CHAPTER SIXTY-EIGHT: MISSING
Meanwhile, in the Moturin Compound in Ylore…
Davies gritted his teeth as Typhon led him and Dr. Hayter across the courtyard towards the side of the Compound where the Khul had entered. He liked to lead, but that wasn’t totally the reason why he found following the Thaf’ell aggravating. After all, Typhon knew the Compound better than either he or the doctor did. It made sense that Typhon should go first. Even with the maps on the comms now working, there was nothing better than someone who intimately knew their way around.
It also wasn’t because he feared Typhon was a coward or poor fighter. He’d clearly taken out the pod of Khul he’d been assigned and a jammer. That took guts. He also reminded Davies of a few marines in his day who never cracked a smile, but also never missed a shot. So he didn’t fear that Typhon would lead them into danger and abandon them.
Well, not unintentionally anyways.
The truth was that he didn’t trust the Justiciar farther than he could throw him. It was clear that Typhon and his sister knew more about the Pilot and the Altaeth more than they were saying. Jace had gotten exactly a few moments to see that database before things had gone terribly wrong. He didn’t think the two things were related. But he didn’t like anyone knowing more than he did, especially about his side.
And I am on Jace’s side, he thought.
He’d been sent to spy on Jace and the entirety of the Osiris’ crew, not to mention the Alliance and whoever else they’d encountered. But the moment that he’d set foot on the Osiris, something had changed for him. The moment they’d gone into space, that something was confirmed.
The universe was simply too big and beautiful and dark and dangerous to be held in the hands of the United States. He loved his country. But he saw its strengths and its weaknesses clearly. Humanity as a whole needed to be represented out here. Not just one country. But, at the same time, he knew that things could easily get bogged down in old alliances and enmities. Jace was beyond those. Whether he was an Altaeth or not, he was human, too. He’d been raised human and he saw himself as one of them. He would see to it that humanity was well represented. And Davies would ensure that no one got in the way of that.
Was Typhon in the way? It was unclear. Again, lack of information was killing him here. He hoped not literally. Once things were re-established with the Osiris, he was requesting every single bit of information he could get his hands on through the AI. While the Osiris likely knew his background and who he was supposed to be working for, the truth was that they were in tune with one another. Both were a little ruthless. Which brought him back to the matter at hand.
For even if he trusted the Thaf’ell, Davies hadn’t been lying or exaggerating when he said that anyone infected or even possibly infected by the Khul had to be killed immediately so that the infection couldn’t spread and the hostages couldn’t be used against Jace. While it was hard enough to kill someone in general, these were Typhon’s people, his family. As cold blooded as the Thaf’ell portrayed themselves, Davies did not believe that Typhon wouldn’t hesitate to take out one of his own.
The Alliance never thought that they’d have Khul on Haseon, Davies realized. Maybe on some far flung outer rim world, but not in the heart of the Alliance. They’re not prepared for this mentally or physically.
He glanced over at Dr. Hayter to see if the doctor would back him up on this. The doctor was on the mission as a linguist, but he was both a profiler and an excellent shot. Hayter hadn’t hesitated to take down the Khul. But that was the benefit of the Khul being completely unredeemable. They wanted to use their flesh as food after all. Would the doctor be able to kill Thaf’ell? Would he? He’d killed plenty of people in his day. So he was sure he would.
The doctor was no longer limping from an injured knee as Typhon had earlier tossed the man some kind of stimulant mixed with a powerful steroid. Dr. Hayter had agreed to take it after hearing the ingredients which he did not believe would harm him. In fact, he wasn’t harmed at all. Quite the opposite. The doctor was pretty much floating on air, a smile on his face, and a rather crazed look in his eyes.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have taken that injection, doc,” Davies murmured as he heard the doctor humming a children’s tune.
“Oh, but I feel fine! In fact, I feel wonderful!” Dr. Hayter made an odd, almost girlish giggle at the end as he stroked his hand along his draagves and spun in a circle.
“I can see that, doc. Maybe a little too wonderful,” Davies responded dryly. “I think you should keep behind us and, ah, don’t aim that at anyone not Khul.”
He touched the end of the draagves that had been swinging too near him and pushed it in the opposite direction.
