Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Seventeen, Part One

Notes: New story post at last! Have some awkward family interactions, darlins ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Seventeen, Part One

***


Chapter Seventeen, Part One



They used another hovercraft to get there—not as posh as the one they’d arrived in, but it was still done up in regal red and smelled like spiced fruit on the inside. Cas extended his senses just a bit and picked up on—

—sweat, drying tears on Lilah’s face, one of the guards grunting as he let out a little—

—the tang of pomegranates and alcohol, the cool whisper of ice jostling in a carafe held by the craft’s attendant, the cinnamony warmth of warmed, sliced—peaches, perhaps, he wasn’t sure, the—

— “will he last, do you think?”

“There’s no way to tell yet. We’ll know more soon, lay down some money.”

“Beren?”

Cas shuddered at the sudden touch on his shoulder and abruptly pulled his senses back in. He glanced at Rone, who had lifted his hand away and was holding it up cautiously. “I’m—I’m sorry?”

“It’s fine.” And he really sounded like he was telling the truth, apart from the way Cas could see his heartrate increase in the crook of his neck. “I’m just checking in. You stopped by the door, and we can’t take off until everyone is seated.”

“Oh.” Well, hadn’t he done a great job of making himself look like an idiot? “I got distracted, I’m sorry.” Feeling a bit impulsive, he reached up and took Rone’s hand, pulling it down to a more comfortable height and squeezing it lightly. “I’m still feeling a little dazzled from all the lights.”

Rone nodded and led him gently over to one of the four luxurious seats in the center of the craft. Lilah and Shar were already sitting on one side, Shar playing with the little silver spoon Cas had passed him and Lilah glaring like she would burn him on the spot if she could just manage to strike sparks with her mind. Cas had no doubt she would have taken the spot next to her father if she could have, but the children’s seats were equipped with special inserts to make them fit better.

“I should have thought of having Dr. Weiss give you something to help for that before we landed. I never think of our planet as very bright, but you’re a special case.”

“Not bright?” Cas looked out the window at the sky. It was true that there were a lot of clouds up there, but they were never still—every one of them roiled and churned with lightning, and the rusty tinge reminded him of old blood, as though the conflicts taking place on the ground had migrated to the air. “With all that going on?”

“Ah, the lightning. It’s the season for it here. We get a lot more volcanic activity at certain times of year, and the lightning tends to increase when the eruptions do.” The hovercraft took off with barely a whisper, and a moment later the attendant was offering them all ice water in chilled glasses. Cas was the only one who accepted. “I almost don’t see it anymore,” Rone confessed, looking out the window with a pensive expression. “You see the same marvelous thing enough times and after a while, it doesn’t seem so marvelous.”

Cas pressed his lips together tight, lifting the water to his mouth but not quite able to drink. Was that how Rone operated? He saw something shiny, something or someone new and became infatuated with them and brought them into his life? And then…then did he tire of them, the same way he’d tired of rainbow lightning?

The eyes and the heart didn’t see things the same way, Cas had to remind himself. He’d seen entire crystal colonies rise up out of mineral pools, expand and grow, and then die back so many times that the lifecycle had become meaningless to him as anything other than a blunt metaphor—you’re not special. You can always be replaced. Except he was special, and now that he was here on Imperia he was going to prove it.

He needed to find Danie Yorque. That was Christala’s cover now, and so that was where he needed to go. Did she know about him? Had the man she’d infected on the ship been nothing but a lucky guess on her part, a chance offering in case someone came looking for her?

He’d have to find out. And he’d have to find her—back to the refugee registry? He could almost certainly get Rone to help him look her up, but then he’d know that Cas was interested and that might get back to Christala in an uncomfortable way. She was aggressive, and the last thing Cas wanted to do was invite trouble into Rone’s home. He wouldn’t stand for the man’s children being threatened, even if—

Sploosh.

Even if one of them had just thrown a smuggled piece of bread into Cas’s water glass with rather astonishing accuracy. He handed the glass over to the worried-looking attendant and wiped his face down with the towel she proffered even as Rone turned his gaze onto his daughter.

