Mateo stepped into the office attached to the infirmary, and frowned. It was empty. “Captain?”
The voice behind him made him start. “Doc.” He looked around the infirmary. “I could have sworn you weren’t in here a moment ago.”
Jakob sighed, then held up a scanner. “I was just recalibrating one of the operating tables.” He shook his head, then gestured at the leftmost one. “Again.”
“It’s malfunctioning?” He walked over to see the open display. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Standard wear and tear. Unfortunately, the correct parts are not available.” Jakob set the scanner down on top of the table, then began closing it back up. “If we could refrain from having more than six crewmembers seriously injured at once, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“Yeah.” Mateo nodded. “Me too.” He shrugged. “I was just checking in, doing an informal inspection.” He looked down at the operating table. “Guess you just answered my question.”
“I am certain you are receiving the same answer in every department. We are running low on both critical supplies and methods of working around those needs.” Jakob shook his head before looking around the infirmary. “This style of ship was not intended for long term missions.” When Mateo glanced at him, Jakob gave him a half smile. “Commander Anson has provided me with military training manuals and readings. It is not the most scintillating reading material I have ever been assigned, however we both felt it was important I have the knowledge expected of an officer.”
“Anson is usually right about that kind of thing.” He sighed. “We are going to have to make planetfall soon, one way or another. Check the local systems and note any planets we don’t have the proper innocul…” He trailed off as Jakob handed him a datapad, then smiled. “And in the proper format too. You’re getting the hang of this.”
Julian smiled as he placed his piece. Anson narrowed his eyes, then leaned forward to examine the board. He laid down a piece of his own. Julian gave a small shake of his head when half the board turned white. Then he grinned, and laid down his next piece. Only two other pieces turned back to black. “Come on, doc.” Velik sighed.
“Whose side are you on?” Anson glared up at his security officer. He picked up his piece, then looked over the board. He started to place it, then tilted his head and pulled his hand back. He frowned, then looked up at Julian. Then he laughed before placing his own piece in a different location than he’d initially started toward. “Nice try, doc.”
He winced. “You’ve studied Capo.” There had been a moment of surprise on his part when he’d seen Anson playing the game against the computer. The game was esoteric, almost archaic, and played mainly in philosophical circles despite being a game of strategy. Leon had taught him to play, in part so that Leon had someone to play the game with.
Anson laughed. “The captain does have one or two reasons for putting up with my shit.”
The board stared back at him, the black and white pieces forming an almost star-like shape. He’d spent his last twelve moves building a trap for Anson, only for the man to have seen it. “All that remains is for me to decide if this game is yours in five moves or six.”
“It’s mine in three.” Anson gave him a challenging look.
His eyes went back to the board, then he set his piece down. “Prove it.” Anson smirked as he set down his piece, and Julian winced. “I think we have discovered why you are the tactical officer and I am the medic.”
Anson hesitated a moment, then increased his pace to catch up to the doctor. “Do you have your supply need list ready?”
“It is difficult to prioritize it without knowing the situations that may be in store for us.” Jakob sighed, then shook his head. “I fear too many of our vital needs are unlikely to be available on the planets it is safe for us to visit.”
“We should —” He blinked when his and Jakob’s communicators both beeped. “Captain wants us.”
“Let us hope this is good news.” Jakob nodded as he followed Anson toward the lift.
“You can say that again.” Anson sighed. Then he glanced again at the doctor. “I enjoyed the game this morning. Playing the computer gets boring.”
“The computer can at least provide you with a challenging experience.” Jakob smiled.
“You didn’t do half bad, Doc.” He chuckled, then stepped out of the lift as the door opened. “Frankly, you lasted about twice as long as I expected, and before you ask…” He gently bumped Jakob’s shoulder with his own. “No, I wasn’t going easy on you.”
“In that case, I may consider a rematch.” Jakob nodded. He started to open his mouth, then shut it again as the entered the briefing room.
Captain Mateo was smiling. “Good news, Captain?” Anson raised an eyebrow. It was hard not to feel a trace of hope.
“Maybe.” Captain Mateo nodded. “At least the best chance we’ve had for it in some time.” He gestured to the datapads.
Jakob picked up his. “It is another distress call.”
“Holy shit.” Anson sat down. When Jakob raised an eyebrow, Anson gestured to the chair next to him, then nodded at the datapad. “It’s like that Xinar thing you picked up on, Doc. An underlying signal.”
“Palindor Intelligence.” Captain Mateo leaned on the table. “This is a rescue op. We’ve got wounded in a bad situation. Doc, I hate to ask, but uh…” He nodded to Jakob. “I think we might need you on the ground for this. Think you are up for it?”
“I am willing, Captain.” Jakob nodded. “You will have to ask Commander Anson as to whether I am able.”
The captain flicked his eyes toward Anson. Anson nodded. “He knows when to duck, Captain.”
“Right. Gear up, and get moving.”
Kyle tried not to glare. The commander had broken the group into two teams. And then he’d put Kyle on the other one. “I’d feel better if I were watching your back.” He touched Jakob’s arm.
Jakob smiled up at him. “You’ll be ensuring the situation is safe before I even arrive there, Kyle.”
“Yeah.” Kyle sighed, then kissed his husband’s forehead.
“Excuse me, Kyle.” Jakob nodded. “I need to check the temporary rig again.” He moved toward one of the security officers and raised a scanner to begin examining a cybernetic readout.
