* * *
Andromeda’s hologram was trailing the two bickering Perseids as
they shuffled swiftly in front of her toward Machine Shop seventeen.
As she monitored them, she found herself annoyed that they were
here at all. Couldn’t they see the menacing ship hovering just starboard
of the her? As a warship,
Andromeda was constantly amazed at the stupidity of what were supposed to
be highly intelligent biologicals. Her
captain had warned them that this wasn’t a good time, so anything that
happened wasn’t Dylan’s fault. Of
course, she doubted that the Perseids would see it that way if anything
did go awry.
The Perseids stepped into the Machine Shop, they came to a
halt and looked around. Andromeda’s
hologram frowned at the room. It was still a disaster from when Harper had been attacked
and taken. She was incredibly
angry about that. She had
been violated, blinded temporarily, and one of her crew had been harmed
and stolen away. Her internal
defenses would have helped Harper to escape his attacker if she had only
known what was happening. She
missed him, the way he looked after her well being before his own, the way
he talked to her like she was a biological and not a ship, the way he
treated her like she was the most wonderful thing in the universe.
Because Barris had harmed him, because he had taken her engineer,
she would destroy his ship and she would take joy in doing it.
As soon as they had Harper back, she was sure that Dylan would give
her permission and she blast the ugly vessel just out of her reach into
“What happened here?” the senior of the two Perseids,
Rollan, asked, sounding a little shocked.
“I was invaded by hostile forces and this room was
damaged,” Andromeda informed him levelly. Maybe he would be frightened and leave. That would make things easier.
Rollan glanced at his compatriot and they exchanged a tense
look. “When was this?”
“Two days, eleven hours, seventeen minutes ago,”
Andromeda replied, thinking he probably didn’t want the tally of
Rollan looked around in surprise.
“Why didn’t you clean this up?”
Andromeda frowned. Why
hadn’t she? She could have had Maria bots in here to clear away
everything after they had gathered everything that would help them in
their search for her missing engineer.
She hadn’t, she realized, because looking at the scene of the
assault kept her as furious as the moment she had realized it had
happened. She intended to
harness that fury when she was finally turned loose on Barris.
“We’ve had other concerns,” she replied instead of telling
the Perseid that.
“I... see,” he said, then seemed to shake off his
unease, at least enough to step further into the room.
“And where is the device?” he demanded, trying to sound
“The device you are referring to was turned over to the
Council of Directors at Sinti shortly after the incident there,”
Andromeda told him. Dylan had
told him the same thing. Maybe
this time he would believe it.
“Then you won’t mind us searching for any parts that
were... inadvertently left behind,” Rollan said, casting a suspicious
look at her.
“There weren’t any, but feel free to,” Andromeda told
him. The Perseids looked at
each other then went into the room and began to search around.
Andromeda’s hologram moved out of the door, into the room,
looking at the things scattered around the room.
An empty Sparky can lay in a mostly dried puddle of what had been
its former contents. A few
feet away lay the partly completed sensor array enhancement that Harper
had been building for her, a gift he hadn’t had a chance to complete.
Andromeda felt cold fury building in her.
She longed to release it. She
hoped it would be soon.
“I am sorry to have sullied you with the trivial matter my
crewman dealt with here,” came a harsh voice as a figure resolved near
her hologram and Andromeda wished her avatar was here.
The hologram couldn’t touch anything or she would have attacked
Barris, who now stood near it. Channeling her rage into the hologram, Andromeda shrieked at
Barris, cursing him, internal defenses firing at him, blasting him
backwards out of the room. She
never stopped firing at him, never stopped screaming at him in
inarticulate fury, driving him back and out into the corridor and slowly
down it with heavy weapons fire. He
was trying to speak, but all she heard was the anger boiling through her
“Rommie stop!” came her Captain’s voice, and she
paused, her internal weaponry falling silent. It was the only thing that could have stopped her at that
moment. Dylan came and stood
between her hologram and Barris as she tensed, ready to open fire at the
“He...” she started, knowing that Dylan would be as
furious as she was about what Barris had said.
down!” he ordered firmly, then turned to Barris.
“I want to know why you keep coming here.
I’ve told you I don’t want you or your crew on my ship.
