* * *
Beka hadn’t slept, not since before Harper had been taken a day
and a half ago. Harper was
still missing and she couldn’t close her eyes.
Part of her family had been beaten practically before her eyes and
taken away to a life of slavery and she had done nothing, could do
nothing. She paced the
Andromeda, her whole being raging impotently at the fact that she wasn’t
out looking for him or beating alien heads together to make them bring him
back. Tears blurred her eyes
and she punched a bulkhead as she paced the Andromeda.
He hadn’t done anything! The
reigning king of ill-timed, smartassed comments hadn’t gotten to say a
word. Beka kicked the
bulkhead this time, which only succeeded in hurting her foot.
She turned to put her back to the wall and rubbed at her aching
toes, letting the tears blurring her vision fall.
A memory came unbidden.
It was just after
she’d thrown Bobbie off the Maru, just after she’d acquired a small,
sickly, hyperactive mudfoot that she really didn’t want to deal with, so
she hadn’t. She ignored him
for three days, then decided that she’d better make sure he hadn’t
starved to death or anything. She
couldn’t even remember his name. She
kept calling him Hooper but she knew it was Harper or something with some
other ridiculous nonsense in front of it.
How old was the kid anyway, she wondered as she searched the Maru
for him. She could only hope
he wasn’t as young as she thought he might be.
She found him in the engine room, poking at something with
some tools. Her eyes started
to water when she got within a couple of yards of him.
Didn’t this kid know what soap was?
Just as she was having that thought, he looked up at her with those
big, innocent, blue eyes of his and smiled as he quickly said, “Oh, hey,
Boss! Just... uh... fixin’
stuff. You know all the stuff
that got broken when the Drago-Jerkoffs were shooting at us.
I had to improvise on a couple of...”
“Beka,” she stated as she stood over him with her arms
crossed over her chest. Confusion
wiped the smile off his face.
Valentine. And I’m not your boss.
Look, there’s this place that I think would...” she started,
deciding that she’d better be firm about things so the kid didn’t get
any ideas. She knew Earth was
a hell hole. He was probably
glad to be gone from there. She’d
been asking around and she’d found a Wayist mission that would take the
kid in, educate him if he needed it, and find somewhere decent for him to
live. He was young enough to make a new life for himself.
“But... but you said I got to stay if I helped with the
muscle guy! You know, the
twice my size, liked grabbing me by the throat guy?
Besides, you need me!” he cut her off as he sprang to his feet,
emotions playing as swiftly over is face as the words left his mouth.
He probably thought she was going to dump him back on Earth, but
she wouldn’t ever do anything that heartless.
“You need a mechanic! I
mean, your engines are barely holding together, your antiproton generator
hasn’t been maintenanced in ages, and you don’t want to know what I
found in the air recyclers. I
can fix all of it, honest, and I hardly need any parts or anything.
I work real cheap and... and you won’t even know I’m here.” Desperation currently shown on the kid’s face, a dirty,
pale, far too thin, far too young face.
Beka felt twinges of conscience hitting her, maybe even maternal
hormones stirring. She
didn’t need either at the moment and tried to shrug them off as she felt
the hard expression she’d put on her face soften a little.
“Look, kid...” Beka tried to tell him about the Wayist
mission idea again.
“I’m not a kid,” he protested.
“I’m twenty and I’m a genius and I can make your ship better
than new if you’ll give me a chance.
Don’t take my word for it. Check
the repairs I’ve done. Look
at the air quality reports that the computers generate.
I fixed air recyc and I can fix all the other things that are
broken. Please? Give me
a chance, Boss. I’ll be the
best thing that ever happened to your ship.
Really. You won’t be
sorry. I promise.
Beka frowned, then marched up to the cockpit.
Hesitant footfalls padded behind her, so she knew the kid was
following, but keeping his distance.
He was most likely worried about what she was going to do.
She went to the main computer and pulled up internal sensor logs,
specifically air quality. What
had been laced with some interesting contaminants that were just bordering
on dangerous was suddenly reading near perfect.
Beka glanced at the pathetic bundle of rags cowering at the door.
He was most likely the source of anything the scrubbers were having
problems with. “Okay, so
you fixed air recyc. How do I
know that you’re not going to blow up my ship if I let you mess with
anything else?” she asked as she turned to face him.
A hesitant smile lit up the kid’s face.
“I won’t, Boss. You’ll
see. You’ll wonder how you
ever lived without me.”
“Right now, I’m wondering how I’m going to breathe
with you around,” Beka told him. Again,
confusion wiped the grin off the kid’s face.
“You stink,” she said bluntly, grimacing at him. “If I let
you stay, and that’s a big ‘if’ at the moment, you need to bathe.
Hell, you probably need delousing.
I think some of Rafe’s old clothes are in storage.
You can wear them for now. We’ll
get you something at the next drift, if I don’t decide to leave you
there, but you’re working off whatever money I have to pay out for
clothes or other personal needs.”
That brought the smile back, only now it lit up the kid’s
whole face. “Okay,” he
agreed, but Beka didn’t let him say anything else.
Damn, but the kid could talk if you let him.
“And I have rules. I
am the boss. Never forget
that or I can and will toss your skinny butt out at the nearest place with
a breathable atmosphere. You
work when I tell you to, doing whatever I tell you to do.
If you don’t like that, you can leave.”
Harper nodded, his smile still firmly in place.
How did such a pathetic scrap suddenly light up like a sun just
because he was smiling? She
was nuts. He wasn’t as
young as she’d feared he was, but he was practically a child, one that
admitted to never having been off Earth before Bobbie had all but
kidnapped him. Did he have
family that was wondering where he was?
