Michelle Pichette


Chapter 44



* * *

     Beka had been summoned back to the meeting house to find Rommie up and silent, the older looking Lechak Bon standing next to her rather than sitting before her.  “We have finished our lessons in Galactic Common,” the alien told Beka before she could say anything.  “If I use any words oddly or incorrectly, please tell me.  We have been long out of touch with new languages and I was unsure why I was given my talent.  Now you have arrived and I understand.  The Maker is great and His design is perfect.”   

     Beka raised an eyebrow at Trance, who shrugged, then looked back at the alien, who was named Nowan if her memory wasn’t failing in the face of all this craziness, and said, “The Maker.  Okay.  I’m guessing he’s something like the Divine or God?”

     “The Maker is the Maker.  These other names, they speak some of his aspects,” Nowan said, bowing reverently.

     Beka frowned.  She wasn’t here for a lesson in religion.  “Whatever.  Look, we’ve got problems with one of your people and we need you to tell us how to handle him so we can get back and do that.  He took my engineer...” Beka started.

     “A builder?” Nowan interrupted her, his eyes glittering with sudden interest.  “We haven’t been blessed with a builder for a very long time, not that we’ve had need.  You are plainly smiled on by the Maker if He has sent you one in time of trouble.”

     Again, Beka was made speechless for a moment.  “You mean you don’t have any engineers here?” she asked.

     “Builders, what you call engineers and inventors, they are very rare,” Nowan replied, nodding enthusiastically, then got a look of something akin to pity on his face.  “We have everything we need here.  The inventing of new things, it is unnecessary for the most part.  Your people must be very poor if they are common in your society.”

     “Poor?” Beka asked, utterly lost.  The Lechak Bon lived in huts and had no technology.  They probably worked from dawn to dusk for the basic necessities of life.  So why was he giving her a look like she needed charity?  She didn’t have time for this.  She needed to get back and rescue Harper.  “Look, do you know anything about a guy named Barris?”

     Nowan looked suddenly saddened.  “Oh, yes.  We all know the story of Barris and his broken ones.”

     “His... You mean you, your people, you aren’t the Lechak Bon, the Broken Ones?” Beka asked in utter confusion.

     Nowan smiled.  “Why of course not.  We are the children of the Maker and follow His laws.  We have not broken faith with Him.”

     “Wait, Lechak Bon refers to a faction in some sort of religious schism?” Rommie suddenly chimed in.  She looked as confused as Beka felt.  “We thought it referred to physical infirmity.”

     “Physical infirmity?  You mean a grave injury or illness of some sort?  We have healers, as you know because they healed your companion.  Usually, there is very little need for the healers, though.  The Maker protects us from such things because we hold to His laws,” Nowan told her.

     “No, I mean birth defects or chronic health issues,” Rommie replied.  “Things like blindness or mental retardation or...”

     Nowan began to shake his head at that point.  “These things, the healers cure them.  Your people have no healers?”

     Rommie met Beka’s eyes.  “This is more complicated than we thought,” she stated.

     Beka frowned and turned to Nowan.  “So what happened with Barris?  Why is he off bothering us if you guys have paradise here?”

     “Barris still lives, then,” Nowan said with a sad shake of his head.  “That is terrible.  We had thought him to be at peace long ago.”

     “I think the last thing he wants is peace!” Beka declared in exasperation.  Trance set a hand on her arm, stilling her before she could launch into a full verbal assault.

     “You said that everyone knows the story of Barris,” Trance said patiently to Nowan.  “We don’t know the story.  Can you tell it to us, please?”

     Nowan nodded to her.  “Our people are as you see us and we have lived this way a very long time.  However, once, many years ago, a ship fell from the sky as yours did.  On it were strange beings that spoke of far away worlds and conflicts.  They looked on our gifts with greedy eyes, promising us material wealth and power in the stars if we aided their side in the battles they spoke of.  Our people repaired their ship, as we have yours, and sent them on their way, for we had no use for the things they were offering.  However, there was one that did not forget about the beings when they departed.  Barris.

