Leon started to lean back, then his communicator chimed again. He stared at it for several seconds before sighing and touching the screen. “Let me guess…” He nodded at the image of his father. “He’s figured out a way to blame someone else but wants you or I to recapture them.”
Admiral Vendral folded his arms. “You, specifically. I am to make a show of force, proving that the Alliance is strong under the Vendral family.” He shook his head. “Your grandfather is pointing out, rather gleefully, that the Senate demanded you relinquish custody and that the escape occurred after said events.” He let his arms fall to his sides, then clasped his hands behind his back. “He is insinuating that was intentional.”
“Does he really think that?” Leon blinked.
“You have to admit, the possibility exists.” His father shrugged. “However, since it’s clear the Vendral family wasn’t involved in the escape, this isn’t a redemption mission. Father just wants to rub their noses in the fact the Vendrals are cleaning up the mess and saving the galaxy again.”
“Still on capture not kill?” Leon raised an eyebrow.
“That’s the preference, certainly.” Admiral Vendral smiled. “Good luck.” The screen went blank.
He leaned back and exhaled. Then he went to his communicator again and opened up the back channel. It took a few minutes before he got a response. “Leon.” Captain Thorne inclined his head.
“Gregori.” He raised an eyebrow. “Don’t suppose you’re willing to tell me how you escaped?”
“You can read about it in the history books later.” Captain Thorne smiled. “I do apologize for any inconvenience.”
“I, uh…” He nodded. “Thanks for not killing any of my guys on your way out.” He leaned forward. “Let Captain Mateo know next time we meet I want to shake his head.” He grinned. “Before I stick him in my brig.”
“I’ll pass the message along. Please don’t be offended if I say I hope we don’t see each other again soon.” Captain Thorne shrugged.
“Likewise. Take care of yourself, Gregori.”
“You as well, Leon.”
The file wasn’t comprehensive, but Jerin had already noted a few red flags. He’d apparently found Kyle’s real name in the Alliance criminal databanks. Anson noted that Kyle had kept the same first name. He was considering asking Jerin to use the Alliance hacks to check on Jakob’s real identity when he scrolled down a little to find Jerin already had. Jakob’s biomarkers weren’t in any criminal database and didn’t match up to any missing persons reports.
He closed his eyes, replaying the memory of the kiss. Anson smiled. At least he didn’t have to question whether he’d pressured Jakob into anything. Jakob had definitely been the aggressor there. He exhaled, then looked at Jerin’s notes again. Maybe it was time he sat down with Jakob and asked the man who he really used to be. Jakob had to know by now he could trust him.
Of course, he was currently getting a spy to run an investigation into Jakob’s husband behind his back. Anson sent a message asking Jerin to contact him when he got the chance, then tossed the datapad onto the table. In the meantime, he should get some sleep.
Kyle washed his hands, then checked again. There were specks of red on his sleeves, mostly hidden by the dark fabric. His knuckles were bruised and there were a couple cuts, but he could probably explain that as getting too vigorous during a training workout.
His gaze went back to his other problem. The shuttle wasn’t the best place to stash a body. He had no idea when Jerin’s next shift was scheduled. Somebody would notice the man was missing, and the shuttle was an obvious place to look. But why had the man been looking into him in the first place? He picked up the datapad, then threw it down on the body. “Anson put you up to it, didn’t he?” Kyle glared. He clenched his fists, wishing it had been Anson’s skull he’d broken. He had a dead body to deal with and it wasn’t even the person he wanted dead.
Accidents happened aboard a ship. “Right, just…” He bent, and picked up the corpse, slinging it over his shoulder. “You know, you should be more careful around propulsion systems. Wouldn’t want you to fall into the drive core or anything.” He smirked before looking around to see if anyone was watching, then headed toward the maintenance shaft.
Dumping his burden only took a moment. He double checked his handiwork, then nodded to himself. As soon as the engines fired up, Jerin wouldn’t be his problem anymore. And if anyone found him in the meantime, it would just look like he’d fallen down the shaft. Sabotaging a rung was easy enough. “Accidents happen.” He climbed out of the shaft, then headed for the infirmary. A little med gel would fix his knuckles up, and he could ask Jakob where he’d been.
The infirmary was nearly empty. Kyle frowned when he saw Jemma come out of the office. “Where is Jakob?”
She raised an eyebrow at him, clearly surprised at the question. “He sent a message asking me to switch shifts with him.”
“Did he now?” Kyle narrowed his eyes, then nodded before turning and heading back out. His fists clenched again. He took a deep breath, then strode toward his quarters. If Jakob wasn’t in them, there was going to be hell to pay.
Julian accepted the cup of tea Captain Mateo handed him. “Thank you.” He held the cup between his hands, breathing the scent of the warm liquid. His arms rested on his knees, which were nearly drawn up all the way to his chest. “What happens now?”
Mateo sat down on the other side of the couch. “That part is up to you, Ja…” He exhaled. “Julian.” He shifted slightly so he was facing Julian. “I’ll listen, if you want to talk.” He leaned back. “If you want to tell the crew the truth, that is up to you. If you don’t, well…” Mateo shrugged.
He blinked, then looked up at the captain as though seeing him for the first time. “You could get in trouble if —”
“You let me worry about that, Julian.” Mateo shook his head. He gestured haphazardly. “I’m a damn war hero, thanks in no small part to you.” He shrugged. “I’ll pull whatever rank I have to.” He looked away, then nodded. “Julian, if you want to leave, we can smuggle you back to the planet, you…” He sighed. “You can go home.”
The offer made him go still. He chewed briefly on his lower lip, then stared down at the tea. He took a sip. “Is it…” He turned the cup around in his hand. “Weird that your offer to let me leave makes me want to stay?”
“Everything about this is weird, son.” Mateo twitched a shoulder. “You’re always welcome on my ship, and on my crew.”
The captain was fighting the good fight, with good people. It was strange how his perspective had been shifting ever since the black site. As much as he knew that the Palindor side of the war wasn’t made up entirely of angels… “Captain, being on your ship, part of your crew…” He nodded. “I do not feel as though I am on the wrong side.” He met Mateo’s eyes. “I would stay, as your doctor.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” Mateo reached over to pat his foot. “I was a little worried what we’d do without you.” He gave Julian’s foot a small squeeze. “Captain Thorne said he found the wreckage of the ship that abducted you. Mind telling me how you escaped and…” Mateo shrugged. “Where does Kyle come into all this?”
The tea cup nearly slipped out of his fingers.
Anson blinked, then rubbed at his eyes. He looked about the darkened room, then heard his door chime again. “The hell?” He staggered out of his bed, then walked into the sitting room. “What is —” The door opened to reveal a furious looking Kyle. “Going on?”
“Where’s Jakob?” Kyle glared at him, fists clenched.
“What?” Anson shook his head. “What do —” Kyle shoved him backward as the other man stepped into the room. The last of the sleep cleared from his mind. “Ensign Narel.”
“Where the fuck is my husband?” Kyle walked to the door of the bedroom before whirling and starting back toward Anson. “Where’s Jakob?”
“He’s not here.” Anson squared his shoulders. “And you’re out of order.”
“He’s not in our quarters, so where the hell is he?” Kyle stopped only a half pace from Anson.
“On duty, as far —” From the smell of Kyle’s breath, he’d clearly had something to drink.
“He’s not.” Kyle poked a finger into Anson’s chest. “I know he’s in here.”
“Ensign —” Anson jerked back just in time to avoid Kyle’s punch. Reflexes took over and he blocked the second swing, twisting away from the blow and adding a quick jab to Kyle’s kidney. The bigger man barely grunted, and Anson realized with some dismay the man hadn’t changed after his shift. He was still wearing body armor. “Are you fucking cra —” Kyle swung at him again. He was a little grateful now that the man was drunk. Kyle’s swing went just wild enough that Anson was able to redirect it enough to off balance his opponent. The other man was clearly not in a reasonable frame of mind.
Rather than trade blows, Anson threw himself out of the way of Kyle’s next swing. He rolled, grabbing the item stuck under his table as he did. Kyle started for him as Anson stood back up, then stopped short at the sight of a stunner pointed directly at his chest. “I repeat…” Anson narrowed his eyes, his grip on the weapon steady. “Are you fucking crazy?”
“He was part of…” Mateo leaned his head back. His stomach rolled. He stood, then started for his communicator. Before he got there, Julian’s communicator chimed. Mateo turned toward the doctor.
Julian hurriedly set the tea down and took a deep breath before answering. “This is Doctor…” He swallowed.
“Doc, need you to meet us in the infirmary, now.” Somar’s voice came over. “It’s Lieutenant Jerin. It’s bad.” Somar’s voice sounded sick. “It’s real bad.”
Immediately, Julian scrambled to his feet. “I’m on my way.” He glanced up. “Cap —”
“Go.” Mateo nodded. “I’ll meet you there in a moment.” He turned toward his own communicator as Julian headed out of the door.
Anson’s voice came over a moment later. “Captain?” The other man sounded slightly pained.
“Commander, I need you to collect Ensign Narel and confine him to quarters.” Mateo sighed. That would require less explaining and official reports than having the man put in the brig. He could have Julian moved elsewhere. He just wasn’t sure what reason he was going to give —
“Just did.” Anson’s voice sounded annoyed. “Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“What?” Mateo blinked. “Why did you confine him to quarters?”
“Uh…” Anson sounded confused. “Because he took a swing at me.” There was a brief pause. “Why were you telling me to confine him to quarters?”
Well, if Kyle was going to be stupid, that made things much easier. “Never mind. Seal communications and leave him there until I say otherwise.”