Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER NINETY-SIX: MUTUAL ENEMIES

Commander, we have a problem, Davies sent over the comm.

Khoth sent back. What is the problem?

Well, our friends in the Alliance Council will not allow the Vreced to land, Davies responded.

Their approval is not necessary, Khoth sent. The Pilot controls the planetary shield and everything else for that matter.

You’re right at that, but when they told the Vreced “no” even though I countermanded that order, now just to be difficult, the Vreced are demanding to meet with the Pilot on their ship, Davies explained.

Khoth froze. Unlike all the other species they met with, the Vreced did not use Altaeth technology. Their ships and weaponry were all their own, grown rather than built, by the workers of their species. In practical terms, this meant that there was nothing on their ship for Jace to control. He would be as vulnerable there as in a Khul ship. But after the disappointment with the Stil, he feared that Jace would want to go and would ignore the risks.

It would be an unacceptable risk for the Pilot to agree to such a meeting place, Khoth responded.

Yeah, it totally would be, but the Pilot asked them to be here. He’ll want to see them, Davies pointed out, clearly knowing the Pilot well already. 

This was yet another reason that Jace would want to meet with them. His eyes slid to his mate. Everything over the comm was, of course, knowable by his mate. But Jace was speaking to his father and Purla about the Stil, seemingly unaware that things had taken yet another wrong turn.

The Vreced could simply leave the solar system through a gate with the Pilot in their possession, Khoth sent. In addition to whatever other dangers there are in being on one of their ships. He cannot meet them there.

The Osiris wouldn’t just let them leave. It can control the gates.  But it does put us in a bad position all around. You have to convince the Pilot not to do this, Davies said. Hopefully, he’ll listen to you.

Do we not need a 10th man since we are both in agreement? Khoth sent.

He could almost hear Davies’ smile in his retort, There is no other response to this.

True. But, as you stated, the Pilot will wish to meet them, but it will not be on their vessel. It must be neutral ground, Khoth sent. 

Jace turned towards him, a slightly puckish smile on his lips. “Khoth, it’s okay. I know about the Vreced. You look like you swallowed a whole Slim Jim there.”

Jace patted his pocket as if to see if he’d lost any. As if Khoth would ever put one of those into his body. He was certain that it would take twenty cycles off his life.

Khoth inclined his head. “Indeed. This is a set back. I understand your desire to meet with them, but you cannot meet them on their ship–”

“I’m aware,” Jace laughed. “I figured you and Davies would stroke out if I did.”

“You believe our concerns are unjustified?” Khoth lifted an eyebrow.

“Not in the least. You’re both quite right. Your fear that my disappointment would spur me to do something foolish is… also not far off the mark,” Jace admitted with a purse of his mouth at the end as if he had tasted something sour. “So I decided to DWKWD.”

“DWKWD? I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with that acronym, Pilot.”

“Do What Khoth Would Do,” Jace laughed. 

“Ah, I am honored that you would think my logical approach is something to remind yourself of in shorthand.” Khoth inclined his head. 

“It is indeed. So I first offered to meet them aboard the Osiris, but they have the same concerns as we do,” Jace explained.  “It will be one of their queens after all who have agreed to parlay. We could take off with her and use her safety to make the Vreced our allies.”

Khoth straightened. “We would never do such a thing!”

Jace patted his left hand. “No, but they could just as easily say that they would never take off with me or harm us in any way if I went to their vessel. But would we trust them?”

Khoth’s lips pressed into a thin line. “No.”

“Exactly. Trust has to be earned. So we’re going to meet on Ieria,” Jace said. “Neutral ground.”

Ieria was one of the moons of a nearby planet named Vechiri. It had Altaeth ruins on it, but had never been settled by the Thaf’ell or any other Alliance species.  The moon had no atmosphere and the ruins were inoperative and falling apart. 

“I’ve repaired the dome so we will have an atmosphere so we won’t have to try and converse through our helmets,” Jace explained. “It won’t exactly be luxe accommodations, but I’m sure we can bring some folding chairs for everyone to sit on and chat.”

“The Vreced are not humanoid. I do not believe they can sit in folding chairs, Pilot,” Khoth ventured, not sure if Jace was joking or not.

Jace smiled. “They can float so they don’t need the chairs. And I could probably stand up myself. I’m not sure how intense or how long this meeting will be. I realize that the Stil are but one species that I choose not to take on. All of the others were accepted. So why do I feel like I failed?”

“You took a risk, Pilot.” Khoth dared to cover Jace’s hand with his own. “You knew that even asking the Stil here would cause potential harm to your position based on the belief that they would be a worthwhile addition to the crew.”

