Nelson had worked on reports for two hours, but couldn’t shake
the unease he had felt since Barris’ visit.
The security system checked out as fine, so Barris had obviously
disabled it temporarily while he was in the room.
Even more odd was that Katy didn’t seem to have heard anything
going on in Nelson’s office. Nelson
didn’t ask her directly, though, and he didn’t tell anyone about
Barris. Nelson did not like the idea of the alien popping in like
that again, perhaps at a more inopportune time, but he didn’t want to
involve anyone else until he knew more about what was going on. Nelson decided he needed something else to put his mind on,
so he went down to the dock to see how things were going there.
The Seaview was bustling with activity now that it had been
shifted to dry dock and the hull repairs could be properly assessed and
addressed. Nelson found Ro
Simmons was surveying part of the hull and making notes on her clipboard.
“Well, Miss Simmons, I can see that it isn’t pretty.
I got your preliminary report, but now that you’ve had a chance
to really go over things, how quickly can your team get us back in the
water?” Nelson asked as he went to stand next to her.
He knew what his estimate was, and it wasn’t a pleasant thought,
but he thought that he’d see what she had to say.
“Still three weeks, I think, depending on how our supply
stores look, Sir. If we have
to send out for additional titanium hull plating, it will take even
longer. I’m going to check stores as soon as I finish here,” Miss
Simmons told him.
Her estimate coincided with his so Nelson nodded.
“You’ll have to break off early Friday so that you can dress
for the fund raiser, of course,” he reminded her.
“I’d rather be working on the solid waste system,”
Miss Simmons said with distaste.
“It’s not as bad as all that,” Nelson said with a soft
“You try being charming for hours in heels and we’ll
talk,” she replied irritably. “And
if Senator Barnett grabs my butt one more time, he’s leaving with a
Nelson grew suddenly serious.
“Senator Barnett has been taking liberties?”
“Senator Barnett’s hands need a leash.
If you don’t believe me, ask Dom.
He’s ‘bumped’ into her for a quick grope more than once. Why do you think she avoids close quarters with him?”
Nelson found himself scowling.
“Senator Barnett will be put on notice as to the undesirable
results of continued activities of that nature.
“Yoshi Kannaka has the worst breath in the free world and
he always wants to talk, at length, about the current technology being
released,” Miss Simmons said, making a disgusted face.
That brought Nelson’s smile back.
“He’s also very generous to the Institute.
I’ll arm you with mints. Any
other offending parties?” Nelson asked.
“None of that caliber spring to mind at the moment,” she
replied, taping her clipboard with her mechanical pencil.
She was trying to figure out a way out of the entire ordeal, Nelson
knew, but he’d shot down all her previous reasons why she could not
“Then Captain Crane will be at your house at six sharp to
get you Friday evening,” Nelson said, thinking that, perhaps, would
solve any transportation issues.
“I told you, if I must go to this thing, I’ll drive
myself,” she replied, proving him wrong.
“I’ll even go pick up Lee if you want us to arrive together.”
Though they were very low key about the matter and gave very little
indication when the Seaview was on a mission, Nelson knew they were
dating. It hadn’t
interfered with anything as far as Institute business and considering how
professional both Lee and Miss Simmons were about their jobs, Nelson
doubted it ever would. The Seaview came first and foremost with both of them.
Perhaps that was one of the common interests that had brought them
“The two of you arriving together isn’t the issue.
I want to make sure you arrive.”
“I said that I would come, so I’ll come.
And if this is some sort of macho thing, stop it,” Miss Simmons
told him, then added an overly sweet, “Sir.”
“Lieutenant Commander Simmons, you are being picked up
from your domicile and transported here for the fund raiser, then home
again,” Nelson said firmly. “Whether
it is by Captain Crane or one of the staff cars is irrelevant to me, but
that is what will happen. Are
we clear about this?”
Miss Simmons gave him a slightly surprised look.
“Yes, sir. I
wasn’t aware I was under orders.”
“You are. I’d
order you to have a good time once you arrived, but I wouldn’t want to
overstep my authority.”
“Thank goodness, because I don’t know if I could do that
even under orders,” Miss Simmons said.
“If you’ll excuse me, Sir, I have to go to stores.”
“Of course, Miss Simmons,” Nelson said, waving her on
her way. He walked the length
of the Seaview, looking over the damage from this typically unique vantage
point, then sighed. His poor
old girl. She’d taken a beating.
He was just glad his crew was intact after the attack. He didn’t let it show, but he considered them almost as
much his family as Edith was. He
didn’t like to see any of them hurt.
Each death on the Seaview was like a stab through his heart.
It was not the view most military men would have, but it was his
and he did not regret having it.
Once he’d finished looking over the Seaview, Nelson went
back to the dock and looked at the engineers scuttling over the Diving
Bell. It hadn’t been functioning very well for months now and had
let them down severely on this mission.
He knew the problem had something to do with the wiring, but more
important things kept demanding his attention and he could never address
the Bell personally. His
Institute engineering staff was excellent, he thought it the best in the
country, but for some reason, the Diving Bell’s problems seemed to
“I think I’ve got it this time, Admiral,” Greg Portman,
one of his younger staff members, chirped as he hurried over to where the
Admiral watched the activity. He
was what people referred to as tall, dark, and handsome.
Thirty years old, physically fit, from old money, and a very
promising Masters degree graduate from MIT, Portman was a bit of a snob,
but he was a very intelligent snob all the same.
Portman’s one major problem in Nelson’s eyes was that he was a
butt kisser. Nelson honestly
didn’t know what the young man thought he was going to gain from it,
since it had garnered him nothing but annoyed looks so far, but here he
was, ready for action again. He’d
found that cross words leveled at the engineer only seemed to spur him on
to try harder, so Nelson had long since stopped using them.
