Updating Horizontal Tidebound



Mora spun beneath them in all its orange-red glory. This was one of the dozen or so planets that the Osiris and Gehenna had identified as the likely homeworld for the Khul. It was the third in a system of nine planets much like Earth’s position. But it did not appear to hold life. At least not Khul life. Jace was not surprised as there had been no Khul resistance to enter the system.

“Wow, it’s pretty,” Gehenna said beside him.  “I’m glad the Khul aren’t down there to ruin it.”

Jace glanced over at her. She was in her T’lan body, but he didn’t think of it as such. He saw it as her Gehenna-body. Her Altaeth form as opposed to her murderball form or her cleaning bot one. 

She’d been so nervous to let him know what she’d done by creating it. Her thoughts and emotions had flowed over him in a tidal wave of fear, concern and hope when she had confessed. She’d come to him that morning just as he was getting fresh out of the shower. He’d been surprised when she hadn’t just come in, but had asked the Osiris to announce her instead.

Gehenna wishes an audience, the Osiris pronounced.

Jace, who had a towel swathed around his hips, and another one he was using to dry his hair, had lifted an eyebrow. “Ah, what the what now?”

She has requested an audience, the Osiris repeated.

“Is this some new game you two have going on? Who can be the most formal or most weird?” he added the last softly.

He realized that Gehenna had dampened down her link with him since last night. But that was usual when she was working on one of her forms and wanted to surprise him. Plus, she understood–unlike the Osiris–that he enjoyed his privacy with Khoth. Yet this was strange for her even for her.

This has nothing to do with me. I will have you remember that when you see her, the Osiris said.

“Ah, when I see her? What–oh, forget it, tell her to come in here,” Jace said as he continued to dry his hair.

Gehenna must have picked another ridiculous yet fun “protector” form again. He wondered what it was that the Osiris was so quick to distance itself from her. She was definitely keeping their communications to a trickle so it was mostly necessary to have the Osiris play intermediary with her. This new form of hers must be pretty cool… or scary… or something. He was rather keen to see it and then have others experience it.

She will wait for you in the common area of your quarters, the Osiris said with what could only be termed a sigh.

“Ah, well, why? I’m going to be in here for a bit while I choose my outfit,” he said, frowning.

All of your uniforms are the exact same in terms of color, style and fit. What is there to choose? The Osiris asked.

I thought I had time before… oh, we’re already in Mora’s system. Jace shook himself. Part of him had been monitoring this, but he’d kept all of the information at the back of his head as he liked to be fully present with Khoth. But his beloved was already on the Bridge while he was faffing about in here. I guess the uniform it is. But still, why isn’t Gehenna coming in?

There was a long beat as if the Osiris truly did not want to tell him this next part, but was forced to. 

She perceives that you will not want to be unclothed when you speak to her in this form, the Osiris finally said.

Jace paused in his hair-drying and frowned. It couldn't be that Gehenna was embarrassed to see him naked. She had loads of time. She’d carried him naked to the pool.  So it must be that she thought that he would be embarrassed for her to see him naked in her new form. He gulped. Did her new form have lots of sharp parts? Maybe tentacles that could cut things off? No, that had been her cleaning bot body and that hadn’t been a problem. So what was going on here?

“Ah, okay, tell her I’ll be a minute,” he said.

His closet doors whooshed open to show him his uniforms. All black with touches of white. He sighed. Today was going to be a work day so he couldn’t put on any of the casual clothes that he adored. He pulled on his comfortable, yet formal uniform, hopped up and down as he tugged on his boots and went out to meet Gehenna in the common area.

Except she wasn’t there.

There was a girl–an alien girl–sitting on one of the sofas. She leaped up when she saw him, but nearly toppled over as if she wasn’t used to standing on two legs. She caught herself on the back of the sofa and steadied her legs.

“Oh, bother, I still haven’t gotten the hang of this!” she said.

The voice pinged something in his mind. Something familiar. He narrowed his eyes at the face. He’d seen that face, hadn’t he? The Osiris wouldn’t have allowed some stranger to have come into his quarters. Yet here one was

“Excuse me, miss, but I don’t think… T’lan?! Wait, no! GEHENNA?!” he gasped.

She blushed–actually blushed–and gave him a small smile and wave. “Yep, it’s me. Ah, what do you think?”

She gestured down at T’lan’s body. It didn’t look at all like calcanth. She appeared… alive. He slowly crossed the space over to her. They stood a foot apart and he stared at her.  The face and body were an exact match to the one he’d seen in the mirror in her memories. He felt a little light-headed seeing it and, for a terrible moment, he thought they were back fighting with the Rogue AI. But that left him as he felt the solidity of the Osiris’ architecture all around him. He relaxed. This wasn’t a memory-battle. No, this was real.

