CHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVE: MANY HANDS MAKE LESS WORK
Jace heard voices around him. Khoth: cool, calm and collected yet solicitous. And another voice with a musical accent. Ah! Dr. Isa. He was glad that she was here. While being reconnected to the Osiris was helping hugely to restore his body, he was still far from the top of his game. The Osiris had promised him some relief. A little pick-me-up. Maybe Dr. Isa had brought it. And was that an oink? Jace cracked his eyelids open.
Khoth, Dr. Isa, Dr. Kerr, Matias and Chili were all in his bedroom. He smiled sleepily. He’d been dozing on and off all day. He wanted to stay awake and alert as he was with Khoth, but his body wouldn’t accommodate him.
Khoth, Dr. Kerr, Matias and Chili were near the door. Khoth was--adorably--holding Chili in his hands, petting her as she oinked in contentment. They were all ogling her new bow.
“It’s a meeting bow,” Matias enthused, whatever a “meeting bow” was.
“She seems to be taking to Haseon well?” Khoth made that sound like a question.
Jace knew that he wanted the pig to be taking to Haseon perfectly.
“Oh, yes! She was very excited on the ride down here,” Matias explained. “She had to look outside the whole way. And, of course, she is always excited to meet people.”
“Hence, the meeting bow?” Dr. Kerr asked, one eyebrow lifted.
“Exactly!” Matias beamed.
Dr. Isa was by the side of his bed, fussing with a white cooler, and checking his vitals on her comm. She swiped a cool alcohol pad against his skin. When she noticed he was awake, she smiled back at him.
“This will make you feel better, Pilot,” Dr. Isa assured him.
She lifted up a bag of glowing blue liquid that looked suspiciously like the goo that the Osiris had tossed him into to evolve him in the first place.
It has the same components, only it is more potent, the Osiris told him. You could know exactly what it is if you wished--
Sometimes I want to be surprised, Jace interrupted, but gently. There’s too much information in my head already. I assume you and the doctor know what you’re doing.
Yes. The Osiris sounded almost mollified.
“Do you wish me to explain,” Dr. Isa began.
But Jace shook his head. “No, as I was just telling the Osiris, there are some things I simply don’t need to know. I’m happy to delegate them.”
She nodded, understanding. He did look away when she inserted a line into the back of his right hand.
“There will be just a pinch,” she told him.
It was always more than a pinch. Always.
“The one question I have for you, doctor, is will it get me back on my feet quickly?” Jace asked. “There’s lots to do.”
“Yes, but if you push yourself too quickly you will be set back,” she warned him gently.
He watched as the blue goo slowly traveled down the plastic tubing and into his hand. The moment the goo entered his body he thought he felt a little cooler in temperature. Dr. Isa again checked the rate at the infusion and cast his vitals as a hologram next to his head so she could easily keep an eye on them.
“Are you okay, Dr. Isa?” Jace asked.
She focused on him again, her expression serene. “I am most well, Pilot.”
“But the battle in space and--”
“Your father took good care of us,” she assured him.
He smiled. The Osiris had hinted that his father had performed “adequately” which was high praise for the AI for someone not the Pilot. He’d already analyzed the battle and there was plenty he wanted to change before they met with the Khul again.
He’d also spoken to his father and his mother on their respective ships. Both were fine. Or claimed they were. No, they were. They were soldiers. Warriors. People ready to meet adversity and overcome it without allowing it to deter them. His mother would be arriving soon with General Intoshkin, but his father would remain aboard the Osiris until he returned. It was clear to him that an “adequate” replacement for Jace needed to remain aboard to guide things and his father had easily slid into that role.
Yet while his parents had weathered the storm, had everyone else? He studied Dr. Isa’s profile. She moved with a graceful efficiency that he’d noticed in her from the first. There were no wasted movements. There was also no downtime either. He could tell that she was purposeful about everything she did, never losing concentration on what was before her. He admired how “in the moment” she was. Ready for anything yet not dwelling on what would come next.
“How do you feel, Dr. Isa?” Jace asked. “I know that you’ve been through fire fights before, but…”
“You hoped that things wouldn’t be so exciting on our first day in space?” she guessed with a grin.
“I will not lie to you. It was frightening and I worried that we were not prepared,” she told him, her eyes going distant as she remembered what had happened. “But it solidified for me--and I think for all of the crew--the reason we are fighting the Khul. They are not monsters because they are different from us with different goals. No, they are monsters because--”
“They’re monsters,” Jace finished.
It was her turn to nod. “Lieutenant-Commander Davies and Flight-Commander Pyrrus explained in small part what it was like here. So I should really be the one asking how you are?”
Jace opened his mouth to say he was “fine”. Of course, he was fine! He was the Pilot. But there was something about Dr. Isa that made him feel he could tell her the truth without losing her confidence in him.
