Michelle Pichette


Chapter 36



* * *

     It was late in the afternoon when Lee had been heading to the Admiral’s office with good news.  The rewiring that had been forced by the faulty stock they had previously received was done, and three days early, thanks to a little overtime that some of the men had put in over the weekend and a spectacular effort by Chip.  It was looking like they might actually get back out to sea after all, Lee thought with a grin.  He was never so happy as when he was out at sea, on the Seaview especially.

     He was more than halfway to the Admiral’s office when he passed Harper in the hallway.  Harper was reading a book intently and didn’t even notice him, but Lee turned and watched after him in shock, knowing what Harper was reading.  It was the Admiral’s copy of Moby Dick.  Nelson read that book constantly, almost absently, in good times and in bad.  He was almost never without it.  Lee frowned and turned after Harper, tapping the little man on the shoulder as he easily caught up with him.

     Harper looked up from the book and annoyance flashed across his features.  “What, Crane?  You got a rule about reading in the halls?” he snapped, which surprised Lee for a moment.  He hadn’t seen Harper since the incident last week that had resulted in Dom crying and Harper shoving him.  Harper had told him there would be no more ‘chirpy hellos.’  Apparently he had been sincere.

     “That is the Admiral’s personal copy of Moby Dick,” Lee informed him stiffly, putting a hand out for the book.  Maybe Harper had brought something to Nelson’s office and walked off with the book without Katy noticing.  The Admiral would be furious when he noticed it missing, so Lee would see to it that there was nothing to notice.

     Harper rolled his eyes with a long suffering sigh.  “Good eye.  Anything else obvious you want confirmed, you come straight to me,” he said, his voice dripping sarcasm.  He shook his head, then turned back to the book and started to walk away.  Lee snatched the book away from him before Harper had half turned.  “Hey!” he protested as Lee snapped the book shut and tucked it under his arm, ignoring Harper’s outraged expression and tone.

     “You ask permission before you touch other people’s belongings,” Lee berated him with a stern look then turned, walking briskly to the Admiral’s office.  Katy let him in as usual, but Lee was surprised to see that the Admiral was in his office, pouring over some schematics.  Lee frowned, thinking that Nelson hadn’t noticed Harper take the book because his attention had been elsewhere.

     “Oh, Lee.  Good.  I was just about to...” Nelson started as he looked up, then he squinted in Lee’s direction.  “Is that my Moby Dick?” he asked, sounding a little confused.

     “Um, yes.  Harper must have picked it up without thinking when he was last in here, so I...” Lee started as he took the book out from under his arm, but Nelson frowned deeply and held up a hand for him to stop.

     Pushing his intercom, Nelson said, “Katy, could I see you for a moment?”

     Lee was confused as Katy came into the office saying, “Yes, Admiral?”

     “Would you please take the book Captain Crane is holding and bring it to Mister Harper?” Nelson said, sounding suddenly weary.

     Katy smiled.  “Of course.  Would you like coffee, sir?”

     “Yes, Katy.  Thank you,” Nelson replied as Katy took the book and left the office.  When she was gone, Nelson lifted one hand to his eyes to rub them, saying, “I can only assume that you accosted Harper in the hall and took the book from him, since he just left here with it.”

     “Well, yes, but I thought...” Lee started feeling a little foolish over what had just happened.

     “Lee, Harper is accustomed to larger individuals taking things from him randomly, then hurting him if he objected,” Nelson sighed out.  “I told him that in polite society that didn’t happen.  Tell me that, at least, the physical harming didn’t occur.”

     Lee winced, embarrassed.  “No, of course not,” Lee assured him.  “I thought he’d taken the book and...”

     Nelson looked up at him, his mouth flat, his expression of disapproval stopping Lee cold.  “Lee, Seamus is an employee of the Institute, not some intruder.  I thought that we had come to an accord concerning that at least.  Seamus has been here almost a week and he spent five days at Doctor Babin’s house before that.  In all that time, ample time to get up to mischief I’m sure you will agree, what has Seamus done that could justify these ‘bad feelings’ that you seem to still harbor against him?”

     “Nothing,” Lee admitted, wishing against logic that the opposite was true so that he could explain how he continued to react to the little engineer.

     “Nothing,” Nelson repeated, confirming that assessment.  “In fact, that I’m aware of, Seamus hasn’t done anything to anyone, much as others have almost actively goaded him to do so.  The one exception to that you are very knowledgeable of.  I trust that you have apologized to him for that... misunderstanding between you.”

