Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER NINETY-TWO: FIRE AND WATER

Khoth followed Jace to the long table and chairs set up at the far end of the amphitheater. There were more chairs than Jace needed for just the three of them, because this had not been set up for the Pilot and crew of the Osiris. The Council had eight members. Seven now that his mother was no longer a part and no one had been elected to her spot.  But there were eight chairs, though one was offset from the table, also likely for his mother.

“We need the room,” Typhon said quietly to the workers. 

The workers loyal to Typhon had already picked up the extra chairs as soon as Jace approached while the others looked on uncertainly. The chairs were simply taken from the room to someplace else. Jace did not want anyone else to have a seat. Just as the Council had intended for them. Typhon had already intuited this. Or perhaps Typhon and Jace were in agreement that this was the right play politically. 

One of the female workers blued, but managed to say with a half bow, “Excuse me, Justiciar Typhon… oh, and Justiciar Thadden and Lady Amana, but we–those chairs are for–”

“No one,” Typhon interrupted her firmly. “The Pilot has only three representatives that he requires seats for during these proceedings.”

Bluing more, she pressed on, “But, ah, these were not–”

“Dear child, the Pilot is the savior of our people,” it was Amana who spoke. “Surely, the chairs could only be for him.”

The worker’s eyes shifted from her to Jace and then just as quickly back again to her. “Of–of course, Lady Amana. Forgive me, Pilot!”

She bowed fully this time as did every one of the workers in the room. Jace inclined his head slightly. His expression was curious. He kept it smooth and unreadable even though Khoth knew he despised adulation of this sort.

But I have to accept it to make this work, Jace sent.

You saved all of us, Izail. You deserve much more than bows, Khoth said almost primly.

We did it together, Khoth. Not just me, Jace reminded him.

“Does the Pilot wish for anything else?” the worker asked.

Khoth knew that Jace wanted more of the cherry-like juice, but he heard Jace’s mental reminder–in Davies’ voice no less–that he should not eat or drink food prepared by anyone associated with the Council.

“You are not needed,” Khoth stepped up. “We will take care of the rest.”

I have requested more drinks for you, Izail, Khoth sent. Thammah will bring them.

Thank you, Khoth. This fear of being poisoned is for the bees. Though both the Osiris and Gehenna tell me that my body could process most poisons and they could identify most others before I even ingested them–

Let us not try this. Besides, Thammah knows your tastes better than these people. She might bring you more treats than just the juice.

Do you think she’ll share some of her Slim Jims with me? Jace’s hopeful, almost frun-ish reaction had Khoth coughing to stop from laughing out loud.

Perhaps. It is best that the Council not know that you have such an addiction to that food or otherwise they might use it against you, Khoth remarked.

Slim Jims? Never! They are a strength, not a weakness, Khoth! You shall see.

Indeed, I look forward to it, Izail.

The workers left, leaving the six of them alone in the space. It was a lovely room and Khoth wondered what it had been used for during Jace’s ancestor’s time.

Can’t you imagine them having family meetings here? Jace offered. The place is huge so it wasn’t just for immediate family, but for a whole clan much like House Moturin. We don’t have a lot of living family members in the Parker line or my mom’s. It would be interesting to be part of a huge house of people. All different generations.

The Voors have few living members either.  But our past connections run deep, Khoth answered.

To the Moturins. Yeah. You realize that now our families are connected so there are more of us. Which is why your dad was so much looser with me earlier, I think. We’re all family here. I just realized that. Typhon and Amana don’t know we’re mated, but your dad does, Jace pointed out.

You are correct. I had not realized this myself. But it is true.

Khoth’s eyes slid to the others. On the wall beyond the table was a piece of art that his father and Amana were admiring.  It was made of thin fiber optic cables. The fibers were woven together and different colored lights flowed through them. The piece had just turned a dark, forest green then light green started to appear at the bottom of the piece and began to seep upwards. 

