Michelle Pichette


Chapter 31



* * *

     Portman had been patient for most of the morning, relishing the thought of the demeaning things he was going to have Harper spend the rest of the day doing.  Unfortunately, Harper had been with the Admiral since Portman had gotten in.  Portman had gotten a thrill out of seeing Nelson and Simmons pouring over Harper’s schematic and Harper nervously talking to them.  The little street rat had probably been trying to explain the ‘additions’ that Portman had made last night.  Portman had made sure to keep a weather eye out on the lab door and had been pleased to see Simmons leaving the lab, shaking her head and looking shocked.  He could only imagine the fast talking that Harper had been doing to keep his job.  Nelson remained in the lab, so Portman had gone to get a little work done.  If Harper was still employed in two hours, Portman would make him sorry for it.

     After finishing up the part of the Institute mainframe upgrade that he was working on, Portman went back out to see if Nelson was still in the lab with Harper.  He wasn’t, but Harper wasn’t there either for the moment.  Portman was just starting to reach for the lab’s doorknob when a voice rang from behind him, “Uh, uh, uh.  Off limits, Gregory.  No more playing with my schematics for you.”

     Portman scowled at Harper’s whiney little voice, then pushed the expression off his face as he turned with his list.  He had no intention of confirming Harper’s suspicions.  Harper was just walking up to him, grinning, holding a cup of coffee.  So, that’s what Harper had been doing, wasting time in the cafeteria again.  Well, Portman intended to make sure that he had no more time to waste for the foreseeable future.  “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Harper.  You will call me Mister Portman, thank you very much,” he told the scruffy boy imperiously.

     “Yeah, right,” Harper chuckled sarcastically, then sipped his coffee.

     “And you can put that coffee down.  You won’t have time for it.  I have today’s assignments for you here, and you still have yesterday’s to finish properly.  Did you think I wouldn’t check up on you, Harper?  Be glad I didn’t go to the Admiral about it,” Portman told him, waiting for fear to wipe the smile off of the little hobo’s face.

     Harper lowered his coffee cup, but he was grinning widely.  “Yeah, you do that.”

     “What?” Portman demanded, not about to let Harper sass him.

     “Go to the Admiral with your list.  Want me to go with you?” Harper asked, looking terribly amused.

     “How dare you question me, you little worm.  I’ll have you fired!” Portman threatened him.

     “Really?  Wow.  I’m shaking!” Harper said with a laugh.  “Look, Gregory, as amusing as all this is, I’ve got work to do.  You know, real work that the Admiral actually hired me to do.  You know what that is, right?  I mean, you do actually do things here besides pulling stupid pranks on people and stuff, don’t you?  I’m a pretty good sport and I know everybody likes to take a shot at the new guy.  You got to have a couple laughs at my expense, but let’s be serious here for the moment.  You don’t get to tell me what to do.  Chip told me the score with interns and how the Institute doesn’t hire any.  The Admiral wants me to work on the projects he assigns me and I answer only to him.  You want to mess with me?  Fine.  Just be aware that from here on out that if you push me, I will push back.”

     Portman felt his teeth start to grind together.  So, Harper had found out the truth of things.  It didn’t matter.  It was past time that someone told Harper a little truth about himself.  “Don’t you dare threaten me, you uneducated, little vagrant,” Portman hissed at him, looming over the smaller man to intimidate him.  No, not a man, a pathetic little boy trying to be something he wasn’t.  “I know what you are and you do too.  You are gutter trash.  You aren’t fit to sweep the floors here at the Institute, much less call yourself any sort of professional.  You are nothing and the Admiral will see that, tire of you, and throw you out back out into the street where you belong!”

     Harper didn’t move back though Portman was nearly standing on him.  He also didn’t look intimidated even though the top of his head barely came past to Portman’s shoulder.  In fact, as he looked up at Portman, his body went tense and something wild and dangerous glittered in Harper’s eyes for a moment.  Portman almost moved away from him as fear flashed through him, but as suddenly as that feral quality had come on Harper it was gone.  “What I am is the guy who can out think you even after a case of beer and two days with no sleep,” Harper said, then grinned.  “Does that scare you?”

