Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One

Notes: Please excuse my attempts at Bengali, I don't speak it and am relying on reveral different websites for decent translations. It's just a few words, but I'm just putting this out there.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One

***


Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One



Two days later, Cas stood outside an older building on the east end of Obsidian, one child holding onto each hand and a royal guard behind him, and wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into.
It was supposed to be a quiet, discreet visit. The sort of thing he could shrug off as a vague interest—oh, you know, linguistics is so interesting and I hear there’s someone there who came from Leelinge, so I thought I’d go and check it out. As soon as he’d broached the idea to Rone, though, it had gotten out of hand.

“That’s an excellent idea,” Rone had said. “I’m sure you’d enjoy the company of one of your own people for a time, too. And you can take the kids.”

Cas had nearly bitten his tongue. “What?”

“They’re itching to get out of the house, and this will be something novel for them. Besides, they’re both bilingual. It might be nice to utilize their native languages some.” Rone elaborated when he saw Cas glance at Shar. “No, he doesn’t speak it, but he understands. I think they miss it.”

“Oh.” And that had been that. There was no way Cas could call it off, either—not after Lilah practically jumped into the air with excitement when she found out.

“Is it for secret stuff?” she’d whispered that night as Cas was tucking her into bed. “For your mission?”

“Yes,” he’d whispered back.

“Don’t worry.” She’d patted his hand. “We’ll help.”

In the present, Lilah tugged at the end of his sleeve. “Don’t you want to go inside, Beren?”

Didn’t he? Wasn’t he anxious to find Danie Yorque—actually Christala—and confront her? Wasn’t he ready to take her to pieces?

Not with the kids along, he wasn’t. He’d have to play ignorant this time around, and even though it was technically a waste of time, something in his heart eased at the idea that the end wasn’t coming quite yet. It would arrive, certainly, but not—not just yet.

“Yeah,” he said to Lilah. “Let’s go inside.”

Of course, the organizer was expecting him. Security had cleared this whole visit ahead of time, so when a man with skin a few shades darker than Rone’s and wearing a blue, scholarly robe came forward as soon as they were in the door, Cas wasn’t surprised. “Consort Basinti!” The man bowed. His pince-nez didn’t drop even a millimeter—they must have been made very true to their name. “What an honor to have you with our humble group today.”

“Prime Lord Aheer,” Cas replied with a polite nod, just like he’d been told. “It’s our pleasure to be here. Thank you for making room for us.” Lord Aheer was in the lower rank of the nobility, a researcher and linguist, and about as well-traveled as an Imperian could be without joining the military.

“Naturally, naturally!” Lord Aheer straightened up with a smile, his eyes bright. “It isn’t every day my humble fellows and I get the chance to hear a rare dialect of Delacoeurian origin from a native! And of course, it’s a delight to speak with your children as well.” He cleared his throat and turned to Lilah. “Namaste.”

Lilah shook her head. “Sat sri akal.”

“Oh dear, my Punjabi isn’t really up to speed, I’m afraid. Um, mainū māfa.”

“Ṭhīka hai.”

“Oh, good.” He glanced at Shar, who stared stoically back at him. “Ah, would either of you care to join our Shivan experts for a little conversation? They would love to speak with you.”

Cas nodded when Lilah looked up at him. “Go ahead, I’ll be with you in a minute.” Lilah squeezed his hand, then detached herself and her brother and headed toward the group of three women in the next room that Lord Aheer pointed out. One was clad in a familiar red uniform—some sort of civil servant, perhaps? The other two wore sumptuous green and blue and purple fabrics, more cloth wrapped around a single person than Cas had ever seen before. Wearing something like that would have been considered wasteful, back home. It made his heart hurt a little to think about it, and he wasn’t sure if that meant he missed Leelinge or just missed all the potential joy his people had ignored in favor of bitter practicality.

He pushed the thought aside and turned his attention back to his host. “Lord Aheer, I was under the impression there was another Delacoeurian who met here. I can’t be very unique, in light of that.”

“Oh, yes.” The other man’s expression became somber. “We did have a young woman join us for a short time, but she went missing last week. Of course,” he added with a grimace, “missing is something of an understatement, considering Danie was going hiking near the Pelean Flow. Several of us advised her to reconsider—it’s safe enough in the cool season, but so near the eruptions it’s foolhardy to walk those trails. The government closes off most of the access points, but a determined person can still get back there.”

“Danie went walking on lava flows?

