CHAPTER EIGHTY-TWO: GENETIC MEMORY
“You are pacing, Izail,” Khoth remarked as he watched Jace pace in a tight line in front of the canceaux.
“I know! But it’s my dad!” Jace stopped pacing and gestured towards the lights of the fast approaching drop ship. “And I’m going to tell him we’re mated! He knows you. He approves of you, of course. And things went great with my mom, but–”
“You fear he will not approve of the mating?” Khoth’s adorable right eyebrow lifted.
Jace went over and smoothed it back down. “He will approve. I think he’ll just be disappointed until I tell him about the wedding. He’s been a part of all life’s big deals so…”
Jace ignored the slight pucker of Khoth’s mouth at the word “wedding”. The Osiris had already explained to him that such parties were not at all a part of celebrating matings in Thaf’ell culture. In fact, they were strictly private affairs. Thaf’ell did not indulge in PDAs. Something as little as brushing one’s hands together was considered intimate.
Khoth had broken some of those taboos with him, but Khoth was notoriously uncomfortable in large groups. And this would be a large group that saw intimate things so he did understand. But Jace really wanted a wedding. Maybe he’d have to scale it down though to something that didn’t torture his mate.
“I am glad that you think he will approve of me in any way whatsoever. But I know from your mother’s reaction that this will be considered sudden and, therefore, unwise,” Khoth answered simply. “My own parents may very well have that same reaction though we do mate. But our connection is so much deeper than anyone else’s.”
“It is.” Jace smiled at Khoth, feeling his mate’s love for him all around him. There was literally a mental caress from Khoth. He wanted to figure out how to do that.
But there was a sudden downwards rush of air. Jace turned his head towards the location of the burst. His hair was blown back and he shielded his eyes from the dust blown up from the tarmac as his father’s drop ship landed.
The engines whined before they powered down. The blinding landing lights dimmed then shut off. Jace found himself already jogging towards the gangway before it had even unsealed. There was the hiss and gush of white smoke as the gangway lowered. When his father was revealed at the top of the gangway, Jace was already jumping up to him. Jack grabbed him, picking Jace up, even though Jace was now bigger than himself.
He was so glad his father hadn’t even tried to salute nor did he attempt to once they broke off from the hug. His father had felt solid and warm. There was no sense of injury or disease coming from him. Jace realized the Osiris was sending him every single vital sign from his father, plus he was picking up other things simply from touching Jack. He ran his hands over his father’s forearms before letting him go.
“You look well,” his father said, doing a quick up and down of Jace.
“You do, too.” Jace couldn’t hide his relief.
And it was more than look. The Osiris had told him and shown him that his father was fine before this. Not even a scratch on him. But to see him, touch him, ascertain for himself that his father was well was what he’d needed. His own vitals improved now that Jack was near him and he found himself smiling so broadly that his cheeks ached.
All Altaeth are connected to one another, the Osiris sent him. Family units most closely, but even friendships with no near familial relationship adjust over time to be part of an Altaeth’s network.
Okay, are you telling me that Altaeth are connected mentally and physically to their friends and family? Like literally? Jace asked.
Jace blinked. His father must have seen his confusion as his father’s eyes flickered over his face. “Is all well here?”
There was a hint of worry in Jack. He saw it. Felt it. Just a thread. Weirdly, though the Osiris didn’t say anything, he got the sense of worry from his father as well that went beyond this moment.
Osiris, what’s going on? Did you and Dad have a fight or something? Jace asked.
Jace’s eyes narrowed and he realized he could play back any interactions that his father and the Osiris had even if the Osiris didn’t put little videos aside for him.
Hoisted on your own petard, Osiris. I’ll know what you did, Jace thought.
He chose the timeframe in the ship on the way down and he found what he was looking for.
OSIRIS! Why did you do that? Jace demanded to know.
There was a beat and then the Osiris answered, While I was aware of the connection Altaeth form to one another, your bonding with your mate caused… concern.
