Description: A confrontation between Adrian and the Admiral.
Admiral Verel said, "It didn’t take you long, did it Stannis?" He turned to Boudreaux. "Or you."
"Now, now General…" purred Boudreaux.
"Admiral," he corrected her.
"Is there a difference?"
Their eyes locked and then something seemed to pass between them, a flicker of the eyes, a faint amusement. "As long as you recognize my superior rank on this ship."
"Oh, I recognize your superiority in many…things, Admiral." The pause contained more meaning than the words.
"Yes, well…" Verel coughed before he turned to Adrian. "Tech Commander Kegan tells me you assaulted the Professor."
Adrian stared at him but didn't respond.
"Answer the question, Lieutenant." It wasn't the voice of command, it was a suggestion, but the temperature in the room dropped to sub-zero between one heartbeat and the next.
"You admit it?" There was surprise in his eyes. "Your file tells me that you never lie. At least not directly. It seems they were right."
"I admit," Adrian's lips curled in an insolent sneer, "that the Tech Commander told you I assaulted the Professor."
"Are you going to say you didn’t?"
Adrian looked at Boudreaux. She could stop this with a single word but they both knew what she was after, what they were all after. "I have no time for this charade. Do what you plan to do or leave me to my work."
"You overstep yourself, Lieutenant," the Admiral's voice was hard, ready to crush him.
"And you're wasting my time."
"Don't you mean," he stepped closer, his breath nearly searing him with its hot menace, "Wasting my time, Lieutenant? You belong to me. Remember?"
Adrian's jaw tensed at the reminder but he stayed silent.
Verel stepped back. "As it's my time, then I decide what to do with it." He nodded to the First Officer who handcuffed Adrian's hands behind his back, squeezing the rings until they bit into his flesh.
"Would you like to watch, my dear?" Verel asked Boudreaux.
Her eyes were bright with anticipation but she said, "No."
"You surprise me."
She came up to Adrian and drew a teasing finger across his chest, relishing the feel of the tension of his bound body. "It's enough that I know you're defending my honour."
"Are you talking to him, or to me?" There was a dangerous tinge in Verel's tone.
Adrian ground his teeth at this interaction. "Is this drivel meant to increase the effectiveness of the torture or do you enjoy wasting your time, sir?"
He cried out and dropped to his knees, his body bending forward and gasping for breath.
The Admiral had the remote unit in his hand. "You're insolent, Lieutenant." His thumb pressed a red button and Adrian straightened up slowly, his blank face already shiny with perspiration.
Verel gestured to Kegan and Boudreaux. "Leave us."
The Tech Commander was about to object - he had been looking forward to this with great anticipation. Bringing Adrian to his knees was a pleasure he had dreamt of often. One look at the Admiral's face told him this was not a good idea. He and Boudreaux left.
Adrian struggled to his feet, nearly pitching forward in the attempt. With bound hands, it was harder than he thought.
"Stay down, Lieutenant or I will have the Sub-Commander break both your legs."
Adrian stayed still, waiting. He may be obstinate but he did not relish being disabled.
Verel circled him, noting the rigid impassivity of his face, the dead eyes that stared straight ahead and the statue-like stillness of his body. This stubborn man wore his lack of emotion like a shield.
"I don't have time for this, Lieutenant but I will take the time if you insist on being difficult." He waved the remote unit in Adrian's face. "The Tech Commander would love to do this himself. I understand the two of you have history together."
"The Tech Commander is a fool, sir."
The Admiral threw his head back and guffawed. "You're right. The man is a little toad. Totally unsuited for his position." The laugh disappeared as quickly as it came.
His face was motionless as he brought the remote unit up and there was a gleam of something in his eyes. It was only a split second, a wince, a brief look of regret, but one noticed by the sharp eyes of his First Officer. Then Verel's eyes hardened and his lips thinned in resolution. The only people who would have enjoyed this, he had already sent out of the room. No one else needed to witness this. It was the only thing he could do for this stubborn man.
He slid one of the controls to the first position and pressed the remote unit.
There was no reaction of pain or clenching of teeth, it was only a mild warning.
Verel's voice was one of irresistible command."He is your superior officer. You will address him with respect."
"A rank bought by political connections requires no respect." A sneer curled Adrian's lips.
