Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Ten, Part One

Notes: Intrigue is coming down the pipe, so to get ready for it, have some lighthearted intelligence gathering by Cas :)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Ten, Part One


Chapter Ten, Part One

Rone actually did have to return to duty after the medical appointment, but he made sure Cas felt comfortable with the basic layout of the ship, the AI, and how to contact either Commander Hije, Dr. Weiss, or Private Fillie with his new implant if he couldn’t get through to Rone for some reason.

“Ship hours are kept differently than planetside,” Rone said as he pulled his formal uniform out of a hole that just opened up in the wall at his touch. Cas tried not to gape, both at the responsive technology and his husband’s nearly-bare chest. Good grief, the man was broad. What was the gravity like on Imperia, that it made such strongly-built people? “We run Alpha and Beta shifts, and each shift is fifteen sixty-minute hours. A standard Imperian day is thirty hours, and we simply carried it into space with us.”

“I understand.” That was longer than Cas was used to dealing with—Leelinge was closer to Old Earth norms at twenty-two hours in a day, but he would manage. He was accustomed to going long periods with little to no sleep, and the phage was highly adaptable.

“I work Alpha shift in the command center, and Darven takes Beta. On most missions I get to take the second shift off completely, but since we had to leave the diplomatic corps behind, I let them borrow a few of my engineers to keep their equipment up to speed. I’ll be spending probably half of each Beta shift covering for their losses.”

Cas frowned. “When will you take the time to eat or sleep?”

Rone smiled—charmingly, of course. Why was every damn thing he did charming? “You don’t need to be worried about me.”

Truthfully, Cas was grateful he’d get so much time to work on his own, but that wasn’t the way Beren would have behaved. “I think I do need to worry if you’re getting less sleep than you should. You’re the captain, you have to be at your best.”

“The chances of us running into any sort of significant difficulty between here and Imperia are very slim.”

“Even if they were nonexistent, it’s not a good idea to start rationalizing risky behavior. My brother did that too, all the time.” And Cas had, pushing Beren’s concerns aside as he strove for more—more power, more energy, more opportunities for Delacoeurians but mostly more chances to feel in control of his own world. He’d driven his brother crazy with worry. “He was good at what he did, but he couldn’t keep up that pace forever. And he didn’t. Eventually the Leelangers got the better of him.”

Rone looked at him silently for a long moment. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said at last. “I promise to spend at least five hours asleep in every thirty, and to join you for at least one meal a day.”

Well, that was more than Cas was expecting. He needed to get used to the idea that the person he’d married was actually a very accommodating man. Still… “Five hours in thirty doesn’t seem like very much.”

Rone looked away before he answered, “I’ve got advantages that other people don’t when it comes to handling a challenging schedule. I’ll be fine.” He buttoned up his bright red jacket and straightened the epaulets on his shoulders. “Now, I’ve got to get going before I’m late and Darven takes it out of my hide.”

“Is he allowed to do that to his commanding officer?”

“No. But he’s allowed to do it to his best friend.” Rone was still facing the other direction, but Cas could hear the smile in his voice. “You’ll learn to like him, I promise.”

“I’m sure I will.” In fact, Cas would go out of his way to learn how to get along with Commander Hije—he was a unique conduit to Imperian society that Cas would need to be able to take advantage of when Rone wasn’t around.

“And he’ll get used to you. It’ll all work out.” He finally turned back to Cas and held out a hand. “May I?”

Wordlessly, Cas took his hand. Rone squeezed it gently, then turned it over to look at the implant site on his wrist. “Are you sure there’s no residual pain?”

“None.” The numbing agent had done its work perfectly. Even the phage hadn’t stirred in response to the sting for more than a second.

“Good. Be careful with it for the rest of the day, though, all right?” Without letting go of Cas’s hand, he spoke toward the nearest wall. “AI, sync reminder to both our implants—dinner at twenty-six-hundred hours in the mess hall.”

