Genre: Drama, Action
Credit: The second scene is co-developed with Darkstar of Storiesmania. I am borrowing two of the characters created for a story he is writing within this universe.
His parallel story can be found here: The Confederation Empire: Bastion of the Empire – Part 1
Note: I am reposting this because I've added two additional scenes.
Adrian's face relaxed in sleep, smoothing out the harsh lines and hard set of the jaw, leaving a boyish charm. Kali touched his face and placed her hand on his chest, stroking him gently, feeling the comforting rise-and-fall of the chest. It was good to finally see him at rest. He had a tendency to bottle stresses up until the force of them tore him apart.
She knew working in the Lab was hard and exhausting for Adrian. His normally rigid control and emptiness of expression was tested constantly by Kegan, the detestable Tech Commander. Most of the time, Adrian could maintain an even temper and was only a faint, ordered presence at the edge of her consciousness, his mind a busy but calm hive of activity.
At least once a day, she could feel his frustration and anger rise to boiling level and he would come close to losing control. She watched for those times and would instantly be there for him, sending him strength and calm, encouraging him, reminding him what he needed to do.
He would do it for her, wrestle with his pride, bear the humiliation of bowing to someone he detested and learn to curb his tongue when he only wanted to speak the truth. It didn't always succeed but it was becoming easier. And with that ease, she was becoming increasingly worried. Living this way was wearing him down even worse than the pain in his head and the long hours.
He would come back to their cabin late at night with only enough energy to give her a brief kiss, drag himself to the shower and then collapse into bed, already asleep when his head hit the pillow.
Kali hugged him and placed her head on his shoulder, smelling the clean scent of him and feeling the warmth of this body. He was like a caged animal who needed to be free. If he continued to live like this, he would die.
Everywhere the Empire was under siege, whether it was alien incursions or daily rebel actions. The Empire's forces were stretched thin. The balance was tipping towards chaos.
"In the Old Calendar, they had a Doomsday Clock." Andrew Tennyson leaned back in his chair and loosened his collar. When he was not being the man-who-was-to-be-feared, he could almost be human, to a few select people. One of those being fellow Fleet-Commander and clandestine lover, Anita Cressins.
The weekly State-of-the-Fleet meeting was finally over and Anita had lingered after the other Council members left. No one dared suggest they had anything other than a professional relationship though most of them probably knew.
When these two were alone, there was no rank between them, only a familiar relationship Tennyson had come to depend on. Only with her, did the deadness in his hazel eyes fade a little to reveal the man rather than a cold calculating tactician.
"That sounds ominous." Anita was highly intelligent and beloved by many. People would follow her to hell and back. However, some, mainly the rebels, called her a skilled and deceptive manipulator. Her blond hair, swept to one side and pulled in a sweeping ponytail in back, gave her an innocent air, but not that of a naive child. It was hard to believe ill of her, especially when you looked into her vulnerable blue eyes. In some ways, she was more powerful, by influence, than Andrew was even though she held the Fourth Seat in the Fleet Council and he was First.
But he was the one who got things done with brilliant and ruthless efficiency.
"Considering what happened later, I would call it depressingly prophetic."
She entered a few notes from the meeting into her datapad. "Why are you bringing this up?"
"Because, my dear," he sighed, the crinkled tension around his eyes signalling his frustration, "people never learn. The human race could be on the verge of annihilation, and yet all people are concerned about are their own petty regional interests."
"This is about the rebels, isn't it?" Her voice was soft and there was a natural sympathy to it that drew people to her.
A wry smile released some of the tension on his face. For some familiarity breeds contempt, but for Andrew it meant the security of someone who would not misunderstand him. "They're a nuisance. They make ineffectual attacks and claim a victory, but they tie up valuable resources we need to fight the aliens."
She nodded slowly, putting her datapad down. "Propaganda value. Even if they don't achieve their primary objective, they still win because they were able to resist. It gives dissenters hope. Or most likely, that was their primary objective in the first place."
"You understand them better than I do."
As a teenager, Anita had been forcibly conscripted by a group of rebels on her home planet and trained to work as a field medic. It was during those years she learnt the most about the hearts of people, what could break a person – and more importantly: what could make him indestructible. They were men and women of passion and ideals but she saw in them the same things Andrew did.
"There are…" In her mind's eye she saw the faces of those times. "…good men and women among them."