     “I apologized to Dom the next morning and she told me to not go anywhere near Harper because she was afraid he’d take a swing at me and get into real trouble,” Lee said, still feeling oddly disquieted over Dom being angry with him.  He shrugged off the feeling and frowned.  “I told Harper at the time that I hadn’t intended to upset him or Dom, but I don’t think he was listening to anything I said.  In fact, he told me that the next time I was annoyed with him that I should beat him senseless.  I think he was trying to protect Dom from being upset again, but how would him being hurt do that?  Why would he say something like that?  I think there’s something seriously wrong with him.”

     Nelson shook his head, still frowning.  “Lee, imagine living a life where you have to fight for everything, including basic necessities like food and warmth.  Imagine having hard, demeaning work rewarded with a beating more often than not, but that you dare not complain because that will only invite worse punishment.  Imagine seeing family and friends being hurt and dying around you, but you are too small and helpless to stop any of it.  That has been Seamus’ life.  He probably would rather endure physical harm than ever see anyone he cares about hurt ever again, even accidentally, even with words rather than blows,” he said, then looked down briefly, plainly gathering his thoughts.

     Lee considered what the Admiral had just described.  Nelson was not the sort of person to be taken in by some sob story or to exaggerate, so there had to be at least some measure of truth in what he had said.  However, what Nelson had just described sounded like the sort of things that happened under an abusive regime, not here in America, not even to homeless people.  It really didn’t matter because Lee just couldn’t assign either of those pasts to Harper, who was annoyingly perky not angst ridden.  Lee simply didn’t know what to believe and he didn’t trust Harper at all.  “I can try apologizing again, but after what happened last time, I don’t know that it would improve anything,” Lee said.

     “Last time there were ulterior motives involved, as, I suspect, there would be the case this time as well,” Nelson said, sounding weary.  “If you only intend to apologize to Seamus in order to appease me, I’d rather you didn’t bother, which would likely be his feelings on the matter as well.  Lee, I can’t force you to like Seamus, but you will be civil to him from now on.  If you don’t feel you can do that, then you’d better avoid him as much as possible and put forth your best effort if you two do come face to face.  And don’t take anything else away from him, no matter how you suspect he might have come into possession of the item in question.  If you have concerns, bring them to me.  There will be no more confrontations between the two of you.”

     Lee almost cringed at the final statement and the tone of it.  He wanted to be angry with Harper, to complain of injustice, but he had been the instigator of all of the trouble between them and he knew it.  Nodding his agreement, Lee sighed, “I honestly don’t know why I’m reacting to Harper the way I am, like he’s up to no good even when he’s doing something as innocent as walking up a hallway and reading.  I’ll be glad when the Seaview is repaired.  Getting out to sea again might clear my head.  We’ve finished all the rewiring, by the way, so we’re back to damage repair.”

     “That went faster than expected,” Nelson said, sounding a little surprised.  At least the look of disapproval was gone, for which Lee was grateful.

     “I don’t know how he did it, but Chip got some of the really tough spots done in record time,” Lee said.  He was grateful to his friend, who had said that he had something new he was trying out that ought to make things go faster.  Chip had tackled all their tight spots and flew through them as if he could shrink down and carry the wire through the conduits rather than having to take a heavier wire and slowly work the new wire through.  His doing that freed other people to work at other areas.  Lee thought Chip must have put in some awfully late nights and skipped meals to get everything he had fixed finished as quickly as he had.  Even then, Lee wasn’t sure how Chip could have managed it, but he couldn’t argue with results.

     “If we push a bit the next few days and offer a little overtime this weekend, we might just get back on schedule,” the Admiral said, sounding very pleased about that prospect.

     “Those were Ro’s thoughts as well.  So I should authorize it?” Lee asked.

     “Yes, yes, by all means.  I’d like to get our grey lady back in the water as soon as possible,” Nelson agreed, nodding and reaching for the cigarettes on his desk.

     Lee was about to say something, but decided that this would not be a good time to give the Admiral grief about his smoking.  “I’ll go get the ball rolling,” he said instead, then let himself out.  Katy was just returning with the Admiral’s coffee and gave him a smile as he held the door opened for her, but Lee wasn’t feeling in a particularly smiley mood and though he would’ve liked to blame Harper, he couldn’t.  What he had said in Nelson’s office was true.  Harper hadn’t done anything in the slightest bit suspect since his appearance at the Institute.  Why couldn’t he trust the kid?

