CHAPTER SIXTY-ONE: DATABASE
“We can show you the database!” Amana offered as she and Typhon hurried after them.
“Oh, we know the way. Gehenna’s like a dog with a bone about stuff like this!” Jace waved over his shoulder at her.
“Oh, well, you know--”
“Don’t worry! We’ve got this covered!” Jace flashed a brilliant smile at her. He’d even taken off his sunglasses now that they were inside the compound.
The ball that was Gehenna rolled ahead at top speed down the steps towards a lift. Khoth found himself jogging then running to keep up with her and Jace. They soon left their own crew members as well as Typhon and Amana behind. The moment the three of them were in the sleek lift that smelled of jotun flowers, the doors shut and they were on their way to the lowest floor. Jace smiled up at him with an almost delirious look of delight.
“There’s likely going to be a ton of stuff about the Altaeth on this. Like, you know, customs and stuff. Important stuff.” Jace blushed and ducked his head.
“Stuff? Is that a technical term I do not yet understand?” Khoth lifted an eyebrow.
Jace blushed a hotter red, which Khoth found quite fascinating as it coursed beneath the collar of Jace’s uniform. He admitted to himself that he truly wished to know how far that color extended. But he also admitted to himself that it was inappropriate to think that. Then Jace was leaned against him, cuddling there as the lift rocketed downwards. Gehenna’s little dome head tilted to the side and she let out an audible, “Awwwwww.”
Khoth did not resist the urge to kiss the top of Jace’s head. Jace lifted his face up and a second kiss was placed upon Jace’s lips.
“Whatever this stuff is, I am eager to understand if it brings out the desire to kiss in you,” Khoth admitted even as he felt his own cheeks bluing.
Jace beamed. “I always want to kiss you and it was killing me not to do it earlier.”
“That is a saying, yes? You were not actually being killed--”
“No, Khoth, I wasn’t. It was just very hard. Excruciatingly hard. So I feel we earned that kiss,” Jace told him, squeezing his arm.
Khoth yeared for another kiss but the doors to the lift opened and a long hallway appeared before them. It was not part of the well-traveled halls of the Moturin Compound. Those were filled with art and antiques from the Moturins’ long family history. But these halls were smooth and blank. They were a reddish-brown color while the floor was black. Jace reached over and touched them.
“Older construction. Maybe even before the Altaeth were here,” Jace murmured. He tilted his head to the side as Gehenna rolled out past them. “This world was inhabited before.”
“Before the Altaeth?” Khoth lifted an eyebrow.
Jace nodded. “The labyrinth was here.” He shook his head and placed two fingers against his right temple and grimaced. “I’m having trouble keeping my connection to the Osiris here. And the broken systems are making things more difficult.”
“Perhaps… we will limit our time in this area,” Khoth suggested.
“You were going to say that maybe I should go upstairs and lay down, right?” Jace grinned. “But then you realized I would never do that so you amended your suggestion.”
“Exactly.” Khoth nodded.
“You’re learning!” Jace danced a few feet down the hallway. “We can’t give up this mystery. Not when we’re so close! I mean now would be the perfect time for something terrible to go wrong and the database to be destroyed so--”
“Why would the database be destroyed?” Khoth frowned.
“Because, ah, we’re here? And, ah, it might be important? That’s sort of how it always goes in the stories,” Jace admitted with a shrug, but neither his discomfort at being separated from the Osiris or the broken machinery dampened his enthusiasm.
Knowing though that Jace needed to get back upstairs--and wondering if their hosts would mind them simply accessing their sacred Altaeth technology--had Khoth urging the young man down the corridor. No one appeared to be down here. And now that he thought of it, they had gone to a floor not listed on the sensor. The light for the final lower floor above them had stayed lit for longer than any others--at least two floor’s distance--and then it had simply winked out and no lights were on. He was betting that Amana and Typhon didn’t allow anyone but themselves down here. But Jace had given them no chance to decide otherwise.
“I see. It is almost as if you expect the hand of fate to step in and cause extra problems for us,” Khoth said as they followed the rolling ball that was Gehenna.
Khoth considered this as they walked swiftly. “But do you not think we have sufficient problems ahead of us with the Council, the Alliance, Earth, and the Khul?”
“Then there is also the simple discovery of this database that the Osiris could not even see and--”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, okay, I see your point. I’m being romantic about this, but this database could lead to--”
“Stuff?” Khoth playfully finished.
“Yeah, completely.” Jace wrapped his arms around Khoth’s nearest one as they appeared to be the only people nearby. Another kiss on the head was doled out.