“Are you… what do you think, Jace?” she asked again and rocked a little anxiously.

Words escaped him. He’d been less shocked seeing her in her Terminator form than this. He reached and took one of her hands in his. It was soft. Warm. Supple. Felt like skin. Felt like flesh and blood. His vision allowed him to see the calcanth skeleton within. And the flesh was synth-flesh, which meant that Gehenna had greater protections than a real flesh and blood person, but still it felt so real. He rubbed one thumb over the back of her hand as if touch would give him more information and confirmation than his other heightened senses would.

Feeling is believing, he thought faintly.

“I think it looks pretty good,” Gehenna babbled.  “And the skin, it feels right according to Dai–”

Jace’s head shot up. “Dai?”

Dai had seen her? Dai had touched her? 

Gehenna blinked rapidly and put her other hand up to her lips. “Ah…”

Dai saw you like this?” Jace clarified, emphasizing the engineer’s name.

She blushed. Again. “Well, I went to Engineering last night and–”

“You’ve looked like this since last night?!” Jace couldn’t help the touch of something in his voice. His voice definitely went up an octave. He couldn’t identify the emotions himself at that moment. The shock of seeing–and feeling!--Gehenna like this was too much.

Her shoulders sagged. “You’re angry. Oh, I had hoped… but the Osiris said… I just thought maybe you’d be okay with it. But I guess you aren’t so I can’t keep it and–”

“Wait, wait, wait.” He held up a hand, shaking his head in confusion. “What am I not okay with? Or rather, what do you think I’m not okay with?”

“This–this form. You think it’s disrespectful of T’lan. That I’m trying to pretend to be her when I’m not. I’m just a poor copy and–”

“Gehenna, I don’t think that!” Jace stopped the rush of self-loathing that was flowing from his beloved AI.

Gehenna blinked large eyes–he could see the soul in her eyes–at him. “You… you don’t?”

“No, of course not,” he said softly. 

“But you sounded angry–”

“I was mad that I didn’t get to see you first,” he explained, realizing he’d been a bit jealous that she’d shared this with someone else before him.  But Dai had a crush on her and she might have a little one on the engineer so… He would have to get used to sharing her, he supposed. Considering Dai had liked her before she looked like this, he had a feeling that the engineer’s feelings would continue or even deepen.

She blinked those eyes some more and tears filled them. “Oh, Jace! I’m so sorry! I should have come to you first, but you were with Khoth. Wait, no, that’s not altogether true. I didn’t come, because–”

“You thought I’d be mad, but you wanted to do this all the same?” he guessed softly.

She nodded. Miserable. 

He put two fingers underneath his chin so that they were eye to eye again. “Gehenna, I get it. I really do. Wanting to do something that you think others are going to disapprove of is hard. I hid loads of things from my parents when I thought they wouldn’t approve–even for good reasons–because I wanted to do them. You know that. But I would have hoped that you would have trusted me a little more than that.”

A tear trickled down her cheek. He wiped it away with his fingers. It was a fluid that contained mostly water. No salt. Yet it was a tear. It was from true emotions. She was real. And he knew that he shouldn't see her differently in a body that looked like his. She was real no matter what. But it brought home that life--all life--was more closely connected than Jace had given it credit for being.

“I should have,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “But if you said no–if you were displeased at all–I wouldn’t have been able to keep it.”

“Why should what I think about this matter?” Jace frowned.

“Jace.” She lowered her head again. “Even if your opinion didn’t mean the universe to me, my primary purpose is to protect you, to serve you, not myself.”


“No, Jace.” She reached up and put one of those disturbingly real fingers against his lips. “You must understand this. It is my purpose. And I want it to be like that. You come before everything. I could do this because there was no harm to you, but if you were unhappy, I would have had to destroy this form and never do such a thing again.”

Jace wasn’t sure how he felt about that. She was a full person. An individual. She had programming, but didn’t they all on some level? Yet, and this made him a little ashamed, he was glad that he would always be number one with her. Because she mattered so much to him. He needed her as much as he needed his right arm. 

“I’m a little conflicted about that, Gehenna,” he admitted.

She grasped both of his hands in hers. “I know. I understand. Really, I do. And you shouldn’t be angry with yourself about wanting you to be your number one. I’m in your head. You have such great tasks before you. You need me to focus on that. Not on other things that aren’t as important.”

