* * *
It was just after midnight when Nelson woke from a dream with a
start. He didn’t know what
he had been dreaming, just that it had bothered him enough to wake him.
That was odd in of itself, because Nelson usually remembered his
dreams quite vividly. He sat in bed and thought and thought, but no image came to
him. He tried to shrug it off
and go back to sleep, but he found himself staring up at the dark ceiling,
nerves on edge for no good reason. Maybe
it was the quiet of his empty house, or the stillness of it after being at
sea. Maybe it was Barris and
his bizarre offer that was unsettling him.
Barris hadn’t returned. Maybe
he had found someone to take him up on his devil’s deal.
Nelson would be just as happy if the alien never returned, or so he
told himself. However, he
could hear doubts whispering in the back of his mind.
Where had Barris gone to? What
trouble was he stirring up? Nelson
had been through this too many times to believe that the alien was gone
for good. Once these strange
things started, they always turned ugly and Nelson had to way to stop
whatever plot was being hatched. The
problem was, Nelson couldn’t imagine what Barris had to gain from his
offer of service. He lay
there, wide awake, trying to work it out with the total lack of
information that he currently had. He
sighed, thinking that if things progressed as they usually did, Barris
would be back in his office first thing in the morning, asking if he’d
It wasn’t the time to worry about it, though, Nelson told
himself. He closed his eyes
and tried to will himself to sleep, but it didn’t work.
He ended up laying awake for the rest of the night, running
scenarios through his head of what might happen when Barris returned.
When sunlight began to peek through his window, Nelson sighed and
got out of bed, had a leisurely shower, then went to the Institute, half
wondering why he had gone home.
The morning began uneventfully at the Institute.
There were updates on the Seaview’s repairs, last minute changes
to the guest list of the fund raiser, and the backlog of paperwork to deal
with, but nothing really out of the ordinary.
Nelson began to forget about Barris and his sleepless night, but he
made the mistake of going to the Institute’s cafeteria to get some
coffee and a little brunch rather than having it sent in to him at his
office. That was where
Portman descended on him.
“Sir, I think I have the Diving Bell’s problem right here,”
the engineer said, waving a stack of papers at him.
Nelson sighed. Maybe he hadn’t been having nightmares about Barris after
all. “See, right here.
This is corrupted. There’s a virus. I
knew there was a virus.”
Portman was pointing at something on the page, but Nelson simply
hadn’t had enough rest to deal with the man today.
“Yes, Mister Portman, you did,” he said, trying not to let his
temper flare. “Have you
found the virus itself and not just a degrading of the program caused
by... oh, say a magnetic pulse of some sort or damage to the actual
“I had considered those things, sir, but checked them out and
didn’t find anything. No, I
think someone introduced a virus into the program, which leads me to
believe that the Seaview’s computer might be similarly infected,”
Portman said, almost sounding pleased about the possibility.
“We haven’t had any difficulties with the computer on the
Seaview, Mister Portman,” Nelson said as he continued toward the coffee.
Suddenly he needed coffee desperately.
“It might not have surfaced yet, but it could very well be there.
And the virus itself isn’t in the Guidance Program, so I have to
find out where its hiding on the Bell’s system.
Once I do, I’d like to check the Seaview’s system for the same
problem. It might be a good idea to review the Institute’s
computers, too. There’s no
telling where the virus originated and how far its gotten,” Portman told
him, still a little too enthusiastic for Nelson to be comfortable with.
“Well, Mister Portman, do check on the Institute’s systems,
since that is your job. If
you find something there, I’ll give you permission to continue checking
for the virus in the Bell’s system, then I’ll talk to Miss Simmons and
Mister Morton about your findings and they will proceed accordingly on the
Seaview’s computer,” Nelson told him.
Portman’s confident expression faltered.
“Mister Portman, Miss Simmons and Mister Morton are in charge of
the Seaview’s computer systems. You
are not,” Nelson told him firmly. The
last thing he needed was for Portman to set foot on his boat.
The man had been steadily hinting that he would happily take a
cruise to aid the engineering team, but Portman was not cleared for any
such venture. He had no naval
training at all and certainly had never completed submarine training. While the same could be said for Doctor Babin, she was well
used to being in smaller submersibles and knew not to interfere with the
running of them. Nelson had
the strong suspicion that Portman would be as much of a pest on the sea as
he was on dry land. “The
Diving Bell’s wiring has been checked, hasn’t it?” Nelson asked.
He kept thinking the problem came down to the wiring somehow.
“Kramer rewired the entire thing, sir.
Not only is guidance still having a problem but now the observation
lamp and emergency lighting are refusing to work,” Portman replied,
though the zeal he had been displaying a moment ago was gone.
It wouldn’t be missed.
