The green-uniformed medical personnel, with face masks that obscured the lower half their faces, gently removed Adrian from the restraints after giving him a sedative and some strong painkillers.
“This is disgusting,” said Penn, the taller of the two assistants, as they lifted Adrian onto a gurney, the slick, partially dried fluids making a slurping sound as they clung to his skin.
Dr. Greenwell, whose midnight-black hair contrasted sharply with his pale face, was an old-timer and had seen many cruel things done in the name of the Empire. Nothing surprised him anymore. “Be glad it wasn't you.” He retrieved the 'scientific' log kept by the Therapist and read it quickly.
“Someone’s going to have to wash him.” Yuen, the other medical assistant had the face of an ex-boxer, with a crooked nose that angled strangely, but his hands were surprisingly gentle.
At a quick look from Greenwell, he said, “I guess that would be us.”
“You guess right.”
Penn's nose crinkled under his mask. “You know, I never really liked him. Always thought he was a cold, stuck up fish, but what they did to him...”
“Makes you almost wish you could like him?” said Greenwell, who never became attached to his patients; life was much easier that way. That wasn't to say he was a heartless man, but he expressed his caring in detached, impartial competence and concern.
“Feel sorry for at least,” said Penn.
“We’ll keep him under for now. He's going to need all the rest he can get.”
“What about...” Yuen's sympathetic almond eyes rested on Adrian's sweat-stained face. Being new at this, he still had a personal reaction, but he was learning quickly.
“He’s going to need it, won’t he?”
Dr. Greenwell finished reading the last entries in the sickening log. “Not sure they want him to recover. Or need him to."
“Well, that’s...." Yuen's eyes reflected reluctant resignation. "…none of my business.”
Penn adjusted the automated steering controls on the gurney. “You know, I thought he was smart, smart as they came. But letting them do this to him? That was stupid.”
“It’s not our place to wonder about other people’s lack of common sense," said Dr. Greenwell.
“Yeah, s’pose not.”
Captain Tarn strode onto the bridge; his hands clasped behind him, the dark look on his face making everyone stand a little straighter at their stations. He nodded absently to the duty officer and disappeared into the anteroom that served as his office.
"Psst." Bryce whispered out of the side of his mouth to Kali. His fingers seemed to work by themselves as he ran the obligatory daily diagnostics on the weapons systems. He'd performed this task so many times, he could do it in his sleep. And sometimes in his dreams, he did, much to his horror and consternation.
Day shift was usually busy, full of routine tasks, but it was still an endless stream of boringness. Without anything to shoot at, his greatest source of excitement was gossiping about the crew.
Kali's fingers drummed the control panel at her flight station. Her eyes kept flicking surreptitiously to the closed door that led to Captain Tarn's office, even as she ran diagnostics on the life support and environmental systems at her own station. "I'm busy."
"You can talk and work. 'Sides the computers do most of it. We just stare at it and try not to fall asleep."
"I interpret the results."
"Yeah, that's later." Bryce chewed on his lower lip as he noticed her preoccupation. "About before, I'm really sorry I couldn't help. I--" Several lights on his panel turned orange and beeped urgently at him. "Damn." He rapped the readings but the indicators blinked obstinately. "Double damn."
The duty officer, Pincer, a balding man with a mole on his chin said, "What's the noise over there?"
Bryce grumbled under his breath before saying in a suitably respectful voice, "Just a few warning signals on the output flow regulators, lieutenant."
Pincer was a by-the-book officer, and his book told him to take care of warning signals before they developed into greater problems. He rushed over. "What's wrong with them?"
"I've already started the secondary diagnostics," said Bryce, who had just that second, entered the commands to begin them.
"Good. Good." The mole on Pincer's chin jumped with excitement. Finally something much more interesting than babysitting the lower ranks, even if it was only a few minor warning lights.
"It's probably just a faulty reading. We get those all the time. It'll even out in the secondary diagnostics. You'll see."
Pincer nodded slowly, "Yes. Could be." He eyed Bryce intently. "But then that would mean the system sensors need to be recalibrated, won't it?"
"Ensign Tranton, report to my office." The Captain's strident voice came over the oval comm speaker on the wall.
"Go on Tranton. I'll watch the diagnostics," said Pincer.
Kali stood at attention in front of the Captain's desk, staring at a spot on the wall, waiting for Tarn to say something.
Tarn leaned back tiredly like a balloon slowly deflating, losing form and life. He stared at her over laced fingers. "At ease, ensign."