“Then I’m a hypocrite, too, because if all that mattered was defeating the Khul and being completely focused on restoring the Alliance,” the Osiris put in Empire and Jace rolled his eyes, “then I wouldn’t have bonded with Khoth.”

“But he helps keep you stable!” she protested.

“He does quite a bit more than that!” Jace laughed softly. “But he keeps me grounded and reminds me why I’m doing everything and what matters. Yet he definitely distracts me. Pleasantly.”

She beamed at him and looked just like he’d thought she would if she were a real girl. He beamed back at her and squeezed her hands.

“What I mean is that I can’t expect you to have nothing else but the mission while allowing myself to have something else,” he explained.

“Oh, but I do have so many things!” She bounced a little on her feet. “Being with you like this makes me so happy. And I have so many friends. Not to mention my role as their protector, too. Don’t you worry. This body will be just as capable of martial prowess as my other forms!”

At that moment, she wobbled and he caught her. She frowned. He laughed.

“I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to walk! Or stand! Or… well, no worries! I will only practice when it is safe in this form and I can instantly change to another form that does work perfectly in an instant,” she said.

“I know, Gehenna.” He paused and tilted his head to the side. “You really look right in this form.”

Those eyes were glimmering with tears even as a quavering smile appeared. “You think so? You really think so?”

“I do.” He squeezed her hands again. “I want to hear about how everyone else has reacted to it.  And do you have a date with Dai?”

They’d talked all about her adventures the night before on their way to the Bridge. Mostly, it involved discussions with Dai about his family, his home, and his hopes for what they would discover “out there” meaning space. But seeing Dai through Gehenna’s eyes, Jace realized that the engineer was looking at her as if she was what he’d always hoped he’d find. They’d have to talk about sex and what they might mean. Gehenna may have started off as T’lan, but she didn’t have those memories. Maybe that was best as the last of them would have been with Pelen. Still, he’d have to help her navigate this brave new world.

“I believe the Khul did attempt to settle here,” the Emissary said, one of her long fingers gesturing towards an inset section of map of the planet Mora. 

That section enlarged and it showed a hilly area with a series of cave openings, far more regular in size, shape and spacing than anything in nature would have been. Jace frowned as he realized that they had been drilled out. Could the Khul still be down there? Deep in the planet?

“Osiris, are you certain you are detecting no Khul life signs?” Jace asked, cognizant that Khul technology had been able to block the AI in the past. But while the Khul could block his AI from sensing things, the Osiris could sense the blocking.

No, I detect no Khul on or below the planet’s surface. From the weathering, here the Osiris enlarged one of the entrances to the Khul-made caves where quite a bit of reddish sand was pushed up against the opening, and obstructions, it would appear that the Khul have not been here in some time.

“So the Khul did try to find other worlds to establish colonies on,” Davies muttered. “Wonder why they left this one?”

“It’s not exactly hospitable, is it?” Matzen asked as he stared at the dry, dusty world. “There is little plant or animal life and the atmosphere is thin. We’ll need full suits and helmets. I wonder how the Khul existed here. But perhaps they used their tech to modify the interior of the planet to sustain them.”

“I would recommend that we travel to this area and find out the answers to those questions,” the Emissary of the Vrecid requested. “I would also ask to accompany the away team.”

Jace lifted his eyebrows. “You’re more than welcome to accompany us, Emissary. I take it that you believe there might be something we could learn from these burrows.”

“Yes, I wish to see their structure. It will give me a better understanding of what we can expect when we do find their homeworld. How their hives are set up, where the queen is, how deep they go. Not to mention if this type of planet is one that is their preference. It could help narrow down the search,” the Emissary explained. “It will be invaluable data.”

“I concur with the Emissary, Pilot,” Khoth said with a nod. “I would recommend we bring the Emissary, myself, Endin, Davies, Matzen, Gehenna and Thammah as the pilot.”

Davies piped up, “I would also recommend that we bring Dr. Lafrei.”  When Jace turned towards him, he explained, “Maybe she can sense why they left.”

“She senses Altaeth history by touching things, I suppose she could do the same with the Khul,” Gehenna offered, but looked a little uneasy. “Is it safe to bring her, though?”

“I will keep you all safe,” the Emissary said simply.

Jace lifted his eyebrows, but then a mere glance at her powerful body and frightening clawed limbs and he believed that. Also, considering what had happened on Thausia, maybe she didn’t think it was such a hot idea to let them go anywhere alone.

“Are you certain you should not stay in the hive, Pilot?” she asked.

