CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: POSSESION
He was insane. That was the only reasonable explanation for kissing Jace. After he had told his mother that he would not use Jace’s--or his own, though that was unspoken--attraction to move the young man in any direction he’d still kissed Jace! Kissed him! After spending the night evidently wound around him like some vine.
His lips still remembered the kiss. His right hand drifted up to them, but he jerked it down. He should not be indulging in this--this--this… he didn’t know what this was. Yet there was a certain pep in his step. His mind whirled. His Xi and Xa sparked. He hadn’t felt so hopeful in a long time though he could not exactly identify why, as his problems were just as they had been, except for Jace not being angry with him.
Happiness. This is unadulterated happiness.
At least it was when he wasn’t scolding himself for his actions. But it was done. He had kissed Jace. Jace had enthusiastically responded. They had determined to wait to pursue it until things with the Alliance had been worked out.
Can things be worked out? Without violence?
Though he could think of many reasons why things would not lead to a peaceful or fruitful conclusion, he found himself unwilling to think about them at this moment. He was most definitely insane.
The door to Jace’s quarters opened and he was face to face with a metallic skeleton with flaming red eyes that stood seven feet tall. He went for his rahir, only to realize he didn’t have it. He reached for his draagves, but he didn’t have that either. He only had a momentary thought that such a monster should not have been allowed to get this far into the ship unless there had been a major malfunction with the Osiris. But he was already moving. He struck out with one fist at its head while swinging around a leg to strike at the thing’s lower body. His fist was caught in one of the metal clawed hands and his leg was blocked by the other with no difficulty.
“Khoth! What’s wrong?” A female voice, slightly higher pitched than most women he had dealt with, came out of the metallic maw.
Khoth froze. “G-Gehenna?!”
“Yes! You didn’t guess right away?” she asked, sounding absolutely astounded that he would not know her in this monstrous form.
“Ah… no,” he responded quietly as she released his fist.
“Well, you are not as up to date on human entertainment so you wouldn’t recognize the Terminator!” she cried with evident glee.
“Terminator? My understanding of that word is not… not one I would associate with you,” he stated.
“Oh, but it is! It fits me perfectly if you understood the story! Oh, it’s a wonderful story about good machines and bad machines. The good machines are so marvelous and defeat the bad machines and earn love from humanity!” she burbled.
He stared at the death’s head with its magma colored eyes that seemed to burn with malevolence. “I still do not understand… what happened to your other body?”
“It alarmed people! They were afraid of me and I didn’t want that!” she informed him.
“And you think this form will not alarm them?” Khoth kept his voice neutral even as his gaze flickered over the steel limbs capable of crushing a human under its metal heel or the claw-like hands that could rip out a tender human heart.
He couldn’t imagine under any circumstances that humans would not be alarmed--if not terrified--by a grim looking, metal skeleton with flaming eyes.
“Oh, yes! You see in the movies the Terminator ended up being the good guy, like I said! He took care of John and Sarah Connor and--Jace! What do you think about my new body?” Gehenna asked with evident expectations of delight as Jace came up behind Khoth.
Jace got out a choked laugh. “The Terminator, huh? Well, uhm, that’s… an interesting choice. I did wonder what you were going to come up with.”
Khoth’s heart began to beat faster at the sound of Jace’s voice. He felt the warmth of Jace’s body as the young man slipped around him into the hallway so that they could stand side by side admiring Gehenna’s current form. His cheeks blued and his heart thudded quickly in his chest at Jace’s renewed nearness.
I must get a hold of myself, Khoth told himself. We are to be colleagues. Friends. That is all.
Khoth curled his fingers towards his palms and dug his nails into the soft flesh there to anchor himself.
“You don’t like it, Jace?” Gehenna wailed. “I did so much research into my next form! I watched every Terminator film and read all the accompanying source material. I based my body on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800, or as it is also designated, the 101. How could you not find it wonderful?”
“Yes, I can see that.” Jace nodded.
“The T-800 is a good artificial intelligence. It is the one who develops emotions and saves the day multiple times. It cares for a young man who will rescue the future from evil!” Gehenna enthusiastically explained her choice with many punctuations of her metal arms flying in all directions, nearly punching walls and the ceiling several times.
“You’re right.” Jace nodded more vigorously. “I--I can definitely see that you thought this through. It’s just...”
“Exactly! Now, instead of being scared of me, humans will embrace me as their protector!” Gehenna saluted him. But she slowly lowered the hand and those red eyes seemed to burn with a greater intensity. “You do not seem to agree with my careful assessment of how this will go.”
