Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 17

 

 

* * *

     Lee had gone to look for the Admiral to talk to him about an electrical problem that was starting to rear its head on the Seaview, but the Admiral was not in his office.  In fact, Lee hadn’t seen him all afternoon and usually the Admiral came down to the Seaview after having lunch.  It was almost five o’clock and the Admiral hadn’t been down to the docks all day that Lee was aware of.  Nelson’s secretary told Lee that the Admiral was in one of the labs with some newly hired engineer, someone she’d never heard about before today.  Lee went off to the lab wondering what was going on.  The Institute didn’t hire off the street applicants and he usually knew when Nelson was actively attempting to recruit someone.  Lee did not like things that were out of the ordinary because they usually resulted in someone getting hurt or the Seaview taking some more punishment.  Either way, Lee wasn’t going to be taking any chances.

     As he rounded into the door of the lab, he found himself face to face with a roaring dragon that took up most of the room.  He stumbled back, taken totally by surprise, only to hear an unfamiliar voice saying, “Sorry!  Sorry!  Didn’t expect anybody to be coming in!”  The dragon suddenly shrank down to about a foot tall and now Lee could see it was being projected from one of the worktables.  The owner of the unfamiliar voice had to be the young man sitting at a computer nearby the projector.  Nelson sat to his left, looking very amused by Lee’s reaction to the dragon and Doctor Babin was sitting on the worktable near the projector, pretty much the same expression on her face.

     “Lee, come meet Seamus Harper, the Institute’s newest acquisition,” Nelson said as he and the young man rose to face him fully.  Lee gave the smaller dragon wheeling around the room a wary look and came over to them.  “Mister Harper, this is Captain Lee Crane.  Doctor Babin has mentioned him?” Nelson introduced.

     Harper was short and skinny.  His blond hair looked as though a comb hadn’t come near it in days.  His shirt wasn’t buttoned or tucked in, but he was, thankfully, wearing an undershirt.  His pants looked too big for him, like they would fall off his narrow hips if he moved too quickly, and he wasn’t wearing a belt to impede the process.  His clothing was generally wrinkled and grubby.  Worst of all he looked like he had recently been on the losing end of a violent argument and smelled faintly of beer.  Still, he met Lee with a firm, hardy handshake and a big, sunny smile.  He had rough, calloused hands, the sort that someone who was no stranger to hard, physical work had.

     “Sure, sure.  Lot’s of times.  She told me that you were the youngest submarine Captain in history and all kinds of stuff like that.  She said she couldn’t tell me the really cool stuff about you because it’s classified, which is pretty cool in itself.  Nice to meet you, Captain Crane,” he said.  He had a bit of a Boston accent and he talked a little bit too fast and though Lee didn’t overly mind either of those things usually, something about Harper’s voice irritated him.

     Lee nodded in reply and struggled to put a thin smile on his own face because he really didn’t know what to make of the person in front of him.  The engineers at the Institute tended to be the top of the scientific community and gave off the impression that they knew the secrets of the universe.  Some actually came pretty close.  Harper gave off the impression that he was about to attempt to sell a used car.  “I take it you’re responsible for that?”  He nodded to the dragon image.  Even though it was much smaller, it still made him feel tense for some reason.  The projection was incredibly lifelike and Lee couldn’t remember ever having heard of anything remotely like it being in existence.

     A sheepish look crept onto Harper’s face.  “Yeah.  Sorry about that, really.  I didn’t mean to scare anyone.”

     Lee was about to protest that he had not been frightened by Harper’s special effects dragon, but he never got the chance.  “Not at all,” Nelson reassured Harper, patting the young man on the shoulder.  “I’m thinking about having you design something more formidable looking for the Institute’s main entrance.”

     Nelson’s praise made Harper’s big smile grow even brighter.  “Whatever you say, Boss,” he said quite enthusiastically, but for some reason he was getting under Lee’s skin in a major way.

     “Sir,” he corrected Harper sternly, then he realized why he knew this person’s name.  He couldn’t believe it hadn’t dawned on him immediately.  “Wait a minute.  Aren’t you...”

     “Lee, a word please,” Nelson interrupted him and quickly drew him from the lab, then closed the door.