“The… oh, the ship? Ah, no, I want to see and experience it myself. Even through Gehenna, it’s not as good as actually being there,” he admitted.

“If there is great danger, you should return,” she said firmly.

“I am so with the Emissary on this,” Davies muttered.

“Hey, Davies,” Jace cried.

“No, no, Pilot, I’m best friends with her now. She’s my number one gal,” Davies grinned at him.

“You must continue in this life cycle,” the Emissary insisted. “Your continuation is necessary for the destruction of the Khul and restoration of order.”

Jace let out a breath through his teeth. Khoth’s mind had been studiously neutral throughout all of this so he knew that his Commander agreed with her. 

“Okay, okay, first sign of trouble, we will leave,” Jace said. “Because you all are important to this mission too. Agreed?”

“We will assess on planet,” the Emissary simply said, which wasn’t exactly an agreement with him, but he realized that she was likely not willing to give more.

“I believe the Razor Wolf form is indicated for this terrain!” Gehenna told him brightly, evidently very keen to prove that she knew when this current body wasn’t up to the task and she was putting him first.

“Sounds good, Gehenna. Go change and we’ll meet you in Hangar Bay 5,” he said.

She saluted him and tottered off. He was very proud that she only almost tripped twice. He smiled and shook his head only to realize that the Emissary was looking at him curiously.

“On your planet, I believe there are creatures that transform from caterpillar to butterfly,” she said.

Jace brightened at the description and nodded. “Yes, yes, that’s quite a good way of putting it.”

“I am in my final form. My three changes previous to this are remembered fondly,” the Emissary told him.

Little was known of the Vreced life cycle so this had Jace asking, “You change forms? Would you–would you be comfortable explaining that?”

She let out a dry, rusty chuckle. “Yes, Pilot. When we begin life, we begin in our Katarr form. We hatch into this form. We are small. This size of Chili, but with more legs and pincers.”

Jace blinked. “Oh, so you’re ready to fight?”

A nod. “Not all young survive. One must fight for the most succulent of the meal sacks to grow strong. This lasts until what you would likely term our adolescence when we cocoon and, depending on the amount of fuel we have consumed, we are transformed into our Ran’lek form. Tall, slender with our whipping tails.” Here she curled her tail around her large form. It reminded Jace of a spine with all the flesh removed. “During the time of this form, a pod of us are left on a planet to survive. A leader must be chosen. There can be only one leader and the rest must follow.”

“Oh, boy, I could imagine that might be difficult,” Jace guessed.

A nod. “Many wish to be leaders, but few are. But if all in the pod are killed but for one that is considered a failure as well. Because we must ensure the safety and continuance of all.”

“I guess I can see that. So this is more the cooperation phase?”

“Indeed. And finally when one enters full maturity, we cocoon for the last time and become our Xar form.” She gestured with one clawed hand at herself. 

“But not all of you are the same in this form, are you?” Jace said, remembering when he’d met the queen.

“No, those, like myself, who could have been queens become as I am while others take on a warrior or worker form,” she explained. “It is in this form that we are most effective.”

“That I can very well believe,” Jace said.

“So I will keep you safe.” She pointed at his chest. 

“I hope there isn’t anyone left on Mora,” Jace said. “But if there are–”

“None will get past me,” the Emissary promised. “I will be their doom.”

  • Emissary is a bad bitch! I LOVE her sooooo much. She’s like, “fear not tiny squishy creatures, Emissary shall take good care of you!” Adorable.

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  • I knew that Jace wouldn't be angry at her for that new form. It was a little funny to see him jealous however :D
    I also can't wait to see him try to give Gehenna the sex talk. :D

    We had some down time and got to see a little of the crew life, now it's time to go back into action. We may even be able to see the Emissary into action and Endin will be there, we haven't seen him in a while!

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  • In reply to: Ness

    He was a little jealous! It was so cute.

    The sex talk is going to be interesting.

    Yes, we'll get more action then more downtime, etc.

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  • I like the fact that our secret trio are all going to Mora. I doubt there will be anything remotely related to sexy times there. Speaking of sexy times I can’t imagine Jace giving Gehenna the “birds and bees” talk. Hilarity is sure to ensue!

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  • In reply to: Sweetlyme

    No sexy times on Mora. That would be scary. It will be an interesting talk. Maybe Thammah should give it.

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  • I really loved Jace reaction to Gehennas form!!! And so eager to see what they will find on mora!!! See you on Wednesday!!!

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  • In reply to: smint45

    He was so sweet about it! Not a surprise but still!

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