THE GREATEST MOMENT OF HIS LIFE passed by in a blur of pain, the experience washed thin by anguish.
Quentin had faked his way through the locker-room celebration. He'd forced a smile when people congratulated him, pushed down his despair long enough to tell every player how he or she had contributed to the championship. John and Ju ran interference for him, gently guiding away the over-stimulated Sklorno - who wanted to jump and scream with their godling - or any players that had drunk too much champagne and were looking to sing songs and celebrate with their Galaxy Bowl XXVII MVP quarterback.
Other than the handful of players and staff who already knew, Quentin wasn't telling anyone that his sister, Jeanine, and his friend Fred, were lost in the Portath Cloud: a place from which ships did not return.
The Krakens had seized the greatest prize in all of sports: the GFL championship. That put them in the history books, granted a form of immortality: Quentin and his teammates would be remembered.
And he couldn't enjoy any of it.
He'd received the bad news right after the on-field awards ceremony. Messal the Efficient had pulled Quentin aside, taken him to Doc Patah's training room. There, Messal had played a holo of Fred saying the Hypatia was under attack and that the only chance for survival was plunging into the Portath Cloud. Quentin could do nothing other than watch helplessly - the holo was already several days old before it arrived from halfway across the galaxy.
He had made his decision to go after them. Many of his teammates had decided to come along. One teammate in particular - Cormorant Bumberpuff - had promised to acquire a ship that could take Quentin and his friends to the Cloud. Getting that ship would take time; for now, all Quentin could do was wait.
And, while waiting, he had obligations to fulfill.
He blinked, returning to the moment. The post-Galaxy Bowl press conference. Seated at a table lined with a blue drape decorated with GFL logos. Messal the Efficient, on his right, standing on a step stool that let him look out over a podium engraved with the Galaxy Bowl XXVII logo, choosing whose questions would be answered. And to Messal's right, mostly blocked by the Worker and the podium, the owner of the Ionath Krakens - Gredok the Splithead.
From beyond the bulletproof crysteel wall that separated Quentin from the press, the multi-headed monster called out to him, screaming his name over and over, each head vying for attention, demanding he answer yet another useless, utterly obvious question. He stared out at the reporters, his eyes narrowed against the glare of camera spotlights. A dozen species represented, perhaps a hundred faces in that crowd, all packed into a space built for maybe fifty sentients, all hanging on Quentin's every word.
Messal pointed to a fluttering Creterakian dressed in a white bodysuit lined with repeating pictures of bananas that peeled, then zipped themselves back up, then peeled again.
"Kinizzle," Messal said. "Go ahead."
The multi-headed monster quieted, a cluster of carnivorous worms sitting still for a moment before they would once again stretch their heads up looking for prey.
"Kinizzle, Creterakian Information Service," the winged reporter said. "Quentin, do you think the Krakens will be able to repeat next year?"
Quentin stared. He shook his head in disbelief. He started to answer, to let his rage do the talking, but he controlled that natural reaction.
"We've been champions all of four hours. Could you at least wait until we shower before asking us about next season?"
The multi-headed monster laughed. They thought he was joking, that he was being charming. Let them think that.
Messal pointed t