* * *
Beka was happy to see the Maru in one piece again.
The aliens that had been ‘repairing’ her were no longer aboard
the ship, but Beka thought she might want them in particular to come back
for the trip back to the Andromeda. She
didn’t know what had hit her freighter in the upper atmosphere of the
planet, but if it was going to knock out her systems again, she thought
having someone capable of doing quick repairs aboard might be a good idea.
Of course, she didn’t have any control over who Nowan decided to
bring along. She was just
glad that he had agreed to help them and that she hadn’t had to drag him
off or start threatening people. She
just wanted to get off planet and get back in contact with the Andromeda.
Dylan probably thought the worst when they had dropped out of
communication like they had.
She was just finishing her systems checks when Trance came
onto the flight deck with Nowan and three other aliens, Rommie taking up
the rear. “Beka, this is
Lassa, Wemrik, and Tobaz. You
already know Nowan,” Trance introduced the two new men and woman to her.
“All right,” Beka said with a forced smile.
“What do they do?”
“Lassa is an excellent weaver and Wemrik...” Nowan
“No, no,” Beka cut him off, shaking her head.
“You understand new languages.
What do they do?”
Nowan’s mouth went flat, but he nodded.
“Lassa is very strong and has come to stop any violence that
might threaten. Wemrik is our
best healer and has come to heal your friend when he is returned.
Tobaz is a mimic. He
copies others’ talents and can use them for a short period of time.
Since we do not know what Barris is capable of or how to counter
it, Tobaz thought he might be useful.”
Each of the aliens bowed slightly in turn as they were introduced.
Beka looked them over.
They all looked like farmers to her in their homespun clothes and
casual stances. She was
bringing lambs to the slaughter putting these people up against Barris,
but they were all she had. Forcing
another smile on her face, Beka nodded to them.
“Okay. Let’s get
going. Everyone should strap
in. I don’t know if
whatever messed up our systems is going to hit us on the way out,” Beka
told them. Nowan translated
her words and Tobaz responded rather enthusiastically to what he said. Beka felt her brow furrow.
“What’s he saying?” she asked.
“He’s saying that you shouldn’t worry about the
disturbance that troubled your star vessel on the way down, that when I
told everyone about what had happened to you, he knew just what to do
about it so it wouldn’t happen on your return trip,” Nowan replied,
but seemed a little unsure about something.
“And what might that be?” Beka asked, trying to be
patient with the natives. Suddenly,
the Maru seemed to buck and alarm bells screeched out as everyone fought
to stay on their feet. “What
the hell just happened?” Beka shouted, going to look at her readouts.
What she saw shocked her. They
were in orbit around the planet. The
alarms quieted as she turned to shout at Tobaz, knowing he was
responsible, but the alien was grinning widely at her and saying something
in his native tongue.
“He says now the disturbance you met on the way down
won’t trouble you,” Nowan translated, grinning a little himself.
Beka scowled at the aliens and poked Tobaz in the chest.
“Don’t do that again! At
least without warning a person. If
hatches weren’t closed or I hadn’t run all our prelaunch checks, we
could have all been dead bodies floating in space,” she snapped at him.
Nowan made a calming motion with both hands.
“He meant no harm,” he said.
“We are safely on our way, yes?”
Beka gave Nowan a pointed look of displeasure and snarled,
“Don’t do anything unless you clear it with me first.
“Of course, of course,” Nowan agreed, then said a few
words to his compatriots, who nodded at her as well.
Beka was still frowning, but said, “Trance, show them to
the crew quarters and get them settled. Stay with them and keep them out of trouble.”
“Okay, Beka,” Trance agreed, looking a little cowed
herself. Beka gave the aliens
another warning glare as they followed the golden girl off into the Maru.
Beka turned to Rommie now that the others were gone, the
android having hung to the back of the group through the previous turmoil.
“Can you raise the Andromeda?” she asked, feeling a little
calmer now that Nowan and his buddies weren’t standing in front of her
Rommie closed her eyes briefly, then looked back at Beka.
“Yes. They are quite
pleased to hear from us,” she replied.
