Michelle Pichette


Chapter 38



* * *

     Harper was in good spirits after going to say good morning to Dom the next day.  With Katy now smiling at Ben Englander and the Seaview’s wiring problem taken care of, he’d been in a great mood when it came time to call it quits yesterday.  He and Dom had gone around to her place and had a nice dinner and an even nicer cuddle while they watched a movie on television.  If he could only figure out what to do about Crane and Portman, Harper felt like the Institute would be one long, happy ride through life.

     While walking up the corridor back to his lab thinking about just that after having some breakfast with Dom and Riley, who had invited him to do some surfing this weekend, Harper saw something that he never in his life expected to see.  Of course, that had been happening a lot lately, so seeing an octopus pulling itself along the floor near to the wall didn’t shock him as much as it probably would have two weeks ago.  He walked up to it and it backed from him as he stooped down for a closer look.

     “I’m guessing you’re Olivia,” he told the rubbery looking creature, grinning.  “I’ve been hearing about you from Dom.  You’re heading the wrong way if you’re looking to make a break for it.  The ocean’s that way.”  He nodded over his left shoulder, still taking the creature in.  Her big eyes goggled at him and her tentacles moved about restlessly.  Harper wondered what she felt like and slowly reached out a single finger toward the creature.  A tentacle met his finger and wrapped loosely around it and his hand.  The suction cups felt odd, but not that unpleasant and Harper chuckled.

     “What are you doing with that thing?” came Portman’s imperious voice from behind him and Harper felt his smile turn instantly into a frown.

     Harper remained crouched and glanced over his shoulder, half wondering if Portman intended to push him over again.  If he did, Portman would find out why the other kids hadn’t picked on Harper when he’d been growing up, at least not when it was one on one.  Being small and weak in a place where that meant that you were the target of every predator looking for someone easy to steal from or abuse had taught Harper to take care of himself very early in life.  Right now, Portman’s crotch was within easy striking distance, so Harper decided that if Portman knocked him over, he wouldn’t be the only one to hit the floor and that he would be getting up a hell of a lot faster than Portman would.  He was through taking cheap shots from this creep.  “I’m looking at her,” he replied, deciding not to give Portman any clue as to what he’d been thinking.  Then he thought of something terrible.  “How long can an octopus live out of water?”

     Portman made a disgusted face.  “How should I know?  Doctor Lorn should keep better a watch over her specimens.  I’ll go get a maintenance man to clear it up.”  Suddenly, Portman got a mean grin on his face.  “Oh, but I forgot.  You are a maintenance man.  Throw that in a dumpster and, while you’re at it, the trash in my office could use emptying.  Might as well get used to it, Harper.  After all, you can’t carry on this charade of being an engineer forever and you might want to have some work that’s more suitable to fall back on.  You and trash.  Yes, quite a good match.”  Portman walked away, laughing at his sad attempt at a jibe.

     Harper scowled at him for a second, then decided that Olivia was more important than Portman’s petty words.  He scooped up the spongy feeling creature and dashed over to the Marine Biology wing.  He cursed to himself when he got to Dom’s office and she wasn’t there.  He went back out into the hall and searched the other doors for Doctor Lorn’s name.  Unfortunately, her office was empty as well.  Harper began to feel a little desperate as he turned back to the hall, only to almost run into an elderly woman, Dom just behind her.

     “Olivia!  Where have you been running off to now?” the woman said, taking the octopus gingerly from Harper’s hands and carrying her back into her office.  She put the little creature into a tank behind her desk.  Olivia sank rapidly to the bottom then immediately drew herself into some rocks in one corner and disappeared from view.

     “She was over in Engineering.  Is she all right?” Harper asked worriedly.  He felt like he knew Olivia personally after Dom had told him all about her and he didn’t want her to be hurt.

     The woman, obviously Doctor Lorn, smiled at him.  “She’s fine, dear.  Seamus Harper, I take it?”  Harper nodded and breathed a sigh of relief.  Doctor Lorn looked him up and down, pausing at his shirt from the WB Store to chuckle, then met his eyes, still smiling, and said, “Smart, cute, and picked up an octopus with his bare hands.  I approve, Dom.  You should keep him.”

     “Yes, she should,” Harper agreed as he relaxed, looking to Dom with a smile of his own as she moved next to him.  “See?  An independent expert agrees!”

     “Don’t get him started, Bea,” Dom said, but she stretched up and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

     Harper smiled at first, then frowned, saying, ”You might want to keep a closer eye on Olivia for a while, Doctor Lorn.  Portman wanted to throw her in a dumpster!”