You don’t belong
here,” Dylan stressed the word, glaring intently at Barris as he did,
“Why don’t you belong anywhere, Barris?”
The question seemed to catch Barris flatfooted for a moment,
then he tried his toothy smile on Dylan.
“We could belong here. You
have only to say the word.”
“Harper belongs here, not you, not your crew.
You didn’t change that by taking him away.
You can’t change that by calling him names or telling me this
nonsense about how he’s defective.
Why do you keep doing that? Are
you defective, Barris?” Dylan asked, still giving Barris a narrow,
Again, Barris’ smile faltered, and he scowled.
“Don’t compare us to that little thing.
We are not broken, we are not property.
It is. You should have
returned it to its owner on Earth when you realized it had stolen
itself.” The words made
Rommie’s mind whirl for a moment. Was
Barris calling Harper a slave? She
had never thought overly much about it, but she supposed that Harper might
have been a slave on Earth, that he might have escaped slavery when he had
joined Beka’s crew. It didn’t matter to her, but it seemed to matter to Barris.
Is that what he thought Harper was now?
“You should have beaten it when it was disobedient.
That’s what its previous owner did, beat it and more, yet it
still refused recognize its rightful station.
It is a foolish, worthless thing.
You are well rid of it. I’m
certain its new master will teach it to show proper respect.”
Dylan scowled at Barris’ tirade and his hand twitched
close to his force lance, but he didn’t draw it yet.
“I want my engineer. I
want him now,” he demanded instead, anger making the words cold and
hard. Obviously Dylan
didn’t like what Barris was saying about Harper any more than she did.
“Your new team is...” Barris started, smiling again,
“You and your crew will never, ever
serve on this vessel,” Dylan told him, his voice ringing with the same
fury running through Andromeda’s circuits.
“You will not touch or speak to any of my crew from this moment
on. You will return Mister
Harper to this vessel and you had best pray to the Divine or whatever gods
you worship that he’s all right when you do.”
“You don’t seem to...” Barris tried again.
“NO!” Dylan shouted him down.
“That wasn’t a request! You
come onto my ship uninvited and you harm my crew, then you have the
audacity to think I’m going to welcome you?
That I would ever willingly allow you or any of your crew to serve
under me? Return my engineer,
Barris smiled at Dylan, the same horrible, evil smile he’d
given Dylan on the Command Deck when he had first come aboard what seemed
like so long ago. “I can
hurt it again,” he said with a chuckle that matched his smile.
That Dylan actually let out a roar of rage shook Andromeda.
When he leapt at Barris, she silently cheered him on, standing
ready to aid him if necessary. Barris
disappeared in a puff of black smoke as Dylan reached him, reappearing
behind her hologram. She
swung at him, her arm passing harmlessly through him, but he moved again,
this time reappearing just up corridor.
“Your pet is worthless to me,” he snickered.
Andromeda sited her internal defenses, ready to unleash them, but
Dylan had regained his composure and stopped her a gesture.
“I can hurt it again and again, worse and worse until it begs for
death, a release I will not grant it.
I can make it suffer for eternity,” Barris taunted.
“Touch him or any of my crew again and I will hunt you
down wherever you go,” Dylan warned him, his voice so low and cold that
it actually made Andromeda feel a shiver pass through her frame.
“I can run forever,” Barris laughed.
“How long can you chase? You
will take us as crew. You
will not ask for your pet again or I will show you what it sounds like
when it screams. Even that you will only have for a moment before I cast it
away again. You will never
have it back. Never.” With that, he vanished again, this time not reappearing.
Dylan stood there, staring at where Barris had last been his jaw tight,
hands curling into fists then uncurling, over and over.
Andromeda watched him, wanting to say something but she didn’t
know what. She was not used
to feeling helpless.
“What was that?” came Rollan’s voice from the Machine
Shop doorway. Andromeda
turned her hologram to him and gave him the iciest glare programmed into
her. Rollan swallowed hard
and backed away from the door. When
he was gone, she turned her hologram to Dylan.
“What do we do?”
Dylan closed his eyes for a second, both hands clenched
tight, then he let them fall loose and said, “We wait for Beka.
She’ll find something. This
isn’t over.” His voice was steady and sure.
He would not fold before Barris’ threat. That was why Andromeda loved him. Dylan Hunt never surrendered.
