“A decrypted intelligence core.” Mateo stared at Anson.
“A hundred years from now, when kids are learning about this war in history class…” Anson folded his arms. “Jerin and his boys are going to have a full paragraph dedicated to them.”
“Not unless we get it through the barricade.” Mateo swallowed. “Holy shit.” He exhaled. “How are they?”
“Doc kept Lukas breathing. He’s still too messed up to leave the infirmary, but Doc said he’ll make it.” Anson sighed, then twitched his shoulder. “Doc can’t promise a full recovery without more supplies.”
“And Yasir?” Mateo raised an eyebrow.
“Pushed the limits on the shield, but came through without complications.” Anson let his arms fall to his sides. “Captain…”
“If we stay out here, we are going to die. And cost Palindor the best shot it has had since this war began.” Mateo nodded, then turned to look out the viewport. “I know. And I am very open to suggestions on how to get past that barricade.”
“I’ll toss it out to the crew.” Anson squared his shoulders. “See if any of them get a sudden burst of genius.”
It was hard not to feel a little nervous at the presence of the Palindor Intelligence officer. The man sat on one of the medical beds as he watched his two injured crewmen. Julian tried not to read anything into the fact that Jerin had chosen the medical bed in which Julian had concealed the comm. It had seemed a logical place to hide it at the time. As nobody worked with the beds without his knowledge, he didn’t have to risk it being found inadvertently.
Messages could be sent, but not received. His meager knowledge wasn’t sufficient to even hope to ensure he could receive messages without being traced. But if Yasmin had delivered the message, his brother would be able to decode them. Julian looked over the scan of Abin and frowned. “Doctor Narel?” Jerin looked up at him. “Is he alright?”
“Not as alright as I would like him to be.” Julian gave the young officer a reassuring smile. “One of his cybernetic implants has a minor short. Unfortunately, I do not possess the proper equipment for a replacement.” He walked over to the communication unit and touched the button. “Ensign Merue?”
“Yeah, Doc?” The engineer’s voice replied a moment later.
“When you have a moment could you come up to the infirmary?”
“On my way.” The communicator clicked back off.
When Jerin raised an eyebrow, Julian smiled. “It is possible he can modify what we do have to replace the part. The other option is to bypass the damaged area. However, that can sometimes cause unforeseen complications at a later time.” He glanced at the other patient, then up at Jerin. “Lukas is in a low-level coma. For now, there are no options available other than to allow his body to heal naturally.”
“I don’t —” Jerin started shaking his head.
“Doc knows what he’s doing.” Julian turned to see Anson entering.
“Sorry.” Jerin sighed, then gave Julian a nod. “Paranoia kind of comes with my job.”
“Anson has informed me that he is suspicious rather than paranoid. The distinction seems to be of some import.” Julian nodded back, then inclined his head toward Lukas. “In a few days, it should be possible to restore him to consciousness.”
“Considering how much he’s going to complain about being on bed rest…” Jerin shook his head. “That might not be a good idea.”
“Hey.” Kyle glanced around the infirmary, then raised an eyebrow at Jakob. “I thought your shift was over?”
Jakob shook his head, then nodded at one of the patients. “I’ve set up an alert to notify me of changes to his condition. Time, however, may be of import.” He sighed, then gestured at one of the empty medical beds. “I think I will need to stay here tonight.”
“Want company?” Kyle smiled at him before entering and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Should avoid the distraction.” Jakob raised himself up slightly to kiss Kyle, running a hand over the back of his neck. “You should get some sleep. If I am interpreting events correctly, combat may be forthcoming.”
He kissed his husband again, then held him for a moment. “Right.” He brushed his fingers through Jakob’s hair. A small part of him regretted telling Jakob to cut it to a more military length. “Try to get some sleep, love.”
“I shall.” Jakob stepped back and picked up the datapad he’d been holding when Kyle entered.
As he left, he saw Anson heading toward the infirmary. The CSO raised an eyebrow. “Doc still hard at work?”
“He uh…” Kyle shrugged. “Didn’t want to leave the patient.”
“Right.” Anson nodded, then twitched his shoulder and jerked his head at the lift. “Dismissed. Get some sleep, ensign.”
“Yes, sir.” Kyle headed toward the lift. He hit the button, then his eyes narrowed when he saw Anson heading to the door of the infirmary. The lift doors shut, and he punched one of them as the lift began moving.
