* * *
Dom was excited as she walked to her office.
She hadn’t been out on a date for months and she was looking
forward to it more than she had thought she would.
Seamus had been so happy at breakfast, telling her vaguely about
all the projects that the Admiral had already expressed interest in.
He was so thrilled about the prospect of slaving away over in
Engineering for years on end that Dom couldn’t help but be happy for
him. She hadn’t been at all pleased when she had found out that
the Admiral had gone to her house to... she wasn’t entirely sure why he
had gone. It didn’t matter
because whatever he had gone there for, the Admiral had proven himself to
be her hero yet again by rescuing Seamus from the uncertainty of his
As she rounded from the hall into her office, she found
Kowalski, Patterson, Riley and Johnson all there, sitting or standing all
over the room, looking generally uncomfortable.
“Good morning,” she told them with a sunny smile.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure of having all of you in my
“Dom, I know you kicked us all off your doorstep on
Friday,” Kowalski said, then looked to Patterson for help.
“We’ve been talking it over,” Patterson said, then
didn’t seem to know what more to say and looked back at Kowalski.
“Look, about this Harper guy living at your house...”
Kowalski started, trying very hard to look tough and authoritative on the
subject, though plainly he wasn’t feeling the part.
“He’s not,” Dom interrupted him before he could go any
Ski, obviously caught flatfooted, suddenly lost his stony
expression and said, “Huh? He’s
“Not living at my house,” Dom told him, going around to
her desk and giving Riley a pointed look.
He sheepishly got out of her chair.
“Not since yesterday. So
if that’s why you all came to see me, you can go to work now.
Thank you for making it plain that you don’t trust me to run my
“We weren’t saying that!” Riley exclaimed frantically.
“Oh?” Dom replied, sitting at her desk and giving each
of them a cross look. “Coming
around to my house and then my office to tell me who you think I should
allow to stay under my roof and who I shouldn’t is how you show
confidence in my decision making, is it?”
“It’s not like that, Dom,” Ski tried to explain.
“See the Skipper said...”
“Oh, so Captain Crane sent you over to do his dirty
work,” Dom cut him off.
“No. Cut that
out, okay?” Ski said. Dom
frowned at him and crossed her arms over her chest, but didn’t say
anything. “Look, I get why
you’re mad at us, but the skipper was just worried and it got us
thinking, which got us worried. I
mean, talk to the Skipper or the Admiral.
They’ll tell you how dangerous this Harper guy could’ve
“Captain Crane, probably, but I doubt the Admiral would
considering he hired Seamus yesterday to work in the Engineering
department of the Institute and gave him quarters over at the dorms,”
Dom stated, still glaring at the sailors.
Now the four men before her wore an identical expression of
confusion. “He did?”
Johnson asked for all of them.
“I believe Seamus is in the Admiral’s office at this
very moment finishing his new hire paperwork,” Dom said, dropping her
arms, but not her cross expression. “I told you on Friday that Seamus was just someone down on
his luck who needed a little help getting back on his feet and you all
refused to believe me or you wouldn’t be here now.
You should all be ashamed.”
Now the four men wore fairly similar looks of embarrassment.
“Sorry,” Pat apologized for the group.
“You should be,” Dom told them, not about to let them
off that easy.
“Come on, Dom. We were just trying to look out for you,” Ski said.
“I don’t need looking after, thank you.
I’m a grown woman, not a little girl,” Dom told him, making him
“Can’t we make it up to you?” Riley asked, giving her
a pleading look.
Dom gave each of them a pointed glare in turn, making them
sweat a little more. They
deserved to, not trusting her that way. They should know her better than that by now, especially
Kowalski. “Maybe,” Dom
said tersely. “Seamus was
so grateful that I let him stay at my house, though others strenuously
objected, that he’s taking me out to dinner tonight to thank me.
I’m supposed to meet him in the lobby at the end of the day.
If you all come to meet him and make a sincere effort to make him
feel welcomed at the Institute, I might just forgive you.
And you might even find that he’s a pretty good guy if you give
getting to know him a chance. He’s
good at fixing cars and he made me this.”
She opened her dragon hologram and handed it to Riley, who was
standing closest to her.
Riley breathed out, starting to grin a little, handing it to Patterson.
“And Seamus likes surfing,” Dom added, knowing that
would bring Riley firmly over to her side.
“Hey, then he’s got to be a great guy!” Riley
declared, giving Dom a grin. “All
us surfers are!”
