Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 29

 

 

* * *

     Portman had worked long and hard on his new list of chores for Harper, finally satisfied when it ran several pages.  It had taken him a while to think up the worst possible assignments that could be equated to the Engineering department, but it would do for now.  He had to think of a way of convincing Harper that he owed time to the entire Institute, then some really disgusting, backbreaking jobs would make their way into Harper’s duties, just none near Dominica.  No, Harper being near Dominica had to end immediately and being reminded of his place socially should do that nicely.  Portman smiled at the thought of that, tapping his list neat and going in search of the little vagrant again.

     After looking everywhere for Harper and not finding him, Portman found himself back in the darkened lab where Harper had been doodling earlier.  There was another drawing started on the drafting board and Portman flicked on the lights to see what the lazy illiterate was wasting time with.  His eyes moved over the schematics for some sort of reactor, probably something that Harper was trying to use to convince the Admiral to allow him to stay.  Portman scanned the diagram for a while, thinking he would find design flaws and foolishness everywhere in the work, but to his increasing irritation, the schematic seemed fine.  Better than fine, actually, which pushed irritation to nervousness.

     As Portman looked the work over, he found himself not understanding half of it.  Portman wanted to assign that to ill done diagraming or a faulty design, but it wasn’t that at all.  What he was looking at was brilliant and worse yet he knew it wasn’t complete.  A lot of the finer details had yet to be filled in, details that might have given Portman a better idea what the device did.  At that moment, he couldn’t be sure simply because a lot of what Harper had drawn was beyond him.  It was an engine or a reactor or something of that nature, but Portman couldn’t quite grasp what, exactly, it was or how it worked. 

     Scowling, Portman thought about taking the sketch and tearing it to shreds.  It would serve the little street rat right.  The uneducated, little vagrant should be emptying wastebaskets, not shaming real engineers that worked hard to be where they were.  Then Portman smiled as inspiration struck again.  He picked up the pencil from where it lay on the bottom of the drafting board.  So, Harper wanted to embarrass people?  Let him see what it felt like.

* * *

     Harper woke up screaming.  The room was dark and unfamiliar and it took him a moment to realize that he was at the Institute.  He’d been having the Magog dream again and he lay shivering, reminding himself that the Magog weren’t a worry anymore, that they were thousands of years away.  He rubbed his stomach, where he had once carried Magog larvae.  Sometimes he couldn’t believe they were really gone.  It was almost as if they would start nibbling away at him again, slowly killing him.  It wasn’t like he didn’t have nightmares almost constantly anyway, but he really hated the Magog ones.  Trying to forget about it, he thought about waking up with Dom cuddled up to him.  He’d slept so well that night.  He lay back, trying to recapture that safe, blissful feeling, but as he started to drift off, monsters were waiting for him and he startled fully awake again.  He glanced at the little clock on the dresser.  It was just after three in the morning, but he knew that he wasn’t going to sleep anymore, so he got up, had a shower to calm himself down, then went in search of coffee.

     To his amazement, he found some freshly brewed in the cafeteria.  Apparently he wasn’t the only early riser around.  Armed with a large mug, he went to his lab and figured he’d start back to work on the schematics he was drawing for the Admiral.  He was spoiled by the flexies of the Andromeda.  He’d sketch in his designs and the little computer would neaten them right up for him.  Having to do it all by hand was tough, but he persevered. He looked at what he’d finished so far, thinking that would be awfully nice to have just one flexi right now.  He rubbed his eyes, thinking that he was still more asleep than he’d thought because something about his schematic didn’t look right.  The lines were fuzzy and Harper didn’t think they had been when he had left rather abruptly last night.  Carefully setting down his coffee, Harper leaned close to the drawing and squinted.  Written in very tiny letters all along the main lines of his sketch were the words: I am a fraud.

