Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Five, Part Two

Notes: More Mutable! We'll get off this planet soon, I promise. Just a few loose ends to tie up ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Five, Part Two


Chapter Five, Part Two

“Well, now that’s you’re officially tied into this,” Darven said, breaking the odd silence that loomed between Cas and Rone, “We’d better figure out where to put your new husband so that Jepson can’t give him too much hell before we leave. We don’t want to let on to the Leelanger delegation that we’re harboring a Delacoeurian either, if we can help it.”

“They probably already know,” Cas said. Both men frowned at him.

“What do you mean? How?” Rone asked.

These Imperians, honestly…it was like they thought the entire rest of the system was made up of idiots. “They know I’m in here,” Cas explained, keeping his voice earnestly Beren-like—it wouldn’t do to drop into a sarcastic “obviously, you morons” tone. “They’ve been keeping tabs on me ever since I came out from the caves. On all of us. That’s how I knew I wouldn’t last long if I was put outside the camp. They’re still there, waiting for me. If I don’t turn up sometime tonight…” He shrugged. “Then they’ll know I’m staying, at least until you leave, and word will move up the command.”

“This sounds like conjecture,” Darven said, but he was frowning. “How can you be so sure? What makes you such a high value target?”

“I’m not a high value target in and of myself, but my brother was.” Is. And they know exactly who I am. “He’s dead, but plenty of people aren’t sure of that. They would take me and torture me to get information on his whereabouts. And I’m sure because I’ve lived here all my life and I know how these people work, Commander.” Unlike you.

“That could just be making you extra paranoid.”

“Or it could make him right,” Rone said. “Let’s set up a thermal viewer and check.”

Darven sighed. “You want to set up a big, bulky thermal viewer right in front of the gate—‘cause that’s where it’s going to have to be if we’re going to target this right—this late at night, in this weather, where Jepson might see it, just to check a theory that doesn’t even matter anymore?”

“Succinctly put. And yes, I do.”

Darven glared half-heartedly at him. “You’re a cold man sometimes, sir.”

Rone smiled. “I know. See to it, and Beren and I will join you when it’s up and running.”

At least Darven didn’t try to fight Beren’s inclusion this time around. “Yes, sir.” He left, and Rone looked back at Cas.

He was expecting more questions about how he knew what he did, but instead the man asked, “Do you have any more property with you? Another set of clothes, personal items of any kind?”

“Oh. No, I don’t…there’s nothing else.”

Kindly, Rone didn’t pursue it. “Then I’ll see about requisitioning you some for the short term until we get back to my holdings.”

Interesting. He said his holdings, not his ship. That was a term usually associated with the Imperian aristocracy, but as far as Cas knew, Rone Basinti’s only title was Captain. There was something Cas was missing here, some connection that he’d need to understand before things went much further, but if Rone didn’t want to volunteer the information yet, he could afford to wait. This was still firmly a military operation, after all. His military title would hold more weight than anything else.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Is there anything in particular you want?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“All right. On to your accommodations. You could stay alone in the barracks where you cleaned up this afternoon, with a temporary scan pass to let you in and out until we can implant one in your wrist, or I could order one of my soldiers to accompany you, if it would make you feel safer.” Cas knew which one he preferred, but Rone wasn’t done yet. “Or, if you’d like, you can stay in here and I’ll sleep on my ship.”

Cas blinked. To be offered a place in a luxurious tent like this, and alone, no less…Rone was either too nice for his own good, or mildly insane. The damage Cas could do if he had free access to the systems in here…but it was too soon to be thinking like that, and the last thing he wanted to do was give his new husband any reason to suspect him. He needed Rone’s trust, first and foremost. “The barracks is fine,” he assured him. “And I don’t need an escort, I know your people are busy. I’ll be all right on my own.” I infinitely prefer it, actually.

Rone didn’t argue, just nodded. “I’ll give you a com unit with a direct line to me. If you need anything at all, I want you to come to me first. You won’t be disruptive, and I won’t try to put you off or be irritated with you, all right?”

He needed to stop being so kind. It threw Cas off his game. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure.” Rone reached into his desk, rummaged around a bit and emerged with an earlobe com. “It’s an older model, I know, but it still works well. Just press it and speak, then press it again and it will be off. It’s charged from your body heat, so you won’t have to worry about batteries or anything like that.”

