I've been writing another story series, not B7. It is a bit like an AU in that I've taken the dystopian world setting plus 'borrowed' a couple of characters but have changed them. I will also be using some of my OCs from the other story and slotting them in here but in different ways.
Why does time seem so slow when you're waiting for something to happen? Was it simply a trick of the mind or was there a dimension you entered, a special mocking place, where time expanded just to drive you crazy?
Ensign Kali Franton drummed impatient fingers along the rounded edge of her control panel. The solitude of the bridge was eerie during the night shift. The slight energy-hum of various ships’ systems, normally ignored, were magnified in the absence of other noises, and gave the room a cavernous, echoing feel.
At the edge of her consciousness, she could 'hear' other echoes, the musical thrum of life around her, producing a flowing and ebbing tide of melody.
Kali was a humanoid alien from Tellar in Sector 5. She was human enough in all the right places, with only a few minor, internal differences, hardly noticeable unless you were into dissecting bodies or were in the medical profession. With her jet-black hair - cut regulation short for females - sharp grey eyes, thin, athletic build and black officer's uniform, she seemed like any other Terran woman onboard.
Where was Adrian? They'd arranged to have this shift together - or rather, she did, and he didn't object - but his tactical station was conspicuously empty. Science Officer Adrian Stannis was never late.
Something had to be wrong. She closed her eyes, placing her fingers to her temple, trying to reach out with her Tellaran psi senses. Whispers of emotions from the rest of the crew licked against her mind like gentle waves, but there was no familiar touch of Adrian's mind. She pushed out further, stretching her abilities, feeling the strain in her mind like a band pulled to its limit and about to snap.
The limitations of her psi abilities with humans had never been more aggravating. She couldn't read their minds, for which she was eternally grateful after some of the things she'd witnessed, but sometimes it could be useful…like now.
Was Adrian blocking her? Where was he? If he didn't check into his station soon, his lapse would be logged in for review by the first officer. Then Adrian would be in real trouble.
Deep space exploration/science vessels like the C.S.S. Sedener tended to be laxer in discipline than the Confederation's military ships, but even here, not showing up was not an option, unless you were on your deathbed or captured by the enemy.
Kali found Terran culture very cutthroat, unlike her own Tellaran world. There had been great controversy about joining the Confederate Empire, but a small neutral planet found it rough going during these troubled times.
If Adrian put himself on the radar of the first officer, Kali shuddered to think what might happen.
Sub-Commander Barker, the First, as he liked to call himself - though the crew had far more colourful names for him when he was out of earshot - didn't like Adrian. He had a real hatred of anyone who was smarter than he was, and Adrian didn't bother to hide his intelligence.
Unfortunately, Barker was the Empire's eyes and ears on the ship. Anyone who stepped out of line, or committed any of the thousands of infractions deemed harmful to the security of the Empire, was subject to a sliding scale of disciplinary measures, from a stiff reprimand, up to physical punishment for the lower ranks, or psychological adjustments for the officers.
Barker and his people loved their work, moreso because they were a sadistic lot, Kali suspected, than for an actual love of the Empire. On the Sedener, there was little scope for their ‘talents’. Infractions tended to be minor. The only one immune to their attentions was the Captain, but even he was wary of attracting Barker's suspicions.
Adrian had not felt the "wrath of Barker" yet. His mind was far too valuable to risk the "retraining" methods employed for officers. Not to mention he was a First in the Privilege Levels, born one and tested as one. Unless there was a gross breach of discipline, Adrian could not be touched.
Should she use her psi abilities to contact him? The use of her talents made Adrian nervous - it seemed like an invasion of privacy when she used them on him - so she refrained from projecting her voice into his mind without his permission.
His agitation today was like an itch that needed to be scratched. She had hoped to use the quiet time of the night shift to slowly tease out the reason from him.
Kali closed her eyes, concentrating harder, pressing indentations into her temple. Projecting to someone when she didn't know where they were was much harder.
"Kali!" shouted Bryce -- their ship's weapons specialist and one-time thief and conman, who was serving a fifteen year stint in the military in order to avoid a sentence to a penal colony -- as he raced in, his shock of burnt-orange hair, just a little too long, waved like flames on top of his head. He came to a wheezing and panting stop as his out-of-shape lungs protested this increased demand for oxygen.
Kali opened her eyes and turned towards him. Bryce always seemed to overreact to everything and he considered sharing as one of his primary missions in life. She found it amusing at first, but it could be irritating if she was trying to do something important.