Portman really was a good engineer, so Nelson didn’t want to fire
him, but sometimes he simply didn’t know what to do with the man.
“I found a problem in the guidance program.
Could be a virus. I’ll
run through all the code just to be sure,” Portman said, trailing Nelson
as he started toward the Institute.
“Fine, Greg, but I’d like the wiring checked over.
There seems to be a bad connection or a partial break somewhere,”
Nelson told him, not slowing his pace.
“I think you’ll find, sir, that once I clean up and
update the Bell’s programming, things will run a lot more smoothly,”
Portman told him, doggedly following Nelson as he sped up his pace.
Damn, Nelson thought, it was like having a puppy.
“I’m sure it will, Greg.
Just remember the wiring,” Nelson told him as they entered the
elevator to the Institute’s main level.
Portman went on in finer detail about the suspected virus, but
Nelson was barely listening at this point.
As the doors opened again, Nelson all but shot out the elevator,
saying, "I'm sure you've got it well in hand, Greg.
as he hoped that would be the end of the onslaught, Portman continued to
scuttle after him.
“You can count on me, sir.
Oh, and I had my tuxedo pressed for Friday.
Looking forward to it, sir,” Portman gushed.
Nelson felt like rolling his eyes, thinking, ‘you would
be,’ then spotted Doctor Babin in the distance, walking slowly up the
hall as she read something in a file folder.
“Yes, well, see you then,” he said, hoping the man would take
the hint. “Doctor Babin, a
word,” he called after her, walking a little more quickly toward her.
“Uh, Admiral, you know the improved minisub project that
Lieutenant Commander Simmons has started?
I was thinking that...” Portman started as he continued to keep
pace with the Admiral.
Nelson stopped just short of Doctor Babin, who gave him a quizzical
look, then said, “Hello, Greg. Weren’t
you working on the Diving Bell?”
“Actually, I need to go to my office to review code.
I think I found a bug,” he stated as if it would impress her.
Somehow he was the only person at the Institute that had missed the
fact that Doctor Babin and technology did not get along.
“A bug? Well,
you’d better exterminate it then before it causes problems,” Doctor
Babin said, nodding seriously.
“Actually, it’s called debugging and I...”
I think you mentioned that before, Greg,” she said, then turned to the
Admiral. “Do you need to
see me in my office about that specimen we discussed, Admiral?”
She gave him a wink, but it was so quick that even he almost missed
Thank goodness for Doctor Babin, Nelson thought as he said,
“If you have a moment.”
“Certainly, Admiral,” she said, then turned to Portman
and saying, “Excuse us, Greg.”
“Of course, I... uh... I was thinking maybe we could meet
for dinner tonight to discuss...” he stammered out, flustered because he
obviously wasn’t prepared for this latest attempt to lure Doctor Babin
into a more private setting.
“I’m sorry, Greg. I’m
so exhausted that once I leave here, I think I’m going right home to
bed,” Doctor Babin told him, managing to sound appropriately spent.
“Yes, of course. How
thoughtless of me. Perhaps
another time then. Sorry to
keep you both. I’ll just be
in my office,” Portman said, walking off backwards, gesturing in the
direction he was moving.
“Bye then,” Doctor Babin said, giving him a little wave,
then turned toward her own office. Nelson
went right along with her, not at all minding the easy escape she’d
given him. After they’d
gone a few yards, she let out an deep sigh, then asked, “Have I ever
thanked you for putting Engineering and Marine Biology in separate wings,
Nelson smiled and chuckled.
“Our Mister Portman is persistent, isn’t he?”
“He asked if I had a date for the fund raiser the minute I
stepped foot in the Institute, even though I turned him down just before
we shipped out. I told him I
already had an escort. I hope
you don’t mind being my date,” she said.
“Of course not, Doctor Babin, if you don’t mind being on
the arm of an old man all evening,” Nelson said, offering her his arm as
they walked along.
That could never happen. You
will always be young and vital and able to outrun and out think the rest
of us poor mortals,” she said with a warm smile, giving his arm a
Ah, if only he were in his twenties again, Nelson thought,
patting the young marine biologist’s hand.
“You’ve been taking lessons from Portman.”
“Perish the thought.
I just hope he’ll take the hint and stop asking me out.
He’s really not my type,” Dom said.
“I thought you liked men of intelligence,” Nelson
“I do, but Greg’s only real attraction to me has to do
with ambition not chemistry,” Doctor Babin said.
“He thinks if he’s involved with the Seaview’s first
permanently stationed female Marine Biologist, that will give him clout.
Sorry, but I’m not interested in being a tool to further
someone’s career goals.”
Good for her, Nelson thought with a smile, then frowned a
bit that she didn’t have a male companion more her own age that she
wanted to attend the fund raiser with.
Certainly some of the sailors on the Seaview would have leapt at
the chance of having her on their arm for the evening.
Maybe she didn’t think it would be proper, so Nelson tried to
think of someone outside of the Seaview that she had spoken about.
Only one person came to mind.
“And how is your friend in Virginia?”
a friend. No, I still don’t have a boyfriend, but somehow life has
not lost any of its luster. And
if you want to hide out in my office, you’d better not try to fix my up
with anyone,” she cautioned him.
“Then consider the subject dropped.
How are Doctor Lorn’s intelligence tests with the new octopus
coming?” Nelson asked, knowing that was what Doctor Babin had been
reading about when he’d approached her.
This way he could get an update without having to read the file
“Very well. She’s
a smart girl. She got half
way across the Institute on one escape attempt,” Doctor Babin laughed
They talked for about an hour, until almost five o’clock,
then Nelson stood from his chair and said, “I should let you go.
I’m sure you have matters to attend to at home.”