     “Barris thought long and hard about these beings that flew between the stars waging war.  He told his contemporaries that these beings would return, that they would bring their wars.  He said that we should make plans and defenses, that we should build our own ships and go out to face these forces with the might of the Maker behind us.  He said that with His might, we would subdue these hostile peoples, bring them to the Maker by force.  Some sided with him, but most did not.  In the end, Barris and ninety nine others decided to leave our world and broke faith with the Maker by breaking His second law.”

     “What is the second law?” Rommie asked.

     “Love all creations of the Maker,” Nowan told her.  “You cannot love something and wage war on it, and that is what Barris intended to do.  We thought he would relent.  After all, we had no vessels of the sort that had fallen from the sky, so it wasn’t as though Barris could go through with his plans.  That was when the tempter came.  It was another being from the stars, and it wielded great power, but without conscience.  It spoke against the laws of the Maker, telling Barris that he owed no one thanks for his gifts, that he was wise and strong and deserved the power of the Maker himself.  Barris, to the shame of our people, listened.

     “Plans were laid.  Barris would go out among the peoples of the stars, promising them aid, making them dependent on his gifts and those of his followers until they would come to worship him. Our people begged him to turn from this evil path, saying that it could not be accomplished in one lifetime in any case.  Again, the tempter spoke against us, saying that Makers did not die.  It did horrible, unnatural things to Barris and his followers, changed them.  Our people begged them to turn back, that it was not too late.  Barris would not listen.  He called all but his followers slaves to worthless faith and broken by our beliefs, unable to see our rightful place in the universe.  He denied the Maker’s existence.  He said that he would never be a slave again.  That was when he slew the tempter.

     “The Maker showed his displeasure then.  Winds came up from nowhere, but they only struck Barris and his followers, driving them from the safety of their village.  Insects came and plagued them.  Animals attacked them.  They were driven to the tempter’s ship.  They took the vessel and left our world and have never returned.  Strange lights flashed through the skies for days after that and our people never saw any other beings from the stars until you came,” Nowan told them at length then stood waiting.

     Beka stared at him, unable to stop the wheels from turning in her head.  The story itself was plainly some sort of religious drivel, but it had elements of truth in it.  Barris was still trying to follow through with his plan.  That’s why he kept wanting to join the crew of the Andromeda.  Something had driven him off his home world and kept him from returning, though.  Beka reasoned that it was possibly the combined might of those that hadn’t opted to follow him, worried that he might go on a killing spree after he murdered the alien whose ship Barris still had.  So why hadn’t Barris killed anyone else?  Maybe he believed it was the punishment of the Divine had sealed his world off from him.  Maybe he thought if he killed anyone else, he’d be cut off from the rest of the universe.

     “So if Barris was being punished, why is your world sealed off from everyone, not just him?” Rommie asked.

     “We do not have vessels that could leave our world, so we would not know about such things,” Nowan said.

     “In a history that our people have, the story you told is different,” Trance said.  “It specifically states that Barris returned here looking for acceptance, but was shunned.  It says that Barris will have all the power he desires if he is accepted somewhere.”

     Nowan shook his head.  “I know nothing of this either.  Our history is passed down orally.  It is possible, I suppose, that parts have been lost through the years.  Barris has been asking for acceptance from you?”

     “Yes.  That’s part of why he took my engineer.  Barris said that Harper was broken and worthless and didn’t belong.  He kept saying that and wouldn’t even refer to Harper as a person.  He kept calling him a bug or a pet or anything but something even near equal to any of us.  Why would he do that?  Why would he hate Harper so much?” Beka asked, wanting to understand that if nothing else.

     Nowan stood silent a moment, thinking over what Beka had just said.  “The Maker creates.  In a way, so does a builder.  Your Harper, he is a talented builder?”

     Beka made a small sound of distress as what Nowan was asking hit home.  “But Harper isn’t this Maker!  Hurting him doesn’t get Barris any sort of revenge over what’s happened to him.  Harper’s just a normal human like me, an Earth native.  Barris, he knows that.  He can’t be thinking Harper is your Maker.”

