Michelle Pinchette


Chapter 10



* * *

     Harper cringed back into the sofa in terror as a scream echoed through the room.  He was clinging to his bowl of popcorn with a death grip as he stared in horror at the television.  The film had started out all right, an interesting story about a family visiting their ancestral home.  Then the creepy music started and all the aloof townspeople turned downright nasty.  Currently the local doctor was doing some very unnecessary surgery on the oldest daughter’s boyfriend while she watched on from the chair she was tied to, knowing she was next.  She screamed and Harper nearly screamed with her.  He absolutely should not be watching this because it was doing nothing but making him extremely paranoid that the same thing would happen to him the next time he stepped foot outside Dom’s house, but the little voice in the back of his head whispered that he ought to see how the family escaped just incase he needed that knowledge later.

     After banning him from the garage for the evening, telling him that the workweek was officially over, Dom had showed him where there was lots of popcorn in the pantry and how to use the microwave to make it.  He could have figured it out for himself, but after declaring himself a hazard in the kitchen, he didn’t blame her for using caution.  Then she had sat him pointedly on the sofa and given him the television remote, telling him he could watch television or read or do something else of that nature, but she’d better not find anything repaired or improved come the morning or she would take more drastic action.  Harper could barely keep a straight face when she’d say it, wondering if he’d be condemned to another movie or something more terrifying.  He could happily take living under this kind of threat.

     Dom had been upstairs getting ready for the party at the Institute for about the last hour and Harper knew she was leaving shortly.  He hated formal functions, which was what this was, not that he had been invited to many, just a couple aboard the Andromeda and Dylan always seemed happy about Harper suddenly needing to be elsewhere doing anything else when they were going on.  It had been kind of nice that Dylan had been willing to include him, but they both knew that Harper wasn’t exactly long on social graces.  Still, Dom didn’t seem too thrilled about formals either.  Harper had encouraged her to ditch the whole thing and, while she had confessed she had considered it, she was too responsible to do so.  So, he was on his own for the night.  He wished he hadn’t started it out with this movie.  He was going to be jumping at noises all night and maybe all day tomorrow.

     Another scream sounded, making Harper grimace and cringe back again at the sight of blood splashing everywhere.  Suddenly Dom was asking, “What in heaven’s name are you watching?” from the vicinity of the stairs.  Harper took the opportunity to turn from the television, not sure whether he was more frightened or sick to his stomach at the moment.  The instant he saw Dom, who was nearly to the bottom of the stairs, both fear and queasiness were the furthest things from his mind.

     Dom was wearing a thin strapped, dark violet, slightly shimmery dress that was cut so low and clung to her in such a way that it left very little to Harper’s very vivid imagination.  Her hair was pulled back, two thin curls framing her face and falling just short of her mostly bare collarbones.  Beyond that, Harper didn’t notice much, his brain not able to reconcile the tomboy that had been hanging out with him for the last three days with the glamorous woman before him.

     “A slasher film?” she was asking, turning to retrieve something from the stand by the door, revealing the dress’ low back and another view that would give any heterosexual male fuel for erotic dreams.  “Please don’t tell me you like those things.  And I thought you didn’t watch movies that might give a person nightmares,” Dom commented as she came over to where Harper sat stunned into total silence.  She sat by him and shook her head at whatever was on the screen, but Harper’s attention was totally on her so he had no idea what it was she was looking at.  “She’s got a good set of lungs,” Dom observed, then turned to face him and a smile lit her pretty features.  It wasn’t until she lifted a hand to gently close his mouth that he realized it had fallen open.

     “Uh, sorry,” he said sheepishly, hoping that she wasn’t angry with him.  He also hoped he hadn’t been drooling but was too embarrassed to check.  He was certain that staring in slack jawed lust at her was far worse than quickly checking out her best friend’s butt, but, thankfully, she didn’t look mad.

     “Actually, I think that’s the reaction this sort of dress is designed to get,” Dom said, still smiling.  “Of course I always worry that I don’t have enough...” she glanced down at her chest, then back up into Harper’s eyes, “feminine wiles to fill it.”