It had been a long day. He
couldn’t believe that they had been in pitched battle at sea less than a
day ago. He was glad that the
Seaview and her crew had all made it home.
“I hesitate to think about the state of my house,” Dom
admitted as she rose. “Not
to mention my yard.”
“Why don’t you get a maid and lawn service?” Nelson
“I like doing things for myself, not that I’m going to
do much more than open windows so the house can air a little tonight.
I think I’m going to make myself a little dinner and sit out on
the patio in my hammock and get some fresh air, too,” she said.
She got up, put a couple of open files from her desk into her bag,
then shut down her computer. Nelson knew she wasn’t planning to come in for the next
couple of days, but would probably do some work from home. Nelson almost wished he didn’t have to come into the office
either, but there was too much to be done at the moment.
“I hope you weren’t planning to spend the entire night working
on the dreaded,” she paused and shifted her tone to one as low as her
voice could go, “government reports.”
“No. They can
certainly wait one more night,” Nelson told her as he picked up his
jacket from where he had discarded it earlier.
“They certainly can,” Doctor Babin agreed, then gave him
an assessing look. “So,
going to tell me what you’ve been avoiding telling me for the last hour,
or should I go home and forget about it?”
Nelson had been tempted to talk to her about Barris, just as
he had been tempted to discuss him with Lee, but he decided that neither
of them needed to worry about the odd encounter.
After all, it wasn’t as if Barris were the first strange visitor
that Nelson had ever had pop into his office.
Pem sprang to mind. No,
best not to bring anyone into this unless necessary.
“Nothing really. Just
something I didn’t expect in my office earlier,” Nelson replied as he
opened her office door and showed her out before him.
“Not Olivia, I hope,” Doctor Babin said with a smile. She was referring to Doctor Lorn’s octopus.
“No,” Nelson said with a chuckle.
“Get some rest. I’ll
see you Friday evening.”
“Good night, Admiral,” Doctor Babin said cheerfully,
waving as she walked toward the Institute’s lobby.
Nelson walked back toward his own office, thinking that he
would go through some of his mail before going home himself, when Chip
appeared, holding a thick file, most likely containing a detailed damage
control report. Nelson sighed
at the size of it, thinking that maybe three weeks was a short estimate
after all. He was definitely
going out on a scientific mission next, something harmless and bland.
He hated the aftermath of government missions.
* * *
Dylan had come down to the aft sensor array because the
messages he had been routing through the intercom were not getting the
desired results. He was a
little irritated that he’d had to come all the way aft in the first
place. He was the captain.
Why was it that no one ever seemed to listen to him?
Granted, his current crew wasn’t comprised of the Commonwealth
soldiers he was used to, but still, would it be so much to ask that
someone actually do what he asked them to, especially when it was for
their own good? And here he
was, chasing down what was probably the worst offender in that area.
“Harper!” he yelled, even more annoyed when he couldn’t see
the engineer anywhere and there was no where further back to go.
“What?” Harper yelled back his head popping out from one
of the overhead access ways. “Dylan,
I’m working here. If you
keep bugging me, you’re never gonna know if there’s a sensor glitch or
not.” He hung there looking
at Dylan with an annoyed expression, systems analyzer in one hand, totally
upside down, not seeming to notice his odd vantage point.
He was also acting like Dylan hadn’t spent the better part of the
last hour telling him that knowing whether there was a sensor glitch came
in a distant second to Harper fully recovering from the virus that so
recently had very nearly killed him.
Dylan drew a deep breath, telling himself that losing his
temper wouldn’t accomplish anything. Harper was just antsy because he’d been made to stay still
for such a long time while he’d been sick.
Harper had spent five days fighting down the virus, then Trance had
kept him in medical for two more days just to be sure that he wasn’t
going to relapse yet again and so that he could build up enough strength
to stand up on his own. After
she let him out, she told him stay in his quarters and get a lot of sleep
and fluids other than Sparky cola. Trance
wanted him to recuperate for at least a week before even picking up light
duty because fighting the virus had taken a lot out of him.
The Andromeda had been repaired by the automated systems by that
point, so Dylan didn’t have a problem with that.
He wouldn’t have begrudged Harper the time he needed to recover
even if the ship weren’t fully operational, though he would have doubted
that he could have made Harper stay still if they’d really needed him.
Harper had behaved for a while, but then he just up and went
back to work without saying anything.
Andromeda probably hadn’t thought to notify anyone because Harper
working wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary.
He typically built, fixed or improved things to relax.
The only reason anyone knew was because Trance had gone to his
quarters and found him gone. That
had not made Trance at all happy, nor did it please Beka, who was still
feeling justifiably guilty over Harper getting sick in the first place.
They, in turn, made Dylan very unhappy about Harper not resting
like he was supposed to by badgering him as to what he was going to do
about it. At first, Dylan had
told them that Harper was a grown man and knew whether he was feeling well
enough to work. That hadn’t
pleased anyone. In the end,
Dylan had gone looking for Harper so that the two women would give him a
little peace on the matter.
“Harper, you’re supposed to be resting,” he said as
patiently as possible, hoping that Harper, for once, would just acquiesce
and go quietly back to his quarters.
It wasn’t going to happen, Dylan knew, but it was nice to think
“I did. For
three whole days, not counting Med Deck time.
My brain was seizing up I was so bored.
I’m just poking around a little, honest,” Harper said.
How could he look so comfortable like that, Dylan wondered.
Wasn’t the blood rushing to his head?
There couldn’t be anything loose in Harper’s pockets.
It would have hit the deck long ago.
Dylan knew for a fact that Trance had hidden Harper’s tool belt,
thinking that would deter him from working.