“This place feels so much more alive,” Amana said as she gazed all around the room. “I’ve come here many times to admire the art installations, but it has never felt like this. I wonder if it had something to do with you and Flight Commander Parker being here, Pilot.”  

“That would be something. I can’t compare what it is now to before, but it doesn’t feel like a museum to me,” Jace agreed, nodding.

“I keep expecting to hear laughter and music,” Jack admitted as he smiled at her. “Were the Altaeth musical?”

“We don’t know,” she answered him with a half shrug. “Nothing of that sort was left. Only the tech and weaponry.”

“The cleaner bots must have taken the rest,” Jace said.

“But there must be something of their culture in the database and the AIs,” Typhon insisted.

“There likely is.” Jace nodded. “I will have to look deeper.”

“This art is uncomplicated with just blocks of color, but my Xi sings with it. Do you feel it too, Pilot?” she asked.

“It’s beautiful and moving,” Jace said, explaining what it reminded him of. He brought up an image of such a place on Earth and showed her on his comm. It was a forest with a field before it.

“It does look like that! So lovely!” She shook her head as if she couldn’t quite believe how well the art piece had captured this place, a place where the artist could have never gone and likely had never seen.

“We should prepare, Pilot. The Council is coming,” Typhon pointed out as no one seemed eager to take their seat.

“Yes, you’re quite right, Typhon. We need to occupy these seats or otherwise they will.” Jace flashed a grin that did not quite reach his eyes.

Khoth had never liked politics. He had lived with it all his life with his mother having such a high position in government since before he was born and Daesah being the youngest High Commander that the Alliance had ever had. Even his father’s job as a justiciar required words to be said carefully, all emotion pruned from them that was not meant, everything chosen from the seating arrangements to the lighting to get across one’s point and position. 

In truth, Khoth hated all of it, because he did not think it logical. If one had a solid, logical argument then that should stand on its own. It should be considered on its merits and move both parties to act justly. But now that he had taken a step back from his myopic view of the Thaf’ell, he saw that this had never been how things had worked for his people or maybe for anyone. 

I would have begun that way, Khoth, if the Council hadn’t decided otherwise, Jace sent as he took the central, largest seat where High Councillor Esik Bhilkairs would have been seated. Khoth sat to his left and Jace’s father to his right. I don’t like my moves being dictated by others. But I can’t ignore other’s actions either in my strategy.

You are wise, Izail. I hope my stray thoughts did not lead you to believe I thought otherwise, Khoth said, daring to reach under the table to brush his fingers over the top of Jace’s nearest thigh. 

No, I was telling myself this as much as I was telling you. I am dissatisfied with it all. But what am I going to do? Jace asked, but it seemed a rhetorical question.

Yet Khoth answered, Be like water. Be like fire. Be like earth. Be like air.

Jace turned his head towards him and lifted his eyebrows. The four elements? I didn’t know the Thaf’ell followed that kind of thinking, that it was only humans.

It is not exactly a Thaf’ell belief. I translated it from a battle manual. To be like water is to adapt to what is around you, Khoth explained. To be like fire is to burn through your enemy’s resistance. To be like earth is to have one’s Xi and Xa in balance. And to be like air is to not allow yourself to be pinned down when you do not wish to be.

I like it! Jace brightened, which Khoth loved to see.

I am glad to have offered something useful at this moment.

Jack smoothed his hands over the top of the wooden table. It was made entirely of one slab of a vivall tree. The bark was a deep gold with silvery rings. It had been polished to a high shine and was as smooth to the touch as powder.

“This looks expensive,” Jack remarked.

“They have taken meeting with us seriously, at least,” Khoth said. “I believe this is one of our ancient planning tables. It is where the elders of our Houses would meet and plan the upcoming year.”

“So very expensive then?” Jack quirked a smile. “So no pounding this piece of history, Jace.”

“If I broke it, the cleaner bots would likely be in here so quickly that it would be gone in an instant,” Jace laughed. He sobered as he said quietly, “We have guests.”

