Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 39

 

 

* * *

     Dylan couldn’t believe that Andromeda hadn’t woke him when communication had failed with the Maru.  “So we’ve had nothing from them for six hours?” Dylan asked as he hurriedly dressed.  He didn’t know why he was hurrying.  There was no where for him to rush to, nothing really that he could do about this alarming development.  He just felt like he had to do something!

     “Six hours, twenty seven minutes,” the Andromeda’s hologram informed him.  “But Dylan, as Tyr rightly pointed out, if the Lechak Bon’s home world is cut off from the rest of the universe, that condition might extend to communications.”

     “Might,” Dylan muttered under his breath.  He was so sick of all the uncertainty that had been in his life lately.  He wished sometimes that things were simple again, like they had been before he’d been caught in the event horizon of a black hole.   The entire universe had fallen into chaos while he’d been trapped there for three hundred years and it seemed like it wasn’t done trying to spin out of control.  As if the Magog Worldship and the Abyss weren’t enough to deal with, he thought with a heavy sigh, now almost his entire crew was missing and the one person left was a Nietzschean mercenary that would very much like to have the Andromeda for his own purposes.  What else could possibly go wrong?

     “Captain Hunt,” Dylan heard almost the instant he stepped out of his quarters.  Dylan felt like turning around and walked straight back into them, unable to believe that he’s left Perseid scientists that refused to leave off his list of troubles.

     Sighing to himself, Dylan straightened his shoulders, which were attempting a defeated droop without his permission, and said, “Yes, Technical Advisor Rollan.  What can I do for you?”

     The Perseid gave him a very sour look and said, “I would like to know when Chief Engineer Seamus Harper will be returning to your vessel.  We still have not found the missing pieces of his device and have questions concerning several of his partially completed projects.  We have been waiting rather a long time for your Chief Engineer, Captain Hunt, with a most disagreeable Nietzschean... person following us around.”

        Dylan kept himself from frowning somehow, half wondering where Tyr was at the moment, since Rollan and his assistant were here.  “Mister Harper was... removed involuntarily from the Andromeda and we are working on securing his return,” Dylan replied.

     “Involuntarily...” Rollan repeated hesitantly, confusion then alarm crossing his features.  “You mean to say that Chief Engineer Harper was kidnapped?!”

     “Not... precisely,” Dylan replied carefully.  He didn’t want Rollan to panic and send for any sort of assistance.  Two Perseids were more than enough to deal with at the moment.  “The person that removed him from the Andromeda did not retain custody of Mister Harper, or so they have lead me to believe.  He was... deposited somewhere and we are trying to ascertain his current location.”

     “Chief Engineer Harper was kidnapped and has been exiled in an undisclosed location!” Rollan exclaimed in alarm.  Dylan sighed.  Well, so much for avoiding panic.  “Was that... person that you were attacking earlier the one that took Chief Engineer Harper?  And he wants to join your crew?  What is going on here, Captain Hunt?”

     “That is classified information,” Dylan said, falling back on his military experience, thinking that telling Rollan things were classified was far less offensive than telling the Perseid it was none of his damned business.  “Technical Advisor Rollan, perhaps it would be better for you to return to Sinti.  I will contact you the moment this situation has been resolved.”

     “That is unacceptable,” Rollan replied, looking affronted.  “Until you are prepared to tell me exactly what is going on, I will continue my search of Chief Engineer Harper’s work areas.”  With that, Rollan turned and stomped off down the corridor, his silent and now very worried looking assistant trailing him.

     Dylan watched him go, at a loss.  What did he need to do to get these insane Perseids to leave?  How could Harper work with these people without going crazy himself?  He rubbed his eyes, feeling tired suddenly despite the sleep that he had gotten.  He was sorely tempted to go back into his quarters and not come out again until somebody had something positive to tell him.  No, he told himself, then turned and started toward the Command Deck.  He was not going to let the ridiculousness of what was going on defeat him.  He was going to find out what had happened become of his crew no matter he needed to do to accomplish that.  Sighing again, Dylan wished he knew were to start to find some of the answers he was determined to get.

