CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT: NEW RECRUITS
Khoth surveyed the first round of military applicants for the crew. General Intoshkin hadn’t sent resumes, but instead had physically brought them to the Osiris. These weren’t just soldiers, but pilots, scientists, physicians and engineers. They had all worked on the Osiris when it was on the ground, or literally, in the ground.
“They lived and breathed that ship, Commander Khoth. They deserve a chance to serve on her now that she’s flying," General Intoshkin had told him, slapping Khoth's arm as he walked past the Thaf’ell Commander in the hanger bay.
They were lined up, at attention, in ten lines of ten. One hundred humans were at attention in front of him. They stared straight ahead. Their faces were serene.
“Do you expect the Pilot to choose all of them? Or any of them?” Khoth asked the general.
“The pilots were all under Jack’s command. He vetted them, which you can confirm yourself. That’s already a quarter of them. Unless you think Jace doesn’t trust his father’s judgment on pilots.” General Intoshkin was practically winking at him.
“Jack’s judgment is good. But Jace may be looking for different qualities than the people you forced Jack to command,” Khoth stated.
“Forced?!” The general’s eyebrows rose. “Why someone is feeling quite salty about the chain of command!”
“You are not in my chain of command,” Khoth replied coolly. “You are trying to force Jace’s hand. It will not work.”
“After that stunt Jace pulled with the fake call from my superiors that boy owes me,” General Intoshkin stated, the smile leaving his eyes and voice. But it was back again just as quickly as he added, “But you need not worry I tried to pull a fast one, Commander. My goal and Jace’s are the same. That the best and brightest humans are sent on this mission. We need the Alliance and every other species to see that we are worthy. These people are.”
He swept a hand back towards the silent humans.
“You should have sent their details before you sent them,” Khoth stated.
“Paperwork is so very dry! Jace seems the type to really decide he wants someone after meeting them.” General Intoshkin shrugged. “Besides, I’m sure the Osiris and Gehenna will have told him everything he needs to know before he comes down here.” He glanced at the chunky watch on his wrist. “Oh, it appears that Dr. Isa and the first group of civilians are arriving soon. You could just approve these people now and then focus on them. Otherwise it will be very crowded here.”
That was a complete overstatement as the hanger bay could hold hundreds of people plus ships.
“I’m sure I can manage it,” Khoth replied coolly.
“I’m sure you can. I’m sure you can. I was just trying to help.” The general chuckled and patted Khoth’s back again as he went over to Thammah who was preparing a ship for Jack to fly that morning.
Jack, Diane, and Jace were having a family breakfast that morning. Jace had wanted Khoth to join them. He had blushingly said, “It’s a family breakfast, Khoth, and you’re family, too.”
Khoth had gone very still at that statement. Jace couldn’t have fully known what he was saying when he used “family” in that way with a lover. He tried not to let his heart race in his chest though he knew that Jace was aware of it, because the Osiris insisted on giving him up to the moment readouts on Khoth’s vitals.
“I am… honored you would ask me to be a part of it,” Khoth finally had answered. “But you have not had enough time alone with your parents in your new state. They need to see and interact with you without another there to distract them.”
Jace chewed his inner cheek. “You’re probably right. We’re all still sort of reeling with the changes. I mean… I should be reeling. But, for the most part, things feel really normal to me. Gehenna tells me that’s because I was like this during the training.” Jace gestured to his perfect form. “So that’s why it feels so normal. But for my folks… they’re still getting used to it. It’s weird for them to be freaked out now when I’m so healthy when I was so sick for so long.”
“Yes, but… as you said, change is hard.”
Jace nodded and leaned against Khoth’s front. “But change is also wonderful.”