Did he have the slightest clue what he was getting himself into or
did he just want to get away from the Drago-Kazov so bad that he’d do
anything anybody asked of him? What if it hadn’t been her?
Heck, Bobbie had been ready to stiff him for his ride in the first
place. Beka shuddered
mentally at what some people would do to the wide eyed innocence smiling
at her. This was going to be
a lot of work, she thought with an inward sigh, but if he could do with
her engines what he’d done with air recyc, maybe it would be worth it.
“Whatever you say, Boss.
Do you want me to go back and work on the damage some more or the
engines or...” he started, then shrugged a little helplessly, probably
because she had stopped talking and hadn’t actually given him any
“No,” Beka said, then marched over to him and looked at
the rags he was wearing with disdain.
“These,” she picked gingerly at what could only laughingly be
called a shirt sleeve, “have got to go.
They are not salvageable and there will be no debate on the matter.
You need a major scrubbing so I can see if there really is a person
under all that filth and odor. Damn,
you smell worse than a Nightsider. Then
you need to eat something. Have
you eaten anything since you’ve been here?”
The kid shrugged, discomfort clouding his features as he
looked down. “A little.”
Now Beka just had to figure out if the sheepish look was because
he’d taken some of her food without asking permission or because he was
lying. She supposed it
didn’t matter at the moment.
soon as you’re clean, you’ll eat.
That’s the next rule. You
stay clean, you eat, you sleep. You
have any nanobots or have you ever gotten any vaccines?”
The kid looked a little nervous about the subject and shook his
head. Earth was not exactly a health spa and the scabby cut on his
forehead looked like it was infected.
She’d take care of that once he was clean and she would bring him
to a doctor and have him checked out when
they docked somewhere. Something
else he’d owe her for. Damn,
she was going to be stuck with him for months just so that he could work
off being brought up to normal human standards of existence.
“If you get sick or hurt, you tell me so we can fix it.
If I have to yell at you about stuff like that, you can stay
someplace else because I am not your mother.
That also means I don’t want to see any girlfriends or boyfriends
or whatever you’re into on my ship.
Your personal business doesn’t interest me.
Got it?” There was a
another nervous nod, but Beka wasn’t going to give him a chance to
comment on any of this because nothing he said was going to change her
“Next rule, no drugs.
Not ever. I even think
you’re using, I’ll space you. No
drinking either, unless I’m the one handing out the booze.
I don’t need you wrecking my engines because you’re high or
drunk.” There was another
timid nod and Beka let out a little sigh as she once again asked herself
what she was doing. Saving a
life, she supposed. Her good
deed for the year, maybe the next several.
“So, I guess I should assign you a bunk and show you where to
stow your stuff, at least for now. Do
you have any stuff?”
She’d meant back on Earth, but the kid pulled a double
hand full of little trinkets and odds and ends from somewhere in the trash
masquerading as clothing. There
was a whistle, a little vid recorder, a slingshot, some other little bits
of metal that Beka couldn’t identify and little lump of fur that
wasn’t moving. A dead
mouse, maybe, she thought with a grimace.
“Oh, yeah. No
pets,” she said, praying that the lump wouldn’t decide to wake up.
She couldn’t believe how pitiful he looked standing there, able
to hold everything he treasured in his two grubby hands.
“You got any family that’s going to wonder where you vanished
The kid looked down as he tucked his things back into his
clothing, murmuring, “A cousin. He
knew I was going with the Spacer.”
With Bobbie, Beka thought, the thought making their recent
breakup hurt again. Bobbie
had lied to her, she told herself firmly.
She’d been lied to enough by people that were supposed to care
about her. She wasn’t
putting up with it anymore. She
looked back at her newest addition to crew.
He stood there, looking pitiful as he shuffled his rag bound feet
nervously on the deck. He was right. She
had promised him a place and he had been trying to earn his keep.
She couldn’t be as mad as she was at Bobbie if she turned around
and did the same thing at the first possible opportunity.
“What’s your name again, kid?”
Suddenly the kid was standing straight and proud with that
sunny smile of his back in full force.
“Seamus Zelazny Harper.”
Beka winced. Yeah,
that was what he’d said before so it was probably true, unfortunately.
“I think we’ll stick with Harper.
It’s a week to where my next job is waiting. Don’t do anything stupid and maybe I’ll keep you on.”
She kept telling him maybe, but somehow, that glowing smile
brightened even further. “You
won’t be sorry, Boss.”
“I’d better not be sorry or you’ll know it.
Now, march! It’s
going to take hours to peel all the filth off you,” she ordered,
pointing back toward the crew’s quarters and the nearest shower.
Suddenly, she had a smelly mudfoot wrapped around her, giving her
the most enthusiastic hug of her life.
Yuck! Now she needed a
shower, too. “Hey! Kid! Harper!
Aaurgh! Next rule
time. No physical contact
with the boss!”
Beka sat on the floor crying.
She had been mean to him then and plenty of times since, but he
still gave her that big, sunny smile more often than not when he saw her.
She’d give anything for a hug from Harper now, even if he was
filthy. He was the last part of her family. Everyone else was gone or changed. She needed him, she realized.
She needed him to smile at her and call her ‘boss’ before he
started to babble about all his techno geek stuff and ricochet around the
room with all that nervous, Sparky Cola imbued energy of his. She needed him to be there, proving that no matter how
terrible the universe was and how many times it kicked you when you were
down, it was possible to be not only survive but be relatively happy.
