Still set in maderr's Kidnapped-verse, and uses characters from my Breaking Protocol and her No Matter What.
Be Careful What You Wish For
There were certain things that should never be brought up in meetings unless you were looking for a fight, and High Councilor Ramadanya's... preferences... were one of them. Pyotr didn't think they'd gotten a single thing accomplished other than keeping Ramadanya from permanently maiming Torrik, and now he had a headache as well. He carefully locked the door behind him and was halfway to his desk when a quiet voice made him jump and whirl.
"There's tea on your desk, the anti-head-hurting kind, two different people have attempted to access your files while you've been gone, and your security sucks. I fixed it."
Dredging up a faint smile and willing his heartbeat to even out, Pyotr finished the walk to his desk and dropped down into his chair with a quiet sigh. "Tau."
The Gremlin was sitting cross-legged in a corner with scattered bits and pieces of the stars only knew what lying nearby. He had a Zan-fuser in one hand, several wires in the other, and a laser wrench in the coil of his tail. Whatever he was doing had the majority of his attention for he didn't even bother to look up.
Shaking his head with a slight smile, Pyotr located both teacup and the odd looking pot sitting nearby that he could only assume held the promised tea. "Ah, Tau..."
"Automatic All-Purpose Decoder Teapot," the Gremlin explained, still bent to his task. "It'll crack any encryption you run through it, and makes fairly reasonable tea." He paused, then finally looked up. "I think. You and your strange need to drink grass water..."
Chuckling quietly, Pyotr located the 'Pour Tea' button and managed to fill his teacup. He took a tentative sip, smiling at the taste. "It tastes excellent," he replied, "Grass and all."
The Gremlin snorted and looked back down at his electronics, the slightest quirking of his lips letting Pyotr know the compliment was appreciated. It was odd, sometimes, dealing with Tau Ceti. The not-quite twenty-one year old was becoming fairly well known on Zero for his work, and to all appearances the Gremlin was smug, self-assured, and insufferably arrogant. It was only in quiet moments like this, usually after Tau had unveiled one of the less-than-legal projects he worked on for Pyotr, that a hint of the insecure child he'd once been could be seen.
It was like having a younger brother, though Tau Ceti would certainly have argued with him had Pyotr ever voiced that thought. To Tau, who had a twin in the form of Omicron Theta, brothers were horrible, jealous, spiteful things that were to be avoided at all costs. He didn't seem to have realized that their odd relationship was almost exactly what 'normal' brothers did. The verbal sparring, the gentle teasing, and the certainty of knowing that no matter what happened, each would be there to support the other.
Pyotr smiled softly and started calling up reports, communiques, meeting briefs, and all of the other endless things that came along with the position of a Lower Chancellor. Days like today made him wish he'd stayed a High Councilor. Looking toward tomorrow, however, only gave him the motivation to do more and work harder. There was still so much more he could do. Would do. By whatever means necessary.
He was looking over a file he most certainly was not supposed to have, a detailed compilation of the abandoned combat-interface system that had been declared illegal long ago after the research claimed the lives of practically everyone involved with it, when a faint shifting of air alerted him to the fact that someone was standing just behind him. He switched off the screen, drawing a protest from the snooping Gremlin.
"Hey, I wasn't done reading that!" A long green tail with a silken black tuft snaked beneath Pyotr's hand to switch the screen back on. Pyotr switched it right back off again.
"You're not supposed to be reading that." He smiled wryly. "Neither am I, technically."
"Why not?" Tau Ceti asked, trying to push Pyotr's hand out of the way. "It looks like fun."
Pyotr chuckled quietly. "It's been declared illegal, Tau. You do remember what illegal means, right?"
"Sure." Tau Ceti shrugged. "Don't get caught."
Pyotr winced. Having an incredibly brilliant Gremlin for a friend who thought rules had only been invented so that he could circumvent them was very useful at times. At other times, it made his blood run cold when he considered the kind of trouble Tau could get into if anyone else ever knew.
"There are very good reasons this one's illegal, Tau. It was abandoned after the research proved that damage to the machinery resulted in death for the interfacers. All of them."
Tau Ceti shrugged. "Then the neuro-transfer levels were too high and they were operating without a safety override. I could fix it."
Pyotr sighed. "Tau, it's been tried. The system was worked on in secret for several terms after it was declared inhumane. There were redundant safety systems, emergency overrides, buffers between the interfacers and the equipment... it still failed."
"But you know it's still possible," Tau Ceti countered, coming around Pyotr's chair and sitting on the desk.
"Is it?" Pyotr asked. "Or is it just an idea that can't be realized."
"How do I get into your office? Or your suite?" Tau Ceti asked suddenly, violet eyes gleaming.
Pyotr frowned. Usually the Gremlin slipped in when he wasn't around, but on those few occasions when he had been present... "You do something to the locks."