     Doctor Lorn got a miffed expression on her face.  “Then thank you for rescuing her from such a grisly fate, Mister Harper.  This isn’t the first time he’s expressed his disregard for our work.  I’ll talk to the Admiral about his lack of respect, you can be sure.”

     Dom gave him a worried look and stroked his arm.  “Was he being mean to you again?”

     Harper rolled his eyes.  “I can handle the kids on the playground, mom.”  Then he felt bad about it because he knew Dom was upset about how Portman had been treating him.  She liked taking care of people, him especially, and she couldn’t fix this.  It was probably driving her nuts.  He hugged her, saying, “You shouldn’t even think about it.  I’m used to being insulted by a way better class of people.  His sad attempts to make me feel insignificant are amateurish and laughable at best.”

     Doctor Lorn let out a delighted laugh.  “Oh, you definitely get to stay.  I’ll pummel Harri myself if he ever even thinks about letting you slip away.”

     Harper was pleased that Doctor Lorn seemed to like him, especially considering how Portman and his cronies had been treating him.  “I’m not going anywhere, if only to irk ol’ Gregory,” he assured her.

     “Good.  Olivia was obviously taken with you and she is an impeccable judge of character,” Doctor Lorn said.  “We were lucky to have rescued her.  Olivia is actually a short armed octopus from Hawaii, a fairly rare species.  She had been in badly treated in a private collection.  Olivia’s here recovering and helping us with a few tests until she’s ready to go back out on her own.  I think Harri will be taking her the next time the Seaview is headed out to Hawaii.  She certainly seems ready to leave us, doesn’t she?”  Doctor Lorn laughed affectionately.  “I’ll miss her, but she’s helped us so much with what we’re doing, so she’s more than paid for her medication and doctoring.”

     “Dom was telling me some of what you’re doing,” Harper said nodding.  “Something about how Olivia reacts to certain sounds underwater.”

     “That’s right.  Sound is very important under the water.  We are trying to see how a small creature, like Olivia, responds to sounds that would be common to her area of the ocean,” Doctor Lorn replied.

     Harper nodded.  “And the Admiral was telling me about... what I guess would be mutant sea creatures that attack the Seaview sometimes.  He was saying that he wished he could get more of them back to you for tests, but he usually has to kill them to keep them from sinking the Seaview.  I was wondering, do you think that sound would work as a deterrent?  You know, have the Seaview broadcast something that would scare the critter in question for long enough for the Admiral to... I don’t know... stun it or something?”

     Doctor Lorn gave him another warm smile.  “I see why Olivia likes you.  I’ve always thought that it’s terrible that so many unique finds have to be destroyed out of hand because there is no other way to preserve human life.  Do you think you could make a device like that, Mister Harper?”

     “If you and Dom can give me a range of tones to work with, probably,” Harper said with a nod.

     Dom got a pensive look on her face.  “What about something that would confuse radar or sonar or torpedo tracking systems?  The Admiral would certainly be happy to have something that would keep us from getting shot at so much,” she added.

     I would be happy if you didn’t get shot at ever again, thank you very much!” Harper getting a little alarmed at the thought of it.  Dom had talked to him about that sort of stuff happening, but that had been before they were dating and now it finally hit home.  “Maybe you should just stay here at the Institute for now on.  Think of it.  Loving boyfriend ready with massages, pampering, and any desire you have there at your side at a moment’s notice.”

     Doctor Lorn let out a longing sigh.  “Sounds heavenly.”

     “Sounds impossible,” Dom said with little grin and a shake of her head.  “You know that I’m the Admiral’s assistant, Seamus.  How can I assist if I’m here and he’s off in the middle of the Pacific?  That isn’t the point anyway.  Even if I were here, I would still want the Seaview protected a little better.”

     “What about a sound canon, then?” Harper said, thinking more carefully about it.  “Something that you could use as a missile countermeasure, that would flick a torpedo or depth charge away from you?”

     “How would that work?  Like a focused sonic boom?” Doctor Lorn asked, sounding intrigued.

     “Something like that,” Harper said with a nod.

     “All of this sounds rather futuristic.  Do you think you could actually do it, Seamus?” Doctor Lorn asked.  Harper didn’t miss that she had decided to use his first name, but didn’t mind it at all.

     “Seamus is good at futuristic,” Dom said with a smile.  She took his arm and gave him that ‘I adore it when your intelligence is showing’ look.  It got him all hot and bothered every time and Harper wished they were alone as he stroked her face.

     “I’m sold.  I’ll talk to Harri about all this and get things approved for development,” Doctor Lorn said, clapping her hands together with a gleeful look.  “Then I intend to make an absolute pest of myself with you until we have a functioning prototype.”

