CHAPTER SEVENTY-NINE: CONFESSIONS
Jace was afraid that his smile looked a little forced. He was really glad to see his mom! He was so relieved that she appeared perfectly fine after the battle. She’d even changed outfits and freshened up according to the AIs before coming here. She hadn’t wanted to concern him with any bumps or bruises showing. She didn’t want him to know just how bad it had been above Haseon.
When I wasn’t there. And she was in the Thaf’ell equivalent to a rust bucket. But she doesn’t even have a hair out of place, he thought.
Your mother is very strong. Her Xi and Xa are always in such tight control. I envy her that, Khoth said.
Me too. She’s uniquely able to keep it together on the outside even if she’s a mess on the inside.
“So what is this dish called, Khoth?” his mother asked, pointing to dark green shredded material that was interspersed with red bulges that reminded Jace of bloody eyes.
Jace had been moving that same material around his plate, because it glistened, i.e., slime and he’d had enough of slime to last a lifetime. And he didn’t want to hurt Khoth’s feelings by spitting anything out. He could picture the food flying end over end as he turned interesting shades of green.
“It is a seaweed we harvest from the nearby Salutian Sea,” Khoth explained and popped one of the strands into his mouth. The red bulges gushed when he chewed them.
Jace swallowed thickly. He trailed his fork through the strands and isolated them to the side of his plate. They must not touch anything else. They might contaminate the food he could eat.
The eggs–they were eggs, but not from a chicken and he had insisted the Osiris not show him the animal they were from–were quite creamy and delicious. There was still half a platter left of this so he devoured what was on his plate and scooped up some more. No one seemed to mind. Khoth smiled at him encouragingly.
“And the purple mash?” His mother’s fork hovered over what looked like dark purple mashed potatoes. “It’s sweet, but also salty. Quite nice.”
“It is called marva. A root vegetable that grows in most any ground. Quite nutritious.” Khoth smiled at Jace encouragingly again.
In his mate’s mind, he saw Khoth picturing feeding him some, but not in a sexy way, more in a way to lure a child into eating their vegetables. Jace’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. He’d just dipped the tines of his fork into the marva and licked them quickly. It was okay. But if Khoth thought it was healthy it was definitely suspect for not tasting good. He scraped the marva to the other side of the plate. Another food to be isolated from the eggs. He ignored Khoth’s disappointed look.
Check mate, Khoth, Jace teased. Can’t get me to eat healthy food.
Khoth’s blue-on-blue eyes slid to him. Jace, merely because it is healthy does not mean it is uninteresting to the palate or disgusting to one’s taste buds. If that were the truth of healthful food then it would not be good for us.
I know the truth! It’s going to be gross! I just know it. Jace curled an arm protectively around his plate in case Khoth wanted to put anything healthful on it. I’ll continue to eat the eggs–
Larva, Khoth cut in as he speared another one of the seaweed things.
Jace froze, a forkful of creamy yellow eggs halfway to his mouth. What?
Khoth chewed and swallowed before he answered, though he didn’t have to, and repeated, Larva. They are mashed larva cooked in–
LARVA?! Jace’s fork crashed onto his plate.
His mother looked up at him, clearly startled. “Jace, is everything–”
“I’ve been betrayed.” Jace stared at Khoth with narrowed eyes.
“What? You don’t mean that seriously!” She let out an uncertain laugh.
“Do I, Khoth?” Jace narrowed his eyes further at the Thaf’ell warrior.
Khoth chewed another strand of seaweed before he answered, Larva are quite nutritious. And–
Khoth, what have we been doing for the past hours before the lovemaking? What have we been doing? Jace cried.
Oh… I see. You are thinking of the Khul. But no, these are nothing to do with them, of course–
But they’re larva! Jace realized his plate was piled high with the creamy, yellow, yolky things. There was nowhere to push them on the plate. And, to be honest, he couldn’t imagine eating anything else.
But you were enjoying them, Khoth pointed out. They are highly nutritious and–
If I vomit them out, I get no nutrition from them! Forcing himself not to dry heave, Jace swallowed again and said, My stomach hurts. I need Twizzlers.
No, no, you do not. Khoth was frowning rather adorably. Those are filled with sugar and artificial flavors and colors–
Yes, they’re safe! No larva anywhere near them! Jace swallowed again. Safe, safe lab created food. Nothing natural in them at all! I need them. And pretzels with cheese dip. Oh, and nachos. And then some Skittles would be good and–
Nothing on that list contains anything of any nutritional value, Khoth frowned.
If it’s made of space paste it does! Jace couldn’t believe he was arguing for space paste.
Khoth considered that. Perhaps, but you should develop your palate. There will be many new foods for you to discover on our journeys.
True, but not larva. I draw the line at larva!