“To be honest, I’m not sure,” he said softly.
His eyes were on Khoth and the knot of people petting Chili who Dr. Kerr was trying to eat some local vegetables. Khoth seemed fine too. Better than fine. As if in this moment what had happened before with the Khul hadn’t happened at all.
“What are you not sure about?” Dr. Isa settled herself on the bed beside him.
“Where to start!” He gave her a lopsided grin. “There’s so many places we can start.”
“Well, I could secure Haseon and repair all the broken systems. That would take both time and resources. Even if I had everything here I needed--and I don’t--it would take weeks to truly bring Haseon’s systems back online,” Jace explained. “But while I’m doing that, what about the other worlds? They’ll be exposed while I’m here. There’s one of me and so many Khul. So maybe I should concentrate on finding a base where better ships can be manufactured and sent out. Again, that will take time and resources and--”
“The Khul will attack?” she guessed.
He nodded. “Or I can go after the Khul myself with a crew. Get the Osiris bristling with weapons and power and take out as many Khul as possible.”
“I would imagine that not even the Osiris can destroy all the Khul itself?” Dr. Isa’s brow was furrowed.
“No, we can’t. So that’s probably not a good plan.” Jace let out a breath of air between his teeth. “The thing is that I need to do all of what I’ve told you all at once. Not piecemeal. And I can’t even get up from this bed!”
He thumped his hands on the mattress. That had Khoth immediately turning around to him. Khoth made to give Chili back to Matias and come back to him, but Jace shook his head and indicated that he should stay there. Khoth regarded him unreadably, but did as he asked, though his eyes tracked Jace.
“I do not think it is possible for you to do all of this yourself even with your great power, Pilot,” Dr. Isa said when he refocused upon her.
“No, I don’t think I can. But who can I trust to do this? I don’t even have Gehenna!” Just like with the frustration of being ill again, the loss of his other AI felt like a punch in the gut. He needed her. He wanted her back. She had to be okay!
Dr. Isa put a hand on his arm. “I understand a little of what you are going through. I was one doctor during uprisings. There were so many injured. I knew I couldn’t get to them all. I cursed that I was one person with limitations, and I, too, felt there was no one I could trust to do the job that needed doing as well as I. Or, even half as well.”
He nodded. “So what did you do?”
“I triaged my patients. Those I could help quickly. Those who would survive. Those who could wait. I lost many. Saved many. Got through it,” she told him. “Then when the acute danger had passed I reached out to people in the nearby villages and cities. They did not have to have experience. They just needed the will to learn. And then I trained them. Was it perfect? No, but it meant I had more than two hands.” She held up those hands. “And that made all the difference.”
“The other members of the Alliance are coming to meet with me,” Jace said, taking from her story what she had intended to impart.
“My humble opinion is that you should get well and then meet with them. Task whoever is willing to do what you need. Are they as good as you? No, but we cannot allow perfection to be the enemy of good enough in a triage situation,” she told him.
“Thank you, Dr. Isa.” He clasped her nearest hand in his.
She squeezed his hand back. “You are not alone, Jace. We are with you. We will do whatever is necessary.”
He loved that she had used his name at that moment. His eyes prickled a little with tears. “You were the first one I reached out to, Daraja, to be a member of the crew. I’m so glad you’re here.”
Another squeeze. “I would be nowhere else.”
Khoth came over with Chili in his hands like an offering. Jace found himself reaching towards the pink animal who oinked and moved her little trotters in anticipation of getting to him.
“Chili! Oh, I missed you!” Jace said.
Khoth tenderly handed over the pig and Jace stroked her and kissed her little head and snout. He was already feeling better. Whether it was the goo or the pig he didn’t know. He thought it might be the pig.
While Khoth sat on the bed with him and Dr. Isa, Matias and Dr. Kerr stood at the base of it. They smiled at him like proud parents as he adored Chili. She really was the best.
“Thank you all for coming,” Jace said. “I know that you had as hard a time of it up on the Osiris as we did here. My understanding is that you behaved admirably.”
“I believe I clutched a bunch of animals to my chest and prayed,” Matias told him.
Dr. Kerr added, “I would have clutched animals, but I didn’t have any.”
“Oh, you should come to my clinic anytime,” Matias offered.
“I most certainly will,” Dr. Kerr assured him. “I did walk amongst the crew as the battle was happening.”
“I know you assisted greatly. As did you, Dr. Isa,” Jace said.
“A few bumps and bruises, but nothing more. Dr. Hayter’s injury was the most severe I had to treat,” Dr. Isa assured him. “And he will be fine, by the way. The stim is the only thing that I truly am unsure about.”
“Typhon should not have administered that,” Khoth said with a frown.
“I can attest that he would not have been able to walk if it had not been given, Commander Voor,” Dr. Isa said.
