Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER NINETY-THREE: NEW CREW

Thammah and Chal–who did indeed look like a human-sized tree frog, or more like a lizard man from one of those 1950 sci-fi films he and his mom loved to watch late on Saturday nights, but with a more tree-froggy face–strode down the steps towards them. 

Chal had scaly, yellow-green colored skin. There was a T-shaped pattern of darker green and brown along the top of his snout and the back of his prehensile tail, which swished behind him like a cat’s did when it was ready to pounce. He wore no footwear, but his clothing was substantial. 

He had on a long-sleeved, thick jacket in a dark brown color and matching pants that came mid-calf on him. Scarves were wrapped around his long neck up to his chin and Jace somehow wouldn’t have been surprised if he had a wooly hat somewhere. 

There was a loop that hung off the end of the jacket, which the Osiris informed him was used to control the Phosh’s tail, which, especially in heavy industrial areas, could get in the way, causing injury or even death..  His legs were slightly bowed as he walked in a relatively stiff yet powerful stride. Jace imagined that he could floor it on all fours. 

Tell me about our first applicant, Osiris, Jace request.

Chal Gilutu, a Phosh engineer from the world Pyteonu. Last assignment was Head Engineer aboard the colossus-class vessel The Seraph. It is the only colossus ship circling Pyteonu though it is scheduled to leave the area in the next half grand cycle, the Osiris listed off.

I wonder if that’s why he’s here. But definitely impressive to be on one of the few colossus-class ships in the fleet when he’s not a Thaf’ell, Jace said, thinking how many Thaf’ell appeared to man all the space vessels. He must be excellent at his job.

That is a matter of opinion, the Osiris was tart, which had Jace all sorts of interested.

I realize that you are very particular about the engineers that poke around in your innards, Osiris, but surely anyone who can convince the Thaf’ell to employ them rather than another of their kind must be truly exceptional at engineering, Jace pointed out.

His reviews would say otherwise, the Osiris answered and then proceeded to read from one of them: the engine room under Head Engineer Gilutu is so clean one can eat off the floor, which he often does, despite being written up for bringing food into the engine room.  He shows a great understanding of all rules and procedures, which he follows when it suits him. The crew beneath him are dedicated to him despite the fact that he often works them well beyond their hours and describes most things–but especially engines–in sexual terms.

Sexual terms? Jace’s eyebrows rose. Are you worried he’s going to sexually harass you, Osiris, if I choose him?

The Osiris said nothing.

Are you hoping he’ll sexually harass you if I choose him? Jace teased.

He will want to take me a part. I will not allow it, the Osiris said.

Oh, he wants to see you naked, does he? Jace continued to joke.

When he arrived on The Seraph, he stayed in the engine room for months, never leaving, because he must be, and I quote, “intimate” with all the systems, the Osiris sounded scandalized.

But that’s a good thing! He’ll know you inside and out if he joins the crew. You’ll be well loved, Osiris, Jace assured him.

He hits things with a spanner when displeased, the Osiris muttered.

He’ll have to keep the battering to a minimum, I think.

When Chal and Thammah reached the stage of the amphitheater where they were seated, Jace realized that she carried a medical cooler. 

“Did you put the drinks in there?” Jace asked Thammah as he indicated the medical cooler.

“Yes, it keeps things colder than the food ones,” she said. “And I know you like this drink especially cold, according to Khoth, that is.”

Jace flashed a grateful smile at Khoth. He hadn’t realized that his Commander had noticed what temperature he liked his juice. The desire to lean over and kiss him to thank him was high, but he stopped himself.

I feel the same, Izail, Khoth sent.

Thammah’s eyes narrowed as she looked between them. She, clearly, saw the greater connection there. They really would have to announce their mating to some of the crew at least. Definitely Thammah and Davies and Dr. Hayter and… oh, Hell, he should just tell Bob in Engineering and it would be all over the ship in a few hours.  Thammah moved to hand Jace the cooler.

“Wait!” Chal’s tail was suddenly blocking Thammah’s path. “How cold do you like your drinks, Pilot?”

“How cold? Well, I like it slushy, but not solid so that it’s a popsicle. Why?” Jace asked cautiously.

Chal had a distinct Scottish accent, which immediately had Jace grinning.

He sounds like Scottie from Star Trek! I wonder if he did that on purpose? Jace thought.

Engineer Gilutu studied what little is known about humanity extensively, the Osiris answered. He may believe that all engineers must speak with a Scottish accent.