They had kissed slowly, deeply, fully. Khoth felt his Xi wanted to merge with Jace’s Xi. He wanted to feel and know every thought and feeling that Jace had. He wanted to share his burdens and his joys. It was overwhelming and exciting. It made it incredibly difficult to leave Jace even for a breakfast with Jace’s parents. But he had, offering to handle the influx of military recruits and the first civilian arrivals, though Jace should be coming soon as he wanted to greet them, too. But he was leaving Khoth with the responsibility of choosing who among the general’s chosen should come aboard.
“Jace, I am honored you are entrusting me with this. But, as you have so adroitly shown me, what you are looking for is not necessarily what I would choose,” Khoth reminded him.
He had confessed his prejudices on this point and Thammah’s wisdom in showing him what he was not seeing.
“First, I trust you to choose wisely. Second, you’ve seen what I’m looking for and I bet you can guess who I will like. Third, most of these are going to be soldiers. I don’t think there’s anyone more qualified than you to choose who can handle the Khul,” Jace had answered.
That had led to another of those Xi-strengthening kisses. And it really had been difficult to drag himself away. But he was here now. And he had a mission. He needed to see who the general had picked out. He should have brought them some place other than the hanger bay so he could interview them individually, but he did not want them coming further into the ship anymore than they already had.
“Osiris,” he said quietly in the high form of Thaf’ell, though the ship would have no problem hearing him. “I need dossiers on each of the individuals in front of me.”
Holo-screens appeared next to each and every recruit, which indicated their name. Startled, many of the recruits looked up at the “tag” that had been assigned to them. In front of Khoth, another screen appeared. It showed him the picture of the first recruit in line whose name was David B. Hayter.
Khoth tapped on his face and pages upon pages of information was provided to him from medical records to grades throughout his schooling to every social media post he’d ever made or was ever made about him. Khoth blinked. While he wished to dig deeply into every recruit with the amount of information provided and the amount of people he had to interview it could be months before they left Earth, and that was not the plan.
“Can you highlight any… concerns?” Khoth asked softly.
Two bullet-pointed lists were suddenly before him. One labeled “pros” and the other “cons”. David’s basic information was provided above it. Khoth lifted an eyebrow.
“Thank you. That will do nicely,” Khoth told the Osiris.
Though it did not respond to him, he had a feeling the Osiris was pleased.
David B. Hayter was 42 years old and had a Ph.D in linguistics, which he understood was the human science of studying language. David spoke twenty-one languages fluently and he had a basic mastery of one of the Thaf’ell languages. It was the common tongue of his planet, but still, that a human had learned it with very little exposure to his people was impressive.
And here I was told that humans were incapable of ever understanding, let alone speaking Thaf’ell, Khoth thought dryly.
Other points in the “pro” column listed David as highly intuitive with great emotional intelligence. He had low prejudice scores which would indicate he would get along well with other species. He was naturally inquisitive and took great pride in his work.
In the “con” column, his high sensitivity would lead him to a greater “horror” of the Khul. His empathy for the beings they captured and devoured could paralyze him. He was also in no way a martial specimen. Weapons of all sorts were an anathema to him despite having served in the military. Training had made him proficient with them, but he showed a great abhorrence to them. His desire when he had joined the military was to travel to different places and experience the people.
Jace thought I would be interviewing mainly soldiers, but this man is anything but!
“Commander, are you communicating with the Osiris?” David asked.
He had warm, inquisitive brown eyes and sandy thinning hair. He had a slight paunch and rounded shoulders giving him a searching appearance as if he were constantly looking for answers.
“I am speaking and it appears to be listening and responding,” Khoth responded.
David bounced a little on the balls of his feet. “You’re communicating in Amdaric, or High Thaf’ell, yes?”
Khoth lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, that is clever of you to recognize that.”
“I don’t know much of it. The Thaf’ell who have come here--well, except Flight Commander Pyrrhus--weren’t very chatty, but I’ve put together bits and pieces here and there. The long vowels are unmistakable though!” David beamed some more.
“Were you merely asking me this in order to show your skills, Dr. Hayter?” Khoth asked.