She needed her baby brother, her genius engineer, her best friend.
She wiped her face and stood up, about to go to the Maru and
take her to Barris’ ship and demand they give Harper to her when
Rommie’s voice rang over the intercom, telling all hands to report to
the Command Deck for a briefing. Hope
lit in Beka. Rommie or Dylan
had found something. Why call
everyone together otherwise? She
was the last to arrive and Dylan gave her a thin smile as she looked to
him for news. “Well?” she
asked, still ready to go through with her original plan if Dylan didn’t
have anything better to offer.
“I know this took a while, but we think we know what
Barris is,” Dylan told those gathered before him.
“Or what he was.”
“I was scouring my memory banks for any information about
Barris or something like him when I came across an ancient entry, one from
years before I was constructed, and this image,” Rommie said, calling an
image up on the front view screen. It
was of an alien that Beka wasn’t familiar with.
She looked closely at the smooth faced, sickly looking thing as
Rommie continued. “This is
a Lechak Bon, a Broken One. Their
race was plagued with terrible infirmities and physical deformities, but
every member of their people had a different, amazing gift.
The examples in the log were of Lechak Bon with healing powers that
had malformed limbs, others with incredible strength with the minds of
children, or blind or deaf or crippled geniuses.
The thing was, they didn’t trade outside their own world because
they got tired of telling other races that they didn’t need cures for
their ills. The Broken Ones
viewed their physical shortcomings as balance to their abilities and their
religion preached that disrupting this balance would have terrible
repercussions. The rest of
the known worlds viewed the Lechak Bon as harmless eccentrics and left
them pretty much alone.”
“And what does any of this have to do with Barris?” Tyr
asked, sounding bored.
“The entry continues that after repeated exposure to
outsiders, a group of the Lechak Bon began to question their religious
beliefs. They felt that their
people should throw off their disabilities and take a more active roll in
the running of the Universe,” Rommie continued.
“Meaning they thought their people ought to be in
charge,” Trance assumed out loud for all of them.
“Exactly, however the leaders of the Lechak Bon rejected
this idea and warned the group that if they left to follow this course,
they would find only heartache. The
group left all the same and made a deal with some dark power.
This entity gave them everything they wanted: physical perfection,
immunity to disease, the ability to share their powers, the ability to
cheat death. The only problem
was the price. This dark
power expected eternal servitude. The
group rose up and slaughtered their would be master, but it cursed them as
it died. It somehow made the
group unable to kill anyone else, unable to take the roll of leadership
anywhere, unable to be anything but wandering outcasts or slaves.
The only way to break the curse was to be accepted somewhere as
equals. Then they would be
free to do as they willed. The
group returned to their home world, thinking they would find easy
acceptance there, only to find themselves shunned.
Their own families, their entire people saw them as irrevocably
tainted and would have nothing to do with them.
They decided to destroy their own world, but couldn’t, only
managing to somehow cut it off from the rest of the universe.
They found the curse was real, that they could not kill or conquer
or persuade, only wander the universe for eternity.”
Now Beka was growing frustrated.
“So? I mean, cute
story, but what do alien fairy tales have to do with Barris and what he
did to Harper?”
“We’re getting there,” Dylan assured her with a
calming motion. “There were
one hundred members in the group in the entry’s story, just like Barris
and his crew, and if you alter the only picture anyone has of the Lechak
Bon ever so slightly,” he nodded to Rommie.
The picture on the screen grew ridges and the complexion darkened a
bit and suddenly Beka was looking at Barris.
Her breath caught in her throat for a second.
“There is no such thing as curses!” Tyr declared,
obviously getting fed up. “And
I’m certain the ship could make any one of us look like Barris with a
little image manipulation.”
“That manipulation was done within careful scientific
parameters,” Rommie informed him.
“And we all know about dark powers and their promises,”
“The Abyss?” Beka asked, knowing that it had certainly
been tempting members of the Andromeda’s crew.
“Or something like it,” Dylan replied.
“And Barris called Harper ‘broken.’
Think about it. Harper is like the Lechak Bon.
Physically, he’s got problems, but he is gifted.
He left his home world, Earth, looking for something better, but
instead of winding up cursed, he found acceptance and was able to return
home without being shunned there, and he could, arguably, be considered
one of the architects of the new Commonwealth, albeit a minor one.
That was the sort of power that Barris and his crew were looking
for, and Harper didn’t have to sell his soul to get it.”
“Or change himself,” Beka murmured.
At least she understood why Barris hated Harper.
Barris probably felt like Harper was mocking him by merely existing
even though the poor kid didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Now she was really worried, though.
Where had the other alien sent Harper to punish him?
“But Barris and his crew can’t kill anyone, so they
didn’t kill Harper,” Trance said.
“They couldn’t, could they?”
“No, but the crewman that sent him somewhere did say that
even though he was forbidden to kill anyone, others could,” Dylan
pointed out. “But they
would probably want to make him suffer, force him into the servitude and
solitude that they had to endure, so I don’t think he’s in immediate
danger of being killed. Barris
said as much. The problem
before us is how to get rid of Barris and his crew after we get Harper
“Barris won’t give Harper back,” Tyr said, finally
seeming to accept, at least partially, what Barris and his crew were.
“Not while he is in a position of power.
He’ll demand that you give him what he wants before he’ll do
any such thing.”
“Only if we give him what he wants, he’ll be free to
kill us and whoever else has annoyed him through the eons,” Dylan said.
“We can’t do that,” Trance said urgently, sounding a
little afraid, which creeped out Beka in turn.