* * *

     Harper stood there, seething, watching Crane walk away with the book the Admiral had loaned to him, the one Nelson talked about all the time and wanted him to read so they could talk about it together.  Where did Crane get off doing that, just taking the book like he didn’t have the right to read it?  Reigning in his temper, Harper drew a deep breath and blew it out.  Much as Crane seemed to want to pick a fight with him, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.  Dom had a lot of books.  She probably had a copy of Moby Dick, Harper told himself as he turned toward his lab.  He would ask to borrow it and then he’d be able to talk with the Boss about it.  It was all good.  It wasn’t worth his time being angry about stupid, petty things that happened in hallways.

     It had been a depressing day anyway.  He’d tried talking to one of the Engineers, a guy named Lawton, about where he could find some metal snips for a little something he was trying to build for the Admiral before the Seaview shipped out again.  Lawton had sneered at him and sniffed that he should go talk to the other mechanics, like being a mechanic was something terrible.  Harper had gone to the machine shop, sighing unhappily about his well equipped tool belt that was doing absolutely no good for anyone several thousand years in the future.  He talked to the foreman in the machine shop, a decent guy named Eddie Feingold, about what Lawton had said and how to go about picking up a few more tools.  Eddie told him that Lawton was a jerk and that most of the Engineers had major attitude problems, so Harper better be prepared to prove himself to the other machinists and mechanics or they’d give him grief for being one of them.  Harper had spent the rest of the morning feeling dismal about being caught between those two worlds and not seeming to belong to either.

     Now he was Crane’s temper tantrum target again.  As Harper dragged back toward the lab, thinking that he would be happy for the day to end so he could spend time with someone who actually liked him, he heard Katy calling, “Oh, Seamus!”  He half cringed, thinking Nelson had Crane’s version of what had gone on in the hall, complete with wise ass comments, and he’d have to sit there and make nice for the rest of the day.  Heaving another heavy sigh out, he turned and Katy walked quickly up to him and smiled, handing him Nelson’s book and saying, “The Admiral wanted me to give this to you.”

     Harper took the book with a sigh of relief.  “Thanks, Katy,” he said, grateful that giving him the book seemed to be all she had been instructed to do.

     “The Admiral’s favorite copy of his favorite book.  He’s making you read it, hmm?” Katy asked with a grin.

     “He’s not twisting my arm,” Harper told her with a little smile, turning the book in his hands so it was right way up.  “Sounds sort of neat, actually, the way he was talking about it and I like a good adventure story.”

     “You’ve probably had lots of adventures yourself,” Katy said, giving him that ‘I am so interested if you are’ look.  Who would guess that he would be a babe magnet here in the past?  Not that he needed more intimate female companionship than he already had.  He had fantasized about having two women, but the reality of having one that snuggled with him beat that fantasy hands down and he didn’t want to ruin what he had.

     Before he could attempt to deflect Katy’s attention in a way that wouldn’t be damaging to their friendship, Harper got whacked hard in the shoulder from behind.  To keep from crashing into Katy, he had to twist to the side, then his feet got tangled in something as he tried to find his footing and he went down, landing hard on his elbow, which sent sparks of pain up and down his arm.  Wincing his eyes shut and biting back a yelp of pain, Harper heard Portman’s voice saying with a cruel snicker, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going, Harper?”

     Harper stayed where he was, wincing, squeezing his elbow, biting down some very colorful phrases he had learned over the years, all too aware that Katy was right there, saying something in an indignant tone to Portman.  The pain mostly subsided after a few seconds and Harper drew a deep breath and opened his eyes.  His arm stung, but he knew it wasn’t broken.  Portman’s nose was going to be, though, Harper thought heatedly as he surged back to his feet.  Someone grabbed him from behind and held him back as he started after his nemesis, and Chip Morton’s voice stated calmly, “He’s not worth it, trust me.”  Harper wanted to argue to the contrary, that kicking Portman’s ass would totally be worth any trouble he got into over it, but he nodded silently and Chip released him.

     “Seamus are you all right?” Katy asked worriedly.  Harper nodded, feeling annoyed and foolish, but certainly not gravely injured.  “We need to tell the Admiral what Mister Portman did,” Katy said heatedly, looking from him to Chip.

