Michelle Pichette


Chapter 42




* * *

     Nelson didn’t know when he’d fallen asleep out in the Infirmary waiting room.  Harper had been so suddenly and terribly ill that the Admiral had not wanted to go far in case something was immediately needed.  Even worse, he feared that Barris might come to spirit the boy away from their care.  He had left the Infirmary just long enough to get a laser pistol to guard against any such thing happening.  Now he was being roused by a gentle shoulder shake and couldn’t believe he had let down his guard this way.

     Jamieson was standing over him, looking as exhausted as Nelson felt, saying, “Harri, you should go get some sleep.  I don’t want any more patients to tend to.”

     Nelson sat up, regaining his wits, somewhat relieved that he’d looked at the clock a mere half hour ago, so he couldn’t have been asleep long.  “How is Seamus?” he asked, for Jamie had been in with the boy for the last ten hours, carefully watching over him, doing everything he could to keep Harper alive.  Nelson hadn’t wanted to disturb him, hadn’t wanted to do anything that might tip the scales against Harper, so he hadn’t had any updates since the morning.  Some of what had been going on in the Infirmary had been pretty worrisome to watch.

     “His fever broke an hour ago,” Jamie said quietly, glancing over his shoulder toward where Harper lay.  “And his lungs seem to be starting to clear.  He’s going to be weak as a newborn for a while, but unless something else happens, he’ll pull through.  I thought we were going to lose him, Harri, but the kid’s a fighter.  I’m sure the nanobots tipped the scales, but even with them working with me and all the help I could give him, Harper had to struggle for every breath for a while there.  I don’t know where he found the strength, but I’m glad he did.”

     “So he’s out of danger?” Nelson asked, wanting to know for certain.

     “Yes, for now,” Jamieson said, the Admiral finally allowing the tension in him to ease away a little.  “But we both know how tenuous that is.  He’s got no strength left, Harri.  We need to keep a very close eye on him for a while and pray he doesn’t relapse.  Harper needs to stay still and rest quietly, probably for a lot longer than he’ll want to.  Will you talk to him?  Make it an order that he give himself time to recuperate if need be?  I’m going to have Doctor Babin do the same thing.  He’ll do it if both of you ask him to.”

     Nelson nodded, saying, “Of course, Jamie.”  He drew in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, glad that he would have the opportunity to give that order.

     Jamieson seemed to be doing the same, running a hand up through his hair and looking exhausted but relieved.  “If you’d asked me a few days ago if he could survive something as devastating as this, I would have said no.  I’ve never been so happy about being wrong in my life,” he sighed out.

     Nelson could only think that Jamieson had no idea how much Harper could endure, how truly strong he was.  “Can I look in on him?” he asked, not wanting to do it if any harm would come to Harper if he did.

     “For a few seconds, then go get some sleep.  I really don’t need anyone else getting sick for a while,” Jamie said, looking like he could use a few days of sleep himself.

     Nelson nodded his agreement and Jamie accompanied him into the Infirmary.  He looked over to the bed where Harper lay propped up, probably to make breathing easier.  Doctor Babin lay by him, curled up against his side, one hand resting on his chest and her head on his shoulder.  Harper had an arm wrapped loosely around her and looked content as they slept together.  Nelson doubted if Doctor Babin had slept at all yesterday and was probably as exhausted as he felt.  Actually, Nelson thought with a little smile, the scene before him was rather touching.

     “I know it’s a little unorthodox, but I told Doctor Babin to stay as close to Harper as she wanted.  I’m grateful that he trusts her as fully as he does,” Jamie said at a whisper.  “I wish I’d had her in here from the start so he wouldn’t have run off like he had this morning.  If she hadn’t been the one to find him, hadn’t been here with him when Kowalski brought him back, all this would have been too much for him.  The poor kid was so scared that I was going to strap him down and lock him away.  I wish I hadn’t threatened him with a sterile environment like I had.  It came back at me with a vengeance.  We desperately need to get him over his terror of doctors, not reinforce it.”

