CHAPTER SIXTY - DATA
The canceaux flew in a wide circle around the Moturin Compound. The buildings were modern and highly technologically advanced from the calcanth that was used to clad them to the power and data lines that only Jace could see. Those lines went deep into the earth and he found himself following them into vast labyrinthine spaces where they linked to massive machines that purred and hummed instead of roared.
Dust and the debris of ages coated many of the tunnels and rooms. The machines still gleamed, but it was clear that no one had ever ventured down there since the Altaeth had left. The Thaf’ell, Jace truly realized now, did not know how the city worked or that it wasn’t working at full capacity.
There were many machines that were dark. Many lines that were empty. Those that were working, just like the Moturin Compound’s forcefield were malfunctioning on some level. In time, maybe less time than the Thaf’ell knew, all the technology they depended on would fail. There would be more dark, silent machines where no life blood of power built and swelled. When he concentrated on those machines, he felt life in them, life desiring to be brought back again. His head hurt more and he rubbed his forehead.
But I can fix this, Jace thought with a certainty that was born deep inside of him. I’m meant to fix this. Osiris?
Yes, Pilot, the ship’s AI seemed a little tentative.
He hadn’t spoken to it since the revelation that he was an Altaeth. He was still struggling with that. And it was not just him that was going to struggle with it. His parents had to be told, of course, and then the crew. Would he want this revealed to the Alliance? But that was a question to be answered at another time.
Osiris, I want you to provide me with a report about the planet’s systems. What can be fixed. What is necessary in order to fix it. All of that, Jace instructed.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. But finally he found himself stating, I know that all of this is new for us. Not just for me, but for you and Gehenna.
He sensed the Osiris wanting to point out that there were similar situations and things they had dealt with, but stopped itself. Because that wasn’t really true. And things hadn’t gone so well how they’d sprung this on him this time.
I was… offline when the crew left, the Osiris’ voice was small.
They left you? Jace felt he was touching something very tender here.
The one… the Pilot before… she ceased, the Osiris whispered. None of the others could be the Pilot. They could not repair me. And the Khul would be drawn to me. They had to leave.
Jace imagined the Altaeth climbing out of the downed Osiris and standing in the sand where Sunrise would be. He thought of them clutching a few possessions they could carry with them. They were in a world where the species wasn’t advanced. They were being hunted by the Khul and their Pilot was gone.
So not just any Altaeth can be the Pilot? Jace’s eyebrows rose.
Only her daughter had the potential ability, but she was too young. An infant, the Osiris explained. She was your ancestor.
Jace considered this. Sometime, very long ago, a baby Altaeth who had lost her mother, her world, her people, had made her way into adulthood and had children of her own. She would have had no idea about him or how her genes would allow a new Pilot to be born.
Why was there only one Pilot? What was your purpose? You’re a war ship, Jace pointed out. You speak to me of my purpose, but it does not appear that those Altaeth who had you last weren’t seeking to destroy the Khul.
Some of the data from that time period is damaged or was deleted, the Osiris responded. But I do know that those who took me were not those who made me.
Except for the Pilot?
Yes, except for her, the Osiris answered.
There must have been a reason the last Pilot did what she did, Jace pointed out.
That information is not available, the Osiris answered in a more mechanical voice.
Jace didn’t think that the Osiris was hiding things from him. It really didn’t know.
The Pilot… her name was Jexa, the Osiris murmured.
That’s like my name. Similar, Jace admitted.
Yes, I do not believe that is a coincidence. There are genetic memories that stay. Memories of the Pilot in your parents’ blood and those before them. In yours now, the Osiris said.
You miss her, Jace realized.
I am incapable of such an emotion, the Osiris was tart.
Really? Because I feel it in every word you say, Jace said with a sad smile.
She was only with me for a cycle, three sub-cycles, fifteen--
A short while, huh? So you don’t miss that time at all? That you remember down to the second? Jace snickered.
I remember everything down to the milli-second, the Osiris replied with that tartness that Jace was fond of. A tart Osiris meant a happy Osiris.
Well, I might not be Jexa. I’m sure I can’t fill her shoes. But… I’m here now, Osiris, Jace said. And we’ve got to work better together.
There was a long silence, but then the Osiris said, She never allowed fear to deter her from her duty. Even at the end, when the light came for her and the darkness followed, she stood firm.
