CHAPTER NINETY-FOUR: THE REST OF THE CREW
Khoth prided himself on knowing most of the species that were members of the Alliance, and those he was not as familiar with were only because they were such outliers as to be unimportant. He was questioning if they were “unimportant” in real terms since he’d met Jace. But even his head was spinning at the amount of species that had come to apply for positions on the Osiris.
There was an Usqex from the planet Arculs named Ouwaku applying for a reconnaissance position. The Usqex were squid-like beings with triangular heads. They had a total of six tentacles. Two long tentacles dangled down from either sides of their face, two were the equivalent for arms and two for legs. Their smooth bodies allowed them to swim through the deep waters of any planet and they were quite good at climbing. They were also able to change color depending on mood. For instance, Ouwaku started the interview blue, but was pink by the end when Jace gave him the job.
There was a Chiccolli named Phese who would be joining Chal in Engineering. Phese, while appearing vaguely humanoid, had six arms with long dexterous fingers and toes, which were very capable of grabbing onto things. Perhaps that was why Phese and his kind were often tinkerers, which meant they were excellent engineers, too.
Further, the Chiccolli, like the Nocere, were telepathic, which Khoth now knew was an Altaeth trait. They used computerized voice boxes to communicate to other, non-telepathic species, but Phese was amazed and thrilled to realize that Jace was able to communicate mind to mind.
Even a Qxal, or as they were also known, Species 8579, named Biscepius Crostus Anumaus Zonk III arrived to offer her bartering skills. As Jace anticipated finding significant tech and minerals on their journey, he agreed that her knowledge of trade routes, wheeling and dealing and veneration for everything Altaeth would be of use.
Biscepius was a little over five-feet and her skin shone like a well-polished piece of calcanth. While her people had amazing strength, they were known for using their intellect above all. The Osiris was already aware of her special needs as her species, generally, lived below ground and her quarters would reflect this.
And those were not all who came and were accepted into the crew! There was an Akron named Birk who joined as a tactical and chemical weapons expert. A Xabreeze named Rikut Tazs who offered his scientific skills and specialty in genetics. A Zanarian named Zan An'alar, who was not only a medical doctor, but an empath, who was eagerly greeted by Dr. Isa. A Charturi named Adjan Soria, who not only knew weapons backwards and forwards, but had the ability to disappear into any background and attack from behind.
There was even a dread and rare Hel'marian named Chief Warrior Gorrrrrax Fel’Maw whose massive snake-like body and wings nearly spanned the entirety of the room. Not only was Fel’Maw physically impressive but fiercely loyal as well. He and his companion and pet Skit'rimp, called appropriately enough "Hel'biter," were welcomed by Davies. Matias was already eager to examine–and pet–the Skit’rimp, though there was a danger of having his face melted off.
These were followed by a Daemon named Erasmus Paradise, child of Rashta of Clan Paradise. Nomadic by nature, many Daemons left their home planet to travel and learn skills from others. After they completed this task, the Daemon returned to Thera to present their chosen craft to their clan. Only then were the Daemon seen as an adult by their community, along with any non-Daemon clan they had created.
Erasmus was on such a journey and, normally, this would have impressed Khoth. To leave one’s home and family was difficult, but to do so for the betterment of one’s society was also admirable. Yet Khoth did not like the way Erasmus spoke–sweetly, too sweetly–to Jace while fluttering its golden eyes. It was irrational, but the jealousy was there.
Then there was a Gough named Knucker, which Khoth had only seen in vids. Like all its kind, Knucker was rectangular-shaped, standing at seven-feet tall and four-and-a-half feet wide. Its body was perforated, and these perforations hid retractable arms. The arms, Jace told him, reminded him of nun-chucks–whatever those were–which slid out of Knucker’s body like fists. They retracted when not in battle so Knucker’s were only flashed once. Khoth was aware that an adult Gough could have as many as 150 of these arms.