“We can’t give him what he wants.”
Dylan set a hand on her shoulder, saying, “I wasn’t
planning to. I was, however,
thinking that we might want a little talk with the Lechak Bon.
If anyone can help us with this, they can.
Rommie tracked down their planet.
Now we just need to go there and ask them if they can help.”
“Even if you’re right about this, which I still have
doubts about, the planet would be cut off,” Tyr reminded him.
“Cut off to most,” Dylan said, calling up a star chart.
The planet that was highlighted had to be the Lechak Bon home
world. It was in the center of a maze of dangers and near impossible
navigational problems, but Beka was already working on ways around them.
If getting to this place was going to get Harper back safe and
sound, she was going to get there. “However,
I have the best pilot in the galaxy standing right here, don’t I, Beka?
I’m betting you already have a route in, don’t you?”
“Close,” Beka said as she continued to scan the chart.
“There’ll be a couple of tricky bits.
And I can’t get the Andromeda there.
She’s too big. The
Maru might be a tight squeeze, too. I’d
better bring one of the shuttles in the cargo hold, just in case.
I’ll go alone and talk to them while you distract Barris.
I don’t think it would be a good idea for him to know what
we’re up to.”
“You aren’t going alone,” Dylan told her.
“Barris wants to alter Rommie and I don’t want to give him the
chance, so she’s going with you.”
“So am I,” Trance piped up suddenly.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“I can’t do anything here and if the Lechak Bon give us a way
to Harper, I want to be there to help him.
Barris and his crew might not be able to kill anyone, but they hurt
Harper. He’ll probably need
Beka didn’t want to think about that too much, but she
didn’t mind having Trance around just in case.
“Fine. Let’s just
go. It’s going to take days
to get there as it is,” Beka said impatiently.
“As long as you’re planning to let Trance take the helm
for the first leg of the journey,” Dylan told her with that ‘I’m a
High Guard Captain and I know what’s best’ tone of his.
“Beka, you need to get some sleep or you’re not going to be any
good to anyone.” She
squared off in front of him, ready to give him hell about telling her what
to do on her own ship.
“That’s a good idea,” Trance said before Beka could
speak. Beka turned to her,
about to turn her fury on the alien girl, but Trance put a thin smile on
her face, adding, “That way you’ll be nice and fresh when all the
tricky piloting has to be done. I
just have to grab a couple of things from Medical and I’ll be ready.” And without another word, Trance strode purposefully off into
Beka reigned in her temper, thinking that at least now they
were doing something to tangible to find Harper.
“I’ll go prep the Maru, then,” she muttered, about to walk
away to do so when Dylan caught her arm.
She turned to glare at him, but when she saw the exhaustion and
worry in his face when he met her eyes, she knew that he hadn’t slept
either and that, much as her thoughts had accused otherwise, he was just
as worried as she was.
“We’re going to find him,” Dylan said with the same
amount of conviction he used when he told everyone that he was going to
resurrect the Commonwealth. “He’s
going to be fine and we’re going to bring him home.”
Beka felt her anger bleed off a little.
“I’d feel a little more confident about that if we weren’t
down to chasing fairy stories in order to do it.”
Dylan gave her a thin smile.
“Be careful. The Lechak Bon probably haven’t had visitors for a long
time. About twelve thousand
years, if the age of the entry is any indication.
Coming in making demands with guns blazing would probably be a bad
Beka’s brow knit. “That entry was pre-Commonwealth? How did Rommie have it?”
“Remember the All-System Library files incident?
It was one of the files we got,” Dylan said.
Beka remembered quite vividly what Dylan was talking about.
An injured Perseid attacked Harper, downloaded an entire library
worth of files into the unsuspecting kid’s brain, then died.
Harper went a little crazy with all that information knocking
around in his head and finally had to get rid of it.
On the first attempt to do so, they had only managed to get a
relatively small amount of information out before Harper began having
seizures and they had to use other means.
Apparently, this was one of those files.
“Leave it to Harper to turn something totally useless into just
what we need,” Beka said, but she couldn’t bring herself to smile.
“We probably shouldn’t contact you about what we find. Who knows if Barris can intercept transmissions.”
“Rommie will send messages directly here if she feels she
has a secure channel,” Dylan told her. “We’ll know where you are, in any case. Be careful. I
don’t want to have to rescue you too.”
He was trying to lighten her mood, but it was an impossible feat.
Beka simply nodded and went to the Maru, concentrating on the fact
that she was finally doing something that might get Harper back.
This time, she wouldn’t wait for him to hug her.
She would squeeze every last bit of air out of him the minute she
next saw him.
Saturday had been wonderful for Harper.
Dom had enjoyed the sandwich he’d made for her, which had made
him terribly pleased for no reason that he could explain.
After that, they had gone bowling, something he had never done
before, but he actually managed to do well.
They got a hamburger at the bowling alley and then played air
hockey at the little arcade there. They
watched a movie at Dom’s house and played cards.
For the whole day, his entire goal had been to make her smile.
He’d done better than that.
He’d made her laugh, and not just some little snicker or one of
those fake laughs that you got from someone that was humoring you. Dom had tears rolling down her face because she was laughing
too hard and Harper had sat there grinning at it, unable to believe how
well he was doing with her.
Since Harper had come to an uneasy understanding with
himself that there was absolutely no chance of any romance between them,
of course he was doing well. It
was pretty much the story of his life. He could make Beka laugh.
He could make the old Trance laugh, though he wasn’t real sure
about the new one. Other
women, women he wanted to be a little more intimate with, those women
slapped him or rolled their eyes at him or just plain ignored him.