     Several replies along the lines of bigger not necessarily being better or that she certainly wasn’t lacking in anything that he could think of came to mind, but Harper mentally slapped them away as he somehow managed to keep his eyes on Dom’s face rather than the topic at hand.  “No, no.  You look great.  Really, really great,” Harper assured her, wishing his hands weren’t tied as far as letting her know exactly how great he thought she looked.  Oh, boy, did he ever wish that.  Suddenly it was an extremely good thing that he had a bowl of popcorn in his lap.

     “Thank goodness.  I always look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘Who are you trying to fool, Dom?  You’re a marine biologist, not some beauty queen.’  The things I do for science.  The sad thing is, with Ro there, no one will even look at me, much less want to dance so that I can talk them out of money for the Institute,” Dom sighed, leaning back onto the sofa.  It took every ounce of Harper’s strength not to refute her comments in a very physical manner.  She was so beautiful that he could just sit there and stare at her all night and be happy about being this close to her.

     “I’d give the Institute ten thousand thrones to dance with you in that dress,” Harper sighed, then realized that he had thought it aloud without meaning to.  Before he could finish working up a good panic, Dom smiled and laughed softly as she looked back into his eyes.

     “Ten thousand thrones?  One kingdom isn’t enough?” she asked.  She was probably wondering what the heck he had been talking about.

     “Dollars...  I meant...” Harper stammered, trying to fix his major goof.  He stopped, cleared his throat and tried to remember everything Dylan had tried to teach him about diplomacy before realizing it was a lost cause.  “I meant that kings are gonna line up to dance with you and give you their crowns for the privilege.”  He offered her a weak smile, hoping that he hadn’t gone too over the top.

     Dom looked touched and reached over to stroke his hand affectionately, saying, “My goodness, Seamus Harper, but you are good for a girl’s ego.”

     Dom’s touch was encouraging Harper to do what he had long ago convinced himself were unwise things where she was concerned.  He thought about kissing her.  He really thought about it, about taking her in his arms, about whether he should pull her to him or lean into her, about how her lips would feel against his, about whether she would push him away or kiss him back, about how that shimmery material would feel, about the likelihood of her letting him slid his hand up over her shoulder and behind her neck to untie the thin straps there if a few kisses went well.  The doorbell saved him from thinking any further along those lines or doing anything stupid and spontaneous.

     “There’s my ride,” Dom said almost apologetically as she rose, and all the nice little pictures in Harper’s head burst like soap bubbles.  She probably would have punched him anyway, he told himself glumly.  “I’m going to be back late.  You’re sure you’ll be okay on your own?”  Harper nodded, knowing that she was still worrying about him having internal injuries or something.  She did care about him, he consoled himself.

     Dom fished in her little handbag for something, saying, “Well, you can reach me at the number by the phone if an emergency comes up.”  The doorbell rang again and Harper felt like yelling for them to keep their shirt on.  He was certainly in no rush for Dom to go.  Maybe he couldn’t do what he’d just been thinking he’d like to, not if he wanted to remain in a place of comfort and safety, but he could look at her and dream about doing it.  The only real romance he ever got was in his dreams, so it wasn’t like it frustrated him all that much.  Dom closed her purse and smiled at him as she picked a filmy wrap from the table by the door.  “Gotta go.  See you in the morning, Seamus.”

     “Have a good time,” Harper called after her and with that she was gone.  Harper sighed, suddenly feeling lonely.  Another scream erupted from the television and Harper winced and turned it off.  He didn’t want to be scared again.  He laid his head back on the sofa and thought about Dom smiling and caressing his hand, how she’d looked touched about by his comment about kings and crowns.  Maybe she wouldn’t have minded if he’d kissed her.  After all, she’d let him hug her and she had said that she was big on hugs and kisses even from friends, just like he was.  The little kiss that she’d given him on the cheek had gotten him glowing and bubbly for hours, despite the innocence of it.  He’d been very careful not to let Dom know that, though.  He was pretty sure it wouldn’t be appreciated.  At least no other woman in his past had ever been happy to see him giddy about that sort of thing.  In fact, Beka had socked him more than once over the years for enjoying a little too much the motherly caresses that she’d given him when he was sick.  And Dom kept calling him a friend, just like every other woman he’d associated with that hadn’t wanted to use him for something or hadn’t shot him down immediately in matters of love.  Wasn’t that always the way?  Doomed to be every gal’s buddy, but never their love interest.

