CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: MOON WALK, MOON TALK
“Okay, Dad, now just goose the throttle a bit. Yeah! Yeah! You got it!” Jace enthused as he stood behind his father who sat in the pilot seat of the Storm Spike.
Earth was already far behind them and the moon was ahead, growing ever larger. His father was smiling so big and brightly that Jace was certain his face must hurt. His father was in heaven and he couldn’t blame him. It was hard not to want to take the controls back himself.
“At least there’s nothing out here to hit,” his father said with a grin. “So if I make a mistake we’re okay.”
“True! Going to stretch her wings a little?” Jace grinned back.
“Maybe you should be strapped in if I do that,” his father replied dryly.
“All right. All right. You’re no fun. Safety first.”
Without having to think about it, Jace interfaced with the ship and another seat opened to the right and back of his father. The harness unspooled and clicked around him.
“Now, if you want to--whoa! Go, Dad!” Jace laughed as his father almost expertly had the Storm Spike perform a barrel roll.
His father leveled the ship off and the moon was once again front and center on the screen. He then sent them spinning the opposite way. Jace laughed.
“We’re going to have to do some dogfighting at some point to train as well,” Jace said.
“We can do that? In simulators, I suppose?” His father asked.
“Actually, we’ll be in real world conditions, but the weaponry we’ll be using won’t cause damage,” Jace said as the Osiris showed him how the spaceships would only register the damage, but not actually be damaged.
“I’m looking forward to that!” His father was doing that face-splitting grin again.
“It’s like a videogame except… it’s real,” Jace said.
“Do you remember when we spent all those days playing as fighter pilots. Oh, God, I forgot the name of the game, but you wouldn’t go to bed,” his father said.
“I think you were the one who wouldn’t go to bed,” Jace chuckled.
His father had the Storm Spike perform three loops in a row before finishing with a barrel roll.
“God, this ship moves smooth as silk. I have no idea how fast we’re going--”
“You don’t want to know. We’re going to be at the Moon in like fifteen minutes,” Jace told him as he brought up those indicators for his father on the holographic display.
“You work this ship like she’s been yours for years,” his father said with a faint shake of his head.
“I know, right?” Jace agreed with him. “Everything feels… familiar. I think I could close my eyes and find anything I needed in the ship without tripping and killing myself.”
Another shake of his head. “Amazing. You were flying in your sleep all these years.”
“So it seems,” Jace said. “If you want to set the autopilot--”
“No, not yet. Let me just have my hands on the controls here for a while,” his father requested. “Can we go down to the surface of the Moon?”
Both of them had on synthskin suits. Jace had his hard suit’s chip in his pocket and there were several others on the Storm Spike that could be sized for his father.
“Do you mean fly over the surface like in Star Wars?” Jace asked, referring to the many iconic scenes where one of the fighters skimmed over some alien world’s surface.
“We could also land and get out, if you like,” Jace told him.
His father went silent. Jace caught sight of his reflection on the screen for a moment. There was utter shock followed by utter joy.
“Are you serious? We could walk on the Moon?” his father asked.
“I’m more than serious. We can do that,” Jace told him.
“How about we go to the Tycho crater?” Jace asked, naming one of the more famous Moon craters that he knew of.
“Y-yeah. Sounds fantastic,” his father answered.
Jace reached up and lightly touched the holographic controls so that their destination was set.
“You’ll see a flight path once we get nearer. We might want the Osiris though to take care of the landing,” Jace told him.
His father nodded. “For sure.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll let you try to land us in the Osiris’ hanger bay,” Jace told him.
“Not worried. Going into space is deadly business though it doesn’t seem that way with you. Blowing yourself out of a Hive? Using your jets to maneuver to a craft? That’s insane, Jace,” his father said with a shake of his head.
Jace had told him about what had happened in the Hive as they had lifted off and passed by the Thaf’ell fleet.
Speaking of those…
Jace brought up a screen to show him if any ship was following them from the fleet. There was one. He grimaced.
What do they think? I’m going to fly away without the Osiris and Khoth? Not happening!
They were likely there in case there was an accident. He was the Pilot, after all. This should have made him happier, or perhaps less annoyed would have been a better description, but it grated. He wanted this time with his father. Just the two of them. He could have had the Osiris cause the ship to return to the fleet, but he resisted the urge.
They will not be harmed, the Osiris murmured speculatively. You do not need them for assistance. I am here.
Yeah, but I couldn’t reach you for a while in the Hive, Jace pointed out.
That was different.
