Description: Kali tries to help Adrian by appealing to the Admiral. Another confrontation between the Admiral and Adrian.
Kali raced towards the executive meeting rooms, her heart beating in her chest like a stuttering engine. Adrian's agony was like a whip, spurring her on. Faster. Faster. The corridors passed in a dizzying blur. She wasn't aware of anyone else, only the walls caving in and the pain she wished was hers.
The Admiral had a meeting to discuss the Verindi negotiations and she was to attend, but nothing mattered now except to stop what was happening to Adrian.
"Admiral!" she spotted him about to enter the room. Her steps slowed to a dignified walk as the other officers looked at her with disapproval before entering. Verel waited just outside the door.
"Ensign. You appear eager."
"Sir, can I talk to you in private?"
His eyes narrowed with displeasure and the force of his personality hit her like a tidal wave. "We have a meeting."
"I know, sir. I'm sorry, but…"
"This had better not be about Stannis," his voice rumbled with warning.
"Yes, sir. It is."
"Then I don’t want to hear it. I've already warned you." His voice was as hard as his eyes. No one disobeyed him on this ship without suffering the consequences, least of all an Ensign.
Kali took a deep, shaky breath as part of Adrian's pain continued to flood over the walls of her mind. "I know you're hurting him."
"His PA told you."
She shook her head. "I…can feel him."
Kali knew the moment she said it, that it was a mistake. This was the wrong time and the wrong place. He wouldn't appreciate an emotional woman when he expected her to be a professional officer. It undermined everything she accomplished the other day.
But she couldn't take the words back; she would have to find a way to fix it. Kali searched his face for any hint of something she could use as he peered closely at her.
Her cheeks were pale and tension wrinkled the corners of her eyes.
The Admiral said with a mixture of interest and faint disapproval, "Your psi abilities?"
"You're of no use to me if you can't get past your personal difficulties, Ensign."
Experiencing someone else's pain is a personal difficulty? She couldn't afford to be angry now; she had to match his calm professionalism with her own. To draw people in, sometimes you had to give them a reflection of themselves.
She pulled her shoulders back a bit more and looked him squarely in the eyes. Her voice became hard, objective, competent, and unemotional, the perfect Ensign. "You don't need to worry about me, sir. I forgot myself for a moment. It will not happen again."
"I hope not."
"I…" Her mind was working quickly, trying to give the Admiral something of value. "You can see that I am aware of people from a distance. It doesn't have to be in the same room. That may work to your advantage with the Verindi. I have some ideas if you're interested, sir."
"Good." He studied her face. "You have no personal considerations about what is happening to Stannis?"
Kali hesitated. "We both know I would be lying if I said no. The Lieutenant is the main reason why you have me here."
"Then we understand each other."
He took a step closer to the door, but not enough to trip the automated sensors. He said without turning around, "If you show proficiency with the Verindi material and your ideas are productive ones, the meeting may end sooner." The Admiral entered the room without another word, leaving her to stare at his back.
He seemed to be hinting at something. She stepped inside, determined to show her competence and hoping she could help end Adrian's ordeal sooner.
Somewhere inside Adrian’s barely functioning brain, he identified the source of his problems was his head. He began banging it against floor. Each collision with the the cold, unyielding surface, rocked the relentless agony in his head, just for a split second. The First Officer quickly lifted him up and held him fast in his arms. Like a wild animal caught, Adrian struggled to free himself but the First Officer was an immovable object holding him.
Adrian continued to battle. He was no longer a man; he was a wounded animal, whimpering and crying out until he had no more energy and his chest heaved in sobbing gasps.
“Hold on, Lieutenant.” Chell's voice was gentle, his eyes wincing. He hated having to do this, but the Admiral said it was necessary. Fleet Command had deemed it crucial to bring this man under control.
Sometimes, he wondered if there weren't a better way of motivating people, but who was he to decide?
The officers filed out with a friendly nod in Kali's direction. The meeting was over in almost half the time.
"You did well," said Admiral Verel. The monitor blacked out as he turned off his computer. "They were all impressed with your suggestions and grasp of the essentials regarding the Verindi."
"The briefing material was very thorough, sir."
He smiled, a relaxed curling of the lips that wasn't enough to show his teeth. "But those are just facts. It takes intelligence to understand what it means and talent to find the right solutions."
"I tried my best, sir." She was still the proper Ensign, standing ramrod straight, as if she was on parade.
"You can relax, Tranton. You're making my back stiff just looking at you and its stiff enough already."
"It's sore, sir?"
"Nothing to concern yourself about." He placed both hands on the table and stood up slowly, an old warrior who felt out of place when not in the heat of battle. "Do well with the Verindi and I may promote you to a negotiator role."
"Yes, it means a promotion, Ensign."
Despite his easy manner, she could feel his acute attention as they talked. She had to stay objective and not push it. "I don't know what to say, sir."
"Isn't there something you want to bring up?"
Her words were careful, her manner respectful. "Not unless you want to, sir."
His head nodded, as if he had confirmed something. "Wait in your cabin."