“Appointment added."

“That’s twenty hours from now,” Rone added. “So you should have plenty of time to get comfortable on your own, catch up on your sleep and have a meal or two with Private Fillie. I’ve instructed her to be available to you for the rest of the trip back to Imperia whenever you need her.”

Cas wasn’t surprised. “Thank you. How long will it take to get there?”

“At regulation speed, five Imperian days.” Rone smiled. “Not long at all.” He cupped the back of Beren’s neck for a moment, paused as though he were about to do something, then thought better of it. “I have to go. I’ll see you at twenty-six hundred.”

“See you then.” Cas watched his husband leave their apartments, then walked over to the bed and fell onto it with a sigh. There was only the one, but from the sound of things, sleeping with Rone wasn’t something he was going to have to concern himself with very much. It was…actually, it was disappointing. Cas had never been one for relationships before, but Rone was attractive in all sorts of ways and it had been a very, very long time since Cas had gotten off with someone else. He was half tempted to proposition the other man, but again—he had to think like Beren.

Beren would never have been bold enough to directly proposition his husband of convenience, there was no way. But…he might have thought about seducing him. Playing a long game. Showing his interest in sweet, subtle ways. Beren could be surprisingly sneaky when it came to getting what he wanted.

Well, it was a start. Cas needed Rone firmly on his side anyway, so seducing him was as good a plan as any. In the meantime, though, he needed some questions answered. “AI?”

“Yes, Consort?”

“How private are these chambers?”

“Only you and the captain have regular access to them. Anyone attempting to enter must either do so during a general alert, or have a medical override.”

Interesting. “What constitutes a general alert?”

“Combat or other actions resulting in structural damage to the ship.”

“And what are the circumstances surrounding a medical override?”

“If you or the captain are incapacitated within these rooms, and the spouse is unable to provide immediate assistance, the doctor in charge can institute a medical override from the infirmary. It allows a member of the medical staff to enter.”

Only from the infirmary? “But the doctor in charge would have to stay in his or her office to monitor the override?”

“Yes. Another staffer would be sent to enact it. This is common procedure if a large-scale rescue response becomes necessary. One person can manage remote teams and triage from the infirmary while their staff act on their instructions.”

That probably wouldn’t be necessary under the circumstances, but it was good to know what might happen. “What about the things I do here alone? How private are those?”

“Please specify, Consort.”

“If there were particular things I asked you to research…places, events, people…who would know about them other than you and me?”

“Except by direct order of the captain himself, any private interactions the crew have in their own chambers are unassailable.”

Not as locked tight as Cas was hoping for, given that he was married to the captain, but it was a place to start. “Thank you. Can you call Private Fillie for me and ask her to meet me here with the information I asked about?”

“Yes, Consort.”

“Thank you.” The sooner he had the list, the sooner he could start finding the Big Three.

Commander Marigo. Mayor Pendry.


I’m coming for you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Nine, Part Two

Notes: A move, a countermove. The subtle chess game of catching a liar has begun.

Title: Mutable: Chapter Nine, Part Two


Chapter Nine, Part Two

“Come on, let’s get you to medical.”

Cas didn’t startle at the abrupt change of subject, but it was a near thing. “Right now?”

“They’re the ones who’ll be able to implant the identification chip in your arm.” Rone smiled and tugged the edge of Cas’s badge. “No more lanyard. Plus we need to clear up the bloodwork issue, and the sooner, the better. Otherwise the entire ship can be stopped from landing on Imperia.”

“Oh.” Well, fucking damn it all to hell.

No. You can do this. You’ve done it before, and it’ll go better now. You’re rested, you’re fed, you’re already in space—what are they going to do, turn the ship around and drop you back off on Leelinge if you don’t pass it? But he had to pass it. Everything else depended on it. “Sure, let’s get it done.”