Despite the number of arms, the Gough had no eyes or mouths. They used the perforations to sense objects in front of them. In the very center of their bodies, was their brain, which allowed them to communicate with others of their kind via sweat glands. So while Knucker did not speak per se, it did give out scents that its fellow Gough could read to show emotions such as guilt, joy, fear, courage, their age, and other general ideas by how much their sweat smelled. Jace’s telepathic ability, once more, proved invaluable. Knucker would be joining the kitchen staff of the Osiris for its unique sense of smell.
During one of the breaks between species arriving, his father came over to Khoth. His eyes were wide and he shook his head in amazement.
“I have never even seen all of these species though we live in the heart of the Alliance, Khoth,” his father said. “I would think that we would have at least one of every kind here on Haseon, but that appears to be far from the case.”
Khoth was not surprised by this. These species had long ago discovered that their voices did not matter and were not heard. Daesah had spoken bitterly every time another one of the species closed their embassies on Haseon. She was concerned that Thaf’ell protection was not enough to truly bind people to the Alliance, that all had to believe that they were integral to its success to produce true cohesion. At the time, he had scoffed at her words, but now he would not have been surprised to hear similar ones come out of Jace’s mouth.
“It is remarkable how many species have responded to the Pilot’s call,” Khoth agreed. “And many must have already been planning to come here even before the Pilot’s actions against the Khul were communicated.”
He found those that were willing to offer help before being shown Jace’s extraordinary powers far more impressive than those who had quickly jumped into their ships to arrive here after the fact. He glanced at Jace. His mate was speaking intently with Jack and Davies over the comm. But he still received a mental caress in acknowledgement, which he returned.
“There is so much eagerness to join the fight against the Khul,” his father mused, his forehead beetling. “Have we ignored this most vital resource, Khoth?”
“I know what many in the military would say,” Khoth said carefully.
His father gave him a mirthless smile. “I’m sure I know too. Beyond doubting these other species’ abilities, integrating them into the military would have been seen as too difficult for too little gain.”
“Your mother told Daesah that again and again when she wished to open up the ranks more,” his father continued. “Yet there has clearly been a pent-up desire to fight for the Alliance. I cannot believe that this passion will not be useful if it can be directed properly.”
“It will be useful, but it takes someone like the Pilot who has imagination to see how it can be directed for maximum effect.” Khoth stroked his chin. “Where we might see weakness in other species, he sees strengths and possibilities.”
Jace turned his head towards them as he finished his conversation with Jack and Davies and, evidently having heard their conversation, said, “Don’t think I’m some saint about this. The truth is…” Here he grimaced, “To me every one of you is alien.”
His father laughed. “Indeed, we all are!”
“In general, humanity–and I’m lumping myself in there because I was raised human–already had this idea that we’re going to have to work with people not like us when it comes to being out here in space,” Jace explained further. “So our expectations are different. The Thaf’ell are a space-faring species already. You have the technology and the ability to do this by yourself, not to mention having many superior traits.” Jace’s eyes twinkled at this. “You really don’t need other species. But humanity does and, for as much as humans believe themselves innately superior too, there’s always been this idea that more evolved aliens would reach out to us and help us grow. So here we are.”
“Well, it is most impressive, Pilot,” his father said and pressed a hand on Jace’s shoulder.
His father only allowed himself this touch, because Jace was Khoth’s mate; they were intimate family. Khoth realized that Typhon’s keen eyes had caught the move, too. His blue-on-blue gaze slid to Khoth’s face. He cocked his head to the side, asking a question without words.
It’s okay. We should tell him, Jace said, reading his thoughts. He is family after all.
Are you certain?
That’s he’s family? Unfortunately, we can’t do much about that–
No, I meant if you wished to tell him about us, Khoth said.
Jace gave a little smile. It will kill any thoughts he might have about getting back together with you. So yeah, I’m good with it.
Izail, there is nothing between Typhon and I but bad memories, Khoth assured him, placing a hand on Jace’s nearest thigh under the table.
I know. I’m just petty. Jace grinned.
So when Khoth looked back at Typhon–who had been watching them intently–he inclined his head, answering the question in the affirmative. They were mates. Typhon’s eyes widened a fraction, but then he nodded and smiled. He whispered in Amana’s ear. She immediately brightened and her eyes shone with happiness. She sought out Khoth’s gaze and he could see her desire to spring up from her seat and congratulate them both, but another species was entering the room. He made a slight gesture to indicate they would speak later. When his father sat down next to her, she grasped his hand and whispered some happy comment. His father beamed and nodded.
At that moment, a Neron glided down the aisle to them. His name was Solan Greer. His hair was a burnished deep orangey red with a single black stripe running from the front of his head. He had it tied back with a simple leather thong. His skin was a smooth, hairless pale caramel color with faint tiger-like stripes on the outsides of his arms, and legs.. His orange-brown eyes had a vertical slit pupil that contacted and dilated even in the low light of the room.
His face rather reminded Khoth of Earth’s cats, but hairless and without whiskers. But there were the sharp canine teeth and some cat-like utterances such as growling and spitting when angry or scared. Jace appeared enthralled with this aspect of the Neron.
But Khoth was more intrigued by Solan’s other unique trait. After a disease outbreak on the neighboring planet of Experia Prime decimated the population, the disease made its way to Solan's planet four generations back. Luckily Solan's people fought it off with an experimental vaccine, but it was later discovered that a mutation occurred in a small percentage of the population. This mutation rendered Solan impervious to radiation. Further, he could also store some radiation and use it as a weapon or manipulate it to create a kind of invisibility shield. His ability to withstand radiation made him an ideal engineer for which he studied hard to achieve his master engineer certification. Chal would, undoubtedly, love him.
Following Solan, was a Quat'arian named Cygnus Istu with their ability to use telekinesis. There was one of the quick-tempered Araf named Molly who, despite her generally mild nature, had flaming red hair and a hint of a temper to match. Not that she showed it to Jace or any of the crew, but she spat and growled when Jace mentioned the Nocere had been there.
A floating Zyloatalonian named Qyxialitolaz came into the room in its monk-like attire and clever, cautious ways. Its ability to exude calmness was something highly useful to Dr. Kerr in her psychiatric practice.
Then there was the LaSoom with its bird-of-prey appearance named Nimool. She spoke non-stop as was the way of her kind, but Jace found her charming. Her incredible ability with languages meant she would join Dr. Hayter in improving the universal translator.
There were the two Dracona who showed up together and would not be separated. Ladon and Fafnir were like most of their people. They were the most likely to be the first to run into battle, though they appeared intelligent and great at strategizing. With their strength and resistance against most weaponry, they had been used as cannon-fodder in certain conflicts with the Khul in the past. Their Alliance membership was relatively new and very fragile. But by joining Jace’s crew, they would be doing their species a great favor. Jace sent them to Thammah and Davies.
The Taysaun named Enary came next. Like the Qxal, they, too, lived below ground to the grand age of over 2500 cycles. The Taysaun rarely interacted with their own species, even going so far as to cast out their young as they reached adolescence. So Khoth was shocked that Enary was here at all. Yet in her quiet, whispery way, she proposed herself as a member of the crew, explaining that on her planet, there was danger everywhere. Every day one lives was a gift so she could bring valuable hunting, fighting and foraging skills to the crew. Jace agreed.
The beautiful and reserved Thelzoit named Seraphim was next. He bore some of the yellow iridescence of skin of the royal family, but he was guarded about himself and his past. Jace could, undoubtedly, find out anything he wanted about Seraphim, but Khoth did not think that was why Jace was not annoyed with Seraphim’s reluctance to speak of himself.
The Thelzoit were a warrior race, but they valued life above all things. If they needed to, they would fight and were ruthless against their enemies. They were often the winners as they were extremely skilled in combat, and also stronger than many other species, including humans and Thaf’ell. These were good qualities for a soldier, but Khoth got the feeling that Jace wanted to give this silent yet walled-off being a chance to find belonging, much like he had for Endin the Nocere. He, too, was sent to Davies.