White teeth flashed as the Gremlin grinned. "I talk to them. Then they do what I tell them to do." His tail flicked back and forth along Pyotr's desk like an impatient snake. "Let me try. I'll make it work for you. For whoever you want me to set it up for. You know I can."
Pyotr hesitated. He'd read the reports. There had been Gremlins working on the project before. They'd all suffered the same fate as the rest of the specialists. And yet... He looked at the teapot, A.A.P.D.T. etched boldly into the side. It wouldn't hurt to let Tau fiddle with it for a while. When he eventually came to the conclusion that it didn't work, that would be the end of it. He'd go on to a new project and Pyotr would be able to safely say that there was no way to resurrect the project.
"Alright," he said softly, "But don't you dare test it without talking to me first. No one dies if we decide to toy around with this."
Grinning from one pointed green ear to the other, Tau triumphantly switched the screen back on and resumed his reading. His right hand hovered lightly over the controls, tiny sparks of what appeared to be electricity occasionally appearing in the space between. He read quickly, barely even seeming to blink, then sat back slowly upon reaching the end of the file.
Pyotr looked up at the Gremlin sitting on his desk, smiling despite himself at the dreamy, faraway look on his friend's face. A few minutes later Tau hopped down off Pyotr's desk and walked out of the office, leaving behind the metallic bird he'd been working on before. Old projects weren't important. New projects, that was what Tau Ceti lived for.
- Two Months Later -
Having gotten no response from Tau's workshop the last three times he'd tried calling over there, Pyotr finally gave up and went down in search of the Gremlin in person. He'd barely heard from Tau ever since giving him permission to pick up the work on the combat-interface system and now that all communication had gone silent he was really starting to worry. He pressed his palm to the access reader, relieved when its quiet chirp told him he was still on the Approved list, and stepped inside.
As usual, there were bits and pieces of things everywhere. He made his way cautiously past the towers of components and broken devices, threading his way back to where he knew the Gremlin's holographic imaging chamber was. That, he figured, was where he was most likely to find Tau Ceti.
His guess had been correct. The Gremlin was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, holograms of circuitboards, chips, and something he was fairly certain was a diagram of human neural pathways drifting around him in a wide circle. He was wearing the same jumpsuit he'd had on the last time Pyotr had seen him and staring blankly forward.
"Tau!" Pyotr flinched, kneeling down next to the Gremlin and shaking him gently. "Tau Ceti. Tau."
Violet eyes blinked slowly at they attempted to focus on him. For a moment he almost thought there was recognition, then the Gremlin promptly toppled over. Pyotr caught him before his head hit the floor, pulling the painfully light man into his arms and standing, mentally berating himself even as he swiftly carried Tau out of the workroom and back to Pyotr's suite in the Palace of Eternity.
He should have known this would happen. Tau Ceti took 'obsessive' to all new levels. He'd known, he'd seen it before, but he hadn't quite realized just how bad it could get when the Gremlin was thwarted. There was a very good chance that Tau hadn't gotten more than an hour's sleep every few days for the last two months in his intense determination to figure out the problem.
A problem without an answer.
Pyotr shook his head and sighed quietly, looking down at the unconscious Gremlin in his arms. He'd get Tau cleaned up, make him rest, and then give him something else to do with the firm order to cease all work on the combat-interface project. It wasn't worth this. Not even remotely.
- Thirty-Six Hours Later -
"You sedated me!"
Pyotr winced and looked up to meet the furious Gremlin's gaze. "You were a mess, Tau. You hadn't bathed or slept, and I'm fairly certain you hadn't eaten anything either. I won't have you killing yourself over a foolish project that was rightfully put aside terms ago."
"I almost had it!" Tau Ceti snapped, managing to look both sleepy and wrathful at the same time. "Now I'm going to have to go back to the beginning and start all over again!"
"No, you're not," Pyotr said quietly, putting the hard edge of authority behind his words. "I'll give you something else to fix, but you're not going to touch the interface system again."
Tau was absolutely livid. "You don't get to tell me what to do. I'm not a stupid human, so I'm not part of your precious Infinitum Government and therefore you have no hold over me," he spat.
Ignoring the hurt that the words caused, Pyotr remained firm. "I am not having you wearing yourself to nothing over an impossible system, Tau. You're a living being, not a computer. You need to rest and recharge just as much as the rest of us, and I refuse to let you kill yourself by being too stubborn for your own good. Until you learn how to manage your time so that you don't put your health at risk, maybe I need to stop involving you in my work."
Tau Ceti tensed, his entire body trembling, hands curled up into fists. For a moment it looked as though he would actually reach out and strike someone, then slowly he lifted his chin to glare darkly at Pyotr. "Fine," he hissed. "I won't help you any more, if that's the way you want it. Good day, Chancellor Kavalerov."
