Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Chelen City: Chapter Five, Part One

 Notes: Ah, never did the course of true love run smooth...or parenting.

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Five, Part One


Chapter Five, Part One


Kieron was far too perceptive for his own good sometimes. “No,” he immediately said.

“I didn’t say anything!” Elanus protested.

“I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”

“Do you honestly think you can keep something like what you’re thinking a secret from me?” Kieron demanded, putting his plate aside and getting to his feet. “Didn’t we just talk about this? No!”

“What are you talking about?” Ryu asked tentatively. Elanus could feel the man’s implant poking around, trying to access things that he shouldn’t, and he slapped the attempt down, leaving Ryu blinking and probably with the beginnings of a headache.

“This is a matter of life and death,” Elanus pointed out.

“It could be a matter of your life and death if you go out of your way to help someone who made a legitimate attempt to assassinate you,” Kieron replied. His hands were clenched into fists by his side, and his elegance of movement had become brisk and stilted, efficient. The movements of someone on the verge of taking action. Elanus didn’t want to think about what kind of action he was considering.

“That’s not how things work on Gania,” Elanus said for what felt like the tenth time today. “I already told you, attempted assassination is a cultural tool that we use to—”

“Potentially killing someone isn’t the equivalent of theater,” Kieron snapped. “The fact that you can take it lightly doesn’t mean that someone isn’t still attempting to murder you. What if you miss a tell? What if you’re not on guard? What if you die? Then what happens to everyone?”

Was this…about the girls? “That’s what a will is for,” Elanus said as gently as he could while still pretty pissed off. “And mine is ironclad.”

“Really.” Kieron’s expression was completely flat. “You’ve named me the beneficiary of what amounts to a very significant portion of your overall fortune; me, a foreigner under the auspices of a mental health professional who’s gone out of her way to get her claws into me? This doesn’t strike you as the sort of thing to be challenged in the courts? Do you want to make me into a single parent on the run?”

“Why are we still talking as though I’m about to be killed?” Elanus asked. “Because we’ve put a pretty comprehensive stop to that.”

“Um…” Ryu pressed a hand to the bridge of his nose. “I feel like maybe I…”

“No, you stay out of this,” Kieron said. “You’ve done plenty already, you—why was it so goddamn impossible for you to try to make a fucking appointment with Elanus, huh? No, let’s not get on his calendar and talk like reasonable people, let’s use the ninja method and hope his self-defense skills are up to the task, which they aren’t, that’s why I’m here—”

“That’s not the only reason you’re here,” Elanus interrupted, unease curling through his gut. “You know that. I didn’t beg you to come to Gania just to use you for your admittedly excellent skills, I asked you to come here because I want you here. We all want you here.”

“Then act like it! Have a modicum of self-preservational skills and don’t feel the need to go out of your way to get answers for someone who—”

Elanus saw red. “It’s my disease too!” he shouted. “Elfshot Disease is a curse for those of us who suffer from it. It ruins lives every single day on Gania, and it would be morally indefensible of me not to act to try to find the information that could cure us just because it’s coming from an unlikely source.” Kieron opened his mouth to speak, but Elanus cut him off. “No, don’t say anything right now, don’t say that you understand or that you get it, because you don’t. You don’t know what it’s like. You think I want to be weak? You think I want to have to wonder if this bump or that bruise or, god forbid, losing my mind in bed with you is going to lead to a rupture that could kill me?”

Some of the stiffness had left Kieron’s posture, but it was replaced by bitterness in his voice. “Oh, well then definitely, the thing to do is ask your daughter to take on any potential fallout for you.”

“Don’t you fucking talk to me about her like—”

“Elanus,” Ryu tried again. “I’m not so sure that I—”

“We’re not done talking, you shut up,” Elanus said to him. “Look, Kieron, I understand what you’re getting at with your slippery slope argument, but I think in this case the potential for good clearly outweighs the negatives. Guided by us or not, this is the sort of thing she—both of them, really—are going to have to deal with someday, and it’s not an angle that I’m uncomfortable with. This is the needs of the many over the fears of the few.”

