Title: Mutable: Chapter Seven, Part One
Chapter Seven, Part One
Cas lay on his husband’s bed on his side, back to the small room’s door. He didn’t need to look to know when someone was coming, and facing away gave him a chance to let the phage rest and recuperate without the strain of maintaining his disguise. He kept his face buried in the pillow and tried not to groan as his muscles sagged with relief.
He’d never held another person’s identity for so long before. Even as similar as he and Beren had been physically, there were still enough differences to make it a challenge. A little sharper across the cheekbones, a little wider at the bridge of the nose…Cas wished he could take a breathing tube and submerge himself in a hot bath for a few hours. Since that wasn’t about to happen, though, a break was the next best thing.
Listening in on the mostly-shouted conversation Rone was having with his commanders and the head of the diplomatic corps at the same time? That elevated Cas’s current status from “next best” back up to “absolutely best.”
“—gravely insulted the president himself with your accusations!” That voice was attached to a face Cas hadn’t seen in person yet, but the others referred to the man as “Captain Barreos.”
“If he had given me an adequate explanation for why shadowy assassins crept into this camp, which is officially sovereign Imperian territory while we’re here, then I wouldn’t have called him an incompetent fool,” Rone said with a cool voice.
“He was calling you to apologize!”
“Apologies are worthless when the giver is insincere about what they’re apologizing for.”
There was a dull thunk. Captain Barreos must have hit something with his hand. “It was a diplomatic coup just to receive his personal attention!”
“And that means I should abase myself before him?” Rone sounded a little more snappish now himself. “I should accept his lies as truths and let him and whoever ran this operation against my husband get away with attempted murder? Absurd. It would not only weaken my personal position with him, it would weaken our status as a whole to accept those pathetic fabrications.”
“I can’t believe you married a refugee,” Commander Jepson moaned for the third time. “Married him. Are you mad? How could you let this happen?”
“Don’t look at me,” Darven said. “It wasn’t my idea, the captain he makes his own decisions.”
“You’re supposed to be his friend! This will just give his opposition more reason to doubt that he’s fit to command!”
“You two.” Rone must have made some sort of movement, because they both shut up. “Captain Barreos, I’m sorry that I’ve made your position with the Leelanger government more challenging, but I’m not going to apologize for taking care of my husband and securing my camp against further intrusion.”
“You sent armed guards into the streets!” The captain sounded apoplectic. “You had them raid a building and arrest three civilians!”
“Civilians who were found in possession of heavy artillery, listening devices and recordings of this camp. I call people like that spies, not civilians.”
“You can’t prove they’re spies.”
“Well, what kind of spy carries around a badge with their title on it?” Rone’s anger sounded like it was getting the better of him again. “I’ll return all three of them as soon as the Leelangers explain themselves in enough depth and quantity that no stone is left unturned. And they have less than a day to do it in, because the military mission here is officially over.”
“But my mission isn’t!” the captain exclaimed. “I’m supposed to be setting up new diplomatic channels with these people, negotiating trade, regularizing relations! How can I do that when we’re holding hostages?”
“How indeed.” If Rone had sounded any less interested, he would have been asleep.
“Captain Basinti, I want you to know that I plan to file an official complaint to the admiralty about you. You’ve grossly overstepped your mission boundaries and compromised everything we’ve been working for.”
“Hmm. Very well, do that.” There was a faint sound of skin on skin—he was folding his hands, perhaps? “And I’ll be sure to file my own complaint alleging your spineless incompetence in the face of covert enemy action. My husband was attacked, do you understand that?”
“He isn’t really your husband—”
When Rone interrupted, his tone was pure ice. “Beren and I are legally bound in matrimony by recognized Imperian law, witnesses and all. The circumstances surrounding the marriage are irrelevant in the eyes of the courts. The letter of the law dictates that he is now Imperian, and subject to our rules and protections both.
“Leelanger assassins—creatures like I’ve never seen before—crept into our closed, independent military facility and attempted to murder him. If he hadn’t been fast on his feet, Beren would be dead right now, and you would really have a problem on your hands then, because I would already have marched on the statehouse and taken the president prisoner until his people explained themselves and gave me the criminals responsible. Does this make my position any clearer for you, Captain?”
There was a long silence. “Yes,” Barreos said tightly. “It does. I will…do my best to salvage things with the Leelangers. You won’t be necessary for the rest of the mission here.”
“Good. I appreciate your understanding. Basinti out.” The transmission ended with a faint ping, and a moment later Darven whistled.
“You put the fear in him, sir.”
“You were completely undiplomatic.” Jepson sounded like she was about to cry. “Sir, how many times do I have to remind you that your situation is tenuous, at best? If everything went perfectly on this mission, you would still be looking at at least five more years of council oversight. I’m trying to get you out from under their thumb as fast as I know how, but you are not making my job easy.”
“Nothing worth doing is easy.” Rone sounded apologetic, but Jepson just scoffed.
“You seemed to find betraying your nation a decade ago easy enough,” she snapped, then gasped. “Oh. Oh sir, I’m…oh, I’m so—I’m so sorry. I…I don’t know what came over me, I…”
“You’re tired.” Rone sounded surprisingly compassionate for a man who’d just been accused of treason. “It’s understandable. Go get some more sleep, Sophie. Tomorrow will be a busy day.”
“I…yes, I will, but…”
“Go on. Please.”
Cas heard her leave, and it was another long moment before Darven said, “She’s not completely wrong.”
“She is where it counts.”
“Your big old heart’s going to get you killed someday, Captain.”
Not if I have anything to do with it, Cas thought viciously. He was a little surprised at his own vehemence. Rone was sticking up for him. He was defending him against the Leelangers, even the president! And against his own people! No one had ever done that for Cas before. He would have to pay the kindness back at some point.
“You look beat,” Darven continued. “You gonna go lie down with your hubby for a while before next shift starts?”
“No,” Rone said quietly. “Beren doesn’t need me in there making him nervous. I’ll catch a nap later on the ship.”
“Whatever you say.”
That was good, that he was staying away. It gave Cas longer to rest his phage, and more time to plan the next phase of his operation. He was happy about it. Really.
You keep telling yourself that.