Leon sat down, burying his face in his hands. Three weeks, and no leads on his brother. For all he knew, Julian was dead. He sighed, and looked down at the report again. The situation along the borders was fraying. The truce between the Seven Star Alliance and Palindor was not going to hold. It was likely Julian’s abduction had been intended as the catalyst.
Except the President of Palindor was denying their involvement, and had in fact promised to turn over the crew of the Silverfish to Alliance justice if they were captured. A false promise most likely, but enough to stop things from getting out of control.
It was a bitter irony. Of all the people they could have taken, they took a voice active on their behalf. He’d been waiting for a call telling him his brother had entered one of the zones as a protest measure. The zones had sprung up as a response to violent protests, and there were still violent people within. Agitators and provocateurs, attacking PeaceKeepers along the border.
The zones were a brutal necessity. Until the Alliance was in control of all systems within its borders, they had no other option. Once that was done, perhaps relocation or… Hell, it would serve Palindor right if they just dumped them all in Palindor space. That was a problem for politicians to solve.
In the meantime, his little brother was still missing.
He’d lost count of the blows. He wasn’t sure why he’d been trying to count them to begin with. She didn’t have a set number, there was no goal for her to reach. The blows would stop when she was done, and not before. Another blow, and his throat hurt too badly to scream.
“Say it.” The captain’s voice was mocking.
Julian swallowed. “I love being your ship’s whore.”
She laughed, and the blow came again. “Liar.”
The chains around his wrists were like something out of a museum. Iron manacles, biting into his skin whenever he instinctively tugged at them. Plenty of sodomy and the lash, but they were out of rum, she’d said. She’d laughed as though he should get the joke. He couldn’t deny the things had their effect though. Trapped in a cell in the vacuum of space, and still the chains weighed him down.
Saying the words wouldn’t be enough. He’d know that when he first said them. Yet he knew full well that convincing her of their truth ran the risk that he too, would come to believe them. The captain would never show him mercy, even if she did break him.
Kyle lay back in his bunk, frowning as he looked up at the ceiling. The latest news out of Palindor showed that tensions were growing along the border. The Alliance was still pushing. A riot had been put down violently at one of the quarantine zones, but Alliance news was calling it a false flag operation. Claiming it was the work of Palindor provocateurs rather than the result of people being pushed past their limits.
He’d been at such a riot. They’d started out peaceful. Angry, but peaceful. Until somebody none of them had recognized had thrown a rock. Alliance peacekeeping forces had swarmed in.
Of course, it hadn’t gone so well for them that day. Apparently, nobody had bothered to inform the provocateur just how many among the demonstrators had been soldiers. Three dozen Alliance PeaceKeepers had died that day. He’d killed two of them himself. The act of self-defense that had branded him a terrorist. Rand had been there too, and they’d joked with each other a bit before the violence had broken out. He’d hit another PeaceKeeper with a piece of piping for shooting at Rand. For all he knew, he’d killed that PeaceKeeper as well. Upon recognizing him again, Rand had recruited him to the Silverfish.
If it hadn’t been for the zones, he’d still be a soldier. The treaty meant Palindor wouldn’t take him either. At least, not during peace time. But if war did break out, then Palindor wouldn’t have to smile and make nice anymore. He could be a soldier again. The thought brought a smile to his face.
It vanished. The captain had promised them that killing the Prime Minister would be the catalyst for war. An act that finally proved to the people of Palindor that they could stand up for themselves, that they were just as strong as the Alliance. Now that they’d taken the rich boy, Julian, instead, it seemed the Captain no longer actually cared about the cause.
With a sigh, he shut off the lights and settled down to get some sleep. They’d get back to fighting the fight soon enough. They were just laying low for a while.
Julian was only semi-conscious when she dumped him into the bunk. He couldn’t even stir himself to react when he felt the sting of an injection. Then her hand tousled his hair. “I think next week I’ll make you say it on vid. A nice little note back to your mother, letting her know how you’re doing.”
