Michelle Pichette


Chapter 41



* * *

     It was just after midnight when Nelson returned to the infirmary to check on Harper.  Jamieson had sent Doctor Babin home a couple of hours ago, telling her that Harper was sedated and wouldn’t wake until morning.  Nelson had told Jamieson to get a little sleep himself then, that he would sit with Harper for a few hours and would summon him if anything worrisome happened.  It was the least he could do for the boy considering what Harper had done for the Institute.  Involving corpsmen in the boy’s care might be dangerous.  Nelson didn’t want anyone asking questions about Harper’s neural interface.  He would have to talk to Harper about the possibility of removing the external parts.  It was too noticeable and sooner or later, someone would start wondering what it was.

     Harper had slept quietly and after a while, Nelson had gone to smoke a cigarette then quickly check the clean up at the docks.  The huge creature had been bundled off to the labs and Nelson had frowned at the dent in the channel wall.  That no one had been killed was miraculous, another thing that Nelson owed to Harper.  He was starting to think that perhaps a cat wandering the Institute might not be so bothersome after all.

     Jamieson had told Nelson that he wanted to keep an eye on for Harper for twenty four hours and, if no complications arose and the boy promised to rest quietly in his quarters or at Doctor Babin’s house for a few days, he’d release Harper from the Infirmary.  He also said that he didn’t want Harper allowed near the Seaview’s dock again for a good long time.  Nelson had agreed, deciding that he would have the Flying Sub moved to the Institute’s airfield and that they would work on it there.  He didn’t want Harper to come to further harm any more than Jamie did.

     As Nelson reentered the Institute’s infirmary, he became alarmed.  Harper was not in his bed.  Nelson looked around frantically, thinking he couldn’t have been gone more than half an hour.  To his relief, within seconds he found Harper.  He was sitting at the small desk Jamieson kept in the room, his head pillowed on his arm, fast asleep.  Nelson let out a deep breath that he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and moved quietly to where Harper was sleeping.  He was also glad that he’d sent off to Harper’s quarters for what he normally slept in, so at least the boy wasn’t sitting there naked and cold.  When he reached the desk, Nelson found a pencil still resting in the young man’s limp hand and a shakily drawn diagram on the desk.  The Admiral squinted at it in the dim lighting of the room and was able to make out the basic shape of the sound weapon that Harper had used earlier.  Feeling a little guilty over dressing Harper down earlier, Nelson smiled softly and gently ruffled the sleeping boy’s hair, wondering what sort of cat he should buy.

     Harper let out a quiet whimper, then a feeble cough, then said something in a language Nelson had never heard before.  The murmured words were full of fear and the Admiral’s mouth went flat as he wondered which of Harper’s terrible life experiences was troubling his dreams tonight.  Stroking the boy’s hair again, hoping to sooth the bad dreams away, Nelson glanced over his shoulder, wondering if he could move him to his bed without waking him.  Harper sobbed again, then screamed and startled himself awake, rising slightly from where he had been half sitting.  He looked up at Nelson with large, frightened eyes and didn’t seem to recognize him.  That thought was confirmed as Harper let out a small sound of dread and backed a little from Nelson’s still outstretched hand.

     “It’s all right, Seamus,” Nelson said, making a calming motion with his hands.  He didn’t attempt to touch the frightened boy, not wanting to upset him further while he was half awake at best.  “You’re safe.  You were having a nightmare.”

     Harper cast a few frightened glances around the room, his eyes always snapping quickly back to Nelson, as he let out a short stream of the words that Nelson didn’t understand.  He peered at the Admiral, then recognition flickered over the boy’s face.  Harper closed his eyes for a moment, shook his head slightly, then opened his eyes, murmuring, “Head feels like it’s full of fluff.”

     “You’re under sedation,” Nelson said, feeling relieved.  He moved to Harper’s side, helping him to rise and move back to his abandoned bed.  Harper leaned on him heavily, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, and he felt a little too warm.  Nelson would take his temperature once he was settled again.  “I’m surprised you made it out of bed.  It’s amazing that you managed to put anything coherent down on paper.  Seamus, when I said that I wanted schematics for your sound weapon, I didn’t mean by tomorrow.”

