Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE: COMMUNICATION

Earlier, in the Moturin Compound on Haseon...

“What are you doing here, High Councillor Voor?” Khoth asked as he and his mother entered the blown out opening into the Moturin Compound. “Shouldn’t you be safely ensconced at the Council Building?”

His mother was a fine warrior, but her position meant that she should not be on the front lines any longer. Had she come here to salvage her honor? Kill the Khul and show she was still in charge? Or perhaps, if he were charitable, perhaps she simply couldn’t sit back and let others fight the Khul on Haseon, and so had to come. Before her insanity over the Pilot, he would have thought the latter, but now the former seemed more likely. So having her here was not a comfort. 

“It’s not High Councillor anymore,” she answered as they crouch-walked down the hazy hallway.

The explosion had blown tons of rock dust into the air. It tickled the back of Khoth’s throat. If Jace had not fixed the shield, he imagined that the Khul would have completely swarmed the Compound easily, not even having to use so many bombs to get inside. He could imagine them infecting and killing with wild abandon as they made their way to Jace.

And everything would have been lost. Not just Haseon. Not just Jace. But the whole of the Alliance. And it still could be if we do not end this.

He reached the end of the hallway first and leaned his back against it. He held his draagves against his chest, muzzle pointed down towards the ground. Listening intently, and hearing nothing, he dared glance around the corner. There were no Khul, but there was evidence of their passage. One of them was injured and the greenish-black blood sizzled on the ground in spots. 

“I heard that, but you’ll get your position back,” Khoth finally answered. “You don’t need to be here to gather glory.”

“No, I don’t believe I will,” his mother said quietly. “And I’m not here for glory. I’m here to help you, the Pilot and our people. Not being High Councillor any longer frees me to do as I truly wish.”

He did not respond at first to what she had said. Her tone was curious too, almost more so than her words. Because he didn’t hear regret in her voice over losing her position, but relief

“Your Pilot showed everyone just how unfit I was for the position I held,” she added.

Khoth tensed slightly as they entered the blood-spotted hallway. Talking about this--about Jace, especially with her--right now was a terrible idea. He needed to be on mission completely. But he needed to know her intentions towards the Pilot. He couldn’t believe she had changed her opinion so quickly. Considering she had just said that Jace had exposed her worst moments to others didn’t bode well.

“If you had not behaved dishonorably, Jace showing your behavior to the Alliance would not have mattered,” Khoth said as he jogged down the hallway.

He thought he heard the faint whine of draagves fire coming up ahead. He noted that the doorways they passed all had security doors of thick calcanth blocking them. He was certain that these had not been there before.  They must be part of the security measures that Jace was turning on as he furiously tried to fix the ancient Altaeth technology. As well as looking formidable, the calcanth was molded to show scenes of trees and flowers that were unfamiliar to Khoth and not native to Haseon. 

Or perhaps they simply did not survive the millennia.

“Yes, that’s true. My own actions were to blame,” she finally answered as they slowed at another corner. “But having them seen sealed my fate.”

“So you do blame the Pilot for losing your position?” Khoth swung around to glare at her.

“No,” she answered, her eyes widening slightly at his anger. “He showed me what I should have known.”

“Which is?” Khoth’s hands were so tight on his draagves that his knuckles were white.

“That I was not suited to be High Councillor,” she answered.

He let a full beat pass by to absorb this. He started back down the hallway. “So you’re just going to give up and allow Ardath Ulgex to rule in your place?”

She definitely was here to salvage her reputation if it was so bad that she was claiming this. But she’d lost him and his father to this insanity. Perhaps she did recognize that she’d gone too far, that she was emotionally compromised. He felt like a metronome, swinging one way before swinging all the way to the opposite side. 

She smiled. “Actually, Esik Bhilkairs will be High Councillor until a vote can be arranged of all the Alliance species. Ardath was deemed… too controversial to appoint. Especially considering her feelings about humans and after the Pilot’s ship is the only one keeping us from being overrun.”

“The Pilot’s ship is not the only thing taking out the Khul. The Pilot secured the planetary defenses, which is why we have only one ship on Haseon rather than an armada,” Khoth growled.