Well, I like it!

In his hands, Chal produced from somewhere a multi-tool and wiggled his tail at Thammah. “Give it here, Flight Commander Pyrrhus, if you would!”

“Pilot?” It was Thammah’s turn to lift an eyebrow.

“Give it to him,” Jace said, intrigued by where this was going.

She put the handle over Chal’s tail, which neatly brought it to the Phosh’s front and held it up in front of him so he could examine it.

“The contents are water-based and not alcoholic, I’m assuming? Although alcohol would make the interviews more interesting,” Chal said with a nod of his scaly head. The nictitating membrane flickered over his golden eyes as he studied the cooler.

“It’s undoubtedly five o’clock somewhere,” Jace agreed. “But it’s a little early for alcohol for me. I’d be asleep before lunch. Well, if the Osiris would let me actually process the alcohol normally.”

“Ah, now don’t you tease me with those words that hint at so much more, Pilot! I’m an engineer and while I like what I can touch, how things work is what gets my motor running.” Chal’s golden eyes half shut as if ecstasy.

Intimate indeed! Oh, he’s so going to have a blast with you, Osiris, Jace laughed.

You have not interviewed him properly yet! The Osiris sounded outraged.

Let’s see if he can make me a slushy drink. Then he’s definitely got the job, Jace teased.

Jace’s lips twitched. “Show me what you can do with that cooler first and then we’ll see if I, ah, will talk more intimately about the Osiris.”

“I must prove that these hands are worthy of touching the Osiris’ inner parts!” Chal then, with surprising delicacy–and evident great skill–opened up the back of the cooler where there was an electronic component that regulated the temperature. “Got to massage it here. Give it a little peck there. And a final caress… there! There we go! Give it a few ticks, Pilot, and you will have perfectly slushy drinks, which will not completely freeze.”

Chal extended his tail towards the table and neatly set the cooler down on the table before him. 

“Thank you. I will check to see how slushy they get,” Jace rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Setting the cooler down beside him, Jace said to Thammah, “You promised snacks, Thammah. Where are my snacks?”

“Did I, Pilot? Did I really?” Thammah tapped her lower lip as if she was considering it. 

Her fingers were completely armored. She wore both a soft and hard suit, Jace noted. Davies was truly not kidding around. Though he wondered if Thammah, herself, after facing down Khul in that apartment building hadn’t wanted to wear her suits anyways.

Jace made puppy eyes at her. “Please, Flight Commander, I beg you to share your stash of Slim Jims with me.”

Chal’s golden eyes flickered between them as he touched his clawed fingers together. There was evident amusement in his expression though it was certainly harder to read than human or Thaf’ell, but with the Osiris’ help, he realized he could tell the expression apart.

“Just for you, Pilot.” She fished a handful out of an inner suit pocket and put them on the table. When he went to reach for one, she said, “Make them last! While I am working with the chefs to create ones with space paste, the texture has just not been right. They haven’t achieved that oily crunch.”

“How many do you have left?” Jace considered going back to Earth for a moment, but then stopped himself.

“Enough, but they’re still precious,” she told him with a twitch of a smile.

Jace nodded, giving her a solemn expression as he did so, and slid the precious Slim Jims across the table and into his pocket. He wasn’t sharing even if it was rude not to. Khoth’s lips were slightly pressed together and his eyes were narrowed. He disapproved, not because of the not-sharing, but because of the Slim Jims. Jace could read in his mind that they were the most unhealthy thing that Khoth could imagine.

Jace turned his attention once more to Chal. He smiled broadly and asked, “You don’t need to tell me your resume or that you’re quite an engineer. I know that already. What I want to understand is why you are here and why you came alone.”

“I don’t delegate,” Chal answered. “When there’s something risky to be done, I do it. I ask no one else. My people’s intentions go with me.”

Jace blinked. “You think it is extraordinarily risky to join the Osiris?”

“Pilot, after what you’ve shown you can do, all the Khul will be gunning for you, so yes, being on your ship, by your side, is like stepping in front of a colossus-class ship’s guns and hoping not to get all our wee particles sprayed into space.” Chal’s tail and finger pointed at him at the same time in unison. 

“Point taken.” Jace inclined his head.

“But you’ve also got the best chance of ending the Khul and saving us all,” Chal continued. “So it’s a risk worth taking.”