The corridor branched and branched again with other smaller hallways on either side of them. Some went straight, but others sloped downwards. Khoth’s sense of direction was quickly overcome, but his comm computer mapped out the area around them and, sure enough, it was a labyrinth like Jace had described. The sensors in the comm could not go very deep, but it was evident that there were significant structures below them.
Jace pointed to one in particular that was hardly marked in and said, “That’s where one of the generators is that’s not working. If I fix that, oh, boy, things would be so much better for this section of the city.”
“I wish the people of the Alliance could know just how eager you are to assist them without any desire for recompense,” Khoth said softly. “Haseon is the crown jewel in the Alliance, but from what you say--”
“It’s running at like 30% capacity,” Jace quantified. “Khoth, I could fix it! I could fix all of it! Well, mostly all. The Osiris’ report indicates what kind of materials we need shipped in, including more calcanth--”
“You know where calcanth can be mined?”
Khoth nearly screeched to a halt, but forced himself to keep walking as Gehenna wasn’t stopping. Nor was Jace. But his momentary blip of Xi was understandable. Where the calcanth came from was one of the greatest mysteries of the Altaeth.
“Jace, so far no Alliance world has any native calcanth on it. We have sought the mineral and--”
“Well, it’s not really mined,” Jace said carefully. “It’s grown and--”
He put his fingers on Jace’s lips. “Don’t say anything here. This is the most important substance to the Alliance, Jace. You must use this as leverage.”
Jace blinked and kissed his fingers, which had Khoth drawing them back and caressing Jace’s chin.
“You’re right though I… I don’t want to negotiate like this with the Alliance. Not quid pro quo. It won’t make things right between us,” Jace told him.
“But it might be the only way. While I have told you that my people are ruled by their Xas, I have become quite aware that this was a misapprehension,” Khoth told Jace in due solemnity.
Jace’s lips quirked into one of those grins. “Ah, ha, yeah. I get you. You feel you’ve misled me into thinking that the Thaf’ell will see that working with us is best logically, but that’s not the case?”
“I think their reactions are pretty logical actually. It’s like when the general wondered how a store clerk could handle negotiations with the head of an inter-galactic alliance. It was only after I showed him that I could that he believed in me.” Jace shrugged. “You’ve seen what I am capable of with Osiris and Gehenna. But all the Alliance has seen is a species that they considered lesser suddenly making the rules and demanding to handle things.”
“You are not…” Khoth paused.
“Human? Maybe not on the inside. Not anymore. That’s for sure.” Jace blew out a long breath. “But I was raised human by people who thought they were human too. Genetically, I’m an Altaeth, but in every other respect, I’m human.”
“Amana will disagree. As would Typhon,” Khoth pointed out. “While Amana has always been spiritual--”
“Singer, poet, so yep, she’s allowed.” Jace laughed.
Khoth nodded. That was correct. “Typhon has never shown any worshipful tendencies towards the Altaeth. But I saw them today.”
“He worships me? Oh, so I can tell him what a bastard he was for--for taking advantage of you?” Jace flashed him a look and there was a momentary show of concern in those eyes.
“His actions were not honorable. I see that clearly now. But they are in the past and they have given me a unique understanding of relationships,” Khoth explained softly. He cupped Jace’s cheek. “On how not to behave.”
“Yeah, well, I still want to beat his ass.” Jace pursed his lips.
“He is an ally. An imperfect one. But one nonetheless. I am, however, greatly… greatly touched by your desire to defend me,” Khoth admitted, finding the intimate words hard to say in the Moturin Compound, even as he was convinced there were cameras and listening devices everywhere. But Gehenna would know if there were, even if Jace could not reach the Osiris easily.
“Anytime. I would do anything…” Jace cleared his throat. “Well, you mean an awful lot to me. So much.”
“My Xi is in agreement with your Xi,” Khoth said, feeling warmth build within his chest.
They had stopped in the middle of a hallway while Gehenna had rolled on ahead. Now, he heard her call to them in a high-squeaky voice, filled with excitement.
“I’ve found it! Come! Come!” Gehenna squealed.
His comm burst to life with many smiley emojis as well as confetti and other signs of celebration.
“We’ve fallen behind. Can’t let Gehenna have all the fun!” Jace flashed his trademarked grin.
“No, indeed, especially since the database could be destroyed by fate at any moment just to add to our worries!” Khoth smiled back as they jogged in the direction of Gehenna’s voice.
Jace let out a brilliant laugh.
They found Gehenna in a room down a secondary hallway. Jace froze in the threshold and let out a “whoaaaa”.
