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They hurried into the main cavern to see five vidscreens set up in the middle, and the one in the center was currently showing an aerial view of Pandora. Four others were patched into other perspectives, and Byou couldn't help a soft gasp as he saw a handful of large ships appear from jumpspace about ten seconds apart. Another handful of smaller ships also arrived moments later and maneuvered into position flanking the larger ships, and Byou glanced to Kaoru to see the alpha smirking as a cheer went up among the others gathered.

"We're patched into the live feeds from our fliers and our orbiting scout ships," Hazuki said to Byou, a grin on his lips. "Turns out we got some extra backup after all."

Everyone held their breath as one of the large ships opened communications with Pandora, and Byou grinned along with the others when the ship commander casually 'requested' the Hub's unconditional surrender. The negotiations continued for about fifteen minutes, consisting mostly of exchanged threats and refusals, but finally there were a series of flashes from Pandora's spaceport and shortly after three Hub ships took off.

"They're gonna fight? They must be crazy," Hazuki muttered as he watched the Hub ships head straight for the fleet waiting in high orbit. "With those odds, it'll be over quick."

Three of the smaller ships in the fleet descended to meet the Hub ships, and sure enough, the Hub ships opened fire within moments of entering range. Byou glanced to Kaoru to see the alpha was no longer smirking and instead looking almost pissed off as he chewed on a thumbnail and watched the battle progress. Both sides took several hits and some damage, but the Traditionalist ships seemed to be faring better overall. The battle was over within minutes, and though the Traditionalist ships seemed to be aiming to disable rather than obliterate, one of the Hub ships exploded. The second seemed to hesitate before firing a last volley, and then it too combusted in a muted fireball. The third was successfully disabled a few seconds later, and everyone watched in tense silence until it was verified that only life support was active on it.

"They either martyred themselves or there was sabotage involved," Kaoru said flatly, narrowing his eyes as he stared at the vidscreens. "The second seems to have self-destructed." He turned his attention to his comm and sent off some rapid messages, then paced as he waited for replies.

Meanwhile, the largest ship in the fleet resumed communication with Pandora as the three smaller ones descended through the planet's atmosphere, clearly intending to hover over Pandora itself. This action seemed to anger Kaoru even more, and he gave quiet orders to the nearest alphas who then hurried to fiddle with the vidscreen setup. Miya didn't look happy either as he walked over to confer with Kaoru, and they both looked in unison as the largest vidscreen switched to a direct communication with one of the ships over Pandora.

From the corner of his eye Byou saw Satoshi flinch and turn away at the same moment Shinji tried to shield his mate from view, and the alpha glared at the vidscreen for a second before he escorted Satoshi elsewhere. The vidscreen showed the face of an alpha looking at Miya with an arrogant smirk. A quiet murmur rippled through the watching crowd, everyone's expressions ranging from surprise to anger.

"What the fuck are you doing, Tatsurou?" Miya said flatly, his body tense with anger and his fists clenched at his sides.

"Following orders," Tatsurou replied coolly with a casual shrug. "We'll open fire on Pandora itself only if it's deemed necessary," he added, his smirk returning to emphasize the implication.

"And the rescue of the prisoners? Was that part of your orders?" Kaoru asked, his voice calm but carrying a dangerous edge.

"Not my problem." Tatsurou shrugged again, deliberately casual. "A couple of the other ships will land and take care of it, or so I heard. Depends on how much of a death wish these bitches have," he said, his smirk indicating he was hoping there would be another excuse to engage.

Kaoru's eyes narrowed to slits and he took a slow breath. "Fine," he said tightly, and then ended the connection. Sending off a few more messages, he paced in front of the vidscreens.

"How the fuck did Tatsurou get command of anything?" Hazuki muttered, scowling at the vidscreen that was now showing the aerial view once more.

Byou bit his lip, glanced around to see almost everyone looking angry or worried, and then hesitantly asked, "What's going on that I'm missing?"

Aki hesitated and glanced away for a moment, then looked at Byou and took a deep breath. "Tatsurou was expelled from our colony," he said quietly.

Byou blinked and then paled as realization dawned, and he gave Aki a wide-eyed look. "Oh. Shit."

"Yeah, and if he's in command of even a small ship, that means he's probably done a large amount of ass-kissing to one of the more radical colonies, since none of ours would accept him," Hazuki said as he crossed his arms. "Just fucking figures he was in the area, though this sure explains why our backup was so damn eager to engage the Hub."

