Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part One

Notes: So, um...graphic descriptions of violence ahead. Yep, this is a trigger warning--actual violence and threats of violence happen in this chapter, so arm your expectations accordingly. Love you!

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part One


Chapter Twenty-Nine, Part One

Christala looked at Cas in complete and utter horror. “You’ve killed him!” She crawled over to Rone’s side and inspected his face, checked his pulse, every one of her movements jerky and frantic. “You’ve fucking killed him! You know he won’t be able to handle so much of the phage, he’s too old…I can’t believe you…you…” She banged her fist against the floor as she glared at Rone’s body. “This won’t work without him, Cas!”
Cas had his own ideas on whether or not he’d actually gone and killed Rone, but there was no point in bringing them up with Christala. Focus on what you know. “I wasn’t about to let you make him into a thrall.”
“You said you loved him! How could you do this to someone you love?” She turned and looked at him in utter incomprehension. “Why wouldn’t you want him to live? At all costs, to live? Isn’t that what love is supposed to mean?”
“Living as your slave would be worse than dying,” Cas said with complete honesty. Rone was thrashing some, and the rapid eye movement happening beneath his eyelids was startling, but Cas still wasn’t convinced that all was lost. “And I think of everyone I’ve ever known, you’re the least likely to be an authority on love.”
Her face went still and cold. “You don’t know anything about me. About how I love.”
“No, I don’t,” Cas murmured. “I’ve never seen any love in you, except for yourself. And even that has been tainted by all the blood you’ve spilled learning how to make your own pleasures. That’s all this entire exercise has been for you—a new way of pleasing yourself, a new way of playing a very old game. You didn’t love your own people enough to want to save us, and you don’t love the system enough to spare it the horrors of war. If that’s all your love amounts to, then it’s not even enough to fill a snail’s shell.”
“What about you?” she snapped back. “You speak like you’re some sort of authority on love, when in reality you’ve never valued the love you had, not ever! You had a family that adored you, a brother who worshipped you, and you still couldn’t get away from them fast enough. You preferred to risk the phage rather than stay and work with them, and after you survived, you never went to see them. I remember, when everyone was let go for holidays.” Her eyes seemed to bore into Cas’s face. “I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I stayed behind, but you did too! When you had people who wanted you! And then they died, and you were forced to pay attention to your brother, but you never wanted to, did you. What kind of love is that?”
“Two children was one too many for them to care for.” It sounded, it even felt, like a rationalization, but Cas knew it was the truth. “They were sick for years. After my mother had Beren, I knew I had to go. They needed to focus on him.” Beren had been a sickly child as well, taking up every moment of their parents’ time and then some, but it had been all right. Cas had been healthy, one of the healthiest kids in the city—leaving was the best thing he could do for his family, and he’d known it even at the age of ten.
“And here!” Christala went on like she didn’t even hear him. “Here you have your own children, here you have a husband who, for better or worse, is actually married to you—someone compelled to love you! And what did you do to him?” She slapped the ground next to Rone’s head. “You poisoned him with phage!” She brought her hands to her head and clutched her temples, moaning. “I can feel it killing mine, it’s burrowing deeper into his brain…his mind will be putty in less than a minute. You’ve ruined everything, Cas!” Christala wailed like an animal. “You’ve ruined him! Taking Amiru back will be so much less satisfying now.”
That was as good an invitation as he was going to get recorded by the cameras. Cas detached the stained, sooty sash he still had over his shoulder and wound it carefully between his hands. He didn’t speak—there was no point in arguing with her—just edged closer and closer until finally, he was close enough to make his move. He lunged, flipping the loop over her head and drawing it tight even as he turned his body away from her, his hands moving in opposite directions as they drew the makeshift garrote tight. If he had her properly, she would be leaning against him back to back now, choking out her last breaths and unable to reach him with her lashing limbs…
He didn’t have her properly, not tight enough to hold well. She rolled off to the side, trying to get one of her own arms around his neck as her other hand chopped at his grip. She still had enough of the phage in her body to harden the edge of her palm, and Cas let go of the sash with a curse as he felt a small bone break. He turned into her and got his feet up between them, kicked her hard in the hip to splay her out as he tried to loop his free leg around her head. He got her, and smashed her head down to the ground, but she rolled over his leg into a crouch and snapped her foot around in an arcing kick.
He saw it coming, he knew exactly where it was going to land, but he still couldn’t quite manage to avoid it. He took the ball of her foot to the side of his head, and reeled back against the floor as the thud sent sparks spinning across his vision.
Grasping hands found his ankle, and a moment later—snap. Cas tried not to scream, but he hadn’t felt such deep, inescapable pain without the phage’s dulling factors since he was a kid. The breath tore out of his lungs, leaving him gasping, and as the hands found his knee, he kicked again—without finesse, without control, just kicked in a frenzy of fear and panic. It didn’t stop her. His leg was controlled, positioned just so off the ground, so that his lower leg was higher than his hip, and then—crack. He felt his knee forced in on itself and screamed once more. A surge of adrenaline let him sit up and lash out at Christala with his hands. He clawed desperately, felt his fingers rake her face, but then she grabbed his wrists and forced him back into the ground.
Christala’s face was right above his, her eyes wide, mouth open as she panted. Hot breath struck his cheek like a slap. Cas watched as the furrows he’d raked in her cheek slowly, crawlingly, knitted themselves closed. “You were never strong enough for this,” she told him. “You could never take me on directly. You knew it, so you sabotaged my plan. But I’ll find a way to rebuild, Cas. And when I do?” She leaned in closer to him, until her lips hovered just over his, and whispered, “I’ll start by killing those children. The ones you could have saved, if you’d just stood aside. I’ll cut out their bones one by one, and I’ll tell them it’s all because of you.”
She reached down and wrapped her hand around his throat, sharpening the tips of her fingers so she could dig in and around his trachea. Cas choked—she was literally going to rip his throat out, and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Goodbye, Cas.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mutable: Interlude: Rone

