Updating Horizontal Tidebound

 

CHAPTER NINETY-NINE: JOY

“Now, what you see before you is for a very important taste test.” Jace gestured to the four plates of Slim Jims on the table before him. “Adiratna and many of the other chefs on the Osiris are working with space paste to make it taste like and have the texture of–I got you, Thammah, texture is king–Slim Jims. These are her first attempts that she would like us to try and rate.” 

Jace tipped his head at the smiling Indonesian woman dressed in the dark brown uniform of a chef who stood to the side, observing, but not hawking over anyone. 

She put her hands together and said, “I hope you enjoy them. But please give me your honest opinion. Because we are working with the Osiris on truly making things taste and have the mouth-feel they should have of your favorite snacks and meals.”

“That’s why I snapped you all up,” Jace said as he gestured to the people on the opposite side of the table.

Khoth was not one of them.  His taste buds were deemed unworthy by Jace.

“It’s not just because you like things that are healthy,” Jace had said as he’d picked the tasters. His nose had wrinkled with the word “healthy” as if there was something wrong with healthy things intrinsically. “Well, it is partially that. But really it’s because you haven’t had enough experience with Slim Jims.”

“You fear that I will vote for a version that has a more healthful taste than the oily–”

Jace interrupted, “Moist–”

“Salt-laden–”

“Umami–”

“Artificial flavored–”

“Chemist-approved and patented–”

“Sticks of not-meat,” Khoth finished.

“I do.” Jace grinned at him and kissed his nose.

The nose-kiss should not have caused him to back down. This was Jace’s health they were talking about. His Izail should be encouraged to eat things that would give him important nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Now, the space paste did this to some extent, but it was not a full substitute for real food. So he should be trying to lead his Izail towards real foods that were delicious by making the fake Slim Jims into something more healthful tasting too.  Then he could point at some new, healthy offering and say, “Jace, this tastes just like a Slim Jim!”

But Jace had figured out his plan before he’d even begun it and put a stop to it. Khoth should have been annoyed, but he felt a bit of admiration. Of all the battles they could have, this was one he was willing to lose. For now. 

His Izail smiled at him then and gave him a mental caress. Khoth’s Xi and Xa purred in unison and he brushed the back of his left hand against Jace’s right one. They might have hugged openly in the hangar bay, but that was due to a necessity to make things right. Now they should be careful in their public displays of affection. Though he was finding it surprisingly difficult.

How he had ever closed his mind to Jace seemed impossible to him now. The pain of it had been incredible. He’d thought he had been right to keep Jace separated from him as his distress had been very great at how near Jace had come to wrack and ruin.  He understood that Jace was the Pilot. That role–above all others–ruled his mate. He could not be a burden upon Jace, nor affect his Izail’s decision-making on this score with his fear of losing him. 

But he’d been wrong to shut Jace out. He knew that now. He felt the wound–small, though it was–that his distance had caused. It would fade and, hopefully, be as if it had never been. But he knew he had caused this. 

We are still learning each other. I must be more careful, he admonished himself.

So if Jace wanted to have his beloved Slim Jims and enjoy being with the crew, he would support it. There were a million other things they should be doing, but they could wait. Though knowing Jace, he likely was still doing them even as he prattled on about the “oily snap” and “spicy softness” of a Slim Jim. 

“Your most-important task–should you accept it–will be to taste all four of these versions and compare it to the original.” Jace pointed to a fifth plate, set to the side, upon which Thammah was cutting up small nuggets of a real Slim Jim. 

“It’s like Mission Impossible!” Dai laughed. “Will something blow up at the end?”

“Let’s hope not! But it could happen. Luckily, we have both you and Chal here if something goes awry,” Jace laughed.

Dai, Dr. Kerr, and Dr. Isa was on the other side of the table. Chal was “working” on something in the background while Endin and Purla looked on with undisguised interest. He, Jace, Endin and Thammah had left the hangar bay–Jack had begged off as he wanted to speak to Diane–for one of the smaller dining rooms. The others had filed in to get coffee or something to eat. Jace had pounced on them to get them to taste test his favorite food. They all looked game to do it.

“Now, I know that–other than Thammah–everyone is human for the official scoring.” Jace grimaced as if he thought this unfair.  “Anyone may try and give their opinion. It’s just that they have more experience with this snack and–”

“Won’t find it disgusting from the get go,” Thammah qualified. 

“But you don’t find it disgusting, do you, Thammah?” Purla asked.

“No, but I believe that human and Thaf’ell taste buds are more aligned than are others,” she answered. “I’m a junk food addict, too.”

“Would you not receive a more unbiased view of the snack from someone who is unfamiliar with it?” Endin pointed out. “We could identify the differences more easily perhaps.”

“Slim Jims do not exactly fit my flavor profile either,” Dr. Isa laughed. “Definitely an American food. Can one even call it a food?”

“Thank you, Dr. Isa. I have been telling Jace that Slim Jims are very unhealthful–mphggg!” Khoth was cut off by Jace’s hand covering his mouth.

“Food is life and happiness. Slim Jims are at the top of that food pyramid of joy,” Jace said firmly.

“Along with them are raw cookie dough,” Thammah said, practically drooling.

“Homemade or in the tube?” Jace asked her, still covering Khoth’s mouth. 

“Homemade is best. Though it’s different as it ages. You know, when you first make it and the ingredients are warm and soft is the absolute top. But there’s also a different deliciousness to be had after it’s refrigerated and you have to dig into it with a spoon,” Thammah enthused.

“Totally.” Jace was nodding along. “The stuff in the tube is good in a pinch, but nothing is better than homemade.” His head snapped towards Adiratna. “Do we have the makings of chocolate chip cookies?”

Adiratna brightened. “We actually do, but you are not supposed to eat raw eggs–”

“I’ll be fine!” Both Jace and Thammah said. 

“It’s worth the risk,” Thammah told her.

“Absolutely,” Jace agreed.

“Well then, I shall have some dough made up. Do you want cookies made from it too?” she asked. 

Jace made a drooling noise–he still hadn’t uncovered Khoth’s mouth–as he said, “Having chefs on hand is the best!” Then a little guiltily, Jace said, “If you don’t mind doing it. I could do it myself.”

Adiratna held up a hand. “I would love to do it. Anyone that is this enthused about food is someone I want to cook for.”

“You are a goddess,” Thammah told her.

“That is a new one, but I accept it.” Adiratna giggled.

Jace finally lowered his hand from Khoth’s mouth. He gave Khoth a sharp look as he heard over their bond something about how sugar, flour and chocolate were for dessert and not a meal. But Khoth did not say it out loud. So somehow then it did not count even though their silent communications were the most heartfelt.

I am just ignoring that thought about dessert versus meals, Khoth, that’s all, Jace replied dryly.

I see. I shall have to investigate this selective hearing you have, Khoth snorted.

Recovering himself from thinking about cookie dough, Jace cleared his throat and turned back to the matter at hand, “You might be right, Endin. I might be thinking too narrowly about who would be a good judge. Seeing here as Thammah and I are twins, I feel it keenly. . Okay, everyone can judge!”

“I haven’t had these since I was a child,” Dr. Kerr said as she reviewed the plates. “Adiratna, I take it that these aren’t the only dishes that you're tweaking?”

Adiratna nodded. “No, indeed! We are having many of these tasting sessions with the crew. We have already started sending out surveys to all of the crew members to tell us what their favorite foods are and we will perfect those as well.”

“The spirits are most pleased with your efforts, Adiratna!” Purla told her with all out solemnity.

Adiratna inclined her head. “Then I am well pleased, too, Purla. Please do not fear hurting my feelings with your judgment. We can only improve if we have truthful feedback.”

“Would your feelings being hurt harm you, Adiratna?” Endin asked, his forehead puckering.

She blinked, but then answered, “Why, yes, Endin. Sometimes emotional harms for humans are worse than physical ones though they cannot be seen. Unlike physical wounds, they can hide from us yet cause us agony.”

“That is very true,” Dr. Kerr agreed, nodding. As a psychiatrist, she would know this more than most.

“Indeed, I long for the physical wounds sometimes. Easier to treat,,” Dr. Isa said. 

