CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO: FOCUS
Earlier in the Control Room of the Moturin Compound in Ylore, Haseon…
Jace felt Amana’s hands on his shoulders. She was shaking him, trying to wake him, but even now that he knew she was trying to get his attention he couldn’t react. Other than a sliver of his consciousness that remained in his body, the rest had been spread out. Most of it in the murderball that was Gehenna, not to mention guiding Thammah to the second to last Khul. He had almost forgotten his physical form--which was worrisome--until she started shaking him.
“Is he unconscious?” Thadden asked, hawking over him, and putting a hand on his brow as if checking for a fever.
But Jace knew his temperature was low, not high. Not because he was sick.
“I don’t think so. His eyes are moving like ours do in REM sleep,” Amana said, but then her head snapped over her shoulder towards the Control Room’s door.
Every single person with a weapon in that room was facing it, weapons drawn, as the door shuddered. Something was trying to get inside. Jace looked through the cameras in the hallway and saw the Omull leaning one of its shoulders against the door, using all of its weight, to try and break through. But the door was holding, only creaking slightly.
Okay, big boy, we just need to delay and keep you out there until the cavalry arrives, Jace thought.
He looked for a shield to bring down on the door, but he realized that this room was not Altaeth make. The Thaf’ell had crafted it themselves, dividing up a much larger space. So, contrary to what the Thaf’ell had thought, this was not the strongest location in the Compound, but the weakest. He called to his AI friends to see if they couldn’t assist in some way, but anything they offered would take more time than they had.
I really should have checked this place out before I collapsed here, Gehenna, he told her.
It’s going to be okay, Jace! We’re coming! She reminded him
He tried to impart that to Amana and Thadden, but his mouth remained still and no words came out. This wasn’t permanent or any real problem. But to restart his body fully, he would need to focus on it. Yet he couldn’t right now. He was zeroed in on getting the Gehenna murderball to the Control Room as quickly as possible. He could destroy the Omull in seconds with no danger to himself or anyone else.
The walls whirled by as Gehenna sped down them. Stairs were not as quick. He cursed when they had to unfold from the ball form to climb up them.
Oh, no, Jace! Gehenna cried. We’re wounded!
He already knew what she was talking about. Her right claw leg was smoking. The Khul blood was affecting not the calcanth but the wiring. That leg was malfunctioning every time she tried to extend it and put her weight on it. Her leg continued to jam as she tried to walk up the stairs. They were just two floors and half a hallway away! But they might as well have been on another planet at this rate.
He thought he heard another groan from the door. Was the door to the Control Room bowing inwards? Why yes, yes, it was.
Damnit! Really? We’re so close to ending this and it all might go to Hell!
Gehenna attempted to lever up another stair but the leg snapped and she nearly fell backwards.
New plan, Gehenna! Get to the elevator! Jace directed.
Right, of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Gehenna muttered.
She shifted into her murderball form and bounced down the two steps she’d managed to get up on the wounded leg. She was spinning down another hall at full speed.
Maybe the others will be able to get there first using the stairs, Gehenna suggested, but she must have known that was a wish rather than a reality.
Khoth and the others are coming, but they’re having to maneuver down hallways away from the dead Khul, Jace said. They can’t just roll through Khul blood, bodies and larva.
Yeah, especially without their hard suits! She agreed. I’m going to have to ditch this body after this, aren’t I?
Yeah, I really don’t want to bring it aboard the Osiris even if it's able to be cleaned, Jace admitted.
No worries! As soon as we have communications up with the Osiris, I can beam myself into another new, awesome form! She told him.
Another form, huh? I cannot wait to see what you’ve picked.
Jace found himself laughing, knowing that it would be something from the media that Gehenna would misunderstand. Or maybe she did understand and did it to make him and the others would find it funny. A little humor--or maybe a lot--was necessary. His mind flashed back onto the hostage Thaf’ell--his name was Wrael Moturin according to records--and his brave, but horrible death.
After what we’ve experienced here, we do need some laughs, Jace thought.
He turned his attention to Khoth and the others. He caught glimpses of Khoth in full out sprint mode through cameras, but his Commander was at least five minutes behind them like he’d feared. Typhon was in fast pursuit, powerful legs and arms pumping, but Khoth was like the wind. Nova, Davies and Dr. Hayter were bringing up the rear. Dr. Hayter urged the others to go on without him as his knee was injured.