     “What the hell?” he murmured.  Someone had messed with his schematic?  Why would anyone do that and in such a weird way?  Sitting back as he surveyed the damage, Harper dragged a hand back through his hair, trying to make sense of what was in front of him.  Crane might have been mad at him about the yelling and the shoving, but Harper couldn’t see him taking revenge in such a strange way.  Who would take the time to do something like this?  Harper frowned.  Only one name came to mind: Portman.  Why would Portman want to spend all the time this would have taken to actually do it?  It made no sense.  Of course, neither did the whole ‘intern’ prank yesterday.  Harper closed his eyes and groaned.  It had taken hours to get everything in front of him drawn, and that wasn’t even counting the schematic that had gotten ruined when Portman had surprised him.  Determined, Harper grabbed his pencil and swung its eraser into action.  He was not redoing all this work again.  No way, no how.

     It took him four pencils worth of erasing and way too much time to fix everything.  Harper had run out of curse words about midway through the second pencil.  Now that he was finally done, Harper shrugged off his annoyance, thinking that fixing the schematic was a lot easier than doing delicate repairs while he was being thrown around in the middle of an attack on the Andromeda.  A whole lot more annoying, sure, but not as hard.  Reaching for his coffee, Harper thought about the number of times he’d been tossed into the walls of the service ducts so hard that he’d feared that he’d heard bones break, which he’d been correct about a couple times, or had almost been suffocated because the Andromeda suddenly lost pressure where he happened to be working.  Portman’s dumb pranks might be frustrating, but at least they weren’t physically painful or life threatening.  Harper decided he could cope and took a sip of his coffee, only to almost choke on it because it was ice cold now.  Rolling his eyes, figuring that this was how his day was going to go, Harper put the cup back down and set back to actually getting something new done on his schematic.  He glanced at the clock.  It was just edging past four thirty.  Sighing, Harper hoped he could actually finish this main schematic so that he could move on the ones that would detail the reactor’s individual systems and hand them all over to the Admiral.  He was pretty sure his work would be safe from Portman in the Admiral’s office.

     He’d been at it for a while when he heard, “Don’t you ever sleep?”  He turned to see the Admiral approaching him, carrying two coffee mugs, then glanced up to see it was almost six forty five.  No wonder he’d gotten so much done, he thought with satisfaction as he turned off the music he’d started playing a while ago.  For some reason, being pretty much alone in the Institute had started to creep him out a while ago and the music had helped quell that feeling.  He also wondered if the Admiral was checking up on him.  He thought it was awfully early for most people to be up and at work.

     “I sleep,” Harper replied with a shrug as he turned all the way around.  “I just save most of it up for when I’m sick, then I sleep a lot all at once.”

     The Admiral gave him that careful look that he got when he was most likely trying to decide how much of what he’d just been told was true and how much was kidding around.  He handed Harper one of the mugs, seeming to let it go.  “Well, if you don’t want to wind up sealed in a sterile room, I wouldn’t suggest getting sick in the near future,” Nelson told him.  “Doctor Jamieson does not trust your nanobots and a nice, raging case of the flu would be all the evidence he would need to prove to himself that more conventional methods of care were required.”

     Harper grimaced at the thought of what conventional methods of care might entail.  “I’ll be good, honest.  Lots of orange juice and vitamins and Dom makes sure I eat at least one decent meal a day, one full of vegetables and not the fried kind.”

     Nelson nodded and gave Harper a long look of concern.  “Everything is all right between the two of you?”

     Now Harper understood the look.  Great.  He’d been hoping to put this off or not have to deal with it at all.  So much for that vain hope.  “Oh.  Captain Crane went to see you after he saw me, huh?  Probably couldn’t wait to tell you that I shoved him,” Harper pouted sullenly.  Now was when he got it with both barrels.

     “You shoved Captain Crane?” Nelson asked incredulously.

     Harper gave him an uncomfortable, ‘please don’t yell at me’ pained expression and cringed a little, figuring that he’d get yelled at anyway.  Damn, he wouldn’t have said anything if he hadn’t thought that Crane had.  Okay, okay, maybe he could cover.  He hadn’t taken a swing at Crane, after all, much as he’d felt like doing so at the time.  “He made my gal cry and I had a momentary loss of self-preservation instincts.  After I had a chance to think about it, I was sort of surprised that I’m not a smudge on the floor.  I know I shouldn’t have and that you need to reprimand me or suspend me or ...”