Ski rolled his eyes, then turned his attention to Dom.
“Look, if the Admiral says he’s all right, then he’s all
right,” he told her. “No
arguments there, okay? We’ll
be there tonight and shake hands and make sure there’s no hard
“There wouldn’t be on his part because I never told him
that you came to my house to throw him out,” Dom replied.
“And from now on, save the protectiveness for the Seaview.
I appreciate it there, but not in my personal life.”
“It’ll never happen again,” Johnson promised.
“It better not,” Dom told him as she stood up.
“Now go to work!” She
began to shoo them out of her office, but Patterson held back.
“I’ll catch you guys up,” he said to the others, then
closed Dom’s office door. Dom
looked up at him, but he didn’t say anything right away, his lips
pressed together, a look on his face that she couldn’t quite define, one
hand still resting on the doorknob. Dom
was about to break the silence herself which Patterson suddenly met her
eyes and said, “This dinner, it’s not just a ‘thank you’ is it.”
He wasn’t asking a question.
Dom found herself straightening her back.
Then Patterson did the thing she least expected him to do.
He gave her a smile. “No. He’s pretty smart, this Harper guy?”
Dom gave him a wary look.
“Yes, really smart. I
heard the Admiral bandy the word genius around.
Something sad tinged the corner of Pat’s smile and his
eyes, but he nodded, saying, “Just figured.
Good for you, Dom, really. I
kind of half thought you and the Admiral might, you know...”
Pat suddenly blushed and looked down, clearing his throat, then
continued, “Anyway, I’d better get to work.
About five o’clock good for the meet and greet?”
“That would probably be good,” Dom replied, feeling the
rest of her annoyance at her friends, Patterson especially, bleed away and
she reached out and touched his arm.
“See you then, Dom. I’ll
remind the guys to behave, especially Kowalski,” Pat told her, then
opened her office door and let himself out without saying another word.
Dom didn’t stop him. She
stood at her office door watching him walk off toward where the Seaview
was waiting to be repaired. Dom
almost called him back, almost went after him, but she didn’t.
For the last few months they had been doing this strange dance
where, when something more than friendship started to form between them,
Patterson would back away, not let it happen.
Dom had always wondered why, but knew even broaching the subject
would be disastrous. She
supposed that he thought that the Admiral was interested in dating her
from what he’d just said, but she didn’t think that was all of it.
Whatever it was, Patterson wasn’t talking and she couldn’t make
him. She sighed, hoping that
he was really as okay with her dating as he’d said he was.
“Dom, you haven’t seen Olivia, have you?” Doctor Lorn
asked, breaking her train of thought. Blinking and reorganizing her thoughts, Dom turned to the
older Marine Biologist, preparing herself for octopus hunting, thinking
there was never a dull moment at the Nelson Institute.
“So, exactly how much instruction should I be giving
you?” Nelson asked as Harper buckled his seatbelt.
They were sitting in his car in the Institute’s back lot, having
just traded places so that Harper was behind the wheel.
Harper had a big grin plastered over his face and looked excited
about trying out driving for the first time in his life.
That was a vast improvement over how the boy had looked earlier.
Nelson still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened in his office
that had panicked Harper so badly, but it had taken hours to calm him
down. Was it something in the
forms? Perhaps the thought of
having to detail his injuries and explain how they had occurred had made
Harper think more hurt might be forthcoming.
Nelson didn’t want him to think anything even remotely like that
would ever happen to him again.
Sitting in one of the labs, working on their program, Harper
had given him a lot of worried looks.
At first, Nelson thought it was because all the stress he’d
experienced that morning had made him mentally freeze, that he thought
he’d be punished or fired if he couldn’t proceed with what they were
doing. However, Harper not
only proceeded, he came up with a few ideas that outshone some of the
projects he’d brought up the night before.
If Harper could deliver on even half the things he partially
described, he and the Institute were both going to be wealthy beyond all
dreams of avarice, even if the Seaview continued her current trend of
returning from missions damaged.
Nelson had been at a total loss and thought, perhaps, Harper
hadn’t come through his physical as emotionally unscathed as he’d
first thought. There had been
so much upheaval in the boy’s life in the last few days, it was
perfectly reasonable for him to be displaying symptoms of extreme stress.
