CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR: THE NEW TEAM
Dr. Daraja Isa, Matias Torres, Dr. Miranda Kerr and Chili all boarded an elevator to the hangar bay in the Osiris. Daraja adjusted her hold on the white, medical cooler she carried in her right hand. It contained the glowing, blue liquid the Osiris had insisted she bring and administer to Jace on the planet. It had not been smooth sailing to get to this point.
Not that she didn’t want to take care of the Pilot or go down to Haseon. No. But she was a doctor. Not an AI’s arms and legs. The Pilot was her patient so she had to understand what she was giving him and why, but the Osiris hadn’t quite wanted to tell her.
A panel in the back wall of the Med Bay had slid down to reveal a cooling bag of liquid. It glowed like some kind of party favor one would see at a high end nightclub not a medicine at all. She’d caught sight of it out of the corner of her eye as she treated Dr. Hayter’s injured knee.
The hologram of the linguist’s vitals had suddenly been minimized and a blinking cursor replaced it.
You must bring this medication to the Pilot, the Osiris said. I will provide instructions as to how it should be administered. You are not to deviate from these instructions. You must leave immediately. Flight-Commander Thammah is preparing to return to the planet in ten minutes 38 seconds and it will take you four minutes and 53 seconds to arrive at the dropship. Will you comply?
“Explain to me his condition, what this medication is, and what it will do,” she’d requested as she finished an injection of a drug similar, but much better than cortisol into Dr. Hayter’s injured knee.
The linguist should have been in pain, but he seemed quite happy staring at the holographic readout of his vitals that floated above him. An earlier scan of his knee--which showed the old injury that had flared up--was also floating above him. The medical system recommended that he go through a certain mix of nano and hydrotherapy, which would repair the injury, clear up the scar tissue and help the linguist with exercises to strengthen his limb afterwards.
You do not require that information in order to treat the Pilot, the Osiris said, a little testily in her view. Will you comply?
“Oh, my, that’s quite touchy! Someone’s not in a good mood!” Dr. Hayter laughed--giggled really--and sighed. In contrast, he was in a good mood. A very good mood.
I must study these stims and their effect on humans, she thought.
The Pilot requires this medication. I need it delivered and administered to him. Are you unable to do so? The Osiris asked.
Dr. Hayter giggled again, finding this very funny.
It was the first time the Osiris itself had communicated directly with her. While she had interacted with many of the programs it had designed for her and the Virtual Intelligences that inhabited the many machines in the Med Bay, this was the first time the Osiris had addressed her.
She set down the needle on the metal tray and took off the rubber gloves, which she placed into the recycling receptacle. She heard a faint whoosh and grind as the material was recycled for use in another set of sanitary gloves. She allowed all this to happen before answering.
You now have nine minutes and 22 seconds to reach the hangar bay before Flight-Commander Thammah leaves, the Osiris pointed out. It will take you--
“Comm contact Flight-Commander Pyrrus,” she requested.
“Daraja! What can I do for you? Is our linguist recovering?” Thammah answered.
The comm showed her working to load in various weaponry into the dropship. She did not stop loading as she talked and that was true even though she had dislocated her shoulder. Other than allowing Daraja to administer certain pain medications, Thammah had handled the rest. She’d popped her shoulder back in even before she’d returned to the ship. Daraja did want to do a thorough workup on her as it was, evidently, a recurring injury. But Thammah had too much to do that day.
“He is very well. I think he shall be fully himself by tomorrow. So long as the stims wear off by then,” Daraja said dryly.
Thammah let out a laugh. “Our good Dr. Hayter high as a kite! Well, they last about 12 hours in Thaf’ell biology. Don’t know if that helps you though.”
“It might. I’m working with Matias to compare the two species. But I didn’t call to discuss either Dr. Hayter’s health or the stims,” she clarified. “I know you are busy. But I am hoping that you can delay your flight to Haseon for a few more minutes.”
Thammah did stop loading then and looked at her with a lifted eyebrow. “Sure, but why?”
“The Osiris has some medicine that I need to administer to the Pilot,” she said. “But I need to prepare a bit before we go. I promise I will not delay your flight to the planetside any longer than necessary.”
Thammah nodded. “Jace definitely needs a pick-me-up. He was amazing, Daraja. You couldn’t believe all he was able to do even without the Osiris or the use of his body.”
Or the use of his body… No one told me anything about that! If they had, I would be down there already!
“Tell me everything about the Pilot’s condition, Thammah,” she said as she went over to the medication that the Osiris had sent to the Med Bay.