“There will always be another reason to make the wrong choice,” Kieron replied. He looked exhausted all of a sudden. “It’s the easiest thing to justify in the universe. And no matter how you dress it up or make allowances for it, the truth is that if you ask her to do this, whatever the benefit, you’re putting a hell of a lot of risks squarely onto her, and I don’t think she’s ready for that yet. I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s safe. Who knows how many people know about this research? There must be a team of developers, of doctors, maybe even investors who are going to be keen to discover any hint that the treatment plan is out in the open.”

“I can retroactively make it look like I’ve been developing this on my own.”

“You don’t even know exactly what it is you’re looking for yet, how are you going to—”

“Elanuuuuu…” Ryu collapsed to the floor before he finished the word, bleeding from his nose.

“Shit, shit, shit.” Elanus ran for his in-office, Elfshot-ready Regen unit while Kieron rolled Ryu over onto his back, carefully checking for damage.

It could have been when I nudged his brain. Shit. Is he that fragile?

Whatever. Save him first—he might be a shit, but Elanus didn’t want him to die.

Win this fight second.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Chelen City: Chapter Four, Part Two

 Notes: Intrigue! Debate! Tacos! So much to love.

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Four, Part Two


Chapter Four, Part Two


What was the right course of action for when you’d just stopped an assassin, found out said assassin had a burning need to talk a man you’d killed not so long ago, and then found out the reason behind that need was pertinent to your own life?

If you were Elanus, you took them to Taco Tuesday.

Not in the cafeteria, because there were too many people there for him to deal with right now, but he contacted Martel and asked him to make sure the cooking staff sent up a full spread, then made sure everyone in his office had the option of food and drink before continuing their conversation.

Ryu stared resentfully at the taco in his hand. “That bastard said you weren’t doing Taco Tuesdays anymore,” he muttered before taking a huge bite.

“You of all people should know that Deysan has never been worth the skin he filled,” Elanus replied, reaching for his own taco. Kieron grabbed it right before he made contact and took a bite, chewing and swallowing before handing it over.

Elanus was touched. “Aw, are you worried about me being poisoned? That sweet. But I’ve been monitoring the kitchens here since we arrived.” He tapped the back of his head. “This food was all cooked in perfect accordance with the recipes on file, each piece tested for foreign organic substances before being brought up here. It’s clean.”

“I could think of half a dozen ways to kill you with that taco,” Kieron replied calmly as he put his own together. “Only one of them involves poisoning you with it.”

“You are a fucking delight, do you know that?”

There was a tiny smile on his face. “You tell me often enough.”

“I mean it.”

Ryu looked between the two of them like they were both insane. “What kind of madman have you brought to Gania, Elanus?”

He arched an eyebrow. “What, you didn’t do your homework on him?”

“He’s a fuckbuddy! He’s a mid-skilled laborer with no Central System connections you started having sex with when you hared off on your revenge cruise and then you decided to bring him back with you once you were done, all while adopting his lost cause.”

Elanus shook his head. “So close to right, and yet so far it’s almost laughable. I’ve got to be honest, Ryu, you’re not in your best form lately.”

“You try getting through your life with a sword of Damocles hanging over your head,” he snapped. Then he ate another taco because fuck it, they were delicious, and not even he could deny that.

“What’s a sword of Damocles?” Kieron asked.

“It’s what everyone with an incurable disease in the age of Regen walks around with,” Elanus said.

“Be more specific.”

“It’s the threat of something terrible bearing down on you, particularly if you’re in a position of power but more generally that threat can be much broader.” Elanus touched his abdomen. “Remember the last time I broke a rib?”

Kieron looked away. “You know I do.”

“There was no way for me to know that a little nudge like you gave me would break a rib,” he said, pushing despite the fact that he knew revisiting this hurt Kieron. He wanted him to understand this part because it was crucial to understanding a lot of Ganian culture. Too many people here had Elfshot Disease to ignore, and with the prospect of a cure on the horizon… “But it did. And that could have killed me. One day I’m fine, the next I might rupture an artery or have a brain aneurysm. Get me into Regan and that will help fix it, yet, but I’m not sturdy the way I ought to be, and I never know what will break me next.

“That’s a sword of Damocles, and having a cure for that level of uncertainty would have propelled Deysan up to a level of prestige he hadn’t had in a long time.” He turned back to Ryu, who was on his third taco. “So, tell me more about this cure.”