“It sounds as though it needs to be done again, possibly by
steadier hands,” Nelson said, wondering if Portman would rise to the
“I’ll ask Lawton to start on it right away, sir, and I’ll get
back to you as soon as I find that virus,” Portman said, then he hurried
off. Nelson shook his head.
He had known that Portman would delegate the task.
He hated hands on assignments for some reason.
Nelson couldn’t understand that at all.
He was never happier than when he was building something,
especially something he had designed.
Nelson got his brunch and returned to his office with it, thinking
that at least Portman wouldn’t bother him there.
For some reason, Portman didn’t like talking to Katy in order to
gain admittance to Nelson’s office.
Nelson had thought it was because Portman wasn’t military and
didn’t like to follow channels, since he didn’t like to talk to Chip
about the Seaview’s computers, as often as Nelson had told the man that
was indeed who he needed to speak to in that regard. Then he watched Portman’s bumbling attempts at romance with
Doctor Babin over then last couple of months, and how he just flushed and
faltered when trying to talk to Miss Simmons, and thought, perhaps,
Portman had problems speaking to women in general.
In any case, it wasn’t Nelson’s concern.
Nelson ate while he worked on his reports, then he dictated some
correspondence to Katy to take a break from them.
Finally, he decided he
wanted to see how things were going on the Seaview.
The Admiral hadn’t quite gotten to his office door when he got a
transmission from the Lund undersea base and he wound up talking to Doctor
Lund until almost noon. He
had hoped to be sending the Flying Sub out to get her for the fund raiser,
but something had come up in her research and she suddenly found herself
unable to attend. Nelson
would miss her company, but then reminded himself that he was supposed to
be escorting Doctor Babin to the affair.
He smiled at the thought, briefly wondering what mundane task she
was busying herself with today at her house.
Certainly his clean home and manicured lawn hadn’t given him a
restful night. He looked at
the reports he kept putting off doing for some reason and briefly wished
he were home, cutting his lawn.
* * *
Harper woke up and didn’t know where he was when he opened his
eyes. He was lying down in a
bed, all wrapped up and warm. Warm
was good Harper decided with a sigh as he let his eyes all but closed
again. Fuzzy memories came to
him as he lazed in bed. He
felt a bandage stuck to his forehead after a few moments, and aches and
pains from the beating he’d gotten slowly made their presence known, but
he didn’t hurt as much as he had. There
was a cold pack lying on the pillow next to him, which was probably why
his face wasn’t all swollen up. Somebody,
a woman with a soft voice and big, brown eyes had been taking care of him,
but he didn’t remember her bandaging his forehead.
Maybe she had done it when he’d been unconscious.
Harper decided to look around, but he didn’t rise yet.
The room was like something out of a history vid, with painted
walls, cloth curtains hung over glass windows, and what should be antique
furnishings that looked about new. Everything
was neat, clean and cheery, so he hadn’t been placed just anywhere. A guest room in someone’s home was the only thing that made
sense. He was also wearing
what felt like actual cotton. The
t-shirt and shorts felt very loose on him, not that he was planning on
getting out of bed for the time being, so it didn’t really matter how he
looked or that he would have to hold onto his shorts or they would most
likely be around his ankles before long.
“Okay, either I’m on Earth somewhere in the past or aliens are
holding me in some kind of exhibit. If
anyone of a deity nature is listening, I’d really prefer option ‘A’
please,” Harper murmured as he sat up.
He was bruised and battered, but nothing felt broken and since he
wasn’t dizzy or nauseous anymore and his vision had cleared, he supposed
that he didn’t have a concussion. He
also didn’t seem to have any infections or other illnesses because,
while he was warm again, he didn’t feel feverous.
That was a relief, especially after the virus he’s just gotten
over. He probably looked like
hell, but he’d live. He
was, however, in deep trouble and he knew it.
Even if he knew where he was, he couldn’t contact the Andromeda.
From the looks of things, she was likely centuries away.
“What am I gonna do?” Harper asked himself, beginning to feel
very alone and vulnerable.
Just then, the door of his room opened slightly and a young woman
peeked in. “Oh, you’re
awake finally,” she said, letting herself in.
She was a small person, about half a foot shorter than him, and
that was saying something. She also was the owner of the soft voice and brown eyes of
the person that had taken care of him when he’d last been conscious and
probably ever since. The
young woman looked human and had a sweet face and an effortless smile,
which set Harper’s mind somewhat at ease.
She didn’t look like the sort of person to start whipping out
torture instruments. She sat
by him on the bed and asked, “How are you feeling?”
“All right. Thanks?” Harper ventured with the appropriate sheepish
look. He was glad Earth
Common and not Galactic Common was his first language because he could
only guess that people not being able to understand him would have
probably wound him up in the place full of sadistic doctors.