David laughed. “Oh, no, I’m just a language nerd. And… well, I did wonder if the Osiris responded with more or less alacrity and understanding to your language than to human languages.”
Khoth blinked. “I have not noticed any difference myself. But the Osiris responds best to the Pilot.”
“Yes, mind to mind, which is really quite fascinating, because human and Thaf’ell thought might very well be quite different! I find I think differently myself when I speak in something other than my mother tongue. The other languages I know are aunts, to be sure, in terms of closeness, but my mind makes different intuitive leaps. Fanciful sounding, I know!” David continued to beam, clearly excited to talk to him about his pet subject.
Khoth nodded and crossed his arms. “Dr. Hayter, are you aware that you will be implanted with a universal translator chip as part of your basic onboarding as crew for the Osiris.”
David blinked and then blinked some more. He took a half step towards Khoth as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “A universal translator?”
“Yes, the Alliance is composed of hundreds of different species. While the Thaf’ell learn most languages, the universal translator is used by most,” he said.
“How… how wonderful!” That beam was back on high. “A universal translator will be so helpful and so enlightening!”
“I am surprised that you find it so, because it makes your particular specialty much less needed on the Osiris,” Khoth said.
But David did not lose a step. He shook his head. “On the contrary, Khoth, I think you will find that I am more useful to the Osiris with such a chip! As I said, language is more than just verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, but it also reflects the thought process of the people whose mother-tongue it is! To understand a language and all its layered meaning needs a translator who is digging into those species’ history, background, all of it! Sometimes meaning is not one to one. I can assist in improving the translator!”
Khoth frowned. The translator he had did the one to one translation and there always had been some kind of mismatch at times, normally during sensitive discussions where the translator was not to be trusted. His sister had learned the Inghari language simply to speak with the species’ queen about a mining dispute.
“You are going through a lot of trouble, Daesah. In addition to the injected translator, we will have a local translator there as well,” Khoth had said to her as she’d been studying the staccato-like language.
“The Inghari communicate with complex body language and scents, which we cannot recreate to get our point across. Therefore, the language, dear brother, is all we have and it must be as accurate and respectful as possible,” she’d explained.
Seeing David’s eager face he was reminded of Daesah’s words. The man did have a very good point. Suddenly, his nametag was highlighted in green. David saw this and did a little hop of joy.
“Green? That’s go, right? I’ve been selected to be part of the crew?” David asked.
Khoth had decided that he was a “yes” and either the Osiris had guessed that from his reaction to the linguist or it had decided on its own that Dr. David Hayter was someone it wanted aboard the ship.
Khoth showed none of this, but instead simply inclined his head and said, “Welcome aboard, Dr. Hayter.” The floor lit up with a greeting to the doctor to follow the flashing lights. “We are still waiting on various physicians to arrive, but the Osiris has a room prepared for you.”
“Thank you, Commander! So good to be aboard the Osiris!” David looked like he was about to explode with excitement. He saluted smartly and with another nod from Khoth, picked up his duffle and followed the lights, practically skipping.
Jace will like that one, especially the idea of perfecting the translator through better understanding of the cultures that created the languages, Khoth thought. Not something the Thaf’ell would have bothered with.
Realizing how long it had taken to interview Dr. Hayter, and that there were 99 left to go, Khoth set his shoulders back and went onto the next person in line. The next 8 people were all greens. They included soldiers who had seen combat, specifically combat against the Khul in Sunrise, who hadn’t hesitated to fire upon seeing the creatures, but didn’t look upon himself or Thammah as the enemy too. The Khul were the enemy, not different species in general. He was glad to see older soldiers rather than green recruits as well, because the Osiris’ tech would make them far more effective than ever, but tech couldn’t replace judgment and coldbloodedness.
There were also two scientists. One a botanist and the other an exobiologist. Like Dr. Hayter, their enthusiasm and excitement to be on the Osiris was practically palpable. They were slightly more subdued but Khoth swore the two of them levitated, more than walked to their quarters.
