Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mutable: Interlude: Rone

Notes: This isn't as long as I was hoping for, but I think it'll get things rolling, and it's important to check in with Rone every now and then :)

Title: Mutable: Interlude: Rone

***


Interlude
Rone


I’m burning…
Rone saw but didn’t comprehend, heard but understood nothing, felt but was also completely numb. Every one of his senses were working perfectly, but none of it seemed to matter, because his brain was dismissing every other source of input to focus on the one that was all-consuming right now—the infection of the phage. It burns.... It did burn, but the fire of it was cold, sending flares coursing along his nerve endings as it sought to overtake every aspect of his body.
Rone had never imagined possession like this before. An alien coursed through his blood and bones, an alien bent on dominating him. What had Cas said? That he had to fight it. Fight, or let the phage control and eventually kill him.
No, no. He felt more than heard the sentiment, a thrum of gentle disapproval. Strong. Stronger. Love. Love. Was this…the phage? Speaking to him? Managing to communicate, at least. Cas had never mentioned it could do that. It was a bacterium, an infection, nothing more.
No. No. The disapproval was more intense now. Live. Alive. A ripple of fire spread down his limbs, making him convulse. Here. You, me. Us.
Could it have a consciousness? It definitely had a will—Rone had gathered that from how Cas occasionally spoke of it, something to fight and master, something to direct. But was it actually its own sentient organism?
Mmmm. It projected contentedness at him even as it held him down and coated his veins with a layer of acid. Yes. Yes.
The pain was becoming noticeable now, breaking through the barriers Rone had erected in his mind—or had the phage erected them? Mental focus and control were things he practiced as a part of his daily life, things he needed in order to keep himself on an even keel. It was too easy to intrude into the lives of others if he didn’t fight it, to learn about things that he had no business knowing. He had been made into the ultimate warrior, but most of the time he felt like the ultimate spy instead.
That was before he’d met Beren, of course. Or Cas, really, and Christala. Whatever skill he had, he knew now that it was nothing compared to what they could do.
Unsame. Strong. Mmmmm. The phage purred inside of his mind and body, a vibration that made him rattle against the floor. Us. Us.
No. He didn’t want to carry the phage—the little he knew about it was more than enough to convince him that the price wasn’t worth it.
Yes. Power. Fire flooded his mind, and with it came—
Visions.
Rone saw himself standing in the bridge of a battle cruiser, one of the new Imperion-class monstrosities, not his simple little mercy-ship. A map of the entire Tiresias System lay spread out before him, holograms whirling in and out of focus as his commander moved the map, describing various plans of attack.
“It almost doesn’t matter,” she said gleefully. “Even if several of them could manage to coordinate enough to form a decent defense, a few well-placed saboteurs could shatter the trust between them in a matter of weeks. Shall I call up the Phage Corps, Your Majesty?”
Rone looked at Private Fillie—no, Commander Fillie now, because he had lost Darven, hadn’t he—and he barely recognized her. He shuddered away from the hologram, away from her, and the vision changed to—
“Daddy, watch!” Shar tugged on his sleeve, getting him to turn before holding up the sapphire-encrusted spoon. “Watch!” He lifted it, waved his hand once, twice, then turned his palm over and the spoon was gone. “See? I can do it now! Beren taught me how.”
“Did he,” Rone said, distracted and not entirely sure why. Where was Lilah? Where was—
He turned back to his son with a gasp. “You’re talking.”
Shar rolled his eyes with a grin. “Daddy, that’s what the gift was for! To make me talk, to make me better. And now I am.”
He was…speaking. And his voice was nothing like Rone had ever imagined. He stumbled for another topic of conversation, anything to distract him. “Did you say Beren?”
“Yes, Daddy. Papa Beren.”
“But he’s—” Dead. Only he wasn’t, not exactly, but—
The vision changed again, becoming a hand on his shoulder, turning him around to look at…Beren. Yes, this was his husband, the one he’d married at any rate. The smooth oval face was the same, the bright eyes, the thick dark eyebrows and gentle smile. “What happened?” Rone asked helplessly.
“I just want to be what you want,” Beren replied sweetly, stepping up into his space. Rone’s arms opened automatically. “Don’t you love me like this?”
“I—” It hardly seemed right to love him no matter what face he wore—one was a dead man, the other a desperate one. “Right” had pretty well ceased to matter to Rone where his husband was concerned, though. “I do. But I love you the other way too.”
“You love me more like this.” Beren, no, Cas sounded confident. “I know you do. That’s why I took another phage, so I could be this for you. All I want is to make you happy.”
“Cas…that’s not—”
It felt like lightning flashed across his eyes, and the vision fractured and melted as a headache the size of a volcano suddenly erupted in his head. He felt his neck twist as he thrashed from side to side, felt Cas’s phage go from steady blaze to crackling thunderbolt all at once. A shadow in the corner of his eye, so faint he hadn’t even noticed it, vanished.
Eat. Eater. Eaten. The voice reverberated like a sonic hammer in his skull. Mine. You, me, us. Us!
All of a sudden Rone felt his movements slow. His body calmed, and so did his mind. He felt the phage like the warmth of a distant sun, shining down on him. We? it asked sweetly. Us? Ours?
Other people were speaking above him, faces looking down on him, but Rone couldn’t focus on them. All he could feel was the phage, trembling inside of him, ready to swallow him whole and smother him with its love. And the worst of it was, he wasn’t even sure whether or not that was a bad thing.
Yes?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New computer, new problems

