Description: Adrian and Boudreaux.
"This is impossible." Adrian threw the sonic probe across the room in frustration and rubbed his neck, stretching it, trying to get the stiffness out. He had been able to reduce the development time of Phase One by sixty-percent, but it still wasn’t good enough to meet the one-month target. The new configuration for the accelerator unit wasn’t working at the efficiency he needed from it. Without it, they couldn’t get to the most crucial part, the wave cycle generator.
He hissed and closed his eyes tightly as a stab of pain pierced his head. He was tired in his mind, in his body, and in his soul, if there were such a thing. A glance at a wall chronometer told him he’d worked through the night. Not an unusual occurrence for him when he was immersed in his work.
They had deliberately set an impossible deadline. They wanted to see him fail and when he did, then they would have the pretext they needed. Correction. The Admiral would.
Adrian was under no illusions. He knew whom he was fighting against on this ship. It wasn't Kegan. That pathetic excuse for a Tech Commander was no match for him.
Boudreaux was a formidable force who managed to catch his dispassionate, rational eye, first because of her brilliant mind and cold intellect, so much like his own. Later, he was lured by her seductive charms. He was still a man underneath the cool mask, and she had reminded him of it.
She had no power. That rested solely with one person, and none of her games meant anything if the Admiral didn’t consent.
The Admiral was a different quantity altogether. Another Firster. A man who commanded instant obedience the moment he entered a room. He was as brilliant in cold, ruthless leadership skills as Adrian was in the application of science. The man was determined to break him. He could see it in his eyes.
Adrian's eyes closed and his head bowed, suddenly tired of it all, a lifetime of struggle against people who would use him because of his mind. Having talents like his should not be a curse. He hissed at another stab of the knife in his brain.
Why was he doing this to himself? Why was he fighting a battle he knew could not be won? The pain, the humiliation, becoming what he had struggled his whole life against, being a tool for others?
In the early hours of the morning, when he was alone, sometimes the mask slipped and the pain of being himself overwhelmed him.
No. I can’t…I will not…give up. He gripped the sides of the accelerator unit until his knuckles turned white.
“I think you dropped this,” Boudreaux said from the doorway as she bent down and picked up the sonic probe, all the while keeping her eyes on him.
He willed his body to relax and the mask was firmly in place again when he turned in her direction. His voice was expressionless. “Yes.”
“You’re here early.”
He stared at her without answering before bending to look at the accelerator unit. They would not win; he refused to be beaten. They set an impossible goal. Well, that was his specialty, the reason why he was so valuable to them. He achieved what no one else thought possible.
His mind threw off the fatigue and pain like minor irritants.
There might be a way…why didn't he think of this before now? If he could use the ship’s impulse engines and cross the primary and secondary flow lines - he’d have to calculate a new set of numbers of course – add two more transducers, and a regulator for the phased energies that would probably result...it might work. Moreover, they wouldn’t need the tricky loop-back unit. That would cut down the time to just over a month.
That is, if the Admiral trusted him enough to allow them use of the ship’s engines.
So far, they had restricted their solutions to the available parts or any they could reasonably obtain. They’d never considered the ship as a part.
“You’ve thought of something, haven’t you?” Boudreaux had been watching him as he stood thinking, his body still, his eyes intense and focused on something she couldn’t see. She recognized this look. It filled her with wonder and, at times, jealousy. He had thought of something that left the rest of them in the dust.
Adrian blinked, as if he were surprised she was still there. “Yes.”
“Do you plan to share it with the rest of the class?”
He outlined his idea and the additional requirements while she made notes and adjusted the accelerator model. She said, “You know, this just might work.”
His brows lifted, “Might?”
“All right, it probably will. And sometimes, I really hate you.”
“That wouldn’t be anything new.” He peered closely at the adjustments to the model, matching it to the one already in his head.
Boudreaux came up behind him, reaching towards him, intending to run her fingers lightly up his spine, wanting to feel the automatic shudder of pleasure in his body. The conflict between his mind and his desires was delicious.