“No, we three need to remain together,” Nova stated flatly with a slice of her hand through the air.
“Why? There’s only the one Khul left and it isn’t here,” Davies stated suspiciously. “Dr. Hayter will be perfectly safe.”
Did he think that Nova was going to harm Dr. Hayter or himself? Not even Jace believed that of her and he had a pretty low opinion of the High Councillor. Or rather, former High Councillor, the AIs told him.
So she gave up her position for the good of the Alliance. I’m surprised that she thinks anyone can do a better job. It would be too much to ask that she regrets her actions with Khoth and Thadden.
“Because there are enough people going to the Pilot’s location to take down one Omull. We’re more likely to shoot each other than the Khul. And, more importantly, you’re human,” Nova explained, which was no explanation at all.
“After what you’ve seen us, you still think we’re unable to take care of ourselves in a fight? Because the only ones not covering themselves in glory here are the Thaf’ell!” Davies snapped. “You’d all be dead without us!”
Nova nodded. “I agree. And that’s why I want to make sure you survive this.”
“Why would we not survive this?” Davies’ hand was edging towards his draagves.
Nova saw that and gave a faint smile, but she kept her hands well away from her weapons. “Because this place is contaminated now in the eyes of my people. And all that are within it are suspect of being contaminated too. They will accept the word of a Thaf’ell that they were not infected, but I fear that they will not believe the word of a human. So at best, you’d be quarantined for who knows how long.”
“And at worst?” Davies asked, all narrowed eyes and itchy trigger finger.
“They’d kill you when they burn this place,” she said quietly.
Burn? Oh, boy, yeah, the place needs to be sterilized, Jace realized.
Just like Gehenna’s body, he understood why they couldn’t have the Compound or any of the affected buildings cleaned conventionally. One of the AIs tugged at him and showed him a way to clean the buildings completely, but not actually destroy them.
Good job! We’ll look into that once we deal with the Omull, Jace said.
It offered to make one of the machines to show him. He gave it the go ahead. It zipped away, happy to be of use again.
Thammah had now dealt with hers, saving a woman and her daughter as well as a host of other people. She had been incredible and he was so proud of her. More than proud. He had let her know where the final Khul was. Here. Just feet away from him. But he urged her to stay where she was and handle things there. Nova had not been wrong that there were enough people here to deal with the creature.
But if it gets through the door, even if everyone blasts it, I’m betting that some will be sprayed with larva, Jace thought with a feeling of horror. Can’t have that. C’mon, Gehenna, move faster!
And Gehenna did, nearly smoking as she turned corners at high speed, and bumping into walls like a ping pong ball. He turned his attention back to Davies and Nova. They regarded each other like two junkyard dogs for long moments. Jace wasn’t sure what Davies might do. The threat of quarantine or death was not good. But Jace realized that she was right. She was actually helping them by offering to stay. Would Davies realize this? But it was Dr. Hayter who figured it out first, even though the man was still semi-high on stims.
“Ah, so you are going to vouch for us that we’re not infected! But you weren’t with us the whole time, High Councillor Voor,” Dr. Hayter pointed out.
“Just Nova. And while I was not, Typhon was with you when you entered this building,” she stated. “Now you are with me. Trust me that this is best.”
Davies narrowed his eyes. “We weren’t with Typhon all--”
“I didn’t hear that, Davies. I understood that you were always with Justiciar Moturin. The whole time.” Nova looked at them both meaningfully. “You three took out the Khul together. In line of sight of one another.”
Davies regarded her steadily. “Yes, yes, we did. Never lost sight of one another and Justiciar Moturin checked us for infection after each encounter.”
“Most definitely!” Dr. Hayter agreed, bobbing his head excessively.
“Good. Now that is out of the way. Let’s make up for some lost time. Hopefully, all will be handled by the time we get there,” Nova said and offered to carry Dr. Hayter.
“I’m heavier than I look,” Dr. Hayter said sheepishly.
“And I’m stronger. Let’s not injure that knee any further, shall we?” Nova leaned over and swept Dr. Hayter into her arms as if he weighed no more than a sack of flour. “Davies, please keep your weapon ready. Just in case the Khul left anything behind.”
“Of course, Nova,” Davies answered, drawing out his draagves, and taking point.
Looks like someone’s thawed towards us, Gehenna, Jace said.
Seeing Khul on one’s planet will do that to you, Gehenna agreed.