“Don’t worry.” Rone took his hand. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

And watching, no doubt. Cas felt confident that Rone was a good man. He just wasn’t sure what else he was. A captain of a ship with a crew, a member of the royal family, however illegitimate. Was he a fair man, though? Did he value justice more, or honesty? These were things that Cas needed time to find out, time to incorporate into his strategies. And to get that time, he needed to be Beren through and through. There could be no doubt in Rone’s mind that he was who he said he was, or the game plan would become very different, very quickly. “That’s reassuring.” Cas smiled for him. “Lead the way.”

Medical wasn’t far, like Private Fillie had indicated. It took up the entirety of the hallway directly adjacent to this one, and was staffed by four people, all of whom looked equally bored. The doctor in charge of the whole thing—or so Cas assumed, given the tassels on the man’s red uniform—greeted them with way more enthusiasm than a little blood-draw merited. “Captain! Congratulations on your nuptials, sir. Everyone in the medical ward was very pleased to hear the announcement.”

“Thank you, Doctor Weiss. This is my husband, Beren Farling Basinti.”

Doctor Weiss held out a hand, his round face fixed with a pleasant expression. “Pleased to meet you.”

He’s wearing a glove. He’s a doctor, so not surprising if he’s seeing a patient or handling samples, but there’s nothing like that in sight. Everyone here is at loose ends—no active patient cases visible, nor any labwork being done. He was waiting for us. The glove is thicker than the Imperian norm, not a piece of formal attire, not a known medical device—custom made? Does he have a condition that merits such precautions? No issues on visible exposed skin, and how could a germaphobe be a doctor? The glove is a device. The glove will be the first test.

It took just a split-second to evaluate the situation and determine what was really going on, and with a silent effort, Cas willed the phage out of his hand, leaving behind a slightly paler, weaker appendage, but not so different that anyone other than him would notice. He extended his hand for the shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” And—there. A faint scratch across the back of his hand, so minute that if he hadn’t been expecting it, he wouldn’t have felt it at all. There was no blood—just a tiny little tissue sample. Clever.

Doctor Weiss took his hand back and turned to the nearest table. “Please, have a seat. This shouldn’t take long at all.”

“Great, thank you.” Cas got up on the table, and was a little surprised when Rone settled in right next to him. Between the two of them Cas was a little surprised the fragile-looking thing didn’t topple over—Rone was a big man. It didn’t even shiver, though. I need to learn more about how they build, what their materials are, and how to break them.

He watched the doctor out of the corner of his eye, saw him carefully lay his palm down flat on the table beside the bed for a moment before reaching for the instrument he’d set there. I knew it.

“So, do you use needles?” Cas asked, wanting to get either or both of the other men talking instead of focusing on him. He needed to get the phage out of where they were going to poke, and fast. It was harder to clean the blood—bits and pieces tended to linger if he pulled too fast. “Because I’m—I don’t do so well with needles, and that’s what they used down in the camp, and—”

“What?” Doctor Weiss turned toward him, perplexed. “Needles are generally a last resort, we use micro-syringe technology. Who used a needle on you down there?”

“The medic who took my blood the first time.” Cas did his best to project total innocence. It helped that what he had to say was true. “She said that you’d run out of the other kind.”

Doctor Weiss’s lips thinned. “Did she indeed?” He gestured to the three other people in the room, all working on the other side of it but just as clearly invested in listening in. “Is the woman who assisted you down there in the room right now?”

“Yeah. That lady over there.” He pointed at the one with dark hair braided into a neat coronet around her head.

“Nurse Galway.”

Cas felt more than saw Rone’s sudden interest. There was something at work here that he didn’t understand… “It was fine,” he said, doing his Beren-best to smooth things over. “Needles aren’t that bad. I mean, I don’t like them, but it’s not like any doctor I ever knew used anything else.”