Thammah described Jace’s symptoms as Daraja picked up the soft plastic bag the medicine was in. It was cold to the touch. The liquid appeared thick. More like a gel than water. She grabbed one of the insulated, white containers and set the gel inside. The container would keep it cold.
“Thank you, that clarifies things somewhat,” Daraja told her. “I will be there as quickly as possible.”
“We won’t leave without you. I can always come back up to get you, too, if you need more time,” Thammah offered.
“Thank you, but I know that you are needed on Haseon. You are not a shuttle pilot,” Daraja said.
Thammah grinned. “I’m whatever I need to be. But I’m also the only trained pilot by a long shot on the Osiris. I’d only trust Jack to get you down safely, but he’s captaining the ship right now.”
Daraja knew just how well Jack Parker was doing at that job: excellently. He had saved countless lives and he’d done it with grace. She was not surprised as he was Jace’s father.
“I understand. I will be quick,” Daraja assured her. They cut off communication. “Now that we are not pressed by a departure time, Osiris, you can explain to me what is in this medicine.”
She continued to pack up other things she might need. The comm was truly a remarkable instrument. It was not just a communication device, but was a portal to all of the Osiris’ systems. She had a miniaturized version of the scanners in the Med Bay along with various sensors that could analyze blood and tissue, assess injuries, and indicate medication necessary. She secured one of the small backpacks that contained various medicines that might be needed other than what the Osiris had given her.
The Pilot does not require any of these other medications. You need nothing more than what I have given you, the Osiris sounded peeved.
“How would I know that when you have not given me any information on the Pilot’s current health or what this medicine is? You are even blocking me from accessing his vitals,” she said just as peevishly.
You do not require this information to perform--
“I am a doctor! I am the Pilot’s doctor! I do not give strange liquids to my patients without understanding what they are and what they will do,” she responded, stopping dead in her tracks.
I will contact another physician to do as I ask--
“Oh, you can try, but no one is going to do this!” she told the AI.
They will comply--
“No, they will not. If they do, they will be reported and removed from duty. No good doctor would give the Pilot this without understanding what it is and what it will do,” she stated. “Our patients are our first and only duty. I will do no harm. Do you understand?”
The cursor blinked. Daraja tilted her head to the side, but did not blink. It was as if they were in a standoff.
You will not understand even if I do explain, the Osiris responded, blinking first.
“We will not know until you start explaining,” she pointed out.
I will explain while you walk, the Osiris stated.
She gave a faint smile and started walking. She went first to Dr. Hayter’s side and called over Dr. Mendoza.
“Dr. Hayter, I must leave, but Dr. Mendoza will take over your care from here,” Daraja explained.
“Seems like you won the argument,” Dr. Hayter said with a dreamy smile.
“We shall see. Now, do rest.” Daraja sent his records with a flip of her finger to Dr. Mendoza before leaving the Med Bay.
The Osiris was as good as its word and did explain what the medication was and what it would do. It had also been right that she did not altogether understand everything, but what she did take away was that the Pilot was rather like a butterfly, or rather he was stuck between caterpillar and butterfly. He’d almost completed the transformation, but certain parts of him were not yet done evolving.
The medication would evolve those parts at a rate he could handle while still being able to interact with the world. Otherwise, he would need to go into a coma-like state for close to a whole Earth year to complete the transformation. The Khul attack on Haseon had shown them all that they did not have that kind of time.
So by the time that she reached the elevator, she was convinced to give the medication, but also, she had convinced the Osiris that she needed lessons in Jace’s biology. It didn’t seem as keen on this, but she got the impression the AI would think about it. She would insist.
Focused on the present moment, she looked over at Matias and Chili, who was cradled in the veterinarian’s arms. She, Matias and Dr. Kerr were all part of the medical personnel on board so they wore the clean white uniforms to identify them as such. That, of course, did not surprise her. What did surprise her was that Chili also had a little outfit. She had on a little white bow which was printed with stethoscopes and other medical paraphernalia.
“Oh, Chili is dressed up! She has a bow!” Daraja remarked with a laugh.
“It’s her meeting bow,” Matias said with an almost knowing nod.
“A meeting bow?” Dr. Kerr lifted up her left eyebrow.
“We are going down to Ylore,” Matias said, rocking back and forth as if unable to hide his excitement. “Per the Pilot’s request.”
“So he asked for Chili, too?” Daraja was now the one lifting an eyebrow.
“Yes! Chili was mentioned by name.” Mathias cradled the pig against his uniform and Daraja wondered if the pig was coming because Matias needed her rather than Jace needing Chili.
“If I am not mistaken, Commander Khoth had a very positive experience with Chili, did he not?” Dr. Kerr asked.