Jace nodded. “Welcome aboard the Osiris, Head Engineer Chal Gilutu.”

Chal’s tail performed a salute. “Pilot, would you be needing me here or can I get my hands on what’s under the Osiris’ pretty package?”

“I wouldn’t keep you from the Osiris. I do warn you though, Head Engineer, that the Osiris will have something to say in all of this,” Jace said, even though the Osiris wasn’t saying anything to him since it knew his decision to choose Chal.

“Don’t you worry, Pilot. I’ll have the Osiris eating out of my hands in no time,” Chal promised.

I will space him if he attempts to do any of that, the Osiris stated.

Be nice. He’s your new best friend, Jace told him.

“Flight Commander Pyrrhus, please arrange for the Head Engineer and his things to be taken up to the Osiris. Alert Dai and Bob he’s coming, will you?”

Thammah saluted and said, “It will be done, Pilot. Are you ready for the next group?”

“Yes, thank you,” Jace said.

She paused, her lips flattening slightly as she said, “It’s a delegation of Nocere.”

Jace blinked at her as the Osiris filled him in on this elemental-like species. In their natural state, the Nocere were humanoid appearing but transparent. They communicated  mainly telepathically, but can speak when necessary.  They possessed the handy abilities to become a mist, water or even snow, and they could alter themselves in those states to become poisonous. Suddenly, air that was sweet to breathe could become a poisonous fog or water that appeared clean to drink could turn to acid. Their abilities seemed impressive, but he could not understand her distaste.

Chal, however, snorted and said over his shoulder as he and Thammah headed out,  “How many credits do you have, Pilot? The Nocere will want them all for their services.”

Jace turned to Khoth who explained further, “The Nocere are mercenaries.”

“Ah, but with the Khul they can’t expect us to pay for their help,” Jace countered. 

“They likely do,” Khoth countered. “While the Thaf’ell must balance their Xi and Xa, the Nocere have no Xi.”

“They don’t–don’t experience emotions?” Jace’s brow furrowed.

“If they do, they control them so well as to seem as if they do not. But it is not logic that rules them, but money.  Everything is transactional. Everything is for sale. Everything has a price,” Khoth explained.

“So they came here looking for a pay day?” his father asked, eyebrows lifting.

“Undoubtedly, but I would not completely dismiss them,” Typhon suddenly spoke. He, Amana and Thadden had retreated to the corner of the room, sitting on the stone seats and simply watching. Jace knew that everything he did, every decision he made, was showing Typhon more and more about him and how he thought. It was slightly dangerous, but he found himself unwilling to force the man to leave, because he was useful as he proved himself by saying,  “While they are incredibly mercenary, the Nocere earn their pay. I know that the Council has used them in… difficult situations where diplomacy or more traditional methods would not do.”

“So they’re assassins?” Thadden lifted an eyebrow.

Typhon nodded. “Of the highest order.” 

“But the Pilot is here to defeat the Khul! He does not need assassins!” Amana argued.

“Due to their elemental abilities, the Khul have a harder time infecting them. The Khul simply kill them,” Typhon explained. “But they kill many Khul, too.”

Similar to the Vreced in some ways, but it looks like money moves these people while revenge will move them.

Will you wish me to create money now? The Osiris asked.

Jace remembered the argument they had about that on Earth.

We have locations for valuable minerals and other materials that will more than satisfy them, I think. So let’s hold off on counterfeiting or stealing money for now, Jace told the AI.

A few minutes after Thammah and Chal had disappeared through the doors, four people came through them. Three of them appeared to be made of living water. They had two arms, two legs, one head and a torso, but they were completely transparent. But the fourth one, who walked in front of the other three as if being herded down the stairs towards Jace, appeared completely human. 

He seemed to be about thirty with a lithe, muscular body. He had olive-toned skin and a shock of white hair that ran down the top of his head, the sides having been shaved. His eyes were gray and distant like a sea storm. He was clad in loose-fitting tunic and leggings and boots the color of dark slate. Like the others he moved with an almost boneless grace. They stopped a few feet in front of Jace and the crew.

“You put out a call for fighters,” the man said after what appeared to be a mental jab from the others.  “We have come. We are the Nocere. I am Endin.”

His voice was low and a little uncertain as if he did not use it much for speech.

Knowing how much better telepathy is at getting things across, I can understand that. Don’t you agree, Khoth? Jace asked.

I do, Izail, but he must be able to communicate with the crew effectively in order to work with us, Khoth pointed out.