     “I doubt he does, but builders have always been rare and treasured by our people.  By harming and demeaning him, Barris might feel that he is, in fact, thwarting the Maker’s plan and getting some measure of vengeance.  Or, perhaps, Barris is looking on Harper as an avatar, just as this construct,” he waved to Rommie, “is an avatar of your other ship, and that anything he does to Harper is experienced personally by the Maker,” Nowan said, then his mouth went tight as he thought things over.  “Barris did not try to kill Harper?”

     “Not directly, no.  Barris sent Harper somewhere to be enslaved, tortured and killed by others,” Rommie replied.  “Perhaps he feared attempting it himself because of what was supposed to have happened last time.”

     “It doesn’t matter why Barris didn’t kill Harper.  The point is that Harper’s alive and in danger somewhere.  You need to help us get him back,” Beka told Nowan.

     Nowan shook his head, looking to be at a loss.  “How?  You have a star vessel.  Can’t you go to where Harper is?”

     “We don’t know for certain where or when he is,” Trance replied.  “Barris moved him through time, into the past.  We can’t travel through time.”

     Nowan scrubbed a hand down his face, looking overwhelmed.  “I am sorry, but I know of no one among my people that can travel through time.  We have blinkers, people that can move things with only the power of their minds, but through time?  No, that is beyond us.  If there were some way to get Barris here, we could try to reason with him, but how would that be accomplished?”

     “Then you’ll have to come with us,” Beka stated, thinking that she had wasted enough time.  Bringing Nowan to Barris would have to be the solution.  “And bring whoever else you might need.  We’ll be leaving as soon as my ship is repaired.”

     “But... Leave our planet?  We couldn’t possibly...” Nowan started to argue.

     “Yes, you can possibly,” Beka told him sternly.  “Barris is one of your people, that means he’s your problem and you are going to fix it.  Now get a move on!”

     Nowan stared at her in confusion and something close to fear, then seemed to shake himself out of the shock that gripped him.  Once again appearing serene, he nodded, saying, “You are right, of course.  Our ancestors should have stopped Barris long ago, before he embarked on this destructive path.  It falls to us to succeed where they failed.  The Maker would wish this.  He would want Barris to see the error of his ways and repent, make amends.”

     “I don’t care what the Maker wants,” Beka told Nowan.  She wished Rev Bem was here to deal with all this religious stuff, but he wasn’t, so she’d have to cope.  She wasn’t feeling particularly reverent at the moment and she didn’t care who knew it.  She was tired and she wanted to go back to the Andromeda.  She wanted Harper to be safe and sound and there waiting for them, but that wasn’t going to happen, so she would bring Nowan to Barris’ ship and have the alien make it happen.  “I want my friend back.  You get Barris to bring Harper back and stop threatening to have people kill him and you can embark on your spiritual journey with Barris, if that’s what you want.  Just do it far, far away from me and my friends.  I’m going to go check on my ship.  Be ready to go when I get back.”  With that, Beka marched off.  Finally, she was getting somewhere, she thought with some small measure of relief.  She could only hope that Harper would be able to hold on until Nowan could reason with Barris.

* * *

     Nelson walked into the Infirmary, expecting to see Harper either asleep or being tended to by Doctor Babin or Doctor Jamieson.  That had been what had been the scene that had greeted him for the last week and, though Harper had been getting a little stronger every day, it was slow going because the boy had been so terribly ill and weakened.  This morning, though, he got a surprise.  Doctor Jamieson and Doctor Babin were both no where to be seen and Harper was sitting up and concentrating on drawing something on a large pad of paper resting on his lap.  Harper looked up when Nelson entered the room and smiled brightly, despite the fact that oxygen tubes still trailed out of his nose and over one shoulder and an iv was still attached to his left wrist.

     “Hey, Boss,” he said, his voice a little hoarse, but not near as bad as it had been.  Nelson smiled himself, the last, lingering remains of worry that he’d been carrying around with him drifting away finally at seeing Harper so much improved.