     “I’d love to, Katy, but Portman will insist we’re lying or exaggerating because we’re Seamus’ friends.  Did you see him actually do anything?” Chip asked.

     Katy blushed lightly, murmuring, “No, I was looking at something else.”  The angry expression came back and she turned to glare in the direction that Portman had disappeared.  “But you saw what he did, Mister Morton.  You had to have.”

     “I saw Seamus go down, but not what happened just before, much as I wish otherwise.  Portman will insist it was an accident that’s being blown out of proportion,” Chip said, frowning after Portman himself, shaking his head.  He looked back to Harper with concern plainly visible on his face.  Harper had realized a while ago that Chip was the one that had witnessed Jamieson’s ‘death is imminent’ face and that the Executive Officer had been trying to be supportive without actually asking what was wrong in the lab later that day.  The next time Harper saw him, after Chip had come around to check on him again, Harper had told Chip about his haphazard immune system but had made it plain that things were under control and that there was no reason to worry.  He also asked that Chip not tell anyone else and, true to his word, he hadn’t.  He had, however, stopped by first thing every morning since to give Harper a list of who at the Institute was ailing and, therefore, should be avoided.  Harper had been touched by the effort, unnecessary as it was, and that Chip had his back.  “You all right, Shay?” Chip asked.

     Harper rubbed his sore elbow and steadied his temper again, thinking Portman couldn’t get his too soon.  “Fine.  I’m fine,” Harper grumbled out.  “Just been having a hell of a day.  Don’t talk to the Admiral.  Portman’ll get his.  Guys like him always do.”

     Chip grinned.  “I’ll make sure to steer the next creature that attacks the Seaview at Portman’s office.”  Concern dimmed the tall Executive Officer’s smile.  “Want to go see Jamieson?” he asked, nodding toward Harper’s arm.  Harper hadn’t realized he was still absently rubbing it.

     Harper shuddered at the thought.  Jamieson had looked over the medical history forms Harper had brought him earlier and had been ready to do the whole thorough exam thing all over again, thinking maybe he’d missed something because of Harper’s less than gentle past.  And that was after reading the bits of it that Harper had put down on the form, the things that he figured he had to say something about because there was physical evidence still lingering on him, not the whole story.  Even with what Harper considered only minor incidents documented, there had been more vitamins shoved at him and Jamieson had threatened him with isolation again if he got too sick too soon or too often.  Harper didn’t know what constituted too soon, but he was going to be very sure that if he got the sniffles, Jamieson would be the last person to know.  Harper stopped rubbing his elbow, flexing the joint, making sure that everything was moving okay.  “I’m fine,” he repeated, wanting to give Jamieson a wide berth for a while.  Several months sounded good right about that moment.

     Chip’s mouth tightened, but he nodded.  “If you’re sure.”

     “Very sure,” Harper said.

     Katy picked up the book that had been knocked loose from his hands in the fall and handed it back to him.  “I should get back.  Are you sure you’re all right, Seamus?” she asked, stroking his arm gently.  Harper was pretty sure she wasn’t checking for broken bones, which made him feel like he was doing something sleazy to Dom even though hadn’t done anything!

     “Yeah,” Harper said with a quick nod and carefully but swiftly moving his arm away from her.  She looked worried, like maybe she thought she’d hurt him, which only served to make Harper feel even worse.  “See ya round, Katy,” he said, offering her weak grin.  Katy seemed cheered because she smiled at him and then turned to return to Nelson’s office.  Harper let out of sigh.  What was he going to do?  He really liked Katy and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but she was obviously interested in more than he was.

     Chip chuckled.  “Somebody has a crush on you, Shay.”

     “Yeah, yeah.  Real funny.  Twenty five years of nothing and now that I actually find someone willing to tolerate me, women come flying out of the woodwork,” Harper groused, shaking his head.  He looked up at Chip with a frown.  “I really don’t want to hurt Katy’s feelings.  She’s been nothing but nice to me.  Of course the Admiral told her to take care of me, but I think maybe she took it a little too much to heart.  Either that or she saw all the bruises before and decided I needed some TLC.  Honestly, I like her, but not how I like Dom.  I’d kind of like us to stay friends, but I don’t know how to do that.  Usually, girls only ever want to be my friend!  I hear you’re good with women, though you thankfully failed with my woman.  What do I do?”