“Of course, of course! I was just wanting to point out the colors in the air!” Dr. Hayter giggled. “Aren’t they lovely? Now that’s a spectacular shade of violet!”
Davies didn’t even have to check if there were any colors dancing in the air--let alone something violet--as he knew there weren’t. The doctor was as high as a kite. He just sighed, moved the draagves away again, and hustled to keep up with the much taller Thaf’ell who had surged ahead of them.
Typhon was already at the west interior wall. He had his back flush against it beside a closed door. He gestured for Davies and the doctor to do the same. Davies made himself flush against the wall on the opposite side of the door. The doctor leaned back beside him, smiling emptily at the air where the “colors” were dancing. Typhon was checking his comm likely for any movement inside the Compound.
“My people tell me that the Khul are in the far back hallways.” Typhon frowned. “Despite eliminating the jammer, I am still having some difficulty locating them.”
“Perhaps they are carrying some kind of localized devices,” Davies suggested.
We really need to investigate the Khul technology to understand how it is blocking us. After they’re dead. Very, very dead, Davies thought as he imagined a Khul’s body covered in squirming, dying larva. He understood the urge and need to simply burn those suckers to ash.
Typhon waved his comm near a scanner and the door whispered open. Davies glanced inside.
“No one,” Davies said. “Which way do we go?”
But before Typhon could answer, Jace was communicating with him over his own comm.
Davies! Dr. Hayter! Jace cried.
“Pilot! Oh, I see more colors when he talks,” Dr. Hayter murmured happily and began drawing invisible figures in the air.
“Doc, should we leave you here?” Davies asked.
The doctor blinked and shook his head. He slapped his cheeks and said, “No, no, I’m going to get it together. I will!”
I’m so glad you’re both okay! Jace exclaimed and there was a burst of balloons and confetti to indicate a celebration.
“Well, I’m okay. And David over here is having a right good time,” Davies answered dryly.
Oh… why are his vitals so strange? Ohhhhhh, he took a stim, didn’t he? Jace asked.
“I hurt my knee! But now, I feel like a new man, Pilot!” Dr. Hayter dreamily answered. “And all the colors!” He shook himself. “There are no colors. But I admit there is no knee pain either!”
Well, you should be fine in a few hours. And we’ll get your knee fixed up then, Jace responded after a confused moment probably regarding the “colors” statement.
“Forget about us. What about you? Are you still where we, ah, left you?” Davies asked, keeping it vague as to where Jace was in case the Khul had tapped into their comms. He hoped Jace would keep it just as vague, too.
I’m fine. Still not able to fight physically though, Jace added a sad emoji.
“Physical fighting is not where you should be, Pilot.” Typhon was frowning. “You are too valuable for that.”
Davies tended to agree, but he wasn’t surprised by the angry-face emotion that Jace made, which became a sad face. Typhon’s eyebrows drew together at the likely unusual emojis.
Though I don’t agree with you, Typhon, I don’t have much choice. I’m just about able to sit up in the chair by myself, Jace admitted. Well, with help. Your sister’s helping. A lot.
“Are you safe where you are?” Davies asked.
Yes, for now, at least. I’m working on getting the Compound’s defenses working. There’s just… a lot wrong, Jace answered and Davies could feel the frustration in those ellipses.
“We have allowed our world to rot,” Typhon answered grimly.
It’s going to be okay. We’re going to fix that, Jace assured him. The reason the shield and wall failed into the Compound was because things were a little neglected, but now I know what to expect.
But, of course, the additional problem was that while Jace might know what to expect now, he likely didn’t have time to fix it, or so Davies guessed.
“You came here expecting an advanced civilization, but what you found are people playing in an ancient city that is falling apart all around them.” Typhon looked grim.
You’ve done your best, Jace said kindly. The past is the past. We can’t fix that. We can only change the present and the future.
Typhon put an arm across his chest in a kind of salute. “You are right, Pilot. Forgive me for my black thoughts.”
No need to forgive, Jace said. In the meantime, I sent Gehenna and some of the warriors to the east quadrant where the Khul broke in. Khoth, Nova and a squadron of warriors are coming up behind them. The Khul will be trapped in a trick box with death on both ends.
“Has anyone been… captured?” Davies asked.