Obviously, they would need to take more drastic action next time he
got seriously ill. “By the
way, everything looks fine so far, just like I already told you it
probably would, so I think we have a tail.”
have a tail. Now go get some
sleep,” Dylan said.
Harper rolled his eyes and groaned.
“I’ve been sleeping! I
rested. I ate all the soup
and drank all the tea Trance brought me even though I didn’t
particularly like the stuff. I
watched every movie I own while I was still trapped on the Med Deck.
I even read Andromeda’s entire technical manual.
There’s nothing left for me to do in my quarters.
My disgustingly clean and tidy quarters, I’ll have you know.
Thank you Beka and Rommie ever so much for putting all my stuff
just the way you like it so I can’t find anything anymore. And they took my tools!
Not just my tool belt, which better be all right, but all the ones
in my quarters too! I was
using them on stuff in there! Anyway,
I’m all better now. I need
to do something or I’m gonna go nuts.”
“I see,” Dylan said, trying not to laugh at Harper’s
rant. Poor Beka had been so
proud of straightening out his room for him to surprise him.
He wondered if Harper would tell her what he thought of her
efforts. Rommie, no doubt,
already knew, since she knew everything the Andromeda did because she was
another aspect of the ship. Trance
must have taken the tools when she had taken his tool belt.
Dylan cocked his head, trying to look Harper in the eye, but it was
impossible. “Could you...
come down here. You’re
making me dizzy.”
Harper sighed dramatically, then flipped out the access way
and dropped down in front of Dylan. Unlike
last time, he landed firmly, still looking as fit as he had when he'd been
hanging upside down a moment ago. He
didn't look pale and haggard as he had when Trance had released him from
the Med Deck, but he'd lost a lot of weight and hadn't come anywhere near
putting the majority of it back on. That
alone made Dylan a little worried, afraid that Harper was rushing things.
“Look, Dylan, I’m fine. Really.
I just want to do something other than bore myself to tears for a
few hours, okay?”
Dylan looked him over closely and he had to admit, Harper
did seem mostly recovered from his illness, weight loss aside.
“All right. Just
don’t overdo it,” he gave in. Harper
gave Dylan one of his big, sunny, dimple filled smiles, but he was
probably the only one that was going to be happy about Dylan’s decision.
“So, is there anything we can do with our sensors to get a little
more range and catch our tail unaware?”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Harper said, then
pulled a flexie out of where it had been crammed into his back pocket,
“and while I was trapped in my quarters I designed this.
It’ll give you a boost of about another hundred and fifty
thousand meters range on sensors. I’ll have to make one for each array, but I can try it out
on rear sensors first and see if it helps at all with our shy friend back
there. I can probably amp up
whole sensor system permanently later, but this will give you a quick
boost for the short term.”
Dylan looked at the flexie, not entirely sure what he was
looking at, but then he wasn’t an engineer.
“All right. How
long? And remember, we are
talking at quarter normal Harper speed.”
Harper usually worked at a manic pace that made those watching him
dizzy. Dylan didn’t want
him to wear himself out.
“How ‘bout half?” Harper asked with his little cocky
grin. Dylan gave him a glare
and Harper backed right down. “Okay,
okay, working at a leisurely pace with lots of breaks...” he paused and
shrugged, “four hours?”
Dylan nodded and gave him the ‘you have pleased the
Captain’ smile, patted him on the shoulder and said, “You get to do
one, then you go lie down for the rest of the day.” Harper drew in a deep breath, obviously preparing to offer
rebuttal, but Dylan didn’t give him a chance.
“Or Trance is going sneak up on you with tranquilizers and strap
you down so you can’t get up again until she feels you have sufficiently
recuperated, and she will do it with my blessing. Got it?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it, but all this inactivity is under
protest,” Harper said irritably.
“Duly noted,” Dylan told him and started to leave, then
thought better of it. Best to
leave Harper with no loop holes, he thought as he turned back to find
Harper right on his heels. He
looked the engineer dead in the eye, looming menacingly over the much
shorter man, and instructed, “Straight to the machine shop, make one
sensor array enhancement and nothing else, install it, then straight to
“I said okay, already,” Harper carped, but he did look a
little uncomfortable in Dylan’s glare. Dylan smiled mentally, thinking Harper might be a self
proclaimed genius, but he had never been in charge of four thousand
people. Harper was going to
have to work at it a little harder to slip something by him now that Dylan
knew him as well as he did.
Dylan returned to the Command Deck to find everything quiet
there for the moment. Beka
was at the helm. “Did you
straighten him out?” she asked after a moment.
“I gave him a reprieve.
He’s doing one thing in the machine shop, then he’s going back
to bed,” Dylan told her.
“You spoil our kids so,” Beka teased him.
“Why don’t you just find a nice, safe, watery world and strand
him on a beach without his surfboard.
He’ll have to rest then and he’s always complaining that he
wants a vacation.”
“Don’t think that I haven’t considered it, but you
know how Harper attracts trouble. He’ll
make a pass at some local girl and wind up in jail or sentenced to be
sacrificed to the volcano god or something,” Dylan sighed.
That much about Harper was all too predictable.
“All right, an uninhabited, nice, safe... Oh, forget it.
He’d still find a way to get into trouble,” Beka said with a
little laugh and a shake of her head.
Dylan laughed with her because, for the moment, Harper was fine.
His recent illness was one example of how bad luck hunted Harper
down and pounced on him with alarming frequency.
Beka seemed to be reading his thoughts, because she added, “And
if he gets sick again, it isn’t my
“I know, I know, but he promised to behave.
And he is tweaking our rear sensors.
Maybe we’ll finally get a look at whoever is back there,” Dylan
said, then thought about it and asked, “Andromeda, they are still back
there, aren’t they?” He hadn’t gotten any updates for a while.
Maybe their tail had given up and gone away.