His stomach rolled at the notion, but he made himself remain silent. The healing nanites were already at work in his bloodstream, and he could feel the bruises fading. The captain caught his chin, forcing him to look at her. There was a sick little smile on her face. “You hungry?”
“No.” He’d cheerfully take starvation over a visit to the mess hall. The crew were hard enough to endure one at a time. In the mess and rec room, they egged each other on, continuing until he was driven unresponsive and sometimes even for after that.
“Too bad.” She yanked him to his feet. “I like a bit of show with my dinner.”
Leon frowned at the incoming communication. It took him several seconds to unclench his fists and answer. The screen showed an interior room of a Palindor warship. “Captain Vendral.” The man on the other side nodded.
“Captain Thorne.” Leon returned the nod. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I wished to discuss your presence so near our border.” Thorne folded his arms. Leon was preparing his response when the man continued. “The Silverfish is known to spoof its transponders. I am transmitting a list of known aliases to your ship. If any cross one of your border beacons…” He nodded. “Then happy hunting. If they slip back to our side, kindly inform me and my vessel will handle the matter. The matter need not go through…” He shrugged. “Official channels.”
“I…” Leon slowly nodded in realization. Official channels would leave his brother a prisoner of the Palindor military. “Thank you, Captain.”
“I have brothers of my own.” Captain Thorne gave a brief smile. “And the Silverfish is…” He curled his lip slightly with distaste. “A blight. Good luck, Captain.”
“And to you.” Leon smiled before ending the transmission.
It was becoming harder to focus. Harder to think straight. Julian leaned forward, staring at the ground between his feet. Playing along kept him from being killed outright, but it seemed every morning he could feel himself slipping further away. It was possible by the time the opportunity came, he’d be incapable of taking it. There had to be another way. He looked up when the door opened.
Kyle nodded at him. “Hey. Brought you something.” He set another of the apples on the desk.
For a moment, Julian just stared at it. Then he turned toward Kyle. “Thank you.” He smiled. There was another way.
Kyle smiled back before sitting next to Julian on the bunk. He caught the man’s chin, and pulled Julian’s face up for a kiss. There was a moment of hesitation, and then Julian kissed him back. Julian’s lips parted before Kyle’s tongue even reached them, and Kyle leaned into the kiss. He was a little breathless when they parted. “Lay down on the bed.”
“I admit to being somewhat surprised.” Julian obeyed the command.
“What?” Kyle blinked. “I always put you on the bed.”
“True. I was just making another observation.” Julian looked up at him. “I am surprised that none of the crew seem at all bothered by the fact the doctor is watching them while they fuck me.”
He went still, staring down at Julian. “What?”
Julian looked startled, then gave a small shake of his head. “You…” His eyes widened. “You don’t know?” The blue eyes turned toward one corner of the room.
His own eyes followed, and he noted the presence of the bug. “Doc, you bastard, you better not be…” He zipped his ship suit back up, and made a growling sound. Then he turned toward Julian. “I’ll be right back.”
“I sincerely doubt I’ll be going anywhere.” Julian merely shrugged.
At least, he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. He’d half feared Kyle wouldn’t react to the information. After all, the man was quick enough to join in when he was being used in the mess hall or rec room. Kyle was, in some ways, the worst of them. He demanded Julian behave as a willing and enthusiastic partner. The rape was bad enough without having to pretend he liked it.
And yet, of those he interacted with most often, Kyle was the only one who didn’t seem to take special delight in causing him pain. Half the time, the man almost seemed to act as though he’d come courting. If the man wanted to play that game… It was a chance. A slim illusion of hope, but something he could cling to in the dark.
He wasn’t waiting long. Kyle was back only a few minutes later. He was carrying something, a small black box with some kind of antennae. “Doc’s an ass.” Kyle shrugged, then held up the item. “Brought my jammer. Doc can get his jollies on another time.” He set the jammer on the desk, then came back to sit next to Julian. “So, where were we?”
It wasn’t as much as he’d hoped. Julian leaned forward to kiss Kyle. But it was a start.