“Systemic replacement.”

Elanus immediately shook his head. “That’s not legal.”

Kieron looked a little lost. “What is systemic replacement?”

“It’s making people into cyborgs.” Which wasn’t allowed, not to the extent that systemic replacement implied. “There’s a reason the Central System leaned so hard into developing Regen instead of making replacement parts for people. Cyborgs were a thing in the early days of the Federation, a long time ago now—until some evil genius decided to push a series of updates through their software that included genocide protocols.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Kieron tapped the back of his head. “Almost everyone has an implant. We could all be influenced by it.”

“Influencing a person’s mind is one thing, actively controlling parts of their physical forms is quite another. Ships that relied on too many cyborg workers were left stranded, cyborgs working in healthcare wrought untold levels of havoc…a hell of a lot of people died, many of them the cyborgs themselves. It left enough of an impression that systemic replacement has been, is, and remains illegal across every Federation planet, regardless of whether they’re Central System or not.”

Ryu sighed. “Deysan was walking a fine line with this and he knew it. His proposal was a very delicate one—organic parts, supported by inorganic compounds to improve their strength and durability, implanted into prospective patients one at a time. He’d already finished replacing my entire skeleton and my lymphatic system before he left.” Ryu smiled for a moment. “I haven’t had a broken bone in over a year.”

That was impressive. “What was he putting in before he left?”

“A new nervous system. Piece by piece, of course, not everything all at once.” Ryu touched his neck. “He’d just put in a spinal cord.”

“One supported by inorganic material,” Kieron said. “Huh. So it diminished the effectiveness of my stunner.”


“And that’s bad for some reason.”

Ryu set his half-eaten taco down on his plate and leaned back into the chair, exuding fatigue. “Yep. Because the inorganic material, whatever it is, is starting to break down. I’m having seizures—way worse than I ever did before, even with the disease. Sometimes…” He flexed his right hand. “I lose feeling in a limb. It’s come back each time, but it takes longer and longer. I need to access his files, but they’re completely locked down with a code that not even you will be able to break. I need Deysan to do it, and apparently,” he glared at both of them, “he’s dead. So I guess I’m fucked.”

Kieron looked at Elanus. “Are all Ganians this dramatic?”

“You can’t say we don’t have a flare for it,” Elanus replied, hiding his growing excitement behind a joke.

Apparently, he hid it too well, because Ryu jumped to his feet. “Look, you bastard, it’s one thing to be completely unable to help me but it’s another to make fun of me for not wanting to die a slow and horrible death—”

“Rich words coming from an assassin,” Kieron shot back.

Elanus stood up and held out a placating hand. “Both of you need to relax. Please.

“Because it turns out I might have an answer for this little puzzle after all.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Chelen City: Chapter Four, Part One

 Notes: More story, and it's actually on time! YAAAY! Assassins, they're not always what they appear to be...

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Four, Part One


Chapter Four, Part One


It was a little unusual for a would-be assassin to stick around after their attempt failed, but given the personal relationship Elanus had with this one, he figured the least he could do was have a chat with the man before he threw him out.

“What the fuck was what?” Elanus asked. “The part where I didn’t let you get the drop on me thanks to Kieron, or the part where you ought to be drooling out on the floor but are still standing instead?”

Ryu made a noise of exasperation. “The first, obviously!” He glared at Kieron. “Look, I don’t know much about you, but if this idiot hasn’t explained things to you yet, you ought to know that my attempts to kill him just now were completely superficial.”

“He did tell me about that,” Kieron said, managing to keep a level voice despite the tension Elanus saw through his shoulders. Kieron didn’t like surprises, and Ryu now represented an unknown. “And obviously I would never step in your cultural norms. That was all self-defense.”

“That’s shit and you know it.”

Kieron shrugged. “I’m not responsible for your shitty timing. I walked in first, I felt endangered, I took care of things. Now.” He lifted his gun again and pointed it at Ryu’s chest. “I’d like to learn some more.” And then—

Three more shots before Elanus could stop them—gut, chest, and head. “Whoa!” Elanus shouted, reaching out for Kieron’s shoulder. “That’s plenty, that’s more than plenty. You’re going to overload his nervous system at this rate.”

