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