“You know, this would be a lot easier if you weren’t on
the verge of hyperventilating,” Doctor Jamieson muttered so softly that
Nelson barely heard it. Jamie
was standing behind Harper, attempting to listen to his lungs and was
plainly having no luck at all doing so.
Jamieson frowned but said a little more loudly and far more gently,
“I promise you, son, no one here is going to hurt you. Would you like something to calm you down a little?”
“No,” came Harper’s barely audible reply, and Nelson
was sitting not five feet away directly in front of the boy.
Harper was shaking visibly and looked as though he were going to
faint or flee the room in terror.
Jamieson had tried to take Harper’s pulse first, but it
had been an exercise in futility, because the boy’s heart was already
racing. Nelson had considered
calling the whole thing off and trying another day, but then Jamie had
asked Harper strip to the waist. Harper
had tried to argue his way out of doing so, which concerned Nelson enough
to see that things continued at least that far.
Finally, Harper gave in when pleading looks cast at Nelson didn’t
get him any support.
Nelson had to force himself not to react as the boy pulled
off his undershirt. Harper
had large, painful looking bruises all over his chest and abdomen, plainly
from the severe beating he’d recently suffered through.
There were more on his sides and on his back, the boy’s entire
body pretty much black and blue. Nelson
had winced at the thought of how much those bruises must hurt even now
that they were starting to fade. However,
that was far from the worst of it.
Harper’s body was covered in scars, most of them old, some
looking almost as old as he was. The poor boy, Nelson had thought, reading a life story of
torture and torment in the lines covering Harper’s torso. Harper had kept his eyes down for a few moments after taking
off his shirt, shame making his face blaze red. Jamieson didn’t touch the boy right away and everyone was
silent for a few moments. When
Harper finally looked up into Nelson’s eyes, the Admiral had given
Harper an encouraging smile and had thanked him before telling Jamieson to
continue the examination. Nelson
hadn’t wanted to take a chance that there was more damage to Harper than
that which was visible and he wanted the injuries he could see treated
properly. Not that Harper
seemed to feel the same way. They were a mere three minutes into the exam, Harper was pale
with terror and the only things that Jamie had touched him with were his
hands and a stethoscope.
“All right, but you need to calm down.
I’m not trying to hurt you, son, but we need to be sure that
those bruises aren’t part of internal injuries.
I know you’re feeling tender and it’s probably a little painful
when I touch you in some places, but I’ll do my best to be quick about
it so it won’t hurt too much. I need your help to do that, all right?”
Jamie asked, his voice gentle and reassuring.
Harper nodded, but he wouldn’t look directly at Jamieson and he
was still shaking like he was freezing though the examination room in the
infirmary was quite comfortably warm.
“Try to take deep, even breaths and, if you could, sit up a
little straighter,” Jamie said as he went back to listening to the
“Yes sir,” Harper murmured and looked to Nelson, his
expression pleading. He
wanted out of the room and away from Jamieson, but the Admiral was going
to make him stick it out. He
would keep his word and stay, too, though it was almost torturous to watch
Nelson gave Harper another smile, hoping it didn’t look as
forced as it was, and then mouthed the words, “Chin up,” while tapping
his own chin upward. Harper
nodded, his expression still bleak, and tried to sit a little straighter
and slow his breathing down, effort visible on his face. Nelson wished he knew a way to make things easier, but Jamie
was being kind and patient with Harper and there wasn’t a doctor alive
that could be more considerate.
After a few moments, Jamie seemed to concentrate more and
moved his stethoscope to a different spot.
“That’s better. I know you were recently ill.
Was it some sort of chest cold or infection?”
“Just a virus. I get sick easy,” Harper murmured. Nelson fought to keep a frown off his face.
The boy had most likely never had any sort of regular medical care.
That ended now.
“Have you felt like you were coming down with something
like that in the last day or two?” Jamie asked as he continued to place
and replace his stethoscope on Harper’s back.
“No,” came the feeble reply.
sure?” There was a
trembling nod. “Hmm.
You sound... not congested exactly, but...
It’s probably nothing, but I’d like to take a chest x-ray, just
to be sure,” Jamie said, looking to Nelson for confirmation.
