Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Six Part Two

 Notes: Oh man. Okay. So, this isn't the way I originally planned to end this story. It was going to be an actual wrap-up and I was going to write about Sigurd Liang next, but then shit happened, and now we're going to a whole new planet with these two idiots in love. But not until July, because I'm going on vacation next week and my work is slamming me, so! Enjoy, look for lighter and non-topical blog updates for a bit, and I'll be back with more in July!

Thank you SO, SO MUCH for reading! You make my life better.

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Six, Part Two

***

Chapter Twenty-Six, Part Two

 


The worst thing about leaving was that they couldn’t take both the girls.

To be clear—telling Caria what had happened? That wasn’t fun either.

“You can’t be serious,” she said breathlessly over their secure com. Elanus had taken nothing for granted with this one, making sure Caria was in a private room and blocked off from all input, even her implant, before generating this call to her. “How can you leave now? With everything simmering on the edge of boiling right over?”

“Leaving is the only thing that’s going to take the heat off,” Elanus replied. “You’ve got footage of me illegally entering Moreno’s call, followed by him forcing me out at gunpoint. A lot of people are going to look at this and thing both of us being gone is for the best, which it genuinely is. Yes, his people will fuss, but those bastards always do. I’ll lay in a false trail leaving Ganian space, and it’ll be clear to most people that he took advantage of the chaos to leave.”

“You’re still leaving me in a terribly precarious position. There are a lot of high-ranking people in his faction that will continue to use him as a weapon against the establishment.”

“They’ll be a lot easier to handle without Moreno around.”

“They haven’t been so far!”

Getting her buy-in had taken time they didn’t really have, but Kieron had used his part of it to explain to Xilinn and Pol why they were staying—another conversation that didn’t go terribly well. “If you leave now, you’ll have to begin the naturalization process all over again when you come back, and your chances of acceptance will go down by a lot since you’ll have shown you’re not reliable.”

Xilinn crossed her arms in front of her chest. “What’s the point of being here when we can’t be with all of you?”

“It’s not just about you,” Kieron replied, characteristically blunt. “It’s about creating a safe haven for the other refugees from Trakta. You’re something of a test case for this planet—they could be taking in a lot more people in need, but they’ve refused for the most part. If they take you, it could be the start of a genuinely beneficial refugee program.”

“But I’ll miss you,” Pol said in a quiet, distressed voice. Kieron knelt down in front of him

“I’ll miss you too,” he assured him. “So much. But we have to leave for a while, otherwise Elanus won’t be safe. You want him to be safe, right?”

Pol had glanced at Elanus a little resentfully. “I guess so.”

Ouch.

“I do too,” Kieron continued, and that made Elanus feel a little better. “And so we have to go away until it’s safe for him to come back. But Lizzie will be here with you, and your mom, and your friends from Trakta.”

“And Ryu?”

“And Ryu.” The recovered assassin was amenable to being the live-in bodyguard while they were away. Elanus didn’t anticipate any threats that Lizzie wasn’t more than equipped to handle, but not having enough plans had already landed him in a lot of trouble.

“Well…okay.”

Leaving Lizzie was, unsurprisingly, the hardest thing. Not that they wouldn’t be connected to her and talking with her no matter where they went, although they had to be somewhat considered with their power usage so no one figured out they were making deep-space calls on the regular. But she felt left out, and given that she and Kieron had just reconciled, that wasn’t an easy thing to get over. Eventually, the only excuse Kieron could give that she accepted was that Pol needed her. “Even more than I do right now,” he said sadly, leaning against her bulkhead. Lizzie made a quiet whine, but eventually settled into acceptance.

Which led to now, less than half a day after killing Moreno and scrapping all their earlier plans in favor of running off into the great beyond—putting the last of their gear inside of Catie, who Elanus was beyond grateful had enlarged her interior over the past few months so the two of them would fit more comfortably. Catie, Elanus noted, was excited about leaving. She didn’t say it, but he could feel it in the subtle hum in his implant, a feeling of tension mixed with pleasure.

They left with her wearing a skin that made them the next best thing to impervious to detection and in the middle of a storm that would limit what anyone could see of them physically. Once they were free of the atmosphere, Catie changed her trail to resemble more generic Ganian-made ship, one that could feasibly belong to any wealthy person who might want to get involved in freeing Moreno, and over the next few hours they laid a trail for the Central System. Then they rode a few gravity waves to confuse things, slung themselves around an uninhabited planet while powered down to confuse things further, and…

“So.” Elanus looked at Kieron, who was staring out the viewscreen like there was something to see there other than blank, dark space. His fingers, though, were trembling as they hovered over the navigation panel. “Where are we going?”