Jace’s throat went tight. Sounds like an amazing person.
She was the Pilot.
Jace let out a breath. She was the Pilot. And that’s what being a Pilot meant.
Well, then, that’s something to know and remember, Jace said. He cleared his tight throat. Now, please let me know when that report is ready.
A section of the now green forcefield winked out of existence and the canceaux flew inside. Seeing that green forcefield, feeling it crackle with the proper energy, eased some of the tension in Jace’s head. He frowned.
Jace looked up at Khoth and murmured, “I think maybe my head isn’t just hurting because of an emotional storm.”
Khoth quickly glanced down. The concern in his handsome face was obvious. The guilt was obvious, too. Though Khoth didn’t know everything that was in Jace’s head that had swirled with jealousy and concern, he knew enough that Typhon and Thadden greeting them had set him off.
“How so?” Khoth asked.
“The city… it’s not right.” Jace gestured to the city. “There are so many things broken. And I can fix them. That’s what is hurting my head. It’s like when I first connected with the Osiris to bring Metal Rain.”
“You can fix what is wrong?” Khoth lifted his eyebrows.
“Yeah.” Jace scrubbed the back of his head.
“Of course, you are an Altaeth and have the Osiris,” Khoth murmured.
He glanced over at where Typhon, Davies, Hayter and Thadden stood by the windows and looked out. They had started to descend to the landing pad on the top of the ziggurat.
“Yeah, I think… well, there’s like a symbiosis between me and the city’s tech. All of it. I can feel the broken lines, the dark machines, the mis-powering fields. It… well, it hurts,” Jace admitted. “But I can’t just start fixing things, right? That would totally freak people out.”
He looked up at Khoth again as if to confirm he couldn’t just do that. He’d only asked the Osiris for a report. It didn’t mean he was going to start running down and fixing what was wrong! They didn’t have time for that. His head throbbed as the canceaux landed.
“I am certain that Typhon would happily allow you to fix anything you like,” Khoth said a little dryly.
Jace cough-laughed. “Yeah, well, it might help me get some of this out of my system. Not that I want to help him, mind you, because I so don’t! But…” He rubbed his temples as there was a stabbing pain there.
Khoth looked concerned and touched his lower back briefly. “If it makes you feel better, do it. Care not if it helps or hinders him. Do what is best for you.”
“Thanks. I needed to hear that,” Jace said.
The door hissed as it opened and it lifted upwards. The stairs lowered. Typhon stepped outside first. There was half a dozen Thaf’ell waiting for them on the landing pad. One was a handsome female Thaf’ell whose bone structure looked suspiciously like Typhon’s.
She wore dark blue robes, but hers had cut outs along her sides, shoulders and stomach, showing the Thaf’ell’s lovely blue skin. Her white hair had many of the same selchitte as Typhon's, but she’d also wound flowers that glowed with an almost luminescent fire into braided sections of her hair. Dark blue lipstick was applied to a center stripe of her lips and the same shade darkened her eyelids.
Typhon went to her immediately. They clasped hands and rested their foreheads together. This show of physical affection was surprising. Thaf’ell didn’t do that. Yet when they broke apart, both were smiling and appeared almost refreshed from being in each other’s presence.
“That is Arana, Typhon’s younger sister. She is a musician and poet. Well renowned on Haseon,” Khoth murmured.
It was unnecessary because the Osiris provided him with that and a lot more information. But Jace liked to know how Khoth viewed things. There were more than cold facts and figures in Khoth’s descriptions.
“Do you like her?” Jace asked.
“She is highly intelligent, and though a poet and musician, she keeps her Xi and Xa mostly in balance,” Khoth answered
“Oh, high praise.” Jace’s lips twitched.
As they watched the continued communing between brother and sister, Khoth shifted slightly uncomfortably.
“Poets and musicians are allowed to be… more effusive in their physical display of Xi,” Khoth explained with a slight stiffness.
“Oh, right, yeah, that makes sense. Thammah said she came from a family of artists and stuff,” Jace remembered.
“Indeed, that is why she is so…” Khoth struggled to find the right words.
“Open? Warm? Honest?” Jace offered.
“I am honest!” Khoth looked a little stung.
“Oh, I didn’t mean… I meant about what she feels and what she thinks we’re feeling and why,” Jace soothed.
Looking slightly mollified, Khoth nodded, “Yes, I understand your description better now.”