     “Hello yourself,” Nelson said walking over to Harper’s bed.  “How are you feeling, son?”  He had become accustomed to asking the question over the last few days and had done it almost out of habit.

     “Oh, I’m fine,” Harper said in almost a scoffing tone.  “Not that Doc Jamieson is anywhere near believing me.  I mean, I’d take out the oxygen tubes and iv, but he’d just stick ‘em back, which is kinda gross and uncomfortable, so, you know, I’m stuck with ‘em for a while yet.”  Harper shrugged and looked down to shake his head in disgust at his left hand where the iv needle was buried.

     “Don’t rush things,” Nelson told him, patting him gently on the shoulder.  “Where is Doctor Jamieson?  Or Doctor Babin, for that matter?”

     Harper looked up over at Jamieson’s desk, seeming surprised.  “Huh.  First time he hasn’t been hovering over at his desk.  I don’t know where he is.”

     “And Doctor Babin?” Nelson asked again.

     “Oh, I told Dom to go home, have a shower and get some sleep in her own bed, that somehow I would carry on without her for a few hours,” Harper said, looking back to Nelson with another grin.  “She is the best girlfriend in the history of all history, and I think I’ve taken way too much advantage of that for the past week.  She needed to have a little her time.  I promised not to try and get up or drop dead or anything while she was gone.  She’ll be back later.  Thanks for letting her hang out with me instead of working.  I’m sorry I’ve been putting everybody out so much and turning everything upside down and all.  I’ll try not to do it again, honest.”

     “I keep telling you, son, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for,” Nelson told Harper sincerely.  He was very happy that Harper was chattering away and not panic stricken at Doctor Babin being away from his side.  That meant the boy was feeling better, not just putting up a front.  Nelson had been carrying two things in his pocket for the last couple of days and he decided that today was the day to address them both, but first, he had to satisfy his curiosity.  “And what are you drawing there?”

     “You said, and I quote, ‘You are not to touch one tool until I have a preliminary schematic for every single gadget lining your workbench.’  Since I want to be able to touch tools when I finally get out of here, I figured I’d better get drawing, ‘cause I could do that and stay put and keep Doc Jamieson and Dom happy while I did it,” Harper said with another shrug.

     Nelson gave Harper another smile and pat on the shoulder, saying, “Just don’t tire yourself.”  Harper returned the smile, seeming calm and relaxed and wide awake for the first time in a week and Nelson felt his mouth tighten as he lowered his hand from the boy’s shoulder.  “Seamus, I wanted to talk to you about the Andromeda and your friends there.  What if you could go back, see them again?  Would that make you happy?”

     Harper grinned.  “Got a time machine in your pocket?” he joked.

     “As it happens, but it’s broken,” Nelson said, drawing out the broken, burnt out watch that Pem had left behind on his last visit.  He handed it toward Harper saying, “One of the visitors we had from the future used this to travel through time and space.  I thought that if you could repair it, you could go home.”

     Harper’s face fell and he looked devastated.  “You want me to leave?” he asked, his voice thick with emotion.  “I’m sorry.  Whatever I did, I won’t anymore.  I won’t get sick again.  I’ll follow all the rules.  I...”

     “No,” Nelson said, taking the boy’s upper arm gently in hand and looking him squarely in the eyes to stop the hysterical words suddenly springing from Harper’s mouth.  “Seamus, I don’t want you to leave.  That’s the last thing I want, believe me.  I only thought you might like to say good-bye to your friends.”

     Harper’s tense body relaxed a little.  “Really?” he asked, still seeming unsure and upset.

     “Really.  If Captain Hunt or Captain Valentine were to try to get you to stay with them again, I would give them the fight of their lives, as would Dominica, I’m sure.  You belong here at the Institute with us unless you decide differently.  Don’t you ever think otherwise,” Nelson reassured him.  Suddenly, Nelson was the recipient of the warmest hug that he had ever gotten from another man.  Not entirely certain what to do, he patted Harper a bit hesitantly on the back of the head, Harper’s face pressed into his collarbone, his body shaking hard against him.  Nelson waited for Harper to calm a little, then gently carefully patted his head again.  “Now, now.  What would Dominica think?” he said softly, making certain there was a hint of laughter in his voice, not wanting to upset Harper any further while he was still recovering.