     “You were mad at me and I wanted to fix it,” Harper yawned mournfully as Nelson settled him back into bed.  He sounded like a regretful child, but one that was more than a little asleep.

     Nelson gently patted the boy’s shoulder as he pulled the blanket back over him.  “I wasn’t angry with you, son.  Just sleep.”  He hardly needed to say the final two words, since Harper had already drifted back off.  Nelson gently ruffled the young man’s hair again, then tucked him back securely into bed, hoping Harper would stay put this time.  Nelson returned to the desk and took the notes Harper had made, thinking Jamie would be furious if he knew that his patient had been wandering around and working in the middle of the night.  Nelson glanced back over at the sleeping boy and smiled, thinking again how happy he was with this particular intrusion that the future made on the present.

     Turning to get a thermometer to take Harper’s temperature with, Nelson found himself face to face with Barris, who was showing his toothy grin.  Nelson’s eyes narrowed and he took a step to the side, putting himself between the alien and the helpless young man behind him.  “Get out of my Institute and don’t come back,” Nelson growled softly, hoping that Barris was unaware of Harper and that it would stay that way.  He certainly didn’t want the alien anywhere near the injured young man, not after the way Barris had been talking about him before.

     “I was wondering if you would like aid in repairing the damage the creature caused,” Barris said, not seeming to take notice of Nelson’s words or tone.

     “Damage you are responsible for,” Nelson replied, taking a threatening step forward, hoping to back Barris out of the room.

     “I did nothing,” Barris said, trying to sound innocent and failing miserably.  He also didn’t move, much as Nelson was willing him to do so.  “I merely warned you of a threat to your property, a show of good faith.  Your new pet’s toy damaged your channel wall, yet you pat its head and show it affection.  You should beat it soundly and teach it caution.  I did tell you that you should.  Its previous master preferred whips or batons, but he did vary punishment.  It was much more obedient after a good, sound beating, just as a pet should be.”

     “Pet!” Nelson snarled, beginning to hate the word.  He was horrified to think that what Barris was saying was true, that Harper had been whipped and beaten regularly.  The boy’s body bore testament to the truth of Barris’ words and Nelson was appalled that the alien seemed to think Nelson would continue that sadistic practice.

     “Yes, let me show you,” Barris said with an evil grin.  Nelson tensed, thinking the alien intended to beat Harper, but instead the room faded around them and Nelson found himself standing in the middle of a hideous slum.  Filthy, thin, rag clad people shuffled around him and Barris, eying them warily.  Other, slightly better dressed and groomed people stood by ragged stalls, selling and trading goods.  Large, fit men that bore weapons watched over the area aloofly, sneering at the squalor before them.

     “There,” Barris said, pointing to where one of these men was approaching a woman trying to trade at one of the stalls.  The others had moved on, because Nelson didn’t see them anymore as he looked quickly around.  That was when the woman moved slightly and Nelson saw something else.  Standing by her, clinging to her skirts and coughing weakly, was a child.  He couldn’t have been older than three, but his large blue eyes, which seemed to be taking in everything, looked as though they had already seen several lifetimes worth of pain.  Though the young man currently sleeping in the Institute infirmary bore no more than a passing resemblance to the small, starving child, Nelson knew he was looking at Harper.

     Nelson was startled when the large man, who had strange, protruding bones on his forearms, grabbed Harper’s mother by the hair and pulled her to her knees in front of him, saying, “We’re looking for a new server at our house.  You look fit and healthy enough.”  This was obviously one of the Nietzscheans that Harper had described and Nelson quickly came to hate them as much as the boy did, especially when this one kicked the child Harper away from his mother, saying, “That can rot.”

     “You see?” Barris said, his words oozing malice.

     “No... Please, M...Master...” Harper’s mother stuttered out in fear, reaching for her child.  The Nietzschean threw her to the ground and went to where Harper lay weeping in terror.  The Nietzschean drew out something like a policeman’s nightstick and began to beat the frightened child before him mercilessly while Harper’s mother pleaded for him to stop, that she would go with him, just to stop.