His memory of what had happened after he’d gotten to shore
following being dumped in the water by the alien was still a foggy mess.
He knew that he had freaked out because doctors had been mentioned,
there had been a wonderfully hot shower and then some hot soup, then he
had fallen asleep despite telling himself that he wasn’t going to do
that. Beyond that, he had no
clear image what else had gone on. He
also was well aware that the clothing he was currently wearing couldn’t
be the young woman’s, so he wondered where the larger male individual
that they belonged to was at the moment and how they would feel about him
being here. He didn’t think making a pass at the young woman, as cute
as she was, or even a witty comment on how much better he’d feel with
her in his arms was a very good idea, so he didn’t say anything else. Best behavior, he admonished himself.
“That’s all right. Let’s
see how this looks,” she said, reaching up and tilting his head down to
check under the bandage on his forehead.
Harper’s mouth went dry as he found himself looking at her
t-shirt covered breasts. He closed his eyes, thinking that somebody was testing him,
seeing how badly he could sink himself in a best case scenario.
Hadn’t they been listening a minute ago when he’d promised to
be on his best behavior? “Everything
seems to be healing nicely,” she commented as she put the bandage back
in place. “The swelling on
your face and throat has gone down a lot.
How does your stomach feel?”
Harper opened his eyes and looked up only to find her looking at
him quizzically. “It’s
all right,” he said, feeling embarrassed about having been taking in a
closeup of her chest, even though she had pointed his eyes in that
direction. That was so not
him, but she was sitting there, looking all concerned and maternal and he
was beginning to feel bashful and unworthy of her attention, which was
also totally unlike him. Usually
he was more than happy to be the center of any woman’s attention.
“I’m Dominique Babin, by the way.
My friends call me Dominica or Dom.
You weren’t really up to introductions yesterday.
You seemed pretty centered the topic of no hospitals and no
“Sorry,” Harper apologized, feeling his face heat with a blush.
He couldn’t very well tell her why he had been so upset about the
matter. He was just glad that
she hadn’t called in the local authorities or a doctor as soon as he
passed out. If big, dark, and
scarey had been at all truthful, a doctor would be the last thing he
wanted to be near. Even if
the alien had just been improvising to scare him, Harper had seen plenty
of vids about what old time Earthers did to visitors from far off worlds
or travelers from the future and most of those were violent or basically
unpleasant too. It didn’t
seem that this place was that barbaric, but Harper didn’t want to test
the theory. He remembered
what passed for medicine on the Earth that he’d grown up on.
He’d never been all that thrilled at the thought of seeing a
Dom was giving him another questioning look and Harper realized she
didn’t know who he was. “Uh, Seamus Harper,” he introduced himself, not knowing
whether he should offer her his hand or not.
He left them where they rested in front of him.
“Most everyone calls me Harper, but you can call me whatever you
want. Really, thanks for last
night. I know I probably
sounded like a nutcase, but I’ve had some really bad experiences with
doctors and... ”
Dom smiled warmly and patted one of his hands, stemming off the
flow of nervous words as she said, “It’s all right, Seamus.
Don’t worry about it.” Usually,
Harper doesn’t like it much when people called him by his first name.
Usually, it meant the person addressing him was mad at him or going
to tease him about something. When
Dom called him Seamus, somehow it was soothing, almost affectionate and
that added to Dom’s reassuring demeanor started to calm him down a
little. After a few moments,
once he was more relaxed, Dom asked, “So, who was hitting you?
Or did you get run over by a truck?”
A hint of a smile played over her lips.
She was trying to set him at ease by making a joke, but wasn’t
sure how he would take it. Any
other time, he probably would have probably joked right back, but he
decided he’d better be serious for the moment.
“I don’t know who he was,” Harper replied honestly.
“He just seemed to appear out of nowhere, took an instant dislike
to me and started using me for a punching bag.
Then he dumped me in the water.
Next thing I knew, I was stumbling up the beach, then you found
“At least you didn’t get sick from the chill you got on top of
getting hurt. You should see
a doctor, but I suppose if you want to just go home, I can give you a
lift. Do you live in Santa
Barbara?” Dom asked. Harper
shook his head, wondering where Santa Barbara was.
On some coastline or other, obviously, but he’d never heard of
it. “Anywhere near Santa
Barbara?” she ventured next.
Harper began to tense again as he murmured, “Not really.”
How was he going to explain where he was from without sounding
crazy? Should he even try to explain?
Depending how far in the past he was, and he was pretty sure that
he was in the past on Earth somehow, there might not be space travel, much
less contact with the Commonwealth. Then
there was that whole vid thing to consider.
“Who can I call to come get you, then?”