Ah, so you “knew” what to expect, but it was still unexpected? Jace realized. Now you understand why I need to experience things without you simply telling me about them.
No, that is different.
It isn’t. It’s exactly the same thing, Jace replied firmly.
“Jace?” His father’s eyebrows were lifting.
Jace shook him. “Sorry. I was just speaking to the Osiris.”
“Ah, yeah, about that, son. The Osiris seemed… off,” Jack said with a furrowed brow.
“Oh, yeah, it’s adapting to something new,” Jace said, suddenly not wanting to tell his dad about the mating in relation to his AI’s discomfort. This was a happy occasion and the Osiris was not going to ruin it. “Don’t worry. I’m dealing with it. Sorry you had to.”
The furrows in Jack’s forehead lessened a little, but didn’t completely smooth away. “Good, but there might be… Well, we’ll talk about it once we have something to drink and you tell me what’s so important that I needed to be planetside. Not that I don’t want to be here with you.”
“I know, Dad. It wasn’t great timing. But this is really important. Incredibly important,” Jace stressed.
“So things really are good down here then from that smile of yours,” Jack said.
“Oh, oh, yeah! It’s great! Fantastic really!” Then Jace shook himself. He and Khoth were awesome, but he was certain it was going to be hellish when others got ahold of them. “And it’s terrible or potentially terrible.”
His father blinked. “O-okay.”
Jace shook himself again and urged his father to walk down the gangway. Khoth, like a normal person, was waiting by the canceaux, appearing his handsome and martial self though he must have been nervous. They went over to him.
Khoth inclined his head. “Flight-Commander Parker.”
“Commander Khoth,” Jack said with a salute.
Jace wanted to tell them not to use titles and no military salutes, especially considering that they were alone and what they now were to one another. But there was no sense that either resented using these formalities. Both men were soldiers and likely more comfortable with them than Jace would ever be.
“I appreciated the report you sent to me,” Khoth said.
“That you’ve already had a chance to peruse it makes me glad I did it right away. The Osiris filled me in on what happened down here,” his father said. “It was a hard fight.”
“It was a hard fight that you had as well,” Jace said, shifting from foot to foot. Not even mention of the terrible battles was totalling draining his excitement and nervousness to tell his father this other news. “And it’s the first of many.”
Jace’s shoulders slumped this time and his feet were settled on the ground as he thought of what was ahead of them. His comm was blowing up though he had silenced it. The Osiris was filtering these messages to him, sometimes only the sender’s information, so that he was aware vaguely of who was pinging him. Half a dozen species had already requested meetings with him. He had Osiris answering those and arranging a space. He truly wished Gehenna was there to handle this. She had a better touch with people than the Osiris did.
Gehenna, where are you?
He sent out a thought tendril, but while there might have been a faint response it was hard to tell if it wasn’t just a wish. Davies, Thammah and Matzen were already entering the labyrinth after her. They would find her and bring her back.
“So are we going to talk here in the space port–not that I mind–or did you have somewhere more intimate in mind?” His father grinned.
Jack snapped back to himself. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’ve got a lot on my mind. But I know that you do as well and I pulled you away from your duties. Yet the moment we get back to the Moturin Compound we’re bound to be hounded by a bunch of people.”
“Yes, I have received over a dozen messages from Typhon, his sister, my father, my mother and the Council,” Khoth remarked dryly.
“Well, I love ships more than anything and…” His father turned in a slow circle as he took in the spaceport and the alien, yet familiar, buildings all around them, “this place feels strangely familiar to me. But I’ve never been on a different world–except for the moon so–maybe it always feels this way.”
Genetic memory, Osiris mused as they both took in his father’s half smile and relaxed shoulders.
He remembers this place. It feels like home to him, doesn’t it? Jace realized.
Yes, how interesting. The original Pilot’s family was from this planet, the Osiris answered.
Wow, okay, well, maybe this is a way to tell my dad something about me and himself, Jace said.
“Dad, you feel like you’ve been to Haseon before?” Jace asked, or more like confirmed.