Notes: This isn't as long as I was hoping for, but I think it'll get things rolling, and it's important to check in with Rone every now and then :)

Title: Mutable: Interlude: Rone



I’m burning…
Rone saw but didn’t comprehend, heard but understood nothing, felt but was also completely numb. Every one of his senses were working perfectly, but none of it seemed to matter, because his brain was dismissing every other source of input to focus on the one that was all-consuming right now—the infection of the phage. It burns.... It did burn, but the fire of it was cold, sending flares coursing along his nerve endings as it sought to overtake every aspect of his body.
Rone had never imagined possession like this before. An alien coursed through his blood and bones, an alien bent on dominating him. What had Cas said? That he had to fight it. Fight, or let the phage control and eventually kill him.
No, no. He felt more than heard the sentiment, a thrum of gentle disapproval. Strong. Stronger. Love. Love. Was this…the phage? Speaking to him? Managing to communicate, at least. Cas had never mentioned it could do that. It was a bacterium, an infection, nothing more.
No. No. The disapproval was more intense now. Live. Alive. A ripple of fire spread down his limbs, making him convulse. Here. You, me. Us.
Could it have a consciousness? It definitely had a will—Rone had gathered that from how Cas occasionally spoke of it, something to fight and master, something to direct. But was it actually its own sentient organism?
Mmmm. It projected contentedness at him even as it held him down and coated his veins with a layer of acid. Yes. Yes.
The pain was becoming noticeable now, breaking through the barriers Rone had erected in his mind—or had the phage erected them? Mental focus and control were things he practiced as a part of his daily life, things he needed in order to keep himself on an even keel. It was too easy to intrude into the lives of others if he didn’t fight it, to learn about things that he had no business knowing. He had been made into the ultimate warrior, but most of the time he felt like the ultimate spy instead.
That was before he’d met Beren, of course. Or Cas, really, and Christala. Whatever skill he had, he knew now that it was nothing compared to what they could do.
Unsame. Strong. Mmmmm. The phage purred inside of his mind and body, a vibration that made him rattle against the floor. Us. Us.
No. He didn’t want to carry the phage—the little he knew about it was more than enough to convince him that the price wasn’t worth it.
Yes. Power. Fire flooded his mind, and with it came—
Rone saw himself standing in the bridge of a battle cruiser, one of the new Imperion-class monstrosities, not his simple little mercy-ship. A map of the entire Tiresias System lay spread out before him, holograms whirling in and out of focus as his commander moved the map, describing various plans of attack.
“It almost doesn’t matter,” she said gleefully. “Even if several of them could manage to coordinate enough to form a decent defense, a few well-placed saboteurs could shatter the trust between them in a matter of weeks. Shall I call up the Phage Corps, Your Majesty?”
Rone looked at Private Fillie—no, Commander Fillie now, because he had lost Darven, hadn’t he—and he barely recognized her. He shuddered away from the hologram, away from her, and the vision changed to—
“Daddy, watch!” Shar tugged on his sleeve, getting him to turn before holding up the sapphire-encrusted spoon. “Watch!” He lifted it, waved his hand once, twice, then turned his palm over and the spoon was gone. “See? I can do it now! Beren taught me how.”
“Did he,” Rone said, distracted and not entirely sure why. Where was Lilah? Where was—
He turned back to his son with a gasp. “You’re talking.”
Shar rolled his eyes with a grin. “Daddy, that’s what the gift was for! To make me talk, to make me better. And now I am.”
He was…speaking. And his voice was nothing like Rone had ever imagined. He stumbled for another topic of conversation, anything to distract him. “Did you say Beren?”
“Yes, Daddy. Papa Beren.”
“But he’s—” Dead. Only he wasn’t, not exactly, but—
The vision changed again, becoming a hand on his shoulder, turning him around to look at…Beren. Yes, this was his husband, the one he’d married at any rate. The smooth oval face was the same, the bright eyes, the thick dark eyebrows and gentle smile. “What happened?” Rone asked helplessly.
“I just want to be what you want,” Beren replied sweetly, stepping up into his space. Rone’s arms opened automatically. “Don’t you love me like this?”
“I—” It hardly seemed right to love him no matter what face he wore—one was a dead man, the other a desperate one. “Right” had pretty well ceased to matter to Rone where his husband was concerned, though. “I do. But I love you the other way too.”
“You love me more like this.” Beren, no, Cas sounded confident. “I know you do. That’s why I took another phage, so I could be this for you. All I want is to make you happy.”
“Cas…that’s not—”
It felt like lightning flashed across his eyes, and the vision fractured and melted as a headache the size of a volcano suddenly erupted in his head. He felt his neck twist as he thrashed from side to side, felt Cas’s phage go from steady blaze to crackling thunderbolt all at once. A shadow in the corner of his eye, so faint he hadn’t even noticed it, vanished.
Eat. Eater. Eaten. The voice reverberated like a sonic hammer in his skull. Mine. You, me, us. Us!
All of a sudden Rone felt his movements slow. His body calmed, and so did his mind. He felt the phage like the warmth of a distant sun, shining down on him. We? it asked sweetly. Us? Ours?
Other people were speaking above him, faces looking down on him, but Rone couldn’t focus on them. All he could feel was the phage, trembling inside of him, ready to swallow him whole and smother him with its love. And the worst of it was, he wasn’t even sure whether or not that was a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