     Nelson nodded, feeling a little guilty about that as well, saying, “While he’s recovering, we’ll work on that.”  He moved next to Harper, who was as pale as the sheets on his bed, but aside from the slight wheeze when he exhaled, he was quiet and seemed far better than when Nelson had last been this close to him.  He wasn’t radiating heat like a furnace and was sleeping with a peaceful expression on his face.  Harper looked so young and Nelson thought briefly about seeing him as a child, clinging to his mother’s skirts.  Harper had survived so many hard times between then and now, but the Admiral had every intention of making sure that difficult times were few and far between for the young man from now on.  He reached out and gently ruffled the boy’s hair with a soft smile, silently wishing him pleasant dreams.

     To Nelson’s surprise, Harper’s eyes opened ever so slightly and he blinked slowly up at him.  “You have to stop scaring us, son,” Nelson said softly to the boy, stroking the hair he had just messed up back down again.

     “Sorry,” came a whisper of a reply, barely audible even in the quiet of the room.  The one soft word seemed to steal the boy’s breath and Harper coughed weakly, Nelson stroking his head again to reassure him as he steadied his breathing.  Doctor Babin murmured something inaudible and absently stroked Harper’s chest, not quite waking.  Harper’s eyes moved to her as a ghost of a smile passed over his face, then Harper looked back to Nelson, his eyelids sagging.  Nelson didn’t know how he was even conscious, he looked so utterly done in.

     “You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Nelson told him, stroking his head again.  “Rest quietly now.  Let your lungs heal.”  Harper gave him a half nod, looking as though even that much effort was nearly beyond him as his eyes drooped mostly shut again.  “Would you like me to move Dominica so that you can be more comfortable?” he asked.  Harper shook his head once as his arm tightened briefly around Doctor Babin, then fell lax again.  “All right then.  You sleep and do whatever Doctor Jamieson tells you to do.”

     Harper’s eyes opened a bit more once again and he mouthed the words, “No sterile room.”

     Nelson couldn’t tell if it was intended to be a question or a demand, but the Admiral petted Harper’s head and said, “No, of course not.  You’re not some weakling that needs such drastic measures.”  A smile flittered briefly over Harper’s lips, but he looked too spent to do it in earnest.  “Sleep now, Seamus.  Rest and get better,” Nelson ordered, patting Harper very gently on the shoulder.  Harper gave him another half nod, then seemed to drift off immediately.

     “I’ll keep an eye on things while you get some sleep,” Jamie said quietly as Nelson moved his hand away from the exhausted boy.  “When you get back, I’ll get some sleep.  I know I can count on you and Doctor Babin to call me immediately if anything else happens.”

     “Of course, Jamie.  I’ll be back in a few hours,” Nelson said, thinking he would take a quick nap back at his office.  With Doctor Babin so close to Harper, Barris wouldn’t come around.  It was odd, but Barris only seemed to make his appearances when Nelson would be the only one aware of his presence.  In this instance, Nelson was glad for it.

     “I’d like to tell you eight hours, but since we both know it won’t happen, just try to get as much sleep as you can,” Jamieson told him, then looked back at his patient.  “Harper certainly won’t be doing much but sleeping for the next few days, then we have to make sure he rests and eats as much as possible as soon as he’s able to do more than sleep.  I’d like him to gain a little weight before he leaves the Infirmary, then a lot after.”

     “That I will whole heartedly agree with, Jamie,” Nelson said with a smile.  “Good night, then.”

     “Good night, Harri,” Jamie said, then turned back to Harper.  Nelson watched him move back to the boy’s side to stand over him with a worried expression on his face as he hesitantly touched the boy’s cheek, then checked the IV.  Nelson knew that Jamieson blamed himself at least partially for the severity of Harper’s condition.  He wished he knew of some way of easing Jamie’s mind, but until Harper was stronger and could come to know Jamieson better, learn not to be afraid of him, there was nothing that could be done.

     Nelson was exhausted, but when he got to the anteroom of his office, Katy looked up at him worriedly.  “Mister Harper?” she asked hesitantly, fear twisting her usually pretty features.

     “He’s out of danger,” Nelson told her, glad to see relief take fear’s place on Katy’s face.  “He’ll be very weak for a while, confined to the Infirmary, but Doctor Jamieson will see him well again.”

     Katy pressed a hand to her chest, looking is though she were ready to weep with relief.  “I was so worried.  So many people came or called to check if there was news.  They’ll all be so happy that Mister Harper is going to be all right, sir.”

