Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

Notes: Not long, but informative. Things are getting kind of weird for Cas. But whyyyyy?


Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-One, Part One


Chapter Twenty-One, Part One

“Oh, damn it,” Dr. Weiss said with a sigh as a strip of glowing red crystals lit up along the edges of the floor. “Not again.”

Cas had recovered himself enough to sit back on the bed before the doctor turned around. He felt like he’d just been kicked in the chest. “What’s going on?”

“The power is down. This is the second time this morning.” Dr. Weiss tapped the medical tablet. It didn’t light up either. “What…oh, for…” He put the micro-syringe down on the table and turned to Cas with an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, Beren, it appears that we’re having some sort of electromagnetic event. It’s affecting all the electronics.”

Cas pointed at the floor. “What about those?”

“Those are gas-reactant crystals that only come on in emergencies. I can’t believe this.” He sounded sincerely angry. “The EM shielding was supposed to be in place before we got back from our mission. I’ve got too many patients who’ll suffer if the power is interrupted for long. Do you mind waiting here while I check on some of them?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back very soon.” Dr. Weiss turned and left, and Cas breathed a sigh of—relief? He wasn’t quite sure what he felt was clear enough to qualify as relief, but there was definitely an element of avoidance to it. Not to mention…

This is your chance to change your results. Take advantage of it. The tablet might not be working but the micro-syringe was right there, still glowing the green of a sound sample inside. Cas picked it up, found the tiny mechanism that kept the needles pristine, and carefully pried it open, just enough so that it would look like maybe it had been banged into a wall or dropped on the floor. He heard he tiny hiss of air that accompanied the fracture, and a second later the light went from green to amber. They could call him in for yet another sample, of course, but if he was lucky the data would simply be uploaded and he could challenge any questions it brought up due to the loss of power.

Speaking of—all of a sudden, the lights came back on. The tablet sprung to life as well, opening to a blank Imperian military load page rather than his medical file. That was unfortunate, but not a complete loss. This might be Cas’s best chance of doing a search without being monitored. At least, not completely monitored. If the lights were on then he was probably being recorded right now, but he had a sense of how Imperians liked to stage their cameras at this point. If he turned just so, and tucked the tablet in close to his body while still looking like he was watching the door…it wasn’t perfect, but this wouldn’t take long.

Cas enhanced his hearing as much as he could while opening the search function. The tablet was meant to be used via the AI, but it could still be accessed the old-fashioned way, and Cas preferred not to speak now if he could help it. Cas typed in the name of woman Christala was imitating—Danie York—and waited to see if anything came up.

This was no generic search function available to the citizenry—this was a military search engine, and he ended up with far more information than he’d been counting on. Danie York, 29, Delacoeur-Leelinge transplant, permanent resident. It rattled off her arrival date, her home address and the name of her immigration contact. Apparently Danie did all her translating from home, a small apartment in one of the outer districts of Obsidian. The only other bit of information there was that she was a member of a professional linguistics club that met once every Imperian month. Their next meeting was scheduled for—two days from now.

Cas had to be there. The apartment would be hard to access, being so far from his new home, but this place was fairly close to the arcade. He’d come up with some reason to go out, or—

Or just be honest about where you want to go. The fewer lies you have to tell Rone, the better. It was worth a try, at least.

Footsteps sounded in the corridor. Cas got the tablet back into position and himself back on the bed a few seconds before Dr. Weiss came around the corner. “I’m sorry again for the interruption,” the doctor said. “It’s a mess out there.” He took the micro-syringe and injected it into a receptacle on the wall, then picked up the tablet. “Let’s take a quick look and see where you’re at…”

Well, damn. Cas had been hoping he’d delay analyzing anything until Cas was safely gone. What was his next move? Feigning the fall wouldn’t help him now, not when the doctor hadn’t taken another sample yet, and he’d compromised this device but—

“Oh, no.”

That sounded grim. “Oh no?” Cas asked timidly, while inside his phage raged with swelling energy. If he had to make a run for it, this was the worst place to do it.

“All the files from the last week are missing!” Dr. Weiss frowned darkly at the screen. “The EMF shouldn’t have tampered with the memory systems, those are—what the—AI, trace error.”

Error trace failed.

“Find source of error!”

Error source is unavailable.”

The man scoffed. “How can it be unavailable?”

The system does not recognize that an error has taken place.

Dr. Weiss looked like he wanted to beat the tablet against the nearest wall. “Well, that obviously can’t be right, because a significant portion of my files are completely gone. Scan for missing data.”

The system does not recognize that any data is missing.”

Dr. Weiss shut his eyes for a moment, then looked at Cas. “I’m sorry, Beren, but we’re going to have to end things here for today. Without functioning data storage, I can’t guarantee any results I might get.”

“I understand. I’ll just…see myself out.”

“Thank you.”

Cas pushed off the bed, shook hands briefly with the doctor, and headed into the hallway. He was pulsing inside from the sudden release of tension, like skin that had been squeezed until it bruised. Whatever had just happened, it had saved his ass.

But what had just happened?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty: Part Two

Notes: I'm as surprised as anyone that I managed to get a chapter done on a holiday week. For those celebrating Thanksgiving, and for everyone else as well, I hope you have lots to be thankful for! I certainly do. 💖

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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mutable: Chapter Twenty, Part One

Notes: ***New note: there's a POV shift in here that crept up on me. I don't have time to fix it yet, but I will asap. Please don't hold it against me!***

Hi darlins! Not the longest post today, but we'll have some genuinely tense moments next week. Read and enjoy :)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty, Part One


Chapter Twenty, Part One

Waking up was abrupt—strangely so, considering that usually when Cas was in bed with Rone his husband took pains to move softly and silently. This time—and the only excuse Cas could give himself was that he was exhausted—once Rone pulled back the bedroom curtain, light from the artificial sunrise that it concealed pouring onto the bed, it was clear to the newly-awake Cas that he’d already been up for quite some time. He was dressed in his military uniform, and something about the briskness of his steps was weirdly off-putting.

