* * *
“I don’t see why you don’t just toss them out.
I wouldn’t have let them aboard in the first place,” Tyr
commented as he and Dylan watched the Perseids remotely from the Command
“With the Magog Worldship coming, we need all the allies
we can get. We can’t afford
to have the Perseids angry with us right now,” Dylan replied.
He was furious with himself over losing his composure with Barris a
few minutes ago, but he had been so angry and frustrated for so long that
he’d just snapped. The
thought of Barris harming Harper with impunity still enraged him.
If he could be absolutely certain that Harper wasn’t on Barris’
ship, he would have blasted the vessel and its sadistic crew into atoms.
“That’s why I want you to go guard those two.
We don’t need Barris taking any more hostages.”
Tyr scowled. “I abhor Perseid scientists,” he snarled.
“Maybe your presence will speed them on their way.
And if Barris shows up, feel free to break him into as many little
pieces as you’d like,” Dylan said.
Tyr let out a little growl that Dylan thought might be of pleasure
at the thought of ripping Barris apart, but the Nietzschean left the
Command Deck without saying anything else.
Dylan closed his eyes briefly once Tyr was gone, gathering
the shreds of strength he had left so he could carry on.
“You should go and sleep, Dylan,” the Andromeda told him.
“It’s quiet right now. Barris
probably won’t come back for a while and Beka is still a day away from
the Lechak Bon’s home world. You
haven’t slept more than a few hours in days.”
Dylan found he could actually smile at the ship’s concern over
“I’m fine, Andromeda,” he assured his ship.
“No, you’re not,” she corrected him.
“You’re exhausted and under an incredible amount of stress.
Much as I was happy about it at the time, you would never have
attacked Barris if you were in full control of yourself.
You aren’t because you’re spent and that’s dangerous to all
of us. I’ve had a Maria bot bring a very mild sedative to your
quarters so that you can actually get some sleep.
We need you at your best, Dylan.
Harper, all of us, need that and right now, you aren’t.”
Dylan wanted to argue the point, but he knew that Andromeda
was right. “If anything
happens...” he started, not fully ready to give in yet all the same.
“I’ll wake you and you’ll handle it.
You always do,” the Andromeda told him.
Dylan let all the tiredness he had been trying to keep at bay
settle in on him a little as he nodded to the ship’s words and started
toward his quarters. He
passed hydroponics as he walked casually up the corridor, seeing his
basketball lying on the makeshift court there, a memory coming unbidden as
he saw it.
“Instead of just
sitting there watching me shoot hoops, why don’t we play a game?”
Dylan asked his new engineer. Harper
was sitting a little way away on some grass, silently watching him.
He had been there for a while, Dylan knew, but for how long he
couldn’t be absolutely sure. For someone that could outtalk a Perseid on a roll, Harper
could be disturbingly quiet when he wanted to be.
“Nah,” Harper said with a little shake of his head,
drawing his knees up to his chest and setting his chin on them.
“I’ve seen you play Tyr. I
don’t feel like being one big bruise today.”
Dylan grinned. When
he and Tyr played basketball, it was as much about dominance as points. He supposed it did look pretty brutal to a casual onlooker.
“No personal fouls, I promise,” Dylan told the kid, moving to
dribble the ball in front of him.
Harper gave him a little grin, saying, “Basketball is not
for the vertically challenged, thanks anyway.
Never was much of one for sports outside surfing, really. You ever try surfing?”
Dylan caught his ball and spun it between his hands a few
Considering the state of the Earth’s oceans, I’m a little
surprised that you know how to swim, much less surf.”
Harper didn’t lose his grin, but it changed, something
dark lingering in the corner of his eyes.
“Magog can’t swim. Sink
like rocks, in fact. Given a
choice between diving into some questionable water and Magog infestation,
I’ll take treading water any day. My
dad taught me how to swim. My
mom was furious with him for weeks about it, because I got real sick
afterwards. It annoyed her to
no end that I liked swimming despite that and that I was good at it.”
Dylan turned from Harper and shot a basket, not sure if he
wanted to go where this conversation was leading.
Harper seemed to genuinely want to open up to him about himself,
but Dylan was a High Guard Captain. Harper
was his Engineer. There was a
professional distance that needed to be kept there.
He had almost lost Harper to radiation poisoning already.
The incident had let Dylan know that Harper’s health was far more
fragile than appearances seemed to indicate.
He had begun to take steps to rectify that, but he knew that of all
his new crew, death was most likely going to come for Harper first.
Dylan knew he couldn’t afford to get too attached, not with the
monumental task of reestablishing the Commonwealth before him.
