Title: Mutable: Chapter Thirteen, Part Two
Chapter Thirteen, Part Two
The first hint of movement brought Cas out of unconsciousness, but he didn’t let himself show any outward signs of waking up yet. Unless and until they took him to the infirmary, it would be more beneficial to listen without fear of being noticed.
“Oh, fuck,” a voice muttered. Familiar but not friendly—it was the Chief. “Fucking hell.”
“What is it?” There was Fillie, sounding frantic. “Is it Beren? Is he okay? Oh my lords and ladies—”
“Panic any harder and I’ll kick you out of this tube myself,” the Chief snapped. Cas felt calloused fingers touch his throat, searching for his pulse. “He’s alive.”
“Thank the stars.”
“Thank sheer fucking luck, probably. Another few inches over and he would have been crushed by that ceiling tile too. Or perhaps…” The Chief’s voice trailed off, and Cas could almost feel him looking around, taking in the scene. He was going to have to be careful with this man. “Go page the CMO and the captain. I’ll look after him until they get here.”
“Should I tell them about the—the other, um, body?”
“Do you mean Lieutenant Zane?” the Chief asked acidly. “The head of my hydraulics team, that body?”
“No, I mean the body of the guy in the power suit who looks like he tried to kill our prince’s husband!” Fillie snapped back, and ooh, there was some fire that Cas hadn’t expected. It seemed to quell the worst of the Chief’s ire, too.
“Tell them, but there’s no need to rush on his sake. Zane’s not salvageable.”
Cas heard Fillie scoot back down the corridor, then felt the Chief’s warm, rough hands touch lightly against his neck again, where the bruises left by Lieutenant Zane’s power gauntlet were probably livid. “What have you gotten yourself into, kid?” he muttered. “What is this crew getting into? Fucking political bullshit.”
An interesting statement from a man who’s position in life had almost certainly benefited from political bullshit. Cas kept his breathing steady, his pulse there but weak, and blocked out the worst of the throb of his flesh as he waited.
Doctor Weiss arrived shortly, overseeing Cas’s removal in a calm and deliberate manner. He fixed some sort of monitor to Cas’s wrist and got two medics to load him onto a stretcher. Rone arrived while he was fixing things up, and gratifyingly came over to Cas straight away. “Is Beren all right?” were his first words as a hand settled gently against Cas’s cheek.
“His vitals seem fine, if a little weak. I’ll take him into the clinic for observation, but apart from the bruises—”
“Not the clinic.”
“What?” Dr. Weiss sounded startled.
“I don’t want him put in a place where anyone can access him. Get what you need to treat him and take him to our quarters.”
“Captain, my medical team is beyond reproach—”
“Really?” Rone demanded. “Are you absolutely sure of that? Because I would have said the same thing for most if not all of my crew, before Beren. Since then I’ve been proven wrong more than once, so at this point, be grateful that I consider you beyond reproach.”
There was a moment of silence, followed by a tight, “I understand.”
“I’m glad. Chief, you’re coming too.”
Surprisingly, there was no fight there. “You’re damn right I am,” the Chief said. “We need to talk, Captain.”
“We certainly do.”
Cas felt a cool, small hand wrap around one of his. It was Fillie. “You’re going to be fine,” she said, soft but bright. “Doctor Weiss will fix you up and you’re going to be totally fine, I promise.” The stretcher began to move, but she kept pace with it. “I shouldn’t have left you alone,” she confided, more miserable-sounding now. “I mean, I was under orders, but I was under orders with you too and it doesn’t really matter, because you’re my friend and I should have stuck with you and now the captain is probably going to reassign me because I’m terrible at this. I’m just…I’m sorry.”
Cas’s heart ached in his chest. He wasn’t used to feeling compassion for others—that sort of emotional response was trained out of you when you went to work undercover. But it was making a resurgence now, first with Rone, now with Fillie. He’d have to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
Murmurs echoed in the halls around him as he was taken back to their quarters, crew members curious and whispering, nervous and wondering. Getting into the room was a relief, a chance to pull back the phage and give it a break. It was overworked, but he couldn’t let it rest too deep. He still had conversations to eavesdrop on.
