CHAPTER FIFTEEN: MODEL STUDENT
The moment the words were out of Thammah’s mouth there was a thrumming noise that filled the Core chamber.
“My God, what’s that?” His mother’s head jerked around as she, too, felt the thrum.
“The Osiris has never done this before, has it?” General Intoshkin asked.
“The Osiris has never done anything like this before,” his mother assured her superior and then her eyes went to Jace. “It’s been silent as the tomb for the most part.”
“Do you know what this is, son?” his father asked.
“I… ah… the Osiris doesn’t exactly communicate the way Gehenna does,” Jace admitted. “So I’m not sure.”
“We should perhaps return to the base,” General Intoshkin stated as his gaze crawled all over the walls. “Let the scientists come in here. Test everything. Jace can be examined as well and--”
“I’m not leaving! And I’m not being examined!” Jace’s tone was sharper than he intended. This was his mom’s boss after all, but leaving the Osiris felt wrong and he really was done with being poked and prodded. He’d already been drilled into that day. Despite that, he felt great! And he didn’t want that to change.
“Jace, are we in any danger?” his mother asked.
“No, I don’t think so. The Osiris won’t harm you, because I don’t want it to. What happened in the corridor was a mistake,” Jace said as he eyed Gehenna over his mother’s shoulder.
Gehenna drew in some of her tentacles in shame. He wouldn’t explain how it was Gehenna’s mistake. His parents were already suspicious of her when she was only trying to help. Her helping though did seem to cause chaos. But it was not ill-intentioned. Besides, everyone made mistakes.
“Forgive me, Jace, but how would you know all of this?” General Intoshkin asked. “And even if you feel you know it, how are you certain it’s true? Who knows what was pumped into you, young man. How can you trust anything?”
Jace had to admit he had a point. But he was bone deep certain about things. Even without Osiris communicating to him like Gehenna did, he was sure of the statements he was making. But other than simply saying that, he had no proof to offer.
Not yet anyways.
“My son doesn’t lie, General,” his father said firmly. “He also isn’t prone to putting people in danger. He’s had to… to always think ahead because of his condition. If he says it’s okay, it is.”
My condition… huh. My condition was not being fully transformed into the Pilot. I am now, but I still have so many questions and not enough answers!
“And it is okay,” Jace said gratefully with a smile at his father. He had feared that his parents would show their overprotective side and not listen to him. But even if they likely wanted to hustle him out of this place, they trusted him. “Let me just try and figure out what’s going on here. If you don’t feel comfortable staying, I understand. But I have to remain.”
“If you are staying, we are,” Khoth said firmly.
“I’m so glad that you are including me in things,” Thammah replied dryly.
“You like trouble, Flight Commander. I did not believe you would go even if I ordered you away.” Khoth crossed his arms at the wrists behind his back.
Jace let out a bright burst of laughter. Khoth lifted an eyebrow as if to ask what was so funny. He didn’t think Khoth would appreciate him saying how cute the two of them acted together. It was as if they had known each other for ages, but they had just met. Thammah grinned at him. She knew what was funny.
But Jace said, “Nothing, nothing. Let me just talk to Gehenna here.”
Khoth lowered his voice and said, “She and the Osiris appear at odds. I think, also, that she is hiding things.”
Jace was pretty sure that Khoth was right. But were they things that were dangerous or malicious? No, they were likely protective. He would get Gehenna to trust them with whatever bad things she was hiding. But first things first. He had to make sure the Osiris wasn’t going to blow up and make a liar out of him.
Gehenna, do you know what’s going on with the Osiris? Jace asked her. What’s with the vibrations?
They were at the same level as when they began. Jace wondered if the ship though could shake apart. He could feel the thrum through the soles of his feet.
The Osiris was in a deep sleep, Jace. It’s ability to connect to any of its power cells and activate its systems was hugely limited, I think, she theorized. I’m guessing here, but now that the Osiris has a Pilot again, the Osiris can now restart those systems, including ones to heal the hull.
Jace chewed his inner cheek. So it doesn’t need me to order it to do something like that?