     The Admiral’s face became dark with repressed anger and Harper figured he was really in for it, so he’d started to babble.  “Lee made Dominica cry?”  The Admiral interrupted abruptly.  He did not sound at all pleased.  Harper felt his stomach sink.  He’d thought that was why the Captain had gone to the Admiral, otherwise he would have kept that part, especially, to himself.  Now Crane was really going to kill him the next time he saw him for ratting on him.  “By telling her that you were sick, I assume.  He left out that detail when he told me that he inadvertently caused an argument between the two of you.  He also failed to mention that he had driven you to the point of... shall we say less than advisable actions.”  Panic tried to seize Harper, but he shook it off, thinking that he had to fix this fast.

     “The crying, it was sort of an accident on his part and I overreacted.  I don’t always think before I act when I’m worked up.  Usually, I mouth off and get clobbered, but Captain Crane didn’t lay a hand on me, honest.  Granted, I think he thought that he’d break me if he did and I don’t think he wanted to do that even after I pushed him.  I shouldn’t have done that.  It was stupid of me.  I’ll apologize for it.  That and the yelling.  I yelled, by the way.  Ranted would probably be more accurate.  My bad, really, when you think about it.  I’ll go apologize, okay?  Should I go to his office and wait for him to come in?” Harper asked with a pained look, ready and willing to assume the blame for what had happened.  He really didn’t want to cause friction between the Captain and the Admiral.  He knew they were close.  Damn, him and his big mouth.  When would he learn?

     “That won’t be necessary.  You aren’t the one at fault.  Lee will be in later to formally apologize to both you and Dominica,” Nelson told Harper, his tone still very displeased.

     Harper drew in a sharp breath, barely restraining a squeak of alarm.  That was the last thing he needed!  “Please don’t do that,” he said quickly.  “He already hates me!  I don’t want to give him tangible reasons.  And Dom might start thinking about what made her upset again and I don’t want that.  She seemed to have forgotten all about it when she dropped me off last night and you don’t want to know what I had to do to accomplish that.  So, please, please, can’t we forget this whole thing?”

     Nelson took a deep breath and let it out slowly, visibly reigning in his anger.  “I’ll let it go this time, since you’ve asked me to.  Next time, you and Lee will sit in my office until you can be civil to each other.”

     “So in other words forever,” Harper only half joked, then drank a little of the hot coffee the Admiral had given him.  Good coffee makes everything better.

     “I fail to see why the two of you can’t get along,” Nelson declared, but he had walked over to the drafting board and was looking what Harper had done.  He was glad he was nearly finished with this page.

     “Well, I can be pretty annoying and sometimes, to be honest, when I know someone is never going to like me, I enjoy pushing their buttons,” Harper admitted.

     “And what, pray tell, did you do to push Captain Crane’s buttons?” Nelson said, correctly assuming that he had.

     “When he talks to me in his all business mode, which is all the time, I’ve been Mister Sunshine and pretended not to notice that he’s grinding his teeth.  Then I got tired of it because,” no, he was not going to tell the Admiral what the Captain had said about how he didn’t know what Dom saw in him at the Diving Bell, even though it still irked him, “... Well, you know, I had stuff to do and I... uh... sort of asked him if he was done showing me he was Seaview’s Alpha Male?”

     Nelson glanced back at him, raising an eyebrow, then looked back at the schematics.  “For the record, I am Seaview’s Alpha Male.  If you’re going to use the term, use it properly.”

     “Okay, Boss,” Harper said sheepishly.

     “No more baiting Captain Crane, Seamus.  I mean it,” Nelson told him sternly.  Before Harper could agree to that, not at all certain he could keep that promise, the Admiral turned and looked at him, smiling a little and said, “And I see you’ve been hard at work here.  Much better than the original effort.  I have a few questions about what you’re planning, but they might very well explain themselves once you have finished.  How long will it take you have these schematics ready to be reviewed?”