No, not a gaze—this was more of a stare.

“Lilah.” There was still a layer of comfort in his voice, but it was hard to hear beneath the sternness. “What did we just talk about?”

She crossed her arms. “I was just—”

“What did we just talk about?”

The child huddled deeper into her plush chair. “Respect.”

“That’s right. Behaving in a respectful manner. I know you’re nervous about this change to our family, but you told me you’d treat Beren with respect. Was throwing food at him respectful?”

“He was ignoring you!”

Wait, what?

“He acted like he didn’t even hear your question, Papa, and that’s not respectful either!”

“Beren just got off a spaceship after a leaving his home planet not one week ago,” Rone replied calmly. “He’s on a whole new planet for the first time. Do you remember how you felt after arriving here for the first time?”

“Not really,” Lilah grumped.

“Well, I do. I could barely keep you awake long enough to greet your Uncle Amiru before I had to put you to bed. You didn’t come out of your room for three whole days. It was a lot to take in.” He gestured gently at Cas. “Why would it be any different for Beren?”

Cas wanted to follow the conversation more closely, but he was reeling internally from the fact that apparently he’d just ignored his husband speaking to him while he mused on Christala. Either he was so comfortable with Rone that he’d just absorbed the reality of his presence as unthreatening, or he really was more tired than he felt.

“But he’s an adult!”

“He’s also human. Now. I think you owe him an apology.”

Lilah turned her frowning face on Cas. Arms still crossed over her chest so hard she might have resuscitated herself if she’d been choking, she spat, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Rone prompted.

“For throwing bread at you.”

And now it was time for Cas to respond. If he said no apology was necessary, he’d undermine Rone and make Lilah think she could walk all over him. If he accepted too warmly, he’d just make her uncomfortable. This was clearly a girl who liked to feel in control of her surroundings. It was best not to try and make too many inroads too soon.

He let himself smile slightly and nodded his head. “Apology accepted.”

It was a small victory to see Lilah looking nonplussed at that, like she’d expected something more. Shar hadn’t even bothered to look up, just stared at the spoon in his hands and grinned as he rubbed the silver surface over and over with his thumbs.

The hovercraft began to slow down, coming to a stop with a gentle motion that Cas barely felt. “That was fast.”

“My home here is close to the center of Obsidian,” Rone said. Cas thought he detected a hint of annoyance in his voice. “I needed to have a place close to both the palace and the military port. This was the compromise. There’s space around it, though, so hopefully you won’t worry about being too crowded.”

“I lived almost my entire life in an underground city that squeezed thousands of people into a cavern not much bigger than your ship,” Cas said, standing up when Rone did. “I won’t be bothered by people.” People would be good, actually—the more people he had to blend in with, the better. Not inside the house, necessarily, but outside of it? Yes, please.

Lilah’s frown became a little less intense. “You lived under the ground?”

Cas smiled at her again. “Yeah, I did.”

“Like a worm?”

Um. “Something like that.”

She rolled her eyes as they all walked off the craft. “Why would you want to live like a worm?”

“Lilah.” That was Rone’s warning tone again. She huffed and snatched up her father’s hand, then tugged him out of the covered hangar they’d parked in at full speed. Cas felt a little bit bereft watching them go, until Shar’s hand found his again. They followed Rone and Shar, and ended up almost face to face with Darven and—the surge of relief that went through him when he saw Fillie was disconcerting.

She was back in her smart red uniform, only a few shades darker than her hair, and she beamed as soon as she saw them. Darven was occupied with Rone, gesturing at the house in front of them, but Fillie bounced right over, stopping and clasping her hands behind her back as she bowed.

“Hi again, sir.” She straightened up and grinned. “Welcome to Obsidian.”

And finally, funnily, Cas really felt welcomed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

RL Post Today

Hi guys,

So, there's no story post today. I spent Friday-Monday at knife camp and managed to catch a cold while I was there. I'm headachy, regular achy, and have a runny nose I'm trying to keep away from my kiddo, so story? Not happening. I'll try for an extra long installment next week.

