Description: Adrian returns to the Science Lab. Bryce tries to reach out to Kerril.
"Well, well, well…" Kegan's disgustingly condescending voice greeted Adrian as he entered the Science Lab. "After your punishment yesterday, I thought they might have to carry you in."
With a frosty glare in Kegan's direction, Adrian went over to the workbench and began arranging the items he needed.
Professor Boudreaux was also present; her eyes watched him intently as he came in. "How are you feeling?"
Her voice was full of concern, but he didn't trust her for one minute. Adrian's jaw tightened in irritation. Adapting the accelerator unit to work with the ship's impulse engines needed his full attention, but these two were like predators smelling blood. They thought they had the upper hand after successfully manipulating his punishment yesterday.
The last thing Adrian wanted was to swallow his pride and feed their arrogant egos but, in the quick meeting with the Admiral this morning, it became clear what was included in their new arrangement and what wasn't.
No one could find out the Admiral was not following his orders. They could not afford Kegan or anyone else, mainly in Security Division, reporting that he was not being broken.
Grinding mental teeth, he said evenly, "You can gloat and work."
Boudreaux flashed him an ingenuous smile as she brought up the simulation models. "Of course."
She was always magnanimous in victory, and a very poor loser. They began working, easily slipping into a familiar teasing aggression that made them more productive together than apart. Until she found the next, delicious way to torment and punish him, there would be a deceptive truce of sorts. Adrian felt like a mouse next to a cat that was licking its lips in anticipation. He would much prefer to be a tiger and eat the cat.
Kegan hovered at his elbow. The ersatz Tech Commander was less creative and subtle, and much too petty to miss this opportunity. "How did it feel, Stannis? Was the pain unbearable? How long did it take before you begged them to stop?"
Adrian's hand gripped the clear sides of the accelerator unit as anger filled him. His voice was taut. "Why don't you try it and find out?"
"Maybe I'll convince them to let me watch next time."
"You do that. Meanwhile, if you have anything even less productive to do than this, I recommend you do it and leave me alone."
The sneer on Kegan's lips made him look even more toad-like, or perhaps, rat-like would be more appropriate. He grabbed the other end of the accelerator unit and pulled against Adrian's grip. "Seems you haven't learned your lesson yet. What did the Admiral say about addressing me?"
"That you're the Tech Commander." Adrian was fuming inside. He knew what this man wanted from him, but his pride rebelled at giving it to him. A stab of pain in his head added fuel to an anger he was trying to keep in check. "And a fool."
Kegan shoved hard against the unit with both hands, sending it into Adrian's chest, causing him to grunt in pain and glare in response. "Seems like I'm going to get my wish sooner than I expected. And I have your stubborn stupidity to thank for that. I'm going to look forward to this." He headed towards the exit with a spring in his step.
Adrian's teeth clenched and his eyes closed, trying force himself to do what was needed. The Admiral had warned him that he needed to learn. "Wait." He looked up as Kegan turned around in triumph.
Act defeated. A caged animal. His eyes lowered, looking down into the bowels of the accelerator. "I…apologize, Tech Commander."
Kegan came towards him, his nose twitching as if he could smell success. His superior smile made Adrian nauseous. Kegan planted his feet wide and put his hands on his waist, a small-minded man trying to make himself larger. "I didn't hear that, Lieutenant."
"I apologize," Adrian's eyes flared with anger and he looked up, "for only thinking you're a fool and not a petty, vindictive, narrow-minded…" Kegan was turning red with rage. "…little man with no talent and..." The Tech Commander grabbed a heavy spanner and whacked it across Adrian's head. Adrian jerked out of the way, but not fast enough. The crack was sickening and blood dripped from a gash in his forehead.
Adrian's lips contorted in a terrifyingly superior smile. "…and a Neanderthal…"
"You've made a serious mistake, Lieutenant!" He threw the spanner down and stalked out, presumably to look for the Admiral.
"Would you like me to kiss it and make it better?" Boudreaux handed him a cloth.
Adrian stared at her, accepted the cloth and applied it to the wound. Fortunately, the accelerator unit didn't seem the worse for wear.
"You know, Adrian. It's so much more fun when you play along," she purred and ran a finger lightly down his back, tracing the line of his spine. A smile came to her lips when his back stiffened. "But I wouldn't recommend making it too easy for Kegan."
Adrian turned and grabbed her hand. This was not going to become a habit. "I have no interest in prolonging your pleasure."
The Professor took a step forward, forcing him to take a step back, hitting the workbench. She ran a provocative finger across his tense chest, an intimate gesture, as if she was claiming him. "But you're so good at it, Adrian. Don't you remember?"
Her voice was seductive, suggestive and her closeness stirred a familiar fire in his body. His breathing was heavy as he fought against remembered sensations, the physical heat that was once between them, and was still below the surface. Lust and intellectual prowess. This woman was far more dangerous than Kegan.
After what he shared with Kali during the night, he could not let this woman get to him. He thought of cold water and ice, pouring down over his body and shivered. Adrian put his hands on her shoulders, gripping them tightly as she leaned into him, her lips parting as she lifted her head.
His lips curled in distaste and he pushed her back. "No."
Boudreaux smiled. "It's so much more fun when you play hard to get."
In the Admiral's office, Adrian stood at attention, his eyes faced forward, staring at a spot on the wood-patterned wall.
Verel watched him for a few moments as he considered the situation. Kegan had been livid. The gash on Adrian's head was a line of red but it was no longer bleeding. He tapped his fingers on the desk twice. "What am I going to do with you, Stannis?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I find it difficult to be something I'm not."