The Gremlin stalked past him, electricity crackling as he forced the doors open from a distance. They were sluggish to close again once he was gone, and once they had Pyotr sank back into his chair and closed his eyes. That hadn't gone at all the way it was supposed to.
- One half-term later -
Pyotr stared blankly at the screen, reaching up for the twentieth time that day to rub at his temples and wish his headache would go away. On the corner of his desk, Tau's teapot sat in mute reminder that he no longer had the Gremlin's abilities to call on when his current problem, like so many that had cropped up in the last eleven months, could have been solved so much easier with the application of a little Gremlin mischief.
He hadn't realized just how much it had made things easier to have a friend he could trust, one that didn't worry about what was proper and how others viewed him. Too many times he'd put in a call to Tau's workshop only to remember at the last minute that the Gremlin wasn't there. Wasn't even on Zero.
Apparently even the not inconsiderable resources of a Lower Chancellor could find one angry Gremlin when that Gremlin didn't want to be found.
He was still mulling over the same report when there came a knock on his door. Absently he called a greeting, looking up at the sound of footsteps and blinking at the man who gazed down at him with a completely unreadable expression on his beautiful face.
"Jade..." Pyotr blinked, rising. "What brings you here?"
Lower Chancellor Jade Alexander's perfect lips twisted into a dry smile. "I believe have a message for you."
Pyotr blinked again. "Message?"
Jade laughed softly, amber eyes gleaming with some private amusement. "On my way back from a visit to the fourth quadrant, I had this pressed into my hand." He held up a small datapad, only a few inches square. "It repeats the same message over and over: Pyotr Kavalerov, I'm Sorry." He reached out and placed the pad on Pyotr's desk. "I had some of my people look at it and as far as they can tell it's not dangerous, but there are more security encryptions on that one little pad than on the Palace of Eternity itself." One perfectly shaped brow rose questioningly.
Letting out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding, Pyotr reached out and picked up the small datapad. The message flickered across the screen exactly as Jade had relayed, then there was a slight prickle as hidden sensors read his genetic code. A moment later the message disappeared, to be replaced with a set of coordinates for an area deep in the fourth quadrant, and a single word. Please.
Pyotr looked up slowly. "I... got into an argument with a friend," he explained slowly for Jade's benefit. "I suppose this is his way of apologizing."
That elegant brow arched again. "You have odd friends, Pyotr," Jade commented, then turned and let himself out. Pyotr stared after him for a moment, then looked back down at the datapad. He had a trip to organize.
- Five Days Later -
Pyotr looked around the small spaceport slowly, wondering what he was supposed to do now. There really wasn't much on the planet aside from the massive construction complex that was responsible for about an eighth of the ships currently flown in the private sector and a handful of the more customized ships used by the IG. The small city that catered to the workers boasted little that would make it attractive to anyone who didn't live on the planet, but he supposed it was at least a start.
"Hey. Ice boy."
Frowning, Pyotr turned to regard the grisly, iron-thewed shipworker that was grinning at him. He arched a brow rather pointedly. "Boy?"
The big man chuckled and held up his hands defensively. "Sorry. Habit. Look, I was just supposed to watch for someone matching your description and point him in the right direction."
"And what direction would that be?"
One thick arm waved somewhere behind him. "Berth 175-S. I can show you if you-"
"That won't be necessary, thank you." Pyotr turned and started walking in the direction indicated, watching carefully for the berth markers. Fortunately there were no footsteps behind him, so it seemed as though the big man wasn't inclined to follow. He didn't particularly want to cause a scene by incapacitating the man when he was only here on personal business. It wouldn't reflect well on the IG.
Fifteen minutes of walking later found him at the cargo hatch of a Combat Class ship with no one in sight. He considered for a moment, double-checked the berth number, then walked up the narrow construction ramp and into the bay. The ship was blatantly new, enough that none of the interior markings had been finished. As there was still no one in sight, Pyotr made his way to the rear of the small bay and through the door.
The lights overhead flickered briefly, then dimmed, before fading on and off in a repeating pattern that beckoned him deeper into the ship. Surprised and curious, Pyotr followed the lights as they led him down several corridors, up a lift, and then finally onto the bridge. Parts of it looked exactly like any other Combat Class ship he'd been on, while other parts were completely new. He stepped forward to get a better look at some of the equipment he didn't recognize when movement caught his attention.
Tau Ceti slowly got up from the command chair, his tail twining nervously around his legs and his ears drooping. He fidgeted, staring at the flooring between them rather than meeting Pyotr's eyes.
"Tau." In three long strides Pyotr had crossed the intervening distance and swept the Gremlin into a tight hug. "You idiot."