                              * * *

     Sharkey got called to Nelson’s office a little after two o’clock in the afternoon and arrived to find a short, skinny blond there with the Admiral.  Most likely this was the Harper guy that everyone had been talking about.  He didn’t look like he would be much trouble, Sharkey thought, giving him a quick visual once over.  Harper was small and harmless looking, sitting almost bonelessly in a chair in front of the Admiral’s desk.  Sharkey knew Harper was supposed to be in his middle twenties somewhere, but he looked a lot younger, especially the cartoon character shirt he was wearing.  Why was everyone going so nuts about him?  Doc Babin could probably take him in a fair fight, Sharkey thought with a private grin.

     Of course, Harper was supposed to be a genius, which was what had all the other Institute Engineers feeling threatened.  Sharkey had been listening to them in the cafeteria from time to time over the last few days.  The way they ripped Harper apart verbally when talking to each other, he obviously scared the pants off them.  Portman especially made sure that the Seaview’s crew knew that Harper had been homeless until Nelson had taken him in and that the kid didn’t have a High School diploma, much less a college degree.  He wanted to make enemies for Harper wherever he could, make the kid feel unwelcome and unwanted.  Sharkey simply didn’t have time for that kind of nonsense, thinking that grown men should have better things to do with their time than play school kid popularity games.

     “Chief, I’d like you to meet Seamus Zelazny Harper,” Nelson said as he rose.  Harper got up and turned to him with an outstretched hand.

     “Zelazny?” Sharkey said with a snicker, but he took Harper’s hand.  The kid had a nice, firm handshake and didn’t seem to take offense at Sharkey’s quiet jibe.

     “Seamus, this is Francis Ethelbert Sharkey, my Chief Petty Officer,” Nelson continued the introduction with a wicked little grin.  Who ever said that the Admiral had no sense of humor?

     “Ethelbert?” Harper giggled, his smile claiming his whole face.  “For real?  I thought I had it bad.”  Sharkey couldn’t very well get mad over the comment.  After all, he’d had the first laugh at Harper.

     “Chief, I’d like you to take Harper down to the Flying Sub and go over existing systems with him.  Harper tells me he can get her into orbit and I think he doesn’t have a clear impression of his spatial limitations,” Nelson said before things could get out of hand.

     “Like I told you at lunch, Boss, you’re thinking too bulky for the Flying Sub refit.  For that you need to keep things small and light, but tough.  Think me rather than your average body builder.  We’ll work on a ship that can brave the Sun’s corona later,” Harper said with an insistent tone.

     “You think you can make the Flying Sub space worthy?” Sharkey asked uncertainly.  It didn’t seem possible to him.  How would they get the FS1 up into space in the first place?

     “I know I can.  It’s convincing everyone else that’s the problem,” Harper said, giving the Admiral a tight lipped look of frustration.

     “You take a look at it first hand, Seamus, then tell me how you’re going to squeeze everything we’d need into the Flying Sub and still fit some pilots,” Nelson said with a good natured chuckle.

     “You won’t have to squeeze anything anywhere,” Harper told him firmly, obviously pretty sure of himself.  Nelson’s indulgent smile told Sharkey that he was pushing Harper’s buttons, that the Admiral thought the kid could do it too.  Sharkey still didn’t know how, though.

     “And you can tell me how, exactly, you’re going to accomplish that when you get back,” Nelson said, nodding them on their way.  “Don’t let Mister Harper change anything just yet, Chief.”

     “Yes, sir,” Sharkey said, wondering if the Admiral was kidding about that or not.

     Sharkey lead the way out of Nelson’s office, but Harper trotted up next to him when they were in the corridor and gave him a big grin.  “Dom tells me that if you weren’t around, the Seaview would be in chaos constantly.”

