Description: More conflict between Adrian, Boudreaux and Kegan. Bryce begins his new job.
Bryce, after spending most of the night arranging and rearranging his personal belongings in his (very first) own room, had overslept and didn't manage to arrive at Adrian's cabin until almost noon. Finishing the rest of his dressing on the way, he raced to the officer's deck and was about to buzz himself in when he saw a blinking light on the door panel's screen and his name highlighted in red. He slipped his ident-key in the slot and pressed the retrieval button. A message appeared on the screen.
Your ident-key will allow you access to the room.
Lieutenant Stannis's orders for the day:
1) Bring breakfast to Science Lab 4.
2) Clean the room.
I will be in meetings all day in the Exec meeting room with the Admiral.
This was dead easy work, how hard could it be to clean one room. Most of it was self-cleaning anyway. Just a few minor things like folding clothes and putting away of personal items. Maybe delivering some laundry…he didn't know where to yet. He'd have to find that out.
"Sirs." He nodded to two officers - a man and a woman with medical sciences emblems on their chests - who walked by and looked at him suspiciously. Bryce wondered when he would stop feeling like he didn't belong.
There was the little problem of bringing breakfast. It being nearly noon. He hoped Adrian wasn't too miffed at him for being late on his first day. He'd have to make it up to him somehow. Maybe he'll bring lunch instead. A great big one since he'd probably be hungry after having missed breakfast. Speaking of which, his stomach growled in complaint at having been sorely neglected. Time to get some food, for Adrian and himself.
Adrian peered inside the half-burnt accelerator unit, poking at several charred wires with an extended sonic probe. “How many attempts did you make with this?”
His tone was flat but the barely veiled criticism of the words made Kegan bristle. “Three.”
“It exploded all three times,” Adrian noted impassively as he began pulling out various components to get to the less damaged ones underneath, throwing the useless parts to the floor with a clatter to join the ones already there.
“Yes,” Kegan said defensively, “If you must know.”
Adrian glanced up at him for a second before bending to his clearing task once more and saying a single word. “Madness.”
Professor Boudreaux, who was setting up the computer simulations, said, “What Adrian means is that you’re a fool, Kegan.”
“Shut up Boudreaux. If I wanted your opinion...”
“You would give it to me?” The Professor asked with extreme sarcasm, she didn’t like this sorry excuse for a researcher any more than Adrian did. She said dismissively, “You're not only a fool, you’re pathetic.”
Adrian hissed and clenched his fists as a sharp pain pierced the base of his brain.
“Are you alright?” asked Boudreaux.
“Some of those multi-packs probably still carry a residual charge.”
“I’m aware of that.” Everyone jumped as Adrian unexpectedly pushed the entire unit over onto the floor with a loud crash. “This thing is useless. It would take less time to build an accelerator unit from scratch than to fix this mess.”
“Are you trying to say something about my work?” Kegan said angrily.
“Only that you’re incompetent as well as being a fool,” said Adrian as he went to the storage compartments along the wall. Looking over the neatly labelled drawers, arranged by category, he gave a small nod of approval at the organization. There was no excuse for shoddy work or not using your brain, even for a low leveller. The drawers slid open at a touch and he began pulling out components and arranging them on a tray.
“You know, Kegan,” Boudreaux’s voice was rarely below a sarcastic tone when addressing the Tech Commander. “If you insist on being so defensive about every one of your mistakes, you’re not going to get any work done. Not that you’re getting any done now.”
“I’m the Tech Commander, I supervise.”
Boudreaux’s brow rose. “Adrian, I think you’re wrong.”
Adrian looked at her expressionlessly, though his eyes held faint curiosity - it was like old times. He brought the full tray over and began sorting the parts by function. “About him?”
“Yes. He’s not only incompetent and a fool; he’s delusional if he thinks he’s fit to supervise either one of us.”
“I stand corrected.” Adrian’s tone was deadpan.
Bryce entered the lab with a tray, the delicious odours of roast chicken and buttery mashed potatoes wafting in with him and making stomachs grumble, reminding them all it was past lunchtime. There was no reaction from Adrian as he continued sorting parts and neatly arranging them on one side of the workbench.
"Your food is here," said Boudreaux, her mouth watering. "Which reminds me, I'm off to get some lunch. I'll see you in an hour." Giving another glance at the tempting items on Bryce's tray, she rushed out. Kegan continued glaring at the man who was ignoring him, but in the war between his anger and his hunger, the hunger won out.
"Don't forget. One month." He followed Boudreaux out.
"What was that all about?" asked Bryce, putting the tray down in the area of the table Adrian was leaving clear for work purposes. He decided he didn't like the look of the Tech Commander and the woman, well she was beautiful but she made him shiver in places that didn't feel right.
Adrian looked blankly at the tray and the disappearance of his workspace. His voice remained flat but his words were drawn out and deliberate. "What is this?"