His father nodded. His forehead was furrowed again as he pointed towards a domed building whose top was just within view. “I know it’s crazy, but that building feels like… I’ve been inside it. More than that.” He shook his head. “I can’t explain it.”
That building was the home of the original Pilot’s family, the Osiris answered. At the current time, it is being used as an art gallery and garden.
Interesting. Okay, here goes nothing, Jace said.
“Dad, what if I tell you the reason that this all feels familiar is because it is,” Jace said slowly.
His father’s gaze zeroed in on him, focusing sharply. “What do you mean? Were we kidnapped by aliens and probed? Because I think I would have remembered that?”
He was kidding, of course, but Jace wondered if what he had to tell his father would be easy or harder to take.
“No, the aliens didn’t have to take us, because… We’re the aliens, Dad,” Jace said. “We’re Altaeth. Or, at least, I’m fully Altaeth after what the Osiris did to me. But you and Mom are partially so.”
His father’s expression was blank. Jace realized that at least his mom had been sitting down when he’d revealed their alien heritage to her. He readied himself to catch his father’s fainting form. But that didn’t happen.
“Mates,” his father said softly, almost to himself. “The Osiris kept calling Diane my mate and I kept telling it that humans didn’t have mates.”
“Altaeth do,” Jace answered softly. His palms were sweaty and he both leaned towards his father and then towards Khoth.
Khoth took an almost imperceptible step towards him. The mental caress was more of a hold now. A shield. No matter what happened, Khoth would be there and protect it from it. Even a father’s disapproval or misunderstanding could not reach him with this warm, mental shield surrounding him with love and acceptance. Jace swallowed.
His father’s gaze suddenly swung between him and Khoth. He blinked rapidly. “You’re mated! You and Khoth… I can feel it. I can feel you both and… Diane!”
His father lifted a hand and pointed it unerringly towards the Moturin Compound where his mother was currently staying. Unlike others who had tried to reach him and failed, Jace had sent her a message to let her know what he was up to so she wasn’t worried. He realized he knew that, not just surmised it or concluded it from her words back to him as a message.
His father did stagger now and both Jace and Khoth steadied him. Khoth from behind with a hand on Jack’s shoulders and Jace from the front as he grasped both of his father’s hands.
“What is this?” his father breathed.
“A bit of a stunner. But you’ll get used to it. In fact, it will make a ton of things make more sense,” Jace promised him. “Let’s get him into the canceaux so he can sit down.”
“Is there anything to drink on board?” Jack asked.
“There are juices–” Khoth began.
“He means something alcoholic. I could use one of those too if there is anything,” Jace admitted.
The canceaux was incredibly plush. It reminded him of a limousine back home, which would have held alcohol of all sorts. They could luck out.
“I believe there may be,” Khoth answered. “The two of you can sit in the back while I fly us back.”
Jace wanted to object. The last thing he wanted to do was to make himself physically present for people to speak to right now outside of Khoth and his father. But his mother was waiting for them. Besides, they weren’t going to be alone for much longer.
“Yeah, we better go. The Council has ordered some of the troops to come here and escort us to their chambers for a discussion. I’d rather be in the Moturin Compound,” Jace said with a grimace.
“I take it that the Moturins have enough political sway to keep that from happening?” His father asked as they both bordered the canceaux. He was already looking steady on his pins again. Evidently, his father’s ability to recover quickly also applied to finding out he was an alien.
Khoth had gone in ahead of them and fished out two bottles of a pale gold liquid. He handed one to each of them with the explanation. “This is planth. Similar to your fermented alcoholic drinks.”
His father popped the top. It let out a shish of sound as carbonation was released. He took a sip and then another. “It’s good. Tastes like a hard cider. What’s it made out of?”
“You don’t want to know,” Jace interrupted, recalling his own experience with the food.
Khoth lifted an eyebrow in that way of his, but said nothing. He slid into the pilot’s seat while he and his father settled in the couches on the back. Jace was looking forward to getting up into the air again and seeing the city at night. Flying by canceaux had its perks. His father let out a whistle as the top turned translucent, allowing them to see everything around them clearly as if they were in a car with its top down, but without the annoyance of the wind.
