“No, look, you’ve got it up too high.” Kyle adjusted the bar holding the pot over the flames. He glanced at Jakob. “I take it you never learned to cook over an open fire?”
“I never learned to cook.” Jakob shrugged before settling himself back down onto the sand.
“Well, my cooking has been deemed ‘not the worst thing ever’ by more than one person, so we won’t starve.” Kyle chuckled before going over to sit next to his husband. He put an arm around Jakob’s shoulders, and smiled as he felt Jakob lean onto him. The beach wasn’t entirely deserted, but they were far enough away from the other folks camped out to have some privacy. The city was visible to the east, and in truth if they wanted they could walk for a few minutes back to the nice little restaurant where they’d taken lunch.
There were people there, though, including one or two members of the Onager’s crew. He didn’t dislike any of them, really. He just wanted his lover to himself for a few days. “I have never been fishing before.” Jakob’s voice made him blink.
He looked down at the man in his arms. “What, never?” The fee for the license had only been a few credits. Kyle shrugged. “You did okay baiting the hook.”
“I regularly perform surgery.”
“I…” Kyle chuckled. “Alright, fair point. You did good.” He lay back on the sand, pulling Jakob down with him. “I used to fish a lot, when I was a kid, though had to be careful. Subri has a lot of native flora and fauna, and not all of them are compatible with humans.” He kissed the top of Jakob’s head. “It’s pretty, though. The microorganisms in the rivers make them shimmer.” He rubbed Jakob’s arm. “You’ll like it there.”
“The stars here are different.” Jakob exhaled as he looked up at the sky. “I keep thinking I recognize constellations only for one of the stars to begin moving.” He pointed up. “If you can ignore the fact the red one is blinking, that looks like the harmonium.”
“Huh.” Kyle tilted his head. “You know, it really does.”
Taking credit for another man’s work was more irritating than he’d expected. He was going to be given an award for the results of their mission to the black site. Vaccines were already being synthesized from the information. Anson scanned the area, and saw the Jakob sitting at a table near the window. He smiled before going over to join them. “Hey, Doc.”
“Anson.” Jakob smiled.
“How was the beach?” He noted that Jakob’s skin was a shade or two darker than the last time he’d seen the other man.
“We ran into Norah.” Jakob shrugged. “She and the two young men she was with were being arrested for indecent exposure.”
“Huh.” Anson tilted his head. “That’s got to take some doing on this planet.” He lowered his voice a little. “I’m getting a commendation that should be yours, Doc.”
“Has the information on the vaccines been transmitted to the agents inside the zones?” Jakob raised an eyebrow.
“As quickly as we can get it there.” Anson nodded.
“Then I am content with this outcome.” Jakob picked up the menu. “Provided, of course, that you pick up this tab.”
“Try not to order too much fancy shit, Doc.” Anson laughed as he picked up the other menu.
Mateo looked over his crew. There were a couple dozen fresh new faces, eager and bright. There were also a lot of clearly hung-over familiar faces. “Repairs to the Onager have been completed. There is further good news.” He smiled. “Thanks to the information we brought back, big damn heroes that we are…” He spread his hands. “Command has been able to poke enough holes in the barricade that it has effectively been brought down.”
A cheer answered his words. He let it die down before continuing. “The Alliance took a chunk of our territory. Our friends and family are prisoners on planets under Alliance control. Starting tomorrow, bright and early…” He nodded. “We’re going to go get them back.”
Most of the crew left in high spirits, until only his command crew remained. “Norah, the communications terminal has replaced with a new model and we’ve got new comms. I want you to check them throughly and let us know how annoying the ‘upgrades’ are going to be.”
“Yay.” Norah sighed.
“Anson, you’ve got some new grunts. I’ve been assured all of them know which direction guns should be pointed, but I’d appreciate if you’d verify that.”
“Yay.” Anson echoed Norah’s sigh.
“Doc, you’ve got a staff.” Mateo glanced over at where Jakob was looking over his datapad with an increasingly skeptical expression on his face. “Let me know which ones faint at the sight of blood.” He wasn’t entirely sure what the word the doctor said meant, but it made Anson snicker. “Somar…” He turned toward his chief engineer. “You’ll be pleased to know the ship is no longer being held together with tape and string. Make sure nothing got missed.”