Aki turned to Byou with a rueful grimace. "Guess it was radical knot-heads after all, just more than one."

"They're gonna try to use this coming to our aid for leverage with us, regardless if we can prove they were behind the bombings, which I now strongly suspect," Miya said as he joined them. "The good news, sort of, is that only four of the ten ships are from a radical colony, and the others are our allies."

"Who's in command of the fleet?" Byou asked, frowning.

"No one is senior among them, each ship commander makes their own calls, but they coordinate," Miya answered, then gestured vaguely. "Still, Tatsurou is taking orders from someone, likely either on his ship or one of the big ones. He might be wearing wearing commander rank, but someone's pulling his strings."

"As I suspected, there were only life sign readings for half of a full crew on the Hub ships," Kaoru said as he came up behind Miya. "Whether or not it was sabotage or their plan, they're going to spin this in their favor and say we were the aggressors, and these radicals will also manipulate the situation to further their own goals."

"Divide and conquer strategy, if we don't ally with them we're on our own," Miya muttered with a scowl. "Even if their actions jeopardize us all."

Kaoru nodded and sighed through his nose. "I wouldn't put it past the radicals to have agents in the Hub forces to sabotage the ships, but the Hub isn't above sacrificing their own. In any case, two of our ally ships will escort our passenger ship, and it should arrive shortly."

"Why now, though?" Aki wondered aloud, frowning.

"Why not now?" Kaoru countered with a shrug. "We have only two dozen of us here, so all the Hub needed was an excuse to do a surprise inspection, find what they expected to find, and get a few tips to point toward us. The Hub then moves in and sends us scurrying for cover, and these radicals just happen to be in the general area to offer us some help to escape."

"And if they happened to delay our escape ship for long enough, they could cause some extra trouble that gives them an excuse to engage. It all works out so neatly in their favor," Miya added with a sour look. "And there's still at least one of their agents in Pandora itself who carried out the bombings." His comm beeped and he dug it out of his pocket, then read the message. "Speaking of which, here's our list of suspects," he said, handing Kaoru his comm.

Kaoru read what was on the comm, frowned, and then nodded once. "Reo, Hazuki, go find and detain Manabu and Yuuto."

Aki blinked in confusion. "Those two, working together? They hate each other."

"Who the fuck knows if they are, but we'll find out," Hazuki said as he shrugged and followed Reo, heading for another cavern.

Kaoru waited for Hazuki and Reo to be out of sight and then turned and then turned to Miya. "I'd like for you to question Mizuki, as Tsurugi is his roommate. We have to be sure," he said, giving Miya a significant look. "Tsurugi is a person of interest, not a direct suspect, but he might know some things. And send Asanao to detain Akira."

Miya pressed his lips into a thin line and nodded, then turned and left to go find Mizuki.


Miya found Asanao first and relayed Kaoru's order to detain Akira, then spent the next few minutes looking for Mizuki in the maze of caverns. He finally located Mizuki chatting with a couple other omegas in a small room and cleared his throat politely. "Sorry to interrupt, but I need to talk with Mizuki," he said, watching Mizuki's reaction carefully.

Mizuki blinked in confusion and gave Miya a curious look before he got up and stretched with a shrug, then followed the alpha to an unoccupied cavern.

Miya sat in the middle on the floor and motioned the omega to do the same. "It's about Tsurugi," he said, getting straight to the point.

Mizuki froze halfway to sitting down and stared at Miya with a look of concern. "Is he okay? Did something happen?" he asked as he arranged himself cross-legged.

"He's fine as far as we know, but we have reason to suspect he knows something about or was indirectly involved in the bombings."

Mizuki paled and widened his eyes. "No fucking way, he was in heat at Pandora before any of that shit started!" he blurted out, and then blinked and shut his mouth. "Wait, you think I'd know something?"

"That's what I'm hoping, yes," Miya said evenly, deciding to take a neutral route and let Mizuki do most of the talking. "You're not a suspect, but you're his roommate."

"Right, well, I haven't known him all that long, just maybe about a year or so," Mizuki said, then took a deep breath as he considered what to say. "I dunno, he seemed normal? Boring even, but then he's a Hub omega and really focused on his job. He did go out at odd times every now and then, but he came back smelling like he'd just gotten laid, so..." He shrugged and gave Miya a slightly rueful smile. "I can tell you more about his kinks in bed than I can about his loyalties, but he didn't seem to have any love for the Hub or betas."

"Can you elaborate on that last part?"