"M'sorry," Tau mumbled, still not quite meeting Pyotr's eyes aside from a brief sneaked glance now and then. "I slept... and I ate... and I took a bath this morning..." the Gremlin told him cautiously.
Pyotr laughed, ruffling Tau Ceti's hair and getting shoved away for his troubles. "Well, I'll count that as progress." He hesitated. "What is this, Tau?"
The Gremlin flushed and looked away, trailing his fingers over an odd configuration on the arm of the command chair. "It's..." The Gremlin took a deep breath before turning to face him again. "It's the Melee."
Frowning slightly in confusion, Pyotr echoed, "The Melee? What-" He stopped as comprehension flooded. "You didn't."
"The biggest problem," Tau Ceti said softly, "Was that we kept trying to make it work for everyone. That's not possible. There are a certain combination of factors required to interface with electronic components and not everyone has them. Once I figured that out all I had to do was isolate and enhance the factors in question and set up the systems accordingly."
Pyotr let out a slow breath. "You tested this?" If anyone had gotten injured just so that one stubborn Gremlin could win an argument...
Tau Ceti scowled. "It took me forever to find someone with the proper qualifications. People out this way are even more stupid than people on Zero. Then I had to pay him!" The Gremlin's tail lashed at the indignity.
Against his better judgment, Pyotr chuckled. "When you decide to use people as test subjects, they do like to get compensated," he observed.
"Hmph." Tau Ceti dropped back into the chair and shot him a dirty look, then ran his fingers along the arms again. "He can't run the whole ship, though. You're going to have to find someone really special to do that, because ordinary people won't be able to handle the stress." Teeth flashed as the Gremlin grimaced. "And I couldn't fix the feedback backlash issue, so you'll also probably have to keep a full-time medic on board."
"Translated loosely as the poundingly worst headache you've ever had in your life," a new voice spoke up cheerfully. Pyotr turned to find a red skinned quad one human leaning casually against the wall, his curly dark hair held back away from his face by a bright red bandanna. He was dressed casually in work clothes and had a smear of some unfamiliar substance across his nose and one cheek.
Pyotr arched a brow and the young man stared back, still grinning. Tau Ceti made a faintly disgusted sound and rolled his eyes. "Ice Princess, meet Gypsy."
Gypsy laughed aloud. "Ice Princess, huh? You don't look much like a princess, no offense. You another test tube toy?"
Before Pyotr could decide how to properly answer that, Tau jumped over the arm of the chair to glare fixedly at Gypsy. "Can you not be an idiot for ten minutes? No, he's not a test subject, but if he was he'd run circles around you. He owns the Melee."
Both Gypsy and Pyotr blinked, Gypsy shrugging sheepishly and coming further onto the bridge. "Sorry. Guess you're the boss then, huh? Nice toy."
Pyotr calmly clasped a hand over Tau's mouth and pulled him back away from the impudent man before an Incident occurred. The Gremlin struggled only halfheartedly and settled for glaring daggers at Gypsy instead. "You, it seems, like to live dangerously," Pyotr commented blandly.
Gypsy laughed. "You mean that thing he does with the electricity?" He held up three fingers. "Three times now. He says if I pick the locks one more time he's going to make it permanent."
Tau Ceti finally succeeded in squirming out of Pyotr's grasp and stalked over to the grinning brunette, dragging the man over to one of the odd-looking consoles and forcing him into the chair. "You are going to shut up and go test out the aft-port weapons systems that I just modified."
Smirking, Gypsy waved goodbye to Pyotr and set about skillfully manipulating the board in front of him. As he did so, Tau Ceti walked back over to stand next to Pyotr and look supremely annoyed. "I hate him."
"You can't find someone to test the systems that you actually get along with?" Pyotr asked, bemused.
Tau shot him a pointed look. "Do I get along with anyone?" he asked dryly, then sighed and his brows furrowed as he looked back at the red man who had gone quite still. "Believe me, I'd love to, but... I didn't think you'd want too many people knowing about the Melee and Gypsy, much as I really don't want to admit it, can be trusted."
"Oh?" Pyotr arched a brow.
The Gremlin's lips quirked into one of those smiles that Pyotr normally associated with 'Requiring Immediate Damage Control.' "He hasn't figured out I know yet, but he's Internal Affairs." The smile darkened. "I also took the liberty of looking up his entire history, just to be on the safe side."
Pyotr shook his head slowly, completely unable to keep from smiling fondly. "Has it ever occurred to you that you are a very devious man?"
Tau snorted and turned to look up at him. "I learned from the Grand Master. Of course I'm devious." He grabbed ahold of Pyotr's sleeve and tugged him toward one of the smaller consoles off to the side. "Now come on, I want to show you how the system works and explain what exactly you're going to have to look for when you dig up some unfortunates to crew this thing, cause I sure as hell am not doing it myself."