Anson stepped into the infirmary to see Doctor Narel sitting on one of the medical beds, glaring daggers at the datapad he was holding. “Doc?”
“No matter how many times I refresh the list, our supplies continue to fail at containing Doxalan.” Jakob set the datapad down. “I even tried a direct order.”
“I’ll have them flogged.” Anson glanced at the unconscious patient. “Can you work around the problem?”
“For now.” Jakob sighed. “I can ensure the patient lives, Commander. However, without the proper tools, I cannot be certain he will recover.” He slid off the bed, then walked over to stare at the unconscious man. “At this moment, Anson, Lukas is effectively a quadriplegic. I can, with the the cybernetics currently available, restore to him a limited ability to control his own bowel functions.” The side of Jakob’s hand struck the hospital bed. “I cannot, however, prevent him from experiencing neurological discomfort of considerable proportions.”
“When he wakes up…” Anson exhaled. “He is going to be in pain.” He sighed. “And we need him awake.”
“You need him to help with decrypting the Alliance communications to…” Jakob hung his head.
“Find us a hole through the barricade. Yeah.” He sighed. “Do your best, Doc. Once we are through, we can get you the supplies to fix him up right.” He turned and opened the door to leave.
He almost missed Jakob’s quiet voice. “Doc?”
“I…” He took a deep breath, his eyes never leaving the man on the bed. “I have a piece of information that may help, in regard to this situation.”
“Doc?” Anson stepped back. He frowned, then shut the door, staring at it. “Something you know from when you were…”
“I would…” He took another deep breath. “Appreciate it, greatly, if no one were to know this information came from me.”
Anson nodded. He turned and met Jakob’s eyes. “You have my word, Doc.”
“It’s a research facility.” Anson set the datapad down in front of Mateo. “We’d have missed it if I hadn’t run a secondary sweep, trying to make sure nobody was on Jerin’s trail.”
“A hidden Alliance research facility?” Mateo picked up the datapad.
“A black site, of some kind. My guess, from what I got from the readings, is some kind of biological research.” Anson smiled. “It won’t be heavily guarded, because that kind of shit gets noticed, but it will…” He met Mateo’s eyes.
Mateo slowly nodded. “Be well supplied.” He handed the datapad back to Anson. “If it’s a biologics research facility, you should get together with Doc, see what he can make from the readings.”
“Sir…” Anson took a deep breath. “If we jam transmissions and hit it fast, we can also…”
His eyes widened. “If it’s a black site and something hits it, they’ll investigate. Which means they will pull some ships from the blockade.”
“We get a little lucky, Captain, we’ve got both supplies…” Anson smiled. “And a way home.”
Kyle bounced a little in his excitement and saw Velik grin back at him. “Punching the Alliance in the nose is almost worth having to wear a full environmental suit.” Velik shrugged.
The suit was heavy and hot, but Jakob had insisted. He’d even overruled Anson. Seeing his husband give an order to the second in command of the ship had been kind of fun to watch. For a moment, he’d hoped Jakob would accompany them and he’d get the chance to show off a bit for his lover. Unfortunately, Jakob was staying in the command center, though he would be on the communicators providing instruction if needed. “This almost seems fun.” Kyle checked his loud out again.
“Right.” Anson’s voice drew their attention to the front of the shuttle. “Our intel says this place is going to be rigged. Pay attention to our demolition boys. If they start running, everybody keep the fuck up.” Anson smiled. “We need to hit them hard and fast, and we don’t know exactly what their defenses are. Everybody keep your eyes open.”
“Yes, sir.” Kyle joined in the salutes.
Julian stared down at the display in front of him. Biological and disease research, kept on the edges of space to prevent complications. It was top secret. When Anson asked him how he’d known about it, he’d been able to reply honestly. The knowledge had come to him by accident, a case of him being where he wasn’t supposed to be and seeing something he wasn’t supposed to see. He’d been afraid Anson would press, but the other man had nodded and accepted that answer. Had trusted that answer, and not pushed further.
He’d been arguing with his grandfather in his private office. The file had caught his eye, and he’d grabbed the datapad, scanning it even as he yelled at his grandfather that hiding medical research was just one more flaw in the great Alliance. His grandfather had snatched the file back out of his hand at almost the same moment Julian had comprehended what he’d actually been seeing. His grandfather claimed the facility was precaution only, hidden to prevent panic. Back then, he’d believed the claim.
Now, he stood watching a display, dreading just what was going to be found inside those walls. Had he handed the enemy a weapon, or was he denying the enemy a weapon? Julian swallowed. “You okay, Doc?”