His mother was eating her larva seemingly happily. He was glad she hadn’t asked Khoth what it was yet. The sunlight played in her hair and glinted in her eyes as she lifted them to smile at them both. They were sitting in the garden outside of the bedroom where Khoth’s parents had their fight, but there was no fighting this time around. He set his plate to the side. He wasn’t eating any more.
“So… you both look incredibly well after the battles here. I can’t tell you how–how happy and relieved I am about that,” she said, those emotions ringing in her voice.
Jace grinned at her. Of course, he hadn’t forgotten about the dangers they’d gone through or the losses they’d suffered, but since mating with Khoth those things had faded a little bit. But his mother had no idea about that. She just thought he had been resting and recovering after everything, not starting his own family.
A House that needs selchitte! He thought happily.
“Your father explained that you were cut off from the Osiris by the Khul. Are you…” She reached for his temple, but stopped short of touching him. “Are you injured from that, Jace?”
“No, I’m good.” He glanced over at Khoth, unable to help the bright smile as he looked at his mate. “I’m more than good.”
He would have wanted to tell his Mom and Dad together about him and Khoth, but his parents might not be in the same place at the same time. And he didn’t want to hide this. Definitely not from her.
Khoth, I want to tell her. Can I? He asked.
Of course, I wish your mother to know.
There’s a “but” there, Khoth. What are you afraid of?
Khoth lowered his head slightly. That she will not approve. Even my basic understanding of human mores tells me that what we have done would be considered hasty, at best.
Hasty? Yeah. But the moment my parents saw one another, they never left one another. People would joke that my parents were the epitome of love at first sight, Jace explained. She’ll understand. Or, at least, she won’t be as against it as a normal human might.
Khoth appeared thoughtful. Perhaps it is because of their Altaeth blood. They might be mates.
If any couple are mates, it’s them. At least for humans. Partial humans, Jace agreed. So are you good about us doing this?
Yes. I am.
So Jace reached over and took one of Khoth’s hands in his. He threaded their fingers together. He felt Khoth’s surprise and shyness despite his agreement to the reveal. It was a sign of affection in front of outsiders, even though his mother was not really an outsider. For her part, his mother watched the movement with a carefully neutral expression. She then lifted her eyes to his.
“So you’re very good?” A smile twitched on her lips.
She likely thought that they were dating. Maybe she even guessed that they’d had sex. Celebrating life after so much death was something she and his father had done in times past. He still wasn’t sure how she’d take to the mating thing. Humans really didn’t do that.
But I’m not human. She isn’t either. Oh, man, I’ve got to tell her that as well, Jace realized.
Do you wish to abort this? Khoth asked.
No, no, I need to tell her before someone else does. Can’t you see Amana breaking out with it? Jace asked.
Yes, that could happen. She would honor your mother. An Altaeth, Khoth agreed.
So here we go then…
“Mom,” Jace said and stopped.
How the Hell was he going to tell her all of this? Was she going to be okay? Because she wasn’t fully human either? While he had been filtered to strain out all humanity, she was still a mix of both. But she wasn’t all human. She was an alien too. Suddenly, the mate-thing was secondary to this.
“Mom,” he began again and swallowed.
She looked at him curiously. Her head tilted to the side. Her expression went from indulgent and amused to concerned and serious. “Jace? What is it?”
Just get it out. Have to just say it. She has always been better with clear, upfront information, he reminded himself.
“Mom, we’re not–you, me and Dad–we’re not… fully human,” Jace finally got out.
She slowly blinked. Or maybe time slowed. The breeze stirred a piece of her hair. He watched her eyes slowly close then open again. Then time sped up again and she blinked rapidly.
“W-what?” Her voice was soft.
An uncertain smile was on her face.
Maybe that was a little too upfront and clear.
He reached over with his free hand and took one of hers in his. The three of them were all linked now. She couldn’t hear his or Khoth’s thoughts, but he felt something here. His mother. His Altaeth mother. At least partially.
Keep talking. You have to explain. Make it as simple as possible, he told himself.
“I think… I think you’ve always known that you and Dad were different. Are different,” Jace found himself saying.
Her expression took on something of wonder. “We aren’t… I mean, we’ve always had a sense of being… but that’s just our imagination! We’re normal people. Hard driving, sure. But we’re like other people.”
“Are you?” he pressed.
She went silent.
He licked his lips, recalling all she’d ever told him about her and his father. “When you met, it was like two puzzle pieces snicking into place. You knew he was the one for you immediately. There was no doubt. There was no thought. And you never were apart after that. Before you’d even said a word, you knew.”
His parents had told him the story of their meeting at War College during a mixer many times. He’d asked them to tell it again and again. Well, not recently, because, unlike when he was a child, he had stopped believing that such a connection with someone was in the cards for him. It had become painful to hear rather than aspirational. But now, he realized he had his own love.