“No one. I’m kind
of on my own,” Harper replied. Dom
fell silent for a moment and seemed to be thinking about her next
question, probably trying to be as tactful as she had been so far, but
Harper couldn’t bear lying to someone that was only guilty of being kind
to a hurt stranger, namely him. “And
I’m okay now, so if you’ll give me back my clothes, I’ll get out of
“And go where?” Dom asked, suddenly holding his hand in both of
hers and looking very concerned. Harper took a deep breath, not knowing how to respond to that
question at all. Where could
he go? He knew nothing about
where he was, had no money or anything of value, and he knew no one, not
even the person currently holding his hand.
He couldn’t imagine being more lost.
“Please don’t be insulted, Seamus, but are you homeless?”
Homeless was a pretty accurate assessment of his current situation,
so Harper nodded, saying, “But I’ll be all right.
I’m used to moving around. Something
always turns up and...” Then
he was at a loss for words again and he looked down, hopelessness pressing
in on him. Dylan and Beka
weren’t coming for him. How
could they? There was no way
for them to find him. Even he
didn’t know where or when he was. Why
hadn’t the alien just killed him?
Silence hung in the room for a few moments, but Dom hadn’t let go
of his hand. In fact, she
gave it a squeeze and said, “There are a few things I could use a hand
with around the house. I’m
away a lot and I kind of let things go.
Maybe you could stay here and help me out a little bit while we
figure out something a little more permanent.”
Harper looked up and she gave him another reassuring smile and
pressed his hand in hers again. She was still trying to be nice to him, even though she knew
nothing about him. No one had
ever done that for him before and it left him feeling strangely happy, in
spite of his current circumstances. In
his past, at least on Earth, he’d had to fight or grovel for everything
he needed. “You don’t
have to do that,” Harper said, though he wanted to jump at her generous
offer. Her home seemed safe and comfortable and he really didn’t
have any idea as to where else to go.
Dom’s smile brightened and she laughed softly.
“I know I don’t have
to, but I’m afraid my conscience would never give me any peace if I
“Pesky things, those consciences, but I like yours.
Really, as consciences go, yours is a definite winner in my
book,” Harper said as he let himself start to feel a little good about
the prospect of staying here with Dom.
She didn’t seem likely to start carving him up or ready to hand
him over to someone else who would. She
also didn’t seem to be the sort to slap him in chains and beat him
mercilessly while demanding he work harder and harder for meager amounts
of food and water. Maybe
he’d be okay if he stayed here and worked for her.
“I won’t be any trouble and I don’t mind earning my keep.
I’m good at fixing things. And
I’m good with anything else you want me to do.
Really, anything. Except
you don’t want me to cook. Trust
me there. People are still
recovering from the last meal I made.
But I don’t eat much, though I am sort of a caffeine addict.”
Harper forced himself to stop talking.
He was going to get himself thrown out into the street yet.
Suddenly he wished he was Dylan.
Everyone wants to help Dylan.
They fight each other for the chance.
“You and most of the country,” Dom said with another soft
laugh. That took Harper by
surprise. She wasn’t
rolling her eyes at him, even though he was starting to talk too much,
like he usually did when he was nervous or afraid or pretty much all the
time. She wasn’t telling
him to be quiet. She was
still holding his hand, though he knew she only intended it to be a
gesture of reassurance, it didn’t stop his imagination from laying out a
scenario where it led to something much more intimate and it wasn’t his
hand she was holding. Harper slapped down his subconscious, knowing those thoughts
were going to get him into trouble. This
might be the only nice person he was going to meet here and he didn’t
want her mad at him.
“You won’t be sorry, honest.”
“I’m sure I won’t,” she replied, then seemed to remember
something. “You said
you’re good at fixing things. How
are you with VCRs? Mine just
“I could look at it,” Harper offered.
He wasn’t sure what a VCR was.
He said a quick prayer to whatever deity had been listening before
not to let it be anything too outrageously complicated.
He’d hate to look like an idiot right away.
“All right. Let me get your clothes out of the dryer.
You can use the bathroom to freshen up,” she said, nodding to the
door opposite the one she’d come in.
She popped up from his side and was out of the room before he could
Harper took in his temporary quarters again, smiled a little and
said, “Not bad at all.” At least he was trapped someplace nice rather than in some
terrible hell hole somewhere. He
went into the bathroom, as Dom had suggested, and looked at that too.
Everything was dry, neat and tidy.
Dom must have been in to straighten out while he was asleep because
he was fairly certain he had not been in any state of mind to pick up
after himself last night. He’d
have to watch that, he told himself. Dom seemed like a tidy person, so he’d have to mend his
careless ways with his surroundings quick.
He looked in the mirror over the sink.
His left temple had a nasty purple bruise on it, another one
peeking out from under the bandage on his forehead and he could actually
make out the outline of a hand in the bruising on his throat.
