Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty, Part Two
Chapter Twenty, Part Two
Despite the face that Rone wasn’t walking any faster than normal, Cas felt downright rushed as they walked from the landing zone toward the military compound that housed the command staff and extended bureaucracy of the Imperian Navy. He held onto Rone’s arm and tried to keep calm, but it was a battle. In just a few minutes, he’d be violating someone’s bodily autonomy and infecting their mind with his phage. That wasn’t the kind of thing he could take lightly.
The compound’s lights flickered in some places, and ash from the eruptions still hovered in the air, creating a perpetual red haze that made Cas feel as though he was wandering through a cloud of blood. The military base was significantly closer to the nearest problematic volcano than Rone’s elegant, oversized home was, and there were far fewer of the massive air filters running out here. “Are you sure it’s safe to be in this?” Cas asked a bit worriedly, playing it up because Beren would be even more cautious about it than he was.
“That’s why we have the masks on.” Rone gestured to his own nose-and-mouth covering. “And it shouldn’t have time to affect your eyes. Dr. Weiss will make sure you’re in perfect shape, though. Ah.” Commander Hije was coming toward them, something about the heavy lumber of his pace making Cas’s heart beat a little faster. Despite being unable to see his face, Cas had the feeling there was a glower under that mask. Private Fillie was with him—or at least, Cas assumed it was Private Fillie. The armor was familiar, but every identifying feature was obscured.
They fell into step beside the pair of them, Hije speaking quickly as they walked. “You have a meeting with Admiral Glasden in five minutes, and one with our chief engineer in ten.”
“I’ll be ready for both of them.” They walked through a set of transparent doors that rotated like they were set on a spindle, accompanied by a blast of air, and then they were inside the building. Cas felt scourged. “I just need to make a quick trip to the medical center with Beren first,” Rone continued, removing his mask. “Private, you’re to accompany us and wait for Beren to finish with his appointment.”
Private Fillie’s helmet retracted, revealing her freckled, smiling face. “Yes, sir!”
“Fall in. Commander, I’ll meet you outside Glasden’s office shortly.”
Commander Hije had his mask off as well, and his expression was nowhere near Rone’s placid good humor. He looked somewhere between worried and determined. “Yes sir,” he ground out, then turned on his heel and headed for the hallway to the right.
Rone gently removed Cas’s own mask and tucked it into his pocket. “The medical center is right down here.”
Cas could barely keep his mind on memorizing the path they were following—good grief, why were all these peoples’ buildings so damn bright? It made him want to install another set of eyelids, just to diminish the glare. He pulled the phage back as far as he dared, but it wasn’t really enough. White walls that glowed with coruscating light, white ceilings that transformed the dark day into an artificially-perfect crystal cave…even the floor was some sort of white stone.
“Still feeling sensitive to the light?”
Cas realized with horror that he was wincing, and put on a polite smile for his husband. “Your house is a little more subdued. I’ll adapt in another minute or so.”
“I’m sure you will, Beren.” He stopped in front of a wide, circular room before Cas could ask what that meant. The walls were transparent—again—but one touch of his wrist to the keypad let Rone in without any fuss. A thin glass panel hanging from the ceiling lit up, and a young man appeared in it, his arms crossed politely behind his back.
“Please state the reason for your visit.”
“Appointment for Beren Basinti, with Dr. Weiss.”
“Beren Basinti’s appointment is on the day’s program. Will you be accompanying him, sir?”
“No, I’ll be otherwise occupied. Private Fillie will wait for him here, though.”
“Understood. Media will be made available to her.” The image turned to Cas. “Consort Basinti, please follow the lights.” A series of glowing dots appeared in the stone floor. He stared at them like they led the way to a drowning pool.
Cas turned at his husband’s light touch on his arm. Warm brown eyes met his, close enough that Cas could see the faintest hint of purple lurking in the tight pupils. “Everything will be fine,” he said.
I wish I had your optimism. “Of course,” Cas replied. “Will I see you again soon?”
“As soon as I can manage.” With one last squeeze, he was gone. Cas swallowed and glanced at Fillie.
“I’ll wait for you!” she said, as perky as ever. “I’ve got cargo reassignment lists to go over in the meantime.”
“All right.” All out of excuses, Cas followed the lights. The corridor twisted around more panels, each of them broadcasting a health PSA that Cas assumed was aimed at the average soldier, because almost every single on of them was about either cleanliness or prophylactics.
“We know how exciting it can be to be stationed far away from home, but distance is no excuse for ignoring standards of—”
“—ensuring that you shower every day will not only save you a trip to the field medic, but improve morale in both you and your—”
“—take your standard prophylactic shot, and ask medical about any suggested additions they recommend to combat local venereal diseases!”
The last one was accompanied by a picture of what had to be a case of crotch rot, something Cas had seen with too much frequency back on Leelinge. How interesting, that it would be the visual chosen for a health advisory message in the biggest base in Obsidian. Why, he wondered?
“Ah, Beren!” All of a sudden it was the end of the lights, and Cas was face to face with the over-friendly Dr. Weiss again. At least there was no nurse with him this time.
“Doctor.” He shook the man’s hand, all while rapidly readying his own plans. He needed to clear one arm completely of the phage while pumping it up in his face, particularly the tear duct—a little bit of it should go a long way, and he could remove something from his own eye without drawing undue attention. They were being monitored, so he had to do it fast. To get it into Dr. Weiss’s body, he’d have to stage a fall, do something to get the doctor to make himself vulnerable, then get the tiny bit of phage either into his eye or his mouth. The eye would be better, more direct access to the brain, and he’d have to work fast. He’d been willing his intent into it for the past half hour, but was that enough? Would it respond in the timeframe he needed?
All of this went through his head in a second, maybe two. Cas sat down on the bed indicated and, when asked, rolled up his left sleeve. “Any issues with the chip implant in your wrist?” Dr. Weiss asked conversationally as he readied the blood-draw, the little device lying on a mobile AI tablet on the table beside him. The micro-syringe would only take a tiny sip of him. Cas looked at the man and felt sick over what he was about to do in return.
It’s too late for second thoughts. He perched at the very edge of the bed, ready to turn his precarious position into a fall. “No, it’s been fine.”
“That’s excellent. And no issues with any sorts of allergies, I take it?”
Cas shook his head. “None at all.”
“Wonderful. Many of the other refugees have had a hard time adapting to totally new climates, but I’m glad to hear you’re one of the hearty ones.”
Great. Something else to worry about. “I’m glad too.”
Dr. Weiss stepped up next to him and supported Cas’s elbow with one gloved hand. “This won’t take but a moment,” he promised.
“Good,” Cas whispered. He felt the familiar faint pinch, and readied himself to pitch forward and knock Dr. Weiss to the ground.
Then the lights went out.