     Portman sneered at him.  “Me?  Frightened of you?  Hardly.”  With that, he turned from Harper, marching back toward his office.

     “Aw, don’t go away mad.  Let’s hug!” Harper laughed after him.

     Portman ignored him.  Harper was a worthless flea and everyone would realize it soon enough.  Going into his office, Portman crumpled the papers he held and threw them into the trash.  That was where Harper belonged, Portman thought sullenly.  He sat heavily in his chair, angry and determined.  He would make it his mission in life to make sure that everyone knew exactly what Harper was.  He smiled a little.  Yes, that was what he would do.  He would be very sure that every single person at the Institute knew that Harper was an uneducated buffoon that had nothing but the charity of others keeping him from a park bench bed and starvation.  No one would trust him when Portman was done telling them everything.  No one would want anything to do with him.  Portman nodded to himself in satisfaction, thinking that Harper would regret entering into a battle of wits with him.

* * *

     Beka finally managed to wrestle the Eureka Maru through the final few moments of slipstream and they blinked back into real space, practically crashing into a planet as they did.  She pulled her ship up enough to achieve a stable orbit, then leaned back to catch her breath.  “Are we there?” Trance asked as she appeared next to Beka a few minutes later.  Trance had been quiet for most of the trip, staying out of the way after Beka had taken the helm.  Beka was a little glad of that.  She still wasn’t used to this new Trance and didn’t need to be distracted on this trip.

     “We’re getting close.  Another seven hours I think,” Beka said as she leaned over and got herself some water out of the tiny refrigerator nearby.  She ran the plastic bottle across her forehead before opening it, enjoying the coldness of it.  This flight was wearing her out.

     “Has there been any more news from the Andromeda?”

     “You should really ask Rommie that,” Beka replied then took a long drink of her water.  She was tired but didn’t want to stop.  They were so close now.  Just two more jumps and some fancy maneuvering and they would be to the home world of the Lechak Bon.  She would stop then.

     Trance sat next to her.  “What do we do when we get there?”

     Beka raised an eyebrow at her.  “What?”

     “What do when we get there?” Trance repeated.  “Do we contact the Lechak Bon from space or go down to the planet?”

     Beka hadn’t thought that far ahead, but it wasn’t exactly brain surgery.  “Well, if they don’t hail us by the time we make orbit, we’ll contact them.”

     “What if they don’t speak Galactic Common?” Trance asked.

     Beka leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes.  Why was Trance hitting her with this stuff now?  “Then Rommie will find some way of talking to them.  Look, we’ll worry about this later, if we need to worry about it at all.  I just need a couple of minutes, then I’m going to get us back underway,” Beka told her.

     “What if they won’t help us?” Trance asked.  That got Beka to open her eyes and look at the golden alien girl.  Beka had liked her better when she had been purple and sparkly.

     “Do you know something that you aren’t telling the rest of us?” Beka asked beginning to get suspicious and a little angry.

     “No,” Trance said with a heartfelt sigh.  “That’s the problem.  I can’t see anything.  How do you live like this?  Without knowing anything about what might happen.”

     Beka shrugged at the question and pushed off her annoyance.  “That’s just how life is.  If I had known Barris was going to send that creep down to the Machine Shop that day, I would have been down there, ready to blast him apart before he could touch Harper.  But I didn’t and now here we are, looking for a lost race of aliens on a distant planet and they’ll tell us how to find him.”

     “But you don’t know that,” Trance said, sounding a little afraid.  Beka wasn’t used to her sounding fearful, but she wasn’t going to let it get to her more than everything else was.

     “In seven hours I will,” Beka replied simply, then drank down her bottle of water and brought the Maru out of orbit.  “Better strap in.  Things are going to be interesting from here on out,” she said as she opened a slipstream portal.

     “That’s what I’m worried about,” Trance commented, then she drifted back into the ship.  Beka frowned as she fought to keep them on course.  She could only hope that if Trance knew anything important, she would share that information.  For now, Beka had enough to keep her mind busy.

     “Seven hours,” she muttered to herself.  “Just seven hours.”

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter 1
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