“He did! He has requested to hold Chili several times!” Matias bobbed his head.
“You’re thinking that Commander Khoth needs to hold Chili now, Dr. Kerr?” Daraja asked.
Dr. Kerr smiled. “Maybe. But I am guessing that the Pilot hopes that other Thaf’ell will have a similar positive reaction to Chili. Though I’m sure that all of them down there--and up here--could use a snuggle with her.”
Daraja knuckles and nodded. “Yes, you are likely right. Commander Khoth had a very positive reaction. And perhaps, he could do with holding Chili right now.”
“When he is not holding the Pilot,” Matias agreed.
“You noticed that, too, did you?” Dr. Kerr’s smile grew broader.
“Of course! It is so cute how they pretend not to be together! Little brushes of hands! Turning away from one another quickly after staring into one another’s eyes! And so much more!” Matias sighed pleasantly.
“They are trying to be professional by hiding what they feel,” Daraja said, but a smile tugged at her lips too.
“Too true, but no one is fooled,” Dr. Kerr said with a shake of her head.
“No one.” That was said by both Matias and Daraja at the same time.
“Are you going to the planet’s surface, too, Dr. Kerr?” Daraja asked.
“Please call me Miranda, and yes, I am. The Pilot is very concerned about the Alliance’s reaction to the Khul attack and all the accompanying issues,” she said.
Daraja nodded. “And please call me Daraja. When a people believes they are safe from a certain kind of attack and they realize they are not, bad things happen.”
“It reminds me a little of 9/11 for the United States of America. They knew there was danger, but it was out there. Then it came home and everything changed.” Miranda frowned. “Consequences spilled out in rippling waves. The Pilot wishes to harness this and use it to our advantage. He wants this to lead to a productive place, but not a dark one.”
The elevator doors whooshed open. The three of them walked--Chili was carried--towards the dropship that was finishing being loaded up with weaponry. Lieutenant-Commander Davies was standing just in front of the gangway in full hard armor, a draagves and a rahir slung over his back. Clipped at his waist appeared to be various mines and grenades. He bristled with weapons. Considering he had been down there, fighting against the Khul, with nothing, Daraja’s heart clenched for him. He was speaking to Jack.
“Everyone will be required to wear their soft suits at all times under their uniforms. I am recommending that they also carry some weapons. All military personnel will be required to wear hardsuits and carry weaponry at all times,” Davies was saying.
Jack nodded, his hands on his hips, his jaw tight and his mouth pressed into a thin line. Daraja knew that he must be desperate to get down to his son. But duty kept him on the Osiris.
“The Pilot is clear that there are no more Khul on the planet’s surface. The Osiris is registering no Khul accessing Gates that would lead to Haseon,” Jack responded. “Do you fear violence from the Alliance?”
The three of them slowed as they approached Jack and Davies. The two men registered them and nodded, but continued to speak openly.
“I have no idea, Jack, but I don’t want to be caught with my pants down again, especially with Gehenna being out of service,” Davies answered.
“What has happened to Gehenna?” Matias asked, stepping forward, expression filled with alarm.
“Her body was destroyed in the fight. She uploaded herself into the ancient tech, but the Pilot is sure we can get her back. Maybe she’ll have some info to fill us in with,” Davies explained. “I see the pig’s on duty.”
“Chili is ready to serve!” Matias held the pig out to Davies.
Davies smiled and patted Chili’s head. It was the first time he’d looked at all relaxed.
Jace was right to bring the pig, Daraja said.
“All right, why don’t you four get on board so we can head out,” Davies suggested and stepped to the side to allow them up the gangway.
They threaded between Jack and Davies as the two men continued to speak. Daraja was last to board. She stopped before Jack.
“Flight-Commander Parker, I have medicine for the Pilot.” She touched the cooler. “The Osiris assures me that this will help him. My own investigation confirms this.”
Jack’s handsome face broke into a relieved smile. “Thank you, Dr. Isa. I am so relieved to know that you will be taking care of my son.”
“I will do everything I can to keep the Pilot well,” she promised him.
He nodded and smiled once more. She then walked up the gangway of the dropship for the second time in her life. The first time was when she was being taken to the Osiris for the first time. Back then, she had been concerned that this was all a hoax. Now it was all too real. She took a seat beside Matias and Chili, the seatbelt moving around her. Davies was soon coming up the gangway with it hissing shut behind him. He sat opposite them and handed out the hard armor chips. Daraja took hers carefully. It was white like her undersuit and uniform.
“You are to keep these on you at all times. You have your undersuits on, yes?” Davies clarified.
They all three nodded. Chili oinked. Matias looked down at the pig as if he wished she, too, could have armor.