No, thankfully, those in that area that weren’t able to escape after the blast have been sealed into their rooms, Jace explained. I got that working. But I’m worried about the second explosion near the front of the Compound. I’m not seeing any Khul coming through there, but--
“That’s because they are bug mush.” Davies gave a grin. “I set their bombs off prematurely while they were there.”
“And he nearly got squished himself by the look of him,” Dr. Hayter giggled again though he tried to hide the giggles in a cough.
Oh? Sounds like a story! But that’s for later! Jace said. I’ll send you the exact coordinates where the fights are taking place. There are about twenty Khul left.
“My sister and Thadden are still with you?” Typhon asked.
Yes, they’re taking good care of me. But we’re far from the action so we should be fine, Jace said, but there was a hesitation in his response that Davies caught.
“Pilot, is there anything you’re not telling us?” Davies asked pointedly.
You anticipated me, Davies. Yeah, I’m having a math error here, Jace said.
“A math error?” Typhon’s eyebrows drew together.
After the explosion and the loss of the Mech, I lost count as to how many Khul got inside, Jace admitted. The jammer kept me from getting the best count, too.
“And?” Davies asked.
There are twenty Khul currently accounted for and fighting, but there might have been twenty-five that entered the Compound, Jace said.
“And you can’t find the other five?” Davies felt a cold fist close around his heart.
That could be because there were only ever twenty! Jace grimaced. Or it could mean that some of the Khul escaped into the lower levels where the database is. Even without the jammer, I was pretty blind down there before and I still am.
“So we could have five Khul in the lower levels?” Davies confirmed. “There’s an elevator down there that leads straight to you, Pilot.”
I’ve locked the elevators down that would let them up, and I’m monitoring the stairwells, Jace assured him, but there was still a sense of unease.
“Then we’re heading to the lower levels then,” Davie said, not consulting Typhon, and the doctor would go wherever the “colors” and Davies told him to.
“Yes, that sounds wise,” Typhon agreed, his hand tightening around the hilt of his rahir. “There are few entry points from the lower levels to the Compound, but--”
“Could there be other ways out?” Davies cut Typhon off, suddenly having a very bad feeling. They could not lose track of even one Khul. “Because I found an exit point from the Compound where I detonated the Khul’s bombs earlier.
“We’ve always worried about beings getting inside the Compound, not out,” Typhon admitted, blanching.
I need to get a full count of those Khul! Jace sent a growly emoji. I’m going to have to track and trace every single one that left the ship. Even when the system was jammed there would be vibrations from the Khul simply walking that can help track them. But that’s going to take a while.
“Those lower levels could connect with any point in the city, couldn’t they?” Dr. Hayter suddenly asked.
Yes, doctor. They are extensive and uncharted, Jace admitted, sounding more and more uneasy though it was text.
“First things first,” Davies said, focusing them all. “We deal with the Khul here.”
“Yes.” Dr. Hayter though was stroking his chin and seemingly not seeing any color but black.
“Keep yourself safe, Pilot. Don’t open that door. Not even for us until this is all done,” Davies ordered.
Typhon lifted an eyebrow. The Pilot was in charge. But he hadn’t been kidding about Jace’s heroism. Yet he knew how much they needed Jace now. This attack had proven that to him even more so than before.
Jace sent him a few winky faces. Yes, sir! Seriously, though, Davies, I will be careful. I saw first hand what the Khul do to people. You guys keep safe too.
Davies signed off. “Where’s the nearest entry point to the lower levels?”
“This way,” Typhon said.
The three of them glided into the hallway. Well, they glided while Dr. Hayter skipped, evidently losing himself to the joys of the stim. Davies hoped that Jace was right that the doctor would be back to himself in a few hours. He didn’t know if he could take a burbling Dr. David Hayter for too much longer.
Typhon led them to a section of smooth wall. He held out his hand towards the surface and some blue light scanned the surface. The wall then sank inwards about six inches before sliding to the side, revealing a staircase leading down. The three of them crept down the several flights of stairs.
When they got to the last flight, Davies thought he was hearing the click of Cetix claws on stone. Typhon’s quick look at him told him he wasn’t imagining it. The Khul were in the lower levels. His stomach knotted as adrenaline flooded his system once more.
He double-checked his draagves before resting his back against the staircase’s wall, sliding over to the edge of where the staircase ended and the hallway began. The light crystals in this area were rather dim and dingy, letting off a soft, muted orange light. That was more than enough light for a Cetix to see quite clearly. He wished he had on one of the hard suits with all the visor settings, not to mention for the protection they gave from larva.
Never leaving those behind again, no matter how safe we think we are, Davies thought not for the first time.
He bet he’d be sleeping in one for awhile after this.
If I survive this.
He let out a low, slow breath. He saw Typhon holding his rahir out to his side, his blue-on-blue eyes seemingly calm. Beyond him was Dr. Hayter who actually appeared focused. A thin line of sweat moved down Davies’ right temple. Quickly and carefully, he looked around the corner of the stairwell into the hallway. He was back just as quick with his heart in his throat and the sour taste of excitement mixed with fear on his tongue.
He held up a hand and indicated that there were two Khul in the hallway with two raised fingers. One Cetix and one Omull. They were standing outside a doorway. He thought it was the database room. Were the Khul simply looking for ways to get upstairs to Jace and stumbled upon the database room? Or had they been looking for it? Which would have meant that they knew about it beforehand. How? Had someone told the Khul about it? Was there a traitor in their midst? And why did they want it? But all these questions would have to wait. They needed to kill these creatures.
I really wish I had some grenades.
Again, not the first time he’d thought this and, hopefully, it wouldn’t be the last.
He glanced around the corner again. The Cetix was nearest to them while the Omull was on the other side of the door to the database. He was assuming at least three were inside the room. Being in a room would give the Khul the advantage if they knew that Davies and the others were coming.
Unless we can take out these two quiet and fast and then make it to the room without the others knowing.
He leaned towards the doctor who blinked owlishly at him. Typhon lifted an eyebrow.
“Two outside the database room. Three, at least, inside, I’m guessing. We need to kill the two quietly before the others know and take them out, too. Can you shoot, doc?” Davies asked. “Take out the two nice and quiet?”
“He was seeing colors earlier,” Typhon whispered. “So what do you think? If I had any idea that a stim would do this, I would not have given it. He should stay behind for his own good.”
“I’m still seeing the colors. You really don’t see them?” Dr. Hayter looked so hopeful at them.
“No, doc. No colors. Hand me your draagves,” Davies commanded.
Dr. Hayter gave it over reluctantly, patting it gently. Davies handed his weapon to the doctor as no one should be unarmed with the Khul around.
“I’m going to take out our two friends, hopefully, with one shot,” Davies said.
Typhon lifted an eyebrow again. “Are you capable of such a shot, Lieutenant-Commander?”
“Yes,” Davies answered simply. “Be ready to move when I say.”
Typhon’s eyebrow remained raised, but he made no further objections. Whether he believed Davies could do it or whether he thought his belief was irrelevant to what was going to happen--it was--was unclear to Davies. But he emptied his mind of such concerns.
He rested his back against the stone and breathed again. He waited those few moments for his heart rate to slow. Time seemed to slow in those moments as he once more glanced around the corner to see the Khul still where he left them. But instead of drawing back, he brought the draagves up and around in a single fluid motion. He brought the scope to his right eye. He lined up the long neck of the Omull with the thick carapace of the Cetix. He squeezed the trigger.
The laser blast bore a hole through the Cetix and sliced the Omull’s neck nearly in half. Before the bodies even started to fall, Davies was moving.
“Now!” he hissed as he ran down the corridor.
He brought the draagves up again, scope to eye as he swung around to face the interior of the door, crouching low. Two Omull were on either side of the database, taking it out! They hadn’t even looked towards the door yet. He fired once. Twice. They fell back. The database, glowing and beautiful, fell to the floor. The room became completely dark.
Davies spun to the side, away from the doorway and the rapidly spreading blood pools that were smoking and hissing. He slammed his back against the wall. Typhon and Davies were on the other side of the door, draagves out, ready to strike at whatever came out.
But nothing did.
Davies turned on the light on his draagves and shone it inside the room. The Khul were dead. The database looked broken. Typhon let out a hiss at the sight of that. But it was the dead Khul that had Davies’ attention.
“Didn’t Jace say there were five missing Khul?” Dr. Hayter asked.
Grimly, Davies answered. “He did. So there’s one still missing.”