But still Khoth looked displeased. Jace understood why. It was alien medication that Typhon had no idea what the end result would be once administered. Still, Dr. Isa would know the extent of the damage so it ended up being a good thing.
“Beyond what happened here, no one was ready for a space battle like that,” Jace said. He switched gears as he said, “I’m sure that you’re all interested in seeing Haseon, exploring our first new world, but I need you to do other things while you’re here as well.”
“Of course, Pilot,” they all seemed to say at once.
What had Dr. Isa told him about sharing burdens with the willing? Well, he was going to do it starting now.
“Dr. Kerr, I have sent to your comm information on every party that wishes to meet with me and join our crew. You also now have access to databases about those species. I’d like you to review them and give your analysis to me.”
She nodded, already scanning through the list. “I’ll be happy to, Pilot. Perhaps I should return to the Osiris then? To focus on this?”
She didn’t look eager to go back to the ship, but he imagined her hunkering down in her office on the Osiris as she poured over every bit of data. Maybe that would have been ideal. But he was not going to let perfection be the enemy of good enough. He needed her to spread herself a little thin right now.
“I’d actually like you to stay. I need you to surreptitiously observe Alliance members--especially those in power and here’s another list--and tell me what you think,” he told her.
Another nod. “We’re being accompanied by Thaf’ell, which I am sure you already know. Perhaps I will get a chance to talk to my minder about some of these people. Though there are quite a few.”
“Don’t worry, Dr. Kerr. Dr. Isa and Matias will assist.” Jace sent them the lists too as he turned his attention to Daraja and Matias. “Our goal is, of course, to understand the politics going on here and what they’re not telling.”
“I am good at this!” Matias chuckled. “People see Chili and her meeting bow and they talk. Let their guards down. I will find out much.”
“I’ve been paired with Amana. I believe that she will be an excellent resource in understanding the lay of the land and the people in it,” Dr. Isa said. “It was due to her that our minders are out in the hallway instead of hovering in here.”
“I would not allow them to interfere with the Pilot’s treatment,” Khoth said, drawing up and looking quite formidable.
“Commander Voor, these are your people,” Dr. Kerr pointed out gently. “Do you have any advice for us in tackling them?”
Khoth was quiet for some moments before he said, “Before I joined the Osiris, I would have told you that I knew my people well, but now…” He shook his head. “I would use their ignorance of humans against them. They believe that they are immune from emotion. On the contrary, they are ruled by it. Fear, I imagine, is the foremost emotion in their mind at this time. They want certainty again. Everything they’ve been told about the Khul and their safety here on Haseon is a lie. I would use those things.”
Dr. Kerr nodded. “That sounds wise.”
“Lieutenant-Commander Davies had similar thoughts,” Matias piped up.
Jace glanced at Khoth, hoping that his beloved was not annoyed at the mention of Davies. But there was not even the faintest grimace on Khoth’s face. It could be that Khoth was hiding his dislike of the spy, but Jace didn’t think so. The battle had bound them all together. Davies had shown himself to be invaluable. Jace didn’t have any bad thoughts towards him either any longer. In fact, he was starting to rely upon him.
“I actually need to speak to him and Thammah,” Jace said.
“You need to rest, Pilot.” Khoth gave him a stern look and pressed a hand down on his shoulders, urging him to lay down again.
“I’m actually feeling a whole lot better with the pig,” Jace told him. “Oh, and most of the goo’s in my system too.”
Chili oinked and lolled on Jace’s stomach. She was closing her eyes and Jace was almost inclined to close his. He imagined that napping with Chili and Khoth could be quite nice. But no, not yet, he had things to do.
“They are out in the hallway along with a friend of yours, Commander Voor,” Dr. Kerr said. “A Commander Matzen?”
Khoth straightened and his eyes widened. “Matzen?”
“He was on the vessel commanded by High Commander Thran Staed. He took over when Staed was injured,” Jace told him. “Dad loves the guy. Evidently, Matzen wants to be a member of the crew.”
Khoth blinked. “He is an excellent soldier. He would be more than worthy as a crewmate. He is outside, you say?”
“Yes, shall we send them all in?” Matias asked.
“Yes, and you’d best take Chili to start your own tasks.” Jace reluctantly gave up the half-asleep pot belly pig to Matias after kissing her head. “It appears the goo is done infusing as well.”
Dr. Isa nodded and detached the line. She put a bandage over the entry point, but it was really unnecessary. He had already healed, but he let her do it all the same. People needed to feel useful and she was more than useful to him.
“We shall report to you later,” Dr. Kerr assured him and the four of them left the room.
They were replaced by three others, though none as cute as Chili. Davies, Thammah and Matzen entered. Jace liked how easily Davies and Thammah interacted, already ribbing one another though Davies’ eyes were alert for danger and the man practically bristled with weaponry.
He’ll never be caught flat-footed again, Jace thought.