He checked the next hall and was gliding down it, draagves at his shoulder. He was relieved to see that all of the doorways so far were covered with those calcanth security doors. He was certain that the Moturins were mostly safe inside. Jace had done this. He was tempted to contact the young man, but did not. Jace needed to focus on what he was doing and Khoth needed to do the same.

“I know. I understand, Khoth.” She touched his forearm. 

He stared at her hand, his emotions swirled behind a pane of impenetrable glass. He was unable to feel them. Only know that they were there. “Why are you doing and saying these things now?”

“Because the Khul are on Haseon and I may not get another chance,” she answered. Her eyes were full of meaning, of emotion. 

But he could not interpret them. Or perhaps he would not. Because even if she was saying far more than those spoken words, there was too much he could not say back. Words of recrimination. Words of anger. Words of despair, too.  She reached up to brush her fingers over his missing selchitte, her eyes growing so sad. He jerked away from her and continued down the next hall. 

“Khoth!” she called softly, but insistently.

“No, you do not have the right to do that. You cannot regret,” he hissed, not turning towards her.

“I know I owe you far more than a few words in a hallway--”

“You think an ocean of words would undo what you’ve done?” he asked with  a bitter laugh. “I’ve left you! Father’s left you! You’ve lost your position! And now we matter!”

“You’ve always mattered,” she insisted.

“Not enough,” he muttered under his breath. “And I don’t truly think you know what that means!”

That was when he saw the final door in that hallway. It was open. The calcanth security door had not fully closed, having jammed a quarter of the way down. A sickening dread spread through him like ice frosting a window pane. He pointed towards it, both of them slowed their movements, and moved as quietly as they could. He crouched down by the door, listening, but like before, he heard nothing. He glanced inside. A Cetix lay dead on the floor. Its body coiled around itself in an almost neat circle. The floor and bed smoked. There was no dead Thaf’ell inside.

“They could have escaped,” his mother offered.

“Or they were captured,” Khoth said numbly. “The Pilot believed the Khul would attempt to use hostages to get him to reveal himself to them.”

“Please tell me that he would not do that,” his mother said, but then closed her eyes. “Of course, he would do that. He’s a hero.”

Khoth stood up. “We have to catch them.”

“And when we do?” she asked.

Khoth’s eyes narrowed. “We ensure that Jace does not play hero.”

***

 

Elsewhere in the Moturin Compound on Haseon...

Jace was “riding” Gehenna. They were rolling down the hallways. It had been quite a bit of fun rolling down the stairs. Gehenna could have transformed into her footed version, but rolling was faster.

I detect Khul life signs straight ahead! Gehenna told him. And Thaf’ell, too. Looks like the Thaf’ell have the Khul pinned down at the end of this hallway at a T-intersection. 

And she was right. Anytime, a Khul emerged to send a larva ball spinning down the hallway, a laser blast from a draagves headed towards it heads. The wall back there was scored with plenty of blast marks and there was Khul blood smoking and hissing on the ground. 

Can that blood hurt your outer shell, Gehenna? Jace asked, not having investigated the specs of her Star Wars ball body.

Nope! I’m pure calcanth, baby! She cried with glee. I’ll just feel gross, but it won’t hurt me.

That’s good to know, because I think we need to do some up close and  personal wet work, Gehenna, Jace told her. We don’t have to worry about you being infected.

Oooh, I like how your mind works!

You did help train it, he reminded her. 

I did! But you always had all the good ideas. Shall we roll ahead and go in like a mofo?  She sent him emojis of a laughing, evil smiley face.

Actually, I was thinking about you flanking them, Jace suggested as he showed her a route that would lead her behind the Khul.

That way had been blocked by calcanth security doors he’d sent crashing down the moment that Khul had entered. But he could open them as necessary for her. 

Righty ho! Besides, they might blast us too many times before we got to them, she admitted as she whizzed away.