     “I’ll make the coffee if you bring the donuts,” Harper said, figuring he’d let Doctor Lorn know she wouldn’t be bothering him.

     “Or a little something stronger for the coffee?” Doctor Lorn asked, giving Harper on conspiratorial wink.

     “Wouldn’t say no to that either,” Harper replied with a grin.  He really liked Doctor Lorn.

     “This is going to be fun!” Doctor Lorn giggled, sounding infinitely pleased.  “It’ll be like having Harri here even when he’s gone!  I’m going to go assault his ear about this right now!  Don’t do anything in front of Olivia that you don’t want her telling me about!”  With that, she trotted out of her office.

     Dom was still looking adoringly up at him, so Harper waggled his eyebrows at her, asking.  “Want to shock the octopus, Baby?”

     Dom laughed and gave him a pretty thorough kiss, but then said, “You’d better go finish whatever you’re working on for the next stage of that reactor of yours or whatever the Admiral has you working on.  I have the feeling Bea is going to be camped out at your lab the instant the Admiral gives your new idea approval.”

     Harper pulled her to him and nuzzled her neck, saying, “You should come too, to help us out.”

     “You just want to seduce me with your brilliance,” Dom giggled as he nibbled an earlobe.  It had been an awesome moment when Harper had worked out that Dom got turned on by shows of intellect.  Finally, someone who appreciated men for one of his best qualities!  Harper had spent that evening and every one since then talking about the technical aspects of whatever he was working on or things from the Andromeda.  He knew full well that Dom didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but the hot stare she gave him when he was doing it and the very enthusiastic kissing he got afterwards was what he was going for anyway.  If only he could figure out what aspect of science would get Dom to tear off his clothes, he would be sure to have long dissertations on the topic at the ready at all times.

     “And this is different from normal how?” he breathed into her ear.  Dom turned his chin and captured his lips again, but eased from his arms when she broke off the kiss.  “‘Go to work, Seamus,’ right?” he said, giving her a look of disappointment.

     “Tonight, my place, we can pick up where we just left off,” Dom said, giving him a look that made him wish it was way closer to quitting time.

     “Can I whisper calculus in your ear on the off chance that you might be feeling sinful?” Harper asked.  Hey, there was always the chance, right?

     Dom laughed softly and shook her head at him, pretty much telling him that he had no chance whatsoever of getting past first base any time soon.  He was going to need another cold shower after he got back to his place tonight.  There were some things that were tough about dating a determined virgin, but Harper was equally determined that he would be the one to introduce Dom to the joys of sex someday.  “Want to meet up for lunch?” she asked him.

     Harper sighed and shook his head.  “Much as I would love to, I’m doing this hologram demonstration tomorrow and I’m supposed to have something written up on it and miniaturization techniques so that the Admiral and I can talk things over at lunch.”  He glanced at the clock on Doctor Lorn’s wall and sighed.  “I’d better get back to it.  I swear, paper work is gonna kill me.”  Dom laughed softly and shook her head at him and he gave her a quick kiss.  “Tonight, right?” he confirmed as he squeezed her hands for a second.

     “I’ll be at your lab at five,” she told him as she let him go.  He gave her one last, quick kiss on the cheek, then took off at a fast walk toward his lab.  However, instead of thinking about the presentation he was supposed to be working out, he was focused on the sound canon.  He would have it on the Seaview, ready for action before the sub shipped out again.  There was no way he wasn’t going to make sure that Dom and Admiral were as safe as possible when they were away from him.  He wasn’t losing the people he loved this time.  This time he was going to have happily ever after.

* * *

     Admiral Nelson had always liked Beatrice Lorn and getting her to work with the Institute back when he had first established it had been a coup.  Of course, Lucius Emery had helped to convince her.  Sometimes Nelson missed Lucius, who had loved his sharks the way Bea loved her octopuses.  Working with the two of them had always been an honor and a pleasure for Nelson.

     Bea had been in his office for the last hour basically trying to steal Harper away for her own uses.  The boy had apparently saved Doctor Lorn’s wayward, short armed octopus from coming to harm during her most recent escape attempt.  What Bea had told him about Mister Portman’s comments had been very displeasing to be sure and Nelson began to think he would might have to put an official disciplinary proceeding into action.  It seemed Mister Portman had not been listening as intently as he had should have been yesterday, because Bea also seemed to have gotten the impression that he’d had some less than flattering words for Harper as well.

