Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 37

 

 

* * *

     Beka woke up to an aching head.  Actually, after she woke up a little more, she realized pretty much everything was aching.  “Ow,” she murmured, trying to remember what had happened as she blinked her eyes opened.  The first thing she saw was a gray face with black eyes inches from hers.  She cried out in surprise, which made needles of pain dance through her head.  Moaning, she winced at the alien that was still standing there, looking quizzically at her, not doing anything else.  Then it dawned on her why the alien looked familiar.  It was one of the Lechak Bon.  That was when what had happened came on her like a flash.

     They had come out of the final slipstream jump and reached the Lechak Bon home world.  Beka had been tired but relieved.  They had made it.  The planet looked peaceful.  No black clouds or volcanoes covering every bit of available surface area or oceans everywhere leaving nowhere to land the Maru.  It actually seemed like a sort of nice planet, as planets went.  Everything was going to be fine.  Beka had called for people to strap in, had just breached the atmosphere, then all hell had broken loose.  Every system on the Maru seemed to fail at once.  If Beka hadn’t been the amazing pilot she was they would have dead, a colorful explosion across the planet’s surface.  As it was, she had fought all the way down and the landing, well to be fair, the controlled crash had been anything but gentle.  She had been knocked cold somewhere after the fifth bounce off the planet surface.

     Wondering how damaged the Maru was if she felt as wrecked as she did, Beka started to lift a hand to unstrap herself.  Just lifting her hand from her side sent a cascade of stabbing pain all through her and Beka moaned again.  That made the Lechak Bon tilt its head slightly to one side as it continued to regard her closely.  “A little help,” Beka said petulantly, knowing she was hurt and not knowing how badly.  She began to smell smoke and didn’t know if something was burning or had burnt out and somehow not taken her with it.  Everything in the cabin was dead, yet there was light coming from somewhere.  That was when Beka rolled her head to one side and saw the huge hole in the side of the cabin.

     Beka let out another moan, this time of something close to despair.  She had been born on the Eureka Maru.  She had lived all of her life on the freighter, aside from the recent years spent on the Andromeda.  It was her home.  Her home had a huge, gaping hole in it!  Probably lots of holes!  She managed to turn back to the Lechak Bon and snarled, “This is all your fault!  If you had taken care of Barris instead of turning him loose on the rest of us my ship wouldn’t be Swiss cheese!”

     The Lechak Bon cocked its head the other way and spoke a string of words that were incomprehensible to Beka.  Something sank in Beka’s chest when she realized this person didn’t speak Galactic Common.  Her ship was wrecked, she was hurt, she didn’t know if Trance and Rommie were all right, her best friend was missing and probably in terrible trouble, Dylan couldn’t get to any of them, and, to top it all off, the alien intent on staring at her didn’t speak Common!  “Oh, great,” she said, then passed out again.

* * *

     Ben Englander did not have time or patience for the Nelson Institute’s Engineers.  Most of them were stuck up, a couple of them were just plain jerks.  The one that had shown an hour ago seemed intent on talking him to death.  Seamus Harper, the guy had said his name was, then had gone into this lengthy story about someone pulverizing him, the Admiral hiring him, Katy Winslow misunderstanding some orders Nelson had given her, his dating Doctor Babin, and finally that he thought that Katy needed to have someone new to look after.  Why this guy was telling him all this was beyond Ben.  He had begun sympathizing with the guy that had pulverized Harper when the little engineer refused to go away or stop talking.

     Ben ignored him, not responding to anything Harper said, even though some of it seemed to revolve around him and Katy getting together.  That was something Ben dreamed about, not that it was going to ever happen.  She was like this princess and he was the guy who shoveled out the stables.  She didn’t even know he was alive.  Why would she?  Still, Harper kept on babbling about women and wounded birds and nurturing natures and all sorts of other lunacy that Ben was only vaguely hearing.

     Going about his business, Ben’s ears were getting tired.  For the love of all that was holy, did this guy never shut up?  Why was he here?  Didn’t Harper have anywhere else to be?  How did he even know or care about how Ben felt about Katy?  Why wouldn’t Harper just go away?  As he considered grabbing the guy by the scruff of the neck and escorting him back to the Institute’s main building, Ben sliced his finger open on the cardboard box of the filter he was about to replace.  “Damn it!” he cursed turning on Harper, about to rip the little guy’s head off.  “Will you shut up!  Look what you made me do!”

     Harper was quiet for the first time since he’d darkened Ben’s garage, blinking at the blood dribbling down his finger onto his hand.  Then Harper grinned widely.  “Great!  Just what we needed!” he announced happily.  “Come on!”  With that, he grabbed Ben’s outstretched hand by the wrist and pulled him along quickly behind him.

     Ben was too stunned to react at first, but he got angrier with every step.  He was going to kill Harper.  That was it.  Harper was dead.  No court would convict him.  It was temporary insanity brought on by Harper’s own lunatic babbling, which restarted after they cleared the garage.  “Just you wait.  This is exactly what we needed.  I was thinking maybe a something like a banged up thumb or pinched finger.  The Divine knows that I’ve done that enough times.  The blood is a great touch, though.  Nice and visual.”