Mizuki pursed his lips for a few moments. "Well, it was just some comments here and there, y'know? Like the betas hassling him and embarrassing him. He's kind of intensely private about the sorts of things he likes with alphas, and the betas can be jerks 'cause they're all weird about male omegas," he said, shrugging and fidgeting for a moment. "Like, they'd tease him and shit, and he'd come home and bitch at me about it and say shit like he was glad he moved to the Rim even if he gets paid less out here. I mean, I kinda felt him out for joining us, but I didn't tell him anything potentially useful yet."

"So is there anything you can recall that might give him reason to," Miya paused to choose his words carefully, "retaliate against the Hub, or us?"

Mizuki huffed and shook his head. "Nah, he's a doctor, he wouldn't hurt anyone even if he hated them," he said, gesturing vaguely. "He just does his job even if his patients are the ones that give him shit. He seemed happy enough most of the time, but like, he doesn't have much of a social life or anything."

"Well, he could still be loyal to the Hub and even unknowingly work against our interests, but if you can't think of a reason he would be for or against the Hub, then we'll use other methods to determine whether he knows anything," Miya said, getting to his feet. "Regardless, his association with you and whether the Hub suspects him might reveal something."

"He'll probably be on call once he recovers from his heat, to treat the injured," Mizuki murmured as he stood. "Are there any other suspects?"

"Manabu and Yuuto were seen together, and Akira and Rui as well, though Rui hasn't arrived yet," Miya replied, leading Mizuki out of the cavern and back to the main one.

"Bucchan and Yuuto? Seriously?" Mizuki said in disbelief. "Yuuto can't stand him, simply on some incomprehensible principle only he understands. My theory is he's just jealous that Bucchan is prettier than him."

Miya smiled slightly and glanced behind him to Mizuki. "They were apparently seen acting suspicious in the area of one of the bombings, and Manabu has Hub connections."

"Suspicious how? Like Yuuto bitching at Bucchan over something stupid like breathing in his vicinity?" Mizuki muttered, frowning.

Miya chuckled and shrugged. "Perhaps, but in any case Hazuki and Reo are detaining them on Kaoru's orders," he said, and then gave Mizuki a quick summary of what else had happened during the confrontation.

They emerged from the tunnel into the main cavern, and Mizuki headed for the food crates. Several others were milling around and talking quietly in small groups. Miya located Kaoru and headed over to make his report, summarizing his conversation with Mizuki and added his confirmation that the omega hadn't been lying or evasive about anything.

Kaoru pursed his lips and then sent a message from his comm. "I've notified them about Rui and Tsurugi. Our allies will be conducting the rescue, at least, so that's one less thing to worry about."

Hearing a commotion, Miya glanced behind him to see Asanao, Reo and Hazuki return with Akira, Manabu, and Yuuto, and the latter looked especially indignant as Reo held Yuuto's arms behind his back. In contrast, Manabu seemed almost resigned as he let Hazuki prod him toward the center of the cavern, and Akira was tense and expressionless. Miya followed Kaoru to meet them and crossed his arms as he watched impassively.

Hazuki cuffed Manabu and then tapped his shoulder and the young alpha bowed his head and knelt. "Manabu was with Akira, and both their comms appear to have been cleared," he said, handing Kaoru the comms.

Asanao gave Akira a nudge and the omega hesitated for a pointed moment before he knelt beside Manabu. He didn't resist as Asanao cuffed his hands behind his back, keeping his head high as he stared stonily at the blank vidscreens.

Reo restrained Yuuto with a pair of cuffs another alpha handed to him, then forced the omega to his knees a few feet from the vidscreen setup. "I found him as he was about to send an encrypted message to Pandora," he said flatly to Kaoru and handed a comm over. "He also tried to resist."

"Miya, Hazuki, take Manabu and question him in private," Kaoru said.

"Why does he get special treatment?" Yuuto asked sharply, leveling a bold glare at Kaoru. "You can't prove shit."

Kaoru raised one eyebrow and gazed at Yuuto impassively. "You're really not helping your case," he said in a calm tone, then waited until Miya and Hazuki had left with Manabu. He motioned for Reo to join him and read the message Yuuto had almost sent, his expression darkening at its incriminating contents. Aside from the message the comm was cleared, and he handed it to Reo along with the other two and gave the two omegas a coldly considering look. "If you confess now, I may grant some leniency," he said slowly, looking first at Yuuto and then at Akira.

"Fuck you," Yuuto spat, and then hissed as Asanao scruffed him just hard enough to make him go limp.