Nelson nodded to Jamie, saying, “Mister Harper is here to
let you check him out thoroughly, aren’t you, Mister Harper?”
“Yes sir,” Harper sighed out, resignation in the words.
“Good, because this worries me,” Jamie said, tilting
Harper’s head slightly and gingerly touching the metal disk on his neck.
Harper flinched, but otherwise stayed still.
“What is this supposed to be?”
“A piercing?” Harper asked more than replied, his voice
higher than usual and straining a little.
Nelson frowned. An obvious lie, which was strange, since Nelson hadn’t
picked up on any other ones in his short association with the boy.
Why lie about this?
“Mister Harper,” Nelson said reproachfully, not about to
let it go.
Harper cringed a little, looking even more pathetic somehow.
“It’s nothing, honest. It
doesn’t even do anything here.”
does that mean?” Jamie asked, probing the disk carefully with some
“Here... On my neck... It doesn’t bother me or ...”
Harper tried to explain, shaking even harder, then yelped in pain as Jamie
poked at it directly in the center. Harper
shot to the far end of the examination table, looking downright terrified.
In response, Doctor Jamieson started to move to him, but Harper
turned from him, starting to curl up on himself, letting out of little
sob. “Please don’t...”
he whimpered, cowering from Jamie as if he expected the doctor to harm him
in some way. Jamie gave
Nelson questioning look. Nelson
shook his head to Jamie, not knowing how to answer that unasked question. He rose quickly, moved to the table, half afraid Harper would
fall off, then laid a comforting hand on Harper’s upper arm.
Harper looked to him, wide-eyed with fear and started to cringe
from him as well. It took all
of Nelson’s resolve to keep a frown from his face and not to demand who
had harmed Seamus, who had hurt him so badly that the poor boy was
reacting this way to simply being touched.
He pushed all those thoughts from his head and gently squeezed the
arm he held.
“Seamus, Doctor Jamieson won’t touch it anymore if you
don’t want him to,” he assured the boy.
Harper nodded, then began to slowly uncurl himself from the ball he
had half drawn himself into. He had put his left hand protectively over the disk and was
hugging himself with his right arm, his head hunched down and knees drawn
up as he trembled violently. Again
Nelson remembered Miss Simmons words to the effect of the disk seeming
sinister to her and he began to share her opinion.
He didn’t want to pump Harper for information about it at the
moment, thinking it was more important to get the examination completed.
“It’s just that something that close to your brain is a
concern. There is a danger of
infection to consider. You
understand?” Harper nodded
again and seemed to be pulling himself slowly together.
Nelson patted his arm gently.
“Good. Then let’s
have Doctor Jamieson move on. I’ll
stay right here unless I’m in the way,” Nelson said, standing next to
Harper at the table. The poor
boy, Nelson thought as he got a closer look at the bruises and horrible
scars on Harper because of his new vantage point.
There had obviously been little kindness in Harper’s life.
No wonder he was frightened that everyone was going to hurt him.
Harper was certainly no stranger to pain and abuse.
True to his word, Nelson stayed next to Harper for the
majority of the rest of the examination, though he had to quit the room
with Jamie when the doctor took some x-rays. He
was strangely relieved when the disk on Harper’s neck was the only odd
thing on the boy’s body and Jamie had carefully checked every inch of
Harper and taken a lot more samples than Nelson ever remembered him taking
from anyone else, obviously looking for anything else that might cause
Harper had not been thrilled about being asked to totally
disrobe, but he had done it without argument.
He was not at all happy when Jamie examined certain portions of his
anatomy, but he bit his lip and managed to stay still and conscious
despite how pale and terrified he looked.
Jamie had the good sense not to try to make small talk or ask
Harper any questions unless he absolutely had to, already knowing that
conversation was a lost cause. No
amount of comforting by the Admiral or Jamieson did anything to calm
Harper, but he didn’t argue about anything after the incident with the
disk either. He just did as
he was told, silently shivering in terror the whole time.
Nelson couldn’t help but feel sorry for him and he was pretty
sure that he saw Jamieson wincing in sympathy from time to time.
It was a mercy to everyone involved when the examination was
finally complete and Harper was told he could dress again and that they
should talk in Jamieson’s office.