"Misguided ones." He stood up and went over to the large window that spanned the entire wall. From the top level of Fleet Command HQ, the people on ground level were little more than moving specks.
"They believed in what they were doing, just as we do." She came to stand beside him and for awhile they stood in companionable silence; the way only people completely comfortable with each other could be without intervening words.
The quiet sigh of the environment systems marked the time.
"What about Adrian Stannis?" Anita's question was a surprise but not unexpected.
"You know I take no pleasure in what is happening to him, but it is necessary. If he hadn't sabotaged the Neutron Wave Project in the first place, we would be able to concentrate on fighting the aliens instead of trying to wage a war on two fronts." He rubbed a neck tight from too much stress, kneading it with experienced fingers.
"Do we know why he did it?"
"I have Verel working on him."
"Perhaps we can try to persuade him to do the right thing." Her eyes were sincere.
The flicker of a smile crossed his face. "I knew you were going to say that." But even Anita could not chase the darkness away permanently. His eyes reassumed the look of the grim reaper. "But unfortunately, he refused."
Her eyes tightened slightly in a grimace. She knew only too well that look on his face and what it meant to those who would oppose his will. "So you're intent on breaking him?"
"Just enough to make him compliant. Not enough to interfere with his creativity. He's a brilliant man. I gave him an impossible deadline but it appears he might meet it. He doesn't disappoint."
"Unfortunately for him." Anita sighed unhappily. She understood the necessity but it didn't mean she liked it.
"He could help us end both wars much faster if he were willing to work with us."
She turned her head towards him. "Have you considered using the psychostrategists?"
"The mind-benders? I don't trust them. They're supposed to be mercenary but I have a feeling they have their own agenda."
"Everyone has an agenda. The trick is to find a conjunction of purposes. Within that, you can trust them. In this case, the psychostrategists can be trusted to fulfil their commission, as long as you pay their price."
His lips curled in distaste. He knew the reputation of the psychostrategists, a group of arrogant manipulators who saw everyone else as puppets. Andrew was motivated by a need to safeguard the human race. The psychostrategists were mercenaries and their skills were available to whomever could pay their exorbitant prices.
Nevertheless, if they could manipulate Stannis into working for them willingly, without breaking his spirit, it might be worth it. "I will consider it."
The Verindi were pasty-coloured and hairless but otherwise humanoid, at least in a physical sense. The Empire had never been able to form an alliance with them, either political or for commerce. Not even for exchange of cultures. No one really knew why.
The diplomatic corps were stymied and it was decided to try a different approach. The Empire needed all the allies it could get in the fight against the aliens. Technology-wise the Verindi were on par with the Empire and had a substantial territory of their own that spanned two Sectors.
"Remind me why we're doing this and not one of the diplomatic ships?" grumbled Admiral Verel as he stood on the teleport platform, tugging at the high, stiff collar of the dress uniform that seemed intent on strangling him.
Captain Chell held back a sigh. Sometimes the Admiral could be like a petulant child when dealing with formalities. "You know why, sir. They weren't able to get anywhere with the Verindi. Fleet HQ thought they might be impressed with someone more forceful and has a reputation."
"I wouldn't think a reputation for killing people would be high on a list of diplomatic skills."
The Admiral was resplendent in his black dress uniform with high collar, not that different from the regular one except with gold accents and a chest glistening with an impressive array of ribbons, medals and commendations. Chell was similarly decorated. He was a tall hero-type, muscular in an ancient statue kind of way and could have made a good propaganda tool if the right people cast their eyes in his direction. Though he would be horrified at any such suggestion.
"You're seen as a hero of the Empire, sir."
Verel snorted in derision at the term.
Chell rolled his eyes. "Well if you will insist on delivering a dozen planets from alien occupation and holding the line at Turcotta Prime, you have to pay a price." The Empire had called on one of their most decorated Admirals, hoping his reputation would make the difference a faceless diplomat would not.
"I feel naked. I need a gun." One of the conditions for the meeting was that both parties be unarmed.
"Sir, you know we can't be armed."
"Even a knife would make me feel better."
Chell eyed him suspiciously. "Sir? You don't have one hidden somewhere, do you?"
"Of course not."
"They will probably use sweepers to check, just like we will." His eyes swept the Admiral from grizzled head to toe, looking for telltale signs. There were none but with concealing technology these days, that might not mean anything.
"I told you I don't." He paused briefly before giving a long resigned sigh. "But I did consider it. Briefly."