Kaoru gave Asanao a slight nod, and the other alpha released Yuuto with a shove, and then held the omega on the ground with a booted foot on his back, putting just enough weight down to serve as a warning.

Kaoru turned his attention to Akira and tilted his head. "Do you have anything at all to say?" he asked calmly.

"No, sir," Akira said flatly, his gaze unwavering from the vidscreens.

Kaoru sighed softly and shook his head, then glanced up as Mao and Kyo approached from his left side, the former stopping short and staring at Akira with a look that transformed from shock to anger. "Perhaps you'd like to explain yourself to Mao if not me," Kaoru said casually, and he was rewarded with the tiniest flinch from Akira. "But you can wait until we're on the ship, so you'll have a while to really think about your choices first."

Mao blinked at Kaoru and then composed his face into a blank mask as he took a deep breath and flexed his hands at his sides, then turned to Kyo to avoid looking at Akira.

"As for Yuuto, put him in a scruff collar and leave him at the cave entrance," Kaoru ordered, smirking at Yuuto's sound of outrage and ineffectual squirming.

Asanao bent down to haul Yuuto up and cut off the omega's protests with another firm scruffing, then dragged him off toward the cave mouth.

"Manabu is not involved," Akira said softly, flicking his gaze to Kaoru for a second and then returning his stare to the vidscreens.

Kaoru gave Akira a steady look and then nodded slowly. "Duly noted," he said and then turned away. "Kyo, could you watch him while I have a chat with Mao?"

Kyo smirked briefly and nodded, then moved to lean casually against the vidscreens right where Akira was looking.

Kaoru walked to the back of the cavern with Mao and then turned to the omega. "There's no direct evidence against Akira, just circumstantial, and while it's not the usual procedure, it's possible he might be more willing to cooperate with you," he said quietly. "I'd prefer to not have to use harsh methods with him."

Mao nodded and chewed on his lip for a moment. "I appreciate the consideration," he said, and then reluctantly glanced toward Akira with a frown. "The way he's acting, I want to believe he's covering for someone, or he had no choice."

"Yuuto's quite guilty, and it's possible he persuaded Akira to help," Kaoru said with a slight shrug. "If you feel you can handle it without being biased, I will let you speak with him first and see what you can get out of him."

Mao took another deep breath and nodded slowly. "I'll do my best. For what it's worth, I don't think he'd willingly betray us as it goes against his pride and honor."

"That was my thought too," Kaoru said, glancing to Akira and then back to Mao. "I hope there's a proper explanation for his association with Yuuto."

Mao walked back with Kaoru, and he gave Akira an unreadable look for a few moments before he turned to Kyo and motioned to another tunnel, and the two left with a nod to Kaoru.


Miya let Hazuki take charge of Manabu and then led them to the small cavern he'd questioned Mizuki in. The young alpha knelt in the center with Hazuki guarding the tunnel, and he positioned himself in front of Manabu. "Care to explain yourself?" he asked.

Manabu hesitated and then took a deep breath before he looked up at Miya. "One of the betas who works security at Pandora is a friend I went to school with," he said, his gaze steady as he met Miya's eyes. "I sent her a couple messages shortly after the raid, but I didn't get anything out of her and I didn't want to act suspicious by pushing it." He hesitated again and then continued, "It might be my fault that Ruka was arrested, because I'd sent him a message trying to contact him after the raid, and it might have been traced."

Miya raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. "We have our own connections in Pandora security, but we cannot trust any of them now that the Hub's taken over. If you really have nothing to hide, why did you clear your comm?"

"I reset it at Akira's suggestion in case we were detained and questioned, and I haven't used it since," Manabu replied.

"Why were you with Akira?" Miya asked, and then raised an eyebrow at Manabu's faint blush and embarrassed expression.

"I uh, well, he's attractive," Manabu murmured reluctantly. "I was just trying to be friendly, but he kind of ignored me most of the time."

"That ice queen is out of your league," Hazuki quipped with a faint smirk. "He's only into omegas."

"Oh," Manabu said, looking faintly disappointed but not surprised.

"Have you heard from Rui?" Miya asked.

"The last time I saw him was about an hour before the first bombing. He did send Akira a message about the inspection though, before anyone else did," Manabu said with a frown. "Akira then told me and we went and stayed at my place since it was closer, and I stayed there until yesterday."

"Do you remember the approximate time Akira got his message?"

Manabu furrowed his brow as he tried to remember. "It was maybe about half an hour before Shinji sent me the alert, I think?"

Miya shifted on his feet and crossed his arms. "And what about Yuuto?"