Captain Mateo was giving him a concerned look. Julian nodded. “Just fretting.”
“Yeah.” Mateo nodded, then glanced down at his own display. “Alright, they are starting to breach the facility’s defenses.”
His attention went back to the display in front of him. He frowned and tapped the communicator. “Anson, the air vents are equipped with thermal defenses designed to sterilizing in the event contamination. They will cook you inside your armor.”
“Recommendations, Doc?” Anson’s voice came back over.
The scan displayed on the screen. He frowned, then shrugged. “Commander, the building is designed to be brought down in case of emergency. The wall is structurally reinforced only so far as to actually keep the structure standing. It is vulnerable to direct assault.”
“Demolitions, you heard the doctor.” Anson’s voice sounded amused. “Let’s make a door.”
Anson looked around the room. With the element of surprise on their side, the inhabitants of the structure hadn’t stood a chance. Then again, they likely wouldn’t have stood much of a chance anyway. They were mostly scientists, with only a few soldiers. And from the looks of things, the soldiers were there more to watch the scientists than to guard them. His eyes flicked back to the display. “Doc?”
“Upload confirmed.” There was no trace of emotion in the other man’s voice. “Commander, there will be a self-destruct.”
His eyes went to his scan. He saw the prisoners shifting beneath the barrels of his men’s weapons, and saw his men start glancing at him. “Captain?”
“Grab what you came for and blow the place.” The captain’s voice, on the other hand, was filled with fury. He couldn’t blame the man. Mateo’s sister was still in one of the quarantine zones.
He felt sick as he looked over the screens. One of the scientists spoke up. “What are —”
“Biological weapons.” Anson made himself take a deep breath. “You mother-fucking pieces of shit were engineering a plague. You —” It was all he could do not to raise his weapon and open fire. How many times had sickness already struck inside the zones? How many of those epidemics had been manufactured? He looked up at his men. “Get the stuff to the shuttle. I’m putting a sixty second timer on the self-destruct.”
Smiles both fierce and vicious answered him. “Yes, sir.”
Kyle leaned on the wall, watching the surgery through the observation window. He heard a door open and felt a bit of his good mood vanish when Anson entered. Anson nodded to him. “How is it looking?”
“My husband looks like he knows what he’s doing.” He stressed the first two words just a little. Inside the room, Jakob had his hands inside the body cavity of the unconscious man, patiently and painstakingly piecing destroyed organs back together with the help of nanites and cybernetics. Even though he had no real idea what exactly was being done, it was incredible to watch.
Anson stood with his arms folded, his eyes on Jakob’s face. “Yasir is thrilled. We got what we need to shield his unit permanently.” He glanced up at Kyle. “You should get some rest, Ensign.”
“I’m going to wait up for my husband.” Kyle shook his head. He put his hand on the window, then leaned his forehead against it. “Make sure he remembers to eat something after he’s done and all.”
“And gets some sleep.” Anson nodded. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” Anson turned and started back for the exit.
“Yes, sir.” Kyle smiled when he heard the door close behind the CSO.
Leon stared at the message. He heard his communicator chime and touched the button. His father’s voice came over. “Can you confirm this information?”
“I can confirm enough of it.” Leon set the datapad down. “A core was stolen. They are certain the ship stealing it was destroyed, and they are standing by that claim.”
“Yet they didn’t feel the need to report the stolen core.” His father folded his arms as he stared at Leon from the other side of the screen. “That doesn’t fill me with confidence regarding their claim.” He frowned. “Does your informant say where the core is now?”
“No. But there is a fairly small limit on the amount of data he or she can send in a single message.” Leon leaned back in the chair. “And at this point it doesn’t much matter. They’ve had the core long enough that information may have already been gleaned.” There would be argument over the expense and difficulty of changing encryptions, but hopefully the confirmation that the core was in Palindor hands would help. He could already hear whiny council voices claiming that the message itself was a decoy to force the change, but the protocols were clear. It was a matter for the admiralty now, not the council.
“We know we’ve been compromised.” Admiral Vendral sighed. “That information alone may save lives. We can change over encryptions, mitigate some of the damage.” He straightened. “Inform me immediately if you receive another communication.”
“Yes sir.” Leon nodded.
The formal tones dropped from the admiral’s voice. “And don’t forget to call your mother and wish her a happy birthday.”
“Yes, father.” Leon smiled.