     “Of course, I wouldn’t allow such things to go on while you are gone on one of your little ocean voyages,” Bea told him, sounding a little too enthusiastic about her proposed project and others that she’d hinted at that she thought Harper would be ever so helpful with.  “You know how I feel about bullies, even verbal ones, and Seamus would be very safe any such nonsense in my lab and office.  I think we would get amazing amounts of work done together and think of the new specimens you could show off.”

     “And I have the feeling that Harper would never leave your lab once you got hold of him.  Bea, you cannot have my new engineer,” Nelson told her again as he leaned back in his chair, sipping some of his coffee as he grinned about the whole thing.  “He already has a pending project list as thick as a dictionary to work on.”

     “Oh, those things can wait,” Bea said dismissively.  “Think of it, Harri.  New weapon deterrents and a way to capture new species, all in one tidy package.  The Navy will salivate.  Woods Hole will plead with you to share.  I only want him for one cruise, after all, much as you seem to think otherwise.  It’s not as though I would keep him forever.  That’s what you should worry about with Dominica.  Or visa versa.  What are you going to do when he takes her away from you?”

     Nelson’s brow knit.  “Beatrice, they both work for me and Seamus is content here with us.  Why in heaven’s name would I be concerned about him taking Dominica away from the Institute?”

     Bea smiled warmly at him and shook her head.  “Not from the Institute, Harri, from you.  You’ve had Dominica all to yourself every time you leave port since she joined us.  Now there is a young man in the picture, one that she looks at with the same adoring eyes that she’s only had for you since she came here.  The way she’s talked about him, Harri.  She’s in love, even if she hasn’t used the actual word yet and from what I just saw in my office, the feeling is very much mutual.  What will you do when she takes his name, when she has his children and drifts away from adventure to live a normal life on land?”

     Nelson frowned a little.  “I have absolutely no romantic intentions toward Doctor Babin, Beatrice.  I’m actually quite happy she’s finally seeing someone, especially someone that I have no problem getting along with.  As for children, that is a matter I will concern myself with when it arises.  Honestly, Bea, do you think I’m so petty that I would begrudge two young people their happiness because I’m worried about how it would affect me?”

     Bea got an amused expression on her face.  “Of course not, Harri.  Actually, now that I think about it, I look forward to the day when you are ‘Uncle Harri’ and bouncing toddlers on your knee.  It will do you a world of good.  Now, if you want my help with the inevitable babysitting you will be doing, not to mention convincing Dominica that Seamus and their multitude of children will be able to cope without her for a few weeks here and there, you’ll let me borrow Seamus for just a little while now.”

     “Beatrice Lorn, you cannot blackmail me with things that aren’t even close to happening yet,” Nelson told her sternly.

     Bea got up, giving him another lighthearted laugh.  “You’ll see, Harri.  I think you’ll be surprised how quickly things are going to unfold between the two of them.  And I intend to have my project and engineering assistance approved before your submarine is repaired.  I have not yet begun to fight!”  With that, Bea let herself out of Nelson’s office, obviously not at all daunted by having been refused.

     The door had barely closed when suddenly Barris was standing in front of Nelson’s desk.  Nelson frowned.  He really had to get a laser pistol and keep it on him from now on.  “Go away,” he said to Barris, then snatched up the pack of cigarettes on his desk.  He was in no mood to deal with Barris at all.

     “Now, now, Admiral,” Barris said with his toothy smile.  “Is that any way to speak to someone who has only your best interest in mind?”

     “I sincerely doubt that,” Nelson told Barris, then lit a cigarette.  “Now leave.”

     “You don’t want me to, I assure you.  There is...” Barris started.

     “There is nothing I want from you, Mister Barris,” Nelson told the alien tersely.  “Nothing.  Nothing now, nothing later, nothing ever.  Go away.  Bother someone else, somewhere else, but do not bother me again.  Now leave.”

     “But...” Barris persisted.

     “Go!” Nelson ordered him sternly.

     Barris frowned.  “Very well, but you will be sorry.”  And with that, he vanished.

     Nelson was anything but sorry, though.  He actually smiled.  Maybe Barris would stay gone this time.  Feeling very good about the alien’s quick departure, Nelson smoked his cigarette and did a little work on the upgrade he was planning for the Flying Sub.  It wasn’t until several hours later when Katy informed him that Mister Harper was there to see him that Nelson realized any time at all had passed.

     “Hey, Boss,” Harper said with his usual bright smile as he entered the office.