Then Harper would say something like he just had or Dylan would see
the naked hero worship or an almost desperate desire to please him on
kid’s face and his resolve would waver.
“Have you ever tried basketball?
Maybe you’re good at it too,” Dylan said as he recaptured the
ball and tossed it lightly in Harper’s direction.
Harper uncurled himself a little and caught the ball easily.
things I threw on Earth usually were heaved with deadly intent at
Nietzcheans, not to score points. Well,
not primarily anyway. Me and
my cousins and our buddies did kind of keep this unofficial tally,”
Harper mused with a wicked little chuckle as he tossed the ball back.
Dylan didn’t like to think about what Harper might have
gone through on Earth. He
occasionally felt a little guilty for having a safe, happy childhood on
Tarn-Vedra when he looked at Harper.
“So, you going to give this a try or not?” he asked rather than
dwelling on it.
Harper got a calculating look on his face.
“If I give the whole basketball thing a try now, will you give
surfing a whirl when we get in the neighborhood of Infinity Atoll?”
Dylan chuckled and shook his head, saying, “I’ve seen
the waves on Infinity Atoll. What
have I done to you lately that has you wishing me dead?”
“Aw, come on. I’ve
surfed there a couple of times. It’s
awesome. Is a big, tough guy
like you afraid of a little water?”
“No of large, sharp rocks hiding beneath monstrous waves. I don’t know how you aren’t, frankly,” Dylan replied
with a good natured laugh.
Harper drew up one knee, resting an arm on it.
“I’ve spent most of my life being afraid, but I’ve lived long
enough to know that some things are worth swallowing down your fear to
“Like surfing,” Dylan surmised.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Harper asked back, raising an
eyebrow at Dylan. “I even
talked Beka into being here. You
really need more of a testimonial?”
Dylan wanted to chuckle, to say nothing could harm them on
the Andromeda, that there was nothing to fear, but he couldn’t.
He was too honest for that. Instead,
he nodded and said, “Thank you for taking a chance on me, Mister
Harper,” the words totally sincere.
“There’s no chance involved,” Harper said dismissively
as he got up and faced him with one of his trademark, dimple filled
smiles. “You’re Dylan
Hunt. You can do anything.
Opposition to the new Commonwealth just hasn’t realized how
totally beaten it is yet, especially now that you’ve got us to back you
up. So, fine, you gonna stand
there all day or are you gonna smoke my ass at b ball?”
The memory stung. Harper had shown
Dylan unquestioning trust in him from his first day on the Andromeda and
now Dylan felt as if he had betrayed the poor kid.
He should have kept his temper under control earlier and gotten
more information from Barris. He
should have been able to figure things out more quickly, both before
Harper was taken and after. When
Dylan got to his quarters, he thought about sitting at his desk and
reviewing the logs of Barris’ visits again, but when he took a few steps
in that direction, one of Andromeda’s holograms appeared before him,
drawing him up short.
“Dylan, bed,” she said firmly.
Dylan felt his shoulders sag and he nodded, turning to the
private area of his quarters. “I
just feel like I should be doing more,” he muttered, feeling helpless
and hating it.
“You said it yourself.
Beka will find something. We
just need to be patient,” Andromeda said.
“I’m not feeling very patient anymore,” Dylan told
“And I want my engineer back,” Andromeda commiserated.
Dylan could agree with the sentiment.
As undisciplined and totally unrepentant about it as Harper was,
Dylan couldn’t picture anyone taking his place.
He’d been looking forward to the day when Harper had staff and
how he would deal with it. Try
as he might, Dylan couldn’t stop the smile that always came to his face
when he imagined a group of High Guard engineers having to take orders
from Harper. It was something
he had been looking forward to immensely.
Now it might never happen and that was almost too much for Dylan to
bear. “Get some sleep,
Dylan. When you wake up,
we’ll be that much closer to what we want.”
Dylan nodded and took the sleeping pills that were sitting
on his night stand, pulled off his boots and uniform, then climbed into
bed in his underwear. “Harper
told me once that Magog sink like rocks in water,” he commented to
Andromeda as he settled down, suddenly finding that incredibly funny.
“Considering their dense muscle mass, that’s probably
true,” Andromeda replied.
“I’ve got this picture in my head now.
Harper’s sitting on his surf board in some deep water and he’s
taunting Magog to their doom,” Dylan almost giggled out.
That made him wonder if the sedatives Andromeda had given him
really were as mild as she’d said.
Or maybe he was so tired that he was getting silly.