The Thaf’ell they saw and passed all got instructions on their comms about what was coming. They laid down covering fire as she whizzed part way down the hall and then turned a corner at high speed. She hit the wall a few times rather like a pachinko ball before straightening out. He opened the doors just enough for Gehenna to roll through before shutting them firmly behind her. That was wise, because some of the Khul had become curious if they, too, could flank the Thaf’ell.

CETIX! Gehenna cried. 

Go get it! Jace urged.

Immediately, Gehenna transformed into her droid body and laser blasts peppered the Cetix that had just heard the metallic rolling sound she was giving off. The high-pitch whine of the lasers ended as the Cetix--with holes in its carapace large enough to roll through--slumped to the side

Ah, it’s blocking the way, Jace said.

No worries! Gehenna sounded gleeful.

Suddenly, she had what looked suspiciously like a lightsaber emitting from one of her arms. It was purple. He tried not to laugh. Obviously, she was somewhere in between Anakin and Vader, not blue, not red, but purple.  She sliced the Cetix in several pieces. She hopped over the slices and was rolling away again with just a little smear of blood on her chassis. 

They barreled around another corner and came upon two Omull. The lightsaber was out again, cutting through the Omull’s legs as Gehenna rolled underneath them. She sent laser blasts up into their bodies at the same time. One blast ran all the way to the top of the Omull’s head and it exploded everywhere, painting the hallway with blood. She moved so fast that she was gone before the Omull collapsed behind her. 

Three down! She enthused.

You’re so bloodthirsty, Gehenna, he laughed.

Should I not be?

Her rolling slowed a little.

Wait, no, I mean yes, you should be! The Khul aren’t redeemable. They want to hurt everyone, Jace assured her.

I thought so too, but my people had other ideas, Gehenna said.

Your people? Jace lifted an eyebrow.

His eyes were closed, but he could actually see himself lying back in the chair in the Command Room. He looked ill. Amana and Thaddon were standing between him and the door, weapons at the ready. 

What? Gehenna asked.

Your people. You just mentioned “your people,” Jace reminded her.

I did? She sounded bewildered.

Yeah, something about them not wanting to kill Khul? Jace poked her.

Really? I don’t remember that! How fascinating! Ooooh, look! Another Cetix! I’m going to make Cetix sushi out of it!

She rolled faster, dodging the larva balls and the grenade that the Cetix sent towards them, before she leaped into the air with lightsaber ready and sliced the Cetix into three, quivering, bleeding coils. She landed on the other side of the creature with a cry of triumph. 

You’re a murderball, Gehenna! Jace said, impressed. You and Davies really thought of everything with that build!

I suppose we should say that George Lucas thought of a lot of things. We just copied… and improved! She crowed.

Now, now, we mustn’t elevate ourselves too much here over George, Jace laughed. He is the master!

He made the prequels, she pointed out, mirroring his own thoughts on those. 

Yeah, but the sequels were worse, Jace sighed. 

I liked the hint of romance between Rey and Ben, but--

OMULL, GEHENNA! Two o’clock!

She sent five powerful laser blasts towards the Khul that pulped its head. It slumped to the ground. She had to slice and dice again to get past. She was covered in Khul blood now as they rolled.

He was still worried about the “your people” thing even as he allowed himself to admire Gehenna’s handiwork. He wondered if that had been triggered by the database somehow. He hadn’t let her interact with it. But she had known it was there when they were on the landing pad on the roof.  Or maybe Gehenna was still hiding things from him. But he didn’t think so. In fact, she really seemed to have no idea she’d said that line about her people. It was something to think about later and to comb her code. He had to understand what was going on here. 

Once I’m hooked up with the Osiris, I’ll be able to figure this out easier, he thought.

He kept reaching for the ship’s AI, but it was as if there were a piece of thick, ballistic glass between them and he simply couldn’t reach the AI. He could feel the Osiris. It was like a far off melody that called to him. Then, of course, there were the far nearer jangles of the smaller, less robust AI here that drowned out even the siren song of the Osiris. 