     Ben could visualize blood, all right, but it wasn’t his own.  What was Harper even talking about?  It was just a stupid little cut.  Why was Harper talking about it like it was the answer to his prayers?  Where was Harper pulling him to?  Why was he letting Harper pull him anywhere?  Plainly, Harper had already driven him insane, Ben thought, then considered pulling back, grabbing Harper by the throat and squeezing until the little man’s eyes popped out.  That was when they stepped into the Institute’s main building.  Ben hardly ever came in here and decided that he wouldn’t kill Harper right now.  It was way too public here.  He’d wait for the little guy after work and kill him then.  That was if Harper didn’t talk him to death first.  Maybe Harper was yanking him somewhere private.  Ben let a hard smile leak onto his face, thinking maybe he wouldn’t have to wait for work to end to shut Harper up permanently.

     Ben was so busy thinking about just how he would squash Harper that he didn’t realize where they were headed until he found himself walking through a door marked: Admiral Harriman Nelson.  Of course, by then it was too late.  Harper had pulled him the last few unwilling steps to Katy Winslow’s desk while Ben rethought his plans to make them longer lasting and more painful.

     “Katy, have you got a bandage or disinfectant or...” Harper was saying even as Ben was willing him to shut up.

     Katy got up from her desk, looking alarmed.  “Oh my!  What happened?” she was asking, taking his hand from Harper’s and looking at the cut on his finger.  Ben felt weak in the knees being this close to her and her touching him all soft and gentle like.

     “Well, I was talking to Ben here... You know Ben, right?  Anyway, I distracted him while he was working and he got cut.  My bad.  So, think you could patch him up, Katy?” Harper babbled at her.  Ben thought about how he couldn’t kill Harper slow enough.  Now Katy was going to think he was some total idiot, unable to take care of a simple cut for himself.

     “Of course I can,” Katy said, then lifted his hand to look more closely at things.  That was when the inner door to Nelson’s office opened and the big, big boss came out and gave the whole group of them a narrow look.  “Yes, sir?” Katy asked, looking over at the Admiral.  Now Nelson had been disturbed.  They were all in trouble!  Ben could not wait until Harper was alone.  There was going to be a lot of blood then, that was for sure.

     “I thought I heard Mister Harper’s voice.  What’s all this?” Nelson asked, still looking them over narrowly.

     “Just a little cut, Boss,” Harper said quickly.  “And I didn’t know where the bandages were.  Well, ones that weren’t near Doc Jamieson anyway.  He’d probably think I was going to get an infection by osmosis or something if I’d gone there, then I’d be stuck there the rest of the day.”  Ben waited for the old, old man to get angry.  Nelson did not put up with nonsense.  Everyone knew that.  Damn, he wasn’t going to get to kill Harper after all because Nelson would beat him to it.

     Then Nelson smiled and chuckled unexpectedly at Harper’s babbling, saying, “Well, we certainly wouldn’t want that, now would we?  Katy, if you’d look after Mister Englander.  Mister Harper, I was just going to call you in to ask a few more questions about your schematic.”  With that, Nelson ushered Harper into his office, leaving Ben alone with Katy.  Ben was more than surprised.  Maybe, since Nelson was king of the castle, Harper was the court jester, Ben reasoned.  It sure did look that way at the moment.

     Ben swallowed hard as Katy looked up at him and gave him a little smile.  “We should clean this up before we bandage it,” she said, squeezing his dirty hand in her small, clean one.

     “Aw, I coulda taken care of it, but that Harper guy, he...” Ben started, but Katy kept looking at him like she was actually listening to him and he started looking into her eyes and the complaint he was about to voice got lost between his brain and his mouth.  He realized he was just standing there staring, so he looked down, certain he was blushing, and said, “Anyway, you don’t need to bother about it.  I’ve got it.”

     “It’s no bother,” Katy said.  Ben looked up and she was still smiling at him.  “And we all have to follow the Admiral’s orders, don’t we?”

     “Uh, yeah, I suppose,” Ben said uncertainly.  Hadn’t Harper been going on about how Katy had all of a sudden started paying all sorts of attention to him because the Admiral had asked her to look after him?  Had he planned this all out somehow?  How did Harper even know he is interested in Katy?  He’d never even met Harper before the annoying little guy had showed up in his garage an hour ago!

     “Right this way, Mister Englander,” Katy said, starting to gently lead him off somewhere.            

     “Um, Ben.  It’s just Ben, Miss Winslow,” Ben told her, still confused and flustered by the chain of events that had gotten him here with his hand in Katy’s. 

     “Well, then you should call me Katy, Ben,” she told him as she half turned to offer him another pretty smile.  When she did, Ben decided that maybe he wouldn’t kill Harper after all.

* * *

 

 

Chapter 38
Belonging, Chapter One
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