Title: Mutable, Chapter Three, Part One
Chapter Three, Part One
“It could take some time for Darven to get the information I requested,” Rone said, drawing Cas’s attention back from the tent’s exit. “Possibly not until dinner this evening. In the meantime, I unfortunately have a lot of work to do in preparation for our departure. Let me escort you to a safe place for you to wait, and get you access to showers and a hot meal. I’d like you to think about the sort of work you’d be qualified to do on another planet before we meet again, and present your options to me this evening.”
Cas nodded. It was as good a way as any to spend the time, but if he was cautious, he could use his relative liberty to do some research of his own instead. “I can do that.”
“Good.” Rone smiled, and Cas was struck by how immensely kind it made him look. Rone wasn’t a remarkably handsome man, his rare eye color notwithstanding. He had a square face and a strong jaw, a nose slightly bent and flattened in the center, and smooth, healthy skin, but all together he wasn’t someone Cas would look at twice. When he smiled, though, his features were elevated by the warmth in it from everyday to exceptional. Despite himself, Cas smiled back.
Rone stood and gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”
It had started to rain outside, a typical misty, fog-laden afternoon. Cas could barely see more than ten feet ahead of them, and he carefully counted his steps and looked for landmarks as they walked. Rone led him to a barracks-like building close to the camp’s fence, fielding curious looks and occasional salutes with easy aplomb. He pressed the thin skin beneath his wrist to the pad outside the door, and it immediately opened to admit him. “Come inside, Beren.”
His impression of a barrack was confirmed as soon as Cas got a good look around the place. Cots were spread along the wall in a neat and orderly fashion, each one with an attached footlocker. At the end of the building was a bathroom enclosure.
“Towels are stacked in there.” Rone pointed to the bathroom. “Feel free to help yourself to them, or to lie down anywhere if you’re tired. I’ll make sure someone comes in with a meal shortly.”
“Okay.” Cas made a show of looking around a little uncertainly. “Will anyone else be joining me?”
“No,” Rone said, making the assumption Cas was going for. “This isn’t a place for my troops, this was for refugees. Almost all of them are gone now, but we haven’t gotten around to breaking the hardware down yet. No one will disturb you in here.”
Damn it. Cas smiled. “That’s good to know, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll be back once I have some news for you, all right?”
“That’s very kind of you.” Keep being kind to me, I need every edge I can get.
“It’s no problem.” He turned to leave.
“Captain?” Cas called out. “What, um…what’s your last name? In case someone comes in and I have to…” He laughed nervously. “Have to justify my existence to them, or something?”
“Ah.” Rone inclined his head. “Captain Basinti, at your service.”
“Thank you.” Cas waited for the door to shut behind him, then swore softly. Well, shit. It wouldn’t be as easy to get out of here and move around as he’d hoped, but with the weather the way it was right now, at least he’d have easy cover. There was no time to waste, though.
Cas stripped down to his skin as fast as possible, running the clothes back to the bathroom and turning on one of the showers for good measure. Unless they were monitoring the water use—and why would they be, on a planet so perpetually soaked in rain—any visiting Imperian would assume he was in the shower instead of seeking him out. Cas moved to the corner closest to the door, pressed as tightly to it as possible, and with a long exhale, let the phage crawl to the surface.
If he had been observing himself, he would have seen pale skin suddenly change, becoming mottled and then smoothing out to match the off-white color and slightly wavy texture of the wall behind him. Even his hair made the shift, while at the same time Cas’s chin became less pointy, his cheekbones a little less sharp. The phage was a miraculous creature, but it had its limits, and maintaining Beren’s more delicate features while reimaging Cas to blend into his surroundings was too much. Hopefully, it wouldn’t matter. He couldn’t allow himself to be caught. Cas held himself perfectly still, closed his eyes until they were nothing but mere slits, and waited.
Perhaps fifteen minutes later, the door opened to admit an Imperian soldier carrying a covered tray. She glanced around once, shrugged to herself and set the tray down on the nearest cot, then headed for the door again. As she scanned her wrist, Cas detached himself from the wall, creeping up on silent feet to stand as close behind her as he dared. He’d have less than three seconds to make it out behind her, so he had to make them count.
The door opened. The soldier left, Cas shadowing her so tightly he was a little amazed she couldn’t sense him right behind her. He made it out with a good second to spare, though, and dropped down into a crouch beside the side of the door as soon as he was clear. The phage shifted again, this time to a moving tapestry of dark and light greys—the perfect camouflage for a rainy day.
Cas watched the soldier walk away with a sense of satisfaction, then crept around the barrack until he was right up against the wall—also conveniently gray, so he wouldn’t have to tax the phage as hard as if he was trying to make it across the center of camp. He looked assessingly in both directions, building a map in his head of where he knew the largest entrance to the camp was, where the ships and Rone’s tent were, and where he was right now. Once it was done, he turned and began to work his way to the right.
He should have several hours to gather information on his new situation, and he was going to make the most of them.