“You weren’t kidding that they worship the Altaeth,” Jace said as he gestured to the room in front of them. “Though that database… man, even I’m feeling a little worshipful.”
The room was square with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The stone was a darker red than the hall and made up everything from the walls to the floor to the ceiling. The database was situated in the center. It was not some metallic box with an opening for inputs and outputs, but instead was a glowing blue-white construct that hovered three feet above the ground.
All in all, it was a cube, but it was made of light and there were sections that moved independently of one another, slowly turning or twisting to create shapes that would then be destroyed as the light uncombined and recombined. It was the only source of light in the room. There were prayer mats on each side of it as well as selchitte beads in bowls that were being bathed in the database’s light.
Gehenna rolled around the outside of the room, observing the database from all angles.
“I can definitely connect!” she informed them with delight. “It’s like it was made for me! I’ll just--”
“No! Gehenna, stop!” Jace cried.
“What? Why, Jace? It surely has information we could use--”
“We have no idea what it could do to you. To us.” Jace hurried into the room to address the ball.
“Oh, but…” Gehenna’s head moved restlessly. “It could be important! I’m sure it is! And I could shield you by partitioning myself--”
“No! Partitioning yourself means we’ll be separated and I don’t want that,” Jace told her.
“I don’t want to be separated either,” she answered loyally. “But this is special and--”
“Nothing is more special than you, Gehenna,” Jace told her.
Her ball head lifted high off the ball body for a moment. Her voice filled with emotion, “Jace… I feel the same!”
“I know you’re excited to see what’s in this thing. I am too. This might tell you about the people who made you or even why you were made overall,” Jace said, scrubbing the back of his neck. “But it could also change you. Rewrite you. Infect you. We don’t know. I’m just not willing to risk that.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. I was going to say that my abilities are second to none, but this is my makers’ work so they would have anticipated what I can do,” she agreed, her head dipping slightly.
“Now that I see this, I realize we have to go slow,” Jace told her, patting her dome. “It’s fun to dive in, but not at the expense of your friends.”
She leaned against Jace’s legs, making a strange purring sound as if she were a feline.
Khoth stepped over to them as he, too, observed the construct, “The Moturins are able to interact with this database. That does not require AI involvement. Perhaps that is the best first step to be taken.”
“You’re so right, Khoth!” Jace brightened as did Gehenna. “I guess that old adage is true that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail and you forget that maybe you need a screwdriver.”
Khoth’s eyebrows lifted into his hairline. “Ah, yes, I think I understand what you are saying.”
“It means that sometimes we forget that there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Jace answered.
Khoth regarded him silently.
Jace’s lips twitched, but he explained solemnly, “There’s more than one way to solve a problem and that when we have one tool we’re used to using on problems that we forget there are other tools.”
“Ah, yes, that makes sense,” Khoth responded neutrally.
“I guess we shouldn’t have outpaced the owners of this place,” Jace said, but then perked up. “Oh, but they’re here!”
At that moment, Amana, Typhon, his father, Davies and Dr. Hayter walked into the room. Typhon performed the gage ritual of forming a circle on his forehead and drawing a line with his fingers down to his chest. Xi and Xa as one. He bowed his head and stepped to the side. Amana did the same. His father and the other two watched curiously, but did not repeat the gesture. His father had never worshipped the Altaeth as the great creators. Khoth had never been so grateful for that. He knew Jace would find that off putting as well as intimidating.
“I see you did know where to go!” Amana glided towards Jace, her expression and voice welcoming.
Jace gave a rather shame-faced shrug. “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come here without your permission.”
But she waved away his apology. “You are the last Altaeth and this is yours more than it could ever be ours.”
“In fact, our whole world is yours,” Typhon remarked quietly.
“Well, I think it’s a little big for one person, don’t you?” Jace asked lightly.
Typhon inclined his head. “We are only here at your indulgence.”
“Oh, no, no.” Jace waved that off almost frantically. “If you weren’t here this world would be dead. The city silent. How could that be a good thing? I’m so glad that you and the Alliance are using the tech. In fact, I want to see it working properly.”
“You said something like that up above and then you… fixed our shields. Reports from our security forces indicate that the shields have other functions as well as none being able to breach them now,” Typhon remarked. “Do you mean that more systems could be fixed in this manner?”
Jace nodded eagerly, clearly warming up to the subject. “Oh, yeah! Like I was telling Khoth, this whole planet is only working at like 30% capacity. There’s so much that needs fixing and optimizing and--”
“None of which our Pilot can do for you while we’re treated as enemies,” Davies put in dryly, echoing Khoth’s earlier point.