Fortunately, Jamieson didn’t find anything seriously wrong
in these preliminary stages. The
quirk in Harper’s breathing bothered him a little and he wanted to do
some more tests as soon as he had a chance to look at the x-rays.
Harper’s look of near mortal dread told Nelson that the boy had
taken about all he could, so the Admiral said that tomorrow or the next
day would have to be soon enough for him to return to Jamieson’s office.
Harper had plainly been badly abused as a child, not that he was
much more than one now, and he was probably terrified that he might be
harmed again. Nelson wasn’t going to make Harper feel any less in control
than he likely already felt, even if it slowed his medical care down a
little. Jamieson wasn’t
happy about it, but Nelson would not be swayed and Jamie knew arguing
would get him nowhere. Harper
wanted to be able to leave Jamieson’s office so badly at that point that
he probably would have agreed to anything anyone asked of him.
He actually got a twitchy smile on his face when Jamieson sighed
and waved him on his way. He
was out of the room so fast, he was almost a blur.
“Admiral, I need a detailed medical history on that
kid,” Jamieson said firmly as Nelson rose to follow Harper out of the
“You think he’s been using illegal drugs?” Nelson
asked, for that in particular concerned him. Harper didn’t seem like a recovering junky, but Nelson was
no expert in that area. He
didn’t want to think that Harper had more problems than those that were
easy to see.
“I didn’t see any outward indications, but a lot of
homeless people are exposed to them.
I’d also like to know his sexual history. You’d be surprised what a desperate person might submit to
in order to get some food or a roof over their head on a freezing night.
And I hate to say this, but he’s not a big person and he could
have been forced against his will. Again,
I didn’t see any signs of sexual assault and I’ll run an AIDS test,
but...” Jamieson paused meaningfully and Nelson nodded.
“Give me some time and I’ll talk to him about all that.
You saw the scars and how easy it is to frighten him.
I used every ounce of trust I’d built up in him yesterday to get
him in to see you this morning, so I don’t want to push him too much
right now. I think he’s had
enough terror in his life and I want him to feel safe here at the
Institute,” Nelson replied.
“I know, Harri. That poor kid,” Jamieson sighed.
“If it makes you feel any better, I think whoever was hurting him
as a child has been out of the picture for a while.
He seemed just as terrified of taking off his shirt as he was of
those dreams you were describing, afraid that something terrible would
happen because we were going to find out how badly he was abused. He doesn’t think anyone here would do those things to him,
Nelson frowned. “No, at least I hope not.
I told him that I wouldn’t let anyone harm him and he seemed to
believe me for the most part. Jamie,
I know I put you off from seeing Harper again today, but I am worried
about him, especially now. All
those scars... How could
anyone do that to a child? And
you saw how he reacted to when you touched the thing on his neck.”
Jamieson mirrored Nelson’s frown, saying, “Yes, whatever
it is. It’s not some
bizarre piercing. I’ve got
a bad feeling about that disk. I
agree with Miss Simmons. I
think someone besides his childhood abusers might have been doing things
to him. You’re going to
check out those ships he said he worked on?”
“I’ve tried a little already, but so far I’ve been
coming up blank. I’ll talk
to Harper, see if he knows where these ships might be found,” Nelson
told him. If someone there
had been harming Harper, they would not be at all happy when Nelson got
hold of them, no matter how well Harper spoke of them.
“He might not be very forth coming.
As abused as he was, he might have fallen victim to the lie that he
deserved what had happened to him, that it was, in some way, all his
fault. He might still think
he deserves to be hurt, demeaned. I
mean, it was pretty obvious that he didn’t want to be in that
examination room, but he didn’t stand up to you, didn’t refuse you
because you hold a position of power over him.”
Nelson started to protest, but Jamieson cut him off, “I’m not
implying anything about you by that, Harri, but think about it.
You’re his employer, someone keeping him off the street and fed.
He might very well think you’d toss him out or hurt him if he
refused you anything, no matter how kind you’ve been to him so far.
If that disk is something that was done to him, he might not have
fought against it. It could
be that the person who beat him wasn’t a stranger at all, but someone
from the ship he most recently served on.
We might never know because he might never tell us the whole truth.
As terrible as it is to say, the physical pain he’s suffered
might not have been the worst of it,” Jamieson replied, his face grim.