“Hmph. We consider them useful in emergency situations only,” Doctor Weiss replied, finally looking away from his nurse, who seemed…alert, but still calm. Whatever the politics underlying her actions were, she wasn’t concerned enough to start making excuses or getting out of there. Maybe it was just good, old-fashioned xenophobia.

God knows I’ve got plenty of experience with that.

“Well. Back to the task at hand.” Doctor Weiss picked up the instrument, shaped a bit too much like a gun for Cas to be completely comfortable with it. “This is a micro-syringe. It can both deliver the microchip you need and take the blood we require. I’ll simply press it into the skin of your wrist, and five seconds later the exchange will be done. It analyzes the blood within two minutes, so you’ll be finished before you know it.”

“That sounds a lot better.”

Doctor Weiss smiled. “I thought it might. Now, which is your dominant hand?”

“My right.”

“Then that’s the one we’ll chip. Please draw back your sleeve a bit.”

Cas did so, slowly, evincing reluctance while focusing his intensity inward, onto the phage. Up, up… He felt if crawl up his arm, pooling in his elbow. Some there, some there—no, all of it, it all had to go…

“Beren? You okay?”

Cas blinked and looked at Rone. “Yes, sorry. I’m sorry, it’s fine.” He finished with his sleeve. “Go ahead,” he said, then held his breath.

“You really don’t have to worry,” Doctor Weiss told him, readying the device above his wrist. “I doubt you’ll feel a thing.”

“Sounds good.” He leaned a little into Rone anyway, and bit his lip as the doctor pulled the trigger. Rone stroked the back of his neck, almost disrupting his careful concentration, but then—

“And done!” Doctor Weiss pulled the machine back on the table. “Now we just wait a bit to see what results pop up, and we can test the microchip in the meantime.” He picked up an electronic reader and closed the open file on it, then held it out toward Cas. “Swipe your wrist over this.”

Cas did so. A tinny voice, like the ship’s AI but smaller, intoned, “Access denied.”

“It reads you, good. Now for more specifics.” He pulled up a diagnostic program and said, “Engage signal analysis.” The pad beeped. “Now swipe your wrist again.”

Cas repeated the motion. The pad beeped, then the voice said, “Basinti, Beren Farling, of Leelinge, Delacoeurian ancestry. Access allowed on levels One and Two, common areas, captain’s quarters, command center. Further access denied.”


“That…” Cas had to say it. “Is amazing. It can tell all that about me, just by swiping my wrist?”

“It can.”

He needed to know more. “What if there’s an emergency? How does the chip prevent me from getting trapped?”

Rone frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if I was in a place that became…dangerous, and I had to leave it, but the only way to get out was through a place I wasn’t allowed to go?”

“That’s a very specific concern,” Doctor Weiss commented. He sounded a little suspicious. It was time to do some damage control.

“I just—I’m used to living underground, in caves. There were—sometimes, things would collapse. We had emergency exits built into every room, every building, every tunnel. What if that happens here? How would I get out?”

Cas saw the knowing look pass between the two men and smiled internally. Bought it. “In case of emergencies, the AI bypasses microchip security to allow people to get to where they need to go,” Rone explained. “If the AI is malfunctioning, then most doors can be forced. It sets an alarm off, but if it’s a real emergency then that doesn’t matter.”

“Ah.” Interesting. I might have to engineer a few real emergencies to get where I need to go, then.

The micro-syringe beeped. “And there are your results!” Doctor Weiss picked the device up and engaged the screen on the side of it. “And…all seems to be well. No contamination of any kind. You’re healthy.”

Phew. Cas slowly let the phage creep back down his arm. “That’s great news.”

“It is,” Rone agreed. “Let’s go get something to eat, then I’ll escort you back to our room before I return to duty. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect.” They got up to leave, and Cas felt not only Doctor Weiss’s benevolent gaze, but also Nurse Galway watching them. The nurse would merit some more attention.

In the meantime, he had data on his fellow refugees to get from Fillie. It was time to go traitor-hunting.