Verel circled him like a tiger ready to swipe a gash of red across his victim's body. "So you're not entirely ignorant of political realities."
"They’re irrelevant." Adrian twisted his wrists in the tight cuffs, trying to ease the pain and the spreading numbness. His chest was tight.
The Admiral shook his head. "You're deliberately being a fool, Lieutenant."
"I'm a prisoner in an officer's uniform."
The illusions fell away, leaving the ugly truth.
"You don't mince words."
"I deal in facts."
"Are you trying to say I don't?"
The edge of warning in the Admiral's voice was clear. No one dared to speak to him like this other than his First Officer.
"You deal in political expediencies."
"I ensure the Safety and Security of the Empire."
Adrian finally lifted his eyes to look at him. "Rhetoric."
"You don't believe in the Empire?"
After a long few challenging seconds, as they took each other's measure, Adrian looked away. "I believe in myself."
The Admiral suddenly leaned closer, his voice urgent, demanding the truth. "Is that why you sabotaged the Neutron Wave Project? Because you no longer believe in the Empire?"
Adrian glanced up, startled, but he remained silent. Now he understood the purpose of this game. They thought he was political. Perhaps even a rebel.
“Why did you betray the Empire? Was it for money? Did you sell the information to someone else? To our enemies?”
Or the other motivation. Greed.
There was one other reason that would never occur to them. One he would never admit to anyone.
The Admiral began pacing in front of him. "Did you know you're considered a traitor in some circles?”
“Only in some?” His voice dripped sarcastic.
“Political expediency saved your life.”
“To someone else’s end.” Adrian exhaled tiredly. “I never attacked the Professor, but you already know that.”
Verel was about to deny it but he was coming to respect this man. He deserved the truth. “Yes. I know.”
“It doesn’t make a difference.”
Their eyes locked for a moment. The Admiral gave no apologies or regrets; Adrian expected none.
“We should finish this." Verel adjusted the remote unit. "Hold him, Chell. I want to see his eyes."
The First Officer knelt down behind Adrian, wrapping one arm around his chest and suddenly pulling him back. Adrian fell back off-balance against the hard, muscular body.
Admiral Verel knelt down on one knee. "You see, Chell." He slid the control up slowly. Adrian's jaw clenched as the pain increased, but he refused to make another sound. "You can see the defiance in his eyes."
Chell leaned over and noted this. "Yes, sir. I see it."
Their clinical attitude made it easier for Adrian to distance himself from what was happening to him.
"And you can also see the pain reflected." The thumb pushed the slider. Adrian was breathing in hissed breaths. "He's trying to fight it. He does not want to show weakness."
"He's proud, sir."
"And stubborn." The slider went up a little further. Adrian's whole body was tight with the increasing agony. "But there is a point…" He increased the setting one entire notch and was rewarded with a groan and a body arched back against the First Officer. "You can see it now…when the pain overwhelms the mind and there is no more room for defiance."
Verel pushed up another notch and Adrian cried out, his body writhing in agony. It felt as if something was tearing his brain apart from the inside. The pain was so intense he was barely aware of the two men.
To the First Officer, it felt as if he was holding a desperate, twisting snake with its length clamped hard in a trap, threatening to cut him in two.
"That's good. Do you know why I want you here, Chell?" asked Verel.
"Because I know I can trust you if I leave you alone with him. People with a Firster in their power might find it tempting to hurt him even further. Small minds with power find it hard not to abuse it."
"The Tech Commander, sir?"
There was an expression of distaste on Verel's face at the thought of Kegan. "Stannis was right. The man is a fool but he has powerful political connections." He placed his hand on Adrian's head; the hair was damp, his forehead feverish and he was moaning as he moved his head back and forth.
The First Officer still had his arms around struggling man. "Do we have to hurt him, sir?"
"Kegan? I would love to hurt him."
"No, I mean…"
"I know what you mean, Chell. You shouldn't be asking this question. You should already know the answer."
Chell sighed and laid the groaning man on the ground. "Yes, sir."
“I don’t like doing this.” For the first time, Verel allowed himself to show regret and disgust. "You're a good man, Chell. You keep me…human when I don’t feel it sometimes."
"You do what you must, sir."
"Yes, I must." His eyes unfocused as they became heavy with thought. “We live in dark times, First Officer. A time for political expediencies.”