“And they weren't going to be.” Jace grimaced. “More than that, I should have known that would be true. Or, better yet, known it, still invited them and had a plan for it. But Dad’s reaction to them was the right one. I had no master plan to fix what was wrong.

Jack still spoke with Purla. The elder Parker looked serious. He was listening intently to whatever she had to say and nodding, but adding little of his own commentary. Khoth wondered if she was telling him more about the Stil’s intentions. Their threat had not gone unnoticed by anyone, though Khoth felt it had to be an empty one. They could not follow the Osiris unless Jace allowed them too, and even if they somehow got around that, their ships and most of their weaponry was Altaeth. They were fangless.

“Your hope for us to rise above our base natures, Pilot, is one of your strengths. You were able to summon that in Entin and many others. I do not think the Nocere will forget you,” Khoth assured him. 

“I wonder what your father thinks. Or Typhon and Amana. I know that bringing them to this was a risk, but they are risking much by taking our side against the Council,” Jace murmured as his eyes were drawn to the three Thaf’ell. 

“They are family to us both, Pilot. They would have to take our sides or exile us,” Khoth said. “And considering Typhon has already saved me from exile once…”

“Yeah, he couldn’t very well admit a mistake.” 

“No, but I do not think he feels he has in any case. You are the last Altaeth. He would never disown you. You are his way to a greater glory than could ever be accomplished otherwise,” Khoth said.

“A greater glory?” Jace lifted an eyebrow.

“He sits on the highest court in the land. He moves Houses like game pieces on the board. But he clearly wants something more,” Khoth said. “He believes in the Altaeth. He believes in you. Once we defeat the Khul, he will be more powerful than ever before having backed you. Having you as… family.”

“Right.” Jace ran a hand through his hair. “I suppose I can see that. Well, then, we should get on making that glory for him. We need to get to Ieria.”

Khoth nodded and stood up even as he informed Davies that the Pilot, Jack, himself and Gehenna would need transportation to Ieria. 

Well, at least you got him to stay off their ship. Thammah will drive. Matzen and I are in on this too, Davies responded. 

Jace had already gone over to Typhon, Amana and his father. His Xa showed great kindness and compassion as Jace told them that they needed to go meet the Vreced elsewhere.  Jace’s dislike of Typhon did not stop him from being courteous, even warm. Perhaps he really was convinced that there was nothing–and never could be–between him and Khoth. 

Amana put a hand to her chest. “The Vreced?! You–you are wise, Pilot, so I do not think you need me to tell you about them–”

“They scare me a little, too,” Jace confessed.

She clasped his hands. “Then perhaps you should not go. You should remain here. Speak to them over a vid-call instead.”

“It’s better to meet in person. You get a stronger sense of each other that way,” Jace reminded her. “I made them come all this way. They wouldn’t have had to go anywhere if a vid-call was sufficient.”

“The Council should have conferred with you before they denied the Vreced access to Ylore,” his father said with a shake of his head.

Jace smiled and pressed a hand to his father’s shoulder. “They should have, but I didn’t exactly tell them who all were coming. So perhaps we are even in that.”

His father accepted the touch and gave a rare smile of warmth and familiarity. “That is true, Pilot. But now they have lost whatever good will they would have had with the Vreced. While you meet with them for your own behalf, the Alliance could have basked in the reflected light if the meeting happened here. On the desolate moon… well, there is no light to be had.”

“You are assuming that the Vreced will bow to the Pilot’s conditions of comradeship, loyalty and trust, which the Stil could not,” Typhon stated dryly.

He said “could” not rather than “did” not. Typhon was careful with his words as every justiciar was. So he knew Jace’s predicament.

Still, Jace stiffened visibly, but then he hung his head. “You’re quite right, Typhon. I had hoped for a much different outcome, but I could not compromise the safety of the crew even for the Stil’s great martial skill.”

Jack put an arm around his son’s shoulders. “I know that they were impressive, but you can’t have that kind of poison amongst your people. The one thing we need the crew to know above all else is that we take care of one another.”

“The Vreced have a hive mentality,” Amana offered awkwardly. “I would imagine that they would understand better the necessity for people to work together with trust and respect. The Stil are individual warriors who care only for themselves.”

“Now that sounds wise, Amana,” Jace chuckled. 

“I think your invitations to both the Stil and the Vreced were also wise, Pilot,” Typhon said, surprising Khoth and Jace. “It shows your ability to not be ruled by other’s prejudices. More so than simply inviting crew members of Alliance species. Even if you have no more luck with the Vreced than with the Stil, you will have offered.”

Jace nodded, looking slightly more mollified for the loss. “I’m afraid that we must part with your company for now. The Vreced expect to only meet with Osiris' crew.”

His father bowed. “We understand, Pilot.”

“Thank you for letting us be here to see your choices,” Amana gushed. “You were everything I’d thought you’d be.”