The First Officer continued holding Adrian to stopping him from hitting his head on the floor. He rocked him and tried to give him encouragement. "Hang on. Don't give up."
Adrian cried out in agony again, his body twisted and his face contorted in an inhuman expression. The pain seemed to come in waves. Hard and soft. Chell knew it was to make it more effective. People built up a limited tolerance if it stayed at one level too long.
Chell's arms were wet from the sweat-soaked tunic, making his hold slippery, but it didn’t matter. He was not going to let him go until it was over.
Adrian stopped in mid-scream, a choking, startled sound that became a soft moan. His body went limp and his breathing came in staggered gasps.
This was odd. The pain just stopped? Chell’s eyes widened. He quickly laid Adrian back on the ground just as Admiral Verel swept back into the room.
“You were right, sir. He tried to hurt himself.”
"That was to be expected." He knelt down on one knee and lifted Adrian's lids. The man's eyes were unfocused; he was in shock. "It'll take him a few minutes to come back." He winced as he stood up, and cursed his aging knees.
His First Officer watched this with concern. The Old Man rarely showed weakness and he knew how stubborn he was about certain things, just as stubborn as the Lieutenant was. "You're still avoiding the replacement, sir?"
"Don't you start." Verel walked around tentatively, wary of the tinge of pain in his uncooperative joints. "I like all my original parts."
Adrian moaned and his eyelids fluttered.
“Lieutenant,” said Verel. “Look at me.”
Adrian looked up at the ceiling, trying to focus, as if he didn’t know what to look at. Slowly the eyes settled on the Admiral. Verel pulled back a little in shock. The look in Adrian's eyes chilled him to the bone. There was a difference between a wilful unemotional man, and one who buried himself so deeply inside that he was little more than an empty shell.
Had they already broken him so completely, that he was useless?
“Stannis. Name, rank and Empire id,” he commanded.
For a few seconds, the lips moved but there was no sound. When Adrian finally found his voice, it was raspy and barely audible. “Stannis, Adrian. Lieutenant. Id Triple A. 362 549 318 002.”
Chell was surprised. “He’s a triple A?”
“Yes.” Verel nodded. “He rates even higher than I do.”
“No wonder they want him this badly.”
“Even genetically, he’s worth a great deal.”
“Don’t forget to obtain a good price.” The tone was dead but it was soaked in hoarse cynicism.
Chell and the Admiral looked down in astonishment. Adrian’s eyes were focused and they contained a familiar, and comforting, coldness.
“Welcome back, Lieutenant,” said Verel.
“Are you done?” He sounded bored and irritated at having been forced to waste his time.
“Then I have work to do.” He raised his head and fell back as exhaustion robbed him of energy.
“Not today,” said Verel.
“Is that an order?”
“I don’t think it needs to be one, do you?”
His jaw tensed and he looked away. “No.”
"Are you going to be more cooperative?"
Adrian's dead eyes still did not meet his. "I will finish the project."
The Admiral bent towards him like a tall cloud descending. "That was not the question, Lieutenant."
"I am never in a mood for word games."
Adrian finally turned his head to look at him. Their eyes fixed on each other in challenge.
"I…" The words of appeasement, the ones that would deliver him from pain, warred with Adrian's rebellious soul. Anger gave life to his eyes. "…will…not…"
"Be careful, Lieutenant." The edge in the Admiral's voice was sharp, like a knife with jagged edges.
The First Officer suddenly bent down and placed a firm hand on Adrian's shoulder. Adrian flinched and a shudder passed through his body. "Lieutenant, don't do this. Don't force the Admiral's hand."
"What are you doing, Chell?" demanded Verel.
There was no apology in the First Officer's eyes, only concern. His words came out like a flood. "I'm trying to help, sir. This is killing both of you. You don't want to do this anymore than I do. We're both soldiers. Born for killing the enemy, not hurting our own people."
Verel raised his hands to stop him but Chell forged ahead like a storm that needed to run its course. "I don't care what those bastards in Security Section say. I know you, sir. You've never liked using Discipline."
Chell knew his Admiral, they'd served together for half their lifetimes. He was the only one who would dare say this, though he wasn't sure what the result would be.
The hour of agony had not only been for Adrian.
"And what they're asking you to do to Stannis…you've never had to break anyone before. Not like this. Your knees hurt and your back. They haven't bothered you in a long time, not until after you received the orders about him. Am I wrong, sir?"
A stab of pain punctuated the Admiral's left knee. He hissed and exhaled tiredly, feeling every one of his many years. They were not just Admiral and First Officer. Over the years, they had become friends. "It doesn't make any difference, Chell. You know that. It can't. We have to do our duty."
Adrian had been listening and weighing the words. "What charade is this?"
"And you!" The First Officer said with a shake of his head, "You're too stubborn to even pretend to cooperate in order to save your own life."
The unexpected explosion … of sentiment, punched through the barriers and hit Adrian like a torpedo.
The Admiral and Adrian stared at the First Officer as if he were an alien creature who had suddenly sprouted wings.