Councillor Ardath Ulgex stormed into the amphitheater followed by a far more sedate High Councillor Esik Bhilkairs. His mother trailed after them. The other Councillors had not yet arrived it seemed. 

Ardath steamed down the stairs towards the seats, blue-on-blue eyes snapping with barely suppressed rage. If Khoth had ever wondered about her feelings towards humans, he knew them now. Though there were, in fact, no full humans seated at the table. But she saw Jace and Jack as such.

“Making yourself at home, I see, Pilot!” she remarked, stopping a foot from the table, chest heaving, eyes still flashing.

“Yes, yes, I am,” Jace answered her, smiling as he leaned negligently back in the chair. “These chairs and table were so conveniently placed that I thought to use them. How fortunate, don’t you think?”

An aide attempted to help Esik down the stairs, but he waved them irritably away and came down on his own steam. 

“Do not let your Xi lead you so, Ardath,” Esik clucked with a rather twinkling smile. “The Pilot turned your child’s trick to his own advantage and so you're nettled. We sought to make him stand before us so he–what is that human phrase?--ah, yes, he turned the tables on us and now we stand before him!”

“What is the Pilot’s decision or was it another’s?” Ardath glared at Typhon.

Typhon said and did nothing. He merely coolly looked back at Ardath. She truly was rattled by everything that had happened by her actions.

“I’m not sure if I should be complimented or insulted by that insinuation that the Justiciar is behind my actions here,” Jace said, continuing to smile. “Either you don’t think me petty enough to make you stand. Or you think I'm too young and foolish to turn the tables on you.”

Nova, who had remained behind and silent, came down the stairs then. She spoke, “I would not underestimate the Pilot, Ardath. He’s proven himself quite adept at statecraft.”

“With you perhaps.” Ardath narrowed her eyes at Nova in distaste. 

“We have told the Pilot that the Thaf’ell are known for their cool logic and decision-making on facts alone, Ardath,” his father said with a gentle nudge. “So far we have not shown up very well in either of those departments.”

“We do not need to impress the Pilot,” Ardath answered. “Besides, humanity loves emotion. They want us to show what we feel and I will show it.”

“Would you like a chair, High Councillor Bhilkairs?” Jace offered graciously, ignoring Ardath.

“It depends. How long will you allow me to stay?” Esik asked. 

He’s very good at being water, isn’t he, Khoth? Jace said.

He is. Ardath is all fire, I think.

“This is not the Pilot’s house, Esik,” she began.

“Actually, it is,” Amana interrupted. She was glaring at Ardath.  Her face showed every ounce of her scorned being. To see an Altaeth treated so poorly in her estimation was like spitting in the gods’ eyes, Khoth guessed. “You don’t understand anything at all and yet you speak like you do.” She shook her head, the selchitte clattering. “Pilot, I beg of you to let me tell the truth to her!”

“What truth?!” Ardath laughed sharply. 

“What your spies have already told you. Neither I or my father or mother is fully human. I am the last Altaeth and you know that,” Jace said with a faint sigh.

“I know what credible people believe. But I do not know anything. You have not provided a blood sample–”

“To be compared to what?” Typhon interrupted, his lips peeling back from his teeth with disgust. “We have no blood samples from the Altaeth. Nor do we have a database of human blood samples. I suppose you could compare his blood to General Intoshkin’s or one of the other crew, but you would not believe that was a pure human sample in any case. Any human offered from Earth would not be sufficient either as you would suspect some duplicity and claim a trick. There is no winning with you.”

“Truly, Justiciar Typhon, I am surprised at you! Do you serve the Alliance or the Pilot?” Ardath asked, her sharp eyes narrowing.

“I believe that to serve one is to serve both,” he answered with a stiff bow of his head.

I do believe he speaks the truth, Khoth sent.

Jace still feared he was hurt by their Eromen relationship, but Khoth felt like one of the snakes of Earth that had shed its skin when he’d found the Pilot. Nothing from the past mattered all that much. If nothing else, he would use that relationship with Typhon to guide him in what not to do with Jace so it had value, even if of the darker sort.