“Rise and shine,” he said, glancing Cas’s way with a small smile. “It turns out we’ve got a lot to do this morning.”

We? “I thought you would be busy with the riots today,” Cas said, pushing up to a sitting position. The sunrise became a clear blue sky a moment later, which made him want to scoff. He’d never seen a sky that color, not on Leelinge or Imperia. Did skies even come that shade of blue? Probably just Old Earth propaganda.

“Those are dying down now that the camera system is up and running again,” Rone explained. “The air scrubbers in the city finally managed to catch up with the ash, and our technicians finished their work a few hours ago. There are still a few glitches in the power grid here and there, but they’re not enough to keep me from accompanying you to your appointment.”

What appointment? “Um, I wasn’t aware that I had an appointment.”

“Oh, did I not tell you yesterday? I must have forgotten about it in all the turmoil with the children. Dr. Weiss is ready for your follow-up examination.”

Oh. Shit.

“And it’s going to be on base, and since I’ve got to look over a few things there this morning I thought I’d accompany you,” Rone continued, glancing at his wrist. “We’ve got to be there in under an hour, so please be quick getting ready. And don’t worry about the children, I sent them to the palace with a full escort. I figured you could probably use a break, so my sister-in-law will look after them for the day.”

That was actually kind of disappointing. It wasn’t that I wanted the kids to hero-worship me, and I knew that I was running a risk with them now that they knew I could fight. But…we’d just started getting along. Four days of hell, then one lovely afternoon of friendship, and I didn’t even get to see them off this morning.

Rone nodded his head at the bathroom. “I’ll have breakfast ready for you in fifteen minutes, if you want to shower before we leave.”

How thoughtful. “Thank you, I will.” He left, and I forced myself out of my warm, comfortable bed and toward the bathroom.

Ow. Owwww. My muscles were sore from yesterday’s endeavors, which was funny in a not-at-all-funny way because usually the phage compensated for little things like soreness. But I was taxing my phage, making it work harder than it had ever worked before, and it apparently didn’t have the energy to spare making sure I could walk without wincing.

I made the shower as hot as I could stand and gave the phage a little break once the steam rose up. I touched the familiar rise of my real nose, the hollowness of my cheeks, the lines on the outside of my eyes. I felt exhausted, tired in not just body but in soul. I was sick of pretending to be better than I really was, sick with guilt over inhabiting my brother’s memory. I needed to get with the avenging, and I needed to do it fast.

First, I had to survive this damn trip to the doctor, though.

What would he do, take more blood? As long as it resembled my first sample, I could claim the theory about childhood illness had to be the right one and probably get away with it. Then again, this was an established medical wing inside a permanent base, not a mobile camp set up on a distant planet or a small medbay in a ship. Dr. Weiss probably had access to some truly amazing technology here. Which meant that if I was going to be sure about getting away with my charade for a while longer, I needed to make Dr. Weiss modify my data to be normal willingly. Which meant…it was time to try making a thrall.

I didn’t want to make a thrall. The thought of having anyone other than Christala completely under my power was disgusting, but it was the only way I could think of to ensure that I wouldn’t be found out. I’d never done it before. I knew the theory, but it was considered too risky to the recipient to attempt in most cases, because these were people you wanted alive. Killing someone was easy. Controlling their mind was hard.

It didn’t matter. I had to do what needed to be done, and if that meant turning Dr. Weiss into a temporary—temporary only—thrall, then it had to happen. I tried to clean the bad taste out of my mouth with a toothbrush, then dried off and dressed in a simple red suit that straddled the line between “modest” and “member of the royal family” thanks to the luxurious fabric. The clothes felt like a warm caress against my tight, tired skin. I made sure the phage was fully engaged, then headed out to the kitchen.

Rone had plated some sort of hash, a bunch of different things cooked up together that I hardly recognized, and prepared a cup of coffee for me. I sipped—mmm, sweet. It was just how I liked it, even if I rarely bothered to make it this way. I took a bite of the food and almost moaned at how good it tasted. The plate was full, but I was done with it by the time Rone turned around with his own meal.

“I see you liked it.”

“Yeah. Yes.” I wiped my mouth with my napkin and tried not to look greedily at his own, smaller plate. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know about me yet,” he said conversationally as he sat down. “But as soon as the riots are completely under control, I’m hoping to change that. We should spend some real time together.”

“And the kids,” I added, because they’d be devastated to be left out.

He smiled. “Of course. I’m sorry it had to happen the way it did, but I’m glad Lilah won’t be throwing tantrums for you anymore.”

“Eh.” I wiggled my hand from side to side. “Let’s give it a few days and see before making a pronouncement like that.”

“No, Lilah’s loyal. Once you’re in her good graces, you’re there forever. Even the people who betrayed her she still regards as loved ones, despite them not deserving it.”

“Um…” I didn’t quite know what to say to that. Luckily, Rone filled in the blanks.

“You look like you’re still hungry. There’s more on the warmer.”

“Thank you.” I picked up my plate and went for seconds, grateful for a little break from sitting across from Rone, under his scrutiny. He seemed unusually intense today, for him. It was probably just residual nerves from yesterday.


What else could it be?