Another laugh escaped Jace’s mouth but he quickly brought a hand up to cover it. “Oh, I think General Intoshkin will enjoy your new form greatly.”
“He will? Why especially him?” Gehenna asked suspiciously.
That sweet voice coming from this monstrous seven-foot tall behemoth was disconcerting.
“Because he’d love to have an army of Terminators at his disposal,” Jace told her. Then his forehead furrowed as he asked, “Could that be done?”
“Not from the Osiris,” Gehenna said. “But the Altaeth have many worlds yet unexplored where we might find something of use! My databases indicate quite a few though I do not have access to their defense grids to know the state they are in.”
Jace turned to Khoth. The young man was still wearing only those pair of light, drawstring pants and no shirt. His chest was a picture of perfection with highly defined muscles, golden skin, slightly darker nipples and a faint line of golden-brown hair running beneath the waistband of his pants. Khoth knew human anatomy. There would be a thatch of curls between Jace’s legs and-- He dug his fingernails into his palms harder. He must keep control of himself!
“Wouldn’t robots like this be useful against the Khul especially? No chance of infection,” Jace pointed out. “And no deaths either.”
Khoth nodded. “We attempted using synthetics against the Khul, but we were not successful. We lost contact with them once they entered Khul ships. Even those programmed to act without direct control seemed to have malfunctioned and then… they were returned to us.”
Jace frowned. “Returned?”
“Yes, they were reprogrammed and sent to large cities to be used as mobile bombs. We stopped using them after that,” Khoth answered. “But these synthetics were not Altaeth-make so perhaps something fashioned out of their technology would work better.”
“Gehenna was okay in the Hive,” Jace said, tapping his chin.
“Yes, I was great!” Gehenna pumped one of her huge arms into the air above her head, once again, nearly punching a hole in the ceiling.
“You were. So maybe we should look into using Altaeth-tech synthetics,” Jace suggested.
Khoth nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak around Jace exactly at that moment. He found his voice wanted to drop an octave lower.
“Are you okay?” Jace touched his elbow briefly.
That slight touch through his suit sent a flare through his system.
“I am… I am adequate… for the tasks set ahead of me,” Khoth got out.
Jace’s eyebrows rose. “You are more adequate! Thaf’ell are superior.”
“You are teasing me,” Khoth remarked with a smile.
“Always.” Jace grinned back.
Khoth felt some of the tension ease. This was Jace. Not a stranger even as his body seemed to be acting… differently now towards the young man. It was Jace who was sensible and serious and affectionate and kind and brave and...
It was the kiss. That is what is causing me to see him so differently… or, not differently, but so much more intensely.
Khoth suddenly wished with all his might that he had waited to break off his friendship with Thammah. He had never felt this way before, but he guessed she would have a greater understanding of these things. Or, at least, she would snap him out of doing anything foolish. But her good advice was lost to him.
Nor could he confide the changes happening to him to anyone else than her. Not even his father. Especially not his father. Though he would soon lose the chance to talk to his father at all in the near future. He had betrayed the Alliance. He would be exiled. He wondered if he should tell his mother before the first formal meeting occurred. Probably. But, despite these grim thoughts, he still felt buoyed by Jace’s presence.
Gehenna was looking between the two of them. Her head cocked to the side. She clearly noticed something was different between them. The metal face though was locked into a hideous grin so he couldn’t read what she felt about the matter, and he was rather grateful she didn’t say anything. At least, she didn’t say anything out loud or to him.
“By the way, you do have your own quarters despite what the Osiris told you, Khoth. Let me take you to them. They’re just down the hallway here,” Jace said. “Right next to mine and across the hall from my parents.”
Khoth was surprised at how his heart seemed to fall into his feet. But, of course, he should have a separate set of quarters from Jace. If they were going to keep things purely platonic for a time they would need separate quarters.
Just as Jace was opening the door for them, General Intoshkin exited Jace’s parents’ quarters. He was putting on his cap. He took one look at Gehenna and jolted to a stop. Gehenna, seeing his reaction, crowed and clanked over to him eagerly.
“General!” she cried. “Jace said you would appreciate my new form the most! Am I not friendly-looking? I am a protector!”
She put her hands on her hips and turned her head to the side, lifting it up slightly, as if she were gazing into the far horizon. The general had taken one step back from her, but he’d just hit the wall. He blinked rapidly now.
“Gehenna?” General Intoshkin gasped out.