Very gentle handling, Nelson had reminded himself, then halted the
outpouring of new technology springing from Harper’s mouth by asking him
about books. Miss Simmons had
said that Harper liked to read. There
was nothing harmful or frightening in talking about books, at least not
that Nelson could come up with, and it seemed to do the trick.
They had talked about some books that Harper had read at Miss
Babin’s house, about books that Nelson had enjoyed and would lend to
him. It was a pleasant,
soothing conversation and after a light lunch and finally completing the
program and running it through a few tests, Nelson had decided it was time
for driving lessons while Harper was calm again.
“I’ve watched Dom,” Harper told him, then pointed at
the control panel. “P for
park, D for drive, R for reverse, N for... I haven’t quite figured that
one out. She never used
“Neutral,” Nelson told him before he could continue.
“The car can move but isn’t in gear.”
“Okay,” Harper said, nodding.
“Got it. I think
I’m good.” They had
already adjusted the seat and mirrors, checked tires and gauges.
Nelson had talked about checking oil, but hadn’t opened the hood
of the car because Harper seemed ready to give the car a thorough
examination rather than just preforming a cursory fluid check.
Nelson had steered him into the car instead and had gotten seat
belts fastened. When Harper
started the car and put it in drive and eased forward, Nelson tried to
relax, finding it more difficult than he’d anticipated.
He hadn’t ever thought he would be doing this, being an old
bachelor. Nelson consoled
himself that at least Harper wasn’t sixteen. “Hey, this isn’t so tough,” Harper said, giving him a
grin with a sidelong look.
“Eyes front,” Nelson told him, nodding toward the
windscreen before the glance could turn into all out inattentiveness.
“And check the mirrors.
Right,” Harper said with another nod as he proceeded slowly up
the lot. They navigated
around a few obstacles without incident, then Nelson had Harper back up in
a straight line, parallel park, and make a ‘U’ turn.
Finally, they parked back in front of the Institute in Nelson’s
parking space and Harper gave Nelson a hopeful grin.
“How’d I do?”
“You did fine. A little practice and I won’t be nervous about turning you
loose on public roadways,” Nelson told him.
“License first, though, right?” Harper asked.
“Learner’s permit, then license,” Nelson corrected
him, but smiled at the boy. “So,
I take it you have plans this evening?”
“Or lack thereof,” Harper sighed.
“I’m supposed to be taking Dom out to dinner, but I don’t
know where. Usually, I meet
women when I’m already out and I don’t have to take them anywhere,
‘cause we’re already there! I
have no clue what I’m doing with this dating stuff.”
“Well, where have you taken previous female companions on
second dates?” Nelson asked, thinking Harper’s past might not have
been one, long, dismal experience if women were involved.
Harper raised his eyebrows.
“Second date? Heeyeah, right,” he said with a little laugh and a head
shake. “I never got first
dates. I got slapped a lot
and the occasional drunken evening that was best forgotten as soon as
possible afterwards, much as I tried to make it sound totally different
with Beka. I think she knew anyhow.
She rolled her eyes at me a lot when I talked about women and my
interactions with them. The
point of it all is that actual dates did not happen.
I want tonight to be different, special, real for once, not just
some happy little story I make up to cover over the not so happy truth.
It doesn’t have to be like some glamorous movie thing.
Something simple, you know? Dinner
out some place kinda nice, with maybe some music or dancing or something.
I don’t know. Maybe
you know someplace she’d like? Someplace
not too expensive?”
“Yes, money,” Nelson muttered.
Nelson knew that Harper had exactly one hundred and forty eight
dollars to his name, a third of which was still at Dominica’s house
somewhere. He looked at
Harper’s secondhand clothes and then glanced at his watch and frowned
again. There was no time to
run out somewhere and get the boy something a little nicer to wear.
It probably wasn’t a concern.
Doctor Babin liked casual places and attire.
He didn’t see the sense in worrying Harper about his appearance.
Harper didn’t seem to have any outlandish expectations for the
evening in any case. Nelson
thought that Harper had been through enough trouble and stress lately and
that the pleasant, innocent evening he wanted wasn’t too much to ask for
after all that. He didn’t mind giving a little advice and a little money to
help things along.
“I think if you take a stroll up State Street or Victoria,
you’ll find somewhere that will suit you,” Nelson advised.
Harper grinned. “Yeah, great idea! Dom
likes going for walks. I like
to dance. Dancing is okay,
right? I know Dom’s
religious and some religions have issues with dancing.”
“Dancing is fine,” Nelson said with a sense of relief.