Romantic thoughts began forming in Harper’s brain, but he still
talked himself out of doing anything about them.
If things were different, his brain persisted in arguing, if they
were on the Andromeda, he wouldn’t hesitate.
However, as he thought out that line of reasoning, only depressing
things lay before him. Dylan
would have charmed the socks off Dom ages ago or Tyr would have decided
that she was worth sharing his genetics with and that would have been it.
Harper decided to bask in the glow of the fact that he had reduced
Dom to hysterical giggles instead of dwelling on any of those thoughts.
They hung out together until they were both yawning.
The day had been better than most and Harper had fallen asleep to
dreams of he and Dom sharing far less innocent associations rather than
his usual nightmares. He
still woke up before Dom and managed to download the program he’d made
the day before on some highly experimental data storage he’d cobbled
together and then worked some more on the operating system he’d promised
himself that he would make for her. When Dom had come down stairs, he had made sure that a news
site was up on the computer screen, since she didn’t seem to mind him
checking on current events. Dom
had told him that she was going to church services and asked if he wanted
to come along. Harper had
never felt that he belonged anywhere religious with his irreverent
personality, so he had declined and gone into the garage to work on her
surprise some more the minute she left.
It was coming along nicely, though he still had to work out a few
technical details that were made interesting by primitive levels of
technology he had to work with. He’d
done some creative improvising. He
was good at that and it made him smile to think how this might be daunting
to a lesser man.
Harper had only been working for a little while when
something brushed across his data port. Alarmed, he swiftly reached up to snatch at whatever it was
and turned to face it, finding himself looking at Ro, her hand tight in
his grip. She pulled at him,
giving him an affronted look and saying, “Let go!” as if he’d
“What do you think you were doing?” Harper demanded as
he released her. “Do you
think you can just sneak up on a person and poke at them?
No one was supposed to be here but me.
You scared the hell out of me!”
Ro glared at him as if he’d done something wrong.
“I didn’t poke at you. I
just touched that thing on your neck.
What is that, anyway? Do
you have any idea how dangerous it is to put something like that so close
to your brain? Of course, if you would go to a doctor, he would tell you
that. You’re lucky this
isn’t infected, you know.” She
began to reach up to touch the wound on his forehead and Harper had to
catch her other hand to stop her. The
cut was still butterfly bandaged closed, but he hadn’t bothered about
putting a larger bandage over the wound for the last couple of days.
Now he was regretting it, because he absolutely didn’t like
Ro’s sudden interest in his health.
In the most reasonable tone he could manage, he said,
“What is it with all the touching? I thought you didn’t go for shorter men.”
Ordinarily, Harper didn’t mind women, especially women as
beautiful as Ro, touching him, but the mention of doctors and Ro sneaking
up on him had put him on the defensive.
He let go of her hand when she tugged against his grip.
“Dom’s at church,” he told her, uncomfortable with the
assessing look she was giving him. Maybe
she didn’t realize Dom wasn’t here.
“I figured that she was when I saw that her jeep was
gone,” Ro told him, her eyes still boring into him.
It was starting to make him extremely tense.
“You’re not Catholic, then?”
Harper shrugged, trying to force himself to relax since Ro
didn’t seem to be going anywhere and she seemed determined to talk to
him. “I think my family was
once upon a time. I’ve
never been the pray in a group sort.
The stuff between me and the Divine stays pretty much between me
and the Divine.”
Ro smiled quizzically, still looking at him as if he were
some scientific specimen. “The
I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word used quite that way
“I’m a unique kind of guy,” Harper told her as he
tried to figure out what she wanted from him. She’d called a couple of times yesterday, so she obviously
still didn’t trust him. Why
was she here talking to him by herself?
“So I’ve noticed,” Ro replied, then favored him with
the sort of smile that gorgeous women gave out as incentive to do as they
asked. “You didn’t say
what the thing on your neck is.”
Harper made his brain stop thinking about sex that he knew
he wasn’t going to get, and he stammered out, “N...nothing.
It’s nothing. Just a
stupid piercing I got. So,
what’s up? You and Dom doing something when she gets back or
“Would that bother you?” Ro asked in return, that look
still there, like this was some sort of a test that she expected him to
fail. Then something dawned
on Harper. Ro was the
Seaview’s chief engineer, but Dom had said something about a psychology
degree. That’s why Ro was
here. She figured she could
ask him anything and Dom wasn’t around to intercede if she got too
personal. Harper let a
knowing smile ease onto his face as he leaned back against the workbench
casually. He’d been
tortured for information before and hadn’t given in.
This was nothing.
“No, no. You
girls have a great time. I’ve
got plenty to keep me busy.”
Ro raised an eyebrow. Was
it the answer or the fact that he obviously wasn’t ill at ease anymore
that caused that? Harper
didn’t care. He didn’t
like being played for a fool. “Really?
“Oh, I’ve got all this stuff to fix,” he said, nodding
toward the pile of broken appliances. “And Dom has a bunch of books I’ve never read.
I noticed a couple by her. I
don’t know much about Marine Biology, so those would be pretty
interesting. Really, have
fun. I won’t be bored.”
An indulgent smile formed on Ro’s face.
She was humoring him. “And
what did you do for fun on the... Andromeda, didn’t you say?”
So, now he was going to get pumped for information about his past.
“Oh, pretty much the same thing.
Read, talked to the other crew, did my work.”
“The ship’s name was the Andromeda, then?
And you mentioned another one.”
“Yeah, the Andromeda Ascendant and the Eureka Maru.”