Maybe not consciously no. Think of it like breathing and your heart beating. Those things go on in your body without conscious thought. In the case of the Osiris, certain base systems would be allowed to activate once a Pilot is aboard.
Jace slowly nodded. Well, it’s sort of a load off. I wouldn’t want to have to control every single thing the Osiris does to maintain its systems.
Indeed! Gehenna lifted up several tentacles as if they were her arms to gesticulate. That would be burdensome! I suppose if you did not wish the Osiris to repair itself, you could order it not to.
But I do want it to!
Don’t worry. A stray thought shouldn’t stop the systems. I am pretty certain that Osiris would require you to be very clear and insistent for it to stop, she remarked dryly.
Jace wondered about the clear antagonism between Gehenna and the Osiris then. He had expected that since they were all connected now--or both were connected to him anyway--that there would be a greater understanding between them. Or, at least, Gehenna would know more. Not to mention that she had spent who knew how long aboard the ship.
I expected you to know more about the Osiris. I mean you were… well, you were imprisoned on it, Jace stated.
The Osiris and I were created by very different people, Jace. It has loads of secrets I don’t know, but you can, she said.
There was so much in those few sentences that she had revealed that he wanted to chase down. Who were these very different people? What did she mean by “very different”? Why would there be secrets between these people? Were they at odds? In competition? Enemies?
That last thought had him ill at ease. But yet it, and all those other questions, fell to the side as he needed to know how he could learn the Osiris’ secrets, or if not its secrets, what he could do as the Pilot.
How? He asked her. How do I get information from the Osiris?
You need to open your connection to the ship, she offered.
He pinched the top of his nose. How do I do that? I don’t see any downed electrical wires around here like I did when I activated Metal Rain.
That was in your head! The link to the Osiris is in your head, too. Maybe close your eyes and touch the ship. See what happens, she suggested.
That sounds… simple, he said with a frown. Shouldn’t there be something more to it?
Actually, it should be simpler, Gehenna stated with a sigh. They should have downloaded a primer into your head about how to interact with the Osiris, but I don’t see any sort of data packet. Do you?
Uhm… no. I can’t see inside my own brain, Gehenna, he reminded her.
You can’t? Oh, right, you can’t! I mean not yet. Anyways, I think closing your eyes and touching things will help, she again suggested.
One of her tentacles with a pincer on the end gently took his right hand, lifted it up, and placed it on the wall. He could feel the thrum through his palm. It vibrated all the way up his arm into his shoulder. He had a moment feeling disconnected from his own body as he saw how much bigger his arm was. He could feel the muscles moving so easily. And there was no pain. No auras. No tinnitus. Just the thrum.
Closing my eyes is the next step...
But he hesitated. Jace fully expected people to be staring at him as he had gone silent and spoke to Gehenna, but instead, they were all investigating the Core. General Intoshkin was by the pool. When he kneeled down and went to touch the liquid, the tank slid shut with a firm bang.
Did I do that or did the Osiris? Jace wondered.
Either way, he was glad. He didn’t want the military testing and trying to take the Osiris apart. His mother had always told him that what the military didn’t understand, it would destroy. Now that the Osiris was active, he thought that was now true of the ship. General Intoshkin’s eyes narrowed as he studied the now completely sealed floor. Jace thought the man would order blowtorch equipment into the room to cut the floor open to take a sample. He hid a grin. That was so not going to work.
His mother and father were speaking softly as they looked around the room, touching the walls, and remarking on how the material was the same or different from the rest of the ship. Khoth was interrogating Thammah.
“When you say the ship is healing what exactly do you mean, Thammah?” Khoth asked her.
“Just what it sounds like! I thought it would be faster to go outside of the ship and then up through the entrance the humans jerry rigged rather than the elevator,” she explained. “But when I tried to get out of the ship that way, the opening was half the size it had been. The calcanth no longer looked ripped open. There were glowing blue lines like a graph over the opening and the calcanth was stitching itself together.”