     Nelson nodded, saying, “He still has a lot of healing to do, but I think we can afford some cautious optimism.”

     “Shall I tell Captain Crane, Mister Morton and Chief Sharkey that, sir?” Katy asked.  “They were going to let the rest of the crew know.  And half the Institute staff asked to be informed, too, especially Doctor Lorn.  She’s been talking about him like he’s one of her injured octopuses.  It’s so sweet.”

     Nelson found a tired smile forming on his face.  He had been worried about the Institute’s engineers treating Harper so poorly so far, but it seemed that Harper had made friends all the same.  And now he had been reminded that he could enlist Beatrice Lorn’s help in making certain that Harper ate, slept and generally didn’t overwork himself when the Seaview finally shipped out again.  Having someone to keep an eye on his health alone while the Seaview was away now seemed worth dedicating some of Harper’s time to the sound net idea that Beatrice wanted to work on with him.

     “Hold my calls, Katy.  I’m going to get a little rest, then go back to the Infirmary.  And by all means, let everyone know that Mister Harper is very weak right now and has been put under an order of strict bed rest for the foreseeable future.  They should check with you before attempting to visit.  I hope you don’t mind acting as liaison, because Doctor Jamieson has his hands full at the moment,” Nelson said.

     Katy shook her head.  “It just means that I’ll be the first to know everything,” she said, giving him a little smile.

     Nelson returned that smile, saying, “Thank you, Katy.”  With that he stepped into his office.  It had been a long day, Nelson thought as he shut the door, suddenly feeling the fact that he hadn’t slept last night.  The loss of sleep didn’t matter, Nelson thought as he flopped down on the sofa in the back room of his office.  All that mattered was that Seamus was going to get well.  Once he was, Nelson would see to it that he was well cared for and that nothing like this ever happened again.  Perhaps it had only been in his own mind, but Nelson had made a promise to Seamus’s mother and he intended to keep it.  Seamus was his responsibility now and it was a responsibility that he intended to take very seriously indeed.

* * *

     Beka woke to find that she was no longer on the Maru.  She wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.  Sitting up, she found herself happy that she wasn’t in pain any more.  That gave her a whole new set of worries though.  How long had she been unconscious?  Where were Trance and Rommie?  Exactly how badly damaged was the Maru?  What had happened to that alien that had been staring at her?  And last, but not least, where in the hell was she?  Looking around at the small room with woven reed walls, she knew with absolute certainty that she wasn’t aboard the Maru or anywhere else she’d ever been before.

     Just as she was thinking that, an alien came in through the opening in the far wall.  Beka couldn’t in good conscience say that the being had come through a doorway, since there was no door that Beka could see.  It was pretty much just a hole in the wall.  In fact, everything around her seemed primitive, even the off white shift she was wearing.  Okay, she told herself, add where are my clothes to the list of things I want to know.  The alien looked at her closely, making Beka wonder if there was going to be another staring contest, then it suddenly smiled.  It wasn’t the same unnerving smile Barris had.  The alien before her didn’t have Barris’ little pointy teeth for one thing, which was terribly reassuring, but also the smile looked natural on the being’s face, not forced.  It spoke to her, but Beka didn’t understand it any better than the last Lechak Bon that had tried to communicate with her.  Before Beka could do more than frown, the being turned back to the opening in the wall and beckoned for her to follow.

     Beka’s frown deepened, wondering what she was getting herself into, then threw off the light covering that had been over her and swung her feet off the cushioned pallet she’d been lying on.  Her bare feet hit the earthen floor and Beka grimaced.  She had been born and lived almost her entire life in space.  She thought that planets were dirty and disorganized and generally unpleasant.  Harper had always sighed longingly about the feel of warm, wet sand sliding between his toes when he stood in the surf of any watery world, but Beka preferred footwear or a solid, man made floor any day.  At least she could tell if a floor was clean for the most part.  Could dirt ever, actually be clean?  Beka sighed and squared her shoulders and followed the alien out the opening in the wall.

