Warning for torture in the last scene.
To reassure those who expressed concern, I am actively working on the next story, Tingash, though I am still on the planning stages for some of the details. Those who wish to take a more active part, feel free to add suggestions. You have jaxomsride to thank for the overall idea of the Tingash story.
For those who were interested, here are the next chapters of the Adrian and Kali: The Confederation Empire story. This tale is somewhat different. Even though I have adapted several B7 characters, they are different and this is not fanfic. This was originally an exercise in improving writing style, specifically with layering details and using active voice. So this one is not quite the same as my PGP stories, though you will begin to see the improvement in style 'bleeding' into those stories.
The mess hall was a crowded, elbows-required-for-movement place at this hour. People rushed about ordering, eating and disposing of breakfast. The scrape of chairs and the busy roar of animated conversations covered any whispered words but it didn't stop Bryce's eyes from darting left and right like a nervous mouse in a cat enclosure.
He bent close, his hastily folded-up sleeve almost dipping into his steaming mug of coffee. "I'd like to help, Kali. Really I would."
Then why did I have to chase you all over the ship just to talk to you? Kali took a sip of her own coffee to maintain a semblance of normalcy. She'd finally cornered Bryce in mid-bite over breakfast. His half-eaten butter and jam smothered toast lay discarded on the plate. "We have to help him."
Bryce would have preferred having this talk in the remotest corner of the ship, or not at all. The thought of Adrian in Security Section, with the therapists, chilled him in places that no fires could ever warm.
There was no way he was going to end up there. He'd already helped enough the other day, hadn't he? He wasn't even sure why he'd done such a foolish thing but Kali was a pretty face and Adrian, the cold-hearted bastard wasn't all-bad.
No one deserved the therapists. Bryce had heard some rumours told 'below ranks'. They had something special planned for the stubborn genius. That was never a good sign. 'Special' in Security Section usually meant you would come back out in pieces, sometimes literally.
What could he, a lowly weapon's specialist, do? Better to stay out of it. Keep his head down the way he usually did. Pretend that he was blind, deaf and amazingly stupid at all the right times. "There's nothing we can do short of breaking him out and I'm NOT helping you do that."
Kali's heart fell. It felt as if he'd just shoved her out in the cold and shut the door in her face. She stared into the black murky depths of her coffee mug, wracking her brain for some way to convince Bryce to help. His help the other day had been unexpected and she had fooled herself that it might have meant something more. Obviously it didn't, at least not enough to continue sticking his neck out.
A grey-clad tech with a breakfast-laden tray, mainly meat on meat, accidentally bumped Bryce's chair from behind, causing him to yelp like a mouse whose tail had been caught in a trap. The broad-shouldered youth, Sanderson, a sanitation engineer by trade - in the Empire that meant he took out the better trash of the officers - laughed and asked sarcastically, "Caught with your hand in the wrong pocket again, Bryce?"
"Yeah, yeah, we'll see whose laughing next time I take you to the cleaners."
"You're lucky I have double-shift today," said Sanderson, juggling his tray precariously as a fellow sanitation engineer bumped him in the arm. "I'm eating in my cabin," he grumbled. "Too many people. Later, loser."
"That's rich from someone who hasn't won yet," Bryce shouted after Sanderson's retreating back.
Kali's brows knitted. "Why are you taking him to the sanitation department?"
"Eh?" Bryce stared blankly at her.
"The cleaners. You said you were taking him to the cleaners."
He eyed her suspiciously, wondering if she could be pulling his leg. "You really are alien, aren't you? Or you've led a very sheltered life."
Kali sighed and wondered if she would ever understand all the complex Earth social rituals and slang. "Another Terran custom?"
One reason why she liked Adrian was they were both outsiders. Adrian wasn't much into normal social interactions. He found them a waste of time. It made him an alien amongst his own people.
"Yeah, it means I'm going to wipe the floor with him at poker." He fluttered his fingers lightly in anticipation of drawing the winning hand.
"I…see," she said slowly, not really seeing at all but wanting to continue with their interrupted conversation. "What you said earlier, about breaking Adrian out…"
The combination weapon specialist, thief and cardsharp eyed her warily. "Don't even think it. They'll be on you faster than you can blink."
"Bryce, you know what they're doing to him."
"Yeah, well, I don't think I wanna to know. It's safer that way." He stuffed a ragged edge of toast into his mouth, biting a piece off and chewing as if it took all of his attention.
"They want to break his will. They'll do anything...." Her voice trailed off and there was a slight tremor to her lips as she thought about the last five days. It had been that long since Adrian disappeared into the abyss that was Security Section.
For her, it had been five hellish days of pain and overpowering sensations that were not her own. Her psi senses and connection to Adrian enabled her to feel a small fraction of what he was experiencing.