New computer, new problems

Hey darlins,

So the good news first--I have a new computer! This is great, hurray, so nice.

What I don't have? Everything transferred over from Dropbox (it took me 3 DAYS to backup my files), or MS Word, or my story back where I can work on it yet. Because honestly, Dropbox is kind of sucking and keeps failing at downloading, over and over again, so I'm breaking up my files into smaller files to see if that helps and it might, but it takes a long damn time.

I needed a new computer--the old one had a flickering screen that I'd already gotten replaced once and frankly was on its last legs--but I had no idea getting the new one ready would take so effing long. I'm sorry. I'll get more story to you as soon as possible.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two

Notes: Oh damn. Oh Damn! OH DAMN!

Yep, you heard me right ;)

Title: Mutable: Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two


Chapter Twenty-Eight, Part Two

It slipped out before he had a chance to stop it, that simple, stupid, single word reply. It was foolish, but it was true. Cas didn’t want to talk to Rone—Cas didn’t even want to look at Rone, not right now, not anymore, not ever again. Looking at him felt like looking the ultimate failure straight in the face. Looking at him made Cas want to grab Christala’s knife out of Amiru’s shoulder and carve the phage out of his husband’s body. Which was impossible, of course.
He looked at Christala instead, who had turned back into her natural self. She seemed pale and sick, sweat standing out over her forehead and temples and along the thin line of her neck. She didn’t have enough phage in her any more to maintain her shift, and it was…odd, to see her again. It had been over a decade since Cas had last glimpsed her actual face. Seeing her smile made him want to rip it off, though.
“You’ll talk to me one way or another,” she murmured. “Directly or through Rone, I don’t care. But either you talk to me, work with me, or I kill you now.”
Kill me now, he almost said, but he couldn’t. It couldn’t end like that—he couldn’t give up, even though he wasn’t in any position to fight her. Cas couldn’t make thralls—he’d never been able to. He couldn’t put his phage into Rone and take control of his husband’s mind that way, wrest it back from Christala like children fighting over a toy. He had to convince her to give Rone back to him. “What do you want from me?”
“What do you think?” She sat up and pushed her lank hair away from her face. Her expression was surprisingly vulnerable. “We’re the last of our kind. And despite what you may think, I don’t want to be alone, Cas. I never wanted to be alone.” She pressed one of her hands against a thin cheek, digging her nails into the skin. “I didn’t think that part through. Thralls aren’t the same—it’s like trying to play chess against yourself, talking with one of them. I thought for a long time that I needed you dead, but now I know I’d rather have you alive.”
She pressed up onto her knees and looked at him, her eyes wide and pleading. “I’ll let him out to talk to you, whenever I don’t need him. Rone has to lead the conquest of the other planets, of course—Amiru’s going to order it, and then I can get rid of him and focus on Rone—but when he’s not needed in the public eye, I’ll give him back to you. And to the kids, too—I know you like those kids. You can keep them. You can keep him, keep what you have with him. He loves you, and I know you love him back.”
“You’ve destroyed what we had together,” Cas replied. His heart felt dead in his chest. “It’s already gone. You said it yourself—you’re inside of him. You always will be. I’d never be able to trust a single word that came out of his mouth, and he’d be disappointed in me if I did, because I know he’d rather die than be your thrall.”
Christala smiled knowingly. “Are you so sure of that?” Rone stepped up beside Cas and put a hand on his shoulder. A tide of longing surged through him, a meld of himself and his phage that was almost enough to knock him over. The phage tensed and reached, quivering inside of him as it gravitated toward Rone. It had liked the man from the start—liked him better than Cas did. Hell, he was pretty sure at this point that his phage liked Rone better than it liked its own host.
