Title: Mutable: Chapter Ten, Part Two
Chapter Ten, Part Two
Cas was convinced that there had probably never been a more knowledgeable, less suspicious source for information than Private Fillie. She was like a bioluminescent eel lighting the way through an underwater cavern—completely unconcerned with any sense of danger, even though she really should be.
“Here you go!” she said enthusiastically as she sat down across from Cas in the mess hall, stretching her wrist out. “I’ve got all the names and locations queued up and set to transfer, if you’re ready.”
“Definitely.” Was he ever. “How do I take them, though?”
“Just hold out your hand.” Cas did so, and she briefly touched their wrists together. A moment later there was a tiny flash of blue light beneath his skin. “And done! You can pull the information up on a private pad in your room, or on one of the walls or a viewscreen if you let the AI scan for it.”
He would not be doing that, thank you very much. There was no sense in making it easier for someone else to track his actions than he had to. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re so welcome! So.” She tied her curly red hair back, then tucked into the plate of—some sort of potato hash, maybe?—in front of her. “How are you finding life on the ship so far?”
Cas smiled. “Well, it hasn’t been very long, but it’s…it’s really amazing.” He didn’t have to force any astonishment into his voice, either. It was all amazing to him. “Getting off world was a little frightening, but Rone helped me handle it.”
“Awww.” She looked like she wanted to clap her hands to her cheeks and was barely restraining herself. “That’s so sweet! He’s the best, right? I told you he was the best.”
“He really is.” He was a lot of other things too, things that Cas would be investigating now that he had the means to. The first thing on his list—what could have caused his husband’s glowing eyes after the eater attack. “Are you enjoying being on board again?”
She shrugged. “Yes and no. I really like being planetside, especially somewhere I’ve never been before, but usually we get shore leave, a chance to explore on our own. Not this time.” She paused to eat a bite, then said, “I got really tired of looking at the same grey walls after a while.”
“It’s too bad you didn’t get a chance to see more of the land itself.” Cas decided to offer her something, since she’d been so helpful to him. It wouldn’t cost him anything, and it might make her happy. “If things had been different, maybe you could have visited one of the caves. There were some that were filled with crystals stretching from floor to ceiling, coated in glowing algae. Walking through them was like walking through a forest coated in gemstones.”
Fillie nearly dropped her fork. “Wow,” she murmured. “It sounds gorgeous.”
It felt surprisingly nice to have his former home appreciated. “They came in every color imaginable. Red and orange and violent and even a black that glowed with a golden undertone.” The black was also highly lethal and would kill you if you touched it with your bare hands, but she didn’t need to know that. “Sometimes people would harvest the little crystals and give them as presents to their lovers. Green meant new love, purple meant forever friendship. Orange was for passion, and red was a mourning color, meaning your thoughts were with them as they grieved.”
“Oh.” She looked a little taken aback. “So Imperians must look like we’re in mourning all the time to you.”
“It’s taken some getting used to,” Cas confessed shyly, but in truth he’d been exposed to the Leelangers enough that his native colors sense had ceased to confuse him outside the caves. “And it doesn’t matter anymore anyway,” he added. “Since none of us live there anymore, and the Leelangers never would. The crystals will have the caves to themselves from here on out.”
“That’s…that’s kind of sad.”
“War is sad.” Cas felt a little melancholy too now, at the thought of never seeing the vast, sparkling caverns again. The crystals themselves were mostly useless—not valuable as weapons or to trade, and after the algae died, not even really valuable as keepsakes. They had been a part of his childhood, though, one of the easiest ways to show affection in a world where emotions were normally kept as hidden as their own city. “Being part of a people scattered across the system because we have no real home now is sad. But nature going back to the way it was for millions of years before we came along and started chipping at it?” Cas smiled a little. “That’s not really sad. It’s…inevitable, I guess.” He self-consciously stroked a fingertip over his implant. “Thank you for this information, really. I think I’ll feel better knowing just a little bit more about where everyone ended up.” He pushed away from the table and stood up. “I think I’m going to spend some time in my rooms now. I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah,” Fillie said, a little flustered but trying not to show it. “Of course, whenever you want. I’ll be there.”
“I appreciate it.” Cas walked out of the mess hall, very conscious of the eyes on him as he left. Not just Fillie, not just a few random gawkers who hadn’t been introduced to him yet, but one person in particular watched him like she could see right through him if she just stared hard enough. Nurse Galway. She’d take some monitoring, he decided. Cas would have to look into her associates, too—it was hard to know what he was dealing with here, and he didn’t like being behind the curve.