“I’ll bet. Tell them we’re en route with guests,” Beka told her, then
took her pilot’s seat. “We
can’t get there soon enough,” she muttered to herself as she started
laying in a course for their return trip.
It was late in the day when Portman decided to go back to
the electronics lab to see how badly Fletcher was sweating, thinking
another little nudge might be in order. It was almost quitting time and Fletcher hadn’t come to see
him as expected. Though
Fletcher could have worked out his own difficulties, Portman rather
doubted that he had. This
wouldn’t be the first time he had bailed Fletcher out, despite the price
he demanded. No, when Fletcher got stuck and frantic, he tended to run
himself around in circles. Portman
smiled at the thought of walking in on his colleague while he was sobbing
in defeat. That would be
However, when Portman got to the lab Fletcher had been
working in, it was empty and the communications array was nowhere to be
seen. Portman frowned.
Had Fletcher worked things out after all?
That didn’t seem likely, but anything was possible.
Feeling put out about the possibility, Portman went around to the
office Fletcher share with Hastings, thinking that he would find out what
was going on. He had almost
reached the door when he heard Harper’s annoying voice coming from the
room. No, Portman thought angrily as he sped to the door.
Harper was not going to steal his fat, ripe pigeon.
Reaching the door, Portman was drawn up short when he saw Fletcher
putting things into boxes with Harper helping him, Hastings no where to be
seen. Had Fletcher quit?
What was going on? He
was smiling and talking with Harper?
But Fletcher was terrified of Harper!
Fletcher caught sight of him at the door and smiled widely,
a wicked glint forming in his eyes. “Oh,
Greg. I was going to come by
your office tomorrow. What we were talking about earlier won’t be needed, so you
might as well get a little more ahead of schedule with your upgrade,” he
said, sounding entirely too smug for Portman’s liking. This was not a man who had quit his job or anything else.
In fact, Fletcher looked happier than Portman could ever remember
seeing him. “Mister Harper,
you don’t need to help me with this.
I’m sure Doctor Babin is looking for you, considering the
Harper? Portman’s frown deepened.
Fletcher had said that respectfully.
What was going on?
Harper looked at the clock on the wall.
“You’re probably right about that, Mister Fletcher.
I’d better get going, so long as you’re sure you don’t need
any help here.” Portman
scowled as Harper gave him a rather pointed glare.
“No, no, Mister Harper.
Nothing here I need help with,” Fletcher told the little hobo
with as soft smile.
you’re sure. See you bright
and early at the lab, right? And
it’s just plain Harper or Seamus, okay?
I don’t go for all that Mister and Sir stuff,” Harper said.
Why would anyone call Harper ‘sir’ or give him any sort of
respect? What was going on?
“All right... Seamus.
You are the boss, after all,” Fletcher said, still smiling
Portman felt like vomiting at the thought.
What the devil was going on!
Admiral’s the boss. We’re
the team supreme!” Harper said with a sunny smile of his own, then held
up a fist at eye level. When
Fletcher didn’t do anything Harper said more quietly, “Um, Mister
Fletcher, you’re supposed to bump fists.
You know, like a high five? A
show of solidarity.”
“Oh! Uh, yes.
I see,” Fletcher said, hesitantly doing as instructed.
Harper sighed and patted him on the arm.
“We’ll work on it. Tomorrow,
See you then,” Fletcher told him as he started to go.
Harper paused as he reached Portman and looked up at him
with a smirk. “Do you hear
a whooshing sound, Gregory?” he asked softly. “It’s a wrecking ball and it’s coming at the little
town full of bullying, blackmail and backstabbing you’ve built up here.
Better duck for cover, because it’s already started demolishing
things.” With that, he
walked out the door, whistling cheerfully.
Portman looked over at Fletcher, who still looked unbearably
happy and said, “What’s all this? Did Harper take over your project, Andrew?
You should have come to me! I...”
“Harper is a good kid, Gregory.
You shouldn’t be so nasty towards him,” Fletcher admonished
him, then his smile brightened. “And he didn’t take anything from me. He helped me with some miniaturization techniques that he’s
perfected and we finished the array in just a couple of hours.
didn’t want any credit, but I made sure he got it.