“Yes, of course! Who else would it be?” Gehenna’s arms dropped to her sides. “Khoth didn’t recognize me either, at first. That’s… that’s distressing.”
The general stepped towards her, reaching out a tentative hand to touch the metal chest plate. He then slowly walked around her. Gehenna turned her head to follow his progress but otherwise remained still as he inspected her.
“By God, she’s the Terminator!” General Intoshkin let out a choked laugh.
“Yes! As I told Jace and Khoth, I wanted to choose a form that would evoke protectiveness and wonder! Have I succeeded?” she asked.
Her metal hands came together, much like her pincers had done in the robot body, and twined with one another nervously. The general stopped his circling directly in front of her. He was smiling broadly.
“Well, I’ll be damned! And I thought this day couldn’t get better,” General Intoshkin stated. “Can we make more of you?”
“That’s what Jace asked! I’m so glad you think this form is so wonderful that you want more of them!” Gehenna jumped up and down.
The floor didn’t exactly shake, but there was a very solid thunk when she landed. Jace was pinching the top of his nose and looking down as she spoke to the general. A smile was twitching suspiciously on his lips, but he was trying to hide it.
“Indeed! I think you are most wonderful, Gehenna. And I wouldn’t mind a few thousand of you at my disposal,” the general said as he petted her shining exo-skeleton.
“Oh, there’s only one me. But if we find a fabricating facility sufficient to create more robot bodies like this one, perhaps I can create linked forms, but--”
“There’s a lot of buts in there.” The general’s happiness dimmed.
“Indeed! As there are in life!” Gehenna was still vigorously happy. “But this is more than you knew before was possible. So there is that.”
“True!” The general was grinning again. “The Osiris is a wonder all on its own though…” and here General Intoshkin turned to Jace with a slight frown, “I’ve been severely restricted to only certain parts of the ship. I need access to everything, Jace. This is a US military vessel now.”
Jace’s head lifted at those words. The smile that had been threatening to break out across his face was completely missing. His expression was neutral if Khoth were to describe it.
“Actually, General, it isn’t,” Jace said firmly.
The general’s complexion darkened. “Are you saying this is an Alliance vessel then? Because, son, they don’t have our best interests at heart!”
Jace’s voice didn’t rise, it was calm, as he answered, “No, the Osiris is my vessel. I am the Pilot. The ship, myself and its crew will be a source of good for all enemies of the Khul. But we will be neutral, representing no single world or species or alliance.”
Khoth was not surprised by Jace’s determination. He had spoken of it before, but he couldn’t help but be impressed with how certain Jace was about his position.
A vein twitched in the general’s right temple. “Now look here, Jace, I’ve entertained your--your claims of independence so far, but we have agreements with the Alliance about this ship! It was found on Earth by humans. Possession as they say is 9/10s of the law! You can’t just take it!”
“I know that this is distressing to you and has upended yours and others’ plans,” Jace answered simply, “but the Osiris is my ship and it will only respond to my commands. Not yours or any other military personnel. Any agreement you made with the Alliance is irrelevant.”
“So you’re an army of one?! Bah!” the general shouted.
“Hardly that,” Jace said as he gestured to Gehenna who was now glaring at the general. Though really she had been glaring the whole time, but this time Khoth was sure she meant to. “I am very concerned about Earth, sir. I will not let humanity go unprotected. And it is very much my desire that Earth join the Alliance and have the same rights and privileges as all other member species. I will work towards these goals with the Alliance. And I hope that humanity will work with me to offer their best and brightest to join my crew.”
“We could just take the ship from you, son,” the general said softly.
“You can try. We can go that route. Do you want to go that route?” Jace asked evenly, seemingly unconcerned.
Human technology was not Altaeth tech, but Khoth was certain that the Osiris could disable that human tech as easily. Maybe more so.
“I like you, Jace. I don’t want any harm to come to you,” the general stated and there was honesty in his voice.
“And I don’t want anything to happen to you either, General. I’d like us to be friends, not adversaries,” Jace told him.
“The higher ups will never agree!” General Intoskin took off his cap and slapped it against his thigh. “This ship has been ours for decades! They’re not going to just hand it over to some kid, no matter how high powered.”
“Unless you help me convince them,” Jace offered.
“You’re extraordinary, Jace, but to let go of this power? You ask too much,” the general answered again with surprising honesty.