He doubted it, but stranger things had happened.
“Our last contact was three minutes ago.
I expect one again at any time,” the ship responded.
Dylan nodded, saying, “Keep me posted.”
The ship had been back there for more than a week now.
It had even followed them through slipstream somehow without giving
any indication of having used slipstream itself.
Once they were repaired, Dylan had tried to hail them.
There was no response. He
sent out drones. The ship
disappeared until the drones were recalled.
It had now gotten to the point where Dylan wished they would either
approach in a friendly manner or attack, but they just stayed back there,
At first Dylan had tried to think of reasons for this.
Perhaps they didn’t have means to communicate and were working on
something to rectify that. Maybe
this ship had been attacked previously and wanted to see whether the
Andromeda was mainly peaceful or if she attacked everything she
encountered. He’d come up
with a dozen such scenarios, but there wasn’t much he could do about any
of them so he’d tried to go back to life as usual. Then he thought about approaching a world to join the
Commonwealth only to have his mysterious tail cause trouble.
No, he had to solve this problem before he could do anything else,
so they went to a fairly uninhabited area and were just killing time.
Suddenly, Dylan began to sympathize with Harper.
A couple of hours of nothingness passed, then Trance came
onto the deck, asking, “What happened? I’ve been waiting at Harper’s quarters and he never
“He’s in the machine shop working on something,” Beka
said with a smirk.
Trance turned to Dylan, giving him a tight lipped look of
frustration. “Dylan, I
thought you were going to talk to him.”
“I did and if I’d sent him back to his quarters, he
would have just been pacing in there, not resting anymore than he is now.
He’s doing one thing for me, then he’s promised to go to his
quarters and sleep,” Dylan told her, hoping that would appease her.
She didn’t look very happy, but she went to the environmental
station and made herself busy there.
Dylan was pleasantly surprised at not being made to argue with her
about his decision. How
refreshing! Maybe people were going to start actually taking orders from
him without giving him lip, like in the good old days of the Commonwealth.
Wouldn’t that be a pleasant change?
“Dylan the sensor contact aft has just come into full
sensor range,” Andromeda said, giving him still another surprise.
Whether it was going to be pleasant was another matter.
“Who are they?” he asked.
ship is of a previously unrecorded configuration.”
Dylan pushed down the urge to start sighting weapons.
The last time this had happened, the Andromeda had wound up getting fired on and badly damaged.
Dylan had just gotten her whole again and didn’t want her all
banged up so soon. Still, he
couldn’t just open fire on people for no good reason, much as his gut
feeling was to do just that. “Great,”
he grumbling under his breath, then ordered, “Hail them.”
“No need, Captain Hunt.
I have come to speak to you about the current status of your
crew,” a voice came from behind him.
Dylan turned, as did everyone else on the deck, to the owner of
that voice. There, three
paces behind Dylan, was an alien the likes of which Dylan had never seen
before. The fact that he wore
what looked to be armor did not seem to be a good sign.
The only saving grace was that he didn’t appear to have any
weapons. He was smiling,
though, or at least his lipless mouth was drawn up into what looked to be
a smile, albeit one full of small, sharp teeth.
“I’m sorry, but... who are you?
Why have you been following us?
And what do you mean by the current status of my crew?” Dylan
asked, not at all pleased about this individual invading his ship with
such casual ease.
“I am Barris and my crew and I have come to serve you on
your quest to restore the Systems Commonwealth,” the alien replied quite
amiably. “We’ve been
following your fine vessel because we were assessing your current crew
strength to see where there were gaps to be filled.
Your ship is designed for a compliment of about four thousand, is
“That isn’t really...” Dylan started.
“I’m afraid my crew is only one hundred strong,
including myself, but we are all skilled warriors and are more than
capable of relieving some of The Shining Path To Truth and Knowledge’s
automated systems from some of their current burden,” Barris informed
Dylan let out an uncomfortable laugh.
Barris knew the Andromeda’s official name.
That was interesting. And
he knew all about his rather limited crew, which Dylan found a little
disconcerting, considering that Barris had just told him that they were
vastly outnumbered and Barris seemed to be able to invade the Andromeda at
will. “I’m not exactly
recruiting crew at the moment. I’m
not familiar with your species. Where
is your home world?”
“It’s far from here,” Barris said, waving off the
question as if it were inconsequential.
“None the less, if you could arrange a meeting, I would be
interested in speaking to your leader to discuss the possibility of your
world joining the Commonwealth,” Dylan told him, deciding it was better
to try to make friends than enemies. Since Barris seemed to know all about the Commonwealth and
the advantages it offered, Dylan thought he might actually have an easy
sell this time out.
“My crew and I need no further authorization to join your
ship,” Barris told him, still ignoring Dylan’s desire to know where he
was from and to get to know his people as a whole.
That didn’t sit well with Dylan.
“Be that as it may, I like to know what I’m getting
before I open my ship to people. You
still haven’t told me anything about yourself or your crew except that
you’re here to help me. It
would help me to know more about you,” Dylan said.
“My crew and I are warriors, as I have said, on a par with
your weapons officer, Tyr Anasazi. Nietzscheans
are interesting and he seems to exemplify their quest for perfection.
We are accomplished pilots, though we would not attempt competition
with Captain Valentine. The
way you navigate alternate dimensions is beyond skill, it is art.” Barris showed Beka his toothy smile and she gave him a
plainly forced one, then raised an eyebrow at Dylan, as if to ask,
‘What’s with this guy?’ Dylan
shrugged at her, turning his full attention back to Barris.
“My crew, as I have said, is capable of manning whatever stations
are needed to make the running of your most excellent ship an easier task. I also have an engineering team that would keep your vessel
in good repair. We would be
loyal onto death to you, Captain Hunt, and we would tirelessly aid you on
your mission and after its completion.”