Yeah, he’s been a mystery to me as well. But he does believe what he’s saying, Jace answered. 

“I wouldn’t mind that chair now,” Esik said. “This argument looks to take some time.”

“I’m afraid you’re quite right, High Councillor,” Jace said, still with that easy smile, but it slowly changed as Jace kept speaking. “But, surely, after yesterday’s events you recognize that time is the one thing we don’t have? Not for Ardath’s prejudice or even your good counsel.”

Esik stared at Jace without blinking. “Go on, Pilot.”

“I truly wished-wanted-hoped that I could come here with open arms and an equally open heart to convince you of my good intentions, of my desire to work with you to fight against the Khul, that I could be a help in this, a part of it,” Jace continued with a shake of his head, his expression become solemn. “But yesterday showed me that I don’t have that luxury.”

“The country on Earth from which you come values democracy, yes?” Esik asked.

“It does. We are imperfect but we are working towards a better union all the time,” Jace answered.

“We have a similar government in the Alliance. I admit that it is not a particularly fast form of government. Decisions are clunky and slow, but they represent the will of the people,” Esik offered. “But you are thinking of going the autocratic route? To become an overlord, even a benevolent one? Because you cannot waste the time?”

“No, not exactly. You see, I’m going directly to the people. I’m just not going through the Council,” Jace said and spread his hands. “In my view, the Council is the problem. Not democracy. I reached out to every species in the Alliance. I am asking them to assist me with this fight against the Khul. I am further asking them to send their best and brightest to join the Osiris’ crew.  We need to work together to eliminate this existential threat to all of us.”

“And you view the Council as standing in your way?” Esik asked softly.

“Isn’t it?” Jace asked back. “Ardath is a virulent racist and she’ll never act rationally about humanity or me.” There was a gust of air from her, but she clamped down on her angry words, finally recognizing how her Xi had led her astray. “Nova was suffering from the loss of her daughter and wasn’t acting in the Alliance’s best interest either.”

Khoth saw his mother wince, but she did not look to even be considering arguing otherwise. Perhaps she had learned something.

“And me?” Esik twinkled at him.

“I like you. I think you’re wise. I think you would likely work with me and put up roadblocks where you feel it is necessary for the greater good,” Jace answered.

“But?” Esik prompted.

“You were picked because you were the least controversial and… the weakest on the Council. You hold no power over the others to sway them to your side. Logic, which would work on some, won’t work with them,” Jace said bluntly. “You are an honorable person, High Councillor, and likely one of the best minds that the Thaf’ell have to offer. I admire you. And I would like to hear your thoughts, but I will not allow the Council to get in the way of my mission.”

That last sentence was said with such deadly cold that Khoth glanced towards Jace. As he suspected, Jace’s eyes were glowing. In that moment, the young man who adored the stars and laughed as frequently as he could was gone and replaced by an ancient warrior-emperor. One who controlled vast fleets of tech so powerful it could shatter planets and supernova stars, and who had the loyalty of beings as powerful and disparate in nature as the Stil and the Vreced.

“You see, Esik?!” Ardath spat.  “He has no intention of honoring our laws or our ways! He seeks to overcome us and–”

“Enough.” Esik lifted a hand, and despite Jace’s rightful understanding of why Esik was chosen, Ardath actually quieted, shocked that he had raised a hand. “I understand you, Pilot. You are not wrong with what you say. But I think you need us more than you believe. The weight of leadership is heavy. So heavy.”

“It is, but it is what I was trained to do and what my purpose has always been,” Jace answered. “Things cannot go on as they have been in the Alliance. I would like you to be part of that change. But that is up to you. I must do my part now and I cannot be delayed.”

“Yes, I see that.” Esik lowered his head and clearly thought deeply about this. Finally, he spoke, “We will leave you.

“Esik, the other Councillors are to arrive soon and we all agreed,” Ardath began.