Khoth’s handsome face was drawn into a frown. “We have never seen calcanth do that.”
“No, but we haven’t seen that kind of damage to a ship either,” she answered with a shrug.
“If I might remind you, your ship is in pieces,” Khoth stated flatly. “Alteath ships can be damaged.”
“Yes, but we’ve never seen a ship like this,” she reminded him.
“Even if the repair on the side can be made, could the Osiris fly again?” His mother’s brows were drawn together.
In Jace’s mind, there was a single lone, Yes.
Jace’s head jerked up. Gehenna, was that you?
Was what me? She asked.
The word had almost been toneless, sexless, robotic. It was empty of emotion. Just a simple answer. Not like Gehenna at all.
I think… I think the Osiris just talked to me, Jace said and stared at the wall where his hand was resting.
That’s a good sign! Gehenna sounded eager. He could almost imagine her rubbing her hands together. In fact, she did have two of the tentacles touching at the ends in front of her. Try closing your eyes and--
Touching the wall thing at the same time? Yeah. Okay, here goes.
The moment that Jace closed his eyes, the thrum became more apparent and more interesting. It was more than just a sound, he realized, more than a simple vibration running throughout the ship. There were waves in it. Patterns. Two long thrums and then a short one, followed by another long and then three short.
He tilted his head to the side as he thought he heard a sound like a musical quality to the thrum. As if there was a trill at the end of each short thrum and a deep bass rumble with the longer thrums.
His hand tingled as if it were falling asleep and then he saw it. At first, he had only seen the blackness that one normally sees behind one’s eyelids, but then there was a spark. It was off in the distance. Jace smiled. He remembered this from before.
Gehenna, I think I found something.
Ah, yes, I see it too! Another live wire, Gehenna breathed.
Jace willed himself to the spark. It did take on the appearance of a wire, but it wasn’t snapping, spitting and hissing at him. Instead, it lay neatly coiled with the tip simple glowing white.
Are you going to pick it up? You have to! I bet something good will happen, Gehenna enthused.
Jace imagined reaching down for the coil. He hesitated. He was without pain for the first time in… he wasn’t sure how long. Last time he’d touched one of these wires the pain had been hideous.
It’s not going to hurt, Jace, Gehenna told him softly. You’re changed now. You’re the Pilot.
Are you sure? He asked, still holding back.
Yes, I’m sure. It’s okay. Really.
Jace grasped the coil and tipped it’s end towards his face. There was no pain. None at all. There was just this single white spark at the end. Jace stared into it. The white spark became larger and larger and larger, eating away at the darkness all around him until there was blinding light.
Gehenna, what’s happening?!
And then… an explosion! Not painful, but the light shattered and Jace’s eyelids flew open. Sweat coated his brow. He was shaking.
“Jace?” Khoth put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Jace, are you… you… what… what is this?”
Jace understood Khoth’s shock. The Core was suddenly filled with holograms. They were named Bridge, Engineering, Med-Bay, Docking Bay, Armory, and more, so much more. They floated and spun everywhere in the room. Khoth touched one of the holograms. It spun faster and sparkled and then the holograms collapsed in on each other down to one. A model of the entire ship. It floated at Jace’s chest level.
“That’s the Osiris, yes?” General Intoshkin stared at the spinning ship model. The blue and gold hologram reflected in his eyes as they widened.
Jace reached out and touched it. The model spun faster for a moment like when Khoth had touched the hologram titled Bridge.
“Stop,” Jace said.
The ship model stopped moving. It was beautifully detailed. That one section of the ship they’d seen in the cavern was nothing compared to the whole of the ship. The ribbons of metal, though large enough to have semis drive through, were small on the model. Tiny really and were only present at the very back end of the ship. In a way, the Osiris was shaped like a skyscraper laying on its side, but with rounded corners and other “buildings” jutting out from its sides. The front tapered with dozens of needle-like points thrusting forward like a handful of swords. They surrounded a domed structure.
Maybe the Bridge? Jace thought, but he was leery about touching the model for fear it would react.