Certainly, his eyes were already refusing to stay open and he could
feel sleep pressing in on him.
wouldn’t put it past him,” Andromeda replied.
Dylan could swear he heard amusement in her usually no nonsense
voice. “Good night,
Dylan.” He didn’t even
get to respond before sleep took him away.
Nelson watched from a dozen paces away as Harper flipped
through a section of cd’s in the swing section of the music store.
He was smiling and seemed happy.
That was good, because Nelson was feeling good himself as he
waited, making plans for his new protégée.
He had decided that he was going to treat the entire matter of
Harper being from the future as though the young man were from another
country. There were different
languages, different customs, different life experiences in their pasts,
but they were both just people. Actually,
they had a lot in common and Nelson found that he had grown quite fond of
the boy. The truth of when
Harper was from really didn’t change that at all.
As impressed as Nelson had been with Harper’s mechanical
abilities from the beginning of their association, he was all but made
speechless by what he had learned over lunch.
The boy had taught himself to read.
That had always impressed Nelson, but he had thought that there had
been little helps to him, people that might have given him guidance
without his realizing they had. However
that was not the case. Harper
had taught himself almost everything he knew because there had been no one
else to teach him. He had
fought to learn everything he could, all the while knowing that if he were
discovered by the Nietzschean thugs, the Drago-Kazov, that ruled the area,
he would meet a painful, demeaning death for it.
Nelson wondered, had anyone else in Harper’s past ever
fully appreciated the difficulty of that achievement and the courage it
had taken? Nelson doubted it
because Harper himself didn’t seem to place any real importance on it.
The boy had even said over lunch how Captain Valentine had
repeatedly told him how hopeless he was because when he’d gotten into
space he’d attempted to teach himself other languages and kept mixing up
the words. Why hadn’t the
woman been astounded that Harper had managed to learn anything at all or
that he would even try?
Nelson would not be so careless about Harper’s education.
He would attempt to send the boy to college.
Harper was nervous about being on his own, not that Nelson blamed
him really, or he would have planned to send the boy out East to his own
alma mater as Doctor Babin had said jokingly.
Still, there were excellent schools right here in California and
Nelson would encourage individual classes even if Harper didn’t want to
go full time. If the boy
shied from a classroom setting, Nelson would arrange private lessons.
The Admiral was curious just how much Harper could learn if someone
took the time to teach him. Nelson
wouldn’t rush things, though. He
would ease the idea of higher education in gradually over the next few
weeks, starting with recommending books to see what sparked the boy’s
What Nelson found even more amazing than Harper’s cognitive
abilities was his ability to adapt and forgive.
Certainly, the Earth Harper was trapped on wasn’t as hostile as
the Earth of his childhood, but it must seem primitive and strange to him
all the same. Somehow,
though, Harper didn’t seem to be suffering overly from culture shock.
Perhaps his experiences with space travel had helped. When
Nelson had been told that Tyr was Nietzschean and that Harper still
accepted him as a friend, albeit one that made him nervous and fearful of
betrayal, he was shocked. This
was a member of the race that had enslaved and tortured the boy and had
murdered his family, yet Harper didn’t hate Tyr for the actions of those
Despite the fact that Harper had pretty much grown up in
hell from the sound of things, there was still an innocence about him.
He wanted to trust people, but seemed resigned to being hurt
continually for making the effort. Nelson
didn’t know how the boy had the inner strength not to have given up on
others long ago, but he would make certain that the trust Harper had
placed almost blindly in him wasn’t repaid with more pain and loss.
A salesperson approached Harper and asked him if he needed
any help. Harper offered the
young woman a smile and shook his head, watched her appreciatively for a
moment as she walked away, then turned back to what he’d been looking
at. Nelson smiled.
Harper was quite unabashedly attracted to women, but he had his
heart set on winning over Doctor Babin’s affections specifically.
Over lunch, childlike joy seemed to claim Harper as he told Nelson
about his date with her. She
was very much the center of Harper’s universe at the moment.
Nelson was glad that this unconditional devotion was directed
toward someone that at least felt some affection for him and would do her
best not to hurt him. Harper
deserved a little happiness and he would be good to Dominica.
Nelson wouldn’t be surprised if Harper did end up telling her all
about his past in a few months and found the thought making him quite
Harper was holding a few cd cases as he walked toward the
front of the store, fishing in front pocket for something.