     “Well,” Harper said, then rubbed the back of his neck, thinking for a moment about complaining about what Portman had done to him.  No, he told himself firmly, he would settle things with Portman in his own way when the time was right.  He could fight his own fights.  Still, even if he dragged everything up to his room at night from here on out, he’d better allow for more trouble.  “I’m not very fast with a pencil...”

     “And you have to do the final design over in pen so we don’t have anyone deciding to alter your design,” the Admiral informed him.  Harper swore in his head, beginning to hate this part of his new job.  He would make sure that anything he did in ink was  well away from tampering.  “But that will be after we go over the preliminary sketches that you’re working on.  My approval is required on each step of all projects at the Institute before they are carried forward, especially to the blueprint stage.”

     Much as he disliked having to do all this paperwork, Harper could understand that.  The Admiral didn’t want anyone rushing things and blowing up the Institute by accident.  Considering his track record, it was probably a good thing that the Admiral was making him go slow.  “And after you approve design, I’ll have to custom machine the whole thing...”

     “You can go over what you want with the machinists.  That’s what the schematics and blueprints are for.  Isn’t that standard procedure in the future?” Nelson asked.

     “Uh, there was only me for repairs and stuff on the Maru and the Andromeda, if you don’t count the bots, which were pretty good helpers, but not for special jobs like this.  It’s not like I could delegate a lot of stuff,” Harper said with a shrug and another pained smile.

     Nelson seemed to consider something for a moment.  “How large is the Andromeda, Seamus, if you don’t mind me asking?”     The Admiral was trying not to press, but Harper could see how curious he was and decided he trusted him enough to be candid about some of the things he knew.  He was not going to get into nova bombs or slip fighters, but he didn’t think a little general stuff was dangerous.  “She has a nine hundred and seventy six meter beam.  The Seaview would fit in the hanger,” he said with a little grin.

     Nelson looked surprised then concerned.  “And you were her only engineering staff?”  Harper started to remind him about the bots, but Nelson seemed to anticipate it saying, “Her only living engineering staff?”

     Harper shrugged again still smiling.  “Desperate times and all that.  Good thing I’m hyperactive, huh?”

     “Well, you don’t have to do everything for yourself here.  Kindly keep that in mind.  I don’t want you to wear yourself out or make yourself ill.  Think of being confined to a small, sterile space under constant doctor’s care if you’re tempted,” Nelson said.  Harper shivered, not liking that thought at all, and nodded.  Nelson clasped him by the shoulder in a friendly manner.  “Good.  Join me for breakfast, Mister Harper.”  It was not a suggestion, despite the friendly tone.

     Harper went along without resistence, but asked, “What makes you think I haven’t eaten yet?”

     Nelson let out a small good natured laugh.  “Because I remember how I was when I was your age.”

     Harper suddenly found himself smiling, really smiling, not just doing it because he thought he ought to or didn’t know what else to do.  The Admiral was comparing himself to him.  That was so cool!  “Thanks.”

     “And how long are we looking at before you will be ready with the specifications for the machinists?” Nelson asked again.

     Harper felt like arguing that he didn’t mind doing things for himself, but shrugged off the desire.  He was supposed to be part of a team.  The other engineers had given him looks like he was a particularly nasty bug when the Admiral had introduced him around, and Harper didn’t even want to think about Portman, but the machinists might be cool.  Maybe he’d make some friends, like the Admiral had said.  Dom said one of her friends from the Seaview liked to surf.  Maybe there was potential there.  Time to get a life.  “I should be able to talk over some preliminary specs with them this morning, if that’s okay.  Let them know what I’m looking for so they can let me know if there’s going to be problems on their end, y’know, so we can work all that out before we’re anywhere near building the prototype.  I was going to make our prototype smallish, about the size of a car engine, if that’s okay,” Harper said.

     “And what sort of power output are you estimating?”

     “I have to do the math out on paper, but I’m thinking it might be as much as...” Harper started, then they entered the cafeteria, which had a glass ceiling, and he saw the sunrise.  All the colors, the way the clouds looked, the blue just starting to form in the sky, it was just so beautiful.  Harper froze, transfixed by the sight.