     The alien waited for her and lead the way out of the small hut they were in.  Beka blinked as she stepped into the bright sunlight.  There were other huts and small houses scattered around one larger structure that seemed to hold a central place in the order of things.  That dome shaped building seemed to be where the alien was leading her.  As she neared the cloth covered entrance to the building, Beka could hear Rommie speaking.  At first, hearing Rommie’s voice was reassuring, then Beka started being able to make out what the avatar was saying.  Beka frowned.  It sounded like Rommie was reciting the dictionary.  Why would she do that?  Sighing, Beka could only imagine that Rommie had been damaged in the crash.  Without Harper, there was no help for Rommie.  Beka didn’t have the foggiest notion how to repair the android.  Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounded Beka thought as she swept the covering to the side and stepped through the opening.

     The dome had a reed floor and orbs of light scattered along its internal walls, which arced high overhead.  Beka looked at the nearest light.  There was plainly no electricity here, so Beka didn’t know what powered the small orb, but it glowed warmly where it hung on the wall, supported by a light string netting.  Following the sound of Rommie’s voice, Beka turned to the center of the room.  There on the reed floor sat Rommie facing another of the Lechak Bon, this one appearing older than the two Beka had seen so far.  Trance was near the two of them, looking intently from Rommie to the Lechak Bon as Rommie continued her litany of words and their meanings.  Rommie seemed to be on the letter ‘t.’

     As Beka neared them, Trance looked up.  “Beka!  You’re awake!” she said happily, then got up and moved around Rommie and the alien facing her.  Neither of them seemed to notice Trance’s words or her movement, or if they did, they gave no outward sign.  It was a little eerie, watching the avatar speak continuously while the alien stared at her fixedly.  “They should be finishing soon,” Trance said, plainly commenting on what Rommie and the alien were doing.

     “Finishing what?” Beka asked, unable to stop staring at the pair of them.

     “Nowan is learning Galactic Common and then we’ll be able to talk to each other properly,” Trance replied.  “How are you feeling?  You were awfully hurt in the crash, but the healers seemed to have everything in hand so I came here to check on Rommie and Nowan.”

     “I’m fine,” Beka said absently, then turned from Rommie and her new friend and looked at Trance.  “Learning Common?  How could he possibly learn Common like this?  You don’t learn a language by reading the dictionary!”

     The alien held up a hand and Rommie paused her recitation.  He turned to Beka and said, “Perhaps.  Perhaps not,” then turned back to Rommie and motioned for her to resume what she’d been doing, which she did.  The creepy feeling that Beka was getting intensified.

     “Beka, they don’t do things like we do,” Trance said.

     “Yeah.  I noticed,” Beka murmured.

     “Come on.  I want to check you over,” Trance told her, tugging gently at her arm and getting her to leave the domed building.  “Are you sure you’re all right, Beka?” Trance asked once they were out.

     “Of course I’m all right.  Just got bumped around a little,” Beka said with a shrug.

     Trance gave her a nervous look, then shook her head.  “No, you were really hurt.  You had internal injuries and a major concussion.  I wasn’t sure if you were even going to live, quite frankly, then the Lechak Bon took you in hand and before I knew it, you were all healed, but sleeping.  I tried to wake you, mostly because I was nervous about the concussion you’d had, but I couldn’t and the being that healed you pretty much pushed me out of where you were sleeping and showed me to where Rommie was working with Nowan.  I’ve been there ever since and I can only assumed you’ve been sleeping all that time.”

     “All that time,” Beka repeated, not at all liking the sound of those words for some reason.  “How long was I out?”

     “Not long considering how badly you were hurt,” Trance said.  “About a day and a half, I think.”

     “A day and a half!” Beka shouted, not caring who heard her.  “Have we reestablished contact with the Andromeda?”

     Trance shook her head.  “No, Rommie couldn’t get through.  Something was interfering.  We might be able to ask the Lechak Bon about it once Rommie finishes with Nowan.”

     Beka wanted to go back into the domed building and start questioning Nowan, but she held herself back, remembering the blank look of the alien back on the Maru.  That was another thing, she thought with a frown.  “And what about the Maru?  Where is she?” Beka asked.

     “Back through the forest that way,” Trance said, nodding off to her left.  “Some of the Lechak Bon went off that way, but they haven’t been back.  There doesn’t seem to be any technology here at there village, so they probably don’t know what to make of the Maru.”