He sighed, then checked the load out on his own gear. The shield generator was only operating at 78% efficiency, but that was about as good as it was going to get without repairs that weren’t possible. The captain seemed optimistic about this mission. He glanced again at his husband, and noted he looked concerned. Kyle started over, but Anson beat him to it. “Doc?” It was all he could do not to grit his teeth.
“Commander.” Jakob sighed at the scanner. “The temporary shield will hold safely for no more than half an hour once activated. Then the chance of life-threatening complications will start increasing.”
“What’s my safe window, Doc?” Yasir raised an eyebrow.
“Half an hour.” Jakob glanced at Yasir.
“I meant before the risk becomes too great.” Yasir shook his head.
For a moment, Jakob just stared at him. Then he repeated the words back, slowly, carefully enunciating each one. “Half. An. Hour.”
“You heard him.” Anson patted Yasir’s shoulder. “Don’t take stupid risks, son.” He smiled. “And annoying the guy who provides the anesthetic is a stupid risk.”
Yasir chuckled. “Point taken, Commander.”
Anson led his team toward the crash site. “Readings good?”
“Comms are in the clear, Commander.” Mateo’s voice came back over. “What are you seeing?”
He flipped the video on, but spoke aloud anyway. “Scout ship saw action, Captain.” He lead his team toward the downed vessel. “Looks like their weapon systems were taken out.” He looked down at his scanner.
“I am reading four life signs.” Jakob was looking at his own scanner. “Two in considerable distress.”
“Patrol team, report.” Anson checked the other readout.
“We are reading life signs in the vicinity, Commander, but none are engaging.” Velik’s voice came back over.
“As long as they leave us alone, we’ll return the favor.” Anson gestured to his team as they approached the downed shuttle.
A low whistle came from Adan as they got their first good look at the vessel. “Alright.” One engine was melted into slag. “That’s not taking off again anytime soon.” Anson sighed. He’d been hoping to get at least some salvage.
“They got damn lucky, Commander.” Adan frowned as they moved closer. “To get that kind of damage shields must have been down. Shot like that should have obliterated the vessel.”
“Let’s…” He had only a heartbeat of warning before a shot impacted the location he’d just been standing. Anson rolled back to his feet, and noted out of the corner of his eye that Adan had already pulled the doc down. “Hold your fire.” He yelled.
To his surprise, the voice that yelled back sounded familiar. “Holy shit. Anson?”
“Jerin?” Anson stood back up. He saw the other man step out of cover, and grinned. “No fucking way in hell.” He strode forward and met the other man with a hug.
One of the men still in the shuttle was in bad shape. Julian sighed at the readout. “Doc?” Anson glanced in at him.
“The patient…” He glanced at the nameplate on the other man. “Abin, is stable and can be moved.” He looked back down at the readout. “I am going to require assistance with Lukas.”
Anson moved inside, then knelt by the patient. “How bad?”
“Very.” Julian moved the readout so Anson could see it. “Debris from this console is penetrating his abdomen, however, it is this same console that is suppling the pressure keeping him from bleeding out. If it is not moved very carefully…”
The commander winced as he looked over the wreckage. “Shit. We start moving things around in here…”
“It will also have to be done quickly. The optimum solution would involve nanites. However, I do not have his medical file for calibration.” Julian turned to see one of the other survivors. The man was frowning at him. “You are the captain of this vessel?”
“Anson…” The man glanced down at the commander. “Why does your medic talk like he’s from the central worlds?”
“Because he’s from the central worlds.” Anson shook his head. “Do you have a medical file for Lukas?” When the other man narrowed his eyes, Anson stood. “Jerin, Captain Mateo trusts Doc. I trust Doc. And Doc’s the only shot your man has of surviving this. Do you have a medical file or not?”
The other man held Anson’s gaze for a moment, then sighed before handing over a data chit. “Crew info.”
“Doc?” Anson passed it to Julian.
“Give me five minutes, then get someone in here with muscles and a torch.” Julian inserted the chit into his datapad and began working.
“Sorry.” Jerin sighed, then leaned his head back on the side of the shuttle. “I didn’t mean to insult your man.”
The intelligence officer looked nearly two decades older than the last time Anson had seen him, just before the war broke out. Had it really only been a year and a half? Seemed a lifetime, some days. “It’s been rough, I know. But Doc’s one of the good guys, and he’s a good friend.” Anson nodded. “What are you doing out here?”
“We were on our way to try to rendezvous with the Onager.” Jerin folded his arms. “Only we couldn’t take the chance of signaling you.” He looked at the wreck of his engines. “They found us anyway. “Lukas back there managed to rig a demolition charge with some cargo, leaving enough wreckage so they’d think we were destroyed. We managed to limp along with one engine until we found a planet with that qualified as survivable.”
Anson surveyed the ship. “Looks like they wanted you dead pretty bad.”
“Which is why we are going to need to be moving. If they figured out that wreckage was false, they are going to be looking for us again.” Jerin nodded.
“Why?” Anson raised an eyebrow.
Jerin grinned, then jerked his head toward a spot away from the ship. Anson followed. “Took it in case they just bombarded the wreckage. Figured a small chance was better than none.” He led Anson to a hidden cache, then grinned again as he opened it.
The rifled nearly fell out of Anson’s hands as he stared down at what lay inside. He swallowed, then swallowed again. “You…” He looked up at Jerin. “You got your hands on a data core.”
“Can the Onager get it through the barricade?” Jerin stared up at him. “Please, Anson, tell me you can get it to the other side.”
“We’ll find a way.” Anson stared at the blinking light on the core’s surface. Then he closed his eyes before reopening them. The core was still there. He smiled. “We’ll find a way.”