“Fancy. I could definitely get used to riding in one of these. They’d sell like hotcakes on Earth,” his father said as he sipped his planth and gazed around them.
Jace leaned towards him, elbows on knees, as he said, “I’m sorry I dropped that on you like I did, Dad. I wasn’t sure there was a good way to do it and–”
“No, son, it’s all right. It makes me feel less crazy. Not that I was feeling crazy before, but the sense that I had been here and I could feel you…” Jack’s brows drew together and then he was shaking his head and smiling. “How am I experiencing this if you’re the only full-blooded Altaeth? And how the Hell did the Osiris do that?”
Jace took in a deep breath and explained all he knew. His father took it in, interrupting him with pointed questions. When Jace was finished his father was staring out of the window. While the wonders of Ylore were reflected in his father’s eyes, he wasn’t sure if Jack saw them. He was looking inwards.
“We felt a calling–your mom and I–to Area 67. Before either of us knew what was being held there, we had to go,” Jack said.
“Your desire to be an experimental aircraft pilot is explained as well, Dad. It’s literally in our blood,” Jace remarked.
“And we have genetic memories of places our ancestors have lived? I mean, I can feel the old homestead here.” Jack touched his chest. “It’s incredible.”
“Yeah, I know. The Osiris thinks that my mating with Khoth has supercharged the family bond that Altaeth share, which is why you’re experiencing so much more of this than before,” Jace said.
His father nodded then refocused on him again and flashed a smile. “I didn’t say congratulations yet, son.”
Jace glanced up towards the pilot’s seat where Khoth was flying them towards all their responsibilities. Yet with Khoth there, Jace felt he could do anything, be anything, handle it all. His father had to understand that Khoth was like the missing part of his soul.
“Hey, hey, Jace.” Jack’s hands were suddenly over his and his unopened bottle of planth. “I am happy for you.”
“Are you sure? Because you don’t look it. Now, I could chalk it up to you absorbing all of this, but… I know you, Dad.” He lowered his voice even though Khoth would know what happened simply by reading his mind. “Why aren’t you happy?”
“I am,” Jack insisted. He shook himself and drank another mouthful of planth. “But I think I know why the Osiris was practically pissing itself about your mating and what Diane and I were doing.”
“What? No, the Osiris isn’t upset about…” Jack stopped and frowned.
Are you upset? I thought you’d be pleased! My systems are running more efficiently with a mate, Jace tried not to make his voice sound accusatory.
I do not get upset, the Osiris claimed. Your mate improves your mental and physical acuity. You are more at peace and focused.
Okay, that sounds all good, so what–
His father though ended up answering the question Jace was about to ask the AI, “The Osiris was wondering why Diane and I have chosen not to both serve on the same ship with you.”
“Well, Mom is awesome at her job and will promote humanity’s interests–”
“Yes, she’s all of that, but that’s not why we chose this in the end,” his father answered and dropped his eyes from Jace. “Our concern was that if we’re both in the same place, on the same missions, that you could lose us both at the same time. We believed that as hard as it would to go on without each other, we couldn’t deprive you of both of us. One of us still needed to be there for you.”
Jace’s heart lurched in his chest. A cold feeling filled him that not even Khoth’s frantic warm mental embrace could stop.
His father lifted his head now and met his eyes. “Jace, the Osiris told me that Altaeth often… often die when their mates do.”
Jace blinked slowly as understanding filled him in another ice cold wave. He’d known this, but hadn’t known it at the same time.
Just like the Osiris.
“Khoth is your mate, and he’s also the Commander of the Osiris,” his father reminded him. “I’m just worried now that… Well, both of you are on the front lines, Jace, and it won’t matter any longer whether you or Khoth is out there fighting and one of you is staying behind, because if one of you dies so does the other one.” His father’s hands tightened on his. “At least the Altaeth one does.”