     Harper released him and sat back up, giving him a sheepish look.  “She’d think I like hugging people, which would be true.  You... probably don’t hug a lot.  At least other guys.  Not I do anything more physically familiar than hugging.  With guys I mean.  I’m into girls, not guys.  Not that Dom’s actually let me get... Ugh, this all sounded a lot better in my head.  I’m making this worse, right?  Sorry, sorry, sorry.  No more hugging, ever, I swear.  You, I mean.  I intend to hug Dom a lot.  More than hug, if I can ever figure out how I get past the hugging phase.  Actually, I think getting married is about the only way that’s happening, but you told me not to rush.  I’m bad at slow.  I tend to just leap into things, which is how I wound up in this bed with tubes coming out of everywhere.  I should think about things more before I do stuff, shouldn’t I?  I am also trying real hard to shut up but obviously I’m still talking, so this could be going better.  Usually about now I’d disappear off into the Andromeda’s service ducts, but I can’t do that here because Jamieson would kill me,” Harper babbled, blushing fiercely.

     Nelson grinned and patted Harper on the arm, saying, “I rather doubt that considering the amount of effort he put into keeping you alive recently.  And I don’t mind you being a little affectionate, Seamus.  I’m glad you want to stay with us.  I just thought you might want to go home from time to time.”

     Harper’s blush died suddenly and he shook his head, looking confused.  “Where you and Dom are is home,” Harper told him, which made Nelson feel touched in a way he never had before.  Over the past few days, he’d been thinking very seriously about the promises that he’d made to himself concerning Harper and his future.  That Harper felt the way he did only made things easier.  Nelson would make certain that the boy never wanted for anything material, not that Harper seemed to have many desires in that regard.  He considered what Harper’s own mother had said.  Harper had grown up having nothing.  He probably thought of things like cats and cars as extravagances.  Still, Harper had spent five years away from Earth and the deprivations that it imposed on its human population.  Besides a surfboard and a much missed and lamented set of tools, Nelson would find out what the boy had owned and see about replacing his belongings with current day counterparts.  That would be a good start on things.  Nelson intended to do more, much more.  He only hoped Doctor Babin would let him.

     “Then perhaps we’ll use the Pem device to tell your friends not to worry about you,” Nelson said, gently patting Harper’s arm again.  “That is if you can fix it.  I know a little about how to work the settings, but the mechanics of it are beyond me.”  He handed the partially disassembled, watch-like device to the young man.

     Harper moved his pad of paper and shifted his legs so he was sitting up with them crossed in front of him making a shallow well, which he held the Pem device over.  Carefully opening the inner workings, Harper murmured, “Whoa!  Never saw one of those that was that small.  Power source... Where’s the... Man, you have got to be kidding me.  How’d they...  That’s... Wow!  I never would have thought to... Okay, that’s got to have a... “ He continued to talk quietly to himself for the next few minutes, then looked up at Nelson, an awestruck expression on his face.  “This is amazing!” Harper said.  “Somebody married up Perseid and Vedran technology in some pretty astounding ways, plus there’s stuff I’ve never seen before that I think I can figure out.  I can see what they were doing, mostly, but... Wow!  This is from past my time.  Way past.  I might be able to fix it.  Maybe.  I might need to make a few tools to do it and I’ll need a clean space that won’t be disturbed to work on, like in my lab, but I think I might be able to fix it for you.”

     “It’s all right if you can’t, Seamus,” Nelson told the boy sincerely.  “We’ll find another way to get a message to the Andromeda if the Pem device is beyond repair.  I thought that if you could fix it that there might be a few things we could change in the future that would protect the Earth, or at least some of her inhabitants.”