That said, things have been...overall good lately. Knife camp was fun, my parents came up to watch the itsy bitsy baby (who is turning one on Friday, OMG), and we won a truly beautiful, utterly unique handcrafted damascus knife made from steel that came from one of the World Trade Center's I-beams. It seems particularly relevant to write about a knife like that, on today of all days. We're grateful to own such a gorgeous piece of art and history.

Let's see...the baby turns one, right. Friday. What? WHAT? How can this be? She was just a tiny little bundle of sleepy adorableness yesterday, and now she's standing and crawling and chattering and is, quite possible, the prettiest baby ever. Every mother says this, but I really mean it. I've actually had people say (not to me, but to people who then told me about it) "How could two ordinary-looking people make such a pretty baby?" To which I say...thanks? I guess?

My quest to make enough to stay at home with the kiddo continues to twist and turn. I had an online editing gig that went sour after they realized they had to actually pay me the rate they promised for ALL my work, not just what they thought merited that money. I've got a ghostwriting gig coming up that should set me right for a while, but we'll see how long I can stretch the money to make it last. I've got a book with Dreamspinner coming out in October, synopses due to DSP and Carina for more books, a sequel to write with Lori, and a UF and PNR to finish before the end of the year. It's all uncertain returns, which sucks, but what can you do?

At any rate, I'm writing, I'm hunting for work, I'm caring for my kiddo and loving on my husband and appreciating all the help I get from family and friends, so I think I'm pretty damn lucky overall. And I've got you, my awesome readers, who help make pressing on worthwhile. So thanks for being there, for reading my work and supporting my books, and for chatting at me every now and then. I'll post about the upcoming book later this week, but I think that's it for today.

Be good to yourselves, darlins.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Sixteen, Part Two

Notes: Cas, figuring out how to work a room. Or at least an audience of one. ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Sixteen, Part Two

***


Chapter Sixteen, Part Two



Cas had never, in all his years, seen such a haughty expression directed at him during an introduction. Tiyana might be the queen, but Lilah— “Lilah Marie Basinti, thank you very much—” was apparently the reigning ruler of Rone’s household, and she wasn’t happy to meet him. Not even close. Her dark brown eyes, which should have looked cute on her pixie-ish face, were narrowed with anger, and her hands were clenched into fists.

“You knew he was coming home with me,” Rone reminded her after she refused to shake Cas’s hand once they’d been introduced. “I told you every time we spoke.”

“I thought you were making a joke!”

Amiru laughed. “Trouble in paradise, brother?”

His wife bopped him on the arm as he sat down next to their youngest child. “How about you turn your attentions to your own little urchins, my dear? Gale is about to dump his soup over the top of his head.”

“Oh, damn, you’re right.”

“Lilah.” Rone leaned in and began speaking to her in a low voice. Once she finally looked away from Cas, petulant but at least listening to her father, Cas breathed an internal sigh of relief, then almost fell right back into panic. Where was he supposed to sit?

“There’s a place prepared for you next to Shar,” Tiyana said. Thank goodness she was a mind reader, or at the very least a competent hostess.

“Thank you.” He pulled out the chair—it was heavy and nearly too big for him, and the one that the child on his right sat in made the boy look even more miniature than he already was.

Shar had a lighter complexion than his sister, almost as pale as a cave-dwelling Delacoeurian, and his black hair was as fine as a spider’s web. He hadn’t said anything so far, not even to his father, just nodding or shaking his head to communicate. He wasn’t uninterested, though. He glanced up at Cas from under his eyelashes every now and then as he slowly ate his soup.

Any success of winning the children over would have to start with Shar, then. Lilah was more likely to be swayed by her brother than she was by her father anyway. But how did you go about impressing a child?

You showed him something he had never seen before, then paid attention to his reaction and did it again, or found something new. It had been a while since Cas had really used his sleight of hand skills, even though they were the foundation of much of his training as a carrier of the phage. “If you have the face of the right man but none of his personal effects, you’ll fail.” His instructor had made him learn to pickpocket, to palm, to hide, to hustle. If he couldn’t lift the ID card of his target, then he wasn’t allowed to become his target.