     “Seamus,” the Admiral’s voice broke into his reverie.  “Are you all right?”

     Harper turned his attention to the Admiral, who looked a little concerned.  He wondered how long he had been standing there.  “Sorry.  Got distracted.”

     The Admiral’s expression did not ease.  “By the sunrise?”

     Harper shrugged and glanced around.  No one else was in the room at the moment.  “I haven’t gotten used to it yet.  It wasn’t like this... the last time I was here,” Harper said, hoping the Admiral would understand.

     The Admiral escorted him to a table and sat him down.  “Tell me about it,” he encouraged him quietly once they were both seated.  “What was the sunrise like when you were growing up?”

     Harper pursed his lips and tried to roll sudden tension out of his shoulders, looking down at the coffee mug between his hands.  “I never saw a sunrise like the one today until I was off planet.  You didn’t see the sky much on Earth, not if you were smart.  Seeing the sky meant being outside, in the open, not safe, which would explain why I was totally hung up on it.  See, I was a sickly kid and I figured I wasn’t going to live to be a sickly adult, not the way the adults talked when they thought I couldn’t hear them.  I did a lot of stuff I wasn’t supposed to, ‘cause I thought it didn’t matter.  So whenever my parents, or later my aunt and uncle or Brendan, weren’t looking, I’d sneak off, find some cover, and watch the clouds move across the sky.  They were brown and ugly, like someone had thrown oil slicked mud into the sky, and it was always cloudy, but every once in a while, if you watched really close, the sun’s rays would peek through, just for a few seconds.  I’d watch to see where the rays fell, because, in my stupid, little kid mind, that had to be a special place, a magical place, and I’d try to find the spot.  I never found anything but trouble, especially when I got back to wherever home was at the moment, but it didn’t keep me from doing it whenever I could.”  He got misty eyed talking about it, then shook it off.  How could he remember something so pathetic so tenderly?

     “What can I get for you this morning, Admiral?” someone asked.  Harper looked up.  He hadn’t noticed one of the cafeteria staff come up to the table.  He thought this was a serve yourself place, but he supposed the Admiral got special treatment.  The Admiral ordered food for both of them as Harper fought down the urge to panic about talking so openly about the future.  The attendant smiled warmly at Harper just before going to put in the Admiral’s order.  Most everyone was so friendly, Harper mused as he calmed.  He didn’t know if he could get used to it.

     “And what was so dangerous about being out in the open?” Nelson asked once they were alone again.

     Harper shrugged, looking down again.  “In Dunwich, Magog mostly.”

     “Aliens?”

     “Yeah.  They would eat anything that had a heartbeat or lay eggs in you.  My mom would always strip me down and check me over like Doctor Jamieson did, terrified I’d gotten myself infested.  Not that she could’ve done anything about it if I had.  The larvae would grow pretty quick and eat you out from the inside and there wasn’t any way to get them out.  I didn’t think it would matter much if I did get infested.  I was a bother, a burden.  I was sick all the time, which meant my parents had to scrounge up medicine or something to trade at the clinics to get me well, which was a lot of work for them on top of finding food and shelter and stuff.  When I wasn’t sick, I couldn’t sit still and stay safe like I was supposed to.  I thought no one would care if I died.  A quick ‘oh well,’ then life goes on a little more easily ‘cause I wasn’t there making it harder.  Then it happened to two of my cousins and...”  Harper felt his grip on the mug tighten involuntarily and he choked down the rage and pain the memory brought out in him.

     Suddenly, the Admiral’s hand was on his forearm, squeezing gently.  He looked up and met the Admiral’s worried eyes.  “I can’t imagine...” the older man started, his voice thick with emotion.

     Harper shook his head, as if to deny how horrible his childhood had been.  “Hey, I got through it.  No big deal.”

     Nelson’s mouth tightened, but then his expression relaxed and he patted Harper’s arm.  “No, Seamus, it is a very big deal.  I am honored that you share so much of this, so much of yourself with me so freely.”