Hey darlins,

So the good news first--I have a new computer! This is great, hurray, so nice.

What I don't have? Everything transferred over from Dropbox (it took me 3 DAYS to backup my files), or MS Word, or my story back where I can work on it yet. Because honestly, Dropbox is kind of sucking and keeps failing at downloading, over and over again, so I'm breaking up my files into smaller files to see if that helps and it might, but it takes a long damn time.

I needed a new computer--the old one had a flickering screen that I'd already gotten replaced once and frankly was on its last legs--but I had no idea getting the new one ready would take so effing long. I'm sorry. I'll get more story to you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two

Notes: Oh damn. Oh Damn! OH DAMN!

Yep, you heard me right ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two

***


Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two

“No.”
It slipped out before he had a chance to stop it, that simple, stupid, single word reply. It was foolish, but it was true. Cas didn’t want to talk to Rone—Cas didn’t even want to look at Rone, not right now, not anymore, not ever again. Looking at him felt like looking the ultimate failure straight in the face. Looking at him made Cas want to grab Christala’s knife out of Amiru’s shoulder and carve the phage out of his husband’s body. Which was impossible, of course.
He looked at Christala instead, who had turned back into her natural self. She seemed pale and sick, sweat standing out over her forehead and temples and along the thin line of her neck. She didn’t have enough phage in her any more to maintain her shift, and it was…odd, to see her again. It had been over a decade since Cas had last glimpsed her actual face. Seeing her smile made him want to rip it off, though.
“You’ll talk to me one way or another,” she murmured. “Directly or through Rone, I don’t care. But either you talk to me, work with me, or I kill you now.”
Kill me now, he almost said, but he couldn’t. It couldn’t end like that—he couldn’t give up, even though he wasn’t in any position to fight her. Cas couldn’t make thralls—he’d never been able to. He couldn’t put his phage into Rone and take control of his husband’s mind that way, wrest it back from Christala like children fighting over a toy. He had to convince her to give Rone back to him. “What do you want from me?”
“What do you think?” She sat up and pushed her lank hair away from her face. Her expression was surprisingly vulnerable. “We’re the last of our kind. And despite what you may think, I don’t want to be alone, Cas. I never wanted to be alone.” She pressed one of her hands against a thin cheek, digging her nails into the skin. “I didn’t think that part through. Thralls aren’t the same—it’s like trying to play chess against yourself, talking with one of them. I thought for a long time that I needed you dead, but now I know I’d rather have you alive.”
She pressed up onto her knees and looked at him, her eyes wide and pleading. “I’ll let him out to talk to you, whenever I don’t need him. Rone has to lead the conquest of the other planets, of course—Amiru’s going to order it, and then I can get rid of him and focus on Rone—but when he’s not needed in the public eye, I’ll give him back to you. And to the kids, too—I know you like those kids. You can keep them. You can keep him, keep what you have with him. He loves you, and I know you love him back.”
“You’ve destroyed what we had together,” Cas replied. His heart felt dead in his chest. “It’s already gone. You said it yourself—you’re inside of him. You always will be. I’d never be able to trust a single word that came out of his mouth, and he’d be disappointed in me if I did, because I know he’d rather die than be your thrall.”
Christala smiled knowingly. “Are you so sure of that?” Rone stepped up beside Cas and put a hand on his shoulder. A tide of longing surged through him, a meld of himself and his phage that was almost enough to knock him over. The phage tensed and reached, quivering inside of him as it gravitated toward Rone. It had liked the man from the start—liked him better than Cas did. Hell, he was pretty sure at this point that his phage liked Rone better than it liked its own host.