More oaths of well deserved and terrible justice ran through
Nelson’s mind, but the punishing of guilty parties would have to wait.
Nelson had a new employee to look after and his previous estimate
of a day or two of gentle handling for Harper was now looking to be
falling very short of the mark. “Whatever
he’s been through, I want to help him recover so that what happened
today in your office does not happen every time a doctor gets near him.
He certainly shouldn’t be belittled by anyone, especially
himself, over what’s been done to him or feel like he has to let others
control him. He’s a
brilliant young man and he could have a very bright future ahead of him.
I don’t want fear or self depreciation ruling and ruining his
Jamieson looked a little relieved.
“I’m glad you’re not feeling put out by what we’re dealing
“Anything but, Jamie.
What do you think we ought to do?
Call in a counselor or...” Nelson left that thought dangling.
He’d had men that were severely injured on the Seaview counseled,
Harper’s situation was different from those instances.
Nelson had never had to deal with the aftermath of child abuse
before and didn’t know what the right steps to take at this point might
be. Harper seemed fine most
of the time. Maybe he’d
already put whatever demons had haunted his past to rest and bringing
things back up would only make matters worse.
“I don’t think having him talk to a counselor or a
psychiatrist is going to do anything for him because, quite frankly, I
don’t think he’d trust them anymore than he trusted me.
I think you probably have the right idea, though.
Like you said, give him some time, let him get used to the idea
that he isn’t in danger, that no one here wants to hurt him or take
anything from him. He has you
to talk to: a protector, a
mentor. That probably means
more to him than you know. And
Doctor Babin isn’t a fair weather friend.
I’m sure she’ll be there for him as well as he adjusts to his
new life, ready with cheerful talk or a shoulder to cry on if necessary.
The two of you might be all he needs.”
Nelson nodded. “I hope so.” He
smiled a little, saying, “He’s probably run off to Doctor Babin’s
office for a little comforting. He
has quite a crush on her and she isn’t exactly discouraging him.”
Jamieson grinned back at him.
“Even better. Nothing like a little romance to give a young man huge
amounts of self-esteem and courage.”
“I’d better go chaperone.
Thank you, Jamie. I’ll stop by tomorrow morning and you can tell me if you
need to see Harper again in the near future,” Nelson said, then went off
in search of his newest employee.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to go far because Harper
was sitting on the floor just up the hall, his head resting on his arms,
which were supported on his bent knees. Apparently, Harper hadn’t heard him approach, because he
didn’t look up. Nelson
looked at him from a few steps away, thinking about how young and
vulnerable Harper looked and about everything he and Jamieson had just
spoken about. Nelson wanted the truth, but he didn’t want to hurt Harper
to get it. The boy had been
hurt enough for one lifetime. Closing
his eyes briefly and drawing a deep breath, he convinced himself that
everything would come out eventually and all guilty parties would meet
with their just deserts.
“Seamus, are you all right?” Nelson asked as he took the
final few steps to the boy and stood over him.
Harper looked up at him, seeming far more relaxed than he
had been just a few minutes ago. “Yeah, fine, really,” Harper said with an embarrassed
laugh. “It’s just, I
forgot to ask where Dom’s office is.”
Nelson smiled. If nothing else, Harper seemed to be the embodiment of
resilience. “Why don’t I
“Great,” Harper said with a big grin as he sprang up,
then got the sheepish look back on his face.
“Sorry to be such a total wuss in there.”
The Admiral thought, very briefly, about asking about the
disc again or about the ships Harper had served on or who was responsible
for the scars hidden by Harper’s clothing, but he decided against it
again. He shouldn’t rush.
Harper would be at the Institute from now on, protected from any
more harm. There was time.
“That’s all right, Seamus.
It’s done with for the time being.
I’d like you to eat a good breakfast and then come see me in my
office. I have some papers I
need you to fill out, then we can get to work,” Nelson said, patting
Harper on the back, gently, mindful of the bruises he now knew were there.
Harper smiled at him, looking eager and happy, the frightened child
that had been in the examination room gone, hopefully never to return.
Nelson walked with the young man that had reemerged, chatting
casually, sincerely hoping that this morning would be the worst moment of
the rest of Harper’s life.
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