     Harper sighed, the thought depressing him.  He was so totally pathetic.  He had nothing, no home but the one Dom so kindly let him share, no money, no prospects, nothing but the clothes on his back, which Dom had given to him.  Why would she, or any other woman for that matter, want anything to do with him romantically?  He had to find some way to get back on his feet financially as soon as possible, for his own good as well as the good of his love life.  What love life, the little voice in the back of his head asked, making him feel small and inadequate.  He shook it off.  He just hadn’t found the right woman before now, one that would appreciate all his unique qualities.  Maybe Dom was that woman.  It wasn’t like he’d tried coming on to her.  Again, he reminisced about the hug by the workbench.  It had been an awfully nice hug.

     Harper shook himself from those pleasant daydreams.  He couldn’t live out the rest of his life depending on the charity of Dom or someone like her.  But how could he quickly and legally become self-sufficient?  He wouldn’t run cons or steal, not when Dom was giving him a chance to remake himself.  She had faith in him, in his abilities allowing him to be respectable person, so he wouldn’t do that to her.  Besides, he already knew he could probably make a decent living fixing things.

     Mister O’Donnell from next door had stopped by earlier when Harper had opened the garage door for a little air.  He’d given Harper another beer, saying that his ‘old heap’ had never run so well and asking if he’d be willing to do some car repairs for some of his friends.  Harper had been hesitant, not wanting to clutter Dom’s drive with cars looking to be repaired, but Mister O’Donnell quickly and slyly suggested that since Dom would be gone to work all day Monday, she wouldn’t need to know about it.  The thought of surprising her with some more money was appealing to Harper, so he agreed, provided that Dom wouldn’t be bothered.  Mister O’Donnell seemed overly pleased about it, but he also promised Harper two dollars for every oil change he did and ten dollars for every tuneup, with other maintenance and repair items to be billed on a case-by-case basis.  As the older man walked away laughing and rubbing his hands, Harper had the feeling that he was the one being conned this time, but the promised money had been too attractive to turn away.  He knew these sporadic jobs wouldn’t be enough to support him, but at least it was something.

     The problem was, he still didn’t really know anything about the place that was most likely going to be his permanent home.  How did he find out things without everyone piecing together that he didn’t belong here and turning him over to the government to poke and prod for stuff that could ruin Earth’s past.  Well, Earth’s past from his point of view anyway.  He had to stop thinking like that, he chided himself.  It could be dangerous to him.  Dylan and Beka weren’t coming.  It had been days.  They just weren’t coming, so this was his home now, his present.  He might as well get used to the idea.

     Harper glanced at the thing posing as a computer off to his right.  Dom had been looked up movie times and some other things on a shared information web called the internet before.  Maybe that could help him.  Harper went over to Dom’s desk and sat down, looking at the clunky piece of machinery that probably couldn’t do what one of his flexies back on the Andromeda did.  He sighed.  Oh, well, beggars can’t be choosers.  It didn’t take him long to figure out the operating system, which in his not so humble estimation was sorely lacking and used up way too much of the computer’s tiny memory.  Windows, what kind of name was that anyway?  He’d design a better one for Dom tomorrow, he promised himself.  He got onto the internet without any problem, though the connection was slow.  He was sort of glad he couldn’t jump mentally into the system like he did with the computers he was used to.  Taking a mental walk through this thing would probably be like trying to swim through jelly.

     The screen that loaded had a search function right on it.  Great, Harper thought with a smile, only to have it dim when he tried to decide what he wanted to search for.  The news or recent history, the current levels of science and technology, employment opportunities, the Nelson Institute all seemed like things he ought to delve into, but he decided to lay some fears to rest first and searched for listings concerning aliens and visitors from the future.  To his surprise, there were a lot of listings under a variety of headings.  Wow, who would have thought the topic would be so popular in a pre first contact society?

     After spending a little more than three hours reading about Area 51, Roswell, Government conspiracies, and alien autopsies, Harper was more nervous than ever.  Oh, a few people seemed willing to welcome time travelers and aliens, but after visiting their sites, Harper concluded that the majority of those people were insane.  The ‘cut them open and see how they tick’ crowd seemed much more prevalent anyway.  One site even had pictures of what was purported to be a stuffed alien body in some person’s home.  Harper didn’t recognize the race, but that didn’t mean it absolutely wasn’t true.  He only knew that he sure didn’t want to wind up that way.