“Most of it’s quite cool,” Lord Aheer assured him, “and the sights are—unparalleled, really. But when she didn’t show up to our meeting last week, we alerted the authorities to her absence and intent. They checked her home and did a cursory search for her, but with the riots and the enormous eruption right before them, they didn’t have a lot of people to spare.” He shrugged regrettably. “I’m afraid it’s unlikely that we’ll see her again.”

“Ah.” Damn it. Christala had jettisoned her new identity. With her ability to use the phage as a tether to other people’s minds, and the fact that she could literally be anyone right now, Cas felt like he’d been dropped back at square one. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“If you’re interested in learning more about her, perhaps a chat with Shivani?” He gestured to the woman in government reds sitting with the children. “They were friendly with each other.”

“Thank you.” It was worth a try.

The kids were happy to have him join them, but Cas redirected their attention to the other two ladies and once Lilah was chatting happily in Bengali again, asked Shivani about Danie.

“We live in the same building, but I wouldn’t really call us friends,” Shivani said. “When she first arrived I helped introduce her around, got her in touch with the building event group, asked her to a mixer with a lot of the other palace staff—that’s where I work,” she added. “In groundskeeping. I’m in charge of one of the rare flora greenhouses. But she didn’t really seem to click with any of it, and after a while I figured it was better not to bug her and to let her acclimate at her own pace.” She looked down at the table. “And now she never will. I wish she’d come to me, I would have told her not to go, or at least not to go alone.”

“She probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. Delacouerians are a very stubborn people.” Cas smiled. “I should know.”

“It’s nice of you to take an interest.” She leaned forward a bit and asked, conspiratorially, “Do you have any idea when the samples from the mission to your planet will be released to the public? I’m dying to get a look at some of your native plants. I have a friend who works in the botany lab on base, and she isn’t allowed to give me details but she says the fungi are amazing.”

“I’ll see what I can do to speed things up.” Which would probably be very little, but he’d try anyway. “Thanks for talking with me.”

“It’s my honor, Consort.” She paused, then said, “Can you at least tell me their color?”

Cas smiled. “Sure.”
 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part Two

Notes: A few callbacks to earlier characters this time around, plus glowing mushrooms, dead parasites and not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part Two

***


Chapter Twenty-One, Part Two



“Hey!”

Cas blinked as Fillie’s hand came down on his shoulder, startling him out of the tangled confusion of his own thoughts.

“Are you okay?” Fillie asked, her smile giving way to a frown. “Did everything go all right with Dr. Weiss?”

He forced himself to act normal. “Fine, it was fine. Except for the power outage.”

“Wasn’t that so strange?” Fillie marveled. “The brass were supposed to undertake a complete overhaul of the power generators while we were on our mission to Leelinge. The upgrades the engineers had planned should have made actually losing power impossible. I mean, my gosh, we can travel to whole other star systems, shouldn’t we be able to keep the lights on here at home?” She tilted her head in a subtle suggestion, and they began to walk down the hall together. “It’s better not to linger around Medical,” she murmured. “Apparently there’s no such thing as too many tests, and they’re always looking for people to volunteer for research studies.”

Not this person. “Where are we going, then?”

“Well, the captain should be done with his meeting with the admiralty by now, which means he’ll be in with the Chief, but…” Her frown got deeper. “I don’t really think that’s a good place for us to rendezvous. The Chief is still kind of…” She wagged a hand back and forth, the servos in her gauntlet whining gently. “Kind of iffy on you. Which isn’t your fault at all, Beren,” she hastened to add. “It’s just after what happened to Jamal, he’s…well. Yeah.”

Cas was a little too on edge to reel all of his sarcasm in. “He’s afraid I’m going to nefariously lure another of his innocent engineers down a dark hallway, where I’ll force them to try and kill me just so I can have the pleasure of crushing their heads with their own equipment?”

Private Fillie sighed. “Something like that. The guy’s a great engineer, but he’s not the most reasonable person. Anyway, I thought we could go to the botany lab instead, we can—whoops!” She threw a salute at a passing officer, who barely glanced their way before continuing down the hall. “Huh. That’s strange.”

“Why?”

“That’s Admiral Glasden’s chief of staff. I’m just kind of surprised to see him over here—the admiral’s office is on the other side of the compound, the captain and the commander probably had to run there to make it to their meeting on time earlier. And now he’s here, instead of…” She looked after him for a moment, then shrugged. “It’s probably nothing. Anyway, botany!”

“Botany.”

It was strange. Being around Fillie, especially with everything else going on right now, should have annoyed Cas. He had Christala to find, he had Rone to trick, he had the loyalty of his children to maintain. Fillie was a distraction, endlessly chatty and ruthlessly cheery. But he enjoyed her company, more than almost every other person on this damn planet and most of the people from his own. She reminded him—a little bit—of Beren. It was the optimism, their never-ending ability to light a candle in the darkness. She and Beren would have meshed like two delicate spiderwebs, coming together to create something stronger and more beautiful than before.