The rest of his face wasn’t too bad, but it was peppered with
less severe bruises and scrapes. It
could have been worse, he decided. He
didn’t have a broken nose or black eyes.
Somehow, despite the number of times he’d gotten his face punched
in over the years, he’d never gotten his nose broken.
He was glad to see his luck was holding at least as far as that was
He had just taken care of the calls of nature and washing up and
was about to poke his nose into what seemed to be a cabinet over the sink,
when there was a knock on the door, which opened just wide enough to admit
a hand holding his clothes. When he’d first joined the crew of the Maru, Beka had stood
in the head, taping her foot, letting him know in no uncertain terms that
he had better be clean when he stepped out of the shower or she would
shove him back in and scrub him herself, and not in a sexy way. It seemed Dom was going to give him a little more privacy,
not that he would have minded her watching him change. Harper took the clothing with a smile and said, “Thanks,”
as the hand disappeared and the door closed again.
“You’re welcomed. Your boots are by the bed.
They might still be a little soggy.
Are you hungry? It’s
almost lunch time. I
haven’t been to the grocery store yet, so I’m afraid I’ve only got
some frozen pizza handy.”
She was going to feed him before he did any work for her?
Harper’s smile brightened. He
was beginning to really, really like Dom. “Sounds great, thanks,” he replied as he started pulling
off his borrowed clothing to put on his own.
There was a soft laugh from the other side of the door.
“You don’t have to thank me for every little thing, Seamus.
Come downstairs when you’re dressed.
The kitchen is on the right.”
“Okay,” Harper called back, holding back another ‘thanks.’
He threw his clothes on, then his boots, which were still damp on
the inside, but who was he to complain, and went down stairs.
At the bottom, he found himself in a room with a lot of books along
the walls. There were some
comfortable looking chairs and a couch in the center of the room, they
faced a medium sized view screen and there was another, smaller one to the
right on a desk. The room was
homey and cheerful and Harper couldn’t help but feel safe and welcomed
looking at it.
“Find everything all right?” came Dom’s voice off to his
right. There was a small
archway, a wooden table and chairs just on the other side.
She sounded to be in a room beyond that.
“Yes. Wow, you’ve
got a lot of paper books,” Harper called back as he walked over to look
at them. These were rare in
his time, at least on Earth. Elsewhere,
paper books were things that rich men kept in safe, dry places.
He’d found some old, badly damaged ones where he’d been born in
Dunwich. There had once been
a college where he’d found them, Salem State College, he remembered
finding imprinted on lots of things in the ruins.
He’d taught himself to read with those books and gained a love of
science from them, for they’d mostly been books about physics and
“Paper as opposed to what?” Dom asked with a little laugh.
“As... as opposed to... ones on disk?” Harper tried, cringing a
little. He was going to have
to watch every single thing he said if he didn’t want Dom to figure out
that he wasn’t from this time or think him insane.
“I’d rather read books than have them read to me,” she
replied to Harper’s infinite relief. Another bullet dodged.
“Me too,” he said as he went over to look at the books to see
what they were about. To his
surprise and delight, the first spine bore the name Roger Zelazny, his
name sake. His mom had known
The Chronicles of Amber by heart, which she would have had to since she
could not read. He took out
the book, holding it, looking at the opening lines, remembering lying in
what served as his bed, being told them by a soft, loving voice. Tears came to his eyes, but he shook them off and cleared his
throat, saying, “You like Zelazny?”
“Got all his books and read ‘em all twice.
“I’m Seamus Zelazny Harper.
My mom used to tell me all the Amber stories.
She knew ‘em by heart,” Harper said, still feeling warm from
“No kidding,” Dom said, her voice suddenly much closer.
She was just coming through the archway, smiling at him.
“How about Tolkien, Lackey, McCaffrey, Verne or de Lint?”
“Verne, yeah, and I know some Tolkien and... McCaffrey?
I think I skimmed a couple. She...
It is a she, right? She wrote
about dragons, didn’t she?” Harper asked, smiling back.
“The Dragonriders of Pern, yes,” Dom said with a nod, then
looked at the wall of books. “So
many good stories, so little time.”
“Tell me about it,” Harper said, wondering when was the last
time he’d sat down to read something that wasn’t work related or
designed to ease sexual frustration.
When Beka had first rescued him from Earth and literature had been
easy to access, he’d read anything and everything he could get his hands
on. What other sci-fi
classics had he read? He had
to really think old here. “I
like Clark, Niven and Bear, too. Oh
and... what was it... the one about all the civilizations... and
She reached up past him and handed him a book.
“Clifford Simak’s ‘City.’
Great book,” Dom agreed enthusiastically.