“You worked there for a while?”
“Five years between the two of them.”
“You’ve been at sea since you were twenty?
Working for room and board? You
didn’t get tired of it?”
“Nah. I like
fixing things and the captains let me do a little bit of upgrading.
You know, I guess I was sort of an engineer too, huh?”
He took delight in the miffed expression that she got for a second.
She didn’t like his comparing himself to her.
He’d have to keep that in mind.
She might be beautiful, but that didn’t make her better than him.
“You did well in school in Math and Science, then?”
“I never went to school.
I’ve always been homeless. All
my genius is totally self achieved.”
“Genius,” Ro said with a scoffing laugh.
Harper smiled thinly. She
didn’t think he was that intelligent, plainly.
She would learn different. “If
you’re as smart as you seem to think you are, you’d see a doctor.”
Again with the doctors, Harper thought, unable to keep from
trembling a little. He wished
she’d stop talking about it. “I
don’t need a doctor to tell me that I’m fine.”
Ro shook her head, the assessing look back.
“You don’t look fine. You
look like somebody that could use a couple of stitches on his forehead and
I hesitate to think what internal injuries I can’t see might need.
I’ll tell you what. I
know this free clinic not too far from here.
You don’t have to give them your name or anything if you don’t
want to. They’ll just look
you over and...”
“No,” Harper cut her off.
She looked way too eager about the whole prospect and he wasn’t
going anywhere near anything like what she was talking about, especially
after reading all the stuff he had on the internet the other night.
Then Ro laughed at him, right to his face, but he didn’t care.
There was no way that she was shaming into doing anything against
“What, are you afraid or something?” she snickered at
“Yes,” he said, not trying to hide the fact.
Ro shook her head at him.
“Of what? No one’s
going to hurt you there.”
“Yeah, well, if you’re so enchanted with the place, be
my guest, go right ahead and spend the day there.
I’ll be right here,” Harper told her firmly, waving her on her
“Don’t be silly,” Ro admonished him.
“What are you afraid of, exactly.
Let’s talk about it.”
“You wouldn’t understand, so why bother.
Dom hasn’t made an issue out of it.
I’m fine. I’m not going,” Harper said, trying sound firm and
determined about the matter, but there was a pesky quiver in his voice.
He was starting to feel a little sick with fear.
Why wouldn’t she just drop it?
Ro pursed her lips and did a visible mental regroup.
“I have a little bit of medical training.
How about if I take a look at you?”
The sick feeling in Harper intensified.
Ro was a doctor, or almost a doctor?
Great, that was all he needed, for Ro to figure out that he
wasn’t from this time. She
wanted him out of Dom’s house and Harper couldn’t be sure that handing
him over to the very people he was trying to avoid was beneath her.
The smile was back, the one that would normally melt his
brain and make him easily and happily led.
It wasn’t working this time because he was just too scared.
“Come on. Just take
off your shirt and let me look,” she said sweetly as she reached out
toward him. Harper ducked from her and moved quickly around her toward
the door to the house, but she turned with him, seeming intent on getting
him out of his shirt. Why did
hot women never want him out of his clothes for the right reasons? How much trouble would he get into if he made a run for the
door and locked Ro out in the garage?
No, he couldn’t do that, but he had to think of some way of
making her back off. Well,
when in doubt, rely on the tried and true, he told himself.
He stopped moving, forced what he hoped was a cocky smile
onto his face and said, “You first.”
That made her pause and ask, “What?” as if she was sure
that she couldn’t have heard him properly.
“You first,” Harper repeated, trying to swallow down his
fear and sound like his normal self-assured self as he took a casual step
backwards. “You take off
your shirt and let me look, then I’ll...”
“Not in your wildest dreams, Mister Harper,” Ro
interrupted him, her tone full of warning.
“Well, maybe there,” Harper said, still backing into the
house. Ro gave him a
murderous look and he went quickly in the door and straight to the
refrigerator to get a cola, hoping Ro would think the mad dash was because
he was really thirsty. Ro
didn’t come right in and he was a little nervous that she was figuring
out which tool she could use to knock him cold so she could drag him off
to the clinic she’d mentioned. Or
maybe even, he thought with a grimace, what would do the most damage to
him because he’d royally ticked her off.
Nothing happened right away, so he sat down at the far side of the
kitchen table and started drinking his cola, watching the door, ready to
run for it if he had to. Ro
finally came in, fortunately without any tools in her hands or tucked away
anywhere that was readily visible. He
couldn’t read the expression on her face and wondered, briefly, if she
took lessons from Trance, or visa versa.
“I’m sorry. I was being pushy,” she said, sitting across from him.
Harper didn’t know if the apology was sincere because it came out
a little flat, but he shrugged as if nothing was wrong, covering his own
uneasiness with a long sip of his drink.
“It’s just that Dom’s my friend and she’s worried about
Ah, the guilt attack, Harper thought as he fought to keep a
grin off his face. “Yeah, I
know, but I’m fine, really. I’ve
been kicked around plenty of times before, lots worse than this.”
Ro’s expression resolved into that of concern.
“Not on the ships you’ve been working on, I hope.”
“One of the guys I worked with, your basic six foot plus
mountain of muscle, he liked to intimidate me, but he never actually hurt
me,” Harper told her. “Usually,
he protected me from other guys who did want to hurt me.
Once we got in this really rough situation and we kind of had each
others’ backs. It was cool
that he trusted little, scrawny me to do that.”
Ro’s expression eased and she grinned.
“So, I guess that was one fight that you actually came out on top
Harper gave her a pained look.