     “The Skipper and the Admiral wouldn’t let things get out of hand, Harper,” Sharkey told the kid firmly.

     “Oh, I’m sure, but they can’t be everywhere all the time.  Riley tells me it’s scary how you are,” Harper replied, undaunted.

     Sharkey smiled smugly.  Riley thought he was scary?  Good!  “Riley needs a lot of looking after,” Sharkey stated, then gave Harper one of his steely Chief’s glares.  “Do you need a lot of looking after, Harper?”  The Chief suspected that the kid could be a handful.

     “Me?  Nah,” Harper said with a sunny smile.  Sharkey barely kept himself from rolling his eyes, thinking that Harper reminded him an awful lot of Riley already.  “Dom tells me that you and some of the other guys on the Seaview really look out for her.  That’s probably the only reason I won’t be freaking out the whole time she’s at sea.  She might not say it, but I appreciate it.”

     Sharkey shrugged to the comment, not really knowing how to respond to it right away.  It had seemed a strange, Doc Babin suddenly having a boyfriend, but Harper seemed like a decent enough guy.  At least he wasn’t all jealous about the Doc being at sea with a hundred other guys while he was stuck back at the Institute.  For some reason, Sharkey had thought Harper might feel threatened by that alone, but the kid seemed good with the situation.  “You don’t need to worry about the Doc.  We all watch out for each other on the Seaview,” Sharkey told him.

     “Yeah and that’s cool,” Harper said with a nod, then grinned again.  “You know, Dom was saying we ought to have everybody over for some dinner and cards and stuff before you guys all ship out again.”

     Sharkey grimaced a little, saying, “She mentioned it.”  Sharkey always felt strange about socializing with the Seaview’s officers, much as Doc Babin didn’t flash her rank around.  She had invited him to her little shindig, but he hadn’t made his mind up about going or not.  If it were just the men from the Seaview going, he might go around to keep them in line, but she had a boyfriend now, tiny as he was, and the sailors would respect that.

     “It sounds like fun,” Harper said enthusiastically as they got onto the elevator down to the Seaview’s underground docking area.  “I’ve never thrown a party before.  Kinda looking forward to it.”  Sharkey cast a quick glance sideways at Harper.  He had his hands in his pockets and he had this big, sunny smile on his face.  He was rocking from heels to toes, looking happy with life in general.  Why were the other Engineers intimidated by this guy?  Harper seemed nice enough, which was probably why Doc Babin was dating him, but he sure didn’t come off as scary smart, like the Admiral.  Of course, Harper had been talking about upgrading the Flying Shuttle so that it was space worthy and the Admiral was acting like the kid wasn’t just blowing smoke.  Sharkey did a mental shrug, turning his eyes forward again as the elevator doors opened again.  Maybe he just wasn’t seeing it.

     “How are the Seaview repairs coming?” Harper asked as they stepped out of the elevator and headed for the Seaview’s dry dock.

     “We’ll get there,” Sharkey replied, not sure how much Harper was supposed to know about that.

     “I’m sure.  I just remember rushing around doing repairs on the Andromeda by myself most of the time.  Sure would have been nice to have more than one or two people to help me.  I’m getting into this whole team concept,” Harper babbled.  Boy, this kid sure liked to talk, Sharkey thought as they went down the cement steps to the quay.  Sharkey held to his silence, figuring he’d have enough to talk about when they go to the Flying Sub.  “Uh, Chief Sharkey?” Harper said uncertainly as he looked into the channel as they walked along it, Sharkey focusing on his goal.

     “Yeah, kid,” Sharkey sighed out, wondering what he was going to have to be evasive about now.