The more he delved into the planet’s systems, the more apparent the issues were. Falling walls, rotting wiring, malfunctioning power sources were just the tip of the iceberg. The nanotech that swirled all around Haseon hadn’t been ordered to maintain things in a long time.  The AIs were eager for him to get them started on reordering things, but he had to focus on the Khul so he’d done only what was necessary to get the shield doors down. But he knew not all of them had closed.

Most did. But not all. Jace frowned. I hope anyone in one of those rooms had a chance to get out and go somewhere else.

He and Gehenna were limited by the Compound’s own systems. And those systems sucked to put it lightly. And the Khul’s technology was also interfering. For instance, even though he knew exactly how many people were in the Compound, he was only able to locate half of them. There were simply blank spaces where sensors no longer worked or the walls themselves blocked out IDs. That was also how he had lost count of the Khul. He had an AI going back over for him every millisecond since the Khul had landed, tracking all of them, but he had a terrible feeling that 25 had come in while he was able to locate only 20. Well, 15 now as Gehenna, the murderball, had already taken out 5 of them. He’d send Davies, Dr. Hayter and Typhon into the lower levels so he hoped the other missing Khul could be located.

The lower levels are deep and complex. What if one or more of the Khul hides down there and only emerges secretly to infect people? Jace thought and felt a queasiness fill him. A rapid chain of infection could start and… and… we might not be able to stop it!

Would Haseon be another Staulis? He sent another urgent command to the AI tracking the Khul. It had to locate every single one. No exceptions. It understood and practically quivered to serve him well.

Oh, I think Khoth and High Councillor Voor are up ahead! Gehenna cried happily. But then her voice changed, Uhm, I’m getting another Thaf’ell on my sensors but he is--ah, oh, this isn’t good!

Gehenna? Jace asked, even as he studied the data she was looking at.

And the moment he did, he understood. This unknown Thaf’ell was in the middle of a group of Khul. They were practically pressed up against them. But they weren’t dead. Not yet. 

Gehenna rounded the corner and they saw in the flesh--or metal--what they had glimpsed on the sensors. There were three Khul, two Omull and one Cetix, in the center of the hallway. One of the Omull had its tentacles against the Thaf’ell’s neck. The Thaf’ell trembled and his lips were parted in pain and fear, but he didn’t scream despite where he was. 

Gehenna, Jace repeated her name.

I know, Jace, she whispered. What do we do?

Khoth and Nova were on the other side of the hallway, just out of sight, around a corner. 

Khoth, stop! Jace sent. Stay where you are!

Khoth and Nova did stop. But Jace sensed hesitation there.

Gehenna and I are here, Jace said. 

You are there? Khoth’s response was alarmed.

Yeah, I mean… no, I’m in Gehenna. And that sounds really wrong, Jace said, but he got no joy out of the double entendre. The Khul have a hostage.

There was a very long pause, but then Khoth said, We know. Jace, let us take care of this.

Yeah, and that’s why I want you to stay where you are, Jace told him, hoping some gentleness came across in the sentence. 

They cannot be saved, Jace! Khoth sent frantically back. 

Jace closed his eyes more tightly even as his body felt very distant from him.

I…

Jace, you cannot save them! Khoth repeated.

They haven’t been infected yet, Gehenna said, as she scanned the Thaf’ell’s body. 

So there’s still hope? Jace asked.

Ah, I don’t know if I’d go that far, Gehenna answered. The tentacle is attached to his neck.

And if we kill the Omull--

It will automatically inject a larva and this close to the head… Well, the only time that a Thaf’ell was saved was when a larva entered her hand and she chopped it off immediately, Gehenna said. That’s the only case I’ve found and they think that’s a myth. Because no one would have let her live regardless.

Gehenna was sharing this information with Khoth too, which had Jace grimacing. The Moturins were Khoth’s family now with Thadden’s joining of this House. And now Khoth would be involved with a family member’s death.

Jace, there is no hope. Letting this go on is only making it worse, Khoth said tenderly.

Jace looked into the Thaf’ell’s blue-on-blue eyes and, for a terrible moment, he imagined they were Khoth’s. His gorge rose in his throat that, too, felt so far away. 

The Khul are trying to communicate with us, Jace, Gehenna sounded alarmed.

