“What the fuck do you mean our comms are scrambled?” Leon glared at Radko. “How?”
“They must have had an inside man.” Radko shook his head. “Vids are also down. Our people are trying to get them back up.”
“How many have we lost?” Leon shook his head as he leaned on his desk.
“According to the initial report…” Radko gave a small smile. “None.”
Leon blinked and looked up at the other man. “None?” He tilted his head. “How the…”
“Enemy forces used the distraction for escape. The few guards that encountered them were stunned.” Radko took a deep breath. “They must have already been inside when the prisoners were transferred, as our people took over security at that point.”
“The Peacekeepers let them through.” Leon ran a hand down his face. “And our people were expecting an external threat.” He slammed his fist onto the desk. “They are going to try to find a way to make this our fault.”
“Sir…” Radko shifted his weight.
“Out with it.” Leon narrowed his eyes.
“According to what I’ve found, the Peacekeepers had only minimal security on the Xinar station. It connects directly to —”
“To the compound.” Leon sat down. “The Xinar didn’t even know the prisoners were there.” He leaned back. “The blacksite, now this. We’ve got a high-level leak somewhere.” He exhaled, looking around his office. It was shades of white, sharp and clean. Well lit. Exactly the appearance the Alliance liked to convey. The truth was for all the squeaky clean and above-board image’s falsehood, the Alliance still had disadvantages in the shadows. Those who could be useful knew the polish was a lie and didn’t trust them. “And we need to find it. With the Resistance, Palindor has better information channels than we do, and that’s an advantage we can’t afford to give them.”
“Sir…” Radko frowned. “Your informant, have you heard anything…”
“Not for about three months now, since he let me know about the minefield at Verosin.” Leon took a deep breath. “I have no way to reach out to him, and don’t want to risk putting him in danger finding one.” His communicator chimed. “Ah.” He gestured for Radko to leave the office. “My grandfather has decided to yell at me personally.”
Kyle smiled when he saw the shuttle dock. His eyes widened a little when he saw the captains disembark. He’d been assured Jakob was only going on an intelligence gathering mission, not on an actual rescue. And on an alliance planet, no less. Jakob really had no idea how to protect himself. Kyle folded his arms.
He waited until the captains were moving away before heading toward his husband. He was only a few feet away when Anson stepped between them. The man’s eyes narrowed. “Sorry, Ensign. We need to do a mission debrief.”
From the brief expression on Jakob’s face, that was a surprise. Kyle was opening his mouth to object when Jerin spoke up. “Standard procedure.” Jerin smiled. “Relax. Things went well.”
“Right.” Kyle took a step back. He nodded to Jakob. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”
“Yes.” Jakob nodded. “Of course.”
“Commander, is something wrong?” Julian raised an eyebrow. He felt a chill trying to settle into his stomach. Had Anson noticed something amiss on the planet? Leon had been only a few feet away. His stomach lurched. Leon had been only a few feet away.
“I don’t know.” Anson exchanged a look with Jerin, then sighed. “Doc, I make a habit not to interfere in the personal lives of my crew unless they ask me to make something official or it’s putting somebody in danger. But uh…” He touched Julian’s arm, just above the bruise. “One, I’m concerned someone’s in danger, and two…” His eyes narrowed. “I really don’t like the idea that somebody hurt one of my friends.”
“See, I’ve got a slightly different view here…” Jerin’s voice came from the other side of him, and Julian looked in that direction. “See, I’ve met Kyle. Seen him in action a few times. And I’ve got a pretty fair notion of how that guy would react if somebody else laid hands on you. So…”
“Jakob…” Anson’s voice softened.
“Your concern is…” Julian made himself smile. “Appreciated, but…”
“Jakob, we’re your friends.” Jerin smiled at him. “Comrades, and crewmates.”
It was important to remember that Jerin was also a professional liar and trained spy. Perhaps the truth, or a version of it, would suffice. Someone had just betrayed the captain, and there was Thorne to consider as well. Perhaps after they were further from this situation. “Kyle was concerned about me going on this mission. As was I. I tripped when dressing and he grabbed my arm to steady me.”
“Is that really what happened?” Anson raised an eyebrow.
“You do recall the part where I outrank Kyle by a considerably margin?” Julian raised an eyebrow. “And have the authority to throw him in the brig if I deem it necessary?”
“Yeah.” Jerin nodded. His eyes flicked to Anson’s, and Anson returned the nod. “You did good today, Doc. When you have the chance, I’d like you to work with Anson and me some more. Coach us, so maybe we could do your act.”
“I would be happy to.” Julian smiled.
“We’ll need your report soon.” Anson hesitated a moment. “I’m sorry to cut your reunion short, but we’re going to be facing the possibility of pursuit, and still have some shit to deal with regarding the resistance. I’m going to need Kyle on alert.”
“I understand.” Julian nodded.
He watched Jakob leave the room, then glanced at Jerin. “I might be too close to this. Was he lying?”
“That’s the problem with the doc.” Jerin shrugged. “He’s always been a tough one to read. Always seems a bit closed off, like he’s hiding something. It’s that professional detachment thing.” He straightened. “I’d say I believed him, but I’ve seen how Kyle looks at you sometimes.”
Anson blinked. “At…” He trailed off, then slowly nodded. “I thought he just didn’t like anyone around his husband.”
