Jerin sat down at his console and pulled up Kyle’s personnel file. At first glance, it showed him exactly what he expected to see. Kyle was top rated in hand to hand and considered a good soldier, though lacking in the qualities that would get him moved up in rank. Little ambition, no leadership skills, and minimal ability to improvise.
He frowned. From what Anson had told him, Kyle had been a smuggler before joining up. That didn’t seem to fit with the lack of ambition and improvisational skills. Combined with the lack of leadership skills and… “Seriously, how did someone like you end up with Doc?” Jerin tilted his head at the screen. Kyle wasn’t bad looking, but he didn’t exactly turn heads.
A swipe of his finger switched the screens back to the original identification Kyle had provided. The forgery was amateurish at best, the kind of thing an underage kid might show at a club door where it needed to pass only a quick glance. It wasn’t even a real ident with altered information. Any sort of actual scan would reveal it to be fraudulent. Jerin leaned back. He’d worked with Jakob long enough to know that wasn’t the kind of mistake the doctor would make.
It occurred to him that they’d all been on the wrong side of the barricade when Kyle had first encountered the Onager. Anson wouldn’t have been able to do an in-depth search on Kyle, and the situation back then had been fairly desperate. Jerin switched over to Kyle’s biological markers and began running a search, expanding it using his own hacked Alliance credentials. He started to stand to make himself coffee while he waited, but the console dinged before he was halfway out of his chair.
“Well now…” Jerin raised an eyebrow at the first result. Kyle’s markers had pinged on the Peacekeeper’s open warrant file. “Kyle, have you been naughty?” He opened the file. “It seems you have.” Kyle was wanted in connection with the deaths of four Peacekeepers. That itself wouldn’t raise any red flags. Jerin himself had similar warrants, though he’d hacked the files to scramble the biological markers. The warrant did show a different name. “Kyle Olesen.”
He added that name to a file, then shared the file to Anson’s console along with the information on the warrant. Then he started a search on the name ‘Kyle Olesen’ before going to get his coffee.
Julian stretched his legs out on the sofa, then took a sip of tea. His schedule and Kyle’s had ended up almost completely opposite this week, which meant he had several hours of their quarters all to himself. It was nice, having a chance to read and actually relax. Normally, he had to hide in his office to get a chance to read in peace.
Leon had looked well. His father’s hair had more gray in it than the last time they’d seen each other. Julian sighed, and set the datapad down before half turning to look out the viewport. The last time he’d spoken with any of his family had been to fight. He hadn’t realized how much that had weighed on him until he’d seen them on the surface. Julian fingered the collar of the Palindor officer’s uniform.
Then he sighed. Finally, a chance to read and relax, and he couldn’t shut his mind off enough to enjoy it. He stood and started pacing. He’d made it three rotations before his communicator chimed. “Yes, Anson?”
“Hey, Doc.” Anson’s voice came back over the comm. “You busy?”
“I am fathoming the quantity of dust accumulating about my quarters.”
“Well, that sounds exciting. Any chance I could drag you away from all that opulence for a game or two?”
“I am on my way.” He smiled.
“You’re laughing at me.” Anson folded his arms.
“I see no reason to offer a denial of that fact.” Jakob raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, how the hell can you look down your nose at me while being eight inches shorter than I am?” Anson laughed as he leaned back in the chair. “So Jerin manages to get to the cockpit to restart the thing but can only get the starboard engine going. That’s enough to slow our descent, but uh…” He winced at the memory as he placed his game piece. “Not really enough to steer. Fortunately, there was a lake.” He waved a hand.
“And how did your commanding officer respond?” Jakob raised an eyebrow before placing his piece.
“Jerin argued that we had technically been following orders and we did accomplish our mission.” Anson chuckled. “About a month later he got tapped for espionage training. Guess they figured somebody who could bullshit his way out of that mess would make a good spy.” He added another piece. “What about you, Doc?”
“None of my youthful shenanigans involved wrecking millions of credits worth of military equipment or taking out a band of marauding space pirates.” Jakob tilted his head. “I did once send an army of zombie frogs into the girl’s dormitory.”
“Zombie…” Anson blinked as he sat up straighter. “Frogs?”
“It is amazing what you can do with a few nanites, some discarded specimens, and a bottle of tequila.” Jakob shrugged. “I believe this game is yours, Commander.”
He leaned forward to turn off the game board. “If I bring up the topic we talked about yesterday…”
“I will change the subject.” Jakob gave him a level look.
“Fair enough.” Anson stood and walked over to his kitchen unit. “Drink? I’ve got some almost decent wine.”
“Considering what I know of your drinking standards…” Jakob chuckled, but accepted the glass. He hesitated a moment, then nodded. “I do appreciate your concern, Anson.”
“You’re my friend, Doc. I protect my friends.” He walked over to the viewport, then glanced at Jakob when the other man joined him there. “I’ve asked a lot of you, with some of these missions.” He smiled. “Thank you.”
“I find assisting you in getting through without bloodshed preferable to patching everyone up later.” Jakob took a sip of the wine, then stared at it.
“What’s wrong?” Anson blinked.
“I like it.” Jakob continued staring at the wine glass.
“It’s terrible. Barely palatable.” He held up the glass. “And yet…” He took another sip. “I like it.”
“Ship hooch has finally broken you.” Anson shrugged, then took his own drink. The liquid wasn’t good, but it was smooth. “Had to happen one day.”
“You changed the roster.” Jakob’s voice was quiet enough Anson almost didn’t hear him at first.
Anson turned away a little before answering. “Yes.” He exhaled. “Doc…” He sighed.
“Please do not concern yourself —”
“You’re my friend, Doc.” He set his glass down and turned to stare at the other man. “You’re my friend. More than that, you’re someone I’ve come to respect and admire over the last couple years and…” He trailed off. “I’m aware that Kyle doesn’t like you spending time with me. I just —”
“It would be very nice if someone were to seek my input on whether I needed…” Jakob’s eyes narrowed. “Or desired protection.” He set the glass down. “It should be my decision.”
“I…” Anson blinked. Then he slowly nodded. “You’re right. It should be. I’m sorry, Doc.” He exhaled. “I’m sorry. I should have checked with you first. If you want, I’ll put it back to —”
“I do not.” When Anson blinked again, Jakob sighed and gave a small shake of his head. “I do not want you to restore it.”
Slowly, he nodded. “Alright, Doc.” He shrugged. “What do you want?” He smiled. “Tell me and —”
To his surprise, Jakob reached up and grabbed the front of his tunic before pulling him down for a kiss. He froze for a moment before returning the kiss, putting an arm around Jakob. They broke apart a moment later. “I…” Jakob exhaled. “Should not have done that.”
“Talk to me, Doc.” Anson touched Jakob’s cheek.
“I…” His heart broke a little when Jakob stepped back. “I value your friendship, Anson. I should not have taken an action that could jeopardize it.”
As much as he wanted to reach out and pull the other man back again, he nodded. “I won’t say anything.” It could only cause trouble. Especially given that Kyle already had enough issues with the relationship between himself and Jakob.
“I do not want to hurt you, Anson.” Jakob wrapped his arms around himself before stepping away. “I do not want to cause a problem for you.” He started toward the door.
“You’re worth it.” He saw Jakob stop. “We can pretend this didn’t happen if you want, Doc. But if you change your mind, I’m here. And I’ll have your back.”
“I know.” Jakob smiled at him as he opened the door. “Thank you.”
He glanced at the datapad again, then looked up when the door to his quarters chimed. “Enter.”
“You wanted to see me, Captain?” Jakob stepped inside.
“I did.” Mateo nodded. He set the datapad down, then gestured at his couch. “Come in.”
Jakob gave him an odd look but complied. “What is this regarding, Captain?”
“I’m not…” Mateo exhaled. “I’m not really sure how to start.” He stood and paced before turning away to look out the viewport. “I didn’t give you a choice about joining my crew.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Mateo stared at the stars drifting by as the ship spun lazily. “Things I should have picked up on, when you first came on board.” He gave a small shake of his head. “I asked you how old you were, and you had to ask the date before you could tell me. You were surprised at your answer.” He glanced over his shoulder at where Jakob sat. “I should have questioned that more at the time. I’m sorry.”
“I do not understand.” Jakob frowned.
“There is a photo, on Leon Vendral’s desk.” Mateo saw Jakob go still. “A family photo. It’s taken at someplace with colorful cliffs…” He folded his arms as he leaned on the wall.