Dylan listened to Barris’ little speech very carefully and
noted two things. He hadn’t
said anything about Harper or Trance when he had been handing out
compliments. He also hadn’t
said anything at all about his crew other than what jobs they were capable
of preforming. All this
evasiveness was not sitting well with him.
He had enough crew members with secrets as it was.
“I meant more along the lines of your customs and habits.
For instance, you can obviously survive in our atmosphere, but what
sort of diet do you have?”
“You needn’t worry about our upkeep.
We will nourish and cloth ourselves.
We are here only to...”
“Only to serve. Yes, I got that,” Dylan interrupted him.
This was getting him no where.
“I’m sorry, really, but unless you can actually answer my
questions, I don’t have a use for you and your people on the Andromeda.
Even then, I would require some testing be done, both technical and
medical, to be certain if such an arrangement were possible that it
wouldn’t be harmful to anyone involved.”
“We are perfectly fit and carry no harmful microorganisms,
as the being that chooses to call herself Trance Gemini could attest
within moments, I’m sure. She
is a most excellent medical officer, but my people would not require her
services. We do not get sick
and we are extremely difficult to injure,” Barris said, still not
seeming to understand that Dylan wasn’t buying what he had to offer.
“As for being capable of handling the technical aspects of your
vessel, we are educated in all forms of mechanics and can easily assume
any duty you would assign. My
engineering team, for example, would have had your vessel repaired within
hours of its last encounter rather than days and with our help, she might
not have been so badly damaged. You
would be surprised what the addition of a proper engineering team alone
would do for your vessel. Shall
I bring them over so that they might demonstrate their skill?”
Dylan eyed Barris warily.
Not only wasn’t Harper getting any compliments from Barris, he
was being totally ignored. Maybe
Barris wasn’t aware of Harper because of his recent illness.
“I appreciate the offer, but I have an ship’s Engineer.
A good one.”
Suddenly, the alien’s ever present smile was gone.
Barris lifted his chin and sniffed, looking affronted.
“You speak of the damaged weakling that barely keeps your ship in
one piece? It is unworthy of
its post. This is a
battleship, a place for warriors, not a place for the convalescence of the
chronically ill. It doesn’t
belong here. It doesn’t
belong anywhere. You should
have put it off your vessel the moment you realized it was of little use
to you, but that, certainly, can be rectified.
Perhaps you felt sorry for it, that you were trying to be kind, but
considering the importance of your cause, you shouldn’t be bothered any
further. The time and
resources you had expended for its benefit have been more than generous.
You won’t miss it. My
Engineers will do a far superior job and will be available for combat on
request. After your first
battle with our addition to your crew, you will see vast improvement.”
Dylan could see Beka bristling at the insults Barris was
heaping on Harper out of the corner of his eye.
He was actually rather glad that Harper wasn’t present to hear
what Barris was saying, not knowing whether the engineer would be more
offended by having his skills impugned or being called an ‘it.’
Dylan let out a short, humorless laugh.
“No, I won’t, because you won’t be joining my crew.
Insulting my current engineer and insinuating that he should be put
off my ship is only making me trust you less.
Now, if you would like to sit down and civilly discuss the
possibility of your people joining the Commonwealth, I would be more than
happy to listen, but I’m afraid that is all that I am prepared to offer
“But we have so much more to offer you.
Your ship is not being used to its full potential.
We can change that,” Barris argued doggedly.
He certainly had a one track mind.
“I honestly don’t know what your fascination with the
Andromeda is,” Dylan said, shaking his head at Barris.
“You have a ship of your own, one that seem an equal to ours at
least in maneuverability. Why
are you so desperate to leave it?”
Barris stood silent for a moment, then seemed to make a
decision about something. “Because
your ship is a pivot point in time, as are you.
She knows,” he nodded toward Trance, who looked a little startled
by his statement, “and that is why she is here.
We wish to be a part of the history that you make.
We will give you success. Without
us, you may very well fail.” When
Barris said no more about her, Trance seemed to relax a little, that was
until she realized that Dylan was looking at her.
He nodded to Barris and Trance shrugged, indicating that she
didn’t know what to make of him. That
was strange. Usually Trance had an opinion about everyone and everything
that they tangled with, though Dylan knew that he only got hints and
whispers, never the whole story. He
decided that he’s had enough and that he didn’t need Barris’ people
adding to his frustration.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to take that chance.
Are you willing to discuss Commonwealth membership or are you
leaving?” Dylan asked, his patience worn out.
A wicked smile formed on Barris’ face, his eyes glinting.
“You really don’t want me to leave, Captain Hunt.
You will see how much you need me and my crew, and soon.
Such as it was, your single, broken worker that you used for
repairs was all you had. Automated
systems can only do so much. How
will you fare without its meager efforts?”
“Are you threatening one of my crew?” Dylan asked, his
mood swiftly moving from distrust and annoyance to full outrage though he
kept his face as neutral as possible.
“A threat would imply future action.
You shall be better off without it, you’ll see.
I will be in touch, Captain Hunt,” Barris said, then he dissolved
himself into black mist and vanished from the Andromeda’s bridge.
Dylan had a very bad feeling and quickly said, “Andromeda,
monitor Harper at all times. I
“Dylan, my sensors in the machine shop stopped relaying
shortly after Barris’ appearance. I was unaware of this until Barris’ departure,” the ship
“Harper!” Beka breathed, scrambling off the bridge and
running toward the machine shop where Harper was working.
Dylan was right on her heels, pausing to yell, “Trance,
take the con!” He
couldn’t catch Beka, which surprised him a little and told him just how
scared she was. He tried to
think where Tyr and Rommie were, but decided that they could probably take
care of themselves. Damn it,
he should have fired on that ship the second they came within range. He knew he didn’t like them.