She actually owned it. Someone
who loved to read like he did! He
was in love! Harper gave
himself another mental slap. No
love, survival. Still, it
didn’t hurt to express a mutual interest, did it?
“That is so cool, how you knew just the book I was talking about.
Could I read this later? After
I do some work for you, I mean. Lots
and lots of work first before any reading.
Days and days worth if you want,” he said.
He didn’t want to sound lazy, like he actually wasn’t more than
willing to earn his keep. He
was willing to work hard. He
really was, especially if doing so meant he’d be kept safe and warm and
in the company of someone that he was already enjoying being in the
“Of course you can borrow it, and not in days and days,” she
said with a little, light hearted laugh, like he was being silly.
He loved her laugh. He
didn’t know anything about her and he felt like she was his buddy all of
a sudden, just because of that laugh.
“You know, you sound like you have just a little bit of a Boston
accent. You wouldn’t be
from Massachusetts, would you?”
Harper nodded. “I grew up in Bunker Hill.”
He was rewarded with a big, sunny smile and a playful shove on one
“Get out of town! I’m from Saugus!” Her
enthusiasm spread to him without hesitation.
He knew Saugus. It was
a marshy place just north of the city.
Lots of mosquitoes and good places to hide things you didn’t want
the Nietzscheans to find, or so he had been told.
He thought his family had skirted it in moving from Dunwich to
Boston, but mosquitoes were bad news.
They carried all kinds of diseases that people died from on a
regular basis and since he always got sick so easily, he’d stayed away
from the place. It probably
wasn’t that way now, though. Harper
grinned and began to feel good. Dom
was a Massachusetts gal. She
had to be cool. “Small
“Absolutely. Were you born in Boston?”
“No, in...” Harper paused. There
wasn’t a Dunwich before the alien invasions.
What had it been called before it had gone to hell?
He’d just been thinking the name a moment ago but it was gone
from his head! Think, idiot!
Think fast! “Salem.
I was born in Salem,” Harper said, trying not to sound relieved
“I love Salem. Pickering Wharf and the East India Museum and all the witch
stuff,” Dom said. Harper
didn’t have the slightest clue what she was talking about but he found
himself grinning again. She
had been there. She knew all
about where he’d grown up because she was from the area too, albeit in
the distant past. And she
looked so happy to talk to him, unlike almost every other woman he’d
ever run into, and she wasn’t drunk or anything!
Why couldn’t he have met her on one of the Drifts during a supply
run? Of course, then she
wouldn’t be here, just when he really needed someone nice and friendly
more than he had in a really long time.
Harper made himself stop thinking about that and stick to the topic
“I haven’t been there since I was really little,” he told
her, not that it would have mattered if he had.
All the things she’d mentioned were gone.
That was a little depressing.
He wished he could have seen the things she had been talking about.
Salem sounded a whole lot nicer than Dunwich.
He wished he could have grown up there.
“Is your family still in Boston?
You could call if you wanted to,” Dom asked.
Harper stared at her blankly for a second, then he realized that
she was offering to let him communicate to Boston to let his family know
he was all right.
“Oh... uh... my folks, they got killed I was eight.
I lived with my aunt and uncle then, but they’re dead too.
I have a cousin, but I don’t know how to get a hold of him.
He kind of lives in the subway,” he told her.
He wished he knew if Brendan was even still alive... or would be
still alive? This time shift
stuff was so confusing.
Dom’s face fell. “I’m so sorry. I
Harper shook his head and put a hand on her arm, realizing that she
felt awful about bringing up his parents, probably his family in general.
Most people didn’t care and adopted a ‘the universe if a tough
place, kid, so get over it’ attitude when they found out about what had
become of his family. Dom
seemed so nice. She was
probably the nicest person Harper had ever met.
A little voice in his head told him to trust her, to tell her what
had really happened, who he was, where he was from, that she would help
him if she could. However, a
big, hysterical voice told that one to shut the hell up, that it was going
to get him killed or worse. No,
no, he told himself, Dom wouldn’t hurt him and he had to trust somebody
now that he was stuck here. He
was going to tell her. He
just didn’t know how to without sounding nuts.
“No, really, it’s okay,” he assured her.
“No way you could know. I’ve
kind of been bouncing around my whole life.
I mean, the longest I ever stayed in one place, sort of, was when I
lived on this ship I that I did repairs on, but I don’t know how to get
in touch with them either. And
I’m not entirely sure where I am now, so... Is something burning?”
Dom was suddenly dashing back in the direction she’d come from.
Harper set down the books he was holding and followed.
She was opening a little door and smoke billowed out.
A small chirping alarm started to sound and Harper looked around
helplessly, not knowing what to do. Was
something on fire? Should he
look for an extinguisher? Dom
didn’t seem overly alarmed. She
turned on a small fan over what Harper now realized was a cooker, waved a
towel at the smoke, then went to a window to open it.