If he’d been home, he’d have already known every political, social, personal and monetary angle there was to be had behind a look like that. In this ship, he knew next to nothing. On Imperia he’d be even worse off if he didn’t step up his personal education. He needed Fillie for that—documentaries could only take you so far.
Fillie was for tomorrow, though. Tonight, until he met Rone for dinner, was for his people.
Cas returned to his rooms, grabbed his pad and retreated to the far side of the big, too-comfortable bed, then got to work. It didn’t take long to engage every privacy setting offered to him, then upload the new files. He was probably being overly cautious, but…you never knew what someone else might find suspicious. Better not to test it.
The information from Fillie was disheartening, mostly because it spoke to how successful the Leelangers had been at taking advantage of internal Delacoeurian betrayal to commit atrocities. There had never been many of them, but they’d numbered over five thousand in Shyne, their capitol, before the invasion. Fewer than ten percent of that had made it off the planet, beneficiaries of Imperian “work service” programs that looked more like indentured servitude than a chance to build a new life.
Cas bit the inside of his cheek, hard. Those fucking tools…he was going to kill them so, so slowly when he found them. They’d pay for what they did to their own people.
Speaking of…the first common denominator would be status. None of these people had been poor in Shyne, and none of them would want to step into a situation that would leave them worse off if they could help it. Cas had to look for the good jobs, the best of the best, and deduce from there.
For starters—Mayor Jasen Pendry. Shyne’s defenses had been multilayered, extremely elaborate, and required two key players to compromise. The first of them was the civilian leader, who knew the access codes and supply routes better than anyone. Jasen Pendry was as slick as any Delacoeurian ever could be, and he’d been ambitious. He’d encouraged not just Cas, but all of the phage-bearers to do more for the city, disrupt more of Leelinge, persuade more people to attempt the phage. He’d lived large among them, a beautiful, smiling serpent. He would be somewhere nice now, under a brand-new identity.
Jasen didn’t have much in the way of technical skills, though. Once Cas narrowed down the few high-paying jobs and weeded out the hardcore techies, there were only three names. One was a biologist Cas knew, lured to a new planet with the promise of her own lab—fair enough, she was brilliant in her own right. One was a geneticist—another given. The last one…the man who bore that name had been a janitor. Now, apparently, he was a psychologist.
“Holden Kaske.” Cas swallowed hard and memorized the name, then moved on.
The other key player who would have to be turned in order to make it to Shyne was Commander Marigo. Glynnis Marigo had been a good soldier, one of the few people who’d carried a phage and lived long enough to expel it without dying. She’d kept order in the ranks, she’d had numerous military successes against the Leelangers. After her only daughter to make it to adulthood died in the line of duty though, she’d changed. She’d turned inward, stopped speaking with the troops, handed over day-to-day responsibilities for people. She had to have cooperated with the invaders. Deactivated alarms, disabled traps. She left Shyne defenseless, and the Leelanger army had marched through and killed, and killed, and killed…
Cas brushed a tear out of the corner of his eye and kept looking at jobs. Military, military…there were a few minor positions listed, but the people pictured matched their descriptions. There had to be a classification he was missing. He couldn’t picture the commander cleaning or farming, so what…
Hmm. Interesting. “Innkeeper.” Someone was brought on to manage a decent-sized business here, and that someone was…Melaria Yoshika. Cas had never met Melaria, but he knew her brother. The man had died on the next-to-last day of the invasion, but before he’d gone, Ryu had bemoaned his sister’s fate, and the deaths of all her children.
Hello, Commander. He memorized her new information and, hands trembling a bit, began searching for the last and most important name. Because every ring needed a leader, an idea person, and that could only be Christala.
She’d wanted so much, and lashed out about being denied it. She’d been so smart, so very, very smart, and so charismatic. She’d been Pendry’s lover, and so close to Glynnis she might as well have been adopted. And she’d hated Shyne so much, and Cas along with it.
Her hating him was incidental, but it had certainly been returned. Sometimes talent fed off other talent, grew with it, but sometimes it wanted to cut its throat. It had been like that between them. They were the most successful phages of their generation, but Cas had been just a tiny bit better, and she had hated him for it.
In the end, her profile was the easiest to find. Christala craved the high life, the fine things that she felt living underground had denied her. She would be on Imperia, she would be well-paid, and her mask would be flawless.
She was Danie Yorque now, linguist, translator, and very, very beautiful. Christala and Danie had been friends, back before all this. Cas wondered if Christala had killed Danie herself, or simply taken advantage of her death.
It didn’t matter. She was on Imperia, just as he’d thought. That meant he could start with her.