His hand absently stroked Adrian’s head, perhaps unconsciously trying to give him comfort. “Even a Firster cannot ignore it even though this one tries. We are supposed to be the best and brightest, the hope of humanity. Nevertheless, without power, wealth or influence, a Firster is nothing more than a valuable commodity for others, as I imagine he must have been most of his life.” It was hard to look into Adrian's contorted face and not feel the pain of being human.
If Adrian had been capable of thought, he would not be saying this in his hearing. “I would hate people too if I were in his situation. Unfortunately, for him, his mental abilities rank high, even among the Firsters. That makes him a valuable commodity. People are fighting for the opportunity to use him.”
"But you have him, sir."
Verel laughed, an ironic sound that hurt the ears. "You think too highly of me, First Officer, or too low. I have no such power or authority. My orders come from Fleet-Commander Tennyson."
Chell swallowed hard. Fleet-Commander Andrew Tennyson. One of five leaders who ruled Fleet Command. No one crossed him and lived to tell about it.
Verel got up slowly, grimacing at old knees that complained.
Chell looked on this with concern. The Admiral still stubbornly refused replacement surgery even though it was commonplace. He preferred to keep his original parts. "Won't it compromise his ability to work if his spirit is broken?"
Verel eyes tensed. "I've tried to convince the Fleet Command of that, but Stannis is considered a traitor and they know how dangerous he is. He sabotaged the Neutron Wave Project without anyone finding out until years later. And he's so brilliant that he's the only one who understands how all the pieces fit together. That's why they need him to reproduce it. They also know that if they can't control him, he can easily do it again."
"Do you think he's a traitor, sir?"
Verel shook his head. "No."
"Then why do you think he did it?"
"That's what we're supposed to find out." He looked at the black-banded data unit on his wrist. "Let’s give him two hours of this. Make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, he’s a valuable commodity."
After dumping the breakfast in the recyclers, Bryce went back to Adrian's cabin. Why was he even here, he asked himself as he pressed on the buzzer. Cleaning up the bastard's cabin was the last thing he wanted to do after what happened. It was a good thing he had fast reflexes. The glancing blow hadn't left a mark on his forehead, only on his pride.
Kali must be off doing her duties, whatever those are. Nobody tells me anything.
He hesitated, debating whether he should go in or let the bastard clean up his own room, but this was his job and he wasn't about to lose his new position. Using his ident-key, he opened the door.
Kali was inside, her head resting on the desk, the information on the Verindi negotiations on the screen. She looked like she'd fallen asleep except for the unexpected groan of pain. "Kali!" He rushed over. "You alright?"
She lifted her head and gasped, "They're hurting him." Her fists clenched as she tried to concentrate and bring the mind barriers up higher. It felt as if her brain was being torn apart.
"Hurting him?" His face paled, remembering the scene in the Science Lab and his hand went to the side of the head. What's going on?
With her barriers up higher, Kali was able to think. She grabbed his arm urgently. "Bryce, what happened in the Lab? You were there."
"I…" His forehead furrowed in confusion. "Adrian threw something at me. Told me to get out."
"I don't understand." She was pulling on his arm.
"The Admiral was there and the First Officer." Comprehension dawned as he stopped thinking about himself. "I knew it wasn't good when I saw them, but the Lieutenant told me to get out. Then he threw something at me. I suppose…" He grimaced as he realized why that was. "…he didn't want me to see what they were going to do to him."
He also remembered the disturbing attentions of Professor Boudreaux. If he'd stayed a moment longer… Bryce shuddered.
Wait a minute. He wondered if that was why Adrian…no, that couldn't be it. What did Adrian care about him? He was just his PA.
This damned ship was just as bad as the Sedener. At least for Adrian.
"No, he wouldn't have wanted that." Kali slapped both hands on the table, knocking some scented and coloured bottles over. "I have to do something." She pushed herself up but Bryce stopped her.
"That's not a good idea Kali. You didn't see it. The Admiral was there and he looked…" They all looked as if they were about to eat Adrian alive. Bryce's stomach felt queasy. Even if they served him a meal of kings, he wouldn't be able to eat it now. "There's nothing you can do for him."
"I can't sit here and do nothing!" The anguish in her eyes made him feel terrible.
"I know. But…" He didn’t have any better words to give her than the last time.