Kieron blinked. “I think…I think I need to go home.”

“Back to Cloverleaf?” That was remote, but not really remote enough for what Elanus had in mind. “Then we need to—”

“No. Not there. To my original home. To the Hadrian Colony.”

Fuck. You’ve got to be kidding me. Elanus didn’t know much about where Kieron was born and raised, mostly out of respect for his fiancé’s privacy, but this…to go there, now? When things between them were so unsettled? “Why?” he managed after a moment.

“Because I remember it,” Kieron said. “I remember it being one way. I want to look at it the way it is now, and wrap my head around the changes. I need to…I need to find a way to be okay with change, and seeing that hellhole gone from barracks to empty will hopefully do it.”

Elanus nodded tightly. If this was what Kieron needed, then they’d do it, but he didn’t like it. Then again, he’d lost his right to object after what he’d put Kieron through.

All I wanted was to take care of you, and I failed. I failed so badly.

“Hey.” Warm fingertips on his face redirected Elanus’s blurry gaze to Kieron’s face. Kieron smiled. A small smile, but it was there. “We’re going to be okay.”

Elanus couldn’t quite bring himself to speak, but he nodded. Kieron turned back to the screen and started talking Catie through finding the colony. Elanus listened with half an ear, the rest of his attention firmly on his own ability to forestall a freakout.

I hope we are. I really hope so.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Six, Part One

 Notes: Hoo boy, looks like we're going to get another story about these two. Way to mess with my plans, plot bunny!

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Six, Part One

***

Chapter Twenty-Six, Part One

 


Ah.

Well.

This was a bit of a to-do. One not at all helped by the fact that Elanus’s first response was to say, “What the fuck!?

He managed to quell Kieron’s rage long enough to shut off any broadcasting devices, get the door closed, and haul Moreno into the only functional ship nearby—Lizzie. There had been another ship, apparently, one manned by a less intelligent AI than Elanus’s kid, and Lizzie hadn’t hesitated to infect it with a virus that sent it into a self-destructive spiral. Its engine overheated and all the electronics melted to slag. The rest of it, Elanus would have to take care of later. For now, there was plenty to take care of, not the least of which was the total collapse of his plans, all the way through Z.

“Why did you kill him?” he demanded once Lizzie’s hatch closed. “There was no need for that!”

“He was holding you at gunpoint, so I’d say there was every need for that,” Kieron snapped back. “What the hell? You told me you weren’t going to be in any real danger, but that looked like intensely real danger to me.”

Elanus shook his head impatiently. “He wouldn’t have killed me.”

“He would have.”

“He wouldn’t, it would have been a death sentence for him, he—”

Kieron stabbed a finger toward Moreno. “That piece of shit was responsible for the attack that nearly killed both me and his vice-president. Right? He’s been inciting people into a frenzy ever since he was put into custody. You think he couldn’t have made a case for self-defense when it came to killing you? You think he might have bothered at all, when the goal was getting himself off the planet? He. Was. Going. To. Kill you.”

“You don’t know that,” Elanus insisted. “That’s not how we do things on Gania. We only assassinate others when we’re positive it won’t come back on us, and I might not be as popular as he is but I employ over half this fucking city. There would be plenty of pushback over my death, and it would make things incredibly difficult for him.”

“At least he’d have a future!” Kieron shouted. “You’d just be dead! You’d be dead, you think—you’ve got Elfshot, complications are a given, you think it’s bad enough that my brains are scrambled beyond all belief, how would anything get any better with you being stuck in a Regen tank while you regrew a heart? Or lungs?”

Elanus sighed. This wasn’t an argument he was going to win. “Fine. But now he’s dead, and Lizzie doesn’t have a Regen tank so he’s going to stay that way, and you dragged our daughter into your deception of Catie, who’s feeling like shit at the moment—” he could feel her angsting over Lizzie tricking her over the implant “—and we have a hell of a lot of problems to solve now.”

“Do not talk to me about deception when you lied to me about what you intended to do here today,” Kieron said coldly, and Elanus’s ire subsided. He had a point there. “I wouldn’t have had to fly over here at breakneck speed with Lizzie blocking all radars and putting her sister off just to save your sorry ass from being murdered if you’d been honest with me in the beginning.”

“Kieron—”

“Are you ever honest with me?” Kieron persisted, and now Elanus was starting to get worried. “Do you ever actually tell me the truth, or is it always a guessing game when it comes to what you deign to share? Because I’ve got to be honest, if that’s the way things are then I don’t know how I live with you. I don’t know what’s keeping us together other than trauma. Honesty is vitally important to me, Elanus, and I might not be able to remember our relationship but I remember the fuck out of that.”