Jace felt alarmed. The metallic bite of fear entered his mouth. 

I see that, Jace said. Khoth, the Khul are trying to talk to us.

Of course, they are, Khoth growled. They want to trade his life for yours. It cannot be done--

That’s not what they want, Gehenna interrupted. They want the--the database.

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  • Oh no no no no. The fact that they want it so badly that they’ve taken a hostage and changed tactics so drastically means that one life is not worth the exchange. Do not do it!

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  • Oh Khoth, still having to deal with his mother at a time that he needs focus. Nova Voor your timing for revelation is off, you forgot what was more important, you chose being High Councillor over being a mother and wife and still placed your people in grave danger. So happy Ulgex did not get to be High Councillor. Nova should have stopped herself from reaching up to Khoth's hair, he still remembers her saying she has no son.

    Jace riding Gehenna, takes roller derby and pinball to new meanings. lol Some how I am not surprised that it was the database the Khul was after. Jace knows the Khul are intelligent and them getting a hold of the database would not be a good idea broken or not. But then is it broken or when Typhon and his sister accesed it, they could only access it so far before it automatically shut itself off? If so, is there another way of accessing it that only an Alteath or AI can access, or heaven forbid a Khul? So many things still left, Khul ships still trying to enter Haseon, one more Hive to destroy, how to answer the Khul who have captured a Thaf'ell (not a kobyoshi test as choice is limited and very real), plus must destroy 11 Khul on compound ( 1 perhaps on its way to where Jace is physically), then outside the compound you have Thammah still fighting the Khul protecting the Thaf'ell citizens. Oh, and you have left Osiris dive bombing to avoid two Thaf'ell ships that are floating in space. I think that about sums it up. Now, I have not forgotten that little nugget from Gehenna when she let slip "my people", as I have said she does not behave as a typical AI and will leave that to see where it goes. So, now I wait as I think I am going to love how you got us all on edge Raythe.

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  • In reply to: LMR1

    you chose being High Councillor over being a mother and wife and still placed your people in grave danger
    She will address this a little later! But you're right.

    Some how I am not surprised that it was the database the Khul was after.
    The whole tangled issues here are going to have to be unwound. It's going to be tough.

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  • So, I'm definitely thinking that Dr Hayter being high is tapping into his Altaeth bloodline a bit and the "colors" he's seeing are the nanites zooming around trying to help Jace fix things. Wouldn't let them get the database, the one Thaf'ell probably already thinks he's dead, and would have major ptsd and probs kill himself even if he's saved form this moment somehow, because "we didn't know they could get here so what else don't we know they can do?" would always be in his mind and he might start to think he's a sleeper agent of some kind. Just not worth it on anyone's end, it doesn't make Jace any less human to make the call to kill him now, he'd mostly likely be saving him from a lifetime of suffering in a community that doesn't do emotional expressions.

    Really love this story, keep it coming ^_^

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  • In reply to: EliMoon

    So, I'm definitely thinking that Dr Hayter being high is tapping into his Altaeth bloodline a bit and the "colors" he's seeing are the nanites zooming around trying to help Jace fix things.
    You guys are cracking me up. I really just intended him to be high!

    What will happen to the captured Thaf'ell is complicated obviously. But all good points.

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  • I totally get where Jace is coming from. I would want to save anyone I could, but if I was the one caught by the Khul, I would desperately want someone to shoot me in the head. I honestly believe there are things so much worse than death and I think that the Thaf'ell knows how small the chance of survival is at this point. That's always such a hard decision, but if you could end the hostage's fear and pain instantly with one shot, I don't think that's a bad decision in cases like this. It'll be interesting to see Jaces development and how he grows to deal with lose-lose situations like this. We're getting into the territory of hurting the one to save the many, and I'm not sure Jace will be successful unless he can figure out how to keep his "humanity" while makeing the hard and sometimes crule choose when it's needed. I don't envy him one bit lol

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  • In reply to: octaviabay

    I totally get where Jace is coming from. I would want to save anyone I could, but if I was the one caught by the Khul, I would desperately want someone to shoot me in the head.
    You've captured it exactly and this is going to be an issue.