“Ah, well, uhm, I hope that’s good.” Jace scuffed a foot. He was blushing.

“Very good!” She assured him. 

“Should I go to the ship or would you like me to accompany you to Ieria?” Purla asked.

Khoth had forgotten she was there, but Jace, evidently, had not. He kneeled down so that they were approximately even height. “While I think that having your skills to know people’s intentions would be invaluable with the Vreced in many ways, I think it would show more trust if I do not bring you this time.”

She nodded. “Then I shall see you aboard the Osiris. I am happy to be of service at any time.”

Jace smiled broadly at her. “I shall take advantage of that. Khoth, could you arrange transport for Purla?” 

“Of course, Pilot,” Khoth said and made it so.

Soon, Khoth, Jace, Jack and Gehenna were walking out of the art museum by themselves. Gehenna clearly longed to rub against Jace’s legs, but she kept her distance. His mate was eagerly drinking the semi-frozen juice, tipping the bottle up so that the last few drops hit his tongue.

“God, this stuff is good. The one thing I know I can consume here that’s safe,” Jace said as he screwed the lid back on the empty bottle and put it with the full ones in the cooler.

“I could tell you what the juice is made from,” Khoth offered.

“Don’t you dare, Khoth. Don’t you dare.” Jace gave him a scowl and then laughed.

Jack snorted. “I’m surprised that you’re not into the cuisine, Jace. You eat and drink things that you have no idea what they’re made of all the time.  Like you Slim Jims.”

“You cannot ruin Slim Jims for me.” Jace was unwrapping one as they crossed the open courtyard.

“I wouldn’t dare.” Jack chuckled. He looked around them, breathing in deeply. “I am going to miss this place. I can’t believe we have genetic memory to this extent.”

“Though you don’t have connections to the AIs like I do, there is something between you and them that is different from them and Amana, let’s say,” Jace said as he contemplatively chewed the mystery meat stick.

“Really? Ha! Learn something new every day,” Jack answered.

“It’s one of the joys for sure,” Jace agreed.

As soon as they exited the museum, there was already a shuttle craft waiting to transport them to Ieria. The gangway was down and Thammah was already at the control as the four of them filtered inside. 

Welcome aboard the Thammah Express, boys and gal. We take you to all the interesting places, including abandoned moons to meet dangerous species, Thammah sent to them.

“You take us to the nicest places, Thammah,” Jace said as they got into the ship.

She called from the cockpit, “Only for you, Jace. Only for you.”

“I’m going to sit co-pilot with Thammah. Got to get the training in,” Jack said as he waved to them and headed up front. 

Jace took a window seat and Khoth sat down beside them. Gehenna remained in the aisle though she gazed at Jace with undescribed longing. As did her tail. As soon as they were buckled in, Jace reached over and laced the fingers of his nearest hand with Khoth. Khoth’s Xi and Xa hummed in pleasure. He rubbed his thumb over the back of Jace’s hand.

“Have you ever spoken to a Vreced?” Jace asked as the shuttle rumbled to life.

“No, I have not known any who have. Not even Daesah ever parlayed with them,” Khoth said. “Their insect-like behavior, the way they grow their ships, and their hive mind were too like the Khul for the Alliance to feel fully comfortable with them. And they had no interest in joining us.”

“They thought themselves safe, too,” Jace murmured as they rose above Ylore.

The sunlight touched the buildings and there were flares of golden light as they continued to rise into the sky. It was beautiful and Khoth’s heart ached a little. There was so much he had wanted to show Jace of his homeworld, but that would likely not happen this visit. 

“What exactly did your message say to the Vreced?” Khoth asked.

“Basically, we have a common enemy. The Khul’s actions in taking out their colony showed that they considered the Vreced the same as any Alliance species, namely, expendable. There wasn’t any special connection between them despite their society’s similarities,” Jace explained. “I suggested that we meet on Haseon to discuss a mutually beneficial alliance against our common enemy.”

Khoth nodded. “I see. And what was their response?”

“We will come. That’s it. Nothing else,” Jace said. 

“They are telepathic. So that should work in your favor again,” Khoth suggested.

“Telepathic isn’t exactly the right word for them. They’re literally of one mind. And they use scents to organize themselves. Plus, of course, if one is born a worker, one is a worker. If one is born a warrior, one is a warrior,” Jace reminded him. “Those tasks associated with those roles are hardcoded into their brains. Only the queens have what I guess we would call independent thought. Only she can determine what the hive does.”

“If they go to war?”

“Yes, exactly. If she orders it then every single individual in the hive puts everything they have into that war,” Jace further explained. “Not just the warriors, but every single one of them changes their tasks to fully support the war effort. It’s amazing really.”