     “Mister Harper,” Nelson said with a nod, then took in what Harper was wearing.  The shirt had a large picture of Wile E. Coyote with the bright red words “Wile E. Coyote: Supergenius” stenciled over it on one side of the buttons.  On the other side and presumably across the back were smaller pictures of the cartoon character coming to physical harm when his experiments went awry.  Nelson sighed to himself.  While the shirt definitely suited Harper and was rather amusing, Nelson made a mental note that he would have to let the boy know that it was something better suited to the weekend if he wanted to be taken seriously.  Then something else dawned on him and he gave Harper a quizzical look because the boy had come empty handed.  “I thought we were going to go over your presentation.”

     “About that...” Harper started hesitantly as his smile flagged, then blinked at Nelson’s computer screen and grinned again.  “Sweet!  What’cha working on?”

     Nelson smiled a little in spite of himself.  Someday he would have to find a way of keeping Harper from becoming so easily distracted, assuming that was what had happened to the presentation write up that Harper had failed to produce.  He could only wonder how far the boy had gotten on Doctor Lorn’s sound net.  He’d have food sent into his office and he and Harper would work on the presentation together, well away from other distractions.

     “That is my Flying Sub,” Nelson told him.  “Or what I’m hoping to one day make her over into.  I’m afraid I’ve drifted off into the realms of fantasy, though.  You see, I’ve been talking to Miss Simmons about wanting a space ready version of the Flying Sub and she very rightly told me that there was no way that we can do it, much as I would like to have it.”

     Harper’s eyes were moving quickly over what was on the computer screen.  “Huh,” he grunted, then looked at Nelson.  “How’s by Christmas sound?”

     Nelson gave him a narrow look.  “What?”

     “Well, I could probably build it in a few weeks, but all the paper work and testing and stuff would take longer than the actual building,” Harper said with an unconcerned shrug.

     “You... you could build... that,” Nelson nodded over his shoulder at the computer, holding Harper’s eyes with his own, “in a few weeks?”

     Harper grinned widely and laughed, “Well, not that exactly!  The environmentals are all wrong and the hull structure and engines...”  Harper paused and shook his head with pursed lips as he looked back at Nelson’s little fantasy vessel on the computer, “... too bulky.  You’ll lose all your maneuverability with those on such a small ship.  Besides, that looks like a low orbital shuttle, not a warship.  Can’t be a lander.  No landing struts!  Landing gear doesn’t work so well on uneven surfaces, so you’re planning to land that on an airfield or in a hanger, right?  So, for a shuttle you want shielding, not plating.  Your main vessel has the muscle and bulk for a fight, right?”  Harper looked back at him, his face relaxed as though he’d just been discussing the weather, not reinventing space travel and putting it into the Institute’s hands.  Nelson stared at him in silence for a moment and Harper smiled warmly.  “Earth to the Boss!  What?  Is there something on my face?”

     “I could kiss your face!” Nelson exclaimed suddenly with a huge smile of his own as he swarmed around his desk and grasped Harper by the upper arms.  Harper cringed a little in Nelson’s grasp and under his gaze, but Nelson didn’t let him go and asked, “You could do it?  You could build what you’re talking about, these improved environmental systems and some sort of shielding, for my Flying Sub?  In weeks, not years?”  Harper nodded quickly, looking a little afraid.  Nelson laughed and patted the boy enthusiastically on the back.  “Seamus, you just became my Chief of Technical Operations in our new Space Research and Exploration Department.  Congratulations.  We’ll discuss your raise and your staff and facility needs later.  Right now, tell me about this improved shuttle you were talking about.”

     Harper gave him a still tense, cautious look.  “You’re not mad at me?  I mean, for correcting you and not working on my presentation and stuff?”

     “I am the exact opposite of mad at the moment, Seamus,” Nelson assured him, still grinning widely and patting him a little more gently on the arm.  He could only hope he hadn’t bruised Harper’s arms when he’d grabbed him a moment ago, but if he had, he would make it up to the boy.

     Harper’s tense expression faltered and he began to look confused.  “Staff and facility needs?” he asked, not seeming to understand the words, or at least the context in which they had just been used.

     “Later,” Nelson told Harper with a little laugh, thinking that having Harper for a Department Head was going to make life interesting at the Institute in of itself.  Nelson sat him down in front of his desk and looked him in the eyes again, saying, “Now, focus.  Low orbital craft.  Start describing it in detail.”  Harper gave him a careful look and then started talking about building a new Flying Sub capable of achieving Earth orbit without changing its size and doing it in months, not years.  Nelson couldn’t stop smiling and patting the boy’s shoulder at what he was hearing.  Harper was going to bring space within reach of the Institute.  Bea had just lost any chance she’d ever had of winning her joking bet.  Harper wasn’t going to be working with her any time in the near future.  He was going to be far too busy.

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter One
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