The worried feeling blossomed into full-blown anxiety. “What are you saying?”

Kieron crossed his arms. “I don’t know. I don’t—I can’t talk about this right now. We need to figure out what to do with the body first. What’s the plan? Come on, smart guy,” he added sarcastically. “Give me a plan.”

He wanted a plan? Fine. Elanus actually had one coming together in his head right now. It wasn’t the plan he’d hoped for, but it ought to work. “We…need to make it look like Moreno got away with it,” he said slowly, sounding it out as he spoke. “Everything that happened in there was recorded, it’ll go to Caria. We need to make it look like Moreno has taken me along with him and escaped. He’s won, kind of, but he doesn’t give his followers any last messages or anything like that. He just…leaves. Anticlimactic, the kind of thing that will take the wind out of their sails. That, on top of him abducting me along the way, will give her a lot of room to work when it comes to discrediting him.”

“You won’t be able to stay here if that’s the play,” Kieron said stiffly. “The girls are good, but the odds that someone will catch sight of you in some way at some point are high.”

“True,” Elanus agreed. “I’ll have to leave Gania. Put someone else in charge of the company again, shut down the house, genuinely step away for a while until it’s safe to come back.”

Kieron narrowed his eyes. “I’m not staying here without you.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Elanus replied. “Actually, I was thinking…maybe you’d pick where we go.” He held his breath. Kieron might be too furious to even consider this avenue right now.

He frowned but paused to consider it. “Why me?” he finally asked.

“Because,” Elanus said as earnestly as he could, “you came here for me. You left Cloverleaf Station for me. You’ve done a hell of a lot of things for me ever since we met, and it’s been hard for you. I can’t imagine how hard it is right now. I want to…” stay with you, fuck, don’t leave me “do whatever you want, for now. As long as it’s remote,” he added. “We can’t risk me being seen abroad for a while.”

“Hm.” Kieron’s hands clenched where they gripped his arms for a moment. “I’ll think about it,” he said at last. “For now, we need to finish making it look like Moreno got away.” He went over to Lizzie’s storage closet and pulled out a mobile cleaning bot. “I’ll go take care of the blood.” He let himself out, and Elanus pressed his hands to his slightly sticky face and suppressed a groan.

He needed a plan to make sure Kieron took him with him, fast.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Five, Part Two

 Notes: And we're going, we're going, we're--wait, we stopped, FULL STOP, what the what, plot? What are you thinking? ARE YOU EVEN THINKING!?

Title: Chelen City: Chapter Twenty-Five, Part Two

***

Chapter Twenty-Five, Part Two

 


When Elanus stepped into Moreno’s cell and immediately found himself on the business end of a guard’s modified stun gun, he was grateful that he’d taken the time to plan for Contingencies F-I, because he was going to need them. It wasn’t that he didn’t have tabs on Moreno, that he wasn’t tracking which of his guards were sympathetic to his cause and which ones he was blackmailing, but he honestly didn’t think the man had the guts for this more dynamic course of action.

Shit. Kieron had to be losing his mind, seeing this with the girls. He hoped they were doing a decent job of calming him down.

“So, I guess you didn’t ask me here to talk,” Elanus said in as uninterested a tone as he could muster in the moment.

“Not in the slightest,” Moreno replied, a smile splitting his too-wide, sweat-damp face. “You must think you’re so clever, you shit. So damn clever, all the trouble you made for me ever since you got back here. No, before that—I had deals in place with Moritz that would have made me wealthy beyond even your wildest dreams, and you scuppered it all when you got rid of him.”

“I’m not at all sorry for that.”

Moreno nodded. “I’d respect you less if you were, not that I respect you very much to begin with. You’re not much of a politician, but even you have to realize that there’s no way to change a ruling society as deeply entrenched as ours. Nothing you or Caria do is going to make a difference in the end. Everyone, and I mean everyone above a certain threshold in society, wants to see you fail. The only way you could get around that is killing a lot more of them, and I don’t think you’ve got it in you.”

“I only threaten to kill, I almost never follow through,” Elanus said. “Just like everyone else ‘above a certain threshold.’”

“That’s going to change after this,” Moreno said, his voice thick with satisfaction. “I’ve got people whipped into a righteous frenzy—not even the ones I give a shit about, either, but the second they know that something has gone wrong with me, they’re gonna come down on you and everyone you care for like a supernova. You think you know chaos? You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Elanus nodded slowly. “And you plan to be far away by then, I take it.”

