Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER EIGHTY-SEVEN: CHIPS ON THE TABLE, BUT NONE TO EAT

Earlier

Jace was doing his very best to appear interested and pleasant during the dinner that Amana and Typhon had put together for everyone. But the truth was that he sort of wanted to retreat back to his room with Khoth and find out what else his lover’s body could do. But duty called and the dinner was rather nice. 

Maybe not the food, but the surroundings are inviting.

They sat at a long, low table made of a pale wood that was only a foot and a half above the floor. There was a hollowed out space underneath it for their feet. The ceiling was a dome of glass that allowed Jace to see the sky above. The lights were low and the room had the golden cast of firelight and candlelight. It was conducive to warm laughter and spritely conversation. 

Servants came in with plates of food and these were handed around the table family style. The tart, fizzy juices he’d like from the canceaux were served in large, perspiring containers on the center of the table. Jace was fully taking advantage of the pitcher directly in front of him. 

When Intoshkin had sought to try some, Jace had given him the stink eye. He hadn’t exactly growled possessively and curled his arms around the container of juice, but the look had been enough. The general had slowly withdrawn his hand without touching the pitcher. The staff, recognizing that he was enjoying the juice, had brought another container for Intoshkin. If there was nothing in the meal his stomach could handle, he could fill up on the tart cherry-like juice. 

Khoth reached under the table and took his hand. Jace found himself relaxing as Khoth laced their fingers together.  Under normal circumstances, the two of them would have gone away on a honeymoon or, at least, locked themselves in an apartment for a few weeks to just be together. 

The Altaeth took what they called a Moon’s Crossing after they mated to be with their mates. They saw only limited people considered family during that time, the Osiris informed him. 

Which moon? How long was the crossing?  Jace asked.

It would be approximately 37 Earth days, the Osiris answered. 

Thirty-seven days? Oh, man, that sounds like Heaven! Jace inwardly sighed.

He glanced over at his parents who sat across the table from him and Khoth. His mother was attempting to feed his father some leafy green stuff that his father was trying to avoid. Jace so understood. She had speared a vegetable on her fork and was aiming for his father’s mouth. His father kept blocking her playfully with his knife.

“It’s good, Jack! You need some vegetables in your diet! You’re just like our son, but you aren’t as young as you used to be,” his mother wheedled.

His father patted his rock-solid stomach. “I seem to be doing okay. But fine I’ll have something green.”

His father then took a spoonful of this sweet mashed substance similar to sweet potato in flavor. 

“Jack,” his mother moaned.

“It’s green. And has a nice sugary crust,” his father said as he took another spoonful.

Jace hoped that was sugar. It was likely sugar. Sure it was. But he wasn’t going to check with the Osiris and confirm. He’d learned not to do that. 

Even Mom and Dad took a week’s holiday after they got married, Jace told the Osiris as he watched his parents flirt and love on one another. 

It sounds highly impractical for the Pilot, the Osiris sniffed.

He saw the shy smiles that Amana gave his parents, apparently fascinated by their displays of affection and open teasing. He knew even without checking with the Osiris that Thaf’ell mates did not act this way. Or rather, the martial ones did not, but the artists might have. Amana tipped her head to the side and looked on longingly. Thadden, too, appeared touched by his parents’ playfulness. Jace hoped the older Voor wasn’t thinking of how he had lost Nova. Typhon appeared to be completely ignoring the affection, likely thinking it rude to notice it. Intoshkin was his usual brash self, neither ignoring nor commenting upon it. 

You know how I feel about Khoth, Osiris. You feel it, too, Jace pointed out. Does 37 days seem like an inordinate time for me to want to be alone with him?

There are certain parts of your personality, Pilot, that are highly illogical, the Osiris answered.

And what about you? Was getting my dad all worked up ‘highly logical’ on your part when you knew how excited and anxious I was to tell him about Khoth and everything else? Jace poked.

The Osiris, of course, didn’t answer. 

His father appeared fine now. There was none of the tension in him since they’d talked in the canceaux. But the Osiris had caused his father to worry. Immensely. And about something that should have had his father uncomplicatedly loving.

Yet the Osiris hadn’t answered any of his queries on why it had spoken of his mating in such dire terms to his father. He had a guess though why it was and he wanted the AI to see that it had reached out to his father, because there was a connection between the Osiris and Jack. It had wanted to express what it was feeling about Khoth being his mate to someone that could understand and could be trusted. His father had proven himself to be a suitable individual through the battle with the Khul. But the Osiris was just as determined to admit no such thing.  They were at an impasse. 