     “Why would the water be doing that?” Harper asked, stopping and looking at something in the channel.  That got Sharkey to stop too.  He moved next to Harper and saw the water in the channel churning in a very disquieting manner.  Sharkey barely got time to look at it before something huge shot up out of the water and let out a squeal that was close enough to fingernails down a chalkboard to make every hair on Sharkey’s body stand up straight.  A huge, dripping, nightmare of a creature loomed over them, tentacles emerging out onto the quay as it started to pull itself out of the channel.  Harper let out a frightened squeak and moved back fast, for which Sharkey was grateful.  The last thing he needed was for the Admiral’s new, prize engineer to get dented.

     “Get out of here, kid!  Go!” Sharkey said, giving Harper pointed shove back in the direction of the elevator.  The kid went at a run, thankfully, without further urging, leaving Sharkey free to deal with the latest batch of insanity that assailed the Seaview far too regularly.  Sharkey made for the arms locker at the back of the dock, shouts and screams already starting to sound out in his wake.  He unlocked the metal door quickly and started tossing weapons into any hand that reached for them, reserving a lazar rifle for himself.  The creature, which looked like part squid, part tiger and part mountain, had pulled itself up on the quay and was shrieking as it tossed sailors around and made toward where the Seaview hung in its dry dock.

     “Damn it, we haven’t even finished fixing her yet!” Sharkey snarled, moving between the creature and the Seaview and letting the thing have it with both barrels.  Gun, rifle and lazar fire pelted the creature from every direction, but the creature didn’t seem to be taking any damage.  It did stop, however, and started lashing out at the men around it with its tentacles, snapping at men with its huge beak.  Bowling sailors over like ten pins and slapping others across the quay, the monster undulated around, edging closer to the Seaview.  Sharkey never stopped firing, the lazar growing hot in his hands as he tried to hit the things eyes or get it in its mouth when it opened its beak to shriek again.  Tentacles kept getting in his way, making Sharkey curse and forcing him to take a step back to keep out of its reach.

     That was when somebody managed to hit the thing in the eye, which drove the creature back a step and made its shriek take on an edge of pain.  Sharkey was thrilled with that until the creature lashed out and snatched up a couple of guys, swinging them around violently.  “No!” Sharkey yelled, redoubling his efforts.  It didn’t help when he saw it was Kowalski and Stevens in the monster’s grip.  The creature starting to bring them toward its beak after lashing them around into senselessness.  It was going to kill them, Sharkey thought in horror.  The creature was going to eat them and he was helpless to stop it!

     Suddenly, there was movement at Sharkey’s elbow and there was a whoosh BOOM! sound that he had never heard before filling the docking area, making his ears ring.  Something invisible seemed to smack the creature hard and it staggered backwards almost to the water, dropping Kowalski and Stevens as it fought to regain its balance.  Sharkey took a second to look next to him, only to see that Harper was back, a fiercely determined look on his face and some sort of fat half gun, half stereo speaker in his hands, aimed at the creature.

     “Aw, crap!” Harper squeaked out, his face falling, and he started turning dials frantically as the creature regained its footing and started back at them with speed.  Before Sharkey or Harper could do more than acknowledge the movement, the weapon was smacked out of Harper’s hands as he and Harper were bowled over by a tentacle.  Harper was yanked abruptly toward the creature, a tentacle around one of his legs.  “Turn up the gain!  Shoot it!  Turn up the gain and shoot it!” he yelled in hysteria at Sharkey as the creature drew him up into the air.

     Sharkey snatched up Harper’s weapon, but didn’t know what to make of it.  It had slowed the creature down for a second when nothing else had, so Sharkey could see where turning it to a higher setting might do better, but he didn’t know how to do it.  “How?” Sharkey shouted back, but Harper had troubles of his own.  The creature whipped him to one of its big eyes violently as he screamed in terror, then smacked him hard into the channel wall.  There was a thud audible even at the distance Sharkey was at and Harper went limp and silent, the creature yanked him down and into the water of the channel rather than letting him go.  Patterson, who was nearby, dropped his gun and dove in after the kid.  Horror at the quickly worsening situation blossomed in Sharkey and he started turning every dial on the Harper’s weapon as far to the right as they would go then brought the weapon back up to his shoulder.