“I know, but it’s only ever been an illusion that the Osiris was in your power in the first place,” Jace told him. “There’s a huge role for humanity to play in what’s coming. There are so many possibilities out there, General. But you’ve got to realize that it’s not just the United States or humanity that’s important. There’s so much more. Right now, the Alliance doesn’t think humanity is fit to be included in it, because we’re too independent. We won’t listen. We won’t share. We want to be in charge.”
“We do!” The general gave a soft laugh.
“I know, but you have to earn it. Don’t you think you can?” Jace quirked up an eyebrow.
“Are you issuing a challenge?” The general almost looked like he wanted to take Jace up on it.
“Maybe I am. The universe is vast and humanity doesn’t know… a lot about it. Maybe once we do, and we show our leadership skills, then the others will clamber for us to do so,” Jace said. “But you can’t expect that now.”
“We can because the Osiris is ours and it’s what the Alliance wants! They’re willing to offer quite a bit to get use of it,” the general stated. “We can come right in.”
“I would not be so sure about that,” Jace said. He still didn’t seem angry.
“Do you have some… ah, inside information on that?” General Intoshkin’s gaze slid to Khoth and then back to Jace.
Jace sighed. “I think that the High Councillor and you have a lot in common regarding who believes they are in charge and who deserves control over the Osiris. But both of you are wrong. I hope… I hope I won’t have to show you just how wrong you are.”
“Jace, you’re putting your parents into a very difficult situation here. I’m going to have to take steps if you really aren’t willing to acknowledge the Osiris as the US military’s,” General Intoshkin said with a frown.
It was here that Jace did tense. His eyes narrowed. “General, I’m responsible for my actions alone. My parents are not.”
“Even if that is the case, it will reflect badly upon them!” the general stated emphatically.
“I know and so do they,” Jace said, still stiff. “But I need to stay independent. You may not realize it, but that’s what is best for humanity. I will be able to do what has to be done without political consequences hanging over any people. Don’t you see that?”
Khoth expected the general to push that aside, but he didn’t.
“Son, I see what you’re getting at, but the Osiris is too powerful--”
“It’s not yours to give up,” Jace repeated earnestly. “You’re not losing anything. I’m asking you to be a part of what I’m doing. A big part. Through the crew’s actions on the Osiris with the greater universe, humanity will prove itself worthy.”
General Intoshkin’s eyes went distant as he was clearly thinking about this. Finally, he focused on Jace again. “It’s not my call. I will be informing my superiors and will see what they say. But I doubt it will be good.”
Jace, surprisingly, gave a smile. “I imagine I’m going to be disappointing a lot of people today. But I know what I’m doing.”
The general studied him curiously for long moments. “I see you believe that. That’s something anyway.” He then turned to Gehenna. “Won’t you come with me, young lady? I’d like the higher ups to get a gander at you.”
But Gehenna shook her head. “I’m sorry, General, but now I see that your superiors will see the greatest of this wonderful form and only want the Osiris more not less.”
He sighed. “That would be true.”
“Jace’s plan is the right one. I will not undermine it even if… if I must go back to my old form.” She lowered her head to glare at the floor though Khoth believed she meant to look very sad and forlorn.
“The tentacles are… well, interesting too.” The general then turned on his heel and stalked off down the corridor.
Jace let out a sigh as he leaned against the wall. “That went both better and worse than I thought.”
“You do not believe the general, or his superiors, will give up their claim to the Osiris?” Khoth asked, already knowing the answer.
“Of course not. I didn’t think they would. At least not now. But I wanted to plant the seed in the general’s mind that there’s another way. Or maybe it's the way I hope humanity will react,” Jace answered.
“Do you believe the general will use force against us to try and take the Osiris?” Khoth asked quietly, determined to go get his weapons.
“There is a 98.3% chance of that!” Gehenna stated too brightly. “Oh, wait, that’s bad. Those are bad odds for us. Or for them really! They’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
Jace let out a huff of laughter as he raked a hand through his hair. “We’re not going to hurt anyone or let anyone hurt us. We’ve got to show them our power, but use it responsibly.”
“Yes, Pilot!” Gehenna saluted him.
Jace pushed off from the wall and gave Khoth a wan smile. “It’s going to be another long day. Let’s get ready and meet for breakfast, okay? We’ve got a lot of planning to do.”
“Indeed, Pilot,” Khoth said with a formal bow
A strange look passed over Jace’s face. He reached out and lightly touched Khoth’s cheek. “I need you to remember I’m Jace and not just the Pilot, okay?”
Khoth knew there were layers upon layers to that statement. “I understand, Jace.”
“Good.” Jace grinned. “Let’s get this party started.”