“I am glad that we never went to war against the Vreced. There have been skirmishes, but so long as we have left them alone, they have left us alone,” Khoth answered.

“Exactly. They do their thing. They are focused on it to the exclusion of everything else like ants in an ant hill or bees in a hive,” Jace nodded.  “The Khul were foolish to attack them like this.”

“The Khul must feel that the Vreced are not a true threat,” Khoth mused as the sky outside went from blue to black and the stars appeared.

“Imagine how things have been for the Khul all this time. The Altaeth gone. The Seeded Species relying upon their dwindling and deteriorating technology, completely unaware that they are no longer safe.  They’re just the Khul’s larder, not their enemies.” Jace shook his head. “They’ve gotten careless. I’m glad that’s true, because they might have sent far more hives if they had understood the true power of the Osiris.”

“With everything so depleted, Jace, what is our next step?” Khoth asked. “Do we seek out materials to fix the Alliance worlds and ships? Do we find new tech for them to use? Do you need to visit more Alliance worlds to upgrade them like you have Haseon?”

“All of those things are important.” Jace nodded. “I’ve started on almost all of them, but the visiting thing. Even members of our crew will be useful in getting their people on board whether that be going to worlds to harvest more materials or tech. Typhon and your dad will be our advocates to the Council and will help determine where the materials and tech go. The AIs will assist them.”

“Typhon? My father?”

“Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t explain earlier about that. When I realized at the museum that they knew about our mating thing, I figured out that we needed to use that family connection,” Jace said, squeezing his hand. “Both of them are incredibly smart and clever. They know the players and they’re going to work for us. They’ve received instructions on their comms and agreed to the whole thing.”

“You are efficient, Jace.”

Jace turned his head. “You are okay with this, right?”

“Yes, I am. I think these are logical choices. DWKWD,” Khoth stated.

Jace laughed. “DWKWD! Exactly.” 

Jack suddenly appeared in the doorway to the cockpit. “Jace, have you seen the latest images the Osiris is sending us from Ieria?”

“The Vreced have arrived well before us. I’m glad they are eager,’ Jce said.

“Yeah, about that, have you checked out their queen? There weren’t images of a queen in any of the databases,” Jack said.

“No, I… oh.” Jace blinked. “She doesn’t look like the others.”

“No, she doesn’t, but she does look like something else we do know,” Jack pointed out.

“What?” Khoth started to bring up the images.

“A xenomorph,” Jack answered, which meant nothing to Khoth but had Jace stiffening. “But with more tails and more claws.”

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  • ngl the entire story always makes me thing of warframe and the 2 songs i listen to from the game (sleeping in the cold below and we all lift together). Idk i always think of those songs when i read this story in particular

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  • In reply to: Snom

    Nice! I'm honored it does!

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  • Khoth experiencing a jab of jealousy and protectiveness?! So cute ☺ can't let these new comers flirt with our Pilot? patiently waiting for the next chapter?‍♀️

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  • In reply to: Adrianna99Flo

    He's harrumphing! No one gets the Pilot but him!

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  • ONG! A xenomorph! I beggeth thee for a photo I BEGGETH THEE!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • In reply to: octaviabay

    LOL! I am so excited by this. I cannot tell you.

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  • Okay, scary, but I think Jace can deal with a badass Xenomorph, as long as there aren’t any eggs with those spidery, knuckley face-huggers jumping out at them. Ugh, hate those things! Nasty.

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  • In reply to: lrwells

    Alien and Aliens has stayed with me to this day. Obviously, the Khul are based on them in some ways. The face huggers... in my nightmares.

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  • So I decided to DWKWD.”“DWKWD? I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with that acronym, Pilot.”“Do What Khoth Would Do,”
    This had me rolling...and if I had read this chapter early it would have been a coffee/keyboard moment:D
    Basically, we have a common enemy.
    the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Things just might pan out with the Vreced. They hate the Khul as much as everyone else.
    Gehenna remained in the aisle though she gazed at Jace with undescribed longing. As did her tail.
    We got to get Gehenna a suitable body soon...I don't want to see her landing in that " you stole him from me" place. Seems to me the more she's not able to physically connect the more she begins to feel like a third-wheel...
    A xenomorph,” Jack answered,
    Oh geez one of my least favorite looking aliens...<shudder> :D

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  • In reply to: deltos

    This had me rolling...and if I had read this chapter early it would have been a coffee/keyboard moment
    LOL! I couldn't help myself.

    Things just might pan out with the Vreced.
    Things just might.

    We got to get Gehenna a suitable body soon...I don't want to see her landing in that " you stole him from me" place.
    She wants to cuddle them both.

    Oh geez one of my least favorite looking aliens..
    They terrify me which is why I must have them.

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