     Harper felt his eyes starting to mist over again and blinked the moisture away.  He felt so... safe with the Admiral, like he could tell him anything and he’d understand.  It was how he felt with Dom, too, and he’d taken advantage of that until late last night by talking until it was past time to bring him back to the Institute so they both could get some sleep.  He’d left her house feeling much more secure about their relationship, especially after he’d gotten a lot of cuddling and kissing.  He had gone to bed feeling wonderful.  He loved her, he really did, and he felt like the Admiral had adopted him.  He was starting to get a new family, like on the Maru when he had started feeling like Beka was the big sister he’d never had, like he had felt safe with Dylan on the Andromeda even when they were getting shot at by someone.  Thinking that almost made him frown.  He always lost family.  Maybe this time it would be different, he told himself, like he told himself every other time.  Maybe this time he could just stay here and be happy for the rest of his life.

     “Room for one more?”  Harper looked up.  Ro Simmons was standing there with a tray in hand.  She flashed them both one of her great, melt your brain smiles and asked, “Or will I swoon from all the testosterone circulating around the table?”

     “No, no.  Actually, we were talking about how nice the sunrise was this morning,” Harper said quickly as the Admiral stood and pulled out a chair for her.

     Ro shot him a dubious look, but sat down anyway.  “I don’t think I’m going to see the sun for the rest of the week, or next week, with all the damage to the Seaview,” she sighed, then drank some of her coffee, then grinned over the table.  “Good catch on the flaw in the wiring, Shorty.  We’d probably still be spinning our wheels on that if you hadn’t come through.  Things are taxing enough as it is.”

     Harper thought about complaining about the ‘Shorty’ thing.  Beka was allowed that, but Ro wasn’t Beka by any stretch of the imagination.  Giving her a grin of his own, he said, “Anything for you, my Amazonian Princess.”  The miffed look that formed on Ro’s face was exactly what he’d hoped for.  Now to swiftly change the subject, he told himself.  “Need some extra hands on the other stuff?  I’ve got two,” Harper said, holding them up and turning them as if to she might have missed them.

     Another dubious look shot his way, but it was softened with a smile.  “Uh huh.  And you got experience with submarines and nuclear systems when?  I suppose I could find you something to do if you’re bored.”

     “Mister Harper is attempting to be gallant,” the Admiral answered before he could reply.  “He has more than enough on his own plate to keep himself busy for quite some time.”

     “Really.  What are you working on?  The holograms?” she asked, then began to eat her breakfast.  He knew that now she was in ‘be polite to my best friend’s boyfriend’ mode, but he didn’t mind.  At least she wasn’t trying to get him to do some grunt work by making his libido go crazy, as he’d half expected her to do.  That was a very good thing.  Even if he weren’t very happily romantically entangled, Ro was Crane’s gal.  He could only imagine the sort of beat down he’d get for even looking at her the wrong way.  He had enough trouble with Crane as it was.

     “No.  A hydrogen reactor,” Nelson replied as the person that had taken his order earlier returned with two plates.  There was lots of protein on Harper’s plate, while the Admiral was having much lighter, more healthful breakfast.  Harper grinned.  Nelson was trying to fatten him up.  Beka had done the same thing when she had decided to keep him.  At least Nelson hadn’t had to threaten to hose him down, for which he was grateful.

     “Interesting,” Ro commented, then smiled at him in a polite ‘aren’t you so cute when you try to play with the big boys’ kind of way.  “Like the ones people are talking about for cars?  Were you planning a gasoline backup or electric?”

     “Not a motor, a reactor.  It runs strictly on water.  The reactor powers itself after a minimal priming.  I was thinking about using hydrogen gas, but that’s kind of dangerous to cart around, so I designed a system that separates the hydrogen and oxygen molecules, expels the oxygen and uses the hydrogen immediately to produce power so that there’s no real volume of gas in the system at any given moment,” Harper explained as he poked at his own breakfast.  He didn’t have an appetite for some reason, even though everything looked hot and tasty.  He took a bite anyway, hardly tasting it, but figuring he would eat to appease the Admiral.  Nelson was doing so much for him, including worrying about him, that it was the least he could do.