It was amazing to him how the Osiris could be so precise and then be so incredibly vague. Why he couldn’t reach it, if that was intentional, or if, in fact, they had been blocked by Khul technology, still wasn’t clear to Jace. He faintly remembered the pain he’d felt when he entered the Khul needle ship. A slight shiver went through him.
That is damage caused by you being taken from me, the Osiris muttered. It will heal in time.
Taken from you… oh, you mean when I was a baby and you tried to cut my mom open? Jace asked dryly.
The Osiris was silent.
Jace looked once more at the Paladin class ship that was keeping its distance. He wished Khoth were in it, but he knew he was not even before--like Gehenna--the Osiris sent him the name, rank, medical and military history of the pilot.
Commander Khoth Voor is with High Councillor Nova Voor in her quarters on the Ashaton, the Osiris informed him. There was a pause and then it asked, Do you wish to see and hear them?
Jace blinked. Hear and--how?
I have access to all vessels, the Osiris almost sounded peevish that Jace hadn’t known that.
Oh, so you can eavesdrop on everyone, can you?
I monitor all communications, yes, the Osiris rephrased to make it sound less like spying. You may wish to review this conversation between them--
Why not? It concerns you, the Osiris stated. You should be aware of what the opposing faction is doing.
Khoth is not an opposing faction, Jace said with surprising certainty.
He’d only met the Thaf’ell Commander that day, but Khoth had consistently done what was right and honorable towards him. He trusted the Thaf’ell with his life.
But High Councillor Nova Voor is, the Osiris stated almost softly.
Jace felt a spike of apprehension. Nova was Khoth’s mom, not to mention his superior. More than just a superior but the superior of all of the Alliance. She could put a lot of pressure on Khoth. But that pressure had been there when Khoth had chosen to save him rather than try to put another Pilot--a person loyal to the Alliance--in his place. That would have earned Khoth accolades galore. Breaking the rules to end his sister’s suffering would have been completely forgotten if he’d done that. But Khoth had chosen to save Jace.
I have faith in Khoth, Jace said firmly.
But if you know what is being said--
It would be a breach of his trust and privacy, Osiris, Jace interrupted. He’ll tell me if I need to know.
You are the Pilot. You should know all the data--
People don’t work that way, Osiris. You can know everything and make all the wrong moves, Jace told the AI. I have to trust Khoth.
Until he proves he is not trustworthy? The AI countered.
He won’t. But I guess if--like you--he does something wrong, I’ll reassess, Jace replied.
“Jace? Anything up? Your eyes have gone all spooky there,” his father asked with a glance towards him.
“Oh, sorry, Dad, just talking to the Osiris about trust,” Jace said as he closed the holographic screen of the following ship.
“The Osiris… you still mad at it?” his father asked.
“As mad as a hornet,” Jace replied with a grin.
His father chuckled. “But you’re giving it a second chance, I bet.”
“Ah… yeah, you’re right. Pretty clever,” Jace said as he stretched out his legs.
His father shot him another look. “I know you pretty well. Such as… I’m going to take a guess at what you’re going to do tomorrow after the meeting.”
Jace lifted an eyebrow. “I don’t even know what I’m going to do tomorrow!”
“Oh, yes, you do.”
Jace shook his head. “Okay, Dad, predict the future.”
“Easy. You’re going to let everyone have their say,” his father answered as he touched the holographic screen like a pro to find out the distance to their target. “And everyone is going to think that they’ve gotten you on their side because you’re easy going and young and, therefore, must be pliant, if not stupid.”
Jace’s both eyebrows rose. “Okay. You’re suggesting I’m not pliant or stupid, which is good!”
“You are most certainly not, because after they tell you why they’re right and the other guy is wrong and what they want and why they should have it, you’re going to tell them to all go to hell,” his father said with a grin.
Jace blinked. “Well, I’m…”
“Because you are the goddamned Pilot of that incredible ship and you’re going to do what you think is right,” his father finished.
Jace blinked some more. “That may have crossed my mind. But… Mom would be really angry with me over that, wouldn’t she?”
“I think you would do it even if I said she would be,” his father answered with a purse of lips. “But if it makes you feel any better, she’ll be glad. She doesn’t agree with all that the higher ups want to do. But she’s stuck in the chain of command. If she disobeys them, she’s out and has no influence at all. But you… you don’t need to do what they say. You can do what’s right, because you’re beholden to no one.”
Jace stared at his father in a kind of shocked awe. “Don’t you think I’m a little young and inexperienced to do this all on my own?”
These were the types of arguments he thought that his father would make.
“You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. You will need teachers, mentors and allies. You’ll find them,” his father said. “But you must never let their thinking replace your own. You were the Pilot for a reason. Not me. Not your mom. Not anybody else, Jace. You.”