The Admiral was quite pleased with the finished product so far.”
“Then why are you packing?
Are you retiring?” Portman asked, still not understanding what
was going on.
“No, I’m going to have a new office to move into.
Harper and I will working out of his lab until the new facility is
built. The Admiral told us
that the offices we’ll have there will be very nice.
Large. Private. With a
view,” Fletcher said, obviously taking great pleasure in doing so.
“What new office? What new facility? There
aren’t any plans for a new facility that I know of,” Portman said,
frowning and growing frustrated.
Fletcher put a picture of his family into the box he was
packing and closed it. “It’s
all very hush hush for the moment. Classified. You’ll
understand that I can’t really discuss it, Greg,” he said, then hefted
up the box and began to head for the door.
He paused halfway through and looked back to Portman who stood
seething impotently. “I’d
watch my step if I were you, Greg. Harper
was right about things changing around here.
Much as he’s been focused on the Seaview lately, the Admiral has
begun to realize there are some things going on at the Institute that he
doesn’t much care for and he’s going to make changes.
They ship out in four days. Those
changes are probably going to be coming really fast now.
I’d avoid the whirlwind. I
really would.” With that,
he turned and left.
Portman could almost feel himself burning with rage.
How dare Fletcher, a washed up old man, talk to him that way?
He’d saved Fletcher’s job a half dozen times and this is what
he got for his troubles? And
Harper, the filthy street rat, how dare he come and take everything that
should have been his! Dominica,
the respect of the other engineers, the admiration of the Seaview crew,
the Admiral’s attention and a position of power at the Institute, it all
should have been his! The
uneducated, little hobo didn’t deserve any of it!
If Harper had been before him at that moment, Portman would have
killed him, but he decided he’d do worse.
He’d break Harper, he thought with a smile, feeling his face
twist with the force of the emotions running through him.
That time for subtlety was over.
Turning, Portman went after Harper.
He found him in the lobby, sitting in one of the chairs, humming
idly and looking off toward the Marine Biology wing of the Institute.
This would be the last carefree moment the worthless worm would
have, Portman thought as he went and stood over him.
Harper seemed surprised when Portman moved into his line of sight.
Perfect. Harper being
off balance was a good start to things.
“You think you have everything you want, but it’s an
illusion, gutter trash,” Portman snarled at him.
“You have nothing but pity and that won’t last.
The Admiral is a good man, but he’ll tire of you.
Then you’ll be like Fletcher, a broken never was with no where to
go. And Dominica. You
think she cares about you? She
feels sorry for you. That’s
all she’s ever felt for you. She’ll
leave in a few days, be off with real men, then she’ll realize what a
pathetic, worthless piece of garbage you are.
And when she turns from you, so will all of her friends, because
they are all her friends, not yours.
You have surrounded yourself with the illusions of a life, but none
of it’s yours and when the Seaview leaves port, so will everything you
thought you had. I hope you
enjoyed it while it lasted.”
Harper looked up at him, his face blank for a second, then
he frowned, looking a little angry. “Dom loves me,” was all he said as he stood up.
“She pities you. She’s a kind, generous person and you had the benefit of
that for a few weeks. You
never had her heart and you never will,” Portman told him.
Harper’s mouth tightened and his hands clenched into fists. Portman
willed Harper to take a swing at him.
He would have an excuse to hurt Harper physically at that point,
and he would hurt the little weasel.
He would hurt him bad. Harper
didn’t throw a punch though. He
turned from Portman and marched in the direction he’d been looking in
earlier, quite plainly looking for Dominica.
Portman smiled again. Yes,
let Harper confront her with anger. That
would go over so very well.
The first person Harper met was Doctor Lorn.
“Where’s Dom?” he asked rather abruptly as she smiled and
started to say something.
Her face fell immediately and resolved into an expression of
concern. “She went to the
cafeteria to return some cups. The
Seaview got moved back into the channel and I think everyone was having a
little celebration of her being seaworthy again. She probably got caught up in it. Seamus, what’s...” Doctor Lorn started, but the little
hobo turned from her once he had the information he was looking for and
started at a quick march in that direction.