“Are you sure he’d rather die? Because he doesn’t feel like a man who’d welcome his own death to me.” Rone turned Cas’s head to look at him. “And I’m not,” he said, her words like sacrilege in his mouth. “I know what a suicidal thrall feels like, and there’s not a speck of that kind of desperation in this man’s body. He’s a fighter—more than you or me, or anyone else I’ve ever inhabited before. He’s not afraid to die, but he isn’t seeking it. He wants to live, Cas. And he wants you to live right along with him.”
“And what about his brother?” Cas asked, looking into Rone’s flat black eyes for any hint of purple. Please don’t be gone. Don’t let her be guessing. “Does he want him dead, like you’re planning? And what are you going to do with the queen and her children?”
“I’ll simply put them aside once he’s dead, out to one of the royal homes in the country,” Christala assured him. “I wouldn’t hurt them. I don’t need to. Amiru will be extraneous soon, but I’ll handle Rone’s anger killing him by promising him to keep you alive and well. He’d rather have you, you know. It’s a shameful secret he carries at the back of his mind, that he’d rather have you in his life than his own flesh and blood. There’s something about him that’s always preferred non-Imperians: first his children, now you. He wants to keep you, Cas. So do I. So let us keep you. Let us have you, alive and well, as a part of our family. Bring the children back, make us all whole. Let us usher in a new age of expansion here, together.”
“Expansion,” Cas said, nearly choking on the phage as it swelled in his throat, treating his wound for want of a better way to express itself. “That’s just another word for conquest. You want to rule everyone, but you can’t even keep yourself in check.”
Christala’s hopeful expression clouded. “I can rule people better than they rule themselves. Look at what I’m doing here, what I’ve done here. Look at how well I can plan. Just think about what I could do for the rest of the system, as long as they have to listen to me.”
Cas shook his head. “You don’t have enough phage to make everyone your thrall, and that’s what it would take to make them all listen to a would-be conqueror. You’re just one more small-minded, vindictive fool.”
“No one is more powerful than I am!” she snapped. “Look at me! Look where I started and see where I am now! I’m fucking amazing, and you’re just lucky to be along for the ride.”
A faint purple flicker flashed deep in Rone’s eyes. Cas stared up at him, every molecule of his body straining for his husband, and knew what he had to do. Rone was fighting Christala’s phage. He would break her hold, as long as he had the strength to do it.
This had better fucking work.
“I am lucky, I know,” Cas said, staring up at his husband. Rone was breathing heavily, fighting inside with all his strength. The phage crawled up Cas’s throat into his mouth, abandoning old haunts in tooth and bone and blood to settle like a mouthful of pond slime against his tongue. So lucky. Before Christala could jerk Rone back, Cas threw himself at his husband, wrapped his arms around his neck, and locked their lips together.
His phage left him in a torrent, as eager as a creature like that could be. It poured into Rone’s mouth, down his throat and into his stomach, then percolated through his organs, laying claim and seeking out its enemy. Rone choked, gasped, his hands clutching at his throat as he fell back.
“No!” Christala screamed.
Cas felt lightheaded, and weaker than he could ever remember being. He collapsed onto the hard floor and rolled over onto his back, wiping one hand across his dripping mouth. So this was what it felt like to lose a piece of yourself.
“You can’t have him as a thrall! He’s mine!
“Not…my thrall,” Cas managed, turning his head to stare at Rone, to watch the battle taking place inside of him. “It’s all for him,” he whispered. “I gave it all to him.”

