Description: The rest of the confrontation between Adrian and the Admiral after Chell's outburst.
Note: Added some details to flesh out the latter bit of the conversation. Marked in blue.
It felt like a standoff with the First Officer refusing to back down.
“Are you presuming to tell me what to do, Chell?”
The First Officer stared back at his Admiral without batting an eye. “I will accept the consequences for my words, but that is how I feel, sir.”
Verel stared at him a moment longer. They faced death together, saved each other's lives countless times, and stood side-by-side against insurmountable odds. Chell was a smart man, a superb soldier and he was never afraid to speak his mind. At times he served as his conscience when the violence became too much, but he had never been this passionate about anything before. “We’ve known each other a long time.”
“Do you really want to end it like this?”
The First Officer was still on his knees beside Adrian. His eyes lowered and his head bowed. The courage of a moment ago had not failed him, but he accepted the authority of the man over him. “If that is your wish, sir.”
“You think what I’m doing is wrong?”
“I think,” Chell hesitated, the torrent of words and feelings had passed, leaving him to try to understand what had prompted it and why. “There are better ways than trying to hurt people. You said it earlier, sir. You understood why the Lieutenant would hate people. It’s because of what they’ve done to him. How can he not hate them? But he’s strong too. Like you. He refuses to give up who he is just because people find it inconvenient that he has a will of his own. ”
Silence descended as they stared at each other. There was no ship outside full of people, only the three of them facing a decisive moment.
Adrian said, “Do you really think I will do what you want without being forced?”
Chell looked down at him. “I think you’re both smart enough to find a way. You’re both Firsters after all.”
“If I didn’t know any better, Chell,” said the Admiral. “I’d think you were trying to manipulate us.”
“I wouldn’t dare, sir.”
Adrian said, “You would.”
"I think the Lieutenant's right."
"Sir…I…" Chell's eyes were dismayed. "I never intended…"
"Relax, First Officer." Verel exhaled and began pacing slowly, his eyes focused in the distance. "What you're asking is not that simple. Even if I don't break him, someone else will."
Adrian's eyes narrowed. There was subtext he was not seeing; something else was going on.
Knees on the hard metal floor were not very comfortable, even for a hard military man. Chell got up and said, "Then we must keep him on the ship. Don't give Fleet-Com…"
Verel's hand went up immediately to stop him from mentioning the name. "The only way we can do that is if Stannis cooperates."
A mocking laugh greeted this statement. Adrian said, "So this pathetic charade has finally reached its conclusion. If you couldn't force me into cooperating, you will trick me into it."
The Admiral and Chell exchanged shocked looks. After the significance of what had been said, this cynicism was a cold avalanche. Verel said, "I know what it must look like to you."
"Do you really?" His eyes flashed like uncut diamonds, rough with sarcasm and mistrust.
"I haven't given you many reasons to trust me."
The Admiral sighed tiredly, anticipating many long, frustrating 'discussions' ahead. Facing a squadron of alien ships was much simpler. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
"I have no interest in advancing your career."
Chell snapped, "That's out of line, Lieutenant. The Admiral is not that kind of man."
"Don’t tell me he won't get a commendation if this Project succeeds." The bitterness in Adrian's voice was like acid that churned up his insides. "Then he'll pass me onto the next person who needs my services."
"You're not a slave, Lieutenant."
There was a dry laugh. "I'm sure your definition of a free man is very different from mine, Admiral. Mine doesn't include having a device in my head that can be used to control my actions."
The Admiral grimaced at the damning words.
"And spare me any false platitudes," said Adrian.
The rampant mistrust and cynicism was wearing on the Admiral. He blew out a breath of frustration. "Can you let go of your cynicism for just a few minutes and work with me?"
"I see no reason to."
"You're making this much harder."
"You were under the impression I was trying to make it easier? My mistake."
"You're a stubborn bastard, Stannis."
"I've been called worse."
"I don’t doubt that.” Trying to help this man was proving harder than torturing him. “I know you're tired."
"Having my brain shredded from the inside for an hour can do that."
The Admiral winced.
“I highly recommend it,” said Adrian. How could a voice be so flat but contain such sarcasm?
“I’m not the one who had it put in you.” This man was making him feel defensive, something he hadn’t experienced in a long time.
“You’re the one who uses it.”
“What if I promise never to use it again on you? Would you trust me then?”
“I don’t play games.”
The First Officer had been observing and had stepped back, waiting for the two men to find their own understanding. It was quickly obvious that this was not going to be an easy process. Adrian had too few experiences that led him to trust anyone, least of people who had power over him and had just used it to such painful effect.