“I thought you’d be all freaked out. Want to keep me safe and stuff,” Jace said after a moment. His throat felt tight with pride at his father’s belief in him.
“Oh, I am, son, I am.” His father gave a slightly shaky laugh. “But…” And here he glanced over at Jace more fully. “I look at you and I feel like I’m seeing you as you always should have been. I can’t explain it. You handled your limitations with a kind of grace I could not. You’re handling these powers with that same grace.”
Jace’s head lowered and he blinked rapidly. “Dad, I--I don’t know what to say.”
“Listen. Think. Learn. Then do what’s right, Jace,” his father said. “That’s all you can do.”
Jace thought about the Khul and what he had seen up here. Now there was just the beautiful blackness of space punctured through with the light of far stars. There were no Hives nearby. No sign of the Khul at all. That was a relief. But he knew it wouldn’t stay that way, which meant he had to convince Nova Voor that she must keep some ships around Earth if he and the Osiris were to leave it. He doubted that simply being protected would satisfy General Intoshkin, and he couldn’t blame the military man. This was Earth’s chance to jump ahead technologically and join other species.
“What do you want to talk about, Dad? What do you want to know? I’ve told you about what happened at the Hive and stuff. But I know… I know you have other questions” Jace asked, putting his own thoughts and worries to the side.
“Too many really,” his father let out a soft laugh. His eyes cut over to Jace and then back over to the screen where the moon spun, white and lovely in the darkness. “I keep looking at you and can’t quite believe what I’m seeing, even though, like I said, my mind tells me this is how you were always supposed to be.”
Jace ran a hand down the front of his synthskin suit. He could feel his hard muscles underneath. But like the ship, the body felt right too. He did want to check out his junk when he got a chance. He wanted to take a shower and then… well, then pleasure himself to see if that felt different.
“It’s sort of the same for me, too. It feels familiar just like the Storm Spike. I’m not tripping over my two feet or walking into things because I think I should be smaller. Okay… I did that once but… it just fits,” Jace told him, wanting to assure his father that his new body was the least thing he should be concerned with.
His father grunted and rocked slightly in his seat. “I should be glad that you’re so comfortable. You were transformed though. You…”
“You didn’t see what the Khul did to Mrs. Lo and the other people from town. What happened to me was like what happened to Captain America,” Jace said, his lips flattening slightly. “What happened to them? That was something to fear.”
His father nodded. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“I’m not.” Jace scrubbed his right hand through his hair. “Because it clarifies the danger for me.”
“Which was what Khoth wanted it to do,” his father’s tone was dry. “I know you like him. And I think he’s got some good aspects, but… well, he’s a Thaf’ell.”
“You don’t like the Thaf’ell?” Jace’s eyebrows rose. “You and Thammah seem pretty tight.”
“I like Thammah very much, but surely you’ve guessed that she wasn’t sent to Earth because she’s the perfect specimen of her species, haven’t you?” His father cracked a grin, likely thinking about some trouble that Thammah had gotten into.
Jace reached into one of the grocery bags with the snacks that he and Khoth had been eating. He plucked out a cheese stick, unwrapped it and started to rip off strings of mozzarella. He offered his father something, but his father shook his head.
“Yeah, I sort of got that Thammah’s a little eccentric, but Khoth isn’t exactly the perfect Thaf’ell soldier. He got in trouble for breaking a really big rule of the Thaf’ell,” Jace said and explained what Khoth had done for his sister.
“And he was punished for that? This is why I do not understand the Thaf’ell! Even under their alleged goals of the whole over the one that doesn’t make sense!” His father’s forehead was furrowed. “It seems to me that he did what was best for the Alliance. If they had gotten the information that Daesah had, they’d be in a world of hurt.”
Jace agreed. He thought again of what was going on between Khoth and his mother. Was she berating him for failing with Jace as he had with Daesah?
I am recording the interview, the Osiris informed him. It will be accessible to you at any time.
I’m not going to--
Just in case. It is being recorded. You will have access to it, the Osiris said and went silent.
His father’s eyes cut to him again. The Moon was getting large before them. Soon they would get a chance to land and walk outside on the Moon’s surface. Jace’s heart did a little pitter pat as he realized that he and his dad were making history.
And if I can convince Nova Voor that Earth should be let into the Alliance then going to the Moon or to distant planets will become open to everyone on Earth, Jace realized. Just think of the good people could do… and the bad.