     “Really?” Ro said again, this time sounding truly interested rather than like she was just being polite.  “Wouldn’t you need an awful lot of water to keep the system running?”

     “Nah, it’s really efficient and it captures all energy released in system so you don’t lose any, not even what’s released when you break apart the water molecule.  I need to write out all the math instead of just running numbers in my head, but a liter of purified water ought to produce somewhere in the neighborhood of a ten thousand megajoules,” Harper said, as he stirred his scrambled eggs around his plate.  The Admiral made a choking sound and Harper looked up quickly.  Ro was just shaking off what looked to be shock so that she could move pat the Admiral on the back and ask if he was all right.  Harper was up and around the table in an instant, adding his efforts to Ro’s.

     “Good heavens, man...” Nelson sputtered out, wiping his mouth with a napkin.  He reigned in his shock and surprise to give Harper a look that made him cringe because he didn’t know what it meant.  “Ten thousand megajoules?” Nelson demanded in a low but clear voice.  He sounded... Harper didn’t know, but it was close enough to mad to make him really worry.

     Harper gave him what he hoped was a ‘please don’t fire me’ expression and said in a tiny voice, “Could be more.  I might be able to squeeze more out of it with a little fine tuning?”  He knew he’d gone too small.  Antiproton reactors produced so much more energy, but he knew that technology was a long way away off from this era.

     “What is this reactor?  A contained nuclear bomb?” Ro asked, sounding shocked and a little horrified.

     “No!  No, the radiation output would be more dangerous than carrying large quantities of hydrogen.  It’s cold fusion,” Harper tried to reassure her.  Suddenly, Nelson had him by the arm and had pushed him back into his chair so that Ro and the Admiral were standing over him, looking at him in a very disconcerting manner.

     “Cold fusion?  Cold fusion?” Nelson asked in a hushed voice.  Harper was trying desperately to think his way out of this.  Why was the Admiral so angry?  And why was he whispering all of a sudden?

     “He can’t do it.  It’s a myth,” Ro stated at a whisper as she crossed her arms over her chest.  Harper turned back to the Admiral and scanned his face, trying to read his expression.  He had thought it was anger, but maybe not.  In any case, Nelson seemed to be calming down.

     “No, it’s just not proven science.  Two entirely different things,” Nelson was telling her.  Suddenly Harper understood.  He’d erred the wrong way because he had been thinking of the amounts of energy required for long distance space travel, not to mention that he’d thought that they had cold fusion, at least in basic forms, by this time.  It had been in a show he’d watched at Dom’s house.  Of course the show had been fiction, but the science had been sort of right so he had assumed that at least the space program had the technology in question.  Boy, did he ever suck at history.  He felt like shrinking into the floor when the Admiral and Ro turned their attention back to him.  “Mister Harper, I misunderstood the nature of your reactor.  I thought you intended to burn the hydrogen,” Nelson told him, but still in a hushed tone.  Harper quickly scanned the room, still finding it empty, so he couldn’t understand the whispers.

     “I, for one, would like to see your notes on this reactor,” Ro said, giving Harper a narrow look.  She thought he was trying to pull something, he was sure, but since he didn’t know what he was being accused of, he couldn’t work up any anger over it.

     “Yes, I think I had better take a closer look at those schematics myself,” Nelson said, tugging Harper back up to his feet again and starting to turn them from the table.  He paused, then stuffed Harper’s plate, cutlery and all, into his hands before continuing to the door.  “I’m restricting access to your lab and we’re putting your work under lock and key at the end of the day from now on and you are not to discuss this with anyone before clearing it with me.  I might just let you cast and machine all your parts yourself after all.”

     “But...” Harper stammered out as he was dragged toward his lab.  Wait, his lab?  It was his now?  Harper couldn’t help but smile as he thought, “Cool.”

* * *

 

 

Chapter 30
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