Fillie was apparently a jack of all trades, welcome everywhere she went. The botanists let her into their lab without a hitch, and she towed Cas from plant to fungi to slime, finally finding Lieutenant Pelshar again. The lieutenant greeted them enthusiastically.

“Beren!” She motioned him over to the box she stood in front of. Its walls were completely opaque, but she was looking through a device set in front of it. “Excellent timing, I think they’re about to spore! The bioluminescent mushrooms we talked about last time, the ones I was having trouble replicating—the advice you gave me about the proper nutrient base for them has worked out perfectly. Come and see.”

Cas rounded the table to stand beside the Lieutenant, who stepped away. “Look!” He looked into what seemed like an oversized set of goggles inset in a stand, and—

Oh. “Beautiful,” he murmured without even realizing it. “They’re perfect.” They looked just like the mushrooms that had sprung up near the midden piles in the caves.

“And they’re almost genetically identical to Old Earth mushrooms, which—this is one of the most impressive examples of parallel evolution I’ve ever heard of, especially across such incredible distances. It’s astonishing, really. Or it might be possible that the spores actually traveled through space from one location to the other, which would be even more amazing.”

“No wonder you’re in raptures,” Fillie teased her. “You’ve got something new to publish about.”

“Or not,” Lieutenant Pelshar said with a frown. “All data from the mission is still classified, and we can’t release any of it to the public. It’ll be a long wait to see whether or not they decide to open at least the scientific surveys up for publication and research, but…” She sighed. “It’s not as though we don’t have plenty of other things to work on here. The biologists think they might have identified a completely new type of parasite!”

Cas froze for a split second. “Really?”

“Yeah, it was passed along from Medical, something they took from someone’s blood—what’s his name—it doesn’t matter. Anyway, the sample wasn’t still alive, of course, but they did a genetic analysis and are coming up with some fascinating data on its potential mutability.”

“Wow.” Fuck.

“Yeah. Not, again, that they’ll be able to publish anything at this point, but—”

“Lieutenant!” one of the techs called out. “You better get over here. We can’t access the backup drives.”

She frowned. “That’s not possible. They automatically disconnect from the mainframe whenever there’s an incident. They should be reachable through the secondary devices.”

“Not this time.” The tech sounded grim. “And the central data drives coming back online look patchy.”

“What?” She glanced at Cas and Fillie. “Excuse me, I’ve got to handle this.”

“Of course.” Cas watched her go, agitation evident in her steps, then murmured, “We should probably leave.”

“Right.” They left the lab but didn’t go anywhere once they hit the hall. Fillie looked pensive. “It’ll be terrible if the data they collected is lost. Even if it isn’t completely gone, it might be so badly compromised that it isn’t useful.”

Cas thought about what had happened in Medical, and couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t reveal his relief. He was saved from having to speak by the arrival of Rone, striding down the hall with Darven dogging his heels.

“—too much and you know it—” Cas could make out with his enhanced hearing before a gesture from Rone silenced him.

“All finished?” Rone asked, drawing to a stop in front of them. His face was smooth and unconcerned, despite the rising chaos in every department around them.

“Yes.”

“Botany is having some issues, sir,” Fillie offered nervously.

“Engineering is on it,” Rone soothed. “They’ll be around to help set things to rights as soon as possible. What are your orders for the rest of the day, Private?”

“I’m at your disposal, sir.”

“Good. Come home with us, the kids miss you.”

Her worried look vanished under fresh pleasure. “Thank you, sir!”

Rone turned his focus on Cas. “Ready to go?”

“Absolutely.” He was more than ready to be out of there, to wipe this whole strange morning out of his head. Cas had never been a big believer of coincidence, but he was feeling the squeeze of time and circumstance on all sides now. He had to take some things on faith, and since Rone seemed supremely unconcerned, he would let himself be too. “Let’s go home.” He wanted to see the kids—it was strange, to miss them so quickly.

Plus, he had a meeting to prepare for.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

Notes: Not long, but informative. Things are getting kind of weird for Cas. But whyyyyy?

😉

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

***


Chapter Twenty-One, Part One



“Oh, damn it,” Dr. Weiss said with a sigh as a strip of glowing red crystals lit up along the edges of the floor. “Not again.”

Cas had recovered himself enough to sit back on the bed before the doctor turned around. He felt like he’d just been kicked in the chest. “What’s going on?”