     Harper frowned, then looked down at the Pem device and began to carefully put it back at least partially together.  “I thought that I could do that.  See, once the Andromeda kind of had a bad trip through the slipstream and we wound up three hundred years in our past.  It was before the Earth got bombarded and enslaved.  I thought I could fix it.  Maybe just a little.  All I ended up doing was getting myself the nifty nickname ‘The Angel of Death’ by killing around a hundred thousand Nietzscheans by blowing up some space gases during the battle of Witchhead.  I know it was war and all, but I killed all those people and nothing changed on Earth.  Nothing.”

     Harper’s eyes stayed down, even when the Pem device was fairly well put back together and his hands fell still.  He looked and sounded deeply ashamed.  Nelson knew the feelings Harper was struggling with all too well and all too personally.  He set a hand on Harper’s collarbone and squeezed gently.  Harper looked up at him, his expression indicating that he expected to be rebuked and that he would offer no resistance.  There was nothing that Nelson could do or say that would change what had happened and he decided that he would leave the entire topic alone.

     “I thought that we would use the device to save some people, perhaps by moving them to somewhere less dangerous,” Nelson told him instead.  “A certain Harper family springs to mind.”  Harper’s brown knit and he began to look confused.  “We could go to Earth before you were born and take your parents somewhere less hazardous.  You could grow up somewhere safe and healthy...” Nelson began to explain.

     “But, what about Brendan and his family?” Harper interrupted him suddenly, looking distraught.  “And my cousins that were killed by the Magog?  I’ve lived how horrible that was.”  One of his hands moved to his stomach to rub absently there, but his now moist eyes never left Nelson’s.  Suddenly, what Harper had said about having something that was going to eat its way out of him in him hit home and Nelson knew that he had been infested by the Magog and had somehow survived the experience.  Harper kept talking, though, so Nelson didn’t get a chance to dwell on the matter.  “They didn’t deserve that.  And everyone else.  Our friends and our neighbors.  You don’t know what it was like, living like that, having nothing, knowing that dying was the only way out, but hoping that somehow...  I... I can’t... We need to save everyone.  Can’t we save everyone?”

     Nelson felt a sudden surge of pride in Harper.  The young man had suffered so much, but he was thinking of others rather than focusing on his own past horrors.  Wasn’t that why he was sitting there in the infirmary with tubes running out of his nose, because he’d done something selfless for the benefit of people that were pretty much strangers to him?  “We’ll find a way,” Nelson told him, feeling determined.  “Somehow, we’ll find a way to save everyone.”  Harper smiled hesitantly, seemed about to do something, then thought better of it and looked down at the Pem device in his lap.  Nelson had the distinct impression that he had narrowly escaped another hug.  “You should rest now.  I’ll take this for the time being and we’ll worry about it later,” Nelson said, carefully taking Pem device from Harper.  “I’ll put this in the safe in your lab and you’ll work on it when you have the time and you’re well again.  Between managing a new space program and saving the Earth from future invasion, you’ll need all your strength and then some.”

     Harper looked up and said, “Okay, Boss.  I’ll work on my schematics a little more and...”

     “Rest,” Nelson told him firmly.  “Don’t worry about what I said before.  You’re allowed to work with tools again, but only after you gain a few pounds.  Doctor Jamieson certainly won’t give his approval for you to leave the infirmary until you’ve regained some weight and a lot of strength.  Resting and eating will get you there quicker than drafting.”

     Harper smiled a little and repeated, “Okay, Boss.”

     “Oh, I almost forgot,” Nelson said, reaching into a pocket with his free hand.  He pulled out a small, white and blue card and handed it to Harper.  “Your Social Security card.  Welcome to the twentieth century.  You’re officially a citizen of the United States and we are very, very lucky to have you.”

     Harper took the small paper card with a hesitant smile and looked at it almost reverently.  “I can’t believe it.  I’m legal now.  No more worrying about getting tossed in jail for not being someone,” he beamed happily.

     “You were always someone, son,” Nelson told him, gently ruffling his hair.  Harper was so happy that he didn’t seem to notice.  Nelson smiled softly at the boy, knowing that this was just the first of the things he would gladly do for Harper.  The future, at least Harper’s, would be bright and wonderful.  Nelson would make very sure of that.

* * *



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