“Not really. We both nearly got killed, but the captain of the Andromeda
came after us and eventually everything was okay.”
The concerned look came back.
“Meaning that was one of those times when you got hurt more
severely than this time.”
“Yeah, well, I got better.
That’s all that matters in the end, really.
If you come out of something bad with all your major body parts
working, count your blessings and move on, I say,” Harper replied with
another shrug. The concerned
look did not go away as expected.
“You know, most people do not spend their lives being
pummeled on a regular basis,” Ro told him.
“There are laws...”
“Most of which don’t apply to someone without a
permanent address,” Harper cut her off. He’d figured that out on his own by the way people were
treating him and by the little bit of research that he had done on the
internet. “In fact, unless
a member of the press finds you dead with incriminating evidence that
someone important did you in, the authorities would just as soon forget
that people like me exist.”
“That’s not true,” Ro said, but discomfort was trying
to edge concern off her face.
“Sure it is,” Harper told her, then sipped some more of
his soda. “Let’s take,
for example, my recent trip with Dom to the police station.
They wanted to arrest me because I don’t have any sort of
identification, completely ignoring the fact that I had been on the
receiving end of a very undeserved butt kicking.
If Dom hadn’t been there with me, I’d be in jail, probably for
a very long time. Only after
she told them that I was staying with her and told them that my attorney
was the Assistant District Attorney of Boston did any of them care that I
was all bruised and bandaged. Not
that it matters all that much. Pretty
soon I’ll be a nice, fully papered citizen, thanks to Dom and her
sister. I was thinking I
ought to get her sister a present to thank her for helping me out. Do you know what she likes?”
Harper was quite pleased with himself.
He’d steered the conversation completely away from injuries and
doctors. He could only hope
that would be the end of it.
“And what money are you going to buy this present with?”
Ro asked with another smirk. Harper
had forgotten that she knew he was dead broke.
“I’m working on that,” he muttered, then thought maybe
Ro would be the right person to ask about something that had been
bothering him. “I was
wondering, if someone offered to do an oil change for your car for two
dollars and supplies, would that be reasonable?”
Ro raised an eyebrow at the question.
“Actually, it’s really cheap.
“No reason,” Harper said.
“I was just wondering is all.
Two dollars. That’s not much money I guess.”
“Not really,” Ro replied, still giving him a quizzical
look. She was probably
wondering what he was talking about, but at least he had an honest answer
as to whether he was getting too abused by working on whatever cars Mister
O’Donnell brought around. A
little, it seemed, but some money was better than no money and he figured
it was only temporary. Considering
what he had seen of what things cost, he had already known this, but had
been trying to convince himself that he wasn’t going to have to work
like a dog to start making a decent contribution to Dom’s expenses.
It wasn’t as though he was a stranger to hard work. It looked like that wasn’t going to change.
“Look, I’m sure Toni isn’t looking to get paid, at least not
until you find work.”
“Dom says she’s doing it pro bono and she keeps waving
me off when I ask her about how much Toni would charge somebody else for
this sort of thing.”
“Pro bono means Toni is doing this out of the goodness of
her heart,” Ro told him. He
rolled his eyes, wondering exactly how stupid she thought he was.
“And you probably don’t want to know what another lawyer would
be soaking you for the same services.
The present might be a good idea after all.
She likes emeralds. What
do you know about jewelry?”
“That I shouldn’t look at it because there’s no way I
could afford anything that isn’t junk,” Harper replied honestly.
“I’ll help you pick out something nice once you get on
your feet,” Ro offered. “I
wouldn’t suggest buying Dom jewelry.
She doesn’t wear any as a rule and might take it as something
other than a thank you gift. That
would bring a whole new brand of trouble down on you.”
Harper felt his eyes narrow.
Had Ro just warned him, pretty much point blank, against his ever
making any romantic overtures toward Dom?
Who was she to tell him he wasn’t and would never be acceptable
boyfriend material for Dom? Wasn’t that up to Dom?
What could Ro do to him if he ignored her warning?
Nothing, he decided, not that he was ready to sweep Dom off her
feet just yet. He mused
briefly about dancing with her in that purple dress.
He was going to make that little daydream reality somehow and Ro
was going to find herself sadly mistaken if she thought she could stop
him. “I’ve noticed that
she doesn’t wear much jewelry. I’m
making her something I hope she’ll like even better.”
Again, that condescending smile graced Ro’s face.
“Really? And what
would that be?”
Harper returned Ro’s jibing grin, deciding to get a little
of his own back. “It’s a
surprise.” Ro looked like
she wanted to question him further on it, but before she could speak the
garage door began to thump open. “Dom’s
home,” he stated the obvious, leaning on his elbow, wondering if Dom
knew that Ro was coming over this morning.
He kind of doubted it, because Ro looked a little flustered.
Of course that could be because he hadn’t been very cooperative
concerning her agenda and she’d just run out of time. “Hey, Dom,” he said cheerfully as Dom came in, lifting
his other hand to his chin, waiting for the show to begin.
“Hey yourself,” Dom replied, also smiling, but in a
puzzled way. “Ro, I
didn’t know you were stopping over.
I hope you weren’t waiting long.”
Ro’s lips thinned a moment in consternation, but then
Harper saw an evil glint in her eyes and he wondered what was up.
“No, not long. I was
just telling Seamus about this clinic I know about.
That cut on his forehead worries me.
Doesn’t it worry you?” She
cast a sly, sidelong look Harper’s way as his smile fled and his hands
dropped from his chin as he sat up. Damn,
he thought in a panic, Ro was cheating!
