The battle was short, and it wasn’t long before Skylar landed his borrowed Wyvern, taxiing it neatly out of the way of the ship behind him. Lissanne was waiting for him as he climbed out of the ship. She bounced from one foot to the other, a worried frown on her face.
"Commander wants to see us both. Immediately."
He looked at her tightly drawn lips, the controlled manner of her stance, the shuttered expression in her eyes. She didn't seem to want to talk. So be it. He wouldn’t force her to.
He followed her out of the landing bay and down a corridor to the elevator. She punched the button for the correct level and the doors slid shut, the lift quickly taking them to their fate.
As they arrived outside the Commander's quarters, Skylar smoothed his rumpled shirt tucking it in better where the exertions of the day had loosened it.
Lissanne did the same to her uniform jacket and tunic, tucking her hair behind her ears, then took a deep breath before turning back to the door.
If she was this nervous about being called to the Commander’s office, he wondered how strict on protocol her commander was. Lissanne reached out and pressed the door chime to signal their presence and the door slid open.
Skylar smiled and gestured for Lissanne to precede him into the room. She gave him a sarcastic smile as she complied.
The Commander sat behind his desk, his deep blue uniform crisp and neat. Skylar was surprised at his young age; he looked no older than many of the Cavaliers on board.
He was pretending to read some kind of printout as they walked in and did not acknowledge their presence. Skylar recognized the intimidation tactic immediately. He'd used it often enough on cadets. As he had not been invited to sit down, he remained standing, consciously using a relaxed, casual posture, instead of looking nervous and jumpy the way the cadets usually did.
He took the opportunity to examine the room. The Commander's office was strictly standard issue, decorated in the usual blue and silver, but without a single personal item visible. Jenna and Glen sat on a couch near the door.
Jenna was smiling broadly, her joy at once again being on a Dragonstar so great she could not conceal it. She was back in uniform—apparently obtained while she was being treated in the infirmary—and no longer appeared frail; indeed, she looked every inch the Cavalier.
Glen’s face wore a mixture of amazement and worry. Skylar gave a small smile, imagining the type of thoughts which must be chasing themselves around in his head.
"Something amuses you, Captain?" the Commander asked.
Skylar returned his attention to the man behind the desk. "Just the look on Glen's face, Sir. With your permission, I'd like to borrow a shuttle to return him to his home."
"I was quite disappointed that you didn't come to see me right away," the Commander said, his light blue eyes coldly stabbing a glare at Skylar. "Could it be Timorans don't practice common courtesy, or do they simply not understand proper protocol?"
Skylar couldn’t believe someone this rude and petty had been allowed command of a ship where he would have to coordinate the personalities of several hundred people. The insult stung, though he probably deserved some rebuke. He carefully reined in his temper and deliberately kept his face and body under rigid control, not allowing his facial expression or casual posture to change in the slightest degree.
"Timorans generally follow both protocol and courtesy, Commander. Normally I would have enjoyed meeting you and observing all the social niceties, Sir, but I was responding to the red-alert. I felt it was my duty to help fight the Klodfon ships that followed me here."
The commander gave a brief, frozen smile, his eyes like chips of ice. "Next time, it might behoove you to see me first, regardless of what is going on around you. We have well-trained Cavaliers perfectly capable of fending off a few Klodfon ships."
Skylar's temper flared, but his training stood him in good stead. He kept his voice calm. "Yes, Sir. Next time, I'll come disturb you on the bridge in the middle of a battle so you can see I understand how to conduct myself and perform all the finer points of social niceties."
The commander seemed to relax a little. “I'm Commander Tyson. Welcome to the Charys, Captain Skylar.”
"Lt. Jenna and her friend have told me a great deal about a Klodfon base on Sol Three."
Skylar answered. "There's a base there. It's a full-sized garrison, but not fully staffed. Much of the base is not in use." Not wanting to earn another lecture, he kept his voice low, polite, and formal.
"Lt. Jenna indicated as much. I've reported her observations to representatives of the Council on Terradia and requested instructions." He once again looked at the printout on the desk in front of him. Skylar wondered anew at his choice of actions...they were directly out of the textbook, every last one of them. Was this boy so green at command that he was substituting formality and protocol for the experience he didn’t have? He continued to watch him closely.