     Sharkey never thought that you could see sound until he pulled the trigger of the weapon.  As something like a sonic boom filled the docking area, Sharkey could swear that he saw the air ripple in a column toward the creature.  It flew backwards, one of its eyes bursting messily, but it tried to recover and pull itself back into action.  Sharkey didn’t give it a chance, firing again with confidence now that he had the aim of the sound gun figured out.  This blow caught the creature dead center and threw it into the channel wall, which cracked under the force of the blow.  The creature let out a wheeze, then collapsed half on the quay, half in the channel, and didn’t move again.

     There were moans and shouts as the men started to pick themselves up, but Sharkey took no notice of them.  He dropped the sound gun and ran to the channel’s edge, searching the water frantically.  Some of the other men came too, murmuring in concern, but Sharkey ignored them as he cast his eyes everywhere clear in the channel.  The water was still churning around, but Sharkey didn’t see Patterson or Harper.  Just as he was about to rip off his shoes and dive in, Patterson surfaced, tugging Harper’s limp body after him.

     Everyone knew the drill.  Harper was out of the water and being handed up onto the quay quickly, but carefully, the men making every effort not to move his neck or back.  Sharkey was there when he was laid out, quickly feeling for respiration and a pulse, finding neither.  He ripped the kid’s shirt open and listened through his t-shirt at his chest.  There was nothing.

     “Come on, kid.  Don’t die on my watch.  Your girlfriend’ll never forgive me,” Sharkey muttered as he made sure Harper’s mouth and breathing passage were clear, then started CPR.  Before he knew it, Nelson was there, taking over blowing air into the kid’s lungs as Sharkey kept up the chest compressions.  “Breathe, kid, breathe,” Sharkey muttered as they worked.

     “What happened?” came Jamieson’s voice.  He and a corpsman took over trying to bring Harper back.  As the corpsman forced air into the kid’s lungs, Jamieson ripped Harper’s t-shirt open to put sensor pads quickly down on him.  Sharkey’s breath caught as he saw the scars all over the kid’s chest and stomach, his mind not able to accept them being there.  Harper was a happy go lucky guy, not the sort that might have been subjected to that sort of damage.  There were a couple of gasps from group of men watching from nearby.  Sharkey wasn’t the only one taken aback by this revelation.  Someone had tortured Harper, had cut him up and burned him bad and done other terrible things to him, and not recently.  Fury rose from Sharkey’s gut, making his vision go a little red.  Who would do this, and to a child?  No wonder the Admiral was being so protective of Harper.  The kid had been kicked around way too much already.

     “That thing, Harper got it to drop Stevens and Kowalski with that sound weapon of his, but he didn’t hit it hard enough and it grabbed him, smacked him into the wall and dragged him under,” Patterson said as Jamieson picked up where Sharkey had left off.  Jamieson just grunted in response to what Pat had said, concentrating on bringing Harper’s heart back into action.  Sharkey stared at the monitor, at the straight line that said that Harper’s heart wasn’t beating.  The line jumped slightly with each compression Jamieson made, but that was it.

     “Damn it, Harper, don’t make me sorry I didn’t lock you up somewhere sterile when I had the chance,” Jamieson swore under his breath as kept pumping on the kid’s chest.  He was eyeing the defibrillator on the cart that held the monitor, but seemed to be hesitant to use it for some reason.

     “Just breathe, kid,” Sharkey willed the engineer softly.  As if on cue, Harper’s body jerked just as the monitor’s line began to show a rhythm.  Harper started coughing up water and throwing up what looked to be everything he’d eaten over the last three days.  Jamieson and the corpsman quickly moved the kid onto his side and they held Harper until he stopped retching and fell still again.  He didn’t seem to have regained consciousness even with all the vomiting.  As they laid him on his back and put an oxygen mask on him, Sharkey found himself letting go of a breath he hadn’t realized that he’d been holding.  He couldn’t believe how relieved he was that Harper was alive.  The rhythm of Harper’s heart looked unsteady, but it was beating and Jamieson had settled back on his heels, drawing a few steadying breaths himself.

     “Get an ambulance here, on the double!” the Skipper was ordering from somewhere behind Sharkey.

     “No,” Nelson countermanded the order sternly.  Sharkey turned to him, giving him a look of confusion, but Nelson either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  “Jamie, you can see to him all right, can’t you?  You know what would happen at a hospital.”

     Jamieson’s mouth tightened for a moment, showing that the doctor agreed with the Admiral’s statement, but wasn’t happy about it.  Sharkey’s confusion intensified.  Why would Harper going to a hospital make something happen?  “I might change my mind about that, Admiral.  I need to do a thorough examination to make sure that drowning was the worst thing that happened to him, but if there’s nothing else, I guess there isn’t anything that they could do for him at the hospital that I can’t do here.”

     “Good,” the Admiral said, seeming relieved.  “You let me know if you need anything at all for him, and you’ll have it.”  Jamieson nodded and he sent the corpsman off for a stretcher team, then turned his full attention back to the unconscious kid.  Ski and Stevens were standing a little behind Jamieson, looking on worriedly.  Harper had most likely saved their lives and Sharkey was certain that neither of the sailors wanted the engineer to suffer any more than he already had for it.  They were probably bruised and battered, but neither was going to distract Jamieson at the moment.  Patterson, wrapped in a towel, moved by Ski and put a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder.  Ski gave him a tight lipped nod of acknowledgment, but there was no question who his thoughts centered on at the moment.

     “Admiral...” the Skipper started, plainly about to question why Harper wasn’t being sped to the nearest hospital.  Sharkey was rather curious about that himself.

     “Captain, my office,” Nelson interrupted him tersely.  As Nelson and Crane left, Sharkey watched Harper being moved to a stretcher.  Jamieson and his men bustled the kid off to the Infirmary as everyone watched on in silence.

     “He’s gonna be all right,” Ski said as if trying to convince himself of it.  “Harper’s tougher than he looks.  He’ll be okay.”

     “Harper deserves a medal, that’s what,” Stevens declared ardently.  “None of those other brain guys working up in the labs woulda put their necks on the line for us, that’s for sure.  Too high and mighty to care what happens to us.  We test their toys and risk our lives for them to prove all their science stuff and they never once say thanks or anything.  Harper’s not like them, though.  He’s like the Admiral.  He’s okay.”  There was a general murmur of agreement among the sailors present.  Sharkey grinned a little.  Heaven help Portman or his cronies if they started talking Harper down in front of any of the crew now.

     “All right, all right.  Enough gabbing.  The Seaview isn’t gonna repair herself, you know.  Get back to work.  Make sure that berthing is secure and clear up this mess,” Sharkey ordered.  “Kowalski, Stevens, Patterson, any of you guys need patching up?”

     “We’re fine, Chief,” Kowalski said, looking to the others for agreement, which he readily got.  “You just tell us if the Doc needs blood or anything like that for Harper, okay?”  Again, every one of the sailor’s assembled echoed Ski’s sentiment, then they all went back to what they’d been doing before the attack or began to work out the logistics of clearing the dead creature.

     Sharkey smiled a little again.  Harper might not get a medal, but he had sure gotten himself approval from the crew.  Sharkey only hoped that Harper would be all right and be able to enjoy it.  If he and Doc Babin threw their party, Sharkey would go, if only to show the kid a little appreciation for what he’d done.  Apparently, Harper had taken Sharkey’s words about the Seaview’s crew looking out for each other to heart.  He might be staying back at the Institute when they shipped out, but as far as Sharkey was concerned, Harper was one of them now.

* * *

 

 

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Belonging, Chapter One
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