Manabu pulled a face briefly and shrugged. "We met up with him a few hours after the raid started, and I wanted to stay with them until we heard from someone where to go, but they both ditched me about half an hour before the second bombing. I eventually found a few others to stay with until we were able to get a flier here."

Miya frowned and shared a look with Hazuki. "Anything else you'd like to volunteer that might be relevant?" he asked Manabu.

Manabu frowned as he thought for a few moments. "While I was with Akira and Yuuto they kind of avoided me and talked only to each other, and I did find it a bit odd that Rui sent that message about the raid before anyone else, but he's usually hanging around the spaceport so I thought he just saw them arrive. I really don't know what else to tell, since they kept me out of their loop and Yuuto would've probably hit me if I'd tried to be nosy," he said, grimacing slightly. "I just assumed I wasn't supposed to know whatever they were doing and left them alone, and that if I needed to know anything they'd tell me."

"It works in your favor that you haven't lied, and you don't seem to be keeping anything from us, intentionally," Miya said slowly, and glanced from Manabu to Hazuki and shrugged. "However, your association with Akira and Yuuto is still suspect, and you'll be questioned more thoroughly on the ship."

Manabu nodded slowly and shifted, bowing his head. "I will cooperate fully," he said, and then rose to his feet and followed Miya out, Hazuki trailing behind him.


The sight of the ship landing was impressive, and the ground shook with the force of the thrusters when it was still yards from the dirt and grass. Byou watched from the treeline with the others as it descended slowly, the sheer size of the ship up close taking his breath away. The thrusters shut off and a few moments later the hatch opened on the side and a ramp extended down. Everyone picked up their things and formed an orderly line, the three suspects and their guards up front, then they all filed onto the ship one by one.

Byou followed Aki down a few hallways and into a common room, then from there they were assigned a room and given directions to it. Once inside, Byou set down his bag and promptly sprawled face-first onto the bed, then grunted with discomfort. "Is this a mattress or a slab of rock?" he grumbled, propping himself onto one elbow as he poked the offending mattress with the index finger of his other hand.

"Be glad we get a double bed," Aki said with a chuckle as he sat on the bed beside Byou. "We'll be at Miya's colony in about three days if all goes we--" he stopped abruptly when Byou's hand covered his mouth.

"Don't say it, I've had quite enough of shit going wrong to last me the rest of my hopefully long life," Byou said, grimacing. "We finally have time to really be alone together and as much as I like everyone else, I just want some cuddle time." He removed his hand from Aki's mouth and leaned in to give his mate a chaste kiss. "Do you realize we've only known each other for less than a week?" he asked, pulling away and shifting to lie on his back.

Aki blinked and tilted his head. "Feels like longer," he murmured thoughtfully with a slight frown.

"Yeah, it does, and I don't want to hear you ask if I regret any of it," Byou said, giving Aki a pointed look and then grinning at the alpha's sheepish look. "I dislike the interruptions, but I don't regret meeting you, and not just because I'd probably have gotten arrested if I hadn't."

Aki moved to stretch out beside Byou and pressed close. "By the way, I stopped counting some time before our arrival at the cave," he said, then flashed a grin at Byou's incredulous snort.

"I should hope so," Byou muttered, reaching up to poke Aki's nose. "How about we save those rules for alone time? But not all our alone time, or I will mutiny on principle."

"I don't think that's the correct usage--" Aki started, and then laughed as Byou smacked him lightly on the side of his head.

"Don't get pedantic on me, or you can test whether the floor is comfier than this rock bed."

"Already I get threatened with the figurative couch, this doesn't bode well," Aki teased with a grin.

"As if you mind when I indulge your switchiness," Byou retorted with a matching grin.

Aki stole a quick kiss before shifting onto his back. "At the risk of sounding clinical, the fact we're both flexible about topping is good," he murmured.

"As much as I might still want to try something more along the lines of you being really Dom, I'm content to compromise," Byou said, making a playful face. "In any case, I'm sure it won't end in disaster either way."

"I'm lucky you're cutting me some slack in my second attempt at a serious relationship," Aki quipped with a rueful smile.

"Indeed, but I'm learning as I go too, and even without the bonding thing and the suddenness of it all, this is still the best thing that's happened to me," Byou said seriously as he shifted to face Aki. "You seriously underestimate your appeal, insufferable quirks aside."

Aki blinked, his expression caught somewhere between happy and bewildered as Byou took one of his hands and laced their fingers together. "That's not helping me with whether or not I'm gonna screw shit up somehow," he murmured, lightly squeezing Byou's hand in his.