Something in the way she said that, triggered Jace’s recollection of earlier and he asked, Any more memories about “your people”? Does this jog a memory for you?
I really don’t remember saying that! But I looked back through our chat logs and I did! Gehenna sounded bewildered. I truly don’t know what I meant, Jace. I’d tell you if I did. Honest this time.
I know. Just keep me up to date, okay? You remember anything, no matter how small, you tell me, he instructed her.
Will do, Pilot!
And they whirled down the final hallway.
His mind was drawn back to his body, which felt like an unruly meatsack at that moment compared to the glossy murderball form Gehenna was taking. A camera showed that he was still sprawled back on the chair, legs sticking out, head lolling to the side, and mouth slightly parted. There was also drool on his chin.
Oh, man, so not sexy, Jace thought with a groan. I’ve got to get it together for when Khoth finds me! Who would want to kiss that?
But his body was in some sort of trance or coma or something. He realized that he was in some form of stasis as his body tried to heal what was broken. But without the Osiris--and likely that glowing pool of goo--nothing was happening quickly.
The Osiris, Mom and Dad will destroy that last Hive. One left! I’m so proud of them. Once that’s gone, I’ll be fully connected to the Osiris again, Jace thought as he checked the battle up above
He yearned for that connection now. He wasn’t completely himself without the ship’s AI. It sort of worried him, but he wondered if he’d always yearned for that connection and only now, after having had it, did he recognize the loss.
“We need to get him from behind something,” Amana said, down on her haunches before Jace. She took a piece of cloth and wiped away the drool.
Yes, Amana! Thank you! Now, could you just close my mouth and maybe arrange my limbs in a strong but sexy pose? Jace asked, but of course, his lips didn’t move. Not even a gargle of words came out of his throat.
“Thadden, help me wheel him behind the control bank,” Amana said suddenly as she stood up before him.
“Of course,” Thadden said as he shouldered his draagves.
Amana strapped her double-bladed rahir over her back. The two of them then wheeled the chair he was on over behind the bank of computer stations.
“Should we lay him down on the ground?” Thadden asked. “In case the Khul uses projectiles that is. He’d be less out in the open.”
“I see your point, but I’m more concerned about being able to move him quickly should--” She paused as the door groaned. “Should the Omull make it in here and go for him.”
“Yes, yes, I see,” Thadden said. “Perhaps if we put him behind us then that would be best.”
“Yes, yes, I agree,” she said.
“One Omull left on the entire planet and it would be at this door,” Thadden whispered.
“The Pilot is a great threat to them. I cannot believe all he has done in such a short time here,” Amana said with a touch of awe in her voice.
“Imagine if Khoth had not gone against the Rule and let Jace die,” Thadden said, his expression ill.
Yeah, I think about that a lot too, Thadden. Thankfully Khoth is a really bad Thaf’ell and a really great person, Jace said.
“There are many reasons for the Rule. There are many times when it is the best course, but not always,” Amana stated with a press of her lips. She was clearly not a fan of it. “I fear though that we have become a binary species in our thinking. There is no nuance any longer. Just the Rule or death.”
“Nuance?” Thadden chuckled. “Your brother and I would tell you from our time on the court that there is only nuance in reality. But our politicians feed the people pablum, because they believe that nuance is lost on them.”
Is he talking about Nova? He must be. But he’s a lawyer. Lawyers believe that words can bring clarity. Sometimes they do. But people have to hear them and understand what you’re saying, Jace thought.
“We give people too little credit. I am not saying it isn’t difficult, or that it would not require careful crafting, but this simplicity of thought has led us here,” Amana said with a touch of passion. “Our safety was an illusion. Our mastery of Altaeth tech a joke. Nothing is as we thought it was.”
“It sounds like you and your brother weren’t fooled,” Thadden said carefully.
“We only guessed at the failures,” she said with a sad shake of her head. “We didn’t know the true extent.”
“But the Pilot and humanity are now here. We have a chance to change things,” Thadden said.
“I hope we do. I--” The sudden silence from the door had Amana stopping speaking and her head snapping towards the door. “What’s it doing? Why is it so quiet?”
While she and Thadden looked down at the computer monitors to check out the camera feed, Jace was already accessing it. He felt horror bloom in the bottom of his stomach.
Jace, what’s wrong? Gehenna asked.