Periods of intense pain brought tears to her eyes. There were strange urges and sensations that were confusing but told her terrible things were being done to him.
She had to reinforce her mental shields but enough seeped through the cracks of her concentration, especially when she was thinking about him, which seemed to be constantly.
"I can't sit by," she whispered fiercely. "I have to do something. Even if you won't."
"There's nothing you can do, Kali." Bryce put a restraining hand on her forearm. "You have to face it. No one can defy the Empire or escape it. It's impossible."
"The rebels do it all the time."
"Shhh." Bryce looked around in alarm. He felt as if someone had turned on a spotlight right at them. His voice dropped lower. "Are you trying to get us killed? I knew you were crazy. I didn't know you were suicidal."
Kali withdrew her arm from his grasp. "You don't have to help."
"I wasn't planning to." He looked down at his unappetizingly cold toast and coffee. "Don't think I'm hungry anymore either." Bryce gathered his things and picked up his tray. "I like you, Kali. I don't want to see you getting hurt. It's impossible to break Adrian out of Security Section and even if you did, where would you go? There isn't anywhere on the ship you could hide him. He can't escape. He'll have to give them what they want eventually. You might as well…"
She cut him off. "Face facts? That's just like Adrian. He doesn't like doing the impossible. He considers it a waste of time. But he's fighting them now."
"Then he must have lost his mind." A dark cloud seemed to pass over Bryce's face and his eyes looked down at the food he was about to throw away. "And if he hasn't, then they'll do it for him. Don’t make the same mistake, Kali. It isn't worth it."
Kali's face was hard. "That's because you've never had anyone you cared about more than yourself."
"Ouch. I'll ignore that, even if it is true. But, Kali," he leaned forward. "Are you sure he cares about you? This is Adrian we’re talking about."
That night, Kali lay on her bunk, her sleepless eyes searching the dull grey ceiling for inspiration. Cabins for ensigns were cramped affairs, little larger than her closet back on Tellar, but at least they did have their own, unlike the lower ranks.
She rolled restlessly, trying to find a comfortable position, but it was like having an itch that couldn't be reached. The white institutional sheets scraped roughly against her skin. Was it possible to get sheet burn? She might find out tonight.
Was Bryce right? Could nothing be done?
Trying to break Adrian out while they were stuck on the ship was an insane idea. There was nowhere they could go and no place to hide him.
The unremarkable grey walls seemed to be closing in on her as she considered each option and discarded them.
She could feel Adrian continuing to struggle, but fear gripped him now and hopelessness.
He was weakening with each passing hour. Unlike her, he was not given the luxury of rest. He had been strong at the beginning but these people were cruel and had the relentless tenacity of pit bulls with their teeth sunk into the throats of their victim. They would not release him until every drop of life had been drained from his body and soul.
Kali knew Adrian’s rational mind would tell him it was a losing battle. He should not be subjecting himself to something that could be avoided.
Adrian was the most pragmatic man she knew. He fought battles he had a chance to win and he knew the value of tactical withdrawal.
Then why was he fighting the inevitable?
Was it hope? It didn't seem possible. Adrian had lost faith in that concept a long time ago.
Was he making a personal stand? This was even stranger. Adrian didn't believe in anything and he did not make pointless gestures.
Even with her psi advantage, Adrian was still as much of a mystery to her as he was to everyone else. And to her, a constant pleasant surprise.
This man who had lost faith in everyone and everything, was fighting for a reason.
Kali steeled herself as she lowered her mental shields just a little. A howl of agony washed towards her and she clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a responding cry. Her shields slammed shut, her heart pounded wildly and she was breathing heavily, like someone who had reached the moment of truth in a marathon.
I have to do something.
How could she sleep knowing what he was going through?
There might be something. She might not be able to break him out, but she might be able to help him a little.
Among her own people, there was a way to send healing vibrations to someone who was in distress. Would it work with humans? There was only one way to find out.
Kali's hands balled into tight fists and her face tensed, a fighter preparing for battle.
Have to remain strong. Stay in control. She wished she hadn't slacked off with her Tellaran mental exercises. In a ship full of humans, there hadn't seemed to be any great urgency and she'd become lazy.
She lowered the shields a smidgeon, much less than the last time. A blast of pain struck her like a fist, but this time it was manageable and she let it wash over her. Her fists tightened further, nails digging into her palms. Lungs panted with the effort and sweat beaded on her forehead.
Kali gathered her strength and all of the positive feelings she could muster and, as the Tellaran healer had taught her, launched it towards Adrian, like a life raft to a drowning man.
She lingered a little longer, hoping to sense any indication that it made a difference. Her shields clamped down quickly as she felt her concentration flagging and a scream shaped her lips. Her eyes remained closed for a few minutes as a trickle of perspiration rolled down over her nose.
Was she able to help him? She wanted to believe it did; it was the only thing she could do for him.