Oh boy. “What else does it do?” Cas asked as he took it, trying to sound excited even though he recognized a tracking device when he saw one.

Sure enough… “It monitors your location and vital stats,” Rone admitted. “Just as a precaution.”

“Of course.” Great, he was going to have to splice. Splicing was such a bitch to get over.

“And here’s the scan pass.” It truly was an antique thing, a tiny card attached to a thin chain that went over his head. “I’ve already synced it to the compound’s codes, so it should give you access to all low-security sites. By the time you need to get on a ship, I’ll be escorting you.”

 “Great.” This, at least, would be useful. “I appreciate it.”

Rone shrugged. He looked tired. “Thanks for letting me do this for you.”

There was some sort of penance going on here, Cas was sure of it. He’d have to figure it out eventually—it didn’t do to be surprised by people’s emotional motivation, the heart could fuck up a good plan faster than Cas could change identities—but he still had some time.

Rone abruptly took on a distant look—Cas couldn’t hear it, but he bet his com had just activated. The Imperian coms were attached to their ear canals, from what he understood—invasive, but practical for soldiers who wouldn’t want to lose them in the heat of battle. “We’re on our way.” He stood up. “Darven’s got the thermal scanner ready to go. Let’s check your theory.”

“Let’s.” Cas made a point of looking a little nervous, and got up wringing his hands. “We shouldn’t keep him waiting, huh?”

“No, but let’s not charge out there until you’re ready for the weather.” He handed Cas a military-style poncho, loose enough to fit almost anyone but insulated enough that when he stepped outside into the rain, the only place that felt chilled was his face. Nice.

Rone led the way to the front gate, where Darven stood in his own poncho, a tripod with a broad, rectangular screen set up in front of him. “Can I turn this on now, sir?” he asked plaintively as they got close. “I’m freezing my balls off out here.”

So tender, these Imperians. Apparently, their world was something of a paradise—mild weather, lots of sunshine, well-adapted for agriculture. If a place like above-ground Leelinge was enough to make them cold even when they had technology on their side, Cas wondered how they’d fare in the caves. Not well, he’d wager.

Rone nodded, and his second-in-command fired up the thermal scanner. “It’s set to scan five hundred meters out,” he said, bringing the picture into focus. “None of the surrounding buildings indicate constant working conditions, so if there’s someone out there at this time of night, it’ll—oh.”

Cas didn’t have to ask what he saw—it was clear on the screen. Five different thermal signatures, each one in a different building, each one crouching, facing toward the camp. None of them moved, other than little shifts to give their knees a break here and there.

Rone took over and scanned in closer. The heat radiating off each person was enough to give an idea of what was immediately around them. The first one knelt in front of a window, and on the ledge in front of him or her…

A gun. The stock of a gun, at least. Probably for tranqs, but Cas couldn’t say for sure from the little he was seeing. Nice to know I’m right.

Rone checked out the other four targets. In three cases, a gun was clearly visible. The final case was inconclusive, but apparently the captain had all the evidence he needed. “I want recordings,” he said to Darven, low-voiced but clearly angry. “I want them packaged and sent to Jepson, our diplomatic corps and the Leelangers within the next hour. They have absolutely no business spying on our camp—it contravenes the agreements we made when we were given this space in the first place. If they try to deny it, then we inform our superiors that we can’t in good faith do business with a bunch of liars and we leave early. I’m sick of bending over backwards for these people and getting nothing but bad faith actions in return.” He glanced at Cas. “It looks like you were right, Beren.”

Of course. “I wish I hadn’t been.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll get you out of here safely as soon as possible.”

Cas smiled. “I know you will.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Five, Part One

Notes: More Mutable, on a day when I really need something fun and positive in my life. I hope you enjoy it--it's the wedding! The very brief, truncated wedding.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Five, Part One


Chapter Five, Part One

Marriage had never been a very important part of Delacoeurian life. In fact, it had been practically nonexistent during their peoples’ tenure on Leelinge: when there were so many more important things to take up your time, who wanted to bother with something as trifling as marriage? There were no societal benefits to be had from it, no ethereal, heartfelt lessons to take from it.

Functional, practical partnerships, now, those were things that paid off, but overall Delacoeurians survived as a group, not just as pairs. You grew up, you had children, you raised yours and others, you fought for them and lived for them and died for them. Rinse and repeat. Over and over. Having a sibling was nice, having both your parents was special, but them having each other? It was neither common nor particularly wished for.

At least, for the most part. Things had changed a little in the last decade of Cas’ life, when Leelinge entertainment began to filter down into the black market. Specifically, this was when the young Delacoeurians were exposed to their telenovelas. When Cas was fifteen and Beren was only four, and their mother had just died of infection a week earlier, Cas stole a viewer that was loaded with a copy of Passion Nights. It was, he’d eventually come to understand, one of the most overblown and ridiculously dramatic Leelanger shows ever produced, and he’d learned to despise it, but Beren had always loved it. The central plot was based around two families, rivals for money and power, whose children fell in love.

There was backstabbing, betrayal, dirty fighting—all valuable lessons about the lows that Leelangers would stoop to in order to have their way. But there was also a tender central romance between the young couple, eventually culminating in the grand event of the entire show: their wedding. Beren had been captivated, and after that, he’s spoken of marriage as something to aspire to.

“Wouldn’t it be great, Cas?” he’d said time and again. “To have someone who loved you enough to bind themselves to you like that? It’s such a commitment.”

Cas had scoffed. “You think I’m any less devoted to you just because we’re brothers and not married?”

Beren had blushed. “No, of course not, but it’s different.”

“Why is it different?”

“It just is.”

Cas had assumed at the time that Beren was referring to the sexual component inherent in marriage, which frankly he didn’t give a damn about. If he had an urge, he could ask someone to help him fulfill it. To waste time on romance was exactly that, a waste, not to mention unreliable. Sex could be had anywhere, but family was blood.

Beren had wanted to be a part of that strange institution, though. He had craved a deeper connection with someone, someone not bound to him by family duty and affection. He hadn’t had time to find it, and now he never would, but it hit Cas like a fist to the heart as he sat there across from Rone to think that, somehow, he’d fallen into living out his brother’s dream. It wasn’t the deep, loving connection Beren had imagined, but all of the dramatic elements were there. Beren…he would have loved this. Given enough time, he probably would have loved Rone, too.

To his shock, Cas found tears welling up in his eyes. He wiped them away, but not before Rone noticed.

“Beren? Are you all right?”

Gods, Rone was calling him by his brother’s name, and if anyone deserved a kind and gentle human being like Rone it was Beren. Cas was living out his brother’s stolen future. In that instant, he wanted to stab himself somewhere just to take his mind off the pain in his chest.

He needed to reply, though—Rone was looking more and more concerned, and the last thing Cas needed was for him to consider calling this whole thing off because the man he was intent on helping was mentally unfit. He inhaled a shuddery breath.

“I was just thinking about my brother.” The best lies were ninety percent truth; it was as good a place to prevaricate from as any. “He was my only family from a very early age. He never had time for something like marriage—it wasn’t really an institution for our people—but he always said if any of us was ever going to get married, it was me.” Cas tried on a smile. “It’s just kind of funny how right he was. Right for the wrong reasons, but still.”

“Beren.” Rone’s voice should have been illegal—he could probably order his troops into sinkholes and they’d cut in line to be the first to jump. “I know this is far from ideal, but I promise you it’s not permanent. We don’t have to be married any longer than necessary to ensure your safety. Once that’s done, we can get a divorce and you’ll be free to live your life however you wish.”

Cas shook his head. “You don’t have to apologize for doing so much to help me. I should be apologizing to you—I’m screwing up your career, maybe your whole life, and for what? Lieutenant Commander Jepson was right. I don’t have any truly desirable skills.”

Rone shrugged. “Skills can be learned. Nobody is born knowing how to fly a spaceship or be a neurosurgeon. You can be whatever you want to be, as long as you put the time in. And as far the skills you do have are concerned, they’ll be far more useful to me than you might think. I have two children, ages nine and five, and I’ve yet to find an actual human caregiver who can handle them. I don’t want my kids to be raised by nothing but their AI nannies while I’m gone. If you feel like helping me in any way, I’d ask you to start there.”

Ah good, a task! A way to increase his value to Rone while insinuating himself deeper into his cover. It was another good lever for Cas to pull. “I’d be happy to help look after them. What are their names?”