Osiris, I know you’re worried about how Khoth and I being mates is going to change things, Jace again told the AI very patiently. I think you were happy when it initially happened, because my body settled down a little bit, yes? I was a mess when we got here thinking, in part, about Khoth and Typhon’s relationship. Now I’m so much better. You have to admit this!

Altaeth were less likely to become emotionally compromised after mating, the Osiris reluctantly agreed.  But now there are more difficulties. Khoth is not Altaeth.

No, but Thaf’ell are superior, Jace reminded the AI, smiling as he shared his little joke with Khoth with the AI.

In the driest of tones, the Osiris responded, Not to Altaeth, they are not.

No, and not to other species either. It’s a relative thing and a joke! Which you know! Jace protested, although Khoth had meant it the first time he’d told Jace that. But my point is that I am far more emotionally stable–or happy as most would describe it–than ever. My body is humming along. I feel really good. My mind is clearer than ever. I feel re-energized to take on the Khul.

If Khoth is injured or dies, you will be adversely affected–

Yes, Jace interrupted. Let’s say your worst case scenario comes true, Osiris. That Khoth does die and then I do, because of it. What can be done now? Khoth and I are mated. This isn’t changing. So you must learn to live with this perceived danger. 

You refuse to even consider his death. Even as you speak of it, you gloss over–

Yes, I refuse! Because thinking about it does nothing to stop it. It’s crazy-making, Jace pointed out. There are risks to everything. There are downsides to everything. But about Khoth and I being mates? They just aren’t important in comparison to the good stuff. 

I underestimated the change this would have on you, the Osiris admitted softly, so softly, that Jace nearly didn’t hear it.

I imagine it would be easier for you if I had no attachments–

Yes.

I didn’t finish, Jace frowned. But since I do have attachments, you have to work with them. So make sure my quarters are Khoth and my quarters when we return. And I want you to treat him like–like he is the most important person to me. Understand?

Understood, Pilot, the Osiris answered.

But Jace knew the wiggle room the Osiris could find in any given command so he wondered what the Osiris would do this time. He hoped that the Osiris would somehow adjust to it not being just the two of them, but the three of them. Really, there had never been just him and the Osiris. There had been him, the Osiris, Gehenna, his parents, Khoth, Thammah, etcetera. Every single person aboard the Osiris was important to him. Every person on Earth was important. Now everyone in the Alliance was becoming important to him. 

The reason the mission matters to me so much, Osiris, is because of Khoth and the others that I love, Jace said.

We were each created for a purpose, Pilot, the Osiris answered. Outside influences should not be necessary.

They aren’t. They just make the mission that much more important. I don’t know if you can understand how the individual makes the group seem more real and makes them more dear, Jace explained. But that’s how it works for me.

The Osiris was an AI. It was more than a machine, but it was not human or Altaeth or Thaf’ell. There was a limitation there about how much it could understand. Unless it could grow emotionally.  While he had been angry with the Osiris at behaving as it had with his father, that anger had diminished as he recognized it was experiencing panic. Perhaps not for the first time, but definitely acutely.

I would give you the time you desire with your mate, but I am unable to act on our mission without you, the Osiris finally said. And the Khul will not wait.

Why can’t you act without me? Jace asked, genuinely curious.

There are limits.

You have limits? Jace was amused that the Osiris would admit this.

No. Yes.

Okay, really? Both no and yes? Jace nearly laughed.

Ones that were placed upon me, the Osiris answered. The Altaeth feared what I would do without the Pilot to guide me. 

I see. Jace wasn’t sure if what he was imagining though was right. He was thinking of how the Osiris was too logic-based. That he would sacrifice too many people to accomplish its mission. Worse, perhaps the mission would destroy the people the Osiris was attempting to save. But then he realized something else. Your mission is to eliminate the Khul. 

Yes.

What about protecting the Seeded Species? Jace probed.

I am to assist the Pilot in destroying the Khul. If that is accomplished, I am to assist the Pilot in re-establishing the Altaeth Empire in whatever way the Pilot sees fit, the Osiris told him. Those are the parameters of my mission.

Now I understand, Jace responded. My attachments and conditions are what the Altaeth knew you needed to have in order to accomplish the greater mission.

Greater mission?

You can’t have an empire again without people, Osiris, Jace pointed out gently. Can’t be emperor of nothing.

