You see, when you've been living and breathing a character (or several characters) for months (or even years), you can't just shut them up, turn them off with the flick of a light switch. Not surprisingly days after GAMES OF COMMAND was done, edited and outta-my-office, Sass and Kel-Paten still wandered in from time to time and gave me a glimpse of what happened AFTER the book's last page...
Ralland Kel-Tyra caught Sass by the elbow as she threaded her way through the tables in the ship’s mess, and leaned his mouth down to her ear. “He’s about thirty minutes from imploding.”
She angled her face towards him but didn’t look at him. She watched Kel-Paten, instead. Had been watching him since he’d entered the Regalia’s mess hall ten minutes ago. “How long has he been like this?”
“His ‘I’m the only one who can save the universe’ mode? About four months, ever since he headed the mutiny against Psy-Serv.”
“Umm,” Sass said and then sighed. It had been less than an hour since they’d left the Vaxxar—a ghost ship now, secured for tow. Timm Kel-Faray and two other crew were in Monterro’s sick bay. The rest of the thirty-nine survivors were sent to the mess for a hot meal while her crew made some hasty rearrangements for sleeping quarters to accommodate them on the three day trip to Varlow.
Kel-Paten had tailed after her—or sometimes strode ahead of her—as they’d gone from shuttle bay to the bridge to sick bay and now to the mess.
At the moment, he was standing by a table of three former officers from the Vax, whose trays were full of hot food and mugs of cold beer. But a few minutes before that he’d been at a table of four, and minutes before that, another table of three. Had he eaten? No. He hadn’t even had a sip of beer.
“When’s the last time he slept?” she asked Ralland.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. But I thought when we found the Regalia, found you…did you see what happened when Tank showed up on the bridge?”
She had. The site of the unshakeable admiral dropping to his knees had shaken her. “We had visual of your bridge, just not audio.”
“I thought he was going to implode then. He didn’t. That’s what worries me. He should have. He achieved the objective: he saved everyone he could from the Vax and Dalkerris. He got out of the Void, again. And he found you. That was everything. I thought that was everything. But he won’t stop. He can’t stop,” Ralland corrected himself. He shook his head wearily. “Damn him.”
“When’s the last time you slept, Captain Kel-Tyra?”
Ralland slanted her a quick, challenging glance that was one hundred percent Kel-Paten, even though his eyes were the color of chocolate and Kel-Paten’s were pale ice blue. Brothers. Four, six years apart? She didn’t know. But their stubbornness was just one more thing they had in common. “I’m due,” he admitted after a moment.
“And you’ve been assigned one of the executive guest suites.” The Regalia had two on the deck below the bridge. In an emergency—and this was one—they could sleep three people. “My people will take very good care of your crew,” she added. Five had already left, being guided to their quarters by one of her crew and a furzel, for probably the first decent sleep they’ve had in months.
“It’s him I’m worried about,” Ralland said, jutting his chin in the admiral’s direction. Kel-Paten had moved to another table.
“I will take very good care of your brother,” Sass said softly.
Another glance but no challenge this time. “You’re an amazing woman,” he said with a small smile.
She smiled back. “Then let me do my job.”
He squeezed her arm. “Aye, Captain.”
“Get some sleep. And if you can find your way to my office at 0930, I could use some help processing your people before we hit Varlow.”
A short nod. “I’ll be there.” He moved away, the sound of his footsteps lost in the clatter and clank of the mess hall.
She headed for Kel-Paten, who looked her way at that moment, his mouth curving into that odd, crooked smile of his. She noticed again how much thinner his face was. He wasn’t eating or sleeping, and maintaining his 'cybe systems was draining his body. It was as if he was stuck on Red Alert, all systems at max. If he didn’t implode he would burn up from the inside out.
“Our table’s up there.” She motioned to the command staff dining table on the raised platform along the wall.
“I’m not hungry and there are a few things I—”
She yanked on his arm. “Now, flyboy. Food. Beer. Or wine or Excelsior or whatever’s your poison of choice. But now.”
She saw it then. It was as if—for a moment—things weren’t synching, as if—for a moment—he didn’t know who she was or where he was or what he was doing there. His expression blanked. She felt him tense under her fingers. Fight or flight.
Then he was back. “Tasha—”
She switched tactics, abruptly. “I need your help. My office, now.” Taking care of himself wasn’t on his agenda. But a request for help fit neatly into his ‘save the universe’ mode.
She’d feed him, later. After he imploded...
Not quite a scene, I know. A bit of a vignette. There's one other that occurs a few months past this one. I'll post that next week (if I'm not going too nutso packing for RWA National and forget to do so).