Have fun! ~ Linnea
(from the original Chapter One... and the cutting room floor)
Something heated flared correspondingly inside Kel-Paten, his gaze taking in far more of her than he was used to seeing. At least, not while he was awake. He didn’t miss her playful tap on Dr. Fynn’s arm with the tip of her racquet as she strode by. “Whipped his ass, 5-4!” she rasped, still somewhat short of breath.
The CMO hid her laughter behind a well-timed coughing fit as Sass plunked down into the chair next to his own. She wiped her face with a towel draped around her neck. A series of soft chuckles followed around the room as the lettering on the Captain’s t-shirt became obvious for all to see:
“My name’s No! No! Bad Captain!
“Sebastian.” Pause. There was always The Pause. “You’re--”
“Late, I know.” Sass held up one hand as if to stave off his reprimand. “I apologize, Admiral. I’d every intention of being here on time. Even recheduled my game two hours earlier. But we—”
“And you’re out of uniform,” he cut in and made sure he didn’t allow his gaze to travel lower than Sass’ face. Interesting what dampness does to certain thin fabrics.
“I’d be later if I’d taken time to change,” Sass was pointing out. “But before you have me vented out the starboard exhausts for a total inattention to duty, at least allow me to state that I have read the entire packet and,” she said, swiveling one of the comp screens attached at regular intervals down the middle of the table, “my report has been filed and already disseminated to the staff.” She tapped at the “Report Waiting” icon flashing on the lower left.
“I assume you’ve all used the...” and she stopped, glancing at her watch, “...four minutes and forty three point two seconds that I was delayed to retrieve and review my report?”
Five faces, including his own, turned blankly to her. Only Dr. Fynn grinned back. Kel-Paten didn’t know if the CMO was just used to the petite green-eyed blonde’s diversonary tactics, or had known beforehand the report would be there. It didn’t matter.
From the conspiratorial nature of her grin, it was obvious she was the only one who’d read it
"Well, good, then it shouldn’t take the rest of you, Dr. Fynn excluded, more than four minutes and forty three point two seconds to do just that. And in that time,” Sass added, rising, “I’ll jog down the corridor to my quarters and grab a sweatshirt. Imperial issue of course,” she added, “before I freeze my butt off in here.”
The zip-front black sweatshirt with the Vaxxar’s signature slashed-lightning logo on the sleeves helped, but not much, Kel-Paten noted wryly as Sass returned to the ready room with ten point oh-eight seconds to spare. The sweatshirt, in generic extra-large, fell below the hem line of her shorts so that when she walked in all he saw were sweatshirt and nicely shaped bare legs... and nothing else. Oh, there were socks (also bright pink) and high-top sneakers (white), he knew, but that only made the illusion worse. It was only after she took the seat next to him that he let out the breath he’d been holding. Slowly.
When he turned back to the table five pairs of eyes regarded him expectantly: Kel-Fhay, the First Officer on his left; Kel-Arint, Chief of Tactical next to him. Then came his U-Cee-issue CMO. Her blue eyes held a a hint of amusement, so he passed over her quickly. His U-Cee-issue Chief of Security, Lt. Francisco Garrick, was opposite her. To Garrick’s left was Zahar Kel-Nilos. The grey-haired Commander had been his Chief of Engineering for fifteen years; he trusted Kel-Nilos, trusted him with his life and his ship and the lives of his crew. Hence, he was also trusted to be the only other officer allowed to sit next to the captain.
She, he noted, didn’t look at him but directly at Eden Fynn. He didn’t like the smile on either woman’s face.
Had he been prone to sighing he would’ve done so just then, but instead he eased himself up to his full 6’3” height’, well aware of the image he presented: an imposing figure in black with night-dark hair. Five diamond-studded stars glinted blue-white on his uniform’s high collar and were matched in their iciness, it was often said, only by the hardness of his eyes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a problem. It sppears we may have to do some damage control.”
The problem’s name was Shadow, or more accurately, Jace Serafino. Captain Jace Serafino though Kel-Paten’s tone as he said the rank relayed just how little respect he had for the often deadly, always flamboyant mercenary.
Serafino had quite a history, most of it conflicting, very little of it documented save for spaceport gossip and ‘tracker' legends. He was the illegitimate son of an Imperial nobleman and a prosti from the U-Cee pleasure world of Glitterkiln. He was defrocked Nasyry from the Warrior-Priest clan. He was a Q’itha addict and escapee from an Imperial Rehab compound. He was a reclusive and mega-weathly entrepreneur with a decidedly unorthodox philanthropic hobby. He was a bio-cybe crechling--one of Kel-Paten’s siblings--who’d been reported to have died at birth.
All were true. None were true. The only verifiable facts known about Captain Jace Serafino was that he had been very, very good at making trouble for the U-Cees and the Empire, now called the Alliance, and their mutual enemy, the Illithians. And he’d also been very very good at escaping from the clutches of all three.
Suddenly made patriotic by the prospect of two hundred fifty thousand credits, Serafino had agreed to participate in a little undercover work for the newly formed Alliance. Kel-Paten had been openly against the idea but had been out voted by the Defense Minister and Admiral Kel-Varen. So Serafino had been paid half the money, pointed in the direction of the Illithian border... and vanished.