But then he came upon the 10th person in line. A former Lieutenant Martin Davies who had served in the military and then for an independent contractor in every hotspot on planet Earth.
He was sturdily built. Scars criss-crossed his left cheek and separated his right eyebrow down the middle. He had cold gray eyes that never left Khoth yet it was clear that he knew everything that was going on around him. He was a Navy Seal. His missions would have been classified except for the fact that the Osiris was able to break into any system that humanity had created. The missions showed that Lieutenant Davies was a brilliant tactician and an expert in sniper rifles with over 200 confirmed kills.
He had a sister and two nieces. He had never been married. His work was his only mate. The people in his squad were closer than family. Going into the stars to fight the Khul on alien planets would suit him down to his bones.
Osiris informed him in big, red letters that Davies was a spy for Intoshkin.
It was no surprise to Khoth that there was at least one spy--he anticipated far more--in this group. What annoyed him was that Davies was the strongest of the applicants in terms of martial prowess. Khoth knew the man would fight like the human’s idea of a demon with no fear.
Abruptly, the screen before him started filling with Thaf’ell writing. It was the Osiris. Talking to him. And this time not about some terrible plot of his mother’s that had to be stopped or he would be watching her destroyed. No, the Osiris was actually communicating with him.
It would be wise to allow one of Intoshkin’s spies to be allowed aboard, the Osiris wrote.
Khoth’s brows furrowed as he sent back, Why?
To control how we are perceived by Earth, the Osiris answered.
Khoth’s brow cleared. This way we tell him what we want him to know and we learn his thoughts on it as Davies attempts to report in?
Though the Osiris sent no smilies like Gehenna, Khoth could feel the Osiris grinning.
We must run this past Jace, Khoth cautioned.
The Pilot has been monitoring all of your choices, Commander. He is well pleased as am I. He agrees with our plan as to Davies, the Osiris stated.
Did Jace ask to know what I was doing or did you just inform him? Khoth felt slightly hurt that Jace’s claim to trust his judgment was tainted by “looking over his shoulder”.
But that hurt went away as the Osiris admitted, He… repeatedly told me not to tell him your progress.
But you insisted? Khoth cocked his head to the side.
I kept it as a live running feed, the Osiris stated.
Khoth let out a bark of laughter which had all of the recruits’ heads snapping up and in his direction. He quickly coughed and became stone-faced once more. In a way it was not funny as it showed the Osiris ignoring Jace’s orders yet it was such an Osiris-like thing to do. Passive-aggressive yet necessary. He was glad that Jace hadn’t wanted to keep an eye on him, but he was glad that Jace approved of his choices so far.
Davies would need watching though.
“You have excellent experience, Davies,” Khoth stated.
“I’ve seen a lot of war,” Davies agreed. “But this war with the Khul is something new for me. Something… better.”
Khoth lifted an eyebrow. “How so?”
Davies gave an almost sad smile. “I know I’m fighting for the good guys.”
But do you if you’re reporting to Intoshkin? Khoth thought. Yet he likely sees working for Intoshkin as insuring humanity’s future and safety.
When Davies’ tag turned green, Khoth felt the man relax slightly. It was something few would have noticed. But Khoth knew what to look for. And the Osiris was showing him the man’s vitals.
Khoth kept going through the recruits. When he came to a pilot, he immediately wanted to see Jack’s assessment of the man or woman. He could tell just how carefully Jack spoke of each pilot, which were the ones to keep and which were the ones to reject. The red tags were shuffled off to a waiting dropship that immediately took them back to Earth. Khoth did not want them to stay and feel humiliated or hopeful that he would change his mind.
He was also seeing a pattern to the people that General Intoshkin had chosen. Khoth knew that the general would be surprised in some instances at who he chose and who he rejected. Those who rigidly followed the chain of command were ones that Intoshkin had given high marks, understandably, as from his position that was most important. But Khoth looked for how they worked within a unit with their immediate superior and their fellow soldiers. He kept in mind Jace’s desire to have people in the ranks who would not leave their fellows behind, but Khoth also chose a few people who could make the hard decision. One of those was Dr. Miranda Kerr.