     “Isn’t that the indigent man Dominica took in?” Lee asked immediately, knowing he couldn’t be heard in the lab.  “Ro told me she checked up on him and couldn’t find the ships he’d said that he had worked on, that she didn’t know if he was telling the truth about anything he’s told anyone.  He’s a huge security risk!  He could be a spy or a plant or...”

     “Or an innocent homeless person?” Nelson asked, shaking his head at him, looking a little disappointed.  “Miss Simmons has already talked to me about her enquiries and concerns.  I spoke Doctor Babin’s sister, the Assistant District Attorney of Boston, about what she has found out about him.  Miss Babin was extremely thorough, I assure you, and had already had sent Seamus’ fingerprints to Interpol and gotten a final reply.  He has no criminal record anywhere, or any other records for that matter.  And I invited him here, not Doctor Babin, because I’m hiring him to be a part of the Institute’s engineering staff.”

     Lee refused to be cowed by the Admiral’s disapproving look.  “That’s probably what he had planned all along.  He has no record of having ever existed before he fell into Dom’s lap.  Of course she was going to introduce the two of you.  It’s all a little too convenient if you ask me.  Ro says he’s a fast talker, and I think he has all the makings of a con man at best.”

     “He’s rather uncultured, I’ll grant you, but considering his background, that isn’t terribly surprising.  And if everything I’ve seen so far is an act, it’s the most amazing performance I’ve ever witnessed.  No, I think Seamus is what he’s professed to be.  That’s why I haven’t corrected him about such things as his calling me ‘boss.’  There will be plenty of time to work on proper etiquette.  Right now, I want him to feel comfortable and confident so he will agree to come work at the Institute and want to stay.  You saw the dragon.  He calls that a toy!  And he made it in less than five hours,” Nelson told him.  From the tone of his voice, Lee knew that the Admiral was more than impressed with Harper’s abilities.  The dragon was pretty impressive to look at.  Movie studios would probably drool at the chance to get Harper in their employ.

     “That’s another thing.  How is it that he’s unemployed and homeless if he can do things like that?” Lee questioned.

     “He might never have had the resources to make something so complex before,” Nelson said with a shrug.  “Or he has, but made them for people who didn’t know what they had in their hands.  He gave Doctor Babin a small version of the dragon hologram as a gift and she thought it was like one of those little electronic pet things, not a highly sophisticated hologram decades beyond anything currently being produced.  He also told Doctor Babin that his longest term of employment was working on a freighter doing repairs.  The Captain probably didn’t look past the fact that he kept the ship running and that Seamus’ services cost him nothing but a place for the boy to sleep and enough food to keep him able to function.”

     Lee frowned.  He knew what the Admiral had just described happened and thought that no one ought to be treated that way, but despite appearances he had serious doubts as to whether Harper had suffered that indignity.  Lee glanced through the glass door at the young man.  He and Dom were talking.  Something about Harper made Lee’s alarm bells go off, even now, and he had learned to believe in those bells.  “I’ll put a security watch on him then.”

     “No, you won’t.  For the time being, I am watching him and what I am seeing is more than I had hoped for.  Lee, finding Seamus is like... finding a previously unknown Rembrandt in a the house you just inherited from your Grandmother.  How did it get there?  You have no idea, but that doesn’t change what the painting is.  Seamus is a genius.  He makes amazing things out of little more than junk.  I watched him work and it was astounding.  When he was building the projector, I could see him improvising as he went so that he could use what I had at hand because a few of the things he wanted weren’t readily available.  He has the steady, delicate touch of a surgeon when he works and makes the smallest, yet sturdiest electrical connections I’ve ever seen.  Then, after he made the projector, he typed in the program to run it into the computer.  Not only is he amazing with code, he types faster than most of our secretaries!  And he did everything off the top of his head, with no plans, no notes, nothing, all the while carrying on a conversation.  I think he talks out his nervous tension, which he seems to have a lot of.  I’m going to have to be careful about who he works with.  He’d drive a few of the other engineers crazy, Miss Simmons most especially.  Oh, for pity sake, now what?”