Endin frowned. “Then it would seem then that one would seek to have no emotions yet you, humans, seem to value them above all things.”

“Without emotions you’d miss out on joy,” Adiratna told him, her eyes going distant as a smile lifted her lips. “And nothing is better than joy.”

“What is joy exactly?” Endin asked.

He spoke without any inflection. Yet it seemed to be asked with genuine intentions. This was one of the reasons that he had joined the Osiris’ crew. And it was why Jace had likely taken pity on him and brought him aboard. The Nocere were skilled fighters, but they worked alone and had little care for others that were not in their unit or their direct supervisors. Much like the Stil, but while the Stil lived to hunt, the Nocere would only do so for money.

“Have I asked a difficult question?” Endin followed up when no one spoke at first.

The humans looked at one another and smiled. They all clearly recognized that this was a far longer discussion than could be answered in a few moments or even an hour. The Thaf’ell had emotions, too, but they strove to control them rather than to have emotions be the one in the pilot’s seat, though Khoth was beginning to think that this was just another thing the Thaf’ell told themselves, but wasn’t actually what they did. Yet he left the discussion about emotions to the others who would likely have a larger vocabulary about it.

“Joy is…” Dai paused and shook his head. “I am trying to think of a comparison to something you might feel. But it is greater than simple satisfaction in a job well done. It is truly a transcendent state.”

Dr. Kerr spoke, “That is a simple yet complicated question, Endin. Dai has done a good job beginning to explain, but in order for us to truly get it across to you, we must understand your emotional tapestry in order for you to understand our meaning.”

Endin cocked his head to the side. “As I am half human, one would imagine that I do have emotions since I understand that they are partially physiologically based.  But I have been raised as pure Nocere. At least, as much as I was able to absorb of their ways. I am limited. I've been informed that many times.”

“Limited? Because you feel things?” Thammah asked quietly.

“No, because he’s half human,” Jace answered on Endin’s behalf, perhaps to take the sting out of it for the other humans in the room.

“Do you–do you think you are limited?” Dai asked uncertainly. The kindly engineer blinked rapidly and his hands drew together in front of his chest as if quite distressed that Endin should ever think this of himself. 

Endin clearly thought on this question. There was no distress evident in his demeanor. Khoth realized that he represented, in some ways, the ideal Thaf’ell. Purely logical and fiercely rational. But hearing it and seeing it from Endin had Khoth chafing under the same emotions he guessed that Dai was. It felt wrong

“In regards to being a pure Nocere, yes, I am limited. I am incapable of being completely like them. I cannot completely understand them nor they me, I suppose. I have a form that is quite a bit different than theirs, for one, but it is more in my mental makeup that proves me as very limited,” Endin explained.

“The spirits hope you will come to know that you are different from the other Nocere,” Purla said with a sad expression on her cherubic face. “Different is not limited. Different is not lesser. Different is simply different.” 

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Purla,” Jace smiled down at her.

She beamed back. 

But while Khoth knew that was a valid point, Endin had been raised to think that the only way to truly be was to be like a pure Nocere and that he was not nor ever could be. His next words proved Khoth’s thoughts to be true ones. 

“The Nocere believe that their way is the best. That they are the best,” Endin pointed out. 

Thammah laughed, but not unkindly, as she shared a look at Khoth. “The Thaf’ell would also argue that they are, in fact, the best of the Seeded Species.”

“The Thaf’ell are superior,” Endin conceded. 

You don’t need to flinch every time that word is used, Khoth. I do believe the Thaf’ell truly are superior in their way, Jace assured him. You certainly are superior.

Thank you, Izail. But it is more hearing Endin speak of his people’s beliefs in their superiority, which makes me hear how foolish that truly sounds, Khoth admitted.

Endin continued, “But there is data to suggest that the Nocere are, in fact–”

“Better than an Altaeth?” Khoth cut in. 

Endin paused again and stroked his chin. “One would imagine that they couldn’t actually gauge themselves against an Altaeth as, clearly, before the Pilot, there was no opportunity to do so.”

“I heard that it did not go well for them against the Pilot,” Dr. Isa said quietly.

News had flown around the ship about every encounter with the new crew members. Jace had allowed most of what had happened to be streamed for anyone who wished to watch. Bob, of course, was like the town crier in addition to that.

“No, it did not. The Pilot obtained my services without any payment to the Nocere whatsoever,” Endin agreed.

“I made them pay instead,” Jace stated flatly. There was a flare of blue in his eyes.

Endin nodded once more. “Yes, Pilot. You took every advantage away from them. And though they do not feel shame, they recognize that others will see you as having shown them to be morally inferior due to their practice of slavery.”

“The Pilot would never have a slave,” Dr. Isa said without hesitation. 

“No, he would not. And he made that clear to everyone.” Endin appeared unmoved either way by it.

“Are you glad of that?” Dai asked. “You–you must be though you seem…”

“To have the ability to come and go as I please is… new,” Endin said. “I suppose it is pleasing as it makes my ability to improve myself much easier. It also means that if I do not wish to be treated in any certain way, I can object and leave if things are not changed.”

“Exactly. We want people who want to be here. Who believe in what we’re doing,” Jace said. 

Khoth reached out to Jace and curled his hand around his Izail’s. 

“But it also means that I must find another way to belong. How am I connected to the crew? No funds have been exchanged. I am not owed or owing. This is, in a way…” Here Endin paused and he blinked more quickly several times. “I suppose you might describe it as distressing.”

“There is a lot to unpack there, Endin. But it is quite understandable if you feel that way as well,” Dr. Kerr told him gently.

“Perhaps it could form the basis of our first meeting then, Dr. Kerr,” Endin suggested as he placed both hands behind his back. 

“It will take much longer than one meeting, but yes, I think it would be a place to start,” Dr. Kerr agreed.

At that moment, Matias and Chili rushed in. The veterinarian was holding Chili ahead of him and the pig had her fore and hind legs spread out so it looked like she was flying. Her meeting bow had been changed to a doctor’s one. They had been working.

“I hear that there is some kind of tasting going on! Chili and I are distressed that you have not invited us,” Matias said with a frown at Jace.

“Forgive me, Matias, Chili.” Jace bowed. “Of course, you should be a part of it.”

“Good! We accept your apology, but… what is that?” Matias stared down at the Slim Jims in confusion.

“It’s an American snack, Matias. Slim Jims,” Dr. Isa said.

“It looks like beef jerky,” Matias said.

“Exactly, but with a bit more chemical flair!” Jace agreed.

It was then that Chal moseyed over and leaned towards the snacks. “Numbers one and four won’t do it for them, Adiratna.”

“How do you know that, Chal?” Adiratna asked, seemingly genuinely curious.

“The sheath.” Chal pointed to the original and how there was a plasticky outer coating that held the “meat” together. “You have a version of it on two and three, but not on the other two. Now, I can recommend a molecular, edible sheathing that could work.”

He went to pick up a piece of Slim Jim. Thammah stiffened and looked at him with a jaundiced eye. 

“There’s little of the real stuff. It’s precious,” she warned.

“Don’t you worry. I shall be analyzing it. Not eating it,” Chal said.

“But eating it is the best part,” Dai told him.

“That may be so, Dai, but if I use this bit to design a better Slim Jim then we shall have Slim Jims forever rather than just until the Flight Commander’s stash runs out,” Chal informed him with all due seriousness. 

“Go and work your magic, sir!” Jace saluted him. 

“I’ll see which other one gets the taste right so I make sure that the coating works with it,” Chal said.

“One must be thorough.” Adiratna nodded her head sagely. Another chef came out carrying a tray with several cups on it.  “Oh, and also, we must have palate cleansers! I almost forgot these. They are a sweet, yet cleansing ice.”

“Okay!” Jace brought his hands together. “Are we ready for this, people?”

But before anyone had a chance to try anything, Chili–who Matias had put down on the table–broke free of him and, oinking away, proceeded to snarfle down all of the original and faux Slim Jims. She evaded everyone who tried to catch her, managing to eel out of even Khoth’s hands. He had only the tip of her tail, which she managed to pull away from him. 

“Chili!”

“Pig!”

“No!”

“It’s not poisonous, is it?” Matias asked.