     “Don’t go near any doctors and you’ll be fine,” he told himself, trying to shake off the terror trying to build in him.  “You look just like anybody else... except for your port, but Dom thought it was a weird piercing so we run with that story.  Don’t get sick, don’t get hurt, don’t get into trouble, don’t make waves, and nobody will even think to look twice at you.  You did it before at the camps.  You’re one of the crowd.  No reason to single you out for vivisection, right?”

     He wasn’t having very much luck convincing himself of it, though, and decided that he had better start acclimating himself to this era fast.  The more he stuck out, the better chance that he’d meet a nasty end at the hands some scientist at one of those classified government installations, just like the alien goon had told him he would.  He turned his attention to the news sites, thinking current events was as good a place to start as any.

* * *

     Admiral Nelson stood at the door of the hall, adjusting the tie of his dress blue uniform for the fourth time.  A few of the Institute people were there and the caterers were starting to put out food, and the guests should start arriving any time now.  He was somewhat relieved that Barris hadn’t shown up again today.  Considering the importance of the evening, he half expected the alien to appear in the middle of dinner.  He didn’t think he would breathe easy until the function was over.

     “Ooo.  Not a good face so early in the evening,” came Doctor Babin’s voice from the doorway.  He turned to her to find her taking in the hall with a smile.  She looked beautiful, though Nelson had to admit he preferred her in her usual, far more casual attire.  Those clothes seemed to suit her personality better somehow.  “Doesn’t the hall look lovely?”

     “It pales before you, Doctor Babin,” he told her sincerely.

     She turned her eyes to him, still smiling.  “You men.  I’m going to become egotistical if all these compliments keep coming my way.”

     “Impossible,” Nelson said, dismissing the notion out of hand.  “And if the driver was at all forward...”

     “Oh, he was a perfect gentleman,” she interrupted him.  “Seamus said... oh, how did he put it?  Well, it was probably a load of Irish blarney anyway, but it was awfully sweet.”

     “Seamus.  And who would that be?” Nelson asked, though he knew very well who she was talking about.  He wasn’t at all certain he liked what he was hearing.

     “Seamus Harper.  I’m sure Ro’s mentioned him,” Doctor Babin said, raising an eyebrow at him.  He hadn’t fooled her for a second.

     “She might have mentioned something about a homeless man that you’d taken in,” Nelson admitted.  “She was concerned that he was, perhaps, not as harmless as you seem to believe.”

     Doctor Babin was suddenly giving him a narrow look.  “I’m not throwing him out, so don’t waste your time suggesting it.”

     “I wouldn’t think of telling you what to do in your own home, Dominica, but I would hope that you aren’t throwing caution to the wind where this man is concerned,” Nelson said.

     Doctor Babin rolled her eyes, but at least the anger was off her face.  “Seamus isn’t going to hurt me, Admiral.  He’s been very polite and very grateful.”

     “As well he should be,” Nelson told her.

     Doctor Babin let out a long-suffering sigh.  “See?  That’s the problem with the world today.  No one wants to help anyone else because they’re too afraid to.  And heaven forbid that you do go a little out of your way for somebody is dire need and they don’t fall all over themselves thanking you for it.  You shouldn’t help someone looking for a reward.  You should do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Doctor Babin replied, then seemed to anticipate Nelson’s next concern, because she added, “And I’m not planning to start doing this on a regular basis.  Even Seamus told me it wasn’t a good idea, then he washed my dishes, mowed my lawn, tuned up my jeep, and fixed a dozen broken things in my garage.”

     “At least he’s making himself useful,” Nelson said, then caught Doctor Babin’s displeased expression returning and changed the subject.  “I got a look at the notes you sent in and I’d like to discuss some of your findings on Monday.  You were planning to come in?”

     “Yes, as long as I’m not going to get lectured all day about Seamus and leaving him unattended,” Doctor Babin told him.

     “Not at all,” he told her.  However, Nelson began to wonder what the man in question was up to even at this moment, but mentally shrugged those thoughts away as he offered Doctor Babin his arm so that he could escort her into the room.  She took his elbow and they strolled toward the buffet table.  “Actually, I was more interested in...”

     “Harri, Harri, Harri, don’t tell me that I’m too late to have the most beautiful woman in the room on my arm,” Philip Kensington’s voice rang from behind him.  Nelson glanced around the room, half expecting that Barris would show up now that guests were starting to arrive.