     Nelson was looking past Lee through the lab’s glass door.  Lee turned to look too.  Doctor Babin was making calming motions and guiding Harper toward the chair that he’d previously occupied by the computer.  Harper looked upset and was shaking his head at what she was saying, but he sat down then started fiddling with something that had been lying on the desk while he spoke in turn.  He seemed unwilling to meet Dom’s eyes.  Nelson moved to the security panel by the door and punched in a code, then drew Lee away from the front of the door, though they both could see in fairly easily.  Dom’s voice now came from the small speaker.  “... matter.  The Admiral was impressed.  I could tell.”  She had a hand on his shoulder and was plainly trying to reassure Harper, but he was looking at the piece of machinery he was nervously toying with and didn’t looked at all heartened by her words.

     “Yeah, but I’m causing trouble and I’m not even working here yet.  I should just go back to your place.  I’ll walk.  It’s not that far.  I don’t like being in the way.”

     “You aren’t and you shouldn’t go.  You didn’t do anything.”

     “Oh, yeah, Captain Crane looked really happy with me after I surprised him with my stupid toy.”

     Dom laughed warmly, making Lee a little angry when she said, “I thought it was funny.”

     “He sure didn’t.  Now I’m on his shit list and I doubt that I’m getting off any time soon.  I knew this was too good.  I knew I’d blow it.”

     “You didn’t ‘blow it.’  Everything’s fine.”

     “Yeah, that’s why they’re still out in the hall arguing about what I’m doing here since I obviously don’t belong here.  I’m such a kludge.  I’m surprised you’ve put up with me as long as you have.”  Harper sounded incredibly depressed, exactly how Lee would expect a person to sound if they thought that they had messed up the opportunity of a lifetime.

     “Stop that.  It’s all right.  Really,” Dom said.  With that, Nelson shut off the intercom and looked back to Lee, raising an eyebrow rather than saying a word.

     “That doesn’t prove anything,” Lee said.  He still thought it was better to be safe than sorry, though he was beginning to think he might be overreacting to Harper.

     “Lee, he’s staying,” Nelson said with an air of finality.  “And I expect you to treat him with the same respect that you give the other engineers in my employ.  I have some damage control to do at the moment.  Dismissed.”  Lee wanted to argue the point further, but Nelson had already opened the lab door and was saying, “So, where were we?  Oh, yes.  You were about to...”  With that the door closed and Lee could hear nothing further.

     He stood in the hall for a while, watching as the Admiral slowly but surely worked a grin out of Harper and the two of them started to do something at the worktable.  Dom was watching on from the side, probably sticking around purely for Harper’s moral support.  Usually Dom was a very good judge of character, but Lee just didn’t like Harper for some reason.  It wouldn’t be the first time that someone had been trained specifically to glide under the Admiral’s radar.  Granted, usually whatever enemy was targeting Nelson employed a woman to preform the task, but a young, supposedly talented but needy engineer could fit the bill too.  He was going to be keeping a very close eye on this little man and Harper was not going to be at all happy if Lee didn’t like what he saw.

* * *

     Nelson spent the rest of the day in the lab with Harper, talking and working on little projects for hours.  Dinner had been sent in, but it was still only half eaten and ice cold.  Doctor Babin had left some time ago, telling them to play nice with their toys.  Nelson had been enjoying talking for the rest of the day with the young man, Harper’s enthusiasm and quick wit shining now that he was comfortable.  Harper had warmed quickly to him and didn’t seem to mind being left alone in his company when Doctor Babin had gone.  He also seemed tireless when it came to talking about technology and ways to improve it.  Nelson was fascinated by all the amazing ideas the young man had already brought up, everything from improvements to existing devices and widely used programs to new things, like the holographic projectors and robots, that Harper thought might be useful or spark Nelson’s interest.  Nelson could see a long, fruitful partnership between Institute and the fast talking, aspiring engineer.  He couldn’t believe his luck in finding the little inventor before someone else had.

     It wasn’t until Doctor Babin came back into the lab bearing a small suitcase that Nelson even thought to look at a clock.  He had to do a double take, unable to believe that it was already after midnight.  “I’m so sorry, Dom,” Harper apologized before Nelson could say a word.  He looked and sounded mortified.  “We got talking and I didn’t think.  Have you been waiting up for me all this time?  I’m such a jerk.”

     “My fault entirely, Doctor Babin,” Nelson said, not about to let Harper suffer Doctor Babin’s ire when he had been equally responsible for them working to this late hour.  “I should have kept better track of time.”