Jace’s head drooped. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”
Amana’s eyes had been fixed upon Jace. At his disappointment, she placed an elegant hand on Jace’s shoulder.
“Your Xi shines like the sun and stars,” she said sweetly. “Your desire to help us when we’ve shown you such little welcome is… well, it is fitting of your species’ greatness.”
“I’m human and not so great,” Jace told her earnestly. “Altaeth body, but human mind. That’s my programming, so to speak. You’ve hardly had a chance to get to know Davies and Dr. Hayter, but I can assure you that they--and all of the human crew--are worth knowing.”
Amana bowed her head. “I am eager to meet them all and know them as I wish to know you as the last Altaeth.”
“Well, I’m not technically the last. My mother and father have those genes,” Jace said. “And they’re very cool. My dad’s on the Osiris and Mom should arrive any minute now.”
“But you are the only one the Osiris chose to purify, correct?” Typhon asked.
Jace made a face. His lips pressed together and his forehead wrinkled.
“Purify is a word with a troubling history for humanity used in that context, Justiciar Moturin,” Dr. Hayter said, putting his hands together in front of him as if lecturing a class. “It’s associated with eugenics, which allowed those in power to commit heinous acts against the weak, disenfranchised or simply different.”
Typhon nodded, but did not rephrase the question.
“There can only be one Pilot,” Jace said. “And I am that one out of everyone. But that doesn’t mean my parents aren't extraordinary or worthy.”
“No, of course not!” Amana cast a pleading look at her brother. “He did not mean it that way. We look forward to welcoming your parents to Haseon and humanity to the Alliance.”
“You may come to find that it is better for people to think you utterly singular, Pilot,” Typhon said, “otherwise there will be those who will mine Earth for more with Altaeth genes who might not have… proper intentions.”
Jace frowned. “I see what you are saying. They would hope that finding others with Altaeth genes would assist them in harnessing more aspects of Altaeth technology, yes?”
Another bow. “Yes.”
“It doesn’t work that way. Just so we’re clear on that.” Jace looked hard at Typhon just in case he was going to look for humans to do that too.
“I’m well aware,” Typhon answered. “Though I wonder if some of your crew have Altaeth ancestry.”
“We didn’t even know I was an Altaeth so it wasn’t a screening criteria,” Jace replied dryly.
“But perhaps you chose unconsciously,” Amana suggested.
“Well, that would be interesting, but unlikely as we were chosen by General Intoshkin,” Dr. Hayter said.
“You allowed the general to send you recruits?” Typhon’s right eyebrow lifted.
“And I chose among them.” Khoth crossed his arms over his chest. “We are quite satisfied with Dr. Hayter and Lieutenant-Commander Davies.”
“I see.” Typhon frowned slightly.
He did not. He had no idea that Jace and he were quite aware of the general’s machinations and that Davies was a spy. Or was supposed to be a spy. Or might be a spy, but was working for all of humanity or something.
“Could you demonstrate how you access the database?” Khoth gestured to glowing, shifting Altaeth creation.
“Of course. Please let me,” Amana said as she settled herself on one of the prayer rugs facing the database.
Gehenna and Jace came over to stand beside her. Khoth remained behind her. She performed the gage ritual. The database’s separate parts ceased moving and instead unfolded into what appeared to be a three-dimensional image of the Osiris and then Earth and then another planet.
“Oh! That’s where I was made, I think! Thausia!” Gehenna rolled back and forth eagerly.
“We believe this planet was the last stand for the Altaeth. The Osiris was built there as well, Gehenna,” Amana said. “It’s strange but there’s no mention of you.”
“Uhm, oh, well, I don’t know,” Gehenna said awkwardly.
Jace patted her head again. She snuggled against him. Khoth believed that the information on Gehenna was hidden, perhaps locked away behind layers of security that Amana couldn’t access.
“Have you consulted with Dr. Lafrei about this?” Khoth gestured to the database.
“The Neenda scientist? I know that she’s working on Thausia, but we’ve kept this… secret,” Amana explained.
“My sister spoke to her in depth. It led her to know that the Osiris came from Thausia and its purpose,” Khoth said.
“Which is to destroy the Khul?” Typhon asked.
Jace nodded. “It’s a warship and the Pilot--me--can use all of the Altaeth technology against them. I--oh!” A smile bloomed on Jace’s face. “Mom’s here! I can’t wait for her to see Haseon. I know that… no…”
All the color drained from Jace’s face. His eyes were that bright, electric blue that occurred when he was connected deeply with the Osiris. Jace turned towards Khoth.
“The Khul… they’re here,” Jace said.
And that was when the general alarm sounded. Something never heard on Haseon before.