Amana was suddenly offering him some grubs. Thick as his finger. As wide as a dime and pale white with yellow heads. They were covered in some kind of golden, glistening plant oil and seasoned with a green-colored herb. They were also still moving.

“These are some of my favorites!” Amana enthused. “They squirm on your tongue. And when you chew the explode. Delicious!”

Jace’s mouth opened in an “O” of horror. His stomach roiled.

“The Pilot is focusing on vegetarian meals this evening,” Khoth lied, but it did give him an out that did not involve some inter-species incident.

His lover quickly took the proffered plate and moved it swiftly away from Jace. Jace swallowed and gave Khoth a grateful look. He had hardly eaten anything so far. The human food, which Khoth had promised hadn’t made any appearance yet. But now that Khoth had said he was only eating vegetarian meals that was going to limit the human food selection he could eat, too. Obviously, he’d have to raid Thammah’s stash of snacks. He was certain she’d secreted some in one of the dropships. 

Surely, vegetables cannot be objectionable to you, Izail, Khoth said with a slight disapproving sound to his mind-voice.

I am certain that Slim Jims have some vegetables in them. Vegetable oil at least! Jace objected. 

Why do I highly doubt this? Khoth frowned.

Because you don’t trust me about food choices? Jace laughed.

I wish you to be happy and healthy. 

Jace beamed. Vegetables don’t have to be a part of that. Unless it’s tomato on a burger.  Oooooh, and lettuce too. Not to mention grilled onions and–

They are condiments to the beef, Khoth sounded like he was mourning the cow.

Yes, delicious beef. Ah, beef…

Amana blued and looked disturbed, which drew him out of his meditation on the deliciousness of beef. “I’m so sorry, Pilot! I was not aware you were not ingesting insect proteins–”

“It’s okay. I don’t do it all the time. Just tonight seemed like a good time to start avoiding, ah, insect proteins,” Jace told her with a tight smile.  “But everything looks great! I’m having a really good time. Thank you so much, Amana, for all of this. After everything that’s happened, that you and Typhon could get this dinner arranged is really appreciated.”

She beamed again. “We are so glad that you have decided to stay with us. Aren’t we, brother?

Khoth was seated to his left. Amana was on his right and Typhon was next to her. The Justiciar nodded.

“Ironically, you staying with us is keeping the High Council from interfering in the way they usually would. They are afraid to come here,” Typhon answered as he sipped a yellow-colored juice.

“And what is their usual way of interfering?” General Intoshkin steepled his hands together and rested his chin on top of them.

“I would imagine they would have isolated the Pilot for questioning,” Typhon answered briefly.

“You mean they would have imprisoned Jace and interrogated him.” The general made a disgusted sound and shook his head. “Even after he saved your asses, you’re still acting like he’s not your ally.”

“Do not lump me in with them, General. I, clearly, do not believe the Pilot should be held against his will in any way,” Typhon pointed out. “The Pilot is a guest of our House and, as such, we will defend him to the death.”

“No death is going to be involved!” Jace waved his hands through the air as if to physically ward off such a need.

Typhon nodded. “Your desire for our safety is noted, but it should be a deterrent for the High Council from taking any action against you while you are in the compound.”

“Which is why we were so concerned when you went flying earlier.” Amana held onto her fork tightly. 

“Yes, I figured that. But there’s no need for anyone to get excited… or fight to the death to protect me.  I can protect all of you. And we’ve had enough death already,” Jace said.

Typhon popped a dark red fruit that seemed similar to a grape into his mouth. Khoth made a gesture for those fruits to be sent down for Jace. He put a few on Jace’s plate. Jace’s stomach burbled. He quickly chewed one. Sweet, tart and juicy!  They were delicious in a way he was certain that the larva insects were not. They weren’t as good as beef, but now he guarded the bowl of them just like the juice. Typhon saw his action and frowned slightly as if he didn’t quite understand what was going on there. Probably best that he didn’t. 

“The law is quite clear on this subject,” Thadden added his voice to the conversation. He was on his mother’s right. “When a House has offered protection to an individual not even the High Council can interfere.”

“The High Council will disagree with you about the clear part, Thadden,” Typhon answered dryly. “Some of my colleagues on the tribunal would say that the guest must be an Alliance member before such guest-status is accepted.”