“So much for frozen pizza,” she said, then let out a little
cough, then a laugh, as she fanned the smoke toward the window.
“Sorry about that.” Now
that the smoke was being vented, the alarm stopped chirping.
Maybe this was a sign. Maybe
the Divine had just stopped him from telling the truth for a reason and
who was he to mess with the wishes of the Divine?
Harper knew he’d better say something though, because he was
standing there like a slack jawed idiot at the moment.
“I... uh... gee, remember that last meal I said I tried to make?
This is going better than that did.
No jetting flames or second degree burns involved,” Harper said
with a smile. Dom laughed
again, that magical little laugh. It
made Harper feel happy just hearing it.
“Well, I said pizza, so we’re having pizza.
I have food shopping to do anyway.
The house can air while we’re out,” she said, then grabbed
something from a hook on the wall and a small bag from the counter and
started toward another door. Harper was confused and slightly alarmed.
Out? Like, outdoors?
In the open? In broad
daylight? Where the Magog
would be hunting and the Nietzscheans would be looking for new slaves?
Was she crazy? Was
that why she was so friendly towards him?
That was pretty much how his luck worked, so maybe.
She opened the door to his right, which seemed to lead somewhere in
the house rather than outside. She
started through, then looked back to where he was standing, shook her head
at him, walked over to him, grabbed his hand and tugged him after her,
grunting, “Food this way. Come.
Woman gathering. Man hunt later.”
Harper grinned, knowing he was being teased and not minding it a
bit. He followed her without
argument, despite what his survival instincts were telling him, figuring
the least he could do was guard her back. Then he saw what was through the door. “You have a Harley?”
A classic, beautiful, violet, shiny Harley Davidson in what looked
like mint condition was right there in front of him.
Harper nearly had a heart attack on the spot.
“A ninety four XLH twelve hundred, but it can’t carry all the
groceries I intend to buy. Help
me with some yard work later and I’ll take you for a spin around the
neighborhood if you want,” Dom told him as she opened a door to the
vehicle next to the Harley and nodded for him to get in.
“Awesome,” Harper beamed happily, too thrilled with the thought
of actually, maybe going to get to ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle to
think about what he was doing. The next thing he knew, Dom was in the seat next to him,
putting on a very flimsy looking harness, and starting the vehicle they
were in as she pushed a button on some sort of remote.
The large door behind them started to open and light streamed in.
Harper cringed, afraid of what he would see as the vehicle slid
back out into the open and then his eyes opened wide with wonder.
Green! Everything was
green and bright! He looked
up through the windscreen of the vehicle.
The sky was blue! A beautiful, azure field broken only by the occasional white,
puffy cloud. There were
flowers in Dom’s front yard! Someone
waved and called from one of the houses near hers as they passed and Dom
waved back, smiling. There
had never been Magog here. This
Earth had never seen Nietzscheans. Then
Harper saw a bird and lost that train of thought.
Not a bedraggled crow or a vulture, a little bird, the kind that
sang! Earth hadn’t been
like this in so long that he hadn’t expected it.
He hadn’t believed that his birthplace could have once been such
a beautiful, peaceful place, like in pictures and vids.
Something in him ached at seeing it first hand.
This was how Earth was supposed to be, not some dismal, blackened
hole with a brown sky and the things on her surface struggling just to
survive a day. He felt
humbled and awed at witnessing it with his own eyes.
“So, what do you like on your pizza?” Dom asked him, breaking
“Huh?” He blinked
and looked back toward her.
Dom smiled at him and repeated, “What do you like on your
pizza?” Harper shook his
head and shrugged. He had
options? You didn’t have to
take it as it came? Dom got a
concerned look on her face. “Are
you all right, Seamus? If
you’re not feeling well, we could...”
“I’m fine!” Harper squeaked out a little too quickly, then he
gave her a forced grin, hoping it didn’t look like one as he slowed
himself down. “Fine,
really, just fine. Just...
got caught up with how beautiful a day it is.
Dom smiled again. “You know, most guys don’t notice the weather unless its
raining and they can complain about it.”
“How could you not notice a day like today?” he asked, then saw
one of the birds he’d seen before and got all excited again.
“What kind of bird is that?
Do you know?”
Dom looked where he was pointing.
“A finch, I think. Probably an American Goldfinch.
You’re interested in birds?”
“It was just... cute. Uh,
Dom shook her head and laughed again.
It gave him tingles. “You
don’t need to keep apologizing, Seamus.
How long have you been in California?”
He was in California? Okay,
he was in California. “Since
yesterday,” he said sheepishly.