“You’re damn right I do. I’d like to stay,” he added with a bit of regret, “but this planet’s too hot for me now. I always knew I might need to get out of here in a hurry, and I’ve got plans in place to make that happen.”

Ah. He’s actually counting on his wife. Not too surprising, since he had her parents and their son guarded by people who were loyal to him and prepared to kill them all, but the ruthlessness was almost stunning. Almost. “What’s my role in this going to be, then?”

“What do you think, smart guy?” Moreno waved the stun gun theatrically toward the door. “You’re going to get us out of here. I’ve got a skimmer waiting for me underground, and you’re going to lead the way. I don’t want a single door to give us more than a second’s pause, or I’ll strike you dead one limb at a time. And to show you I’m serious—” He raised the gun and shot Elanus in the left shoulder.

Fuck! The energy beam hit him in the joint, numbing the nerve cluster and deadening his entire arm—and across his chest and partially up his neck as well. It became harder to breathe, and he felt his heart stutter and skip a few times before it settled back into its regular rhythm.

“How,” Elanus asked through gritted teeth, “am I supposed to get us out of a secure government building with half of my dexterity taken away?”

Moreno smirked. “Please, you think I believe that you need your hands to do anything? If you can’t open doors with your implant and the angels on your shoulder at this point, then you’re not half the man I thought you were.” He puffed his chest out a bit. “Too bad I’m ten times the man you thought I was, aren’t I? Now move.”

Kieron is definitely freaking out now. But that was something to be handled later. Moreno had to be handled now. Elanus nodded, then turned back toward the door he’d come through. “I suppose you can handle this one,” he said over his shoulder to Moreno. “Since it’s your guard who lent you that stunner, after all.”

“Sure, but I want to see the whiz kid in action.”

“All right.” [Catie, activate blue zone, path eighteen. We’re going down.]

[Initiating. Daddeeeeeee, are you okaaaay?]

[I’ll be fine, sweetheart. Just don’t let Kieron come after me.]

[Don’t worry, Daddeeeee, Lizzie is with hiiiim. Door opening in point-two—]

It opened, and Moreno chuckled. “God damn, where were you when I needed you, kid? We could have ruled this entire planet together.”

“Nah,” Elanus said because he was a bit of an idiot. “I prefer to work with smart people.” He stiffened as the stunner poked him in the middle of the back. “You won’t,” he said quickly. “You need me to get to the basement.”

“Don’t tempt me otherwise. Move.

Elanus, with Catie’s help, managed to not only open every door he needed to go over a hundred floors down without interruption, he also wasn’t seen by anyone—physically, at least. He didn’t bother to stop the video footage from being recorded, but he was careful not to let it be registered and seen by the building’s AI or its human security officers yet. After all, he didn’t need Moreno to have more useless charges heaped on him. What was Caria going to do, after all—put him back in the cell? Put him in a darker one? His followers would wreak havoc.

That was a place where they’d been outplayed, and Moreno had been right about one thing—Caria’s ideals had run into Elanus’s practicality there and left them where they were now. Not that he was entirely comfortable with the idea of simply killing the man and putting an AI fake in his place for all video appearances, but it would have made things considerably easier.

They got to the basement, Moreno’s gun still firmly fixed on the center of Elanus’s back. “Two more doors and we meet my friends,” Moreno said confidently. “From there it’s to a private spaceport, and you’re coming with me for that as well, because I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you. Once we break orbit, then I’ll put you in the ship’s lifepod and set you loose.”

Well, that was almost certainly a lie. Elanus thought about it as he opened the first door, which led to a set of actual stairs—stairs, no lift or moving walkway, how quaint—down two more levels to another door. Obviously he wasn’t going to let things get that far, and it would be child’s play to run interference with both the ship and whatever transport they were using now, but he had to do so in a way that wouldn’t put him in danger. That meant—

The moment the second door was open, Elanus felt a harsh blow impact his ankles. He fell to the dirty floor, winded, and felt the energy beam Moreno had reflexively squeezed off fire above him. It hit—nothing, because whoever had taken him down was already moving, grabbing Moreno by the front of his jumper and pulling him forward until he tripped, rather painfully, over Elanus himself.

Oh, shit.

“Wait!” he croaked, but a second later he felt a warm splash against the side of his face and neck. A second after that, Moreno’s head had been forcibly severed from the rest of him.

Elanus slowly turned to look up at Kieron, who scowled fiercely from where he was crouched beside Moreno’s body, garotte in hand, and snapped, “You fucking idiot!”