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part One

Notes: Uh-oh. Prepare for shit to go down!

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part One

***


Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part One

Amiru was alone when they got to him. At least, he appeared to be alone. He was the only other person there, as far as Cas could tell. But he wasn’t alone in his own head. That much was clear from the moment they walked into the room.
“Brother.” Amiru smiled at them as they walked in through the door.
“You’re not my brother,” Rone said coldly.
“In a sense that’s true…but I wasn’t talking to you.” Amiru looked straight at Cas. “We’re the only ones left, you know. The only Delacoeurians with phages.”
“How do you know that?”
Amiru shook his head. “How do you think?”
“You…” Cas considered it for a moment. “You got into—into the heads of our own people. Pendry, and Kaske, and Marigo. The ones who sold us out.”
“The ones who held us back, Cas,” Amiru said intently. “The ones who should have cut us free a long time ago. Our folk rotted in Shyne for over a century, and what did the people in power do about it? Nothing, as long as we kept them in power. They would rather have squatted on a dirt throne than risk their lives battling for the sun.”
“You hated Shyne.”
“Of course I hated it. It was a cesspit, and everyone in it who refused to fight for their freedom deserved to die there. But not enough people agreed with me to make my vision for the future come true. Our erstwhile leaders didn’t, not until I wore down their reserve.” The edge of his teeth glinted. “They were alert against potential phage infections, of course. It took years for me to get close enough to them for them to let their guard down. But eventually, it worked.”
“You’re talking about aiding and abetting the enemy in murdering us,” Cas insisted, his words rough-edged in his throat. “Our people are practically wiped out thanks to what you did.”
“They weren’t truly our people, Cas.” Amiru looked at him pityingly. “They were never ours. We were always meant for more. The phage makes us great. We shouldn’t bow to anyone, to anything. Especially not to a pompous, puffed up buffoon like this man.” He pounded his own chest with a fist. “Look at him! Coddled and cosseted all his life, born into the ultimate privilege, and all he can do with it is lounge around on his planet and revel in his superiority. Disgusting. These people might once have been innovators, but they’ve lost that quality, Cas. They’re hidebound now, rulebound. Caste bound, too—just look at their petty restrictions on their own ambitions. Lords of Metal, Lords of Mind…stupid rules to keep slightly more important sheep in line. Even their riots are an embarrassment to the word.”
“What, and you’re not an embarrassment?” Cas snapped. “You’re living as no more than a parasite—a host pretending to be the very thing that makes her special. You’ve given away so many pieces of yourself that I’m amazed you can even hold another person’s shape any more. And the more they die, the weaker you’ll become, until one day you can’t even remember your own name because you’ve carried so many.”
Amiru scowled. “Better than skulking around wearing my baby brother’s face and pretending to be in love with the king’s bastard kin just so I could escape Leelinge.”
Cas felt incredibly tired all of a sudden. “That’s not why I did it.”
“You can tell yourself that, but I know how much you disliked it there.” Amiru leaned back in his chair by the table and steepled his fingers under his chin. “Even if I could have persuaded you to take on the Leelinger elite with me, you would never have been satisfied on that planet. You and I, we were destined for this.”
“For Imperia?” Cas scoffed. “Coming here was just a means to the end of finding you, which I’ve done now. I’m tired of talking to you. You can leave that body, or I’ll force you out of it.”
“Cas…” Rone said, low and warning.
“You can’t just kill me,” Amiru said with a pleased tut-tut. “And that one know it. I’m the king, after all, and this is being recorded. No matter what justification you present, you’ll be sentenced to death.”
Cas squared his shoulders. “We don’t need to kill you. We just need to purge you.”
Amiru’s eyes glinted. “And you think you’re finally strong enough to do that, do you? To purge me from a thrall? You can’t even make thralls yourself, so what do you know about it?”
“I know that you’ve spread yourself so thin that you don’t have any more foot soldiers to throw at us,” Cas said. “I know that wherever you are, you’re weak. And in him, you’re weak. And I’m not going to let you have him.”
“Oh, Cas.” Amiru sighed with an air of satisfaction. “You’ve shaped your mind like a spear, slashing straight at whatever you see. If you really wanted to kill me, you would have taught yourself to think like a noose. It always helps to be a little bit more…flexible.”
What happened next happened so fast, Cas could hardly track it. Rone grunted, and a second later he was jerked backward off his feet. Cas spun around to go after him, but had to jump away when Amiru pulled a—what was that, a crossbow of some kind?—from behind his chair and fired it at him. The house’s prohibition on energy weapons didn’t stop a ballistic one, and the tip of the arrow slashed through the fabric at Cas’s collar, nearly cutting his throat. Blood welled up and spilled from the cut, but Cas had no time to focus on stopping it.
Rone was on his back, the cord that had lassoed his neck and pulled him down still there, and Riina—Christala—was crouched over him, her long-fingered hands bracketing his face. She hovered like an eel over its prey, latching onto his mouth with hers like a suction cup. And Rone…didn’t fight it. He didn’t move.
He didn’t even twitch.
And by then Cas knew what was happening, and he ran toward them but fell when he took an arrow to the back of his right thigh. Amiru laughed as Cas sprawled onto the floor, the pain of the wound intense but the agony of what he was watching, of what he felt in his heart, immensely more terrible.
Rone! RONE! “RONE!” he screamed, and dragged himself toward his husband. Another arrow struck by his head—just a warning shot, he knew that much, a message to leave well enough alone, but he’d fucking had enough. He rolled onto his side, pulled a dagger free from his belt and hurled it with all the force he could muster from his compromised position straight at Amiru. The knife hit him in the shoulder, sinking deep into the meat of it, and Amiru grimaced and dropped the crossbow.
“It doesn’t matter!” he called out after Cas. “It’s too late to do anything to stop it! He’s mine now, Cas! You had your chance at him, but he’s mine now!”
“No,” Cas muttered as he crawled. He was so close. She needed more time to transfer the phage—it didn’t want to leave the host body, didn’t want to risk it in a new shell. It would be reluctant, he just had to—
And then Christala gasped and fell back, and Rone sat up, and as he looked at Cas the purple sheen over his eyes drowned in an inky pool of blackness. The phage was within him—in enormous quantities, for it to manifest so clearly.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Rone said, and Cas wanted to scream again. Because that was his voice, the voice of the man he was married to, the man he loved.
But it wasn’t him. Not anymore.
“I think we need to talk.”