If Harper was worried about dancing being inappropriate, then he
most likely had absolutely no expectations of a sexual nature.
I think I can do this,” Harper said half as if he was trying to
convince himself. Nelson
smiled warmly, then reminded himself of the money issue.
“I suppose I’d better advance you a little money on your
pay. Nothing worse than being
caught short at the end of the evening,” Nelson commented casually as he
took out his wallet. Of
course, he had no intention of reclaiming the money he was about to hand
over. All of the new
technology that he and Harper were going to develop would more than
compensate him. He was actually looking forward to it. It had been a while since he’d gotten to do some
groundbreaking engineering and Harper seemed more than thrilled at the
prospect of supplying them with a nearly endless supply of ideas to work
on. Still, he didn’t want
Harper to feel uncomfortable about taking the money.
In this instance, Nelson was pleased with the fact that Harper was
extremely easy to distract. “Make
sure you’re ready for an early start tomorrow.
We never did get to that paperwork,” Nelson said as he handed
some money toward the boy.
“Oh, yeah. Should
we go do that now?” Harper asked, taking the money and sticking it
unconsciously into a pocket. Nelson
smiled. Mission accomplished.
Then he thought about what had happened the last time Harper had
been sitting in his office filling in forms and didn’t want Harper panic
“No, no. It’s
getting late. Tomorrow will
be fine. Then we’ll test
your operating system program a little more and then possibly bring in a
few of the other engineers for a little demonstration,” Nelson said,
opening his door.
“Oh,” Harper said, sounding less then enthusiastic as he
got out of the car. Nelson
could understand why. Most of
the engineers seemed to be viewing Harper in a less than favorable light,
probably in part because of his appearance.
Some new clothes and a good haircut would take care of at least
some of that. Nelson would
see about making sure that both those things happened sooner rather than
later. He also wished the not
quite so many people at the Institute were aware of Harper’s previous
homelessness. He wasn’t
quite sure how far that particular tidbit of knowledge had been spread,
but it probably wasn’t helping matters.
Of course, pretty soon the other Institute engineers were going to
have to worry more about keeping up with Harper rather than where he came
from or how he looked.
“Yes, but don’t worry about it.
You’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
And I’d like you to make a few notes on the little robot.
I like the idea very much,” Nelson told Harper as they met at the
front of the car. He gave the
boy a companionable pat on the shoulder.
“Perhaps you might even start drawing up schematics on that
tomorrow if there’s time.”
“I could build you one,” Harper offered.
Nelson smiled. He
liked making things off the cuff too, but developmental procedure was
important at the Institute. Some
of the things being worked on there could be dangerous, especially if made
improperly. The Admiral was about to detail the steps that should be
followed with any new project, when Harper continued, “It’s the power
supply I’m worried about. It
would need something small so the robot’s not overburdened or trailing
wires, but anything small enough that I’ve seen would deplete its cells
pretty quickly. I’ve got to think it out, maybe when I get back tonight.
It’s like it’s in my head but it’s not clear enough for me to
see. I can still build a
prototype, but it’ll probably run down pretty quickly.”
Nelson patted him gently on the back as they started into
the Institute. “Remember
what I said about trying not to rush yourself.
The robot itself seems like it would be fascinating. The dexterity
that you described, I’m not sure how you’re going to achieve it.”
“It’s all down to keeping things small and light,”
Harper told him with a confident smile.
“After seeing what you did with the hologram projectors, I
have no doubt you can do what you’re saying.
I’m rather looking forward to seeing it,” Nelson replied with a
chuckle. “That and about
fifty other things you’ve described to me. You’re going to be a busy, busy young man for a very long
time to come. You’ll
probably be grateful when the Seaview is repaired and I’ll be off at sea
rather than looking over your shoulder.”
don’t mind an audience,” Harper said with a big grin.
“That’s good to hear, because in the near future, I want
you to give a demonstration of your hologram and talk about the
miniaturization techniques that you used in the one you made for Dominica.
There are some other projects currently in development that could
use some of a little push in that direction,” Nelson said.
“You won’t find that intimidating, will you?”
Harper shrugged a little, still smiling as he opened the
Institute’s door for them. “Whatever
you want, Boss. I aim to
“And that you do, Mister Harper,” Nelson praised him,
making Harper’s smile glow even brighter.