“Good. But you know I think you’re the best, right?” Jace whispered into the cusp of Khoth’s nearest ear.
That ear twitched. “I was unaware of that extreme level of high regard.”
“Well, now you know.” Jace smiled and wished he could loop his arm through Khoth’s and lean against him, but no such luck. They had to just stand there.
“You are aware…” Khoth’s gaze slid to him and away, “that I hold you in similar regard.”
Jace’s smile grew and his headache eased. “I didn’t know that. I sort of knew that. Well, maybe a little. But I’m glad to have it confirmed.”
Jace’s face hurt from smiling so hard. Thinking now of his earlier jealousy and panic about Typhon and Thadden, he was completely annoyed at himself about that. But Khoth was his anchor. Even now, he was able to accept this whole Altaeth business with some grace because Khoth had… proposed to him? And he had said yes? No, it wasn’t quite that. Or maybe it was. But he felt almost buoyant because of it despite everything. He felt almost ready to face the day.
The Altaeth… Gehenna began then stopped.
He gazed down at her. She was practically suction-cupped to his leg. While she was so so so so so sorry--this was expressed in emojis and more--about shocking him about the Altaeth, she still thought that it had been the best way to do it. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. But now she appeared to want to be as open as possible.
What about them? Jace asked.
They have mates, she answered quickly, so you might be having emotional stability issues with Khoth because…
Because he’s my mate?
Jace’s eyebrows lifted up into his hairline. He felt a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because he’d dreamed of finding someone just for him, like his parents had. But dread, because they’d just met. He couldn’t expect Khoth to feel the same no matter the words he’d said to Jace.
No, because he’s not, Gehenna explained.
Jace felt like he was going to vomit. His joy turned to darkness. He’s not? What--
Not yet! Not yet is what I meant! She quickly amended and her little round head was focused on him. You aren’t fully connected. Altaeth mating rituals are not something that I have a great deal of knowledge about!
Feeling better, but still nettled, Jace answered, Well, we just met and it would be insane to think we’re to--to be together forever. Just the two of us. No one else.
And yet it appealed to him hugely even as he denied it.
For a human, yes, it would be very quick and unusual. But for an Altaeth? Maybe not, Gehenna said.
Can you find out for me about Altaeth mating and stuff? Jace asked, a little embarrassed that he couldn’t find this himself.
Of course! It’s not in any of the databases I have access to currently, but there are sure to be new ones here! She answered brightly.
So the Altaeth didn’t teach you about themselves? Jace asked her.
No, there wasn’t time for that. And my purpose didn’t require such information, she admitted.
Gehenna… He paused and chewed his lower lip. What exactly is your purpose?
To help you!
Yeah, but before there was me, he prodded.
Uhm, well… there are some gaps in my memory banks, but I’m pretty sure that I was to… uh…
It’s okay, Gehenna, you can tell me. Because, you see, whatever it was, you have a new purpose now, right? Jace assured her.
She let out a stream of emojis with huge smiley faces. Oh, thank you, Jace! And you’re right! I’m here to help and to protect!
I think I was supposed to sabotage the Osiris, Jace, she whispered, so small and soft.
Yeah, I had a feeling that might be it. Jace nodded.
But I don’t know why! Other than that it is a big meanie! And so arrogant! Really, some of the sub-routines it sends to me! She made a disgusted noise and a line of vomiting emojis appeared.
Jace smiled. Reason enough, I guess. But you’re not sure of why the people who, ah, programmed you, wanted you to sabotage the Osiris?
Only that the people who made me and the people who made the Osiris were not in agreement, Gehenna said and shrug emojis appeared.
Yeah, well, I guess it doesn’t matter so long as we’re on the same page now, Jace muttered.
Most definitely! Both of us are here to help you, Jace! We’re one big happy family! Gehenna gushed. And, don’t you worry, Khoth will become a part of this family--or more a part--of this family, too!
Arana and Typhon both turned around to face the canceaux. Now that their greeting was over, it was time for the rest of them to get out of the canceaux.
“Justiciar Thadden, please exit first,” Jace indicated.
“Thank you, Pilot.” Thadden stood at the top of the stairs for a moment. “This is the first time I am in my new home.”