Jace saw the vibrations cross the surface of the transparent Nocere. It was as if a stone was dropped into a still pool.

“You can speak telepathically?” Endin’s eyebrows rose.

“I am Altaeth,” Jace answered. So yes, I can speak telepathically. He sent that last part to Endin. Or he hoped he did. The fractional widening of those eyes told him he was successful. Communicating with Khoth was easy. He was completely open to his mate but he would not be with this man. “But I prefer to speak out loud so all can hear and understand.”

Osiris, I need to make sure that these beings can’t hear my thoughts unless I wish them to, Jace told the AI.

I am shielding your thoughts from them, the Osiris answered. It is only Gehenna that I cannot keep out.

Jace frowned slightly, but let that go.

“All can hear, but they may not understand,” one of the transparent Nocere answered with a slightly female lilt. “We have brought this one–Endin–for you. He is half-Nocere and half-human, but he bears our elemental abilities and seeks a purpose.”

That must be why he was not exiled, Izail, Khoth sent. The Nocere usually only mate within their own race and procreation with another species is rare and results in exile.

Charming. They’d get along well with Ardath, Jace said.

Endin’s eyes had lowered for a moment when the other had mentioned the fact that he was not pure Nocere and, again, when she’d added that last bit about seeking a “purpose”. But he guessed that coin was the ultimate purpose for them. So if Endin wanted more, he’d be different in yet another way from his fellow Nocere.

Have they brought me some cast off of their kind? Jace wondered.

His record shows nothing of note. Small jobs involving the killing the insects and the poisoning of crops, the Osiris answered.

“These things make him valuable to you, yes? With our abilities and human traits, this makes him invaluable indeed.” The female Nocere pushed Endin further towards him. “One million credits and he is yours.”

She’s selling him to me? Jace wondered.

Their internal communications indicate that they believe selling him to you will gain favor while ridding them of someone who does not conform to their society, the Osiris answered.

His father turned in his chair towards Jace and whispered, “We’re not buying him, Jace! That’s slavery!”

Jace understood his father’s abhorrence of this. “Yet, if we don’t take him then he’ll just be sold to someone else. We could buy him and free him.”

His father’s jaw worked. “Even doing that is engaging in their system. But… but I see what you mean. Yet I…”

“I know, Dad.” He pressed a hand to his arm. “I’ll handle it.”

Jace turned back to the Nocere and smiled. “You should pay me 100 million credits.”

Ripples flowed over all three transparent Nocere while Endin just stared at him, stone-faced.

“Why would we pay you?” the female Nocere asked.

“Simple, you believe that once the Khul are eliminated, the Alliance species will have far more need of your gifts. They won’t have a common enemy and they’ll be looking at each other with different eyes. You think you’ll make a bundle once that happens.”

The Nocere said nothing, but Endin might have had a faint smile on his lips.

“Not to mention all the tech that I will uncover and bring back, which will again benefit you highly,” Jace continued with his own easy smile on his lips.

If that smile was ever used on me, Izail, I would be quite fearful, Khoth said.

Yeah, but it never would be, Jace assured him.

“Oh, and one more thing. Taking Endin here, especially, off your hands would make your lives hugely better, wouldn’t it? He’s the son of someone important and he’s got the elemental gifts so you can’t just space him,” Jace said evenly even as he saw his father tense out of the corner of his eye. Amana, too, was looking faint at the thought. A slight sneer entered his voice as he continued, “So why don’t you send him to the human-looking Pilot, because I must be too ignorant of your ways to understand his true value to you! Which is nil by the way. It’s actually less than nil, because he’s a drag on your resources.”

The Nocere were absolutely still. Endin’s expression was smooth and unreadable.

Jace shifted so that he was seated with his arms on the table. His eyes were glowing again.

“One part of our mission is to destroy the Khul. But the other part is to bring as many Alliance species together in friendship, or at least allyship, as we can. And in doing so, we recognize that there are some species who have different ways of doing things than we do. But this is a two-way street.” 

Jace paused, his eyes boring into each and every one of the Nocere. “You have to know and respect our ways too. And if you’d done a single bit of research, you would have known that slavery is a stain upon all humanity and is abhorrent. Criminals and the morally reprobate are the only ones that engage in it. Selling Endin to me was the absolute last way I would ever accept him. Now you can leave and stop wasting my time.”