"I'm trying to find Adrian." She tapped the side of her head in emphasis. "Trying to contact him. He didn't show up for his shift."
Bryce, wearing the grey jumpsuit of the lower ranks, said excitedly, "That's why I'm here. Thought you should know."
Kali's heart quickened in apprehension. She said in a rush, "What's wrong? Where is he?"
"He's in the brig."
"What?" Kali asked in shock. As far as she knew, Adrian had never been in the brig before. "What happened?"
"Beats me." Bryce shrugged unhelpfully. "Just saw two of those big bullyboys dragging him off and shoving him in one of the holding cells." The big bullyboys, Bryce's irreverent name for the security staff under Barker, were nasty 'discipline' specialists. No one liked them, which was just as well because they didn't like anyone. Adrian might be a loner who was wary of people, but next to him, these men didn’t seem human.
She asked in a stuttering voice, "D-did they do anything to him?"
"Didn’t see any bruises if that's what you're asking for," said Bryce. "'Sides, he's a Firster and an officer; they wouldn't dare lay a finger on him."
Bryce didn't like Firsters, the stuck up cream of the Empire. They were supposed to be genetically superior to the rest of them and that meant they got the best of everything. They were supposed to be smarter, stronger, faster…all of the good stuff that made human beings the dominant species in this galaxy. Not that that meant much these days with the Andromedans nearly succeeding in taking them over, and still trying to if it weren't for the Empire's iron and bloody fist.
Fleet Command, who some said were the real power in the Empire, was run by Firsters. A bunch of cold-blooded bastards the lot of them. Just like Adrian. Bryce himself was a lowly Level Four on the food chain.
Kali's lips thinned. She wasn’t so sure that Adrian wouldn't be hurt. The security staff might not dare, but the First Officer was a different matter. "Was Barker there?"
"Oh, you mean old grom…I mean, our esteemed First Officer?"
"One of these days," warned Kali, "They'll throw you in a punishment cell."
"What do you mean, one of these days? I was there two weeks ago." He shivered involuntarily, remembering the cramped cell, the pain sticks and the ghoulish faces of the Security men. There was no way he was ending up there again, not if he could bribe, cheat or steal his way out.
"I thought you said you were on leave?"
"Yeah, well…" Bryce's light green eyes lowered in embarrassment. "I was supposed to be. I sort of…started early."
"You didn't?" she said incredulously.
He shrugged. "I didn't think anyone'd notice."
Kali's grey eyes darken slightly. Their weapons specialist had a reputation, and following the rules wasn't one of them. "You've done this before, haven't you?"
"Well, if you must know, yeah. I've never been caught though. And what's a few extra hours early? It's not like we're doing anything important. I haven't had anything to shoot in ages."
"I hope you've learned your lesson."
"Oh, was I supposed to learn something?" asked Bryce, a facetious smile on his lips. She sounded like every woman who'd ever tried to mother him.
"You're not the problem now."
"Yeah, good old Adrian. I knew he was all right when Barker didn't like him."
"We've got to help him," said Kali.
"Why? It's not like we're friends." In Bryce's experience, all relationships were barter ones where no one did anything unless you were guaranteed to receive some benefit in return.
"Bryce, he's only got us."
Bryce grimaced at the tone in her voice. He was always a sucker for a damsel in distress. Probably because he'd watched too many 'vids, the slop fed to the lower levellers to keep them entertained and out of trouble. "What d'you want me to do?"
"I'm stuck here until my shift ends."
"Oh. You want me to do some digging 'round?" There was a conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes.
"You're good at that."
"I'm not sure that's a compliment," said Bryce wryly, and rolled his eyes. His reputation preceded him everywhere and made it much harder to charm the ladies.
"It is this time."
Adrian sat stiffly at the edge of the hard metal sleep platform; his back ramrod straight and his hands resting lightly on his knees. The cell was square, grey, cold, and devoid of anything resembling imagination.
His liquid hazel eyes were dark and brooding, his dark brown hair cut regulation short, and his features though handsome were severe to the point of grim.
"Psst." A voice called to him from the doorway.
Adrian's lips curled in a frown as he reluctantly went over. "Bryce. What are you doing?"
"Trying to be quiet." The weapons specialist poked his orange-topped head from the side of the energy-shielded doorway.
"Why? There isn't anyone here."
"Oh. Yeah." More of him came into view. He peered past Adrian. "Comfy in there?"
"Did you come to annoy me or did you have a real reason?" asked Adrian coldly. He never had much time for Bryce's nonsense.
The weapons specialist grinned. "Kali sent me."