The other man’s voice was so quiet he almost missed it. “Saukari Park.”
His stomach twisted. He’d wanted so much to be wrong. Jakob Narel was a Palindor hero. He knew very well what that made Julian Vendral III. His feet dragged as he walked back to the chair and let himself fall into it. “You’re his brother.”
“He thinks I’m dead.” The doctor looked away. He stood and stepped away from the couch. He turned a little this way, then that, before he began pacing.
“Thorne found the wreckage of the…” Mateo exhaled. “Alright, first things first.” He squared his shoulders. “You’re a part of my crew, and I’m aware of how much I owe you. You quite recently risked yourself saving my life, and I know you didn’t have to.”
“Captain…” The young man’s voice broke slightly.
Mateo stood. “I need to know the truth, Dr. Vendral.” He saw the young man flinch a little at the name. “Have you passed any information to the Alliance?”
“Yes.” Julian barely got the word out. He closed his eyes and nodded before repeating himself. “Yes.”
“Anything that would endanger this ship or it’s cr —”
“Never.” Julian shook his head fiercely. “I would never. I only…” His head jerked up and down as if pulled by a string. “I warned about the planned assassination attempts and the minefield. I —” He opened his eyes again, meeting Mateo’s. “I couldn’t…”
“You couldn’t let your father or brother walk into traps.” Mateo nodded. “I understand, but…” He smacked the back of his fist against the wall. “That’s going to be an issue. What it will do to morale alone —” He took a step toward Julian. The younger man flinched backward hard enough fall backward and start scrambling away. “Hey…” Mateo’s eyes widened as Julian cringed at the sound of his voice. “Julian…” He started to take a step toward the cowering young man before catching himself. The young man’s previous captors had tortured him. Mateo looked down at his hands.
Then he took a deep breath before walking over to Julian and pulling him back to his feet. He pulled the younger man into a hug. “Come hell or high water, Julian, anyone who wants to hurt you is going to have to come through me.” He held the smaller man tightly, feeling him shake. “And then they are going to have to come through the rest of the crew.” He felt Julian’s arms as the young man clung to him like he was drowning. “You’re part of my crew.”
A choked sound came from the other man. “Captain…”
“You’re safe, Julian.” He spoke into the other man’s ear. “You’re safe.” He repeated the words as the young man in his arms started to weep.
Kyle frowned as he looked around the empty quarters. Jakob’s shift shouldn’t start for another two hours. He stepped back out and headed into the mess hall. Jakob wasn’t there or in the rec room. His eyes narrowed. He didn’t see Commander Anson anywhere either. His fists clenched, then he shook his head. A couple deep breaths returned his breathing to normal. Maybe it was time he and Jakob moved on from the Onager.
With a shrug, he headed toward the shuttle bay. His shuttle still technically belonged to him, even if he did let the crew use it sometimes. Lately he’d begun keeping a stash there. He started to enter it when movement inside caught his eye. Jerin was running a scanner over the locker that contained his stash. Kyle frowned, then squared his shoulders before heading inside. “What are you doing?”
“Ensign.” Jerin glanced at him, then nodded as he put the scanner away. “Trying to come up with a way to shield a backup life support module in the smuggling compartment. Might come in handy on the next mission.”
“Okay.” He started to nod uncertainly. Then his eyes narrowed. Jerin and Anson were old friends, and Jerin had been on the last mission. “Where is Anson?”
“Commander Anson…” Jerin raised an eyebrow. “Is probably in his quarters. I fail to —”
“What happened on the planet?” Kyle took a step toward the other man.
“I don’t like your tone, Ensign.” Jerin squared his shoulders.
“I don’t like you dragging my husband into dangerous situations he’s not qualified for.” Kyle glared. “And I don’t like you going through my shit or him sniffing around where he’s not wanted. Where’s Jakob?”
“You’re being insubordinate.” Jerin grabbed his datapad. “Unless you want to spend some time in the brig I suggest you…”
He caught Jerin’s wrist and looked at the datapad. His own face looked back at him from the screen, but it was the name attached to the image that caught his attention. His real name. “What are you —”
“I —” Jerin cut off as Kyle grabbed his throat and slammed him into the side of the shuttle.