It was the truth, after all. Nelson
couldn’t be more pleased. If
he could just get Harper over this initial bumpy patch in his new life
before the boy gave himself a nervous breakdown, Nelson was looking
forward to Harper shaking things up in engineering and giving them all new
things to think about and different directions to look in.
As they walked into the lobby, Doctor Babin, Kowalski,
Riley, Patterson, and Johnson were just coming from the other direction.
Harper’s smile brightened and he trotted over to Doctor Babin
saying, “Guess what? I
pretty much mastered driving in one lesson!
Gonna let me take you out on the Harley now?”
“Get a license and we’ll talk about it,” Dominica said
with a smile and a laugh. “Seamus,
this is Rick, Stu, Steve, and Dave. They’re sailors on the Seaview.
Guys, this is the Seamus Harper I’ve been telling you about.”
Greetings made their way around and fortunately for
Harper’s sake, Doctor Babin’s friends seemed much warmer to him than
Lee and the other engineers at the Institute had been so far.
Nelson reminded himself that he would have to work on that, but
there was plenty of time.
“So I had just about the best day of my life and the
Admiral even gave me an advance on my pay!” Harper said, exuberantly,
suddenly taking Doctor Babin in his arms and swinging her around as if to
music. That drew a schoolgirl
giggle from her. It was
obvious that Harper had forgotten the rest of the room even existed, his
entire attention on the young woman in his arms.
“There is fun happening somewhere in Santa Barbara and it’s
going on without us. That’s
just plain wrong. Let’s go
find it, huh? Come on.”
Harper dipped Doctor Babin back low and pulled her up and toward
the exit, not waiting for an answer.
Of course, Doctor Babin wasn’t exactly resisting, so the Admiral
supposed that was an answer in of itself.
Harper turned to give her friends a smile and jaunty wave.
“See ya around, guys.”
“Bye!” Doctor Babin called to them, still laughing and
looking flushed with excitement. “Good
“Thanks again, Boss,” Harper said, but before Nelson
could respond, they were out the door. Nelson smiled and shook his head as he watched Harper spin
Doctor Babin around again outside, too excited and happy to contain his
feelings. Harper wasn’t
going to waste any time letting Doctor Babin know exactly how he felt
toward her were now that his future was far less uncertain.
“Can you beat that?” Kowalski asked as the two of them
disappeared into the parking lot.
“Yeah, what just happened?
Dom didn’t say she was dating that guy, did she?” Riley asked.
“I mean, he just scoops her up caveman style and carries her off
and she liked it? What’s
“She sure wasn’t pushing him off her,” Kowalski
observed, but then Ski had been Doctor Babin’s friend since childhood
and he wasn’t interested in anything more between them.
He seemed to be ready to take the role of protective brother,
though, for he added, “He better not pull anything funny,” his voice
low and dangerous.
“But we were here first!” Riley complained, ignoring
Ski’s comment. “I would
have done that, just told her, ‘Come with me, Woman. We’re going out on a date,’ if I’d known it would
he’s just some little, scrawny guy too. It’s not like he overpowered her. What’s he got that we haven’t got?” Johnson said,
sounding almost insulted.
“The guts to actually do it,” Patterson summed up in his
normal, stoic way. That took
the wind out of Riley and Johnson’s sails and they nodded sheepishly in
agreement. The group bid
Nelson good night and they left out the door as well. Nelson chuckled to himself as he started back to his office,
thinking that Harper was going to shake things up at the Institute in more
places than engineering.
When he got to his office, Katy was plainly starting to
close things down for the day. “Will
there be anything else tonight, sir?” she asked.
“No, Katy, thank you.
I have a few things I’m going to finish up tonight, then I’ll
be heading home myself,” Nelson told her, thinking that he would finish
off his ‘in’ box so that he would be free to watch Harper build his
robot and go over proper developmental procedure. Nelson was the worst offender of not following proper
procedure at the Institute, but, since it was usually during times of
emergency and he did, after all, own the Institute, he felt allowed.
Going to his desk, Nelson saw the little stack of new hire
and medical papers that Harper had left on the edge of his desk.
He picked them up and gave what little was written there a quick
looking over. Zelazny?
Harper’s middle name was Zelazny?
Finally, someone that could give Sharkey a run for his money in the
strange middle name department. He
would have to give the two of them a full introduction he thought with a
grin. Nelson chuckled again,
tucking the papers away for the time being.
He sat down and stacked the remainder of his inbox in front of him.
Tomorrow was going to be a good day, Nelson thought with another
smile as he set to work.
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