It had been almost five months and nothing had been heard of him or his ship, the Novalis. However, two weeks after he’d left Kel Station, a lowly ensign in payroll made a not-so startling discovery--the other half of Serafino’s payment was also gone. For all intents and purposes it looked like he’d taken the money, and run. And was probably comfortably holed up in some rim-world nighthouse, enjoying the soft charms of a sloe-eyed prosti. And laughing his ass off at the Alliance.
So the Alliance did what the Empire always used to do when the Empire got pissed: they gave the command to unleash Kel-Paten on the problem.
“Captain Sebastian’s report noted all the leads we have relative to a last known location on Serafino,” Kel-Paten said. “Lt. Garrick, I want you and Lt. Kel-Arint to head up one team; Commander Kel-Fhay and Dr. Fynn will head the second. The captain and I will head the third. If he isn’t found precisely in one of those locations, I have no doubt, based on the accuracy of our information, that we won’t be very far behind him.”
“We don’t have any reason to believe that Serafino will be cooperative about returning to Kel Prime,” Garrick noted. “Your instructions, sir, if we encounter resistance?”
Kel-Paten leaned his black-gloved fists against the table. This answer was easy. “Kill him,” he replied evenly.
Then he straightened, his hands behind him in correct military posture. “You all understand the situation. Dismissed.”
A nodding of heads accompanied the squeaking of chairs as the command staff of the Vaxxar rose almost in unison and headed for the door. Sass swiveled in her chair, followed Kel-Nilos around the far end of the conference table.
He said her name before she could reach Dr. Fynn’s side: “Sebastian.” Pause. “I will require your attention for a bit longer.”
She turned and faced him expectantly. “Admiral?”
Kel-Paten opened his mouth to speak only to find his mind blanking as My name’s No! No! Bad Captain! stared back at him. Sometime during the ninety-minute meeting her workout clothes had dried and Sass had unzipped the oversized black sweatshirt. Her arms, folded casually across her chest, obscured the What’s Yours?
She looked up. “Yes?”
Damn her, damn her! Two hours ago, he’d chosen what he’d thought was the perfect topic to delay her after the meeting, something important enough to be believable. Something they could discuss, leisurely, perhaps over a cup of coffee. Something that... something that he’d obviously forgotten.
“Your... report was very thorough.” One-point-four-million credits they had spent perfecting his flawlessly synchronized cybertronic brain interface and that was the best he could come up with.
She cocked her head slightly to one side. Perhaps she knew of the amount and was just now realizing what a tremendous waste of funds it represented.
“Thanks. But it was just a distillation of facts. The original report was kind of repetitive.”
“H.Q.’s usually are.”
“Well then, just goes to prove the theory that bureaucrats everywhere share a common DNA. I never read a report out of our H.Q. at Varlow that was worth a damn, either.”
“I can imagine,” he replied and knew that if the fate of the Universe relied on his conversational abilities right now they’d all be in the proverbial shitter.
However, his terse sentence elicited a raised eyebrow from her. “Didn’t think you had to imagine, Kel-Paten. I was under the impression that there was little the U-Cees did during the war that you weren’t directly aware of. I’d thought our reports provided you with the bulk of your bedtime stories.”
Actually, he’d always saved reports on the Regalia’s captain for that particular time of his day. “I was naturally aware of any information deemed to be important.”
“Oh, naturally,” she said, her mouth quirking slightly into a smile. “If there’s nothing else, Admiral?”
“Nothing else?” He’d been contemplating the soft curves at the base of her throat. Her usual uniform’s high collar covered that area, and though he’d often seen her in the ship’s gym, it had been from across the room. He’d never been this close to her when she’d had been so interestingly out of uniform. So enticingly out of uniform. The temperature in the ready room shot up a few hundred degrees.
“Yes sir, if there’s nothing else you wish to discuss, I’d really like to go back to my quarters and change out of this gear.” She tugged at the slitted hem of her pink shorts, which only drew his eyes down to her bare thighs. His mind immediately responded by informing him just how quickly one could slide those pieces of flimsy pink apparel down and...
“Yes, of course. I’m sure you want to change.” He turned quickly and took his seat at the head of the table. With a few quick touches on the comp screen, he called up a selection of files of unknown subject matter, only peripherally aware they were there. But at least it looked as if he were doing something productive. “Dismissed, Sebastian.”
Sass inclined her head slightly. “By your leave, Admiral.”
He waited until the doors whooshed closed before he let his head fall wearily against the high back of the chair, his body throbbing. He was surprised the chair hadn’t melted.
He was still in that position, eyes closed, a half hour later when the Vaxxar’s red-alert sirens jolted him back into reality.
He almost collided with Sass in the corridor just as his com badge trilled, demanding his attention. He managed to slap at it with one hand and grab Sass’ elbow with the other.
“We’re right here,” he barked as he guided her forcefully through the double sliding doors that led to the upper-level of the bridge.
The two-tiered, U-shaped command center of the huntership was already frenzied with activity. Voices were terse, commands clipped. Every screen streamed with data.
Sass immediately bolted down the short flight of stairs to the scanner station to check incoming data. Kel-Paten slid into the left command seat and, with a practiced familiarity, thumbed open a small panel covering the dataport in the armrest and linked into the ship’s systems through the interface feeds built into his wrist. There were the microseconds of disorientation as there always was when he spiked in. The last thing his human vision focused on before his mind merged completely with the Vax’s cybermechanisms was Sass’ nicely rounded bottom, clad in fitted pale pink sweat pants as she leaned over the main scanner console below him...