Dylan nearly ran into Beka when she stopped just within the
machine shop itself, having just half called out Harper’s name again.
This time the shout was cut short by whatever Beka saw in the room.
Dylan prayed it wasn’t what he feared it was as he eased next to
her. There had obviously been
a fight in the room. Carbonized
areas marked one wall where Harper’s gauss gun had hit it.
The gun itself lay among the debris scattered across the floor.
Harper was nowhere to be seen.
“No, no, no,” Beka murmured softly where she still stood at the
door. “Oh, Seamus...”
Dylan gently put his hands on her upper arms and squeezed
lightly before moving past her. He had seen a wet patch shining on the worktable in the
middle of the room and went to touch it.
When he lifted his fingers, they were red and had the distinctive
coppery odor of blood. Fury
boiled in him, but he pushed it down.
He didn’t have time for it.
He had a crewman to find. Harper
wasn’t dead. Dylan refused
to believe that. Barris had
to know that Dylan would hunt him down and destroy him and his ship if he
had done that. ”Andromeda,
what happened here? Why
weren’t you aware of intruder that assaulted Harper?”
“I’m sorry, Dylan.
Something delayed senor readings from this room.
I am only just getting them now.
Would you like to view the log?” the ship replied.
“Yes,” Beka said quickly, joining Dylan as he turned to
the monitor as it flickered to life.
There was Harper at the worktable, building the sensor array
enhancement that he and Dylan had talked about earlier.
He was drinking a Sparky cola and singing something, but he was so
off key and plainly faking out so many of the words that it was impossible
to tell what song it was. Then what had to be one of Barris’ crew appeared about a
dozen paces in front of him, saying, “You have outlived your purpose
here, little thing.”
Harper backed up a couple of steps and pulled his gauss gun
out of its holster where it hung on one of the equipment racks.
“Uh, guys, we have a visitor and he doesn’t seem very
friendly,” Harper said, erroneously assuming that the Andromeda already
knew and that his words would be relayed to the Bridge.
The warrior took a step forward, cracking the knuckles on one hand,
then the other, obviously doing it to intimidate Harper.
It worked, because the blaster trembled in Harper’s hand for a
moment before he lifted the other to steady it.
“Dylan... Rommie... Anybody?
A little help?”
“You are an insult to this vessel, a defect.
You should not be allowed to waste her valuable resources,” the
soldier said as it took another step forward.
“I am here to correct this oversight.”
“Oh, crap,” Harper murmured, then said more loudly,
“Guys? I really think this
fella doesn’t like me, so if you could get back to me on the whole help
“No one is listening to your tireless whining, worthless
worm. You must prove yourself
or be crushed like the insect you are,” the soldier interrupted him.
He was moving slowly. He
was making Harper sweat out what was going to happen when he got to him.
He was playing with Harper, tormenting him.
“All right, fine. Be that way. You
take one more step and I’m gonna...”
Harper didn’t get to finish his threat because the soldier
smiled, the same evil grin that Dylan had just seen on Barris’ face, and
took two steps forward. Harper
didn’t wait for more incentive and fired at the soldier.
One bolt hit the alien dead center in the chest, the second
somewhere in his face. Both
bounced off of him, doing no damage whatsoever to him.
Harper looked appropriately terrified and took a couple of
faltering steps back. “Crap,
crap, crap! Guys, change of plan! Lots
of help! I need lots and lots
of help! Big, honking, tank
loads of help! Send Tyr with
his biggest gun! Send...”
“Enough!” the soldier said, swiping an arm viciously
across the worktable, scattering most of the items on it with a loud
clamor. “You talk instead
of fight. You dishonor your
vessel. You will do so no
longer. Fight or die, irksome
Harper tried to bolt. Dylan
didn’t blame him. The
soldier was an armored hulk of a creature, more than twice Harper’s
size. The kid didn’t have a
chance in a stand up fight. However,
the soldier suddenly displayed remarkable speed and was standing at the
door as Harper reached it. Harper
tried to backpedal, tried to get out of the soldier’s reach, but the
alien quickly seized him by the shirt front and lifted him, kicking and
flailing uselessly, into the air. He
caught Harper’s right wrist and gave the gun now pointing harmlessly
behind him a withering look.
“Pathetic,” he sneered into Harper’s face, then ripped the
gun out of Harper’s hand and tossed it aside before he punched the
engineer in the stomach. Harper
tried to fight back, but his reach was no where near that of the soldier,
so he only managed some blows to the alien’s armored arm. The alien hit Harper a few times, then threw him across the
room and onto the worktable, scattering the remaining items on it.
Harper rolled off, barely dodging what would have been a bone
breaking a double fisted blow to the abdomen.
He rose from the floor with a determined expression and a welder.
He turned it up high and raked its flame over the arm that was
reaching for him again. He
caught the alien in his exposed palm, the one unarmored spot presented to
him, and the soldier howled in pain.
Harper tried to bring his new weapon to bear on the alien’s face,
but the soldier swatted it away with his other arm then grabbed Harper
again, this time by the throat. Pinning
the kid to the wall high enough so his feet dangled in mid air, the
soldier hammered blows into Harper’s body and a few into his face.
It was no longer a fight, if it could ever have been truly called
one. It was a sadistic
beating, plain and simple.
“You are nothing,” the alien snarled at Harper angrily
as he rained blows onto the helpless engineer.
“You are dirt beneath my heel.”
He hauled Harper off the wall, still gripping his throat.
He was not fully strangling Harper, he was letting him have just
enough air so that he could remain conscious.
He dragged Harper to the worktable and smashed the his head into
it, stunning him, before throwing him bodily onto it and releasing him.