“No, it’s just space paste and I don’t think Slim Jims can hurt your little piggie,” Adiratna laughed.

“She’s eaten them all!” Dai cried.

“Not quite all.” Endin pointed to the other engineer in the room.

The only bit of Slim Jim left in the room was in Chal’s hand. Chili tapped over to him and oinked piteously as if she hadn’t eaten in years.

“No, you wee pig!” Chal patted her head. “This one is for science!”

Chili oinked again, but Chal was unmoved and stuck the nugget into an interior pocket. She oinked sadly and tapped over to Khoth who couldn’t help but pick her up. She promptly fell asleep, farting Slim Jim scented farts almost immediately. 

Despite the lack of Slim Jim tasting, everyone was laughing, even Endin managed to crack what looked like a smile. Jace leaned against Khoth’s side. He petted Chili’s sproingy tail. She oinked in contentment even as she slept.

Thank you, Khoth, Jace said.

For what? I failed to stop Chili from eating the Slim Jims.

For bringing joy into my life, Jace to him. Endin might not know what it is yet. But you’ve given me more of it in our short time together than I’ve had all my life.

Khoth dared to kiss Jace’s nearest temple. You are my joy, Jace. Forever and always.

Next Chapter Will Be Posted Soon! 

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  • not gonna lie id kill to have a episode where the osiris is flying somewhere but its gonna take hours or a day or two, but then the crew and the captain just start singing meme songs or just being funny. Imagine koth being confused as they all sing songs like country roads or having the weirdest songs on

    10/10 id love to to just see them have a good time before hell comes

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  • It’s like a little piggy obstacle course! The Nibble and Wiggle biathlon! Go Chili go! :D

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  • Awww, that was so sweet! I can't believe chili was fast enough to snarffle all the snacks though...poor thammah and Jace. Oh well, at least they have cookie dough to look forward to. TLC

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  • She promptly fell asleep, farting Slim Jim scented farts almost immediately.
    This is the moment I died of laughter.

    This was a wonderfully lighthearted Chapter Raythe! I loved it!

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  • I don’t know if I’m horrified or amused that Chili ate her own kind, but pigs eat everything so I guess its fine.

    “Have I asked a difficult question?” Endin followed up when no one spoke at first.

    He most definitely has. Joy is hard to explain to one who is not shown it growing up and around them. I don’t know how he will find his but I can’t wait to see him discover it.

    I love that Kolth still insists on trying to get Jace to eat healthier. It reminds me of my internal arguments with myself. (“Don’t eat that, its not healthy”-“but it tastes so good!” :-)
    “The spirits are most pleased with your efforts, Adiratna!” Purla told her with all out solemnity.

    I’m beyond curious about these spirits and what you decide for them. Purla seems so pure for someone that can sense everyone’s feelings. Thanks for another amazing chapter.

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  • In reply to: Dragon5

    I don’t know if I’m horrified or amused that Chili ate her own kind, but pigs eat everything so I guess its fine.
    I honestly didn't know they were made of pork but yes, Chili is now a cannibal. Now that was a twist!

    He most definitely has. Joy is hard to explain to one who is not shown it growing up and around them.
    Joy is transcendent, I think. So it will be really hard to explain. You have to experience it.

    I’m beyond curious about these spirits and what you decide for them.
    She is rather a pure soul.

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  • In an instant, poor Chili the pig became a cannibal lol.. Slim Jim's are made with pork.

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  • In reply to: hiladrox

    And this was the tale of how Chili became a cannibal... LOL! I didn't know. I should have looked.

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  • It was a nice light-hearted chapter to end this month, I was grinning and laughing all the way.

    So, what I get from this is that Endin need to find domeone who will give him joy? Right?

    Pigs can eat anything, even people, so she should be fine. Now she just need a long nap in Khoth arms to digest it all.

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  • In reply to: Ness

    It was a nice light-hearted chapter to end this month, I was grinning and laughing all the way.
    That's what I was hoping for.

    So, what I get from this is that Endin need to find domeone who will give him joy? Right?
    Maybe!

    Pigs can eat anything, even people, so she should be fine. Now she just need a long nap in Khoth arms to digest it all.
    Even people... oh no...

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