I am yours forever, Khoth’s voice drifted over his mind like an invisible caress.
“We did. Saw him across a crowded room. And though I had no intention of even speaking to any of the flyboys, I had to speak to him. Actually, I don’t know if I said anything for long moments. Just stared into his eyes,” she whispered, her gaze going distant. “I felt he was the only one for me. I couldn’t exist without him.” But then she shook himself. “We were young! That couldn’t have been true. Could it?”
She lifted her eyes to his again and searched his face. He smiled and nodded.
“I think it was. Altaeth–”
“Altaeth?! What do they have to do with us?” she gasped, but then answered her own question, “Is that the part of us that’s–that’s not human?”
He nodded again. “I’m… I’m fully Altaeth. You and Dad are mixed. We’re descendants of the original crew of the Osiris. In fact, we’re descendants of the original Pilot.”
She blinked again and stared off into space. Speaking more to herself than to him, she said, “Of course. That’s why the Osiris reacted to us when it never did to anyone else. I think we were even drawn to Sunrise and the Osiris in the first place. Your father and I were both so driven once we’d found one another to—to discover something.”
“Yeah, I think that’s true. I think the Osiris has been calling to us for a long time,” Jace agreed.
She refocused on him. “You said you’re fully Altaeth. Is that what the Osiris did to you?”
He nodded. “Yes.” He tightened his hold on Khoth. “And Altaeth have mates. One and only people they are supposed to be with.”
That we are meant to be with. Made to be with, Khoth said.
Her eyes brightened. “Like wolves?”
“Yeah, yeah, a little bit like that, but… more.” Jace let out an uncomfortable laugh and ducked his head.
So much more, Jace thought.
Her eyes widened as she looked between him and Khoth. “You and Khoth…”
“We’re mates, Mom. Like you and Dad, but more. Like he has automatic tattoos and we can now read each other’s minds…” He stopped as he saw her mouth opening and closing without any words coming out. “Mom? Mom, are you okay? Please be okay!”
His mother snapped out of her shock and squeezed his hand. “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m more than fine! It’s all I could have hoped for you. More. I know you’d given up on finding anyone and to think…”
“I know, right?” He looked back at Khoth who was beaming, but softly and shyly and sweetly.
Your mother approves of me. I did not expect such a thing when mating is not part of your parents’ experience, Khoth said.
“Did you know right away? How did it happen? What does it mean?” Questions rattled out of her.
Jace smiled at Khoth. “There was a connection from when we first met.”
“Yes.” Khoth nodded his head.
“As to what it means, to say we’re married really doesn’t quite cover it. But we are and then some,” Jace explained.
“Do your parents know, Khoth?” His mother asked.
“Not yet. This…” Khoth turned to him to explain, because he wasn’t sure how much Jace wanted her to know. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to tell his parents.
Mother will be… interesting, Khoth said.
Yeah, well, we’ll figure this out.
“It literally just happened, Mom,” Jace said. “Like a few hours ago.”
She blinked rapidly. “It just happened. It just happened.”
“But don’t worry!” Jace was waving off any concerns she had–that he and Khoth had already gone through–about this being forced or unwanted. “This is exactly what we both wanted. But there’s like this stuff that physically happens.”
More wide eyes from her, but she was nodding along, accepting this remarkably well. “I can tell that you are happy, Jace. There’s uncertainty in you. It is almost like how it was when you were changed by the Osiris. Meant to be. Part of who you are. I’m still a little stunned, but not in a bad way. Just…”
“I did just tell you that you aren’t human either, Mom. And wait until that sinks in,” he laughed.
She put a hand to her forehead. “Oh, my goodness! Not human. Mating. Your father and I… does your father know?”
Her head shot up and she looked both concerned and hopeful.
“No, you’re the first. We were sort of just glowing about it before you brought the food,” he confessed.
She let out a wild laugh. “What you must have thought to find your mother at the door!”
“It was a surprise. But a happy one,” he assured her. “I want to tell Dad, but it feels wrong doing it over the comm.”
“Yes, but he’ll want to know. When will you see him in person?” she asked.
“Not for a while.” Jace grimaced. “There’s so much to do. I have to meet with the Council. I have to find Gehenna. We have to deal with the database. Not to mention the Khul and–”
“Telling your father this good news is just as important as those things. If not more so.” Khoth’s thumb ran along the top of his hand. It is important to you.
The increasing strain that had started to fill him eased off. Khoth was right. He just hadn’t expected Khoth to be the one to tell him that.
“You’re right, Khoth. This is so important. And I want to share it with our families right away. Everything else can wait,” Jace said. “It’s a celebration of life and I think we need that considering what’s to come. Besides.” He smiled at his Mom. “You need to see Dad in the flesh after what happened.”