“Oh, no wonder! You just get here, not used to anything, and then somebody
pounds the living daylights out of you and really throws you for a
loop,” she said, as if that explained his confusion.
Harper was happy to have a viable excuse, hoping that she’d go
right on thinking that way. “Well,
most people in California, especially Santa Barbara, are not so
inhospitable. You said you were doing maintenance on ships, right?”
He nodded, deciding maybe he’d better not say what kind of ships
at the moment. “You must
have just made port, too. My
boat got in yesterday morning after three weeks out.
I’m still getting my land legs back.”
“You... you work on a ship?” Harper asked uncertainly.
Okay, if she said a spaceship, he told her the truth.
If not, well, the Divine knew what it was doing.
“On a boat. A submarine, actually, not that I have anything to do with
the running of it. I’m a
“Oh.” Like Rev
said, trust in the Divine. So,
she’s a scientist. That’s
cool. “That was how you
knew what the bird was!”
“You’re thinking of an ornithologist,” she said with another
smile. “I study ocean
“Hence the ‘marine’ in front of the biologist,” Harper
said, feeling stupid. He
hated it when his mouth beat his brain in races.
“You like it? Marine Biology?”
“Love it. And I have
a great boss. You know who
Admiral Harriman Nelson is, right?”
The name was familiar, but Harper shook his head.
He was hopelessly bad at most history from before the fall of the
Commonwealth, especially obscure military type things.
Mostly he knew big, general stuff or history more local to Boston.
It wasn’t that Harper didn’t know the name Nelson, but it was a
common enough name in history. There
was British Admiral, of course, and the Nelson Science Consortium in his
time that was founded by a scientist named Harriman Nelson, but he doubted
it was the same person that Dom was talking about.
The Nelson he was thinking about was named after the Admiral Dom
mentioned or something, Harper reasoned.
A lot of people got named after military leaders.
“I’m shocked! I
thought everyone knew him. He’s
a wonderful man. Maybe
you’ll get to meet him later. What
was your position on the ship you were working on?”
“Uh...” He was
pretty sure he shouldn’t say engineer. It was an honorary title anyway.
Most engineers, even in his time, studied at schools to earn the
right to be called that. They
didn’t sneak into forbidden areas to rifle through ruins to find bits
and pieces of ancient books to learn anything and everything they could,
or tinker with stuff until they figured out how it worked when they were
sick in bed. “I kind of
fixed stuff so they let me stay and fed me?”
Boy, that didn’t sound very pathetic, now did it?
Dom gave him a confused look.
“Seamus, how long have you been homeless?” she asked.
She sounded concerned again.
“You mean as in not having a home other than the ship I’m
currently working on?” he asked back a little hesitantly.
“That would be what I meant, yes.”
“Always? But... but
it’s not as bad as it sounds.” Yes, it was, but he wasn’t going to tell her that.
“I always had family in Boston and after that, the people I’ve
worked for on the ships, they’ve always been good to me.”
Dom seemed to think about what he’d just told her.
“I’m thinking they didn’t exactly ask you to fill out a W-two
form when you got these jobs, did they?”
Harper had no idea what that was, so he shook his head.
“Do you know your Social Security Number, Seamus?”
He shook his head again, wondering what that was, too.
“Um, do you know what hospital you were born in?” she asked,
beginning to sound a little uneasy about something.
“I wasn’t born in a hospital.
See, my folks were...”
it.” Dom let out a deep
sigh. “Okay, just so I have
this all clear in my head, you don’t have a Social Security Number and
probably no record of birth. You
are sure you were born in Salem, right?
Not in Ireland or something like that?”
“No... I mean yes... I mean I know I was born in Salem.
I don’t know where my folks were born, but I was born there,”
he replied, beginning to get flustered and nervous about the topic.
“Okay. That’s a
relief. You are an American
citizen, then, even if you don’t have the paperwork to prove it,” Dom
said. She actually did sound
a little relieved, but Harper remained tense.
“No paperwork is a problem, isn’t it?”
His stomach was twisting. What
did they do to you if you didn’t have paperwork?
Dom looked over at him and gave him a smile to reassure him.
“Look, my older sister is the Assistant District Attorney of
Boston.” Harper was sure he
was giving her a blank look of incomprehension.
“She’s a very important lawyer.”
That he understood, so he nodded slowly to the statement so that
she would continue. “I’ll
give her a call when we get back to my place and we’ll see what she
thinks we ought to do. I’m
sure all this can be straightened out.
But he was worrying. Anything
to do with lawyers worried him. “I
don’t want to make trouble,” Harper said, his voice sounding small and
afraid to him. Unfortunately,
it was also how he felt and the he couldn’t shake it off this time.
When you had to have a lawyer, it meant you were in big trouble,
the kind you couldn’t talