"Balboa hit the floor." Kar jerked a thumb toward the door. "Rhys is okay, but they were supposed to be farther inside before the gas triggered. It was only supposed to affect anyone who might be following them. Instead, they both passed out."
"You damn jackass!" Tiago jammed his gun into the front of his belt.
"He's okay, man!" Kar made patting motions. "Calm down. He's--"
"I'll kill you!" Tiago took two giant steps, grabbed the front of Kar's jacket, picked him up off the ground, and shook him. "You said he wouldn't get hurt!"
"He's okay!" Kar glanced down at the floor. "Put me down. He's okay, I swear it!"
Renn looked from one to the other as Tiago released her partner. "What are you talking about, Kar? What's going on?"
Kar dusted himself off. "Sorry, Renn. I couldn't tell you until now."
"Tell me what?"
Tiago withdrew the gun and handed it to Kar. "Where is he?"
A door slid open, revealing a frazzled-looking Armada soldier with dark hair.
"Rhys!" Tiago scrambled toward him, got one arm around his lover and helped him inside the infirmary. "Baby, are you all right?"
He nodded, coughing.
Tiago eased Rhys onto one of the infirmary beds, and it folded itself around him, diagnostics activating in holo-format over the top.
Renn got between Tiago and the bed. "Will one of you tell me what the hell is going on?"
"Get outa my way." When she didn't move, Tiago bared fangs and spat a hiss.
Tiago studied the medi-bed's readouts. He breathed out a long sigh as the readings went green. "Whew! He's normal."
"Normal?" Balboa's voice said over Tiago's shoulder. "Since when did that apply to either of you two?"
Tiago turned and grinned. "The plan worked."
The silver-eyed female gazed back at him with only slightly less than her usual disdain. "Did you think it wouldn't?"
Renn stepped back, staring at them. "I don't--" She broke off as Rhys sat up and lifted one hand, which Balboa slapped with hers as if they'd won a victory. "Okay, that's it. What in the hell?"
Kar set a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Balboa figured out you and I were rebels a month ago. What I didn't know was that she wanted out of the Armada. The problem was, she had no way of leaving without raising suspicions that could cause problems for a member of her family on the Conqueror's staff."
"Oh, shit." Renn clasped a hand over her mouth. "Sorry, sir."
Balboa nodded her head. "No problem. Kar agreed to help me, but I wasn't leaving without taking all my staff. Rhys and Tiago didn't buy my story about my family." She lifted her nose and sniffed as if testing the air. "Until I sent them back to Tarth for some 'training' and they got to see for themselves."
Renn frowned. "So that's why they got the extra training and we didn't?"
"Sorry." Tiago sat next to Rhys. "We did the tourist bit and visited the palace. Sure enough. Balboa had family serving the Conqueror. Her--" He paused. "Uh... I'll leave that up to her to tell you about when she's ready." He caught the scent of her gratitude, pale though it was. "If ever."
The officer lifted one imperious eyebrow.
"Okay," Renn began. "I thought we were trying to kidnap Tiago for his engineering skills, but it was really a way to get Rhys and Balboa off the ship as well. Right?"
Tiago nodded. He linked hands with Rhys and smiled at him.
His lover pulled him closer and kissed him full on the mouth. "You did a great job, babe. Those junk walkie-talkie things left no signal for the Armada to follow."
Cheeks warm, he lowered his gaze and squeezed Rhys's hand. "Thanks."
"So that's it?" Renn looked around the room. "We all just walk away?"
"Oh, we have a few things to take with us." Balboa held up her antique telecom device. "Tiago packed these things with data chips. There's enough technojag on here to bring in billions on the black market and help the rebellion. Plus, Rhys amplified the damage you and Kar did to all the comm stations. We'll be light years away before anyone has a clue."
The infirmary cabin shuddered, as if a bomb had exploded outside the ship. Renn glanced up and around. "What was that?"
"One of Tiago's ideas in action." Balboa smiled at the Kin. "He figured if the Armada shuttle blew up right before the rebel ship went into jump, the Armada would figure we'd been killed. No one hunts the dead."
The alarm bell sounded the jump alert, and out of habit, everyone but Tiago glanced at his or her wrist band, ensuring contact between band and skin.
"Must be nice," Balboa commented.
Tiago noted she was watching him, and sat up straighter. "Sir?"
"Being a Kin. Must be nice not to need a jumpdrug. This stuff always makes the hair on the back of my neck rise."
He chuckled. "Be glad it isn't all over your body."
"I beg your pardon?" Balboa crossed her arms.
"Uh... I mean, hair." Tiago swallowed. "You know. Like me. All over your body."
Balboa's icy gaze traveled his length.
"No!" Tiago held up both hands. "I don't mean having me all over your body. I mean having my hair all over-- no. What I was trying to say was--"
"Tiago." Rhys yanked him closer. "Shut up while you're ahead."
"Good idea." Balboa shook a finger at him, and turned to the others. "All right. Everybody out. We have some debriefing to do. I need to meet with the Officer of the Deck and the Captain. You two--" She pointed at Rhys and Tiago. "Well done. Stay in here for the next two hours. Alone, with the door locked. That's an order." She set one hand on her hip. "Do I make myself clear?"
Tiago grinned, his cheeks flaming. "Yes, sir."
Rhys offered a salute. "Yes, ma'am, sir."
"Good." She turned on her heel and at the door, paused and turned back. "And don't think because you left the Armada and did me a favor that I won't be watching you." Balboa's steely gaze softened, and she smiled. Giving them a wink, she went out the door and locked it.
The End - or is it?