Adrian's normally hard, impassive face softened briefly - at least Bryce could almost swear it had - before the cold mask slipped into place again. "Tell her not to worry."
"That's a hard one to sell. Look where you are." Bryce rested his hand on either side of the doorway, craning his neck to see. This was much nicer than the cell he had when he was placed in the brig. In fact, it was larger than his normal bunk space. Damned Firsters. They even suffer in comfort. "She wants to know what happened."
Adrian gave him one of his classic stares - Bryce imagined the billions of wheels turning in his head - before saying, "I will tell her later."
"You're going to let her spend her whole shift worrying?" Bryce pointed out.
Adrian stared at him again. Bryce really wished he would stop staring, it was very unnerving. Bryce asked, "Well?"
Adrian's eyes focused on a spot just past Bryce's head, almost as if he were trying to see through the walls to where Kali was, except it was in the wrong direction. "I've been told to report to the C.S.S. Trykor when we reach Base 337."
Bryce's eyes widened and his mouth opened in a big O. “Wow!”
Adrian said flatly, “That wasn’t my reaction.”
"But the Trykor! That’s Admiral Verel’s ship. Fleet Admiral Verel.”
"I know who he is,” said Adrian in a measured voice that gave nothing away.
"Your career is set if you’re assigned to his ship. I hear they serve real food there. Not the reconstituted junk we get.” He stared at the other man as if he was an escaped mental patient who was only missing the body-hugging restraints.
Adrian’s voice rose a tad, anger punctuating every word, “Then you go.”
"Well, I’m not the genius, am I? Just a lowly weapons specialist. Press the buttons and things go boom. Not much to it really. But you, I’m surprised they didn’t snatch you up sooner.”
Adrian turned away and began pacing his cell. He stopped suddenly and said, “Tell Kali not to worry.”
"She’s not going to believe that, you know. But I’ll tell her,” said Bryce. “And I’ll tell her you’ve lost your mind.” He raced off before Adrian could object or glare at him.
After Bryce relayed what Adrian said, Kali’s lips pursed in thought. “Did he say why he’s refusing?”
“You know him. Likes to keep everything to himself. He probably wouldn’t even tell himself if he could.”
“You’re exaggerating,” said Kali.
Kali’s fingers tapped her console. Why would Adrian refuse assignment to the best ship in the fleet? Did he know the Admiral? Was there a personal conflict? Knowing Adrian, that wouldn’t be out of the question. “Did you find out what they’re going to do with him?” she asked Bryce.
“Nothing good,” said Bryce. “You know the ‘Fed. You go where you’re sent or you go where you’re sent, or else.”
“So you don’t really know.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t about to ask, was I?”
Sighing worriedly, she hesitated a moment as she contemplated Bryce’s face.
Bryce held up his hand in a defensive gesture, “Now wait just a minute, I’m not about to stick my neck out again.”
“You won’t be. I only need you to get an answer from him. You don’t even have to say anything.” She touched her temple, “I will.”
“I don’t know...” His face scrunched up as if he’d eaten something extremely sour.
“You can wait until no one’s around. That should be safe enough.”
Bryce rolled his eyes. “Why do I do this to myself?”
“Because you’re a good man.”
“Yeah, well, don’t let it get around. I have a reputation, you know.”
Kali regarded him with amusement and shook her head slightly. “You and Adrian aren’t too different from each other.”
“I resent that,” said Bryce.
“Both of you want people to see you worse than you are.”
“Me, maybe.” Bryce grinned.
“You should give Adrian more of a chance.”
“He doesn’t give anyone else one.”
“Adrian’s very fair. He treats people the way they treat him.”
Bryce shook his head wryly, “You’ve got it bad for him, don’t you?”
Kali bristled. “That has nothing to do with it.”
“Yeah, yeah - and pigs can fly.”
“Adrian’s right, you can be very irritating,” she said with a scowl. “Are you going to do it?”
“I’m a good man, aren’t I?” His chest puffed out in exaggerated pride but there was an impish smile on his face.
“I’m beginning to reconsider that opinion,” said Kali with an exaggerated displeased frown.
Bryce chuckled. “I’ll go.”
Adrian continued pacing his cell after Bryce left. He knew something was going to happen now that Kali knew where he was. Not to mention, Bryce was an incessant gossip and busybody.
It didn’t take Kali long to project to him, Adrian.
His steps slowed.
She said into his mind, Can you tell me why you’re refusing the new assignment? You know you won’t have a choice and Barker is only waiting for a chance to make your life miserable.