Adrian flinched as if he had been burnt, wrenching forward and bumping against the workbench. There was no reaction in his voice. "We have work to do."
She followed his movement, a teasing smile playing on her lips as she boldly placed the flat of her hand against the small of his back. Adrian's jaw clenched, his mind reeling from conflicting sensations of his skin cringing at the intimate contact, even as the heat of her palm raced downwards and stiffened his desires. His body shuddered as a war of old lusts and new fears raged inside him, threatening to tear him apart. He whirled suddenly and grabbed her hand in a punishing grip. His throat was tight and his voice hoarse, "Don't touch me."
Boudreaux grimaced and pulled her hand away in surprise. "Adrian?"
His voice was still taut with tension and stress crinkled the corners of his eyes. "These are not the old days."
"Pity," she said lightly even though her eyes held intense interest. Her voice softened and she became the smooth, silky temptress, full of concern. "What did they do to you?"
Adrian closed his eyes, concentrating, pushing back the unwelcome emotions and trying to regain control. "The ship's impulse engines will…"
"They will wait." Boudreaux pressed forward and he fell back, hitting the workbench again. His eyes flashed with dark anger.
"What are you doing?"
She could feel the heat rising from his body. "You ask, but you already know," she purred into his ear.
Adrian allowed the fury to build and spill out into violence as he gripped her shoulders and kissed her hungrily, crushing her, forcing his way past lips that parted all too eagerly. Their groans of desire swallowed up by each other's passion as her arms snaked around his waist, pulling him closer, feeling him harden as their bodies touched.
Only in anger could he touch her this way without cringing at the intimacy that reminded him of the abuse he had endured under the hands of Barker and the Therapist. The rage was pure, allowing him a feeling of control again over a body that had moved under someone else's will.
"What are you doing? Guards!" the Tech Commander's voice was shrill with anger as he entered and stormed towards them. Black uniformed men rushed in behind him. Kegan saw red when he saw the two of them locked in an embrace. In his narrow mind, Adrian had everything he lacked, including Boudreaux, and he was determined to take everything away from him.
Adrian froze, desire evaporated, but the anger remained as he pulled back from the kiss, his hands going to Boudreaux's throat. He pushed her hard and she staggered back, a triumphant expression on her face.
He ground his teeth and said in a tightly controlled voice, "Is that what you wanted?"
"You were…" She was a cat that had swallowed a mouse. "…perfect." Her fingers went to her mouth, stroking the lips that still felt his, and the edge of her tongue touching a fingertip. "Delicious."
Kegan advanced on Adrian even as he asked Boudreaux, "Did he hurt you?"
"More than you could possibly imagine."
"You must have gone insane, Stannis! Attacking a woman." The vindictive wheels in Kegan's head were turning. "The Admiral is going to hear about this! You're not going to get away with it!"
Adrian was the impassive machine again as he stared at Boudreaux's smiling face. She had always known how to manipulate him, preying on his baser human weaknesses.
"Keep an eye on him," Kegan ordered the two guards. "I'm going to get the Admiral." He stalked out.
"Your timing was impeccable," Adrian remarked impassively after Kegan left, almost in admiration.
"Wasn't it?" she purred. "I said I would get my revenge one way or another. Consider this an appetizer."
He turned to the workbench, looking down at the pieces and pulled the accelerator unit towards him.
"What are you doing?" She came up beside him.
"We still have work to do." There was no emotion in his voice, even less than normal. It was as if he was trying to reduce himself to something that was no longer human, and vulnerable. Picking up a wafer of compressed crystal, he slid it into place inside the accelerator. The unit lit up in a green and red glow. He took up a scanner and turned it on.
"According to the readings the impulse engines…"
Boudreaux wanted to see him hurt, wanted to see him crawl, wanted him to pay for what he had done to her, but he had also tried to warn her.
He was so different now, and the same. The thick ice always on the surface and the heat below if you knew how to reach it. The coldness of his manner contrasting with the intensity of his eyes. The wounded vulnerability that you could only catch a glimpse of when he was too preoccupied to notice the mask had slipped.