She wasn’t supposed to do that!
His eyes snapped to Dom, sure that his face was a mask of dread.
“Ro, Seamus is a grown man.
He is perfectly capable of making his own decisions concerning
health care,” Dom admonished her friend as she went to hang her car keys
on the hook on the wall. She
smiled at him, which calmed him a little, then she moved next to his chair
and tipped his head back a bit, obviously looking at the cut in question.
Harper let her move him without a struggle.
Her touch was soothing and he felt safe with her near him.
“Actually, it looks a lot better.
Is it hurting you, Seamus?”
She looked concerned and gently stroked his hair once, turning his
insides to goo with those big, brown eyes of hers.
He would have done almost anything for her in that moment, even
braved Ro’s clinic. “Seamus?”
she prompted him when he continued to stare up at her.
“Huh?” he murmured dreamily, then realized she was
waiting for him to answer her question. “Oh! No, no.
It feels fine, honest. Doesn’t
hurt a bit. You did a great
job with it. Nope, no need
for further medical attention there.
Or any place else. Totally
in good health here.”
“Yeah, right,” Ro scoffed.
squeezed Harper’s shoulder and gave him another soft smile, before she
took a seat by him, saying, “I thought you had plans with Lee.
He cancel out on you?”
Ro looked displeased about the change in subject, but she
replied, “Until tonight.”
“Navy stuff or Institute stuff?” Dom asked with a smirk.
“Navy stuff,” Ro sighed.
“Something classified, apparently, because he wouldn’t say what
it was about. That drives me
crazy sometimes. So, what did
you have planned for today?”
“Nothing in particular,” Dom said with a shrug.
She turned to Harper and said, “Seamus and I went bowling
yesterday and I got my tail whipped.
Good thing we weren’t playing for money.”
“Like I have any money to play for,” Harper said,
returning her grin. Ro was
starting to give him evil looks, probably because she thought he was being
too chummy with Dom. He
decided not to push his luck anymore for this morning, so he got up,
saying, “And on that note, I’m gonna go grab a book and sit out on the
back porch or something. That’s
if you don’t need me for anything, Dom.”
“I told you, no working on Sundays.
And you don’t have to leave, Seamus,” Dom told him sincerely,
but by the look on Ro’s face, he figured he did.
“You gals don’t need a third wheel,” Harper said as he
moved toward the door. “Besides,
I wanted to read that Charles DeLint book you were talking about
yesterday. Since there’s no
working on Sundays, I’ll have plenty to do tomorrow, so I won’t have
time after today.” He
ducked into the dining room, then kept going into the living room.
He looked for the book in question, thinking he better make a good
show if it or Dom wouldn’t buy his excuse.
He found the book easily, then sat on the couch and started to read
it. He could already hear
Ro’s voice, hushed this time, off in the kitchen.
Harper tried to convince himself that whatever she was saying was
none of his business, but he was feeling a little paranoid, so it was hard
to concentrate on the book.
He’d finally settled into it when Dom was suddenly next to
the sofa, saying, “We’re going out for some brunch, then maybe a movie
or some shopping. Wanna come
Harper smiled up at her.
“Thanks, but I’m okay here.”
“You sure? I
made Ro promise to quit with twisting your arm about things.”
“Yeah, but I bet she will the second your back’s
turned,” Harper commented, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t bother me.” A
doubting expression crossed Dom’s face and Harper looked down
sheepishly. “Okay, it does,
but don’t tell her that, ‘cause she’ll probably take it as a sign
that I’m weakening or that I need psychiatric help too.
I think I’ll just skip the whole thing, so go enjoy yourself.
I’ve got a good book and a refrigerator full of food and cola.
What more could I ask for?”
Dom reached out and stroked his shoulder.
“I could think of a couple of things.
How about I call Toni when I get back and ask how things are
coming? I meant to do that
yesterday, but someone kept distracting me with his effervescent
That made Harper smile again.
She always had nice things to say about him.
She was still touching his shoulder.
Should he take it as a sign? Should
he test the waters a little? “Better
watch it. I might take that as encouragement and work on making you
laugh all night again tonight.” It
was very minor flirting by Harper’s standards, and could be easily
confused as teasing. Would
she flirt back? He wanted her
to more than he’d wanted anything in a long time, short of a cure for
Dom chuckled softly, squeezed his shoulder gently, then took
her hand away as she replied, “Please, no more.
My ribs still ache from yesterday.”
No flirting, but she didn’t exactly shoot him down in flames
either. He’d had way worse
“No promises. See you when you get back,” Harper told her.
She ruffled his hair before walking away, something he usually
grimaced at, but he found he didn’t mind it this time.
He was so hopeless. There
was a few more moments of muffled conversation in the kitchen, then Dom
called good-bye to him. The
garage door rumbled after another minute or so and Harper knew Dom and Ro
were gone. He smirked, put
the book aside, then went back to work on his surprise some more.
Even though he knew he could finish it, he wouldn’t give it to
Dom until tomorrow night, since he wasn’t supposed to be working on
anything today. He wondered
what Ro would think when she saw it, and he was fairly certain Dom would
show it to her. He was
willing to place odds that she wouldn’t think he was stupid after she
got a look at it. And Ro
might not like it, but Harper was going to endear himself to Dom in every
way he could think of. He was
going to stay here, where he felt safe and cared about, no matter what it
cost him. There wasn’t a
threat out there that could change his mind about that.
* * *
|Belonging, Chapter 1|
|Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents Page|
|Other Fan Fictions Contents Page|