“You activate them by pressing on the back. They will extend over your entire body in five seconds automatically. Do not fight it,” Davies told them. “You’ll need to keep these on your person as well.”
He then handed them small arms. They were laser pistols. Daraja recognized them from training videos she had scanned. Matias held the weapon as if he wanted to give it back. Miranda checked the weapon with definite proficiency. Daraja tucked the weapon into a holster that was available on her belt.
“I’m glad that none of you are rejecting the weapons,” Davies said with a wry smile.
“Do we really need this?” Matias asked as he cradled Chili in one hand and the weapon in the other.
“I hope you never do. But trust me when I say that if you even do confront a Khul, you’ll be glad you have it,” Davies said.
“Everyone buckled up?” Thammah’s voice came over the intercom.
“We’re good to go, Thammah,” Davies called back.
“Then let’s fly!” Thammah laughed.
There was a whine of engines starting and a rumbling vibration ran up Daraja’s legs. Soon, the windows showed the interior of the hangar bay to the black of space. Haseon hung like a jewel below them. The green of the planetary shield winked out in one area as they flew through.
“I cannot believe we are about to set foot on an alien planet,” Mathias whispered.
Miranda’s lips parted as she too gazed with amazement as they entered Haseon’s atmosphere. During the battle, Daraja had felt just how fragile the Osiris was compared to the vacuum of space and all that could befall them. But now, as they drew away from its safety, she felt a tug for the familiar mixed with a tug for the unknown.
I must focus on the Pilot. He is what matters. I am going to see a patient, she reminded herself.
This wasn’t a sightseeing expedition. Even if Haseon were still filled with Khul and other dangers, she would have volunteered to go down to help Jace. As a physician, that was her duty. She’d been in countless firefights. Her children could not understand why she continued to work in dangerous areas even as her practice had allowed her a modicum of wealth and safety. But she had always felt drawn to the battlefield. This was the greatest use of her skills.
“We’re going to land at the Moturin Compound rather than the space port,” Thammah’s voice rose up over the intercom again. “Right now, the whole area has been quarantined to the general public.”
“But the Pilot has chosen to stay in this area or has the Council imprisoned him there?” Daraja asked, her voice darkening.
“The Pilot is insisting on staying. The area is safe. He’s managed to create--or activate, not quite sure--bots that can destroy all Khul remains and any risk of infection,” Davies explained. “He wants people to realize that it’s safe.”
Miranda nodded her dark head. “He wants to show them he is not afraid and that the Khul attack has not blighted their city, or even their world.”
“Their fear of infection is not unwarranted,” Davies stated flatly. “The Khul are filled with those larva. Even when they die, they aren’t safe to be around. And, just so you know, the Thaf’ell are unlikely to take us at our word that we’re not infected even with all of the cleaning protocols. You’re going to each be paired with a Thaf’ell of House Moturin to assure your honesty.”
“I am to see to the Pilot’s health. That is private,” Daraja said, tightening her hand on the cooler.
“That’s problematic for sure.” Davies grimaced. “I think Amana Moturin might be the best shadow for you, Dr. Isa. She’s pretty in awe of the Pilot. I don’t think she’ll make any fuss if you want privacy to treat him.”
He typed something into his comm, likely to request that she be Daraja’s companion on Haseon.
Daraja nodded slowly. “This lack of trust is disturbing.”
Miranda tapped her chin with one long finger. “I’m surprised by how xenophobic the Thaf’ell are despite being part of an alliance of species.”
“They’re a piece of work, Dr. Kerr,” Davies said. “They’re not all bad, but they have a superiority complex that you could drive the Osiris through.”
“But the Pilot, yourself and other humans saved them! Without us, they would have all died!” Matias cried, looking affronted.
“When have facts ever affected what some people feel?” Davies smiled wryly.
“The Thaf’ell supposedly put logic above all else, but it appears their actual society is a contradiction of this,” Miranda said.
“They feel plenty all right,” Davies agreed. “We’ve got to make them realize that the Pilot is the only way to stop the fear they are feeling. He’s the solution to their problems. And woe anyone who gets in his way.”
“Surely, they have something to offer us,” Daraja countered.
“They likely do. Some of them aren’t half bad,” Davies admitted. “But I’m telling you right now to be prepared for the crazy. And it’s going to get a lot more complicated very soon.”
“How so?” Daraja asked.
“Those other species that the Pilot sent invites to? The ones he offered to meet up with and maybe join our crew?” Davies reminded them. “Well, it looks like everybody’s showing up now. Every species has a delegation. And they all want to speak to the Pilot right now.”