     Nelson remembered everything Harper had told him about the Nietzscheans as a people.  That they were genetically altered humans, that they were stronger, faster, better, questing for physical perfection and coming very near to it.  That they were highly intelligent, but cruel and merciless.  That a normal, Earthborn human stood no chance against one of them in a fight.

     None of that mattered when Nelson grabbed the sadistic bully’s arm to stop the next blow from coming down.  He then went at him with everything he had.  Nelson fought dirty, using every underhanded trick that he had ever learned to bring another man low, and he brought every bit of fury at what had been going on before him into each blow he landed.  Surprise probably had given him enough of an edge to get the much larger man down and once he did, Nelson was determined to make sure he stayed there.  No one around him moved, except for Harper’s mother, who rushed to her child and lifted him carefully into her arms as she sobbed.

     Once Nelson had knocked the bully cold, he turned to the woman, who was staring at him with large, frightened, tear filled eyes as she cradled her son against her.  Nelson looked at the small, bleeding, unconscious boy in her arms and moved a little closer.  “Is... is he too badly hurt?” he asked gently.  He stopped an arm’s length away, afraid to frighten the poor woman even worse.  “Can I help?”

     “You... you’re not from here, are you?” the woman asked.  She probably thought he was a space traveler, Nelson knew.  She hugged her son to her and began to cry suddenly and said, “You’re a good man.  I can tell you are.”  With trembling arms, she held her son out to Nelson.  “He’s a good boy.  He’ll work hard for you.  He’s very smart and quick.  B... but he won’t ask for anything.  He’s used to having nothing.  He won’t trouble you.  Will you take him with you?  Please?  Away from here, away from this.  I know you’ll be kind to him.  I know.”

     Nelson’s heart broke.  He was a total stranger to this woman, but she would entrust her son, who she clearly loved with all her heart, to him just to get him away from the life she was doomed to.  She didn’t ask for herself, only for him, looking to Nelson with large, pleading eyes identical to Harper’s.  He began to hold out his arms to tell her that they could both come with him, that he would save them, but suddenly, he was back at the Institute, facing Barris.

     “You see?  Even its own mother wanted to be rid of it.  And she gave it to you, so it truly is yours to do with as you wish.  One of my crew sent it to this time so that scientists could make use of the technology in its body, or perhaps to study the defects in it to protect future generations of your people from them,” Barris said, making Nelson’s anger and grief over what he’d just seen falter with surprise.  Barris was responsible for Harper being here?  “You should start with your experiments on it and the nanobots and neural net units in it soon.  It does have the unfortunate habit of frequently damaging itself and it could destroy –“

     HOW DARE YOU!” Nelson demanded in fury.  One of Barris’ crew had beaten and tormented the boy, then sent him back in time to be tortured and killed, obviously planning for him to fall into the hands of one of the amoral scientists that Harper feared so much.  And Barris had condoned what his crew member had done and was, in fact, encouraging Nelson to do something unspeakably evil and seemed to think it was acceptable because of Harper’s health problems, because he’d been the son of a slave.  “Seamus is a human being and you’re talking about him like he’s...”

     “It is deficient.  It is broken.  It was property before it stole itself from its master.  It is your property now, to do with as you desire.  It deserves no regard.  I understand that humans enjoy their pets, but it is still...“ Barris started, sounding weary about the topic.

     “Get out of my base!” Nelson demanded, so enraged that everything he saw had taken on a reddish hue.  If he hadn’t needed to protect Harper, he would have gone to get something to destroy Barris with, but he wouldn’t leave Harper alone with Barris, not for a second.  “I’m going to get a laser pistol and keep it on me at all times just in case you decide to ignore that instruction.  The next time I see you, I will shoot you until I’m sure that you won’t bother me or anyone else again!  I will blast you into ashes!”

     Barris sniffed, glancing past Nelson, giving Harper a look of disdain.  “Such passion over a pathetic, worthless thing,” he muttered, sounding angry and, perhaps, confused.  However, Barris vanished, but fury still rippled through Nelson.  He wanted to kill Barris for what he’d had done to Harper.  Who else had suffered after being deemed ‘worthless’ by the alien?  If Barris returned to the Institute, no one else ever would.  Nelson would make very certain of that.