“It’s responding to you,” Khoth whispered as if that was a good thing.
Everyone crowded around him. General Intoshkin was beside Gehenna. When he noticed, he side-stepped slightly. Jace knew it wasn’t cowardice. There was something menacing about the cleaning bot body, though not Gehenna herself.
“Jace, you should touch it again,” Thammah urged.
“Why don’t you touch it?” his father asked her. There was a slight sting to his words, but he was also smiling. He clearly liked Thammah, but wanted to protect him.
“Your son is the Pilot. I’m just a pilot,” she answered with a shrug.
“Dad, she’s right. This is my duty… thing… whatever. I’m the Pilot,” Jace said.
He saw his father’s mouth open and he imagined the dozens of things his father could say that were true and right. Like he’d put on 40 pounds of muscle. Like he might not recognize himself in the mirror. Like he had no idea what had been done to him. All right and true and yet… he felt fine. More than fine. Spectacular really. But he couldn’t blame his father for wanting to take it slow. Jace had always had to take it slow.
Maybe not this time.
Jace grasped the hologram with both hands. There was the faintest buzz under his fingertips, but there was no real weight there. He realized he could manipulate the model. His eyes widened.
“Holy Tony Stark,” Jace whispered. “Guys, this is… you know that tech in Iron Man that Tony is able to use to help him design stuff? That’s this! I mean literally this. The Osiris… ” Jace’s eyes widened further and he let out a delighted laugh as he understood what was happening. “It took the idea from my mind! It knew I would understand this!”
The Osiris is adapting to you, Gehenna agreed with a shake of her tentacles. General Intoshkin sidestepped again. Very clever though there will probably be some miscommunications this way.
Yeah, but it makes it so much more understandable and cool. You have to admit it is cool, Gehenna, he teased her.
Oh, yes, very much so! Much cooler than this cleaning bot. I think General Intoshkin is afraid of me.
Aw, don’t worry. You’re just… tall. That’s all. Just a little tall.
I will find a cuter form! Gehenna muttered.
Jace smiled but then he turned his attention back to the model. He tilted it so that the rip was on top for them all to see. He took two fingers and drew them away from one another, much like he would do on a touchscreen. The model disappeared and a large screen appeared with an up-close view of the rip all along the Osiris’ side. It reminded Jace of what he’d imagined an iceberg had done to the Titanic. But, unlike the Titanic, just like Thammah had said, the rip was closing. The wound was healing. There was text--in English--scrolling beside it with a description of the process occurring.
Hull Integrity - 76%
Time to full Hull Integrity - 2 hours, 17 minutes, 32 seconds.
“It has adjusted to English and the local time,” Khoth remarked. When Jace looked over at him in confusion, he added, “When I requested information on your vitals, it delivered the information in Thaf’ell, in my local dialect.”
“Whoa,” Jace breathed. “That’s cool. It knows its audience.”
“He doesn’t mean the temperature, Khoth. He means it's fascinating,” Thammah laughed.
“I am aware,” Khoth stated, but his eyes flickered to Jace as if perhaps he was saying a white lie.
Jace repressed a snicker.
“Before the model, did you notice the descriptions of areas?” his mother asked. She gestured around the now empty room. “Those were sections of the ship, I think.”
“I saw them too!” Thammah stated with an eager gleam in her eyes. “I saw a Docking Bay. Do you suppose there are other ships in there? Perhaps some Paladin-class fighters?”
Khoth nodded. “But would they still be intact? The Osiris is at an extreme angle. The crash likely would have dislodged them from their holdings.”
“Still any of them would likely be in better shape than the Kryptoria,” she muttered.
“There’s one way to find out,” Jace said with a grin.
He pinched the screen with his fingers and it popped back into the model. Then he grasped the model of the ship and pulled it apart. Once more, floating all around them were sections of the ship. The Docking Bay glowed gold as it floated to Jace. He touched it and another huge screen blew up in front of them.
It was dark at first, but then the ceiling glowed softly before becoming brighter and brighter showing a cavernous space filled with spacecraft. Thammah let out a squeal of delight. Jace immediately started looking for the Storm Spike.