     “Oh, I had thought this might happen.  Boys and their toys,” she said with a smile and a shake of her head, appearing anything but angry.  “I thought you had made it pretty plain that Seamus would be sleeping here at the Institute tonight, Admiral.  I packed your things for you, Seamus.  Now you men can talk about computers and cars until the wee hours of the morning and I can get some beauty sleep.”

     Harper had gone to her to get the suitcase and was standing in front of her, holding it in both his hands in front of him.  “You don’t need beauty sleep,” he said softly, looking longingly at her.  The compliment made Dominica smile appreciatively.  Nelson smiled too, thinking, ah, young love, but then Harper’s expression grew sad and the young man looked down.  “Thanks for putting up with me for so long.”

     “What’s with the face?” Doctor Babin said, still smiling as she lifted his chin.  “Has the Admiral decided to ship you off to college in Virginia?”  Harper shook his head, looking a little confused.  “Then I intend to collect on that dinner you promised me.  When you get up tomorrow, come find me at my office and we’ll have breakfast together in the cafeteria and talk about what you had in mind, okay?”

     That put a smile squarely back on Harper’s face.  “Okay.  See you bright and early.”  He looked very much like he wanted to give Doctor Babin a kiss good night, but was probably restraining himself because the two of them weren’t alone.  Nelson didn’t worry overly about it, though, because he knew that if things were meant to be, there would come a time when it didn’t matter if he was in the room when it came time for good nights to be said.

     “And don’t you two stay up all night doing... whatever it is you are doing.  It’s not like you only have tonight to talk shop.  Good night,” Doctor Babin said with a little laugh, then turned to go.

     “Thank you, Doctor Babin.  Good night,” Nelson said.

     “G’night,” Harper called after her, then sighed, still smiling, as the door closed after her.  He looked totally smitten.  “She’s great, isn’t she?” he sighed, confirming Nelson’s supposition.

     “Yes,” Nelson agreed, then he walked to Harper and set a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.  Harper looked to him and gave him a soft smile, then glanced past the Admiral back toward the computer program that they had been working on together and was probably thinking about completing it before turning in. Nelson had seen enough, though, and didn’t need to sit up all night to know that Harper was most decidedly not going to wind up with the Institute’s other auto mechanics or in the machine shop.  “And she was correct about there being plenty of time for talk and work tomorrow.  It’s time for both of us to get some sleep, I think.”

     “So, I get the job?” Harper asked, his face lighting up with a hesitant look of excitement.

     “I didn’t think that was in question any longer,” Nelson replied patting him gently on the back then started him walking from the lab.

     “Well...” Harper started, then bit the inside of his lip and looked down, twitching between excitement and embarrassment.

     “Yes?”

     “It’s just, I tend to get on people’s nerves a lot.  I thought after having to listen to me run off at the mouth all night, maybe you’d change your mind,” Harper said, a hint of worry in his joking words.

     “No, Mister Harper.  I most assuredly have not changed my mind.  If anything, I wish there were a legal way to sign you to a lifetime contract here at the Institute, because when other firms begin to realize what a goldmine of invention you are, they are going to be trying to lure you away constantly,” Nelson said, deciding to also air his one worry early in their association.  If Nelson could help it, Kensington wasn’t going to find out about Harper for a very, very long time.

     “Well, they’d be wasting their time, Boss,” came Harper’s simple reply.  The boy was wreathed in smiles, no doubt thrilled by Nelson’s desire to have him at the Institute for as long as he cared to stay.

     While the Admiral was quite pleased by what Harper had said, he didn’t know if Harper knew exactly how persistent some people could be.  “You’d be surprised what they might offer you, and I don’t just mean money.  A productive mind is an incredibly valuable commodity, Mister Harper.”

     “But I don’t know them.  They might...” Harper started, then fell silent.  To Nelson’s surprise, the boy sounded frightened and a quick glance saw Harper’s smile had disappeared and he looked much as he had when Nelson had mentioned him seeing a doctor earlier in the day.

     “Mister Harper...” Nelson started, then decided that was far too formal considering what he wanted to say, “Seamus, I can’t pretend to know what your life has been like up until this point, but it’s important for you to know that people, as a rule, don’t intend you any harm.”  Harper shrugged and looked down, which horrified Nelson, because he could see that the boy didn’t believe what he’d just been told.  He had been hurt, a lot.  It was impossible not to see that.  Nelson set a hand gently on Harper’s shoulder.  “You do know that you have nothing to fear here at the Institute, don’t you?”