     Nelson turned to Harper, who had somehow managed to remain asleep though all the commotion, and forced himself to calm.  The poor, poor boy, Nelson thought, thinking of the tiny glimpse he’d had of Harper’s past.  It was worse than Nelson had imagined and he knew the incident he’d witnessed was mild compared to what would follow.  How had Harper survived?  How could anyone?  The Admiral frowned, all the more determined that nothing but good would be in Harper’s future.  He walked back to the sleeping boy, set a hand gently on his head.  Closing his eyes, he placed himself back at the scene he’d been pulled away from, and in his mind he took the tiny, bleeding child being held out to him by a desperate mother.  “No one will hurt him anymore,” he promised the frightened woman that would not be born for thousands of years.  “I’ll protect him from now on.  He’ll be safe with me.  I promise.”

     Harper didn’t stir under his hand, but Nelson suddenly realized that he was beginning to get very warm.  Laying his wrist on the boy’s cheek, Nelson was sure that Harper was warmer than he had been when he’d been lying on the desk a few moments ago.  Frowning, Nelson turned down the blanket over Harper and gently laid a hand on the boy’s chest, but his heartbeat was strong and steady.  That was a bit of a relief.  Harper murmured something too quietly for him to hear, then coughed feebly and began to wheeze very softly when he exhaled.  Nelson frowned, able to feel that Harper’s breathing had become uneven.  He wouldn’t leave Harper alone, not now that he knew that Barris had sent him back in time to be tortured and killed, so he did the only thing he could.  He walked back to Jamie’s desk, picked up the telephone, and dialed.

     “Doctor Jamieson, I’m sorry to wake you.  I would have come in person to get you, but I don’t want to leave Harper right now.  I think one of the complications you expressed worry over is going to be a problem after all.”

* * *

     Lee went into the cafeteria the morning after the creature’s attack and got the surprise of his life.  Harper was sitting at one of the tables, pale as death, eyes closed, holding a glass of what looked like cola to his face.  Had Jamie released the kid already?  Lee sincerely doubted it considering how bad Harper looked and that fact that he looked to be wearing sleep pants and a t-shirt.  Suddenly Lee felt incredibly guilty about all the times he’d snuck away from Jamieson’s care when he had been all but at death’s door.  Taking a deep breath, Lee walked over to where Harper was, ready to drag the kid back to the Infirmary if necessary.

     “What do you think you’re doing?” Lee asked, then winced at how the words sounded to his own ears.  He hadn’t intended to say anything anywhere near that harsh.

     Harper opened his eyes, but only a little.  He looked feverous and exhausted as he glared up at Lee.  “What?  Am I dying too loud for you?” Harper wheezed out, then let out a deep, chesty cough that sounded like bronchitis at best.  It took Harper a minute to catch his breath, and even when he did, it looked like breathing was taking a lot of effort and that it was hurting him.  The kid leaned his face back against his glass, looking done in.

     “You need to go back to the Infirmary,” Lee told him, half wondering how Harper had managed to get himself all the way to the cafeteria in the first place in the condition he was in.  How many times had he done this very thing?  He owed Jamie a huge apology.

     “Need you to mind your own freakin’ business,” Harper wheezed, closing his eyes and rested his forehead against the coolness of his soda as he fought to catch his breath again.

     Lee shook his head.  Now that he was closer to the little man, he could hear that each of Harper’s exhales made a wheezing, whistling sound that screamed ‘pneumonia!’ or something equally life threatening.  Harper needed to go back to the Infirmary and it wasn’t as if he looked to have the strength to put up a fight about it.  Lee walked next to him, fully ready to throw the kid over his shoulder and carry him if necessary.  “Come on.  Let’s go,” Lee said, taking the glass from Harper’s almost limp hands.  This close to the kid, Lee could feel heat radiating off him, the fever burning in Harper more severe than Lee had thought, making getting him to Jamieson even more urgent.

     Harper opened his eyes to glare at him again, making him hesitate.  “Just leave me alone, Crane.  Not like you care.  We both know you want me gone.  Congrats.  Almost got your wish.  Still might.  Go celebrate elsewhere,” Harper whispered out breathlessly, started to wave him off but ended up hunched over as a coughing fit seized him.  Harper’s words cut Lee to the quick.  He had never wanted anything even remotely like this to happen to Harper.