"You're not even trying to, so stop worrying," Byou quipped, moving swiftly to pin Aki beneath him. "You weren't ready then, but maybe we both are now, and I'm more than willing to see how things go and take it one day at a time." He leaned close and smirked impishly. "Besides, I know you like being topped now, but have you ever let an omega top you?"

Aki felt his body react before his brain fully registered Byou's words, and he could only blink wordlessly up at Byou as his mate smirked, and then he somehow managed to shake his head.

"Good, we can share a first then," Byou said as he deliberately rubbed against Aki's hardening cock. The sudden sound of the ship's intercom beeping startled him badly, and before he could register the words of the announcement his mate's arms encircled him in a comforting hug.

"Attention all passengers, prepare for liftoff. Please take a seat and hold on to the nearest handhold until we have cleared atmo. Thank you."

"A bit jumpy, eh?" Aki said softly, nuzzling Byou as the omega slowly calmed down.

"Just a bit." Byou forced a laugh as he closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments. "At least the mood-killer wasn't another--" he stopped when Aki's fingers pressed against his lips, and he smiled slightly before kissing said fingers, which then moved away. "Right, don't say it."

"The cosmos owes you two now, at least, unless we're counting all the interruptions."

Byou gave Aki a bemused blink. "Huh?"

"First Zo interrupted us when you were taking initiative, and then this time," Aki said, a slightly amused smile curving his lips.

Byou huffed a laugh. "We can hole up somewhere secret for a week and redo things, take what we're owed."

"That sounds like an excellent plan." The ship began to rumble, and Aki smirked as he reached up to grab the lower bar of the headboard. "If you'd like, I'm sure we can borrow a pair of cuffs without raising any eyebrows."

Byou snorted and grabbed the same bar. "Figures it'd be part of the design to have the handholds on the bed have other uses," he quipped. "Speaking of, where did you even get those cuffs?"

It took Aki a moment to realize what Byou referred to, and then he grinned. "Drawer on the side of the tub. I got them out and set them aside while you were showering."

"Ah, that figures." Byou shifted a bit to settle more comfortably beside Aki as the ship's vibrations increased. "But back to topping you, do you like anything specific?"

"Uh, well, I wouldn't mind being surprised if you're in the mood," Aki said, shrugging. "I like being marked, and some moderate pain."

"So if I covered your neck in hickeys and bites, and your back in scratches, you'd be fine with that?" Byou asked, his expression interested.

"I'd go shirtless around certain people if you did that," Aki replied, smirking.

Byou laughed. "Who? Kenzo and the others? Miya?"

"Most of them, yeah, not like they haven't seen it on Ruka," Aki said blandly, and then grinned at Byou's shocked blink.

"Seriously? Hitsugi?"

"Yep, though that sort of display is rare now with their kids around."

"I guess I really shouldn't be surprised anymore," Byou murmured, chuckling. He held onto both the bar and Aki as the ship finally lifted off, almost holding his breath as the minutes passed. When the announcement came that they had cleared atmo he relaxed slightly and rested his head on Aki's chest.

"Preparing for jump, in three, two, one..." The ship shuddered once. "Next jump scheduled in six hours."

Byou was just about to speak when the bedside console dinged, and he groaned in frustration as Aki sat up to accept the message. Kaoru's face appeared on the small screen, and Byou was suddenly glad that both he and Aki were still fully clothed.

"Meet us on the bridge in five minutes. We're having a meeting to discuss plans," Kaoru said, and then added, "Alphas only."

Byou bristled a bit at that, but he held his tongue as Aki acknowledged and ended the call. "So now it's stricter?" he asked, sitting up and crossing his arms.

"Kind of, but it's fairly standard for this sort of stuff," Aki said, giving Byou an apologetic look. "If it's any consolation, most of the meetings are boring as hell, and even Hazuki can't get an exception most of the time."

"Hmph, that's ridiculous." Byou ran his hands through his hair and frowned. "What am I supposed to do in the meantime?"

"The others will probably be in the common areas if you want to chat with them, or you can stay in here or wander around," Aki said, getting up from the bed. He picked up one of the two comms on the nightstand and handed it to Byou, then pocketed the other. "Use this to reach me if you need anything, I'll probably appreciate the excuse to leave," he said with a playful grimace. "I'll give you a summary after if you'd like."

"Okay, have fun," Byou murmured, making a face as he got up and followed Aki out, then headed in the opposite direction.