“But I assume you need him on the ship. And we understand our duty, Jace. I don’t want you to do anything that would–”
“Mom, I did the equivalent of getting married. I think Dad needs to know.” Jace laughed.
She nodded and let out a breath. “I admit I want to see him. Hold him. And yes, he does need to know.”
“He does. And I want him to be with you,” Jace promised her.
He wanted to, at least, give his parents a night together. The thought of them being so close, but so far felt wrong. Besides, once he filled out the rest of the crew, they wouldn’t be staying on Haseon for long, but his mother would be.
Imagine if we were separated like that, Khoth. I don’t know if I could bear it, Jace said.
The connection, strangely, makes that easier and harder. We are always together in some way, Khoth reminded him.
You’re right. You’re always with me.
Jace tapped his comm and brought up his father. Jack smiled broadly at him and he felt the instant warmth that seeing his father brought. There was a connection here as well. He could feel it now that he had his connection to Khoth.
How amazing is this!
“Pilot!” His father beamed.
Jace wanted to correct him and tell him to say “Jace” but his father was the one that was right. “Flight-Commander Parker, I need you to come down to Haseon.”
“Of course, Pilot.” But he could see by the slight narrowing of his father’s eyes that he was surprised by this request and likely disagreed with it. Not that he would say unless Jace gave him permission. He felt a little sad at this, but his father understood the chain of command. And if he were constantly questioning Jace it would seem he didn’t respect Jace’s decisions, which he knew his father did. So he wasn’t surprised when his father simply said, “I will let the next in command know.”
“Dad,” Jace cut in. He couldn’t help the goofy smile on his face. “It’s personal and important. I need you here. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t necessary.”
“Of course, Jace.” His father’s professional demeanor eased a little. “Aren’t you going to give me a hint about what it is though? From your smile, I can tell it’s something good. I can use some good news.”
He sincerely hoped that his father would be as happy and accepting as his mother. He was still so grateful for that.
“Even if I did, you wouldn’t believe it,” Jace grinned.
“I’d like to wait until Lieutenant-Commander Davies can replace me up here,” his father said.
“I know. You’re worried that the Khul threat is far from over,” Jace said.
His father nodded and scrubbed a hand over his buzz cut hair. “You got that right. Personally, I’d like you up here. But you’ve got things to do.”
“The planetary shield is working at 75%. It should be up to 100% in the next hour. And the BFG–big fucking gun–is not only in working order, but there are a bunch more of them that I’m bringing online,” Jace assured him.
“But the Osiris hasn’t figured out a way to shield you from being cut off from it?” His father asked.
“You know it hasn’t. It seems like you have a new best friend in the Osiris,” Jace chuckled.
The Osiris that had been silent–because he’d hurt its feelings by insisting on it not telling about the food and it had gotten its revenge with the larva–but now piped in.
Friendship is a construct to ensure cooperation among groups of individuals to perpetuate–
Osiris, you like my Dad, Jace cut in dryly.
Your father is… acceptable, the Osiris admitted grudgingly.
And I think he likes you, too, Jace said.
His father confirmed that by answering, “We’re making our peace. I’m pretty sure I’ve proven to it that we work better together than separately.”
One set of data hardly proves that. But he was adequate, the Osiris was tart.
Ooooh, adequate! High praise coming from you! Jace giggled.
Yes. Very tart Osiris.
“Dad, I think we can risk one night. There’s something important I need to tell you and… Mom’s here,” Jace said. He turned the comm towards her. She waved and his father perked up even more. “See?”
“Well, if I had any concerns, now you’ve overcome them,” his father said, his voice going soft and loving.
“Get down here as soon as you can,” Jace said. “Everything will be fine.”
He cut the connection. He hoped what he had said was true. No, he felt it was. Besides, the truth was that he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. If they didn’t celebrate the little things–let alone the big things–they might forget what they were fighting for.
You would never do that, Khoth told him.
His voice was like a mental caress and Jace sighed in pleasure. His mother’s forehead furrowed as she was looking at them but then it cleared.
“You’re talking telepathically! It’s just like when you speak to the Osiris or Gehenna, Jace, but the color of your eyes is a little different. Amazing!” She shook his head. “I hope that being able to hear each other’s thoughts is always a blessing.”
“Little white lies are necessary for social lubrication, I know. But Khoth and I don’t just hear everything each other thinks. Just what we send to one another and share on purpose,” Jace assured her.
He leaned his shoulder against Khoth’s, loving the warmth and sense of mental and physical touch.
No lies between us, Izail, Khoth said firmly.
No lies between us. You’re right.
“I am in awe. And so happy for you both,” his mother said.
His mother reached out for him again and he caught sight of her diamond wedding band. He suddenly had an idea for one of their selchitte.
It’ll be perfect. Just perfect.