do I no longer provide you such comfort?”
Jace’s lips parted. “Oh, you--you provide everything.” He reached and touched Khoth’s arm then pulled his hand away and bit his lower lip. “I probably shouldn’t say this here, or maybe at all, but… Khoth, you mean so very much to me.”
Khoth found himself straightening proudly. Jace still wished him to have a special role even though Jace knew he was now an Altaeth. Khoth frowned at that thought. It was off somehow. It was not something Jace would appreciate.
I am making a determination that as Jace is now an Altaeth that he is above me. He would not like that classification, Khoth realized.
“I don’t expect you to say you feel the same,” Jace quickly stated.
Khoth covered Jace’s nearest hand with his. “I do. You are precious to me.”
Jace’s lips parted. A smile--a genuine smile--crossed Jace’s face, transforming him. Khoth’s cheeks blued. To say these things with others within hearing distance was not done. There would be so many questions his father would have. Or maybe Thadden would understand.
He likely will think it right and proper that I have feelings for an Altaeth, Khoth realized, slightly startled by the revelation.
The Altaeth were not considered gods by the Thaf’ell--though some Alliance species did worship them--they were viewed as superior. Above all others. That was what Typhon had been getting at. If everyone knew that Jace was an Altaeth… everything would change. It would make getting species on their side easier. The Council itself might realize that they could not stand against Jace and might step aside. Did Jace understand the power of being an Altaeth? Would he even want to use it if he did know? Khoth could very well see Jace wanting to use reason and logic to get species on their side instead of his biology.
“Why did the AIs hide this from you?” Khoth asked.
“I’m not mad at them. They knew I wasn’t ready to hear it. They realized it would be better for me to discover it this way.” Jace let out a breath of air. “Still believing I was human helped with the transition, you know? There’s been so much that… well, sometimes you’ve got to simply rip the Band-Aid off.”
Khoth had no idea what that last part meant.
“But was it wise to have…” Khoth turned slightly back to look at Typhon. All three were watching them closely. Not even Dr. Hayter was looking at the shining buildings of glass any longer. “Was it wise for it to be Typhon and not an ally to tell you this? And would it not have been better back on the ship?”
Jace let out another soft laugh. “Yes and no. Yes, because I could absorb it without everyone seeing my mental breakdown.” This alarmed Khoth as he quickly assessed Jace’s physical presence. There was a faint tremor in his right hand, but Jace quickly lowered it to the glass. “But no, because I’m being bombarded with so much, I cannot dwell on this.”
“My mother said something much the same at Daesah’s death,” Khoth found himself saying. “She had to focus on the Alliance. She could not take the time to… to mourn a beloved daughter.”
Jace lowered his head. “You think I’m avoiding accepting this--this thing about me?”
“You have the right--no, the duty--to give yourself time to accept this,” Khoth said.
“The duty…” Jace gave a mirthless huff of laughter. “Yeah, I probably do. Will I have the time and space to do it?”
Khoth laced their fingers together even as he hid that from the others with his body. “I will make certain you have it.”
Jace rolled his lips together as if considering this. He finally nodded and let out a breath. “All right, Khoth, my Commander, I accept your offer.”
Khoth longed to kiss Jace, but instead, he ran the back of his thumb over Jace and his joined hands. “Good.”
“And they all think I’m in charge, but it's really you,” Jace chuckled.
“About everything else, you command, but as to your safety and happiness, I am your protector. I will guard you from everyone, including yourself,” Khoth said and felt the formality of the words.
They were a play on the mating vows of his people. Any hope that Jace wouldn’t know this was a vain hope as Jace gasped and then was smiling again.
“Thank you, Khoth. I accept your guardianship,” Jace said.
Khoth felt a little dizzy with the words that were, again, so close to a formal mating acceptance. They both looked out the window to recover themselves. The sun painted the buildings brilliant rainbow colors like oil slicks reaching into the skies. There were the delicate towers that housed businesses and homes that speared the sky. Balloon-like domes appeared ready to lift off from the ground if given release. These housed many of the markets. Pyramid-shaped buildings studded the landscape like diamonds partially unearthed. Greenery swam everywhere, obscuring many of the walkways and bridges. Rivers cut through the city, their crash and roar silent from here, but on the ground their call was unmistakable.
“We are here,” Typhon announced as he stood.
To their right rose the ziggurat-shaped Moturin Compound. It stretched six city blocks on every side. The main building rose up over thirteen stories with many smaller buildings inside the walls. A forcefield surrounded the top. It was a hot blue and would incinerate any unauthorized ship that attempted to land.
Jace took a step towards the front of the canceaux as it swept in a wide arc, seeking permission to land, on one of the landing pads that was only slightly smaller than those at the space port.
“You’re having some problems with keeping the field’s power even,” Jace said as he took off his sunglasses. His eyes were glowing blue.
Typhon stared at Jace for long moments, taking in those glowing eyes similar and not to their own before he responded, “Yes, we must flow power to different segments in a certain order to keep the whole working.”
“But the field isn’t stable and if someone could figure out the weak segments they could get in,” Jace said conversationally.
Typhon slowly inclined his head. “That… is possible.”
“I can fix it for you,” Jace offered.
Typhon blinked. His father’s eyes widened.
“The whole city isn’t completely turned on,” Jace continued. “I can turn it on. Many of the issues you’re having--the entire city is having--would be improved and the major problems could be worked upon. Fixed.”
“You--you would do that?” his father asked.
Would. Not could.
Jace gave his father a gentle smile. “Maybe it seemed like I came here to conquer or… take back what’s mine. But that’s not it.”
“And what did you come to do?” his father asked.
“To save everyone,” Jace answered simply. He let out a huff of laughter and ducked his head. “I know how that sounds. But with the abilities I have I can--”
“No, it does not sound foolish or arrogant,” Typhon interrupted. “You are an Altaeth. This is your birthright.”
Jace put up a hand. “I’m not here for that either. I… I’m really here to help. Can I help you, Typhon? Can I fix your forcefield?”
Typhon nodded. “Yes, but let me warn my people--”
“No need. I’ve sent out a communication. They know what’s happening.” Jace’s eyes burned a hotter blue for a moment then smiled. “It’s done. Everything should be fine now.”
The forcefield around the Compound that had been blue was now green. Blue was likely a warning color that the field was not working properly, but they had accepted it as optimal. How many other blue forcefields had he seen? Too many.
Typhon started to field a blizzard of communications from his people. His expression told Khoth of their amazement.
His father rose from his seat and in a shaking tone asked, “What else can you do, Pilot? What else?”