The young commander looked up, his gaze still cold. "You're welcome to enjoy the hospitality of the Charys until I receive my orders concerning you from the Council." His gaze was sharp as he looked at Skylar. "You may not borrow any craft for any function, no matter how reasonable the purpose may seem to you. I hope I make myself clear, Captain."
Skylar put his hands behind his back as much to appear calm as to control his desire to wrap them around the Commander's throat. "Yes, Sir. Perfectly clear, Sir. May I inquire as to your plans for returning this civilian to his home?"
"No, you may not. That will be decided later. In the meantime, as you brought him aboard, he's your responsibility. See that he stays out of trouble."
Skylar gave a tight nod "Yes, Sir."
Commander Tyson returned to his computer printout and, waved his hand to generally include all in the room. "Dismissed."
Skylar spun on his heel and, beckoning to Glen to follow, stalked out of the room. He wished the door was not the automatic sliding type; it would have felt good to slam it loudly behind him.
Glen moved quickly and followed Skylar into the hallway, Jenna and Lissanne close behind. Skylar was halfway down the corridor to the elevator before the three gained the hall.
"Skylar," Jenna called, "wait up!"
He paused at the controls and punched the button to summon the elevator. The door opened immediately, but Skylar held it until the other three had joined him. They stepped in and the door closed behind them.
"Officer's mess,” he said. "What level?"
"Gamma deck,” Lissanne answered, “but you can't take Glen there, he's a civilian. How about the Rec Hall? It's on Beta."
"Fine." Skylar punched the correct button and the elevator was on its way. Turning to Lissanne, he asked, "Is he always that arrogant, or was that little show just for my benefit?"
Lissanne colored in embarrassment. "No one much likes his arrogance, but he hasn’t always been that way. He was given command just two years ago. I'd never actually served with him before, but I knew him at the Academy. He was pretty formal even then, but nice.
“His grandfather died suddenly and Tyson was called from the academy to take command. I think choosing Tyson for commander is the only bad judgment call the old man ever made."
“You have inherited command?” Glen asked.
“Not usually,” Jenna answered, “but it is Terradian custom that a retiring Commander chooses his replacement.”
"It's a wonder you haven't mutinied yet." Skylar's voice softened as knowledge and reason replaced his anger.
Lissanne’s eyes flashed. "'Yet' being the operative word. Several of us have put in for transfers. I just hope mine comes through before the actual mutiny does."
"You've asked for a transfer?" Skylar asked.
"Yes, to the Aubria. Ensign Hekekia has been telling us how wonderful Commander Mykela is and how he wishes he never left."
Skylar's voice was now filled with interest. "Hekekia's here? How's he doing? I'd like to talk with him. I wonder how well he’s dealing with your commander." He shook his head.
“Tyson’s not so bad,” Jenna chimed in, “I know the arrogance is new, but he’s always been too formal. We shared a first-contact mission to Kiral, once, and he really does very well once you get him to relax.”
Lissanne shook her head. “I can’t imagine him on a first-contact mission. And Kiral! That place is so military…actually, come to think about it, he’d probably fit in very well there.”
Glen spoke. “We had an officer of about the same stamp in our military. We figured out a way to slip into his quarters and not only short-sheet his bed, we put Novocain in his toothpaste and tipped anchovies into his underwear drawer. He looked funny talking for about three hours each morning for a few days. He smelled bad for about a week even though he’d take all his wash down to the laundry every day for that week. Took some of the starch out of him, though.”
Skylar laughed; the girls looked shocked. “Did he find out who had done it?” Jenna asked, eyes wide.
“Nope.” Glen grinned even bigger. “I’d forgotten that until now. Ah, the follies of a misspent youth!” A chuckle skittered between his teeth, answered by all as the elevator stopped at their level and they stepped out.
"I'll see if I can find Hekekia for you. Rec Hall’s right over there." Lissanne pointed down the hallway to the left.
Skylar, Glen and Jenna followed her instructions and Lissanne hurried off in the opposite direction in search of Ensign Hekekia.