Machaon straightened herself with a start when the detention cell's door clicked open. O'Brian was too aloof to react and continued to stare vacantly at the ground.
Rosa followed Akela, who strode authoritatively into the room. Sending nonverbal messages to Machaon, Rosa indicated that the girl should leave but stay nearby. She planned to talk to her later, but right now four people crammed into this small room would be nearly unbearable. O'Brian only lazily looked up after Akela's pale legs stopped directly in front of him.
Akela had an uncommon and imposing figure. She was only slightly taller than a meter and a half, but she was built like a tank. For the past two months, Akela had been daily weighted down by roughly 120 kg of bulky workout equipment. She wore a non-standard uniform that left her bare chest exposed so that the padded straps of the equipment didn't cover any fabric and become hot and sweaty or chafe uncomfortably. Twenty kilos were fastened securely to each of her forearms, but in spite of this, her movements retained a natural fluidity as if she was wearing nothing at all. This was a part of an intensive gravity training regimen, intended to increase one's durability in environments of gravity nearly three times that of Earth. Akela had signed on for such a regimen nearly twelve years ago when she herself was only seventeen. Since then, the burden she carried had increased in small increments according to a very slow and lenient schedule with off-days and regular breaks included for safety. Twelve years ago, she had started at 25 kilos total. Now she carried 120 at all times as if it was a trifle, and she still had yet to discover her maximum capacity.
She was the only person as pale-skinned as himself that O'Brian had seen all day, and like everyone else, she was shaved bald and heavily tattooed. O'Brian couldn't have known, but body art was unofficially a sign of status in Homerian culture. The more heavily inked someone was, the more likely they held a high position in society. And Akela's skin was, in fact, more ornate than anyone he had yet to meet.
Akela was decorated head to toe with blue geometric designs. Following the curves of her muscles, they strategically covered only certain parts of her skin so that the designs' shapes warped when she moved. In full motion, Akela's body was like abstract rippling water- a flick of her wrist was a splash, and a kick of her leg was a waterfall's cascade. As if indicating where to look, many of the cerulean patterns ended with the shape of an arrow head.
Such was the woman who stood before him- short, tattooed, topless, and incredibly well-toned.
She knelt on one knee and looked toward O'Brian, speaking in her most empathetic voice, "Emmet Cillian O'Brian, do you know me?"
O'Brian froze in a dumbfounded expression for a long moment. Hearing his full name from the mouth of a stranger was weird. The way she framed her question was also unusual, and her appearance went well beyond anything that he considered normal. For a conventional woman, O'Brian considered her physical presentation wildly inappropriate. "Do I know you?" O'Brian uttered once in his head.
"Do I know you?" O'Brian spoke aloud this time, clearing the fog of his headache, "You aren't exactly hard to recognize! I know you. You're the tike who socked me in the gut and landed me here! -Do I know you? How do you fucking figure I could forget you?"
O'Brian spat as he spoke, and Akela delicately dashed a bit of spittle off of her cheek with a finger. "I did not 'sock you in the gut'," she said, "Although I imagine for you that is what it might have felt like." Akela knelt down fully and hid any signs of indignation from her face.
Rosa likewise lowered herself to a seating position on the holding cell's short table and rested her back against a wall. In all her brief interactions with him, she had never seen O'Brian show any attitude like this. She had been under the impression that he was much more submissive. But if he could launch rational retorts at Akela now, then Rosa figured he must not have had a terribly severe concussion.
O'Brian scoffed. "You did what you did. You know damn well what you did- why the hell are you even in here to talk to me!?"
Akela remained composed. "I've actually come to apologize to you, San. O'Brian." With this, she relaxed her posture and prostrated herself in the center of the room, putting her forehead to the ground and extending her arms out in front of her.
From his corner, O'Brian squinted at the display.
Akela spoke with incredible formality. "Emmet O'Brian, my actions towards you were in the heat of the moment, and although I believe I took the best course of action that I was capable of at the time, I have since been enlightened to other ways I could have possibly resolved the situation. In the future, I will attempt to bridge any conflicts with you through communication first. It was wrong of me to immediately resort to physical force, and I pray that you can forgive me." Akela stayed lowered on the ground.
O'Brian had no idea how he was supposed to react to this speech. Yet again he found himself somehow confounded.
Although she disliked Akela, Rosa still found herself impressed. To Rosa, Akela's only character trait seemed to be pride. And yet, in situations such as this, she seemed to be able to swallow that pride and apologize with what seemed like genuine sincerity. Although Rosa felt at odds against Akela, she accepted that she was a legitimately talented captain and a woman of exceptionally strong character. It was only because of Akela's incredible strength that she was able to temporarily embrace a submissive position such as this. Even with her face pressed to the floor, she had only made it clearer still to Rosa that she was the person commanding the most authority in the room. –O'Brian had no power in this situation, but Akela was granting him an iota of it. He could accept or reject her apology.
O'Brian eventually broke his stunned silence. "That's a very solemn speech… -I don't know that I forgive you, but I accept your apology."
Akela raised her head and curled herself back up onto the balls of her feet. "That's your right. I obviously can't force you to grant me forgiveness." She closed her eyes and gave a soft nod of acknowledgement.
"-But of course you'll carefully neglect to tell him any details about the complaint-filing process that he also has a right to," Rosa thought to herself spitefully from her side of the room.
"…If you're feeling well enough, Dr. Roja and I would also like to ask you some questions. We want you to receive medical attention and rest, of course, but we'd also like to understand your skills and background as soon as possible." Having delivered her apology, Akela wasted no time in moving on to her main objective. "Would you be willing to talk with us, San. O'Brian?"
O'Brian gave a weak nod and pressed his hand back to his forehead. He rubbed his temples, trying to ignore his headache as Rosa and Akela probed him for answers.
"Thirty-two." "General." "No, a specialty in aerodynamics." "None to speak of."
"We met through mutual circles." "I don't know." "Oxford, I guess."
"Why would you need to know that anyway?"
"How many more questions do you have, damn it? My head is killing me."
Emmet was overall complacent during Rosa and Akela's interrogation process, but he finally gave in to frustration. He wanted to get the questioning over as soon as possible; and although he eventually snapped at the doctor and captain for taking too much of his time, for the majority of the interview, he had still been manipulated as easily as clay in their hands.
Akela clicked her tongue.
Rosa rose to her feet. "Of course, we just wanted some preliminary information. You're free to leave- I'll guide you to a hospital ward." Rosa approached O'Brian and extended an arm to support him as he attempted to stand.
Akela also stood. "Thank you very much for your cooperation, O'Brian. We'll speak again when you're in better health." Expressionless, she took a bow and politely held the door as Rosa helped O'Brian carry himself through the exit.
Down the hall, Machaon straightened herself up from the wall she had been leaning against and jogged to help Rosa. She wove one of her arms under O'Brian's shoulder and shot a questioning look to her mentor.
Rosa glanced at Akela, who was watching them from the door while punching a code into her communication device. Looking back to Machaon, she tapped an index finger to her lips twice to indicate that she would explain later.
The sixteen-year old puckered her lower lip and pouted melodramatically. Rosa rolled her eyes light-heartedly in response.
Turning their backs on Akela, the duo guided the wincing O'Brian down towards the ship's hospital.