     Before Lee could respond, Dom’s voice came from across the room.  “Seamus!”  She was by them in an instant and she gave Lee a none too gentle push away from Harper.  Kowalski, who was on Dom’s heels, gave Lee an embarrassed look as Dom bent to Harper and cradled him against her chest, caressing him gently as he got his cough under control.  “Sweetie, everyone’s been searching everywhere for you.  You’re too sick to be up.  Why did you leave the Infirmary?” she asked him worriedly once he was quiet again.

     “Wanna go home with you.  Don’t w... wanna get locked in a sterile room,” Harper whimpered, wrapping his arms around Dom and weakly holding on to her as he pressed his face against her chest and coughed feebly again.  Harper’s words horrified Lee.  Did Harper think that Jamieson or anyone here at the Institute would harm him as the people that had experimented on him had?

     “No one is going to do that,” Dom told him softly, stroking his hair gently.  “You know I wouldn’t let them.”

     “Me neither,” Kowalski chimed in, moving to the other side of Harper’s chair.  “You saved my life, buddy.  Nobody touches you unless they want to go through me.”  Ski looked to Dom for approval then carefully unwrapped Harper from around her.  “Come on.  Let’s get you fixed up, okay?” Kowalski asked as Harper feebly looked up at him.  The fight seemed to have gone out of him and he nodded, letting Kowalski pull him to his feet and help him toward the door.  Harper didn’t get more than a half dozen steps away from the table before his legs gave out and he began to collapse to the floor.  Dom made a small alarmed sound, but Ski caught him and easily lifted him onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, saying, “You just take it easy, pal.  I’ve got you.”  Harper coughed feebly into Kowalski’s shoulder as Ski carried him at quick walk out of the room.

     Dom followed them, looking intensely worried and Lee started to come as well, when Dom stopped and turned to him with a furious look.  “What did you do to him?” she demanded.

     Lee was hurt by the accusation.  “Nothing.  I was trying to get him to go back to the Infirmary,” he pled his innocence.

     Dom didn’t look like she believed him at all.  “You... you just leave Seamus alone, Lee Crane,” she said, sounding angry and frightened, then quickly went after Kowalski without another word.

     Lee was cut to the quick.  He had been trying to do exactly what Kowalski had just done and Dom was angry with him again!  He frowned and went after her, but at a walk, not wanting another confrontation.  When he got to the Infirmary, Nelson was there in the waiting area, looking in through observation window.  Lee moved next to him and could see Jamieson checking over Harper, who was back in bed, but almost sitting because the top of the bed tilted up at about a forty five degree angle.  Dom was standing on Harper’s other side, holding his hand and stroking his arm, saying something, probably reassuring him.  Harper shied towards her, away from Jamieson, but didn’t try to rise from where he was.  He didn’t look as though he had the strength to anyway.  Kowalski stood behind Dom, hands on her shoulders, looking concerned about what was going on in front of him.

     “What happened?  I thought Harper was all right.  I found him in the cafeteria.  He sounded awful,” Lee said, feeling helpless.

     “Harper started running a fever in the middle of the night,” Nelson said, worry etching his features.  “It wasn’t too bad at first, then he started wheezing and his temperature shot up fast.  This morning, Jamie left him for a moment to get something to try to help ease his breathing and Harper just disappeared out of the Infirmary.  I don’t know how he got all the way to the cafeteria.  I wouldn’t think he’s strong enough to sit up on his own right now.  Doctor Babin and I had been trying to stay out of Jamie’s way earlier, but I doubt she’ll leave Harper’s side now.”

     “But what happened?” Lee asked again.  “Was there something in the channel water?  Should we be checking on Patterson?”

     Nelson shook his head, still not looking away from the observation window.  “Harper’s lungs and immune system were severely damaged when he was young.  He’s vulnerable to infections, especially of a respiratory nature and all that filthy channel water flooded his lungs yesterday.  I just hope... No.  We caught it in time.  He’ll be all right.”  Despite the surety of his words, Nelson sounded desperately worried for Harper.  Lee had to admit, what he’d seen and heard in the cafeteria hadn’t been good at all.