“Are you sure he’d rather die? Because he doesn’t feel like a man who’d welcome his own death to me.” Rone turned Cas’s head to look at him. “And I’m not,” he said, her words like sacrilege in his mouth. “I know what a suicidal thrall feels like, and there’s not a speck of that kind of desperation in this man’s body. He’s a fighter—more than you or me, or anyone else I’ve ever inhabited before. He’s not afraid to die, but he isn’t seeking it. He wants to live, Cas. And he wants you to live right along with him.”
“And what about his brother?” Cas asked, looking into Rone’s flat black eyes for any hint of purple. Please don’t be gone. Don’t let her be guessing. “Does he want him dead, like you’re planning? And what are you going to do with the queen and her children?”
“I’ll simply put them aside once he’s dead, out to one of the royal homes in the country,” Christala assured him. “I wouldn’t hurt them. I don’t need to. Amiru will be extraneous soon, but I’ll handle Rone’s anger killing him by promising him to keep you alive and well. He’d rather have you, you know. It’s a shameful secret he carries at the back of his mind, that he’d rather have you in his life than his own flesh and blood. There’s something about him that’s always preferred non-Imperians: first his children, now you. He wants to keep you, Cas. So do I. So let us keep you. Let us have you, alive and well, as a part of our family. Bring the children back, make us all whole. Let us usher in a new age of expansion here, together.”
“Expansion,” Cas said, nearly choking on the phage as it swelled in his throat, treating his wound for want of a better way to express itself. “That’s just another word for conquest. You want to rule everyone, but you can’t even keep yourself in check.”
Christala’s hopeful expression clouded. “I can rule people better than they rule themselves. Look at what I’m doing here, what I’ve done here. Look at how well I can plan. Just think about what I could do for the rest of the system, as long as they have to listen to me.”
Cas shook his head. “You don’t have enough phage to make everyone your thrall, and that’s what it would take to make them all listen to a would-be conqueror. You’re just one more small-minded, vindictive fool.”
“No one is more powerful than I am!” she snapped. “Look at me! Look where I started and see where I am now! I’m fucking amazing, and you’re just lucky to be along for the ride.”
A faint purple flicker flashed deep in Rone’s eyes. Cas stared up at him, every molecule of his body straining for his husband, and knew what he had to do. Rone was fighting Christala’s phage. He would break her hold, as long as he had the strength to do it.
This had better fucking work.
“I am lucky, I know,” Cas said, staring up at his husband. Rone was breathing heavily, fighting inside with all his strength. The phage crawled up Cas’s throat into his mouth, abandoning old haunts in tooth and bone and blood to settle like a mouthful of pond slime against his tongue. So lucky. Before Christala could jerk Rone back, Cas threw himself at his husband, wrapped his arms around his neck, and locked their lips together.
His phage left him in a torrent, as eager as a creature like that could be. It poured into Rone’s mouth, down his throat and into his stomach, then percolated through his organs, laying claim and seeking out its enemy. Rone choked, gasped, his hands clutching at his throat as he fell back.
“No!” Christala screamed.
Cas felt lightheaded, and weaker than he could ever remember being. He collapsed onto the hard floor and rolled over onto his back, wiping one hand across his dripping mouth. So this was what it felt like to lose a piece of yourself.
“You can’t have him as a thrall! He’s mine!
“Not…my thrall,” Cas managed, turning his head to stare at Rone, to watch the battle taking place inside of him. “It’s all for him,” he whispered. “I gave it all to him.”