“Lilah and Shar. They’re—"

Cas didn’t get to hear what they were, because at that moment Darven stalked back into the tent, trailed by a confused-looking Private Fillie. “Let’s get this done,” he said. He had a mempad open in one hand, and set it in the center of the desk. “This is the marriage license. I need you both to read this and sign it, then we do the verbal part. Then Private Fillie and I sign and I send this up the chain before Jepson gets wind of it. Got it?”

“Very efficient, Darven.”

His second in command pointed a finger at him. “Don’t start with me, sir, I’m not in the mood to be mocked. This is going to get you, and him, and probably me in a hell of a lot of trouble.” He looked at Fillie, whose eyes had gone wide. “Not you though, Private, this is the sort of shit that only rolls uphill.”

“Oh,” she said faintly. “Good?”

Rone already had the mempad’s pen in hand and was signing with a flourish. He passed the document over to Beren, then paused. “Can you read Standard?”

“Hell, Rone—”

“Yes,” Cas said politely, cutting off what was probably another epic rant about being an idiot from Darven. He made a show of taking his time reading the license, while really he absorbed it all in less than five seconds. He looked at Rone’s name, in perfect swirling letters, at the bottom: Rone Edward Basinti. Edward. Huh. Cas signed right next to it: Beren Farling.

“Good.” Darven took the pad back. “All right, now the ceremony part. Take each other’s hands.”

Wait, what? Was that really necessary? Cas supposed if it was a real marriage, they would have no problem touching each other… Rone held out both his hands, and Cas steeled his spine and took them. They were warm, far warmer than his own. The phage kept Cas’ extremity temperature low to reduce wear and tear.

“On this day, the two of you come together to form an emotional, spiritual, and legal bond,” Darven intoned. “From here forward, you shall each share yourself wholly with the other, holding nothing back. Your worldly goods, your mental abilities, your bodies, your hearts, your pasts, and your futures—all are melded. From this day forth, you belong to each other. Do you agree to these terms, Rone Basinti?”

“I do,” he said, staring Cas straight in the eyes.

“Do you agree to these terms, Beren Farling?”

He had never felt less worthy. “I do,” Cas whispered.

“Then by the power vested in me by the glorious generosity of our sovereign leader, I pronounce you husband and husband.” He looked between them. “Now’s usually when you’d kiss, but I reckon we’re skipping that step.”

“We are,” Rone affirmed. He squeezed Cas’ hands once, then let go. “Sign and send.”

Darven signed, then passed the mempad over to Private Fillie. She signed, looked between the two of them and said, with awkward earnestness, “Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Rone said. “You’re dismissed.” She left, and Darven sent the marriage license to be filed.

“Well, that’s that. Consider the beehive shaken, Rone. You can’t go back now.”

“I wouldn’t want to.”

“Neither would I,” Cas agreed. Neither would I.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Four, Part Two

Notes: More explanation, more complication, more Mutable! Enjoy, darlins.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Four, Part Two


Chapter Four, Part Two

To say Cas was dumbfounded would have been an understatement. For the first time in years, he was so surprised he almost lost control of his phage. He was sure his face wavered for a moment, but it didn’t matter, because Rone wasn’t looking at him anymore. He was looking at Darven, who…well, displeased would also have been an understatement for him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Darven moved away from the wall and got in Rone’s face almost immediately. “Rone, you can’t do this!”

“I can, actually,” Rone replied, his voice preternaturally calm. “There’s no law against marrying someone who isn’t Imperian.”

“No, but there are laws against committing fraud, which is what this marriage would be!” Darven looked like he wanted to pull out his own hair. “You do this and you’re giving the high command just the excuse they need to pull you from active duty. Rone, you should be at the head of the fleet, not sitting on your ass on Leelinge providing backup to an incompetent diplomatic corps! And the fact that you’re not means that—”

“I know what it means,” he interjected, which was too bad because Cas had no idea what it meant, and right now he really, really wanted to. “But that isn’t something I can affect right now. This, right here? This is a place where my power can reach, and I’m going to use it. If,” he added with a slight smile, “you’ll have me, Beren.”

Cas swallowed and found his voice. “I’m…incredibly grateful, Captain.” And he was, oh he was. Being taken into space as this man’s husband rather than a common laborer would open so many doors for him. The marriage was a complete sham, of course, but he would make it work. “I accept your proposal.”

“Then you better get used to calling me Rone and not Captain, or stars forbid, sir,” Rone teased. Cas smiled before he could stop himself. There was something about this man, something that could coerce an honest response from him without his brain noticing and stopping it. Cas would have to be careful about that.