As long as the device was in his head, Adrian was right; he was little more than a slave. Whatever Fleet-Commander Tennyson wanted of him, it wasn't as a human being.
Chell was a career soldier and he knew the necessity of military discipline. It was used for infractions, nothing more. To use force in this way, to break a man’s spirit because he would not be a machine for them, made him sick to his stomach. “Lieutenant.”
Adrian turned his head to look in his direction.
“I know it’s hard for you to trust anyone. Least of all us.”
There was warmth and sincerity in his tone and despite Adrian’s automatic tendency to reject everything these two said, he found this voice gave him a familiar, comforting feel. He wasn’t sure why but it made him uneasy even as part of him responded to it. “Trust is earned.”
“You’re right,” said the Admiral. “I can’t do anything about removing the device in your head or releasing you from this Project, that's not in my control, but I will try my best to make it easier for you. No more torture.”
“If I cooperate?” The cynicism had not abated.
“No.” The Admiral shook his head. “It is my promise to you, regardless of whether you decide to cooperate or not.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“I expect you to test me on it. I will not use force on you. Or Ensign Tranton.”
Adrian’s eyes widened slightly in surprise at the inclusion of Kali. The Admiral could very well have made one promise, but kept the other one back to use against him later. His instincts told him not to fall for the Admiral’s promises. They were only words and he had played the fool far too many times in the past.
The Admiral continued, “But I won't lie to you. I cannot control if someone else orders it, then I would have no choice.”
Adrian almost laughed; he was right after all. It was too good to be true.
“The only way to keep you relatively safe is if you stay here, but if I don’t satisfy my superiors, you will pass out of my hands.”
“Is that a threat?”
“It’s a reality I cannot control.”
The First Officer’s earnest voice slid through his barriers again. A caring, supportive voice, its low timbres like the comforting, regular beat of a heart. “The Admiral is trying his best to help you. Give him a chance.”
“I can’t stop you from being a fool if you insist on testing the consequences,” said the Admiral. “Once you pass out of my hands, you will no longer have a choice. I can only protect you and the Ensign if you stay here.”
"I'm a fool either way." But did he want to be a fool who trusted or one who failed to trust? "Why are you doing this?"
"Perhaps we're both fools?"
It was unfortunate eyes were not a magical window to the soul, then Adrian would have been able to determine which choice was the right one in the way he liked, as a fact he was certain of. He certainly tried, with his eyes boring into the Admiral's with disturbing intensity. "Tell me who is giving you your orders concerning me."
It was an unexpected question. Verel stared at him. He had been ordered to keep this information confidential. "Fleet-Commander Tennyson."
The room seemed to be holding its breath until Adrian answered. "I see." He looked up at the ceiling, his eyes deep with thought. "It would not be in your best interests to help me then."
"Do you want to tell me why?" The idea Adrian might have a conflict with the Fleet-Commander was worrying. Verel knew the man's hard-line reputation. He was risking a great deal if Tennyson was involved.
"So I answer your question but you will not answer mine?" Could he afford to do this for a man he barely knew? He glanced at his First Officer's attentive face and knew what he would say.
"You asked me a question before."
"Yes. Why did you sabotage the Neutron Wave Project?"
"It was not for the reasons you stated."
"It wasn't political or for money?"
It was a concession, not much of one, but it was a start.
"You have powerful enemies."
"I have many enemies. You would be a fool to help me."
"That is my decision."
Adrian studied the Admiral's face and his eyes, scouring them for a clue. Could he trust this man? Dare he trust him? He found nothing to satisfy his fact-starved mind but he didn't have a choice, his own abilities were of limited use without the advantages of someone like Andrew Tennyson. "Then I promise to be less difficult."
"That's not much of a return for risking my neck and my career."
"That is all I can give you."
Adrian still lay on the ground and the Admiral stood above him, but he was no longer a towering, oppressive presence. Chell's serious face and warm eyes bound them together in a common endeavour.
"You don't give me much of a choice."
"You're the one with the choices."
The steps were small, some might call them miniscule. They were two people stepping out over a dark chasm of uncertainty, their hands still gripping firmly onto the edges.
"And you're taking one back."
"Isn't that what you're trying to do? Or have you changed your mind?" His eyes dared Verel to prove him right.
"You'll always be difficult and cynical, won't you?"
"It's kept me alive."
Yes, but to what, thought the Admiral. "I think you enjoy being a pain."
A smile tugged at the corner of Adrian's lips.
"Alright. Chell will help you back to your quarters. Have the rest of the day to rest. I will take care of Kegan."