     Lee looked back to where Jamieson was injecting Harper with something.  Harper was half turned from him, sheltering as much as he could in Dom’s arms.  The poor kid just looked so sick and frightened.  “He thought Jamie was going to hurt him,” Lee said, unable to imagine such a thing.  “He thought he was going to get locked in a room and... I don’t know what else.  He asked Dom to take him to her house.  I guess he thought it would be safe from whatever he was afraid of there.”  Lee wanted to ask what the twisted people that had experimented on Harper had done to him.  He wanted to know why they were out of the reach of justice.  He wanted to do something, but he couldn’t do anything but watch while Jamie tried to make Harper lie back and rest while Harper tried to be as far away from him as possible without leaving his bed.

     Slowly, Harper went still and Kowalski helped Jamieson move him gently back against his pillows, then Jamieson put in a nasal intubation and set up an IV.  Dom didn’t move from Harper’s side or release his hand, looking scared half to death as she stroked his sweat soaked hair.  After a few more minutes, Jamie came out to where they were, his face tired and grim.  “He’s sleeping, but only because I forced the issue with sedatives,” Jamieson told Nelson, almost sounding like it was an apology.

     “You do what you have to, Jamie,” Nelson told him.

     “You don’t understand.  I’m walking dangerous ethical ground right now.  Harper told me he didn’t want the sedative, that he wanted to leave my care.  A patient made his wishes very clear and I ignored them,” Jamieson said, what he’d done obviously bothering him in the extreme despite the fact that he had done everything he had just said in order to save Harper’s life.

     “Harper is too sick to know what he wants or needs, Jamie,” Nelson told the doctor, laying a hand on his shoulder.  “When he’s better, he’ll thank you.  Right now, getting him better is our biggest concern, isn’t it?”

     Jamieson seemed to take a little heart from Nelson’s words and nodded.  “Getting him past this morning, never mind better, is going to be difficult.  His immune system is so weak that it’s going to be touch and go at best.  Lower respiratory infections are never good, especially for someone whose lungs are as damaged as Harper’s.  What’s making it worse, not that things could be much worse, is that whatever he caught just before Doctor Babin found him also attacked his lungs and weakened him severely.  He didn’t have time to rebuild his reserves, so he has practically nothing left to fight this with.  He needed to rest quietly, conserve his strength, so his little jaunt across the Institute didn’t help matters.  I’m doing everything I can think of to break up this infection fast, so he doesn’t have to fight too hard for too long.  Exhaustion alone could kill him at this point.  And even if I can get his lungs clear as quickly as I need to, all this is going to leave him with too weak to battle anything new that comes at him.”

     “Then nothing will,” Nelson said firmly.  “I’ll ask Miss Simmons to fetch whatever Doctor Babin might need from her house.  As long as she stays with him, Harper will rest quietly, and I know she won’t object to staying close until he’s out of danger and recovered some strength.”

     Jamieson nodded, then glanced back to the Infirmary.  “I need to get back.  The next few hours are going to be crucial.”

     “Is there anything we can do to help?” Lee asked, feeling like there had to be.  Harper shouldn’t be punished this way for his selfless act of bravery.  It wasn’t fair.

     “Some prayers probably wouldn’t hurt,” Jamieson said, then went back to Harper’s side.  Nelson watched him go, the worried look back now that Jamieson wasn’t there to see it.

     “I’ll go ask Ro to pack a bag for Dom,” Lee said, knowing that the Admiral wanted to stay close for now, until the worst was over.

     “Thank you, Lee,” Nelson said a little absently, but Lee knew where his thoughts were at the moment.  Lee glanced through the window again, seeing Jamie taking Harper’s pulse, Dom still caressing his hair slowly and tenderly.  Kowalski was sitting by her now, saying something as he rubbed her shoulder.  Lee looked at the pale, spent young man that he’d been so convinced was going to bring harm on the Institute and felt ashamed again for treating him so unfairly.  Harper had to get well.  Lee had to make things right between them, so Harper had to get better.

* * *



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