     “Philip, if you use all your best lines now, you won’t have any left for Ro,” Doctor Babin said with a smile as they turned to Kensington.  There stood Kensington in the door, the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome.  Though he was in his early forties, Kensington could keep up with men half his age because of the physical regimen he swore to.  Unfortunately, he competed with men half his age on too many fronts, for the women he dated tended to be half his age as well.  Since Kensington didn’t employ marine biologists, he’d never attempted to steal Dominica away from the Institute.  That didn’t stop her from teasing him about his attempted piracy of Nelson’s employees, though, knowing that Kensington neither minded nor would be hindered by it.  Actually, he seemed to have entirely too private an interest in Doctor Babin for Nelson’s liking, especially since he became aware that Miss Simmons was involved with Captain Crane.

     “I am never lacking for the right compliment for the right lady,” Kensington told her as he took her free hand and gave it a kiss.  He was intelligent and charming, but too old for Doctor Babin as far as Nelson was concerned.  That didn’t seem to be Kensington’s view on things though.  “You know, Dominique,” he planted another kiss, this time on her cheek, as he spoke to her in perfect French, obviously to impress her, “I’m flying out to Australia tomorrow and I would love to show you the coral formations off my private beach.  You would simply adore them.”  Nelson wondered if Kensington knew that he also spoke French and could understand everything he was saying.  He also wondered how Kensington knew Doctor Babin’s given name was Dominique and not Dominica.  Doctor Babin didn’t use Dominique as a rule because too many people confused it with Dominic and kept expecting her to be a man rather than a woman.  There was certainly no way anyone was going to confuse her gender tonight.  Perhaps that was what was causing Kensington’s little display and bringing out fatherly urges to protect her in Nelson at the moment.

     “And how many other young ladies would be enjoying the waters that day?” Doctor Babin asked him, also in French, giving him an overly sweet smile.  She was anything but stupid and well able to take care of herself around playboys like Kensington, who feigned injury at her words.

     “Dominique, why would I have need of other ladies if you permitted me to lavish my attention on you?” he asked in return.

     “Because I do not indulge in the sort of attention that you want to lavish me with, Philip, which you already know,” Doctor Babin replied, still the picture of charm.

     “I could change your mind.”  Doctor Babin crinkled her nose at him and shook her head, which drew a dramatically huge sigh from Kensington.  “How can you be so cruel, Dominique?  One date is all I’m asking.  What would it hurt?”

     “Philip, we both know you’re more interested in the chase than the capture.  If I ever said ‘yes,’ you’d start wondering why you were so keen on pursuing me in the first place,” she told him.  “Besides, I thought you were seeing that supermodel, the Argentinian one.”

     “She’s busy with a photo shoot.  Now’s your chance to steal me away from her,” Kensington said, guiding Doctor Babin onto his arm, much to Nelson’s annoyance.  Conversation switched back to English as Kensington said, “Oh, look, Harri.  More guests are arriving.  Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of Dominique for you.”

     Nelson was about to protest, but Doctor Babin said, “I’ll be fine, Admiral.  Let him get all this out of his system early.”  Nelson would have to figure out how she read his mind like that someday.  For the time being, he knew that she had meant what she’d said and would be just fine without his protection.

     “As if I could ever get you out of my system,” Kensington pooh-poohed her as Nelson turned to greet some newly arrived guests.  Dominica would keep Kensington from pouncing on anyone, at least for a little while, so he let that particular problem ease from his mind.

     Nelson still kept a weather eye out for Barris, but the alien didn’t arrive with the last of his guests, so he began to relax a little on that front as well.  Miss Simmons arrived with Captain Crane shortly after Kensington, not that the technology magnate seemed to notice as he danced Doctor Babin across the floor.  Mister Portman stood over by the punch bowl, glowering a little at Kensington’s back, probably because of his own interest in the marine biologist.  Knowing how Doctor Babin felt about Mister Portman, it wasn’t as if Kensington was keeping a more acceptable suitor away, so Nelson chose to find it amusing rather than giving Portman his sympathy.  Everything seemed fine for the moment and Nelson began to think the evening would actually stay quiet as he began to talk to some of his friends that were in attendance.

* * *



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