Julian sighed at the boxes of new equipment. “The elation fades a bit upon realization that we must organize and store all of flotsam.”
“You should see hydroponics right now.” Jenna shook her head, then offered him a datapad.
“At least with things being repaired we should see fewer engi —” He trailed off as the door opened to admit a sheepish looking Ensign Merue. The man held up a bleeding hand. Julian ran a hand down his face and signed. “For the love of…”
“Hah. Engineering is first.” Jenna bounced a little. “I won.”
“I really did think someone would…” The door opened again a moment later. An irritated looking Anson came in, supporting one of the new soldiers. The man was limping and had a chagrined looking expression on his face.
Anson rolled his eyes. “He shot himself in the leg.”
“You…” Julian sighed. “Are seventeen seconds too late.”
Leon stared out the viewport. Command hadn’t listened. Had stated that the precautions they’d taken based on an unproven information source would be sufficient. A few days ago another message had come in, stating that the data core had made it into Palindor space. Command had stood firm to its belief that no ship had made it past the barricade. It had taken his father hours of arguing to get anywhere.
The barricade had fallen. Only his father’s actions, based on that message, had prevented the Palindor victory from being complete. They’d managed, barely, to prevent Palindor ships from punching all the way into Alliance space. Yet the barricade, and the Alliance advantage, had vanished.
“They found out how the ship got through.” Leon turned at the sound of Radko’s voice. “It’s bad, Captain.”
He sighed. “Hit me with it.”
“They hit an Alliance black site. Top secret.” Radko gave him a frustrated look. “Secret enough that Command didn’t even spread word when pulling ships back to investigate, so we couldn’t plug the hole.”
His eyes widened. “Which means Palindor has classified intel.”
“It’s already leaked.” Radko waved his datapad. “A couple of the epidemics that hit problematic quarantines were Alliance manufacture.”
“What?” Leon stepped away from the viewport. He had to take a deep breath. “That can’t be true.”
“Palindor sent recovered vaccines along with the intel.” Radko looked a little green around the gills. “Heads are going to roll for this, and…”
“And it’s hard to say that’s a bad thing. Stars beyond.” Leon pinched the bridge of his nose. “How the fuck did Palindor even learn of a black site that was on the other side of the barricade?”
“That ship that’s been a bit of a problem the last couple months.” Radko rolled his eyes. “The one they didn’t think worth chasing?”
“The Onager.” Leon sat down behind his desk. “Under Captain Josef Mateo.”
“His CSO, Luka Anson, found the site and led the mission, and their medical officer, Jakob Narel, was able to recover and transmit the vaccine data.” Radko hesitated a moment, then met Leon’s eyes. “They are also the ship that got the data core over the border.”
“Captain Mateo of the Onager.” Leon shook his head, then frowned. “What the fuck is an onager, anyway?”
“Uh…” Radko looked down at his datapad, then a slight snicker escaped him before he raised his head again. “It’s, um…” He shrugged. “It’s either a sort of ancient catapult, or uh…” Radko met his eyes. “A sort of wild ass, sir.”
“I…” Leon blinked. “This guy found a way to name his ship the Wild Ass?”
“Yes, sir.” Radko nodded, the corners of his mouth twitching.
“Dammit, now I kind of want to shake his hand.”
Anson set down his piece, then leaned forward to stare at the man on the other side of the board. Jakob smirked a little before adding his own piece. He quickly reached forward to tap the position for his next piece, and stopped halfway. Anson frowned and tilted his head before pulling his hand back. He looked at the doctor’s last placement, then raised his head to meet Jakob’s eyes. “Son of a bitch.”
“I do not recall making inflammatory remarks as to the nature of your mother.” Jakob shrugged.
“This one is yours, Doc.” Anson settled back, gesturing at the board.
“No way…” Mateo started shaking his head from where he’d been observing them play. “No fucking way in hell did that just happen.”
“Does this mean Doc is the new tactical officer?” Jerin folded his arms.