When Nelson realized that Harper was heading for the checkout
counter, probably to spend some of his meager funds to buy the things in
his hand. Nelson started to
move to intercept him. The Admiral had intended to purchase some music for the boy
to make up for the stress and worry he’d put Harper through with
Jamieson and for his comments about how people from the future should be
dealt with. Even more than
that, he felt a little guilty about what he had spoken to Jamieson about
outside his office. Nelson
had asked Jamieson how much time he thought the nanobots were going to buy
Harper. Jamieson didn’t
trust the nanobots, but he had said that even with the equivalent of a
fully functioning immune system, Harper probably wouldn’t live more than
twenty years. His body had
simply taken too much abuse during his childhood. Parts of him, like his lungs, were already worn thin and
couldn’t stand any more harm and keep functioning.
Nelson didn’t know how to talk to Harper about this and
ultimately decided not to unless some new problem made it more immediately
necessary. It wasn’t as
though there was anything to be done about it other than trying to start
some healthy habits in the boy’s life and hoping that would be enough to
keep his abused body going. Doctor
Babin already seemed to be monitoring at least some of his diet and Nelson
intended to protect him from as much physical harm as possible.
Then there was Harper’s romance with Doctor Babin to consider.
Sometimes personal happiness was the most powerful drug of all.
“Mister Harper,” Nelson said as he drew near.
Harper drew to a halt and smiled at him.
Harper’s smile was like the sun coming out from behind clouds,
bright and pure. That smile astounded Nelson now that he knew something of
“I found a couple of names I actually knew,” he said,
sounding quite pleased. “Classics.
Can’t skimp on the classics.”
“May I see?” Nelson asked, extending a hand.
Harper gave them over without hesitation and Nelson looked at what
he had. Benny Goodman, Nelson
saw and smiled. Ah, something
they both liked. Then there
was the Brian Setzer Orchestra and a group called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
They also seemed to be swing bands, although more contemporary
ones. The last cd surprised
him a little. “Elvis?” he
asked, raising an eyebrow at the boy.
“Hey, gotta love the King, baby,” Harper said, then
seemed to think better of it and hastily added, “I mean sir.”
Nelson smiled and patted Harper gently on one shoulder.
Harper would need a lot of direction where social graces were
concerned, but the Admiral knew he meant no disrespect.
Before he could respond, a familiar voice said, “Harri, I
didn’t know you shopped here too.”
Kensington, the very last person Nelson wanted to see at the
moment, was coming up to them when Nelson half turned to him.
“Friday night was memorable.
Just don’t invite Barnett the next time and a repeat would be
who might this be?” Kensington asked, his attention squarely centered on
Nelson fully meant to make a vague response and a quick
exit, but Harper held out a hand saying, “Seamus Harper, newly hired
engineer.” Nelson felt like
clapping a hand over his face. That
was the last thing Kensington needed to hear.
Kensington took Harper’s hand as he looked the boy over
with a sense of amusement. Nelson
was actually pleased that he hadn’t gotten around to getting Harper out
of his baggy, secondhand clothing as yet. Maybe it would deter Kensington from his usual course of
action whenever Nelson hired someone new.
“Philip Kensington,” he said, giving Harper one of his winning
smiles. “Harri hadn’t
said that he was in the market for anyone new for the Institute. I didn’t leave a gap when I won the round over Randall, did
I, Harri? Sorry about
that.” The smug little
laugh made Nelson frown.
Suddenly, Harper’s smile became tinged with something
else, suspicion maybe, but something more. He drew his hand away from Kensington and said, “Yeah,
well, nice to meet you and all, but we’ve got stuff going on, y’know?
Gotta go. Right,
sir?” Harper looked to
Nelson and nodded his head pointedly toward the door. He didn’t look frightened exactly, but he wanted to be away
from Kensington, which was what Nelson wanted, so he wouldn’t complain.
He also hadn’t missed that ‘sir’ had taken the usual place of
‘boss.’ Was it the little
slip a few moments ago or Kensington that was responsible for that?
“Oh, Harri and I are old friends.
You have a minute, don’t you, Harri?” Kensington asked, but
didn’t look away from Harper or wait for a response.
“You didn’t say what sort of engineering you specialize in,
Mister Harper.” He gave
Harper another smile and his body language spoke of openness and welcome.
Kensington didn’t even know what Harper did and already he was
ready to pounce on him.
Harper didn’t respond well to the smile at all.
He actually got an angry look on his face, though Nelson didn’t
have the foggiest notion why. “The
loyal to my boss kind,” he replied, then turned from Kensington and
marched away from him to look at something well away from the technology
Shock wiped the smile off Kensington’s face, but he
recovered quickly. “What
have you been telling your new employees about me, Harri?” he asked with
Nelson was at a loss over what had just happened.