Verel shook his head and sighed. "Honesty is not always the best policy."
"I'm beginning to understand that, sir."
"Do you? I'm not so sure you understand what it means to be diplomatic."
Adrian's lips thinned in distaste. "A precursor to political expediency."
"You're wrong. It is the difference between a tactical withdrawal and fighting to a pointless death."
"I don't see the relevance."
"It's a different kind of logic than you're used to. Less rigid."
"A 'soft' science," he scoffed, a hard wall of rejection behind his dark eyes. "Subjective." To him it was a dirty word.
This was one of those headachy discussions Verel had been expecting. He sighed resignedly and ran his fingers through his short-cropped hair. Stannis had curious holes in his knowledge and understanding of the universe around him, at times gaping ones. This brilliant but stubborn man insisted on going down a path that would lead to his destruction. Didn't he understand that? Or was that what he wanted?
"Have you always been like this?"
"I see no reason to change."
"Well you're going to have to or you're going to drag all of us down with you. Including the Ensign. I know you don't want that."
Adrian paused. "I…will try to do what you suggest."
"Trying might not be enough with Kegan. The man's excitable and vindictive. Having the two of you together in the same room, is like putting two incendiary devices together and waiting to see which one explodes first. He wouldn't have been my choice to be Tech Commander for this Project, but we're stuck with him." He looked up, eyes unfocused, thinking. "Ensign Tranton may be able to help you. She has a good head on her shoulders and she knows how to handle people. And, from what I understand of her psi abilities, she can sense your emotional states."
Adrian's eyes narrowed, wondering what he was planning.
"She needs more opportunities to develop and expand her abilities. This will be a practical exercise and it will help you."
"Morning, Ensign," Bryce said cheerfully as he entered the cabin for his daily assignments. Kali sat by the computer terminal, the Verindi material scrolling across the screen throwing lines of light across her face. She nodded a greeting but was too immersed in the material to have a conversation. "He left your orders there." Kali waved absently at a thumb-sized data crystal on the desk.
"Oh, right. I won't bother you then." He picked up the crystal and slipped it into the player on the desk. Cleaning the cabin. Nothing new there. Explore the ship? Again? What kind of assignment was that? He already knew most places on the ship. Maybe Adrian wasn't used to having a PA and didn't know what to do with him. That was fine with Bryce. Less work for him and much more time for play.
His eyes scanned the cabin. It was a neat place. Adrian was a fastidious man who liked order around him.
Oh, this is new. He suppressed a smile and glanced quickly at Kali. Not intimate, eh? Not unless one of you slept on the floor last night.
Bryce sidled up to the bar, one of the posh officer ones, when he spotted Lieutenant Kerril sitting alone, nursing a pint of ale. They'd barely said a civil word to each other since he joined the ship but he still had hope. He ordered a pint of whatever was on tap and glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. She was awfully quiet.
Was she unhappy about something? It opened up all kinds of pick up lines. "You alright?"
"Oh, it's you." Her expression didn't change. She might have been picking lint from her uniform for all the reaction she gave him.
"Well don't sound too enthusiastic. You're going to embarrass me." The bartender slid a mug in his direction and he caught it with a flourish.
"I didn't think that was possible." She eyed this display critically.
"Look, I'm trying to be nice."
"What do you want?"
Her hands gripped the mug, strangling it. Bryce was glad it wasn't his neck. "Do I have to want something? Can't I just be nice?"
"I don't know, can you?" Kerril said listlessly, her eyes following the ripples in her mug, no longer paying attention to him. Lifting it to her lips, she drained the rest in two gulps and put it down. "I have to go. This has been…whatever." She slid off the tall stool and left.
&"Well, that was…," he began but she was already gone, weaving her way through the crowds. What was that about? he asked himself as he took a big swig of his own beer. She seemed depressed and she was sitting alone. Bryce looked forlornly at his almost full mug, pushed it away and went after her.
Kerril was forging ahead at full speed, looking as if she would knock down anything and anyone in her path. Fortunately, there wasn't anyone.
"Hey, Kerril, wait up!" He ran and caught up to her at the next junction.
"Why are you following me?" her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You're not stalking me, are you? I don't go in for that kind of thing."
Bryce was about to say something snarky in return but the look in her eyes stopped him. "Well, me neither. I haven't stalked anyone in ages. Actually never."
"Leave me alone." She was still walking fast and Bryce had to keep up or be left in the dust.
"It’s a free corridor. I just happen to be going this way."
"You called out to me."
"Yeah, well…I thought, since we're going the same way, we could…do it together."
Lame, Bryce. Lame. Why couldn't he think of something clever to say?
"Where are you going?"
There were only two choices down this corridor, the gym or the archives. "It doesn't matter which one I pick does it? You're going to pick the other one."
"I thought you said you weren't stalking me?"
Bryce winced. This wasn't getting him anywhere. Trying to be clever only worked if you had something clever to say.
"Well…you looked sad back there." He jerked his thumb in the direction they came from. "I thought you could use someone to talk to."
"You're trying to be nice?"
"I can be. Look, why don't we go back to the bar. If you want to talk, then I have two ears. If not…I've been known to say funny things."
Kerril slowed her advance and looked at him. "I don’t feel like funny."
"Or you could always insult me. If that would make you feel better."
Bryce grinned. "One human pin-cushion coming up."
"What's a pin-cushion?"