Jace glanced at Khoth to see how he was taking that statement. This could be his new home, too. But Khoth’s expression was neutral as he watched his father descend the stairs. Arana immediately greeted the older Thaf’ell with warmth and affection.
“It is so good to have you home, cousin,” she said as she squeezed her hands in his.
“I am so grateful for this welcome, Arana,” Thadden said, appearing almost misty-eyed, but quickly recovering himself. He’d gone through a lot to have so much of his emotional state show.
I understand, Thadden. Too damned much.
“I would like to go out next with Gehenna,” Davies said, as he stepped in front of Jace and made a hand gesture towards Gehenna like she was a roly-poly dog. “For your safety.”
“Of course, Lieutenant-Commander.” Jace inclined his head.
Davies and Gehenna rolled out together. They went in different directions at the base of the stairs and slowly patrolled the landing pad. Now Jace could see and control every defensive and offensive weapon in the place so, arguably, Davies’ security was unnecessary. But there was always a chance that Jace or the Osiris might miss something. Jace was happy to be doubly sure.
I do not make such mistakes, the Osiris sniffed.
Okay, okay, I did say me, too, right?
You are the Pilot! The Osiris was tart as a lemon.
“Doctor, you go ahead,” Jace said with a tip of his head.
“Ah, oh, goodness! Yes, yes, I would very much like that! So many people to speak to and things to see!” Dr. Hayter practically jumped up and clicked his heels together before dashing down the stairs.
“He is very much like Gehenna in this situation,” Khoth said slowly. “He appears one thing when he is another.”
“Oh, I do think he’s really that excited. Despite his deep understanding of psychology, he’s not jaded whatsoever,” Jace laughed.
“Shall we join them?” Khoth asked.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s go.”
Jace found himself holding his breath as they set foot on the landing pad. He had already “set foot” on Haseon at the space port. But he’d been too upset to truly enjoy it. Now that he felt more himself, despite the fact that literally everything had changed in a car ride, he could enjoy this.
Maybe Khoth really is my mate. If I’m secure with him, I’m secure with everything. Oh, boy...
Arana stepped forward, away from her brother’s side, and approached them both. She smiled broadly at Khoth and clasped his hand.
“Cousin, how glad I am to have you here. My Xi has ached for you and all that has occurred,” Arana said genuinely. “But you have been brave and honorable as always.”
Khoth gave a brief nod and seemed a little stiffer than normal. Like Thammah, Arana cut to the chase. He rather liked her already. She then turned to Jace and her blue on blue eyes shimmered with emotion.
“If you had not acted as you did, dearest cousin, we would have lost the last Altaeth,” she said, her lower lip quivering.
She extended one hand towards Jace, but did not go so far as to touch him. He reached for her and they clasped hands. Her palm was warm and dry while her fingers were cool. She brushed those fingers over the back of his hand in a sort of wonder.
“Khoth is incredible,” Jace said. “I’m Jace, by the way.”
“The Pilot,” she murmured.
“Yes, but Jace is fine,” he found himself saying.
“Jace,” she seemed to be tasting his name and nodded. “I am Arana. I would be honored if we could call each other by our first names.”
“Me, too.” Jace nodded. “But, may I ask, how did you know I was an Altaeth? It was… surprising when your brother seemingly guessed.”
Her eyes widened. She glanced back at her brother as if to question why he hadn’t explained. Typhon merely gazed back neutrally as if to make it her choice what she said. She turned back to him. The selchitte clacked. Jace tried not to express his dismay at the thought that Khoth no longer had his.
“Our family was the first to occupy this compound after the Altaeth left,” she explained. “It had not been ransacked and the tech taken or destroyed. We were able to find an intact--”
“Database,” Jace found himself saying.
I’ve found it, Jace! Gehenna cried. Oh, it’s totally off-line. Not on the network at all. It appears to be on a shielded parallel network!
What database? There is no database in that structure, the Osiris growled.
Why couldn’t the Osiris find it but you can, Gehenna? Jace asked.
Because… oh, it was made by the same people who made me! Gehenna cried, her round head whirling around. I need to physically access it to get all of the information! Follow me!
She was suddenly wheeling towards the steps that led down into the compound. Arana had stopped talking and was blinking at him. Typhon looked mildly alarmed, especially when Jace grabbed Khoth’s arm and tugged him after Gehenna.
“I’m sorry,” Jace said with a rather wild laugh, “we have to go see this database. Right now.”