Adrian's mouth opened in a pantomime of a scream. Blood slid down a raw throat that could only produce strangled sounds, giving a metallic liquid taste that would never touch a parched tongue.
Drugs snaked their way mercilessly through his body. Pain, like a roaring fire, consumed him from the inside, as if he were being burned alive. His body strained upwards; a bow pulled tight, ready to snap. His limbs slipped and flailed on the slick surface of the frigid metal platform; wet with his own bodily secretions. Sweat and blood mingled, drawing nightmarish trails down his body. Globs of vomit, dried at the side of his face and by his head. Sticky patches of dark red streaked with bright scarlet, pale white trails of semen and the acrid yellow of urine.
The Therapist and his people were black masked executioners, taking him apart piece-by-piece, filtered from the stomach-churning smells as they plied their inhuman trade. The only one who had to bear the stench was the prisoner; a constant, repulsive reminder that in this room he was nothing more than a helpless prisoner wallowing in his own filth.
Adrian's eyes began rolling up into his head as the darkness of unconsciousness mercifully paid a visit.
The Therapist had been watching for this. He signalled with a flat hand to his assistant at the control panel. "That's enough. Flood him with the neutralizer. Quickly."
Adrian slumped back onto the cold, damp surface, his lungs heaving like someone who had had been running for his life.
The Therapist looked down at the panel. The life signs were faint, the mental readings sluggish; all the classic signs of a man pushed beyond his ability to resist. He was finally ready for the conditioning. The conditioning unit was swung into place, shrouding the prisoner's head in a large helmet-like device, and switched it on.
The irresistible boom of conditioning phrases blasted into Adrian's ears, "The Empire must be served", along with the more insidious subliminal messages whispered to his subconscious mind. Energy waves forced his mind to match specific patterns. His head felt as if it were in a vice, and his tormentors were medieval torturers intent on squeezing until it cracked like an egg. Images fed directly through his optic nerve, overriding memories, seeking to remake his past and his present, and to control his future.
Adrian shook his head weakly from side-to-side, moaning, knowing they were manipulating his mind but unable to do anything about it. There was a pounding beat inside his head. Like the sound of a heart amplified a thousand times. Boom. Boom. Boom.
An irrational fear struck him. If his heart matched the rhythm of the booms, then he would be lost. Boom. Boom. Boom. He could no longer hear the beating of his own heart, no distinctive sound that was his own. No! Dry lips cracked as he screamed in silent agony.
A shuddering gasp escaped his lips as something pleasant and comforting flowed into his mind. Weak and human after all, he reached for it, desperate for warmth and kindness but he drew back. It's a lie!
Life taught him that behind the soft-lined glove was usually an iron fist to smash him in the face.
Pleasure and then pain. Kindness and then cruelty. The illusion of love masking a face distorted in hate. That was what they taught him in this room.
Boom. Boom. Thump thump. Adrian's eyes widened inside the conditioning unit. He could hear his own heart again. Or was it an illusion too?
The warmth continued to flow into him but he knew what it was, it could not fool him. Except…there was something different about it.
There was something pure about it...and beautiful, full of strength, caring, and peace. Adrian's breath caught. It was...familiar...Kali...the gentle whispers of her presence...trying to reach him.
The Therapist scratched his greying hair. Adrian continued defying his efforts despite everything he threw at him. The man should be a blubbering idiot by now, willing to do anything to make the pain and humiliation end. The specialist's advanced techniques were not going to get him noticed after all. No one paid attention when something didn't work.
Adrian was finally weak enough for the maximum effect of the conditioning unit, but it was slow going, the man's mind was unusually strong.
The Therapist whacked the side of the panel, startling the med tech monitoring the screens.
How could this be? The prisoner still had enough strength to resist the conditioning.
The life and brain wave readings on the control panel were frustrating. Physically, Adrian was on the verge of collapse. Only the drugs kept him from passing out or his heart from stopping.
The disruptor machines made it impossible for him to concentrate for any length of time. His body was flooded with drugs that intensified emotional responses and visceral sensations; making him an unwilling slave to every touch on his body and taking every sliver of pain, fear, humiliation and helplessness and magnifying it to the point where he should have lost all hope and begged for it to stop.
Adrian was beginning his silent screams again and pulling against the metal bands that held him fast. The Therapist was extremely displeased. This man should not be able to fight the machine's efforts to override his mind, but the readings did not lie.
He doubled the dosage of drugs and looked down at the struggling man. One technique was proving quite effective. The combination of physical pleasure and the torture of the mind produced conflicting signals that made the conditioning much harder to fight. He began to caress the body tenderly, giving it all of his attention, and was rewarded with a reddening flush and a slight relaxing of the muscles. Perhaps, his efforts were not totally in vain. He still had a chance to break this man before the Admiral's men got their hands on him.