    It'll be interesting to see Jaces development and how he grows to deal with lose-lose situations like this.
    This is his Kobayashi Maru (sp)!

    We're getting into the territory of hurting the one to save the many, and I'm not sure Jace will be successful unless he can figure out how to keep his "humanity" while makeing the hard and sometimes crule choose when it's needed. I don't envy him one bit lol
    Me neither except I have to be him when this happens sigh. I'll feel it.

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  • There is the branch sticking out on the side of the cliff...I'm there. Holding On. :D

    “Your Pilot showed everyone just how unfit I was for the position I held,” she added
    I was struck by her use of the phrase " your pilot ". I'm just not sure how to read that and it taints the rest of her soundbites. It's Distancing.language I also feel she's doing a "mea culpa" just incase she doesn't survive this engagement and at least she cleared her mind.
    I thought so too, but my people had other ideas, Gehenna said. Your people? Jace lifted an eyebrow.Your people. You just mentioned “your people,” Jace reminded her.I did? She sounded bewildered.Yeah, something about them not wanting to kill Khul? Really? I don’t remember that!
    Oh this is a really big nugget you dropped here Raythe...I dare not even begin to parse it..I'll wait to see what cha got on this !:D
    One of the Omull had its tentacles against the Thaf’ell’s neck. The Thaf’ell trembled and his lips were parted in pain and fear, but he didn’t scream despite where he was.The Khul are trying to communicate with us, Jace, Gehenna sounded alarmed.They want the--the database.
    I was hoping by commenting I could remember where I've seen this scene before...gawd !!! Driving me crazy( not ST)...and it's all so brilliant. Not surprised that the end game was the data base. We can easily forget that the Khul are intelligent albeit cruel creatures and that perhaps, maybe, there is some deeper connection to the Altheth than we can imagine. Truth must be in the data base... Hope the branch holds till Monday:D

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  • In reply to: deltos

    There is the branch sticking out on the side of the cliff...I'm there. Holding On.
    Keep holding. We have a bit to go!

    It's Distancing.language I also feel she's doing a "mea culpa" just incase she doesn't survive this engagement and at least she cleared her mind.
    A little bit. We're seeing some of the limitations yet. But maybe it is legit.

    I was hoping by commenting I could remember where I've seen this scene before...gawd !!! Driving me crazy( not ST)...and it's all so brilliant.
    YAY!

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  • Khoth is still (understandably) hurt by his mother actions. I do hope that at some point she manages to redeem herself and that they can get some kind of relationship back, but she need to show her regret with actions, not just words. Words are cheap, actions speak louder. Also while they were going down the hallway and talking I keep wondering what happened to the warriors that arrived with Nova. Did they follow them and pretended to not exist and hear anything or did they want in another direction?

    I absolutly loved Gehenna here. She is such a cute little murderball. Where can I get one of those? Also the "my people" part sound like a freadian slip, but can bots have those? I guess it's possible that the informations about her past is still somewhere in her coding. Maybe she just can't access it directly, but sometime a bit come out without her realising? I have also soupsonned for a while that maybe Gehenna wasn't just an Ai, but that someone brain was used to make her. We will see.

    The Khul taking an hostage was hinted since a few chapters, so it wasn't really a surprise. The fact they want to exchange him against the database is more of a surprise. I don't know if they are able to access it now that it's broken, but I wouldn't gave it to them anyway, if they are willing to do all this for it, then Jace really need to find out what is in it. At least now we know that the four khul in the lower level didn't just got to it by accident, they were looking for it. My question now is did they knew it was there all along and decided they needed it now that they have to face the Pilot or did they just find out about it? If they just found out you have to wonder how. Did someone told them or do they have some bug planted somewhere that give them this information? look at Gehenna with worry Your people didn't actualy work with the Khul, did they?

    Also, after all those chapters of action and cliffhanger, you better give us some tranquility. I'm breathless at the end of all the chapters recently. And Jace and Khoth are going to need a nap and some happy time after all that.

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