But there was something else about him, something she couldn't quite place.
She had never understood what prompted him to blow up his career like that, and all of theirs, but she was determined to find out. He was never going to hurt her again.
Yet, there were moments like these - the ones that made her breath catch in her throat, when his fierce determination refused to let him give up despite overwhelming odds. "Adrian, I'm…"
He stopped moving.
"Damn it, Adrian. Say something!"
"There is nothing to say," he said in his dead tone.
He tilted the scanner towards him and she ripped it out of his hands. "I will have satisfaction, Adrian!"
His head finally turned in her direction. "I am not concerned with your satisfaction." The way he said it, so detached and dismissive, made her blood boil. After all they had been through together, how dare he treat her like this?
"I'm going to enjoy this," she hissed, like a snake testing the air, preparing to strike.
"I don't doubt it. Now…" He held out his hand for the scanner and she gave it back to him.
Bryce was enjoying his new role as Adrian's PA. He was finding out all kinds of privileges he had now, ones he'd only imagined in his dreams. The Admiral's PA had set him right about a few things. Garvin Anders, a tall, blond man, had a penchant for the ladies and a good ale, so they got on well.
A choice word got Bryce to the front of any meal dispenser lines, the ones the senior officers used. He’d gotten to know most of the PAs on the ship that way and if he got an extra helping for himself, no one seemed to mind. Most of them did it anyway.
He'd already had blueberry pancakes with real blueberries this morning. He licked his lips, still remembering the sweet taste. This was going to be a great assignment. So far, Adrian hadn't given him much to do.
There was a spring to his step but that didn't last long as he entered Science Lab 4. The stony-faced Adrian was facing Fleet Admiral Verel. The hulking First Officer was standing behind him like a wall ready to fall on him. The Tech Commander, staring at Adrian with very unfriendly eyes, seemed to have swallowed something very pleasant and was chewing it with enjoyment. The beautiful woman - Professor Boudreaux ,the 'ice princess,' as someone had called her - was watching Adrian carefully, like a cat toying with a mouse.
The air was so tense, it felt as if it would snap.
Should he be here? It was obviously none of his business and he didn't want it to be his business.
A memory. A faded wisp no one bothered recalling, that was what he wanted to be in this room.
Too late. Adrian was facing in his direction. He looked alone, one man facing a crowd that seemed ready to eat him. He could use some help. Bryce went over with the tray, back straight and on his best behaviour. There was no expression on Adrian's face, which was normal, but Bryce knew to look in his eyes. Adrian was not pleased to see him.
He tried to think of something witty or at least funny, to say, the way he normally did when the tension was high, but before he could get anything out, Adrian's cold voice commanded, "Get out."
"But you wanted breakfast." He lifted the tray suggestively. It had the toast, jams and coffee from the mess hall.
"Is this your little PA, Adrian?" The woman's alluring voice and sharp eyes turned in his direction, making Bryce shake in his stiff new boots. "How de-light-ful." Her predatory smile made the hairs at the back of his neck stand on end. This was one woman’s attention he did not want, no matter how beautiful she was.
Adrian looked down at the table, picked up a heavy object, and without warning threw it at him.
"Hey!" With a full tray, Bryce could barely duck. The object glanced off the side of his head. "Ouch! What's the big idea?"
Adrian's eyes were cold. "Get out. Don't come back until you are given permission to."
"Why you…" Bryce said angrily, thinking of throwing the whole tray straight into his face, but the Admiral was here and the look in his eyes chilled Bryce to the bottom of his feet. "I mean…"
Temper, temper, Bryce. Don't ask. Don't see. Don't interfere. And do what you're told. That was the motto of his life. It had kept him out of trouble in the service. Well, mostly. "I mean, yes Lieutenant. Would you like me to leave these things here?"
"Yes, sir." Bryce backed away slowly, nearly bumping into a cabinet.
"You're a real piece of work, Stannis." He heard this before he left the room. The bastard deserved whatever was coming to him.