Shockingly, an Avos named Elias made an appearance next. They were rarely seen, In fact, Khoth did not believe they had actively been part of the Alliance in many grand cycles despite being one of the first species to join. Elias was five-foot 2 inches and had a slim pre-teen, human-like body.
Jack sent over their comms, Is he a child?! Who would send a child into combat?
Jace had to assure his father that, No, the Avos can change their appearance. He’s chosen to look like a human, likely because he knows I come from Earth.
Elias’ short black hair was slicked back, which accentuated his neon blue eyes. He was beautiful but almost doll-like. There was a sense that his face was artificial, almost like that of an android with no emotion.
Did he choose to look like a child so that you might be more inclined to take him on? Jack’s eyebrows lifted.
Unclear, but his ability to control energy makes him invaluable. I’m sending him to Thammah, Jace said.
Princess Zuna of the Thornack was the next to sweep into the room. With her dark blue short hair. right eye sapphire blue left eye gold, it was clear that she was a member of the Thornack’s lost royalty. She startled Jace when she allowed her midnight color wings to spring open on her back. But though she was royal and a leader through and through, she was also calm, collected, and hard working. The Osiris’ file told them that she did not like putting others in danger so she took more on herself, even if that meant she was the one getting hurt.
Just as Zuna left the room to join the crew, Kaahnel of the Chamelia appeared quietly in the back. While the Nocere were the Alliance’s assassins, the Chamelia were their spies. But Kaahnel was hardly someone one would miss. He was six-foot, four-inches and humanoid in appearance though his body was covered in tiny scales that could change color. Kaahnel’s default coloring was a light green similar to new leaves with darker green stripes. His eyes were a stony gray, which changed colors as the interview progressed. From that stony gray they turned a brilliant blue, the same color that Jace’s eyes did when he connected with the Osiris.
When Kaahnel left to join the Osiris, they had another momentary lull and Amana, Typhon and his father approached. Amana squealed and threw her arms around Jace, then Khoth, and then Jack, too. As she was a poet, this was an acceptable manner to show her Xi, but still it startled Khoth all the same.
“We are family!” she cried with exuberance.
“Why I guess we are!” Jack laughed. “So they told you the good news?”
“Just now,” Typhon said quietly. “How long have you known?”
Jack pursed his lips before answering, “Not too much longer. My understanding is that it just happened.”
Jack read the situation correctly as a delicate one where he and Jace had failed to inform the head of House Moturin of their mating. Jace gave Typhon a tight smile.
“We weren’t sure ourselves how we were going to announce it,” Jace admitted. “There are certain individuals who may try to make hay out of it.”
His father lowered his eyes. He had said as much about Nova.
“A familial connection to you does increase one’s prominence,” Typhon answered simply.
But Amana was not having any of this talk. “Oh, goodness! Let us not talk about politics or power for a moment! Khoth and Jace are mates. Their Xi and Xas are together. It is a joyous and rare thing!”
Khoth had to agree with her there. He still could not believe that Jace was his forever. It was a hard thing to fully comprehend even as his Xi and Xa knew it on a base level.
“We have to figure out how to tell the crew so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything to anyone,” Jace said to Typhon and Amana.
Typhon nodded. “You fear exciting the crew?”
“We haven’t really laid down any rules on fraternizing, but we need to keep it professional,” Jace admitted as he scrubbed the back of his neck.
“Your mother is very sad that Thaf’ell don’t have weddings and it’s unlikely we can arrange anything with all that’s about to occur,” Jack admitted.
“What is a wedding?” Amana asked.
Khoth stiffened. He did not want a wedding. He wanted Jace to himself.
“It’s a big party where family and friends come together to celebrate two people getting mated,” Jack explained.
Amana’s eyes widened. “Oh, that is very different from our customs, but I can see the allure of it. Do you not think such a gathering would be pleasant, brother?”