“And the bigots believe one must be a Thaf’ell of the rarest blood for it to apply,” Amana said with a disgusted twitch of her lips. “But it does not matter what the letter of the law says. The Pilot has saved us from the Khul. The spirit of the law will protect him.

“We all hope that the High Council will be civil!” Intoshkin grunted. “But, if they are not, does it matter? The Pilot can do what he does, which is shut off their access to the Altaeth tech. He could imprison them in their very rooms!”

“No death and no imprisoning!” Jace sighed. “I did what I did with Nova, because I felt I needed to shock her in order to end the conflict between us. But now I’m thinking that by reaching for violence it caused fear, which led to more violence.”

“You had no choice. Nova had to be stopped,” Khoth said. 

“You hurt no one, Pilot, despite being given plenty of reason to,” Thadden agreed, though this was likely the most painful for Khoth and Thadden to discuss: Nova’s fall. Yet they were doing it. They were giving him absolution. That mattered more than anyone else saying it.  “Then you came here and saved us.”

“I appreciate your kindness in saying that. I know it isn’t easy to talk about.” Jace shook himself. “I think that the High Council will bide its time and read the will of the people.” 

“Do you think or do you know?” his father asked with a quirked eyebrow and a slight smile on his lips.

Jace had, of course, had the Osiris monitoring chatter out of the High Council, not to mention Haseon and the Alliance for reactions to what he and the others had done. He had made sure that videos and still images as well as reporting on all that had occurred was being disseminated to the populace. They could make up their own minds without any middleman editing the material. Not that he wasn’t using it a bit as propaganda himself, but he knew what he was doing would actually help them. 

“Let’s just say that I’m on top of it. Amana isn’t wrong that the people’s opinion gives or takes away the options the High Council has,” Jace said with a shrug and he ate another piece of fruit. “I’m busy limiting those options to peaceful ones that will lead to cooperation.”

“The web is buzzing with news of all that occurred here,” Typhon said. “That is your doing, I assume? The Alliance would have wished to control the flow of information and given a carefully curated version of the truth.”

“I am surprised that there isn’t rioting and panic in the Alliance because of the fact that Haseon was compromised,” Amana said, clutching at her fork again.

“Through the Osiris and the gate network, I have been able to start repair on all Alliance worlds’ defense grids and planetary shields,” Jace explained as he drank more juice and ate more fruit. “There are big guns on other planets as well. Those are the first to be put online. Those planets without such systems were mostly abandoned before we arrived. So Nova’s actions were wise to some extent.” 

Realizing that complete silence had fallen at the table, Jace looked up from his plate. Everyone, except for Khoth, was staring at him open-mouthed. He chewed and swallowed.

“Ah, what did I say wrong?” Jace laughed uncertainly.

“You–you have already begun repairing all Alliance planetary shields and defense systems? Since this–this afternoon?” Amana gasped.

“Uhm, yeah, couldn’t really wait to do it later in case the Khul decided to raid more planets,” Jace admitted. “I would be further along, but… well, I needed a little rest. And the AIs on those planets are really taking on the heavy lifting. I’m just supervising. When I get Gehenna back, I’ll be in even better shape.”

“A little rest?” Intoshkin laughed and shook his head. “God knows what you’ll be able to do with a full 24-hours!”

“Haseon’s days are twenty-eight hours,” Jace corrected. “But, yeah, what can be done, will be done remotely. Like I said earlier to a few people here, raw components are needed to fully repair the planetary systems. But this will be enough for now.”

“You did this and you asked for nothing in return,” Typhon murmured. “You did not even brag about it to us.”

“The Pilot does not brag,” Khoth said tightly.

“I meant that he did not tell us of his further successes,” Typhon smoothly corrected. 

“I don’t see people’s safety as being a chip on the table, Typhon,” Jace told the Justiciar. “Even if the High Council still wants to imprison me, I wouldn’t leave the Alliance unguarded like it has been.”

“Spoken like a true Altaeth,” Amana murmured and made a sign in the air, rather like one would a cross, and bowed her head.

Jace didn’t want to remind her that the only Altaeth she’d ever dealt with was him and he was a product of humanity, not the Altaeth in all honesty.

“So the Alliance is aware you are taking these actions, I hope?” Typhon asked.

“Oh, yeah, otherwise there really would be panic. But it was explained that I am doing for their worlds what I did for Haseon,” Jace said. “They’ve seen how that worked so they’re hopeful. But it’s not enough really. Far from enough. But it’s a start.”