“That’s part of it, yeah. But uh…” Jerin gave a small shake of his head. “It’s subtle, but Doc doesn’t really like to be touched. Doesn’t like people in his space much. I’m not saying he’s not a nice guy or anything, he just has a bigger bubble than most of the rest of the crew.” Jerin frowned. “But he doesn’t mind you in it, and I think Kyle’s picked up on that a bit.”
“Jakob and I are friends.” Anson frowned. He wasn’t sure how he felt about what Jerin was insinuating. “Just friends.”
“I’m not saying otherwise.” Jerin smirked at him. “But I know you, Anson. If Doc weren’t married, you and Doc would definitely not be ‘just friends’.” He shrugged. “Can’t say I fault your taste, even. I mean…” Jerin let out a low whistle.
“Shut up.” Anson glared at him. Then he sighed. “Unfortunately, what I’m also hearing you say is that I shouldn’t be the one to chat with Kyle about this.”
“I’m thinking you and Kyle chatting about this would probably end in somebody taking a trip out the airlock.” Jerin reached out to pat Anson’s shoulder. “I’ll take a look. I don’t like what I see, we can both have a chat with him.” Jerin smiled. “And I like Doc, so airlocks may still be involved.” Jerin headed for the door. “Maybe some acid too. Or the incinerator. Incinerators are good.”
“Just…” Anson nodded. “Let me know what you find out.” He waited until the door had shut behind Jerin before exhaling. Then he sighed before going to the crew roster. He could switch shifts around a bit, give Jakob some breathing room and… Anson sighed. It was possible he was allowing his feelings to affect his judgment. He shook his head, then started modifying the roster. If he and Jerin were wrong about Kyle, he could always switch things back later.
Mateo stared down at his datapad. It took him a moment to realize Thorne was saying something. “Sorry?”
“You’re a lightyear away.” Thorne chuckled. “I was noting that we won’t be able to rendezvous with my ship for another two days, so you’re stuck with me.”
“Gives me time to search your luggage, make sure you’re not stealing any of my crew.” Mateo smiled.
“Tempting. Very tempting.” Thorne shrugged. “You’ve got a good one.”
“The best.” He glanced at the datapad again. They were. Not just a crew, but a family. He took a deep breath. “Tell me more about Leon Vendral.”
“Yeah, we’ll probably be seeing him again. Since we escaped on the Admiral’s watch, the Prime Minister is going to insist both the Admiral and the Captain deal with us.” Thorne leaned back in the chair. “Like I said, I liked him. Hell, for a little while there, we were on a first name basis.” Thorne exhaled. “He’s not stupid. He knew his little brother’s abduction wasn’t a sanctioned operation, and he accepted my help. It hurt a bit, telling him…” Thorne shifted a little in his seat. “The war had actually broken out when I found the wreckage of the ship that had taken his brother. I sent him the news on a back channel. Technically…”
“Your secret is safe with me.” Mateo nodded. “I’m not going to screw someone over for being a decent human being.”
“He’s a good man. He’s not like his old man, not a glory hound. Doesn’t mind sharing credit or letting someone else take the kill shot. He’d rather all his people go home at the end of the mission than get a medal.” Thorne stood. “I’m going to get some sleep. You should too.”
“I’ll try.” He looked up. “What did happen to the brother?”
Thorne sat back down. “I know the official story, but also a few things Leon shared with me. Kid was kidnapped off a luxury liner by pirates. The liner’s security crew was executed. Cold blood.” Thorne hesitated a moment, then sighed. “Leon told me that the crew that grabbed the kid, the Silverfish, sent a few messages to the family, showing the kid being tortured.”
His stomach twisted, and not for the first time he hoped he was wrong about what he’d seen. But he’d also seen Jakob’s reaction to the sight of the Captain and the Admiral. He’d seen the look in Jakob’s eyes before the young man had turned away to hide his face. “Was there a ransom demand?”
“No. Or at least, no real one. Complete surrender of the Alliance type stuff.” Thorne stood back up, then exhaled. “Shows you what kind of man Leon is, I guess. Lot of folks would blame Palindor, hated us because of that.” He nodded before leaving.
For a few moments, he sat there, staring down at the datapad. Then he pulled up a file. Julian Vendral III. The image attached to the file showed a more boyish face than the one he knew, still with a trace of baby fat in the cheeks. A more innocent face. The idea that the young man he’d come to know and respect had been abducted and tortured was hard to bear. And yet, the doctor had multiple opportunities to leave, even to betray them. A few hours ago, on the surface, his brother and father had been within ear shot.
And yet, the doctor had held his silence and helped rescue himself and Thorne. Mateo set the datapad down. Then he leaned his head back before shaking it. “The blacksite.” If the doctor had been the one to give Anson the location, then… He put his hand on the datapad. Did Anson know? Anson was protective of the doctor. He’d thought it was just because the doctor was a noncombatant and had saved Anson’s life, but now he wondered if there was more to it. If Anson knew, and the blacksite had come from the doctor, then…
Doc was a member of his crew and had more than proved himself. He wouldn’t put the young man at risk. He closed the file on the datapad. “You and I can talk when things cool down a bit, Doc.” He put the datapad away, then opened his communication console to see what command had to say about the rescue.