“I do indeed.” Typhon’s expression though showed no such pleasure. He was rather hard to read at that moment.
“I know that there is much to do, but perhaps, when things are less hectic, we may plan a wedding,” Amana suggested.
“I’m sure Mom and Dad would love the help,” Jace said.
“Then it is settled!” Amana clapped her hands together.
Khoth bit down on his groan.
Thankfully, talk of the wedding had to be shelved as Arif Allmari and Zari Zareff of the Osan arrived. These two were a mated pair, which had Khoth sitting up straighter. The Osan could not be separated once mated or they would die. This was much like what happened to the Altaeth so, again, here was a trait that was thought peculiar to the Osan when it was really from the Precursors all along. They, too, joined the crew as a unit.
A Karkadann named Zayn Daher strode in, six-foot, four-inches with shoulder-length white-blue hair, tanned skin, bright blue eyes, and a crooked, white horn in the center of his forehead. Around the base of his horn was a white, eight-pointed star, fading into his chestnut skin.
Jace, Zayn caused his people to be rejected by the Alliance in any sort of battle capacity, Khoth warned.
The Karkadann have nanobots in their bodies, but they don’t have full control over them, Jace read. His were corrupted? Am I reading that right? Corrupted?
Yes, the corruption causes emotional disturbances, in his case leading to sudden violence, Khoth warned.
But Zayn hasn’t had an attack like that since he was a child. In fact, he teaches other Karkadann to control their nanobots, Jace pointed out.
Yes, but he has not been under stress either. Serving aboard the Osiris is nothing but stress for many beings, Khoth said. Which makes me wonder why he was sent at all. His father, the Dajani Chancellor, has disowned him.
“Zayn, you may rest assured that I know of your past and that I do not hold it against you,” Jace said gently. “I know what it is like to have aspects of yourself that are not fully in your control.”
Zayn nodded. “I have learned that control through brutal trial and error. I have mastered it far more than most on my planet and I believe that nano-technology could lead to the Khul’s destruction. Like you, Pilot, the Karkadann are a fusion of technology and flesh. And because of this, we have powers others do not.”
Jace nodded slowly. “We do. But your people don’t value those powers. They see them as a threat.”
“That is true, which is partially why none of them–other than myself–is here,” Zayn swallowed. “I was the cause of our loss of face with the Alliance. But I have put that error to good use, as I said. I wish to offer myself and my knowledge to you to use in any capacity that you see fit.”
I understand what he feels, Khoth. That’s me before the Osiris fixed me. Or fixed me more. I could have lost control earlier on Haseon, Jace pointed out.
Your Xi is always most open, Izail, but are you certain it is wise to trust him? Khoth asked.
Wisdom is one part knowledge and another part faith. Jace shrugged. I want to take a risk on him.
“Zayn, welcome to the crew of the Osiris,” Jace said warmly.
Zayn stood stock still for some moment, clearly unsure he had heard correctly. “I–you–I am part of the Osiris’ crew?”
“You most certainly are.” Another big Jace smile that had Zayn’s face lighting up.
“I will not disappoint you, the Alliance or my people again!” Zayn swore.
We will see, Khoth thought.
There was another lull in the proceedings and Khoth saw Jace’s eyes flash that peculiar blue that occurred when he spoke with the Osiris. He seemed tense and alert afterwards.
Izail, is there some burden I might help you share? Khoth asked.
The Stil and Vreced are here, Jace answered. They are in orbit. I just had to let the Thaf’ell High Command know.
I am certain that went well, Khoth replied dryly.
Yeah, we’re getting a little pushback on it, Jace admitted.
You have accomplished so much today, bringing together so many species that have long separated themselves from the Alliance, are you certain that you still wish to pursue those two species? Khoth asked.
I know what you mean. It’s a gamble to be sure, but I am certain. It’s the right thing to do, Jace said.
Khoth wondered how many of the crew they had just accepted would back out once they knew they would have a Vreced or Stil crewmate.