He had to admit that. But he couldn’t help but think of those who loved Star Trek, Star Wars, The Expanse and so many more who would be living their dream. It had happened to him. It would happen to them. If Nova Voor wouldn’t do it then he could do it himself with the Osiris. They had maps of other Altaeth caches of ships and more. He could bring humanity to the stars himself.
“Looks like we’re about to near to landing,” his father said, his voice filling with awe.
Jace hadn’t realized that they were so close to the Moon. They were gliding through the atmosphere. Soon, they saw the grayishy, chalky-white terrain of the Moon before them.
“The Tycho crater is pretty young as craters go,” his father told him.
“Yeah, and it is of great scientific interest because it’s helping scientists understand how an impact crater forms,” his father continued enthusiastically.
The Osiris was already feeding him the exact information on how such a crater formed, but Jace said nothing.
Yet even with him being silent, his father said, “But I bet the Thaf’ell and the Altaeth already know that.”
He patted his father’s shoulder. “There’s a lot that no one has figured out yet. Just think when we get to share all of this information with scientists all around Earth. Imagine what they can figure out.”
His father nodded. “It’ll change everything, Jace.”
“Yeah, and it’ll be awesome,” Jace said. “The Osiris is going to take over the piloting for now.”
His father nodded again and removed his hands from the controls. The Storm Spike flew over the crater then glided into a u-turn before it landed. There was a soft thump and clunk as they touched down. Jace retracted his harness before going over to a compartment further down the ship where both their hardsuits were being stored. He showed his father how to get on the suit and watched as it completely sealed around his dad’s body before doing the same for himself. The HUD showed him that both suits were secure and that--though his father’s heart rate was up--both were fine to leave the ship.
“Are you ready for this, Dad?” Jace asked.
“More than.” His father’s voice was filled with excitement and sounded a little breathy.
Jace touched the sensor pad that opened the gangway for the ship. It was strangely silent as it lowered to the gray, soft ground. Jace immediately felt the reduced gravity and couldn’t help himself.
“One small step!”
He launched himself out of the door and his jump had him landing a considerable distance from the ship. He heard his father’s laughter only to turn and see his father do the same thing. His father landed near to him.
Jace slowly turned around in a circle. In a way, it was exactly what he would have expected. Endless grayness cut by the black of the sky. His feet left footmarks in the dust and he felt a little guilty for disturbing ground that hadn’t been disturbed in who knew how long. He wondered if the Moon would be used for anything considering a gate was so near. When there were so many other places to go with an atmosphere that humans could breathe, not to mention highly advanced civilizations to learn from, it would seem a waste to have a moon base.
His father touched his shoulder and said, “Look.”
He was pointing towards Earth. It was beautiful. Blue and white and glowing. But Jace wondered what Haseon looked like. He was more anxious to see other planets than to return to the one that birthed him right now.
“Good God, it’s hard to believe this is real,” his father murmured.
“It’s crazy,” Jace agreed. “We’re really on the Moon. And it was so easy.”
“Yeah, all this time we’ve been working with the Thaf’ell and… we were only given crumbs,” his father sounded a little bitter. “Thammah was the only one who would let us even inside one of their craft.”
“Was it because of some Prime Directive or something? Like did they think we were too primitive?” Jace asked, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
“Maybe. But I have the distinct impression that it’s something else.” His father’s handsome face was set into a grim look. “If Nova Voor doesn’t jump to give us ships to protect Earth tomorrow then…”
“From what I understand, and this is just from hearsay, mind you, all of the ships are from the Precursors,” his father explained.
“Meaning that they aren’t making these ships, they’re finding them?” Jace guessed.
“I don’t even know what their level of repairing them is. They’ve had decades to repair the Osiris and they couldn’t do it,” his father pointed out.
“So any ships they lose they can't replace? They can’t build them. They can’t fully repair them,” Jace realized, “so unless they find new ones--”
“They’ve got an ever shrinking amount of tech to use against the Khul,” his father filled in. “Now, mind you, they have their own tech, but only Precursor weapons and ships are of any real use. We’ve put together some weaponry that works, but not as well as the original.”
“The Osiris can replicate weapons, armor, and who knows what else,” Jace murmured.
“That’s right,” his father said and Jace understood his grim expression.
“They are going to fight tooth and nail to get the Osiris,” Jace filled in. “They’re desperate for what it can do!”
“I think so.” His father contemplated Earth. “Which is why you have your work cut out for you tomorrow. The stakes are much higher than the Alliance is letting on. Just keep that in your noggin.”
Jace nodded. He saw, to his dismay, that the Osiris had put an icon on his HUD of the recorded conversation between Khoth and his mother. He quickly moved his gaze to the Earth rotating above them like a jewel. But he didn’t delete the file.