“I vote yes,” Adan yelled over from where a card game was going on. Most of the crew was engaged in leisure activity of some sort of another, save for a few on duty. The past six months since the barricade had fallen had seen a lot of action. Right now, though, they were in a holding pattern and staying dark. It was rather nice to have a bit of time to relax.
“You’re just saying that because he’s nicer than I am.” Anson rolled his eyes.
“Well…” Adan shrugged.
“That would be a mistake.” Jakob shook his head. “Commander Anson can be bribed with ship hooch.” Jakob glanced at Adan. “I, on the other hand, know what is in the stuff.”
“Uh…” Adan started nodded. “Yeah. Good point.”
“Another game?” Anson raised an eyebrow at Jakob.
Jakob started to shrug, then looked up when Kyle walked over to touch his shoulder. “Perhaps not.” Jakob shook his head. “Another time.”
“Right.” Anson looked around. “Anyone else want to try their luck?” Suddenly, nobody would make eye contact with him.
He dabbed a tiny bit of medical gel on his split lip. Kyle had pushed him up against the wall almost before the door to their quarters had closed. Julian’s eyes went to where Kyle lay sprawled on the bed, snoring. He hesitated briefly, then went to the hidden comm unit. An advantage of being on the Onager that he had not initially anticipated: the crew that had brought the data core was all but above suspicion.
Jerin remained on the Onager despite being an intelligence officer. Julian had to be careful what of the man’s information he passed on, both to avoid suspicion and to prevent as much bloodshed as possible. There had been talk of assassinating some key individuals, his father among them. That he had passed on. There was little way of knowing the precise results, but his father had given a speech on a news broadcast just yesterday. Julian sat down, looking at the comm. Then he sighed, and hid it away again before looking out at the stars.
Before he could reach for it a second time, his communicator chimed. He touched the button. “Commander?”
Anson’s voice came over the other end. “Hey doc, need you up. We’re about to run a rescue mission.”
Those, at least, gave him no qualms of conscience. “On my way.”
Captain Mateo poured the other man a drink. Captain Thorne smiled back at him. “Appreciate this almost as much as I do the rescue, Captain.”
“My repair monkeys say it will take a couple more days to get your engines back online.” Mateo nodded.
“Thought my girl was lost there for a bit.” Thorne chuckled. “Guess the stories are true. Figured we were dead when life support blew.” He lifted the cup in Mateo’s direction before taking a drink. “Then here comes the Onager, out of nowhere.”
Mateo raised an eyebrow. “The stories?”
The other man laughed. “You guys must have picked up a dozen other crews when you were stuck on the other side. Word got around.” He shrugged. “Thought the Onager would be bigger.”
“If she was bigger, they’d see her coming.” Mateo looked up when the door opened. “Doc. How are our guests?”
“All superficial injuries have been cleared, Captain.” Jakob offered him a datapad. “There are four confined to sick bay, and a dozen others that will require additional treatment before they can return to duty.” He glanced at the other captain, then narrowed his eyes. “I do not recall clearing you for the consumption of alcohol, Captain.”
Thorne gave Jakob an odd look before looking at the cup in his hand. “Uh…” He shrugged. “Mind doing that now?”
Jakob gave the man a quick scan before nodding. “Given the circumstances, I believe we can consider brandy to be medicinal.”
“Okay, strange question…” Thorne shrugged before downing the rest of the alcohol and setting the cup down. He looked back at Jakob. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“I…” Jakob took a step back and looked Thorne over. Mateo couldn’t help but feel just a tiny bit nervous. Then Jakob shook his head. “Not that I recall, Captain.”
“Huh.” Thorne shrugged. “You seem familiar.” He stood. “Thanks for the drink, Captain. I’m going to go check on my crew.”
He waited until the other captain had left before turning toward Jakob. “Do you know him?” He kept his voice low.
“I am reasonably confident he and I have never met, Captain.” Jakob frowned, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Then he shrugged. “And I cannot think of where it may have occurred other than Palindor space.”
“Right.” Mateo nodded, then sighed. “Just to be safe, try to steer a little clear of him, alright?” He put a hand on Jakob’s shoulder. “And alert me immediately if anything happens.”