A Quinartan named Tiamara ended their conversation as she slinked down the aisle towards them. Her body was so black as to appear a void. The only thing they could truly see of her features were her large, jewel-colored eyes. Her four-fingered hands flew through the air in the sign language of her people. While Quinartans have the unique ability to see sound waves, they are all deaf. Jace responded to her in kind causing her to stand up taller on her hooves and widen those eyes even further. Their hands flew through the air as they continued to “speak” until finally Jace smiled and inclined his head, which she mirrored.
She has agreed to join? Khoth asked, trying not to let his past prejudice against the Quinartan get in the way.
Oh, yes, and I think she and Thammah are going to get along like a house on fire, Jace said.
A Shule named Rishnar approached, offering himself as a scout. His dark gray skin was broken up by scroll like pearlescent gray markings, which could be found all over his body. His hair was an icy blue-gray color that was intricately braided tight to his head and bound by a metal cuff at the base of his skull. Below it a thick ponytail of braids hung down. His large, black eyes and open face showed every single emotion he felt as he gazed at the Pilot from amazement to uncertainty to curiosity.
The Shule live in the dark and so do not hide their facial expressions as well as most species do, Khoth explained. In fact, they are exaggerated for effect.
Meaning that you know what they feel all the time? Jace chuckled. I’m betting your Thaf’ell heart hurts with this.
But Rishnar also joined the crew.
Next was Oraciel, a Sperion, who appeared human except for the wings. Again, those seemed to fascinate Jace who couldn’t help but stare at them with a kind of wonder.
Wings are sort of a sacred thing for humans. In some of our religions, beings with wings are supposed to be messengers from God, Jace explained.
Sperions worship nature and water most of all as their planet has little of it, Khoth said. They are generally seen as calm, curious, and very intelligent. Honor, however, can lead them astray though in Oraciel’s case it may help us.
His parents were killed by the Khul. Honor demands that he kill as many Khul as he can before they take his life, Jace murmured.
Yes, that worries you?
I do not want anyone to die under my watch, Khoth, Jace admitted.
Khoth very carefully said, This is a war, Izail. There will be deaths on both sides.
Jace looked over at Jack who was scrolling through Oraciel’s information. Jack lifted his eyes to his son’s and smiled.
Via comm, he sent, He looks like a good candidate if he can play well with others. We can meld that passion to avenge his parents’ deaths into saving others’ lives.
If you think so, Dad, then he’s in, Jace sent.
I think so, Jack assured him.
So Oraciel joined the crew.
Khoth was surprised by the next candidate. Purla Escorayaa was a Jemdinites. Like all her people, she was empathic and highly spiritual, which the Thaf’ell found messy and inconvenient. But she stood there proudly with her candy-pink floss-like hair and delicate features. A mandala-type marking sat on her forehead like an upside down half circle announcing her faith. Fine-boned and willowy and standing only four and a half feet tall, she was anything but a warrior. What could she bring to the fight?
“You are newly mated!” she burst out as she looked from Jace to Khoth open-mouthed.
Khoth was suddenly very glad that they had told the Moturins earlier about their mating. Finding it out from a Jemdinites would not have gone over well.
“We are. But how do you know that?” Jace asked though he knew everything about herself and her people.
“I have the gift!” she chirruped. “I read the moods and feelings of others. I am even able to sense when others are near and what their intentions are. Humans would call it a sixth sense, especially about map coordinates and the locations of wormholes.”
“That sounds handy,” Jack chuckled.
“Indeed!” she said with solemnity. “But my greatest gift is that I can summon spirits to aid me or locate things.”
That last part is nonsense, Khoth said. No spirits have ever been seen.
“That does sound impressive, Purla,” Jace told her.
“Oh!” She suddenly grew rigid. She blinked her large eyes for some moments before she turned to Jace. “I sense the Stil are near. They are here for you, Pilot.”
Khoth went rigid too. “And what are their intentions?”
She bit her lower lip. “To kill you or join with you. It is still unclear.”