It was hard, since one discussion was between Dr. Weiss and Fillie and the other was between Rone and the Chief, but he did his best to separate them out.
“He should wake up soon,” Dr. Weiss said gently as he detached the monitor from Cas’s wrist. “I’ve sent for a painkiller, it should be here—”
“—reason for it,” the chief engineer said firmly. “Jamal Zane was one of my best engineers, and the farthest thing from a rabble-rouser you’ve ever seen. He volunteered for every relief mission our navy’s got going, for fuck’s sake. I can’t imagine why he would go after your husband without good reason.”
“So what you’re saying is you think that Beren instigated this?”
“All I’m saying is—”
“—think it’s safe here?” Fillie asked quietly.
“I can’t honestly say,” the doctor replied. “Our captain’s marriage is provoking reactions in our crew that are anomalous. Before this, I would never have pegged any of them for out-and-out xenophobes. A few tend to talk when they’re drunk, but this…and it’s not just because he’s our captain, of course.”
“He’s the prince.”
“He’s the prince,” Weiss agreed. “And he’s already brought two non-Imperians into the royal family through adoption. The last royal adoption was over a hundred years ago, and it just change someone from nephew to son. This is—”
“—divorce him.” It was the Chief again. “You’ve done your duty. You got him off that damn rock. Now get him out of the line of fire. Divorce him, give him a settlement and set him up on some other planet doing whatever it is sweet, dim little people like him do.”
“You need to mind your tone, Chief.” Rone sounded cold. “You know nothing about him, and already you’re making judgments about what he’s capable of. Perhaps it’s a small wonder that someone with a grudge against non-Imperians was able to work right under your nose.”
“If you’re implying that I’m xenophobic, you can take that accusation and shove it up your—nose. Sir.”
“No no, if you’re going to talk to me about my personal life, then you’re going to refer to me by my personal title, which is ‘Highness.’ And on the subject of xenophobia, you’re better than most of the nobility, but that’s not saying much. Whether or not you continue to work for me depends very much on how you salvage this conversation, Lord Stevenson, so tread carefully. Now, talk to me about what you saw.”
He sighed hugely. “It was a bloody—”
“—rather messy, but he seems to heal quickly. It won’t bother him for long.” Cas heard Dr. Weiss pat Fillie on the shoulder. “He seems to heal very completely, too. I haven’t seen a single scar on him, and I know for a fact that the technology to remove them isn’t available on Leelinge, much less to the Delacoeurians underground.”
“Maybe they found their own way of removing them,” Fillie suggested. “Something natural, in the caves.”
“It might be that, but he’s not the first Delacoeurian I’ve examined, and plenty of others showed scars. Not him, though.”
“Well, he’s kind of fastidious. And he had a very protective older brother. Maybe he was just very careful.”
“Hmm, perhaps. What do you know about his family?”
He heard her shrug. “Not much. The file mentioned his older brother, no other siblings, no living parents. The brother was an undercover Delacoeurian agent, and died in an explosion a month ago.”
“Did he now? That’s—”
“—honestly not sure how he defended himself against a man in a power suit,” the Chief finished up. “But then, I’ve seen stranger things, and it was quite a tight space. If Zane was holding up that tile, it wouldn’t take a big mistake to bring it crashing down on him. You should ask about it, though. Record it, preferably.”
“I’m not going to treat my husband like a criminal.”
“Then don’t. But don’t discount the possibility that he may be more than he seems.” The Chief groaned as he pushed to his feet. “Damned leg. I’ve done too much crouching today. Is that all, sir?”
“For now, Chief. Dismissed.”
“—looks like he might be coming around! Go get the captain, Private Fillie!”
There was so much to do. So many fires to put out, so many lies to expose and secrets to keep. Cas took a deep breath, then opened his eyes as Beren.