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.”

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