It’s there, Jace. In the far corner, Gehenna told him.
“They’re still intact! Fully intact!” Thammah cried, jumping up and down. Seeing everyone looking at her with either repressed smiles or just repression from Khoth, Thammah stood at attention and cleared her throat before saying calmly, “It appears that your concerns about the ships were unwarranted, Commander Khoth. In fact,” she paused and leaned nearer to the image, squinting, “these are Paladin-class fighters, but different than--”
“Jace, please shut this down,” General Intoshkin stated firmly. His gaze steely.
“What? Why?” Jace frowned.
“Son, I’ll be blunt. The Alliance has not treated humanity like partners. In fact, to say we have been second-class citizens would be a stretch,” General Intoshkin said and Jace knew he wasn’t exaggerating. Though his mother had rarely spoken of the general, one thing she had said about him was that he was honest, which was something. “They don’t deserve to see this. Because if they’d had their way, we would have been completely at the Khul’s mercy.”
Jace looked between the general, his parents and the Thaf’ell. He had assumed after seeing the soldiers with Precursor tech that humanity was prepared for the Khul. But was that true? There was only Thammah and Khoth there. Two ships against how many? If he hadn’t called down Metal Rain…
“Why?” Jace asked this question of Khoth. “Why are only you and Thammah here?”
Khoth’s blue on blue eyes dipped from his. “Earth is not… was not considered an important world to the Alliance.”
“So you would have just let the Khul kill everybody?” Jace stared at him.
“We cannot defend everyone, Jace,” Khoth answered softly. “And Earth was not thought a target.”
“If the Osiris wasn’t here, and the Khul had come and done what they did, would you have helped us?” Jace asked.
“I cannot answer that, because the Khul only likely came because of the Osiris and, without it, and you, the Khul would have done much worse,” Khoth answered.
“But now you’ll help because you’re interested in the Osiris, right?” Jace studied Khoth’s face.
“Yes. And… you. We are most interested in you, Jace,” Khoth stated.
Jace collapsed the hologram back down to the ship model. “So General Intoshkin is right. I shouldn’t show you anything. Because the more you learn, the less likely you are to help us.”
Khoth did not respond. That he looked pained, anguished really, for a split second before smoothing his expression into one of passivity only made clear to Jace that he was more right.
“You must understand, Jace, that the Khul’s constant war against us has… limited what we can do,” Khoth answered and touched a place over his heart as if there were something there he was referencing. “But you and the Osiris may be able to change all that.”
Jace regarded him steadily. “I’m not interested in helping you unless I know that Earth is protected.”
“But the Osiris is meant to go after the Khul, not defend--”
“I am not leaving Earth undefended. If the Osiris is all we have then… it’s not going anywhere,” Jace stately flatly.
“This is bigger than just Earth--”
“If it was your homeworld, what would you do?” Jace challenged. “I bet you have tons of ships protecting it, don’t you? C’mon, Thammah, am I right, or am I right?”
“Haseon is in the heart of Alliance territory so that’s more than right,” she answered.
Khoth shot a narrow-eyed glance at her. “Haseon is the seat of the High Council and--”
“And this is my home,” Jace interrupted. “There’s nothing you could show me that would change my mind about this.”
Khoth swung around towards him. His feelings were once more exposed. He looked… stricken? As if Jace had said the one thing that he had hoped Jace wouldn’t. But, once more, the facade of calm slammed down in place.
“Would you let me show you something?” Khoth asked.
Jace shrugged. “I don’t know. Depends what it is.”
Khoth looked bleak for a second again. “It’s your people.”
“The ones in the Khul ships. The one right by where I found you,” Khoth stated.
Jace jerked back as if struck. “They’re still in there?”
They’re infected, Jace, Gehenna answered for Khoth. Remember? They can’t be removed without fear of the infection spreading.
You know what he’s going to show me, Jace stated.
Now it was Gehenna’s turn to sound bleak, Yes, and I think you should see it.