     Harper looked up at him, a nervous, embarrassed look on his face, and he said, “Maybe not fear, exactly, but everybody keeps warning me that if I screw up once, there’s plenty of room in the local jail for me.  You heard that guy in Dom’s driveway before.  I kind of appreciate that you didn’t do that, but I also noticed the people that met me here giving me looks like they thought I was gonna steal the good silver.”

     Nelson smiled and chuckled.  No wonder poor Harper was so skittish if everyone kept threatening him with prison time for the smallest mistake.  That disagreeable man in Doctor Babin’s driveway had threatened the boy with that very thing.  Still, Harper managed to hold on to his sense of humor, at least marginally, about it.  “A lot of that was your imagination, I think.”

     Harper sighed and shook his head as he looked down again.  “I wasn’t imagining that Captain Crane just plain didn’t like me the minute he laid eyes on me.  Then he figured out who I was and he wanted me out of here.  In fact, he looked ready to toss me out himself, through the fence.  I don’t want to cause trouble, especially not for you, since you’re the one vouching for me now  instead of Dom and all.”

     “You’re not.  And you don’t work for Captain Crane.  You work for me,” Nelson told him.  “Once he sees how much you’re bringing to the Institute, he’ll know that he was wrong to have doubted you.  Anything else?”  Harper didn’t reply, but Nelson knew that he was nervous about his place at the Institute, maybe about the Institute itself.  At least Harper seemed to trust him well enough.  “I promise, you’re perfectly safe here and once everyone has gotten a chance to get to know you, I’m certain that you’ll have made some friends and feel more at home than you ever have anywhere else.  You didn’t seem at all nervous about greeting strangers in Dominica’s driveway.  I assure you, the Institute is far more secure against dangerous individuals than her house is.”

     “I know.  It just felt safe there, you know?  Like nothing bad could touch you there because all the good would chase it away before it could come near you,” Harper said softly.  It had felt like home to the boy, Nelson realized, knowing the feeling of security Harper had described from his own childhood memories.  Nelson wondered if Doctor Babin was aware of exactly how much she had given Harper during his short stay with her.

     “And exactly what evil forces have aligned against you?”

     Harper shrugged letting out a heartfelt sigh.  “Just life in general.”

     “Not the person that hurt you right before Dominica found you?”  Harper shook his head, but Doctor Babin had said that his attacker had been a stranger to him.  Nelson knew that there was one more important issue that needed to be addressed and he was unwilling to let it rest indefinitely.  He made sure his voice was soft and compassionate when he asked, “Why are you so afraid of seeing a doctor, Seamus?  Did one hurt you somehow?”  Whoa be it to that person if one had, Nelson thought darkly.

     Harper shuddered, but shook his head again and replied in a small voice, “When that guy was seeing how hard he could hit me without breaking his fist, he kept saying things about how doctors were going to be cutting me up to experiment on me or something like that.  I’m kinda fuzzy about what he said exactly.  It’s hard to concentrate on conversation when you’re getting punched repeatedly.  Anyway, since then I’ve been having these nightmares about being strapped to a table and being surrounded by doctors in surgical masks.  They cut me open and poke around in me and I scream and scream, but they don’t care.  Actually, they like it and do things to make me scream even more.  I don’t die.  They just keep cutting me and I can’t get away or even pass out.”  He paused, shivering hard now and Nelson knew that he was truly terrified.  The Admiral didn’t know what to say.  From the sound of things, he would have been terrified by Harper’s dreams as well.

     “I know it’s not real,” Harper continued after a moment.  He had pretty much stopped trembling, but his voice was still meek and frightened.  “I know it probably would never happen, that he probably told me that so I wouldn’t go to a doctor for treatment, so he could torture me some more without even having to be around to hit me if I didn’t drown, but I can’t stop picturing it any time anybody says the word doctor.  The clinics I went to when I was a kid were a joke.  The people there treated me like I wasn’t worth their time, like I wasn’t worth anything, so the dreams are just making a lifetime dislike of doctors way worse.  I can’t... I can’t make myself go near one now.  Really stupid, huh?”