Dr. Kerr was a forty-five years old psychiatrist with olive toned skin and green eyes. From a young age, she had raised her brothers and sister after her mother’s early death of cancer. Her father had to work two jobs to keep the family from financial ruin. Khoth did not understand why humans allowed people to be in such precarious positions. Why was there no help for them? How many good and brilliant people was humanity losing for a simple lack of social safety net? But there hadn’t been.
Dr. Kerr had to help herself and her family. She’d managed to keep her younger siblings in school and out of trouble until she was eighteen-years-old then she had joined the military to obtain funds to go to school. She hadn’t intended to become a psychiatrist, but after seeing the devastation that war caused on her fellow soldiers, she determined that the best use of her talents.
She’d seen the Khul in action. She had been visiting the base to develop protocols for soldiers and civilians alike for alien contact, both with hostile and non-hostile species. Then the Khul had attacked. She was trapped in a car when her driver had been killed. She had managed to open the car’s back door, roll out, and dash from the vehicle. She’d taken shelter in a nearby home. Like with what had happened to Walter’s home, the Khul had surrounded the house, intent on taking the humans inside prisoners.
While Dr. Kerr had a weapon, it was a simple human gun, which she had already seen had no effect on the Khul. She was trapped in the house with two children and their grandmother. As she had seen the glass shatter and the Khul start to swarm the building, she had made a decision. She wouldn’t let the others be taken. She vowed to kill them to stop that. She had been ready to make that choice a reality when Jace had initiated Metal Rain and the Khul had met their end.
“Dr. Kerr, you’ve seen the terror and destruction the Khul can do yet you are here,” Khoth said softly.
“Exactly, that’s why I’m here,” she said, her voice slightly husky. “Considering what the Khul can do to a person if they are captured, there will be intense stress. Even the wonderful parts of taking to the stars and meeting new species will cause anxiety for all to some degree. I’m here to help people deal with that.”
Khoth nodded. “I see. Welcome aboard, Dr. Kerr.”
She smiled and nodded as her tag went green.
At that moment, a dropship entered the hanger bay and Gehenna ran into the space, metal arms waving above her head like giant flags, making a sound similar to a train whistle. She jolted to a stop beside Khoth, putting her metal hands together in front of her chest with a clank.
“They’re here! They’re here, Khoth!” she yelled excitedly as the gangway came down.
“You mean Dr. Isa and some of the other civilian crew?” Khoth asked.
She nodded vigorously. Khoth noted that the recruits were all staring at the Terminator with interesting expressions ranging from awe to a kind of perplexed horror.
“I have been interviewing crew members all morning. I am surprised you were not here for that,” he said, gesturing towards the many interviewees still left to go.
“Oh, I have been! I’ve been greeting them in their quarters,” she told him.
“Ah, how did that go?” he asked.
“Very well! They were excited to see me. Some even jumped in the air… they weren’t afraid when I explained that I’m a protector!” she informed him.
Khoth simply nodded, not trusting himself to speak out loud.
“But I wanted to be here for the moment when the civilians step out of the dropship.” She clanked her hands together again. “The military people already knew about aliens, AIs and the Osiris, but these people don’t. I mean other than what we’ve told them. This is the moment when we get to see true joy.”
“Gehenna, you’ve got that right!” Jace’s voice rose up from behind them.
Jace and his parents came over to Khoth. Khoth gave the Pilot a nod. Oh, how he wished to hug and kiss Jace, but they were truly on duty now. Jace’s cheeks flushed delightfully so he must have wanted those things too, but restrained himself. But the grin on his face was not at all hidden.
“C’mon, Khoth,” Jace said, “let’s see these people’s dreams come true.”