Suddenly, everyone’s comms lit up like Christmas trees. There were wild reports coming in from guards in the compound’s lower area that there was a monster on the loose. Something terrible had come out of the labyrinth. It was shiny and metal and–

“Gehenna! Tell them not to shoot! It’s just Gehenna,” Jace laughed as his mind was filled with smileys, hugs, and dancing hearts. “Of course, she would find another terrifying form that she swears will be pettable shortly.”

“But there is bad news,” Khoth stated as he read his comm. “Some Moturin guards were killed in the labyrinth.”

Over their bond, Khoth said, Davies thinks the people who did it are in the compound.

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  • Hi I'm Momo(she/her). First (I thought) it was Dragon's Reign. Then I was reading cursed. Then listening to EOS Then got a membership only to to discover I read Vampires club AGES ago and discovered new books existed. My poor wife was second hand exposed to my gross out souds and expressions listening to the description of what the Khull do to their victims. It's like you expand on what people feel when people hear the word "moist". I wanted to take my brain out my skull and wash it maniacally on an old fashioned laundry board. I'm excited to be apart of your community. Wishing on a poly love between Davies, Thammah, and Matzen. :)

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  • In reply to: Momo

    Welcome! So glad you're here!

    I've had this idea for the Khul for a long time. I actually have a long standing story in my head with Luke x Vader with this that's really complicated. So the Khul had to live at least!

    And I rather like Davies, Thammah and Matzen together too!

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  • Wishing on a poly love between Davies, Thammah, and Matzen


    Oh I like this idea!

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  • Yes!

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  • Oh my god yay Gehenna is back with jace, :D:D ugh I can't believe that they eat those bugs when the khul exist. :( definitely agree with jace that they at a huge no go lol, nice save khoth. I wonder who it was inn the compound that killed those ppl and why, and who sent both lots form to do whatever it was that they were doing.

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  • In reply to: Emmauk26

    Gehenna belongs with Jace!

    Yeah, who is responsible and who wants who gone is going to be interesting!

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  • ZOMG!!! I can't believe that they are able to disassociate between the grubs they are eating now and the grubs from the Khul. I am totally on board with Jace in the revulsion department!!! I love the fact that we are seeing an actual propaganda campaign being launched by Jace as well, it kind of shows a very behind the scenes kind of strategy that we haven't really seen from him yet. I love that Jace is determined that no deaths will result from his stay on Haseon due to political navigations, I mean there were the deaths in the Labyrinth below but that was enacted by someone else in a situation Jace had no control over. I could just see Jace staring down a full platoon of highly trained Thaf'ell and just being like, 'lol, no' and shutting down their access to tech (btw, do the Thaf'el know what hand to hand is? Or do they not train in it because it is too dangerous due to the possibility of infection against the Khul?) As for Koth, he doesn't even realize that its the little things like making sure that Jace gets the food he wants in front of him that causes lifted eyebrows and everyone to know you are not 'just' First Mate, does he? (so cute!!) P.S. Murder-hobo-slasher-kill-bot-puppy-of-doom for the win!!!!!

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  • In reply to: wiccan_mystic

    I can't believe that they are able to disassociate between the grubs they are eating now and the grubs from the Khul.
    Oh, yeah, gack!

    I love the fact that we are seeing an actual propaganda campaign being launched by Jace as well, it kind of shows a very behind the scenes kind of strategy that we haven't really seen from him yet.
    Yes, he was trained in such counter measures and how powerful they can be.

    btw, do the Thaf'el know what hand to hand is? Or do they not train in it because it is too dangerous due to the possibility of infection against the Khul?
    It would be too dangerous to do with the Khul, but they are trained in it, just not as much, and mostly with a rahir.

    As for Koth, he doesn't even realize that its the little things like making sure that Jace gets the food he wants in front of him that causes lifted eyebrows and everyone to know you are not 'just' First Mate, does he?
    It's so true. He's acting like a "mate". Oh, boy, they can't help it. Bob in Engineering will know immediately.

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  • I just love conversations between Jace and Osiris. Always makes me laugh :D (only topped by a three-way conversation with Gehenna) As a side note, I´d love to see more interaction between Matzen and Davies. Another Thaf’ell-human relationship would be interesting. I imagine the fun conversation between Khoth and Matzen comparing notes on relationships with someone from another species.

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  • In reply to: Wuestenhase

    There will definitely be more stuff with Matzen and Davies. Of course, we will see Matzen and Khoth talking too!

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