“And I am High Councillor, Ardath,” Esik said to her. “You voted for me. And that gives me certain powers, including ending this now.” He looked back at Jace. “You have to choose your crew and I need to think. Now that I have met you things are both more and less clear.”

“Is that good or bad?” Jack asked.

“Neither. It just is what it is,” Esik answered. “We will speak again soon, Pilot, I hope very much.”

“I do, too, High Councillor,” Jace answered.

Ardath spun on her heel and stormed away as fast as she had come. Nova offered Esik her arm after she cast one last glance towards Khoth and his father. She gave a small nod. She was on their side. But she would go for now. 

Khoth’s comm pinged. It was Thammah.

So I’ve got cold drinks, snacks and a very frisky Phosh here. Can I come in? She asked.

Khoth merely had to glance at Jace, who was watching Esik and Nova go with a thoughtful expression on his face, before the Pilot said, “Bring in this frisky Phosh and there better be Slim Jims included in those snacks. I’m going to need them.”

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  • Jace’s fast-food addiction is so endearing, it never fails to make me smile. It contrasts well with his diplomatic shrewdness too.

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  • In reply to: ValK

    It's one of the things that makes him very understandable!

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  • Councillor Ardath Ulgex stormed into the amphitheater followed by a far more sedate High Councillor Esik Bhilkairs. His mother trailed after them.An aide attempted to help Esik down the stairs, but he waved them irritably away and came down on his own steam.
    I had to laugh at this visual...I don't know what they were wearing but my mind sees some kinda billowy robe like constructions with tail flying behind them...and Nova wishing she had a cloak of invisibility ! :D
    “And I am High Councillor, Ardath,” Esik said to her. “You voted for me. And that gives me certain powers, including ending this now.” He looked back at Jace. “You have to choose your crew and I need to thinkArdath spun on her heel and stormed away as fast as she had come. Nova offered Esik her arm after she cast one last glance towards Khoth and his father. She gave a small nod. She was on their side. But she would go for now.
    This is all a hot mess - but Jace waded through it nicely. Politics of any kind tends to send me to an alternate universe - however, I think the council has to come into line to make this all work. Can't get lost with the Alligators, when the objective is to clear the Khul...!

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  • In reply to: deltos

    I had to laugh at this visual...
    You've really got this!

    This is all a hot mess - but Jace waded through it nicely.
    I promise more fun stuff yet but this had to be there.

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  • We didn't get to meet a new specie, but we met some of the council. I feel like Ardath will keep being a nuisance, Jace and the Osiris need to keep an eye on her. Esik seem like an interesting character. If he got elected for being weak, I get the feeling that his meeting with Jace may make him want to be stronger and take a stand. It will be fun to see how Jace and the council interact going forward. While he may not want to ask them for permission before making decisions, he could probably contact them from time to time and give them update on his mission. Not to ask for their approval or brag, but just so that they feel included.

    I'm looking forward to meeting this frisky Phosh next chapter. I guess that for the others we will have to wait next month, damn politic getting in the way of alien meeting :D

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  • In reply to: Ness

    I feel like Ardath will keep being a nuisance, Jace and the Osiris need to keep an eye on her.
    Yes, they do.

    Esik seem like an interesting character. If he got elected for being weak, I get the feeling that his meeting with Jace may make him want to be stronger and take a stand.
    He's let himself be harmless, but maybe not so much anymore.

    Not to ask for their approval or brag, but just so that they feel included.
    They'll have a role.

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  • I usually hate politics but the way you write Raythe makes it so interesting and amusing that I enjoy it anyway. I find the High Councillor to be level headed and smart. I hope he helps Jace. This chapter was a great way to start my day.

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  • In reply to: Dragon5

    Politics is all about the psychology, emotion and logic, good and bad. But yeah, I know what you mean.

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  • Frisky Phosh? Oh, I'm really eager for the next chapter now. Great chapter. Some of the council members got a bit more dimension to them now.

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  • In reply to: cloekeet

    I think people will like him loads. Let's see if I can make him come to life.

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