“I don’t think I’ve said anything at all about you to
Harper,” he replied.
Kensington didn’t look angry.
In fact, he looked intrigued.
“A real challenge, then,” he commented, looking eager to do
battle over Harper, despite not knowing a thing about the boy.
“I’ll look forward to it.
We’ll talk, Harri. And I’m sure Seamus and I will be talking too.
And soon.” With
that, Kensington strolled away, chuckling to himself.
Nelson wasted no time going to where Harper now stood with
his back to where Kensington had been. “That was rude, Mister Harper,” he said quietly, though
he was sure he sounded more puzzled than angry about what had just
Harper looked up from the tapes he had been idly flipping
through, the expression from a few minutes ago still there, the anger
perhaps a little more defined if anything. “Yeah, well, he was lucky I didn’t punch him in his
dirty, underhanded, pretty boy face,” Harper snarled, but kept his voice
down. “What’s he think,
I’m gonna just drop you like nothing when you’ve been nothing great to
me since the second you met me? All
for a little money? Probably
thinks I’d hand Dom over to him on a silver platter for a couple more
dollars. Rich bastard.”
It was the comment about Doctor Babin that made everything
make sense. She had most
likely told Harper about Kensington and his competition over employees.
Nelson doubted that she had been too rough on Kensington judging by
the amusement with which she usually spoke about him at the Institute.
Harper, however, seemed to have come to his own conclusions
concerning the technology magnate and seemed to like him not one bit.
“Seamus, Philip Kensington is one of the Institute’s financial
supporters,” Nelson started to explain, hoping that Harper would
understand that Kensington wasn’t an enemy, that he just had an odd way
of competing with Nelson.
“A pirate is a pirate, no matter how he dresses himself up
and tosses his gold around,” Harper told Nelson, still plainly wound up
over Kensington. “Sooner or
later, they’ve got a sword at your back while they march you out to the
sharks. Trust me, boss,
he’s bad news. You don’t
need him. The Nelson Science
Consortium is going to be around long after some other pirate does away
Nelson was about to try to calm the boy down and tell him to
be civil to Kensington as a favor to him, then Harper’s final comment
hit home. “The Nelson
Science Consortium?” he asked. His
Institute had lived on to Harper’s time, at least in some form?
He didn’t know how to respond to that at all.
Dismay knocked the anger firmly off Harper’s face and the
boy cringed a little. “I...
I probably shouldn’t have said anything about that, should I?
I mean, future stuff, it could be bad to know about it, right?
Too much information and all that, huh?”
Nelson looked at him silently for a moment, thinking about
what he wanted to say. “I
will only ask you one thing about that, then I will never ask you anything
else,” he told the boy. “Has
someone twisted my name and Institute to the cause of evil or do we both
stand for and with the side of good?”
Harper blinked, seeming stunned, then said, “Oh, boss,
every scientist on every world I’ve been to honors you like... well,
like a bunch of alien guys you wouldn’t know even if I told you their
names. The Consortium is
firmly on the good guy side. Heck,
that’s part of why I came clean with you back in my room earlier.
I knew, deep down, that you couldn’t be that Nelson and ever hurt
me for no good reason. I’m
almost speechless that somebody who is and will be as important as you are
would spend so much time being kind to me.
I mean, me, speechless. That’s
how amazed your standing there looking at me like I’m actually someone
worthy your time just about has me.”
Nelson felt a little speechless himself for a moment.
He had always hoped that history would be kind to him, but what
Harper was saying was more than he had ever dared dreamed.
He cleared his throat and rubbed at the back of his neck, shaking
off the feeling as he said, “Well, it seems I have a lot to live up to.
I hope you’re ready to help me do it, Mister Harper.”
Harper got a sheepish look on his face.
“You don’t need me, boss.
There aren’t any Harper Science whatevers in the future. I’m
just some fix it guy who’s lucky he’s managed to live as long as he
“Maybe we’ll change that right along with Earth’s
formerly dim future,” Nelson told him with a smile and a gentle pat on
the shoulder, sincerely hoping both things would be true.
Harper grinned at him a little.
“I kinda doubt it, but on the outside chance that’s at all
possible, I’d better get to work drawing up those reactor plans, huh?”
Nelson nodded, not feeling anything more needed to be said.
However, he did accompany Harper to the store’s checkout counter
and along with the disks he bought a nice radio/cd player for the boy to
thank him for the unexpected but wonderful news from the future.
Kensington was in for the fight of his life if he thought he had
any chance of wrestling Harper away from him.
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