"It's…" Bryce knew being late on his first day was going to come back to bite him. "…well, I know you said to bring you breakfast but I thought…as it's…" His throat seemed dryer than a desert planet. He hoped he hadn't messed up this posh assignment already. "Look, I'm really sorry, Adrian. I mean, Lieutenant. I know I messed up. I'll try harder. You'll get breakfast at breakfast time and lunch at lunchtime from now on. I promise." He looked at him with slightly pleading eyes, hoping against hope Adrian really wasn't the cold-hearted bastard he always accused him of being.
Adrian continued staring at the intrusive tray. "Remove this."
"Now look here. I apologized and this is just my first mistake."
"The first of many, no doubt."
"Fine!" Bryce grabbed up the tray angrily, causing the coffee to splash over the sides of the cup onto the glistening chicken leg. "I don't know why you picked me. I wouldn't have picked you in a million years!"
"You didn't." A stab of pain caused Adrian to tense his jaw and clench his fists. He forced his breathing to remain even.
Seeing this, Bryce thought Adrian was angry and wanted to hit him. "I'll go pack my things and you can tell the Admiral. The Sedener is better anyway. It doesn't have you on it!"
Keeping his voice even despite the pain, Adrian said, "Plain ham sandwich. Leave the coffee."
"Yeah, sure. I'll get your damned ham sandwich. Plain. Before you throw me out."
"You're improperly dressed."
"Isn't it clean enough for you?" Bryce said sarcastically, determined to get his licks in since he was already on his way out. He was going to miss having his own cabin. And Kerril…he'd have to settle for remembering her in his dreams.
"Firster PAs wear a different uniform."
"What do you care? You can dress up your next lackey if you find one good enough for you."
"Familiarize yourself with the ship."
"Why would I…" It was Bryce's turn to stare at him, but more in shocked realization. "Wait a minute. You're not kicking me out?"
Satisfied that Bryce finally understood, Adrian used the cleared workspace and began building the framework for the new accelerator.
"Well, you could have said so." Bryce took a deep breath of relief.
"I believe I did."
"You know, nobody understands you."
"That's not my concern."
"For a smart man, you're really dumb when it comes to people. Though you probably don't care, do you? 'Course you don't."
The constant inane chattering was irritating. Adrian looked up at the continually talking man. "Are you finished?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll go get your stuff. Do you have any other orders?"
Now that he was getting an unexpected second chance, Bryce was determined to do it right. Adrian seemed to be hinting there were more privileges to being a Firster PA that he didn’t know about. He wasn't about to give them up before finding out what they were and enjoying them. "Why didn't you tell me to wake up earlier so I could get you breakfast?"
"Do I need to?"
There was a pause as Bryce thought about his reply. "Alright, what time do you start here?"
Adrian continued working. "0800." He was only half-paying attention to Bryce now.
"Eight?" Bryce groaned at the inhuman hour. "Right. I'll be ready tomorrow. Even if I have to force myself to wake up."
"Don't put yourself out."
"Well if you can do it, so can I."
After stomachs were filled, work on Phase One began in earnest.
Adrian said, "We will need more people for the ancillary tasks. Computer techs, weapon's engineers, lab techs for the neutron mixtures." Knowing Kegan tended to recruit according to those who could give him the most benefits, not for skill or intelligence, he added sarcastically, "Preferably people who can read."
Kegan had been hovering like a vulture, carefully watching Adrian's every move, looking for any infraction to pounce on. "Give me a list."
Popping in a data chip from a tray of blank ones on the table, Adrian compiled the requirements on his data pad. He handed the chip to Kegan. "The sooner the better."
The Tech Commander might be an unpleasant toad, but he knew the price of failure as well as Adrian did. He raced out to exercise his authority.
"Unpleasant little man," said Boudreaux. She activated the holoprojectors on the modelling unit and a rough outline of the accelerator unit appeared above the table. "Does your little consort have any useful technical skills or is she purely decorative?"
Her voice was innocent but Adrian knew nothing about Boudreaux was remotely innocent.
"If you touch her…" Adrian's voice was low in case Kegan came back and overheard this conversation. Regardless of what his relationship was with Kali, and he wasn't prepared to admit anything, she was his responsibility. Her life was in his hands even if she didn't know it. She was already a pawn; he refused to make her a victim, not because of him.
"Oh, I'm sure I won't be able to touch her the way you do." Her voice was sinuous and seductive, like a deadly snake.
"I will end you."
"You surprise me, Adrian. I never thought you were capable of caring about anyone other than yourself. Of course…" Her voice became insinuating. "She is a delectable treat. And as a consort, she is free."
His eyes could have frozen fire. "If you hurt her…"
"Oh, I don't plan to." A smile appeared on her face, one of a deadly spider with a helpless prey in its snare. "But I won't guarantee that you won't."