Amiru, Tiyana, and Freyne had fallen into what sounded like a familiar topic of conversation, if the way they argued about it was any sign. They weren’t paying attention to him or to Shar. Now was as good a time as any to see if he still had some of his early tricks.

Cas started with the tiny spoon at the top of the plate. A tutorial with Rone had informed him that the spoon was for stirring drinks—hot drinks only, cold ones had a different spoon. Ridiculous. But perfect for what he needed it to do, which was disappear.

Palming a tiny spoon and sliding it up his sleeve was easy. Making sure that Shar saw him do it was a little harder—he was putting on a show for one here, and it needed to get his attention but not attract the notice of anyone else. He was lucky, though, because Shar was riveted from the moment the spoon disappeared, staring from Cas’s hands to his face as if to say, How?

Cas smiled and, a second later, produced the spoon again. Shar startled, put both hands on the table and then, very slowly, pointed to his own spoon.

It was bigger, but still not hard. A little misdirection, a little tap, and—

If Shar’s mouth opened any wider, his jaw would hit the soup bowl. His eyes got even bigger when Cas pulled the spoon out of thin air and handed it back to him.

He ended up doing the trick for probably ten minutes, in a slightly different way each time. He made the spoon vanish into a napkin, into his uniform, into Shar’s dress shirt. He made it reappear in a water glass, balanced on the tines of the fork, or actually back in the soup bowl. Neither of them were getting any eating done, but both of them were pleased with the results. Shar was enthralled, and Cas was making the slightest bit of headway with one of Rone’s children. The other one, well…

She and Rone were sitting together on the far side of the room, her head tucked against his chest, his arms around her waist as he spoke to her softly. Cas could have listened in—the phage could augment hearing as easily as anything else—but he didn’t want to move it around inside of his body too much in a place that had murderous doors.

“What a clever little felon you are.”

Damn. Cas had gotten too focused on Shar, and now Freyne was picking at him again.

“Close your mouth if you can’t say anything nice with it, cousin.”

Oh, well…it looked like he had an unexpected ally this time. “It sets a bad example for the children,” Tiyana continued, then looked at Cas with a smile. “I’m sorry we’re neglecting you, Beren. I meant this meal to be a chance for us to really get to know each other, but then the boys’ nanny got sick, and—”

“Charl is sick?” Amiru sounded disturbed. “Since when does Charl get sick?”

“Since today, apparently. Just a stomach bug, she says. It should be gone quickly.” Tiyana turned back to Cas. “Those are fun little tricks, where did you learn them?”

Cas cleared his throat. “My brother taught them to me.”

“Oh, you have a brother too? How lovely.”

Cas forced a smile. “He was very kind to me. He didn’t survive the conflict on Leelinge, though.”

“Oh.” Tiyana pressed a hand to her chest. “I’m so sorry.”

Everyone was looking at him now, even the baby, and that was the last thing Cas wanted. Luckily for him, Rone chose that moment to return to the table. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to take our leave,” he said quietly. “Lilah is having a tough time at the moment, and I’d rather work things out in our own home than continue to argue about it in yours.”

“You’re always welcome, Rone.”

Amiru echoed his wife’s admonishment, and followed it up with, “I wish I could give you more time to settle in, but the general staff want analysis of the latest conflicts and they want it yesterday. Leelinge is beginning to look like one big mistake.”

“Because they’re looking at it from the perspective of a cost-benefit analysis, not the mission of mercy they pretended it to be.” Rone sounded disgusted. “Call a trade deal a trade deal, call a war a war, but don’t disguise whatever you’re doing like a coward.”

“Spoken by the man who ran our covert operations for years.” Freyne folded his hands across his lap, his face smug. “How ironic.”

Cas’s ears perked up, but a firm, “Gentlemen,” by Amiru put a stop to the interesting conversation. “We’ll discuss this later. Rone, go see to your family today but return to me tomorrow. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Cas definitely agreed with that. He’d have to carve time out to do the work he truly needed to, and soon. Christala needed to be dealt with, the sooner, the better.

He hid the littlest spoon up his sleeve as he stood up, though, getting another grin out of Shar. Well. Maybe he could multitask.