Jace reached down for the cooler, seemingly completely dismissing them as if the Nocere were not even there any longer, as inside he thought, C’mon, Endin, you had to have known this yourself. Do you still want to be with them? Don’t you see that you can argue your case?

He brought the cooler up and was about to open it when the Nocere began to shuffle away. But not Endin. There was a flash of something in his eyes. Desperation. Determination. He came to the desk and got down on one knee.

“Pilot, please let me serve aboard the Osiris!” Endin’s voice was rough. “I have not been used to my full potential by my people. But I assure you that I am one of the most skilled of my kind even though… even though I am part human.”

“Kid, we’ve got a lot of humans on our crew,” his father said gently. “We happen to think humans are pretty damned great. Don’t listen to what they told you about humanity. It’s not true.”

His father indicated the hovering Nocere.

Endin nodded. “I wish to join the Osiris to rid the galaxy of Khul, but I also wish to because I would have access to humans.”

“Why do you want access to humans?” Jace asked softly.

“So I can understand myself. So I can… fit.” Endin’s expression became wrenched. “Being on the crew of the Osiris is the only chance for me to do this.”

Jace could very well imagine it was. Even after humanity at large became aware of aliens, an elemental like Endin would have difficulty fitting in there.

“If you require money for keeping me, I can perform any tasks you may have and the funds for such tasks would go fully to you for as long as–as you believe necessary,” Endin offered.

That was a huge offer. Jace didn’t need to know what a Nocere’s services usually went for, but he imagined he would get his money’s worth and more. Not that he would ever do that.

Jace let a few moments pass before he said, “Endin, I offer you a position on board the Osiris. Lieutenant-Commander Davies will be your commanding officer. You will report to him outside.”

Endin’s expression went triumphant for just a moment, but then the emotion fled as he stood up. “You will not regret this, Pilot. I will be useful.”

“I’m sure you will be, Endin,” Jace said, but then as the other Nocere went towards Endin as if to congratulate him or to make sure he understood that they should get some value for his service, Jace added, “One more thing.”

Endin paused. “Yes, Pilot?”

His eyes slid to the Nocere. “No credit for your service will be given to the Nocere. If they wish to benefit from allying with me, they will have to find another way to do it.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Pilot,” the female Nocere answered. “But you will see that you will need our expertise in time.”

“I suppose we’ll see,” Jace said.

But he knew that though the Nocere were a valuable ally–if one could afford them–there were other species that no one was considering for alliance other than him. And these could make all the difference in the war against the Khul.

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  • A hybrid! Love it. Eventually humans in particular will need to get used to such a concept. I imagine out of all these species that humans (regardless of racial disdain from some quarters) would likely have a higher “hybridization” rate. Despite centuries or millennia of contact, it doesn’t sound as if these disparate species cooperate or intermarry very often. I would love to be half elemental, sounds like they have amazing abilities. I’m going to like Miaows very much. ….sounds attractive too ;)

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  • In reply to: Ramus89

    He is going to be a rad addition! I cannot wait to play with him more!

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  • This is awesome I didn't realize the Oasis Needed Somebody Chal until he opened his mouth this is just too perfectChal. Will be great at taking the Oasis out of his comfort Zone.
    I'm looking forward to learning more about our new Assassin friend. I'm particularly interested in possibly learning more about how his parentage came about.

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  • In reply to: MimikyuMimic

    Chal will make the Osiris pleasantly crazy. And our assassin has a lot to learn!

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  • oh ho ho i am very intrigued by these new recruits. Osiris is getting a new bestie and I'm excited to read more about Miaows. Miaows needs to find a friend who will binge watch all movies with him. also how is Miaows half human? very interesting development, and lastly Koth and Jace are as adorable as ever.

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  • In reply to: RoseCross

    He is half human b/c I sense that they've taken people. You know like alien visitation? That's how!

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  • ;)Well hello there possible Davies love interest!

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  • In reply to: octaviabay

    You guys are incorrigible! AND I LOVE IT!

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  • I loved the idea of Davies possibly being in a polyamorous relationship with Matzen and Thammah, but if Miaows is another possible love interest, does that mean we'll soon have a love square? ?

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  • Sorry Raythe but the one Star trek character that annoys me most is Scotty. That is a terrible Scottish accent and nothing like the Aberdonian that he was supposed to be. I'm from the Aberdeen area and it just bugs me - rant over unless someone mentions Shrek!!!!!!! ;)

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