“Seamus, wait! What’s
wrong?” Doctor Lorn called after him as she began to trail him.
She gave Portman a withering look as he gleefully fell into step
alongside her. “What have
you done, you petty, disagreeable man?
What did you say to him?” she snarled at him.
“Only the truth,” Portman snickered.
This was going to be very entertaining, he thought with relish.
They entered the cafeteria just as Harper reached Dominica,
who had obliviously been standing and talking with her friends.
Oh, this was going to be glorious, Portman thought, almost giggling
with glee. Everyone was
there: the Admiral, Crane, Morton, Simmons, Kowalski, Sharkey, simply
everyone. Harper was going to
embarrass himself in front of everyone, make sure than Portman’s
prediction of his future came true very swiftly and all at once.
As Harper turned Dominica abruptly around, there were gasps of
shock. Portman leered, hoping
that Kowalski would pound the little worm into paste.
That would be almost as satisfying as doing it himself.
Then Harper did the last thing Portman expected him to.
Instead of saying a word, he kissed Doctor Babin rather thoroughly
while everyone gaped at them, then went down on one knee in front of her,
holding one of her hands in both of his.
“You are the best thing that ever happened to me, that
could ever happen to me,” Harper told her, looking up at her, his face
full of adoration. “You are
good and honest and generous and loving to everyone. You took me in when I was hurt even though you didn’t know
me and you took care of me better than anyone aside from my own mom ever
has. You looked at me and you
saw someone that was worth all that trouble even though I’m nothing. I want to be the person I see you smiling at when you look at
me. You make me want that,
make me want to be better than I am, better than I thought I could ever
be, to be someone worthy of you. I’m
not. I don’t know if I can
be, but I’ll try for the rest of my life to be if you’ll just keep
looking at me with that smile. I
love you. Marry me?”
The entire room was silent and everyone was staring, Portman
was sure. He couldn’t seem
to look around the room, his eyes glued to Dominica and Harper.
Dominica’s free hand moved to Harper’s head and she stroked his
hair, her eyes going shiny with tears.
Portman began to smile again, knowing the tears were there because
Dominica hated to see people in pain.
She was going to crush Harper’s heart.
Then she said something unimaginable to him.
Portman felt all expression drain from his face as shock
claimed him. Harper rose and
cupped Dominica’s face in both his hands, then kissed her again as the
room erupted into cheers and happy congratulations as everyone pressed
around the two of them. Suddenly,
there was a sharp pain in Portman’s left ear and he let out a squeak of
pain before a hand clamped over his mouth.
Unable to do anything but follow Doctor Lorn’s insistent pull on
his ear, Portman stumbled after her out of the room, where she pushed him
away from her, tripping him onto the floor.
“You are a toad of a man,” she hissed as she sneered down at
him. “I don’t know what
you were trying to do, but be grateful that it didn’t work.
If you ever go near Seamus or Dominica again, I will have you
fired. Do you understand
Portman gaped at her. Lorn
was a semi-retired, probably senile, old woman that the Admiral allowed to
dither around the Institute and she was threatening him?
“I have known Harriman Nelson for thirty years and we are
not just colleagues, we are friends. You’re a self serving, Johnny come lately with entirely too
high an opinion of himself. Don’t
think for even one second that I can’t have you tossed out of the
Institute at a moment’s notice, young man,” Lorn told him imperiously.
“Now leave. I
won’t have you marring what should be one of the happiest moments in the
lives of two people that deserve more than a little happiness.
Go!” She pointed his
way back the way they’d come, her look of displeasure almost
Portman stumbled to his feet, still in shock over the entire
situation. Both Doctor
Lorn’s disapproving glare and the cheery sounds from the cafeteria
seemed to push him away. He
couldn’t think clearly, the last few moments replaying over and over in
his head. It was all wrong,
like a nightmare. Harper
should be broken, despondent, not basking in the love of an important
woman and surrounded by friends. He
was the worthless one that should be slinking away shamefaced.
How could this have happened?
Portman was at an utter loss.
He just couldn’t understand how anything of this could have
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