She was at the elevator, waiting for the car to get there to zip her up two floors. And then there would only be two hallways away from the Omull.
But there might not be enough time, Jace realized. The Khul… I think their tech is organic.
What? Oh! Ohhhhhh… Gehenna said as she saw what he saw.
There was a green glow coming from the center of the Omull’s chest. It arched back as the flesh in front of the glow shredded and one of the bombs started to emerge from the creature itself.
They grow their own bombs! Or it’s a really horrible pocket, Gehenna remarked.
At least they don’t poop them out, Jace said.
Maybe the Cetixes do! They would be efficient, wouldn’t it? And then--
Gehenna, get ready to move faster than you’ve ever moved in your life, he cut her off.
There was a soft ding as the elevator doors opened. Gehenna rolled it and caused the car to go to the Control Room’s floor. The elevator seemed to move deadly slowly as it crawled up half a floor then a full floor then--
The bomb fully emerged from the Omull’s chest. It plopped down on the ground, surrounded by a generous glob of gray goo. It oozed there, glistening and glowing for a moment as the Omull’s body knit itself back together.
“What is that?” Amana sounded horrified.
The soldiers near the door cast worried glances back over their shoulders at her and Thadden. Thadden did that movement Jace had seen Amana do. It was like making the sign of the cross, he guessed.
Yeah, I’m praying now, too. Gehenna! Get here NOW!
I’m coming, Jace!
Gehenna popped out of the elevator doors the moment they opened wide enough for her ball body to get through. She was racing down the hallways, moving so fast that he was getting murderball sick and he had to withdraw.
His focus went back to the Omull. It reached down and picked up the slick, glowing bomb. It stroked it as if it were a baby that it had given birth too. Jace now felt a remnant of the murderball nausea bubble up again, but for very different reasons. The Omull turned to attach the bomb to the door. His focus was drawn to the soldiers who had their weapons up, ready to attack.
They have to get away from there! When it goes off they’ll be killed! Jace realized.
He tried to use his mouth, but it really wasn’t happening. He forced consciousness on himself, but he wouldn’t be in time. He remembered that he had control of everyone’s comms.
He sent a blaring message to all of them, GET AWAY FROM THE CONTROL ROOM DOOR! NOW! NOW! NOW! EVERYONE DOWN!
The soldiers only hesitated a moment before Amana cried, “Get over here! We need to seek shelter behind the consoles!”
Then she and Thadden were wrenching Jace from the seat and lowering him to the ground as low and protected as they could get them. The other soldiers raced to join them. Jace didn’t know what was happening. His consciousness was returning fast and furious to his body so he’d lost track of everything else.
Where was Gehenna?
Had the Omull attached the bomb?
Where were Khoth and the others?
Were people about to die?
And then his focus snapped into the cameras outside the control room. The Omull had just finished fashioning the bomb to the door, but Gehenna was there! Her lightsaber was out! She was coming in fast. But the Omull moved just as fast. It struck her on the side and sent her spinning. The Khul blood had weakened yet more of her motorized parts and her outer shell crunched and fell open. She was unable to move!
But then there was a draagves blast. The Omull’s head exploded in a rain of blood and larva. The Omull slowly collapsed to the ground and Jace saw Khoth. He stood there with his draagves still smoking as he aimed it at the Khul. He had gotten there in time. He had killed the Khul and--
Pilot! The Osiris cried.
OSIRIS! Omg! You’re back and--Jace’s thoughts skidded to a halt as there was a massive explosion.
The bomb had gone off. Jace’s body was thrown backwards and he wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the Control Room was on the ground. The air was thick with dust. Jace kept thinking about the Omull’s body and larva being thrown by that blast as well. The one camera that was still working showed a smoking crater outside the shattered wall of the Control Room. He scanned for Khoth. His Commander was safe and unharmed. Khoth had backflipped well out of the way and was already trying to make his way to Jace.
Osiris, tell him I’m okay! But to stay back! The area is contaminated, Jace ordered.
You are not “okay”. That term has no true medical meaning and--
Osiris, please! Jack cried.
I have already done so. He is standing back, the Osiris answered tartly.
Thank you. Gehenna, why don’t you tell Osiris how silly it’s being? Jace asked.
But Gehenna did not answer. Jace focused in on the hallway and realized that the murderball was not there. Not in any recognizable shape anyways. There were just scattered bits and pieces and nothing more.
Next Chapter Will Be Posted Soon!