Kieron shook his head. “But I’m not. Look at him.”

True to Kieron’s word, Ryu was already straightening up. He looked fine, physically, but the expression on his handsome, angular face was incredulous. “What the fuck.”

“Nothing, huh?” Kieron switched the gun for a knife. “What about this?”

Ryu held up his hands. “I can see this has gotten off to a very bad start,” he said placatingly. “I didn’t realize you’d hired a bodyguard. I can—”

“He’s my lover, not my bodyguard,” Elanus clarified, caught between appreciating Kieron’s willingness to cause damage and satisfying his curiosity about this whole thing. “He just really likes me whole and healthy and, y’know, not threatened in the quiet of my office by a former employee in a stealth suit.”

Ryu narrowed his eyes. “Current employee.”

“Former. You fucked off to be Deysan’s personal assistant, and his employment with LifeShip Enterprises has been very thoroughly terminated.” The ship he’d died in had been destroyed by asteroids three days after Elanus and Kieron had orchestrated his downfall, in fact.

Ryu didn’t seem to believe Elanus’s claim. “Look, I don’t care where you stashed him or how you’re making him suffer, but I need information only he has about a personal situation of mine. It’s time-sensitive, so if you can give me access to him for just a standard day, I would appreciate it.”

Elanus was starting to get a sinking feeling. “I can’t.”

Yep, there it was, the lines around the eyes and pursing of the lips—signs of mounting desperation in a man as good at hiding his feelings as Ryu. “You can. You have to. I need to talk to him.”

“No, believe me, I genuinely, absolutely, literally can’t give you access to the man. He’s dead.”

Ryu’s bronzed skin took on a faint green patina. “No.”

“Yes.” Kieron was talking this time, but the underlying air of animosity had completely vanished from his voice. “He’s very, very dead. Take what I did to you and multiply it by radiation poisoning. The real question is, what do you want from him?”

“I…” Ryu seemed to have run out of air. His posture, so square and strong, folded in on itself, his shoulders bowing along with his head as some terrible reality suddenly drilled through his layers of confidence and bluster. “No,” he whispered. “Oh no. No, that can’t—no, I need him.” He staggered backward until he hit Elanus’s desk, but instead of using it to support himself, he sank down onto the floor in front of it, eyes staring at some horror Elanus could only guess at. “No, no, no…”

Kieron lowered the knife, then put it away entirely. “Gania doesn’t subscribe to ritual sacrifice, does it?” he asked Elanus quietly.

“What? No!” Only the most sophisticated barbarism was allowed on Gania. “Why do you ask?”

“Because the way your assassin is behaving makes me wonder why he’s suddenly expecting to die. He didn’t expect to die when I was shooting at him, but a few words about Deysan Moritz being dead and all of a sudden he’s lost all his self-control. So, no culture of required suicide to follow someone of a higher class into some bullshit afterlife?”

“No!” How completely abhorrent. “Do places like that even exist in the Federation?”

“Not in the Federation, no,” Kieron said mildly. It occurred to Elanus that there were a lot of things he didn’t know about Hadrian’s Colony, but one of the things he did know was that they had essentially wiped themselves out in a mass suicide at the behest of their leader. That was…it was…

It was something Elanus was going to table to talk about at a later date, because right now he had his former partner’s former personal assistant hyperventilating on his floor and he didn’t want that. “Ryu,” Elanus tried, coming over and kneeling down in front of him. Not too close, not stabbing-close, but close enough to make a connection. “Why do you need to talk to Deysan so badly?”

“He…” Ryu made an effort to focus on Elanus. His big dark eyes were wide and scared—he had never let himself appear scared in front of Elanus before, never. “He’s the only one who can fix me.”

“Why do you need fixing? What’s wrong with you?”

“Elfshot,” Ryu said, and Elanus went cold. Kieron stiffened as well. “Deysan discovered a cure for Elfshot Disease. I was halfway through the trial treatment when he left. He said he would transmit the rest of the program to me, but he never did. Everything I’ve been through, all the progress, it’s going to be lost if—I—I need him to tell me the rest!”

Deysan worked out a cure for Elfshot Disease?

My disease?

There had to be an angle here, and Elanus was going to find it.