Flat-footedness is the last thing that the Lieutenant-Commander suffers from, the Osiris remarked.
Yes, yes, I know. We really are going to have to work on your understanding of colloquialisms or I’m going to start calling you Khoth, Jace retorted.
Matzen came in with that peculiar Thaf’ell grace behind the other two, hands clasped behind his back, and expression smooth and unruffled. He stood at attention while Thammah came right over and hugged Jace. Davies smiled at him almost paternally.
“What? I don’t get a hug from you, Davies? I’m hurt!” Jace joked.
“If he hugged you something might go off and we’d be blown to bits,” Thammah stated, gesturing towards all the weapons attached to Davies’ hard suit, and that was only what showed.
“I do understand the desire to be prepared.” Jace gave a weak smile.
“Speaking of which, soft suits and hard suit chips will be delivered shortly for both of you. Also, weapons will be in that shipment. Everything you need. I would request that both of you have your soft suits on at all times and the chips with you,” Davies suggested. “Unless you have other thoughts, Commander Voor.”
“That is well thought out, Lieutenant-Commander Davies,” Khoth stated. He then turned to Matzen. Jace expected them to shake hands at least, but they stood several feet apart and didn’t touch one another or make a move to. “Commander Matzen, I hear you did well in the battle.”
“I only did my duty,” Matzen answered.
Jace smiled. “My father says it was a bit more than that. You agreed to some pretty unorthodox things. Things that the High Commander would not have.”
“And the battle would have been lost if we had followed that course,” Matzen said evenly.
“My, my, speaking ill of the High Commander? You better be accepted as a crew member on the Osiris, because I can’t imagine that kind of honesty will be good for your career,” Thammah remarked dryly.
Matzen cocked his head to the side. “I am merely reporting the likely outcome, Flight-Commander Pyrrhus. That should not be considered disrespectful.”
“I notice that you use the word should there,” Davies pointed out, chuckling.
Matzen stood with legs shoulder length apart, chest out, and hands tightly clasped behind him as if he were being questioned by a tribunal. “I believe that the facts show that our current methods of defense and offense are inadequate. Quelling dissent under the auspices of showing respect to higher officers keeps us in this dangerous position. Under Commander Khoth Voor, we were encouraged to speak our minds.”
Khoth nodded. “And I found great value in such open communications.”
I highly doubt that Staed thought the same way. But Dad found Matzen excellent and so does Khoth. More hands to help…
“Would you like to serve under Commander Khoth again?” Jace asked.
“That is my current goal,” Matzen admitted.
“He would be a useful addition to the crew,” Khoth told him.
“Then I am happy to offer you a position, Matzen, but it does require you to swear allegiance to me and not the Alliance,” Jace said.
A brief nod. “Understood. I have already submitted my resignation.”
Thammah’s eyebrows rose. “You were certain!”
“Of what I want? Yes,” Matzen answered simply. “Are there some formal words or processes I must go through to pledge my allegiance?”
“It’s a little bit more practical than that,” Jace admitted. “I will need people to travel into the labyrinth underground for me.” He could not do it himself. He felt the Osiris wrapping its electronic arms around him. No, he couldn’t. Not even for her. “We have a crewmate who will need rescuing. As soon as I find her.”
“You’ve located Gehenna?” Khoth asked, his voice quickening.
“Almost. My little AI buddies are helping, but she’s deep,” Jace admitted. “And I fear trapped down there.”
“Then I’m going as well, Jace! No AIs left behind!” Thammah insisted.
“You and Matzen will make a great team. What about you, Davies? Feel up to another expedition when the time comes?” Jace asked.
“I would do anything for Gehenna except leave you unprotected, Pilot,” Davies said.
“I have Khoth with me.” Jace reached over and touched Khoth’s shoulder. A trickle of electricity went through him just touching the Thaf’ell. He definitely was feeling better. Much better. “So let’s see where we all are when she’s found.”
“Understood, Pilot.” Davies inclined his head.
“I leave it to the two of you to get Matzen kitted out and assigned some duties,” Jace instructed. “I am going to rest for now.” Except he didn’t feel like resting at all. He wanted to be alone with Khoth before it was impossible for them to be. Then guiltily, he added, “Unless, Commander, you would like to catch up with Matzen?”
“My place is with you, Pilot. Such reminisces can wait as we both go about our duties,” Khoth said.
“Indeed.” Matzen inclined his head.
Jace had to hold back his smiles. Him and Khoth! Alone! With a bed! Or, better yet, with a shower and bath! Oh, yes, so many wonderful things.
“Well, don’t let me keep you,” Jace said, in a tone he hoped wasn’t too eager.
Thammah, who was glancing between him and Khoth, got up with alacrity. “Yes! We have no time to waste. We must leave. Now. And we’ll make sure that no one bothers you. So you can get your rest.”