Adrian sniffed and sat down on the hard platform. He knew very well what Barker wanted to do to him. Apart from the Captain, he was the only officer onboard who hadn’t been sent for retraining yet.
The tyrannical first officer wasn’t stupid enough to risk endangering the mind of someone who had been deemed a valuable resource to the Empire. Not to mention Adrian had been born into Firster privileges and had tested as a First Level.
Adrian directed annoyed eyes to the door. Sure enough, Bryce was back. Before the weapons specialist could open his mouth, Adrian repeated, “Tell her not to worry.”
Bryce gave an exaggerated grimace and complained, “You know if I tell her that, she’s just going to send me right back. Maybe I’ll make up something.”
Adrian shot him a hard and very 'loud' glare.
Bryce swallowed and said quickly, “Or maybe not.”
As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Adrian knew the man had a point. Women liked understanding the deep emotional reasons most men would prefer to deny, and himself even more.
What answer would satisfy her? He knew Kali would say something simple, like the truth.
It wasn’t that Adrian was opposed to truth. In fact, he demanded it as a necessity in his life. It was why he preferred working with computers and machines. They were truthful in a way he knew human beings couldn't be.
But some truths touched more deeply than was comfortable for him.
He didn’t want to tell anyone why he was refusing this prestigious assignment. It had a great deal to do with why a genius of his calibre was spending his time doing research in the outskirts of the civilized worlds, far away from the privilege that his position and reputation gave him.
No one had bothered to ask, though he suspected Kali wondered. They all thought he was an eccentric loner who didn’t want to associate with people. He encouraged that image, of course. It made for far fewer irritating questions from the majority of people who, in his experience, did little thinking.
So far, Kali was the only one who had braved his prickly exterior to dig deeper. She had the advantage of her Tellaran psi abilities, but he suspected she would have even without them. There was something about her. Adrian mentally shook himself out of what could become pleasantly diverting thoughts.
Bryce looked nervously down both ends of the corridor. “Can you hurry it up? I don’t want to get caught here.”
“Then leave,” snapped Adrian.
“See if I don’t.” Bryce’s voice rose in indignation. “But I’m not doing it for you.”
“I never asked you to.”
“D’you have an answer or not?” asked Bryce in a huff.
“Tell her.” Adrian hesitated as he considered his words carefully. “Tell her it’s a military vessel.”
“I’m pretty sure she knows that. Everyone knows that. It’s the Admiral’s flag ship.”
“That’s my answer,” said Adrian.
Bryce was finding this thirsty work. What he wouldn't give for a good, cold ale in a frosted glass. He grumbled, “Would it kill you to say a few more words?”
It was Bryce’s turn to stare at him, uncertain if Adrian was kidding. The man had the poker face to beat all poker faces and revealed nothing. Bryce said with ill humour, “I’ll tell her. But don’t be surprised if she sends me right back.”
Just as Bryce turned to leave, Adrian said, “Tell her, I’m not ready to explain.”
“Yeah, what else is new,” said Bryce. “You sure know how to break a girl’s heart.”
“I...” Adrian stopped himself in time from saying something more personal.
Bryce turned around with a startled look. “You feel alright?”
The blank, expressionless look was back. “I’m fine.”
There was an awkward moment of silence. Adrian was as blank as a statue most times, except for his eyes. Those were deep and alive with expression, as they were now. Bryce said, “I’ll just tell her what you said.” He headed off.
The weapons specialist turned to face him again. “Yeah?”
Adrian stared at him a long few seconds, as if he wasn’t quite sure why he had called him back. “Thank you.”
Bryce’s mouth dropped open. “It’s...well...nothing to it.”
After passing on Adrian's highly uninformative message, Bryce sighed resignedly and asked, “D’you want me to go back? Ask him what it means?”
Kali’s eyes were troubled. “No. It’s all right.”
Adrian was telling her it was not a personal conflict with someone onboard the Trykor. It had something to do with it being a military ship.
“You know what it means?” asked Bryce in mystification.
“I'm not sure, but I can guess.”
Kali wondered if it had anything to do with why Adrian was on the Sedener in the first place. She'd always wondered what someone of his calibre was doing here. He would have had far greater privileges, money, and position serving anywhere else in the Empire.
Had he offended someone? Had he deliberately chosen this middle-of-nowhere posting? How had he been able to avoid notice? The Empire tended to snap up its valuable resources quickly - although, it seemed that his time of relative anonymity was over now, and not in a good way. She had to find a way to help him and discover what was going on before it was too late.