“Rone, then.”

“No, no, nope.” Darven shook his head. “Rone, think. Think. There’s no way this can end well. Everyone will know it’s a ploy, you’ve barely known this kid for half a day! There’s whirlwind romances and then there’s sheer idiocy, and that’s what people will think—either you’re being played for a fool, or you’re taking advantage of him in some way. Is that what you want?”

“When the alternative is leaving him here to die, then yes, I’ll take being seen as a fool.”

Darven looked desperate. “I can get a ship here to pick him up, on the down low. One of mine. We take him back out to the caves where the Delacoeurians were living, he doesn’t even have to interact with the Leelangers, he can hide there and—”

“The caves aren’t safe anymore.” Cas had to head this line of thought off before it sounded too plausible. “They were cleared by the Leelanger authority weeks ago, and they still have people stationed there the last I heard.” Looking for more phages. Good fucking luck. “There won’t be any place to hide.”

“It doesn’t matter. You aren’t going back.”

Roooone.” Darven dropped his face into his hands. “You’re gonna drive me into an early grave, you know that, right?”

“I know.” Rone looked at his second in command compassionately. “I did offer to release your honor a year ago, you remember. You’re the one who insisted on staying affixed to me.”

“Because back then you actually had a good reason for doing what you did.” He held up a hand. “And yes, I know, stop it, this is also a good reason, it’s just…this might be a step too far. You stand to lose a lot, Captain.” The new formality in his address had Cas paying even closer attention. There were so many layers here to understand, so much that he didn’t know yet. He needed to observe, to collect information and analyze it to find the points he could exploit.

“I might lose, that’s true,” Rone allowed. “But I won’t die. That’s the difference that I care about. This young man,” he indicated Cas, “has done nothing except strive to survive in a situation beyond his control. Within his own society, under Leelanger dominion, and now, at Imperian discretion. To throw away that effort is nothing short of murder, and I won’t be a party to that.”

Oh, fool Founders. Cas’s heart beat extra fast in his chest, every word filling him with combatting senses of awe and shame. Awe because here, unexpectedly, impossibly, was a man of principle. Cas had never met anyone like him before, not even among the Delacoeurian commanders. It was incredible. It was humbling.

The shame surged ahead of the awe, and Cas bit his lip. He was going to use this man. He knew it—that was the whole point, using him to get into space and find the traitors to his people who had sold them out to the Leelangers. He might get Rone into serious trouble. He would certainly get him reprimanded once Cas escaped from oversight and struck out on his own. But that couldn’t matter right now. He had to keep his heart hard, and his eyes fixed on his goal. Remember Beren. Remember Siena and Gerry and Pip.

When Rone looked his way again, he was ready this time. “What, um…what do we have to do?” he asked tentatively. “To get married?”

“It’s pretty straightforward,” Rone replied. “There’s a form to sign, which must be witnessed by two people, and the ceremony itself must be carried out by someone with the authority to legalize the bond. I would do it myself if I wasn’t half of the marrying party. Fortunately,” he smiled at Darven, who grimaced back, “Commander Hije is also of a qualifying rank.”

“And qualified as a damn fool,” he muttered. “But there have to be two witnesses, and Jepson isn’t going to help you with this. In fact, she’ll do everything in her power to stonewall it the second she hears about it.”

“What about Fillie?” Cas suggested deferentially. Both men looked at him. “Um, the young woman who brought me my meal? She seemed nice,” he added quietly.

“Private Fillie it is,” Rone said after a moment. “Darven, if you’d go get her and sort out the paperwork…”

“Why don’t you have me write your damn obituary while I’m at it?” Darven muttered, but he obediently left the tent.

Cas stared at the man he was about to marry and tried not to blush. This was ridiculous, everything about this was ridiculous. Rone smiled. “I know it must seem crazy, but—”

“I’m grateful,” Cas interrupted him. “I am, really. I think this might cause you a lot of trouble, and I’m sorry about that, but—” he took a shuddering breath “—I’m so grateful. Thank you for this.”

“It won’t be as simple as saying ‘I do,’” Rone warned him. “You’re going to have to put on a show for my commanders.”

Oh, if only he knew. All of Cas’s world was a stage. He smiled sweetly. “I’ll do my best.”