Kali relaxed a little and dared to look at his face. She'd been audacious the other day, barging to the officer's quarters and confronting the Captain with her ideas to save Adrian but she was acutely aware that he was the most senior person on the ship and she only a lowly ensign.
"You don't have to be nervous, Tranton. I'm not Barker."
"Yes, sir. Is--" Her questions were like a flood of water waiting at the sluice gates.
"He's in the medical unit now. Recovering."
"Is he alright?"
Tarn winced as he remembered the scene in the Security Section. "I don't know, ensign."
"I'd like to see him."
Tarn sat up. "It’s not a good idea."
Kali's eyes were troubled. "I don't understand, I thought you said he was recovering."
"Physically he will." Tarn sank back into his chair. "You saved his life, Tranton but I'm not sure he'll thank you for it."
"Does he blame me?"
"I never told him your full role in this."
"What did you tell him?"
"I said you asked to be transferred to the Trykor to help him. I told him you didn't understand the implications."
"You lied to him." She had the sneaking suspicion she wasn't going to like his next words.
"He doesn't need to know it was your idea."
"I don't want to lie to him, Captain."
"You don't have a choice if you're going to help him. This isn't just about your relationship with Stannis." Tarn exhaled loudly and stared up at the ceiling. "He's going to need you when he gets over to the Trykor. I know him. He has a tendency to get into trouble with people he doesn't respect. And someone like Admiral Verel will grate on Adrian's nerves. He needs someone he can trust. There won't be anyone there for him."
"Then I can't lie to him."
"Are all Tellarans this stubborn? Morality isn't worth anything if it doesn't produce the right results."
"I don't agree." She stared hard at him, opening up her psi senses to their maximum sensitivity, trying to decide if he was being serious. Unfortunately, he was.
"Well, you're going to have to. If Adrian finds out it was your idea to pressure him using yourself as leverage, he'll never forgive you. I've already done my deed for the day, good or evil, depending on your point of view. The rest is up to you."
"I don't understand, sir."
"Barker and the therapists were never able to break him. He fought them to the very end." The stresses of the last few hours were heavy weights loading down on shoulders that were sagging under the burden. "But he broke when I threatened you." He leaned forward, his eyes like lasers. "Do you understand what that means? That's why he can't see you right now."
"I knew he wasn't going to like it. I knew he might hate me for doing it." Kali's legs were shaky and her stomach was queasy. "Did--did I make a mistake, sir?"
Captain Tarn felt as ill as she looked. "No, Tranton, you didn't. It was the only way to save his life. But understand this, Kali. They're going to watch both of you carefully and he will have no choice except to do what they want. He will consider that worse than dying, and in his own eyes, he's lost."
"Because of what he did for me?"
"Yes. Adrian doesn't like failing. He will see what he did for you as a weakness."
"I'll try to help him. Maybe we can escape and--"
"Stop." Tarn held up his hand. "I don't want to hear the details. You're a good woman, Tranton, and Stannis is a far better man than he wants people to think. I wish the both of you luck."
His words had finality to them. They would receive no more help from him.
"Thank you, sir."
Tarn was about to terminate their conversation but there was one more thing to be said, one final truth that had to be told. "Adrian saved my career. Did you know that?"
Kali's eyes reflected surprise. "I didn't."
Adrian's eyes haunted the Captain, the brokenness and surrender, the anger and pain, the hatred of himself and the love he couldn't acknowledge but which had brought a proud man to his knees. Hidden beneath the prickly, icy exterior, Adrian was more human than any of them and the vision of those deep, anguished eyes were burned into Tarn's memory.
"No one knows. He made me swear not to tell anyone. We hadn't found anything worth reporting in two years. No valuable minerals or planets worth colonizing. Nothing of note. Central Command was going to recall the ship, probably demote me to a penal colony. Adrian spent months developing a new scanner to give them."
"I thought…" Kali's mind went back to the months when Adrian was glued to his computers or was shut up in his lab, "he was just obsessing over it. I tried to distract him."
"I'm glad you didn't succeed." He sighed tiredly. "You're being sent over as his consort. You will share a cabin together."
"No, I don’t--" Her voice trailed off in shock. "We don't have that kind of relationship."
"You're going to have to work something out."
"You are being used as leverage against his cooperation. They had to believe you and he were intimate. I didn’t have any choice."
"He's not going to like it."
"He's an adult. I'm sure he'll manage, or think of something to do. We'll be arriving at Base 337 in three days."
She shook her head vigorously. "We really don’t have that kind of relationship. He barely tolerates me helping him."
"I'm sure you'll think of something. You're dismissed Ensign."