     “I know what Katy would like you to do, though I doubt Dom would go for it,” Chip teased him, mischief all over his features.

     “Not helpful, Morton,” Harper told him with a scowl.

     Chip chuckled again, enjoying himself way too much over his predicament, but said, “Do you know Ben Englander?”

     Harper shook his head.  “Never met him.”

     “Ben’s one of the Institute’s mechanics,” Chip told him.  “He’s adored Katy from afar for ages, but figured that Katy was too classy to even give him a passing glance.”

     “Yeah, well, she’s more than glancing at me and I’m not exactly Prince Charming,” Harper said, then let his eyes narrow as he looked away from Chip, thinking things over.  “I think I need to go meet ol’ Ben and have a nice little heart to heart about the unpredictability of what women find attractive.”

     “Those were my thoughts,” Chip said with a nod.

     Now that Harper had that settled, he relaxed and let the frown ease off his face.  “How’s all that rewiring coming?” he asked.

     “We just finished.  That’s actually what I came looking for you about.  That little robot you gave me for the tight spots that usually give us trouble and take forever worked like a dream.  Since I worked on them alone, it freed up the people that would usually be fighting with it to do other areas.  I went through a ton of coin batteries, but it saved huge amounts of time,” Chip told him, obviously very pleased.  That made Harper very pleased in turn.  He liked helping out friends and the robot had been very simple to make.  He’d whipped it up for Chip after they’d talked about his immune system issues, mostly to take his new friend’s mind off his health troubles.  Chip had watched the construction in fascination and they found some common ground in their love of technology.  Harper could see that he still plainly needed to work on the power issues of the robot, but he’d straighten that out soon enough.

     “But it’s still our secret, right?” Harper asked, a little worried about what the Admiral would say about his ‘forgetting’ a few developmental procedure steps.  “The robot is still kind of experimental and, you know, classified and stuff.”

     “You, me and the Seaview are the only ones that know about it, and I doubt that the Seaview will talk,” Chip said with a grin.  Harper grinned back at him, wondering what the Admiral would think about introducing an AI to the Seaview’s systems so that she could talk.  “Your robot saved us a good two or three days, which means we aren’t that far off schedule.  That should put Lee in a better mood,” Chip replied.

     Harper snorted.  “Yeah, sure.  Probably with everybody but me.”

     “We could tell him about the robot and how much it helped get us back out to sea quickly,” Chip suggested.

     Harper frowned, thinking he would have let Crane fish the wires through the Seaview’s walls himself.  He could also picture Crane gleeful over having something to go to the Admiral with.  “No.  It probably wouldn’t help anyway.  He’d probably tell you that I made it to sabotage stuff, not fix things, and make you redo all the wiring again,” Harper grumbled.

     Chip nodded solemnly.  “Much as I’d like to think otherwise, you might be right about that.  Lee’s not trying to be unfair with you, Shay.  He’s not a bad person, quite the opposite in fact.  He’s just got something stuck in his head and until he works it out, things are what they are.  Hang in there.  He’ll come around and then he’ll be in your lab constantly, demanding that you make more things like that robot for the Seaview.”

     “Oh, joy,” Harper sighed, rolling his eyes.  “I wish he’d just deck me and get it over with, then we could all relax.”

     “Want me to offer to keep watch so he’ll feel like he can take his time and do a really thorough job?” Chip said with laugh nudging Harper toward the cafeteria, probably so they could both get some coffee.  Harper went without a fight, willing to accept any excuse to have more coffee.  That was something he and Chip could both agree to, that coffee is the life’s blood of any techno geek.

     “Gee, would ya, Chip?  What a pal,” Harper said sarcastically, getting anther chuckle out of Chip.  Harper felt suddenly sad, though.  He could picture Beka saying exactly the same thing under the same circumstances.  He wished he could tell her that he was all right, that he was happy for the most part.  Actually, he was happier than he’d ever been in his life and he didn’t like thinking about Beka and Trance and Dylan worrying about him.  If they knew he was all right, that he was making a place for himself and that he had a girlfriend that he hoped to make a permanent part of his life and friends that looked out for him, then they might be happy for him and know that what had happened wasn’t so bad.  He would have to think of some way of getting a message to them.  He would talk to the Admiral about it later.  Maybe they could leave something for the Institute to deliver in the far future.  For now, he hoped all of them were as all right as he was.

* * *



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