     “Or what to make off with first from her,” Beka muttered then started off in the direction Trance had indicated.  That was when a sharp stone poked into her bare foot.  Beka cursed, wondering how anyone could prefer planets over a nice solid spaceship or station or drift, preferably ones with clean floors.  “Where the hell are my boots?” she snarled at Trance.

     Trance gave her another worried look.  “Back in the healer’s hut,” she said.

     Beka sniffed, then turned.  All of the huts look relatively the same.  There were no labels anywhere, or certainly none that she could recognize, and she hadn’t made note of the route that the alien that had lead her to Rommie had taken.  Beka rolled her eyes.  “And that might be where exactly?”

     Trance sighed and started walking off to Beka’s left, Beka falling into step behind her.  Once they got back to the hut, Beka pulled on her boots and looked at the blood all over her clothes and decided against putting those on.  She’d get them cleaned later, she decided, bundling them up to bring them back to the Maru.  She would get clean clothing there, she thought as she asked Trance where the Maru was again.

     Finding the Maru turned out to be pretty easy.  The ship had just barely missed hitting the village, as it turned out, and had torn a huge hole through the forest while in the process of crash landing.  Climbing through the shattered trees, Beka prepared herself for the worst, thinking her poor vessel was toast by the look of the landscape.  When she finally reached the Maru, she stood staring for a few seconds, catching her breath from the rough climb she’d just finished.  Trance was standing just to her right, looking up at the Maru in silence with her.

     Beka smiled a little, saying, “It doesn’t look bad at all.  Or is the other side worse?”

     Trance shook her head, murmuring, “It wasn’t like this before.”

     “Well, since we still need to find Harper, I don’t think anyone was been fixing my ship while we weren’t watching.  Unless...” Beka started, then forced herself to stop.  Barris wouldn’t have sent Harper here, would he?  Dylan had seemed so sure that Harper had been sent somewhere where there were other humans, somewhere where he’d be hurt and demeaned.  Could he be here instead?  Even if Harper were, where would he find supplies to repair the Maru?  Beka hurried to one of the Maru’s belly hatches, intending to see what was going on.  She could hear Trance following her, but honestly she didn’t care.  She wanted the answer to at least one part of the mystery her life had become.

     Climbing up into the main corridor of the Maru, Beka looked around.  Things were dark and quiet, most of the systems in dormant mode.  The emergency lights were on, casting an eerie glow over things, so there was just enough illumination to see by.  Beka made her way to her quarters and quickly changed into some of her own clothing.  She felt better once she was dressed and armed.  Now she could face the world again, she thought as she headed for the Control Room.  She distinctly remembered a hole through the wall the last time she was there and she could run a diagnostic to see what other damage there was.

     When she reached the Control Room, she found several Lechak Bon there, chattering at each other.  She was about to yell at them and shoo them away, thinking they were going to pull out pieces of the damaged wall when what she did see stopped her cold.  The aliens’ hands were glowing and the damaged area before them seemed to knit itself together like a fast closing wound on something organic.  They were fixing her ship, but how they were doing it was beyond her, so she stood and stared.  Trance arrived by her at some point, but Beka couldn’t rightly say when.

     “How are they doing that?” Beka asked quietly after they had stood there in silence watching the aliens for quite some time.  Trance shook her head, not seeming to know any more than Beka did.  The aliens looked over at them and smiled when Beka spoke, then went on chattering and repairing the ship.  Beka didn’t understand what they were saying, how they were doing what they were doing, or what was going on.  “We need to get back and talk to that guy that Rommie is teaching Common to,” Beka murmured.

     “They probably aren’t done yet,” Trance replied.

     Beka nodded, still staring, mesmerized, as the aliens ‘healed’ her ship.  “Yeah, but I want to be there when they are.  I have the distinct feeling that someone here can explain what’s going on with Barris, get Harper back for us, and explain why they are called Lechak Bon.  These are not weak, broken people.”

     “I know,” Trance said.  “It’s strange.  The physical deformities that were in the histories, I haven’t seen that anywhere since they came aboard the Maru after the crash.”

     “Something isn’t right about all this,” Beka murmured, shaking her head.  “I don’t think we have the first clue what’s really going on.”

     “I think you’re right,” Trance agreed, which was truly unnerving.

* * *



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