Harper moaned, plainly dazed, blood all over his face, and he
rolled onto his side toward the door, making a feeble attempt at escaping.
The soldier was back on him before he could even get off the table
and now he had Harper’s welding torch in his hand.
It wasn’t on, but the soldier used it as a cudgel, smashing
Harper across the face with it once, probably for revenge, because he
released it after hitting Harper with it.
“You aren’t worthy of a warrior’s death,” the alien
sneered at him. “My people
would hand you over to the surgeons to have you dissected cell by cell to
see where your genetics failed so miserably to keep the universe from ever
be cursed with another like you.”
“Yeah, I can see where you’re so much prettier than
me,” Harper sneered back, though his voice was higher than usual with
fear and pain. He got punched
in the gut for his valiant effort toward bravery.
“Big man, hammering on an unarmed guy half your size when
you’re all armored up. Real
brave,” Harper spat at him breathlessly, but he looked more than a
little woozy from the beating he’d taken.
What he said obviously touched a nerve, because the soldier’s
face twisted with fury and he grabbed Harper by the throat again,
strangling him in earnest as he pulled him back off of the table.
“I would pull you apart for that if my commanding officer
had not forbad it, insignificant flesh bag,” the soldier growled as
Harper clawed at the hand crushing his throat, his feet well off the floor
again. “But he said nothing
about stopping others from doing so.
How will it be to die slowly at the hands of your own, tied to a
table and carved up by doctors wondering where your species went wrong? Will you live long enough to suffer that indignity?
One last chance, little thing.
Can you swim?” With that, the soldier motioned with his free hand and a
glowing circle appeared behind him. He
threw Harper through the vortex and it closed as the engineer vanished.
With that, the soldier came to attention, then he disappeared as
Barris had. Mere seconds
after he vanished, Beka appeared at the machine shop door, shouting
Harper’s name, then the monitor went blank.
“We were too slow,” Beka breathed in horror at what they
had both just witnessed. “If
we’d been just a little quicker...”
“Harper’s still alive and we’re getting him back,”
Dylan declared, refusing to believe otherwise. “Andromeda, the... vortex that Harper was thrown into, what
was it? Could you detect
where it sent him?”
“No, Dylan. It is a previously unrecorded phenomena,” the ship replied.
“Then hail Barris’ ship.
His crewman sent Harper somewhere, he can bring him back,” Dylan
said, trying to remain reasonable as he waited a few moments for contact
to be established. It was no
easy task. What he wanted was
to hit something, preferably the soldier that had been beating Harper.
Dylan hated bullies.
“There is no answer to hails,” the Andromeda informed
Dylan was sorely tempted to turn the Andromeda on Barris’
vessel and open fire. The
only reason he didn’t was that he couldn’t be certain Harper wasn’t
there. “Send this then.
Until Mister Harper is returned to the Andromeda, Barris and his
people will be viewed as hostile and treated appropriately.”
“Now, Captain Hunt,” Barris said, suddenly in front of
Dylan again. He was smiling
coolly, as if nothing were amiss. “So
much fuss over such a small thing.”
“Stop calling Harper a thing!” Dylan demanded furiously.
“He is my ship’s Engineer and I want him back!
“You were attached to... Harper?
As one would be to a pet, I suppose,” Barris mused aloud,
ignoring Dylan’s demand, which infuriated Dylan further.
“Harper’s new master was kindly, despite the yapping.
I suppose you will miss... him,”
the word was spoken very begrudgingly, “for a while, though I would
think the silence would be a refreshing change.
Your new engineering staff awaits your summons when you are ready
for them.” With that, he
“No!” Beka shouted at the empty space where Barris had
been. “Harper isn’t a
dog, you bastard! Bring him
“Barris’ vessel has fallen back out of weapons range and
is holding to that distance,” Andromeda informed them.
She probably had anticipated that Dylan was about to train weapons
on Barris’ ship. He was
only sorry that Barris had anticipated him as well.
“Bring all weapons on line and sight them on that
vessel,” Dylan ordered. “And
I want you to start analyzing the data from the sensor log.
I want to know what that vortex was and how we can duplicate it or
where it sent Harper. I want
whatever information we got while that ship was in sensor reach.
I also want logs of both of Barris’ visits and the log from this
room sent to my quarters.”
“Dylan, they sent Harper someplace where they’re going
to enslaved him or worse,” Beka stated urgently as she turned him around
to face her. “We don’t
have time to sit here. We
have to find him now, before this ‘Master’ decides to start kicking
him around like Barris’ goon did. I
don’t think he could take much more of that kind of abuse.”
“I know, and I’d like nothing better than race to the
rescue, Beka, but where do we go? How
do we find him?” Dylan asked, trying to make her see reason.
Beka was glaring at him, fists clenched, then she turned and
kicked something across the room. “He didn’t do anything to them!” she bellowed at the
unfairness of the situation. “He
didn’t even know who they were or why they were attacking him!
I don’t even know why they did!
That bastard Barris, he wouldn’t even acknowledge Harper as a
person and now he’s...”
Dylan set a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“Harper will be all right. He’s
a survivor. We’ll find
him.” Beka lifted a hand to Dylan’s and squeezed it hard.
She was worried, but Dylan didn’t blame her.
He was worried too. Harper
had taken a really bad beating and Dylan didn’t like the ominous
question, ‘Can you swim?’ Harper
could swim, thankfully. Dylan
knew Harper was an excellent swimmer, but that was under normal
circumstances. Dylan hoped
Harper wasn’t too badly hurt from being beaten or too weak from his
recent illness to get himself to whatever safety there was in the place
he’d been sent to. “Hang
on, Harper,” he thought. “We’re
coming as soon as we can. Just
hang on for a little while.”
* * *
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