     Nelson glanced at the metal disk on the boy’s neck.  Were his dreams a result of being verbally tormented while he was severely beaten or had the bully’s words inadvertently awoke a memory of something that had been done to him, something that his mind had repressed because the pain and horror would have driven him insane otherwise?  Nelson mentally laughed at himself, shaking off the thought.  He wasn’t usually so melodramatic, but he had come to like Harper and he couldn’t stop thinking about Miss Simmons’ words from earlier that day.  The dream was probably just a recurring nightmare, made worse by Harper’s childhood experiences, but Nelson would like to have medical evidence ruling out the other, more horrible possibility.

     He gently patted the boy’s shoulder again, trying to reassure him.  “Not at all.  We all have our fears.  However, I would feel better if Doctor Jamieson gave you a thorough looking over to be certain that you are as hale and healthy as you appear to be.  You know that I wouldn’t let anyone in my employ hurt you, don’t you?  Or anyone else, for that matter.  Do you trust me, Seamus?”  Nelson knew that was no trivial thing to be asking, but when Harper looked up, met his eyes and nodded, the Admiral smiled.  It felt good to have inspired the boy’s confidence so quickly.  Nelson had been sincere.  He felt Harper had been through enough hard times and he would protect the boy from any further harm if he were humanly able.  “Then I’ll stay in the room when Doctor Jamieson examines you, all right?  If anything worries you, you speak right up and we’ll address it immediately.  He’s an excellent physician and he would never do anything to hurt you.  Well, no more than draw some blood and perhaps give you a shot or two.  That doesn’t sound too terrible to bear, now does it?”

     Harper looked incredibly tense about the entire topic, but he said, “No.  Okay.  I shouldn’t be such a big baby about it anyway.  It’s quick, right?  In and out?  No knives involved?”

     Nelson knew Harper was only agreeing to see Jamieson to appease him, so he smiled and clapped him on the back.  “An hour at most, I’d think, and no, there are no knives involved.  Doctor Jamieson tends to get in before the sun rises so that he can catch people before they go to work, so we’ll get it over with first thing, before you meet Dominica for breakfast.  That way Doctor Jamieson can do a cholesterol screening and any other blood work he thinks might be necessary.  Then you’ll have a nice big meal in Dominica’s good company and we’ll work on a few things in the lab.”

     Harper was still trembling a little and he looked like he was going to have another night full of the horrible dreams he had described.  Nelson didn’t want that.  He had to give Harper something else to think about, something that all young men found enjoyment in.  He didn’t want to give him any ideas concerning his budding romance with Doctor Babin, but he smiled at he thought of another coming of age ritual that Harper had missed out on.  “Now that I think of it, you’ve never had a driver’s license, have you?”

     “Driver’s license?” Harper asked back.  He still sounded terribly worried, but Nelson was certain he was about to take care of that by putting the boy’s mind firmly on other things.

     “Yes.  I think, perhaps, a few driving lessons might be in order tomorrow afternoon,” Nelson said.  “Unless you’ve been driving illegally before now.”

     “You mean drive a car?  No, no, I’ve never done that.  Beka let me pilot the Maru sometimes, but I don’t think it’s the same,” Harper said.

     “And the Maru would be?” Nelson asked, though he knew one of the ships Harper had worked on was named the Eureka Maru.  However, he wondered what Harper would say.

     “This freighter I worked on doing repairs and stuff for a long time,” Harper replied with a shrug.  Nelson smiled, thinking Harper’s idea of long time was probably vastly different from his own.  At least he sounded calmer now.

     “And Beka?”

     Harper smiled a little, saying, “Beka Valentine.  She owns the Maru.  She’s an awesome lady.  She gave me a chance on her ship even though I was some guy she’d only just met.  I miss her a lot sometimes.”  Nelson thought about asking how Harper had come to part company with Beka and the Maru, but the boy looked saddened thinking about it and he didn’t want to make matters worse.  They were approaching the dorms and Harper’s temporary quarters and Nelson wanted to close the day on a positive note.

      “Well, I hope your employment here will be longer lived and even more pleasantly memorable,” Nelson said.  “Let’s see, once we’ve got your Social Security Number, we’ll get you a driver’s license.  Then it would be my pleasure to buy you your first car.  Nothing fancy, mind you.  Something solid and serviceable so that I’ll know you’ll be able to safely travel to and from work.  A little something in appreciation of all the hard work that I know you’ll putting in during the upcoming year.”

     “You don’t have to do that,” Harper said softly, but he was starting to smile a little again.  He couldn’t know that many of the other engineers that Nelson had wooed to his employ had expected and demanded far more before coming to work for him.

     “It’s nothing, Seamus.  Some new clothes should be our first order of business, though.  Not that what you’re wearing isn’t fine for casual occasions, but important people do visit the Institute quite often and some can be rather snobbish about appearances.  I will not have them looking at scuffed boots rather than brilliant engineering designs.  Of course, once you’re established in the scientific community, it won’t matter what your wearing.  People will be far too busy marveling at your achievements to care,” Nelson said.

     “Don’t worry about it.  I don’t care what that sort of people think about me,” Harper protested, but he was all but glowing once again from Nelson’s praise and attention.  Nelson had meant every word and was not prepared to take no for an answer.  He was going to be absolutely sure that Harper knew exactly how much he was valued.

     “I care,” Nelson told him.  “As I said, I don’t intend to see you harmed by anyone if I can prevent it, even with callous words.  Let’s see, what else is there?  I’ll see about getting you scheduled for a GED exam and we’ll discuss college.  Voting.  We should register you to vote.  Then there’s the setting up bank accounts, charge accounts, and financial plans.  And you’ll need telephone and electrical accounts set up once we’ve found an apartment for you.  Do you suppose you’d prefer cable or a satellite dish?”

     Harper shrugged, looking a little confused.  “Uh, what would I be using them for?”

     “Television reception,” Nelson replied, but he was amused by the question.

     “Oh,” Harper said, seeming to understand.  “I think Dom has cable.  It comes into the house through a cable, anyway.  I watched a couple of shows, but people kept interrupting to try and sell things.  It was sort of weird.  I mean, they even did that during news broadcasts.  Then I found a frequency that just showed movies without anyone cutting in.  That was better.  Is that cable?”

     “Most likely,” Nelson replied.  It was amazing that someone who seemed to know so much about some things could have such gaping holes in their knowledge about others.  Though Nelson didn’t know how it could be possible, it sounded as though Harper had never watched television before staying at Doctor Babin’s house.  That was probably what Miss Simmons had found strange about Harper, that he was so utterly clueless about things that were commonplace to the majority of the country.  There wasn’t any time to talk about anything else, though, because they had just reached Harper’s dorm room.  “Is there anything that you need tonight?” Nelson asked him.

     Harper turned to meet his eyes and smiled warmly, his blue eyes actually seeming to sparkle as he shook his head.  “I don’t know how I keep getting so lucky, pretty much bumping into people that want to help me out and keep my head above water when I can’t do it for myself.  I appreciate the chance you’re taking on me, Boss, and how good you’re being to me.  I’ll work harder than anybody you ever met so that you won’t ever regret it.  I really will.”

     Nelson was touched by the young man’s sincere words of gratitude.  Harper had a few rough edges, but the Admiral didn’t think it would be all that difficult to smooth them out.  He’d been a mentor to many young men over the years and he didn’t mind the thought of taking up that role again.  Before Harper knew it, his old life would be forgotten and he’d a respected person in the scientific community.  Nelson would be proud to have even a small part in seeing that happen.  “It’s my pleasure, Seamus,” he replied.  “You get some sleep.  I know it’s late, but I was planning to get you up at six thirty tomorrow.”  Better to get any upsetting things out of the way early so that they would have all day for much more pleasurable pursuits, Nelson decided.  He would make sure to talk to Jamieson before he brought Harper to him, warn him that he was about to have someone very skittish to deal with and about the dreams so Jamie wouldn’t think he, in particular, was upsetting Harper.

     “Okay.  I just wish it was for the driving lessons,” Harper sighed then he opened the door to his room.  “G’night.”

     “Good night, Seamus.  Pleasant dreams,” Nelson said, then Harper closed the door.  Nelson smiled as he turned and started to go.  What a good day this had been, he mused, and he was going to try to make tomorrow even better for his new, young genius.  Harper was going to be happily settled into life at the Institute before the Seaview set sail again, he was certain.  Nelson could only see a bright future for Harper.

* * *

 

 

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