“The power is down. This is the second time this morning.” Dr. Weiss tapped the medical tablet. It didn’t light up either. “What…oh, for…” He put the micro-syringe down on the table and turned to Cas with an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, Beren, it appears that we’re having some sort of electromagnetic event. It’s affecting all the electronics.”

Cas pointed at the floor. “What about those?”

“Those are gas-reactant crystals that only come on in emergencies. I can’t believe this.” He sounded sincerely angry. “The EM shielding was supposed to be in place before we got back from our mission. I’ve got too many patients who’ll suffer if the power is interrupted for long. Do you mind waiting here while I check on some of them?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back very soon.” Dr. Weiss turned and left, and Cas breathed a sigh of—relief? He wasn’t quite sure what he felt was clear enough to qualify as relief, but there was definitely an element of avoidance to it. Not to mention…

This is your chance to change your results. Take advantage of it. The tablet might not be working but the micro-syringe was right there, still glowing the green of a sound sample inside. Cas picked it up, found the tiny mechanism that kept the needles pristine, and carefully pried it open, just enough so that it would look like maybe it had been banged into a wall or dropped on the floor. He heard he tiny hiss of air that accompanied the fracture, and a second later the light went from green to amber. They could call him in for yet another sample, of course, but if he was lucky the data would simply be uploaded and he could challenge any questions it brought up due to the loss of power.

Speaking of—all of a sudden, the lights came back on. The tablet sprung to life as well, opening to a blank Imperian military load page rather than his medical file. That was unfortunate, but not a complete loss. This might be Cas’s best chance of doing a search without being monitored. At least, not completely monitored. If the lights were on then he was probably being recorded right now, but he had a sense of how Imperians liked to stage their cameras at this point. If he turned just so, and tucked the tablet in close to his body while still looking like he was watching the door…it wasn’t perfect, but this wouldn’t take long.

Cas enhanced his hearing as much as he could while opening the search function. The tablet was meant to be used via the AI, but it could still be accessed the old-fashioned way, and Cas preferred not to speak now if he could help it. Cas typed in the name of woman Christala was imitating—Danie York—and waited to see if anything came up.

This was no generic search function available to the citizenry—this was a military search engine, and he ended up with far more information than he’d been counting on. Danie York, 29, Delacoeur-Leelinge transplant, permanent resident. It rattled off her arrival date, her home address and the name of her immigration contact. Apparently Danie did all her translating from home, a small apartment in one of the outer districts of Obsidian. The only other bit of information there was that she was a member of a professional linguistics club that met once every Imperian month. Their next meeting was scheduled for—two days from now.

Cas had to be there. The apartment would be hard to access, being so far from his new home, but this place was fairly close to the arcade. He’d come up with some reason to go out, or—

Or just be honest about where you want to go. The fewer lies you have to tell Rone, the better. It was worth a try, at least.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor. Cas got the tablet back into position and himself back on the bed a few seconds before Dr. Weiss came around the corner. “I’m sorry again for the interruption,” the doctor said. “It’s a mess out there.” He took the micro-syringe and injected it into a receptacle on the wall, then picked up the tablet. “Let’s take a quick look and see where you’re at…”

Well, damn. Cas had been hoping he’d delay analyzing anything until Cas was safely gone. What was his next move? Feigning the fall wouldn’t help him now, not when the doctor hadn’t taken another sample yet, and he’d compromised this device but—

“Oh, no.”

That sounded grim. “Oh no?” Cas asked timidly, while inside his phage raged with swelling energy. If he had to make a run for it, this was the worst place to do it.

“All the files from the last week are missing!” Dr. Weiss frowned darkly at the screen. “The EMF shouldn’t have tampered with the memory systems, those are—what the—AI, trace error.”

Error trace failed.

“Find source of error!”

Error source is unavailable.”

The man scoffed. “How can it be unavailable?”

The system does not recognize that an error has taken place.

Dr. Weiss looked like he wanted to beat the tablet against the nearest wall. “Well, that obviously can’t be right, because a significant portion of my files are completely gone. Scan for missing data.”

The system does not recognize that any data is missing.”

Dr. Weiss shut his eyes for a moment, then looked at Cas. “I’m sorry, Beren, but we’re going to have to end things here for today. Without functioning data storage, I can’t guarantee any results I might get.”

“I understand. I’ll just…see myself out.”

“Thank you.”

Cas pushed off the bed, shook hands briefly with the doctor, and headed into the hallway. He was pulsing inside from the sudden release of tension, like skin that had been squeezed until it bruised. Whatever had just happened, it had saved his ass.

But what had just happened?