"I'm proud of you, sir."
"Are you patronizing me, Captain?" There was a hard edge in his voice.
"I wouldn't dare, sir."
Two senior officers and Ensign Tranton joined them on the teleport pad and Verel nodded at their acknowledgements. "Ensign, are you ready?"
Kali was nervous but she had to admit to a certain amount of excitement. This was challenging and she was looking forward to doing something that might make an impact. She squared her shoulders, exuding confidence. "Yes, sir."
"Good." He made sure everyone was in position. "Crewman, send us down."
The teleport energies surrounded them, outlining them and erasing their forms until there was nothing. On the planet below, they were redrawn full formed in an instant, in the middle of a clear field.
In Science Lab 4, Adrian rubbed bleary red eyes and took a deep breath. He closed up the accelerating unit, sliding the panel into place with a click.
It was hard to concentrate knowing Kali was down on her first assignment for the Admiral. He tried to convince himself the restlessness he was feeling was irrational. There was nothing to worry about; it wasn't a combat situation. The Verindi were supposedly frustrating and mysterious but hardly dangerous.
"Day-dreaming, Stannis or is your vaunted brain stumped?" No one else's voice could sound quite as irritating as Kegan's grating one.
Adrian's back stiffened and there was a twinge of pain but he remained silent, impassive and in control. Working with Kali these past weeks helped him to realize it was easier to maintain his temper if he ignored Kegan rather than trying to respond with a scathing remark.
Ture, the military Comp Tech seconded from Research Division, gave Kegan a dirty glare. To the Tech Commander's annoyance, Ture had admired Adrian's work for years and counted himself one of his biggest fans. On the other side, Adrian had been flattered by the young tech's attention but it soon became irritating.
Ture was a lanky uncommunicative man, except when talking about computers or new technology he was unfamiliar with. There was a naiveté about him when he was enthusiastic about something. He said to Adrian, "Sir, I'm ready to test it when you are."
"Connect the leads."
When Ture smiled, it lit up his face like a child in a candy shop. He picked up two clear optical cables and began slotting them into place.
Professor Boudreaux came over and stood by a control panel by the workbench, the anticipation bright in her eyes. The other engineers were standing in a semi-circle around them, watching intently.
"Ready, sir." Ture stepped back and Adrian flicked a switch. Energy hummed through the machine, lighting it up with an intense golden glow. The excitement was palpable.
"Professor, if you would…"
Boudreaux pressed several keys. A fist-sized sphere sitting on a cradle rose slowly above the workbench as all eyes turned towards it. The sphere was dirt brown and had various marks written in red. It rotated slowly as it hung above the table.
Adrian angled a parabolic signal dish towards it. "Shields."
With a few more entered commands on the control panel, a sheet of energy surrounded the sphere on all sides like a large box. Everyone unconsciously leaned forward.
There was nothing else left except the test.
Adrian looked down at red button. It glinted invitingly almost begging to be pressed. How appropriate that it would be the colour of danger. He pressed it and looked up, his eyes hooded in dark thoughts, waiting for something he dreaded.
When had the advancement of science become something that made him ill? All knowledge is useful. But for whom?
All was silent as he imagined the waves of energy reaching out hungrily.
The surface of the sphere wrinkled. All breaths drew in at once.
Boudreaux's face was rapt with attention. Her expression brought back reluctant memories of a woman on the edge, anticipating a climax that would send her into blissful oblivion. Adrian was filled with disgust at fulfilling her desires and elation that made his head spin. So many years and nothing had changed between them.
There was a loud sucking sound and the dirt brown sphere imploded, sucking its surface into itself as if there was a creature eating it from the inside. A second later, the thing shattered outwards in a loud explosion. The lab shook, objects shifted and some fell with a crash. Everyone flung their hands up protectively and take a step back but there was no need, the bits and pieces hit the shield and sizzled into nothingness.
For a moment, they were all stunned and then there was a burst of applause as everyone clapped each other on the back and shouted their joy. At first, no one approached Adrian with their congratulations, it was as if he was in an island in the middle of the crowd.
Then Ture gave Kegan a defiant look and boldly approached Adrian. He said formally, "Congratulations, sir. We couldn't have done this without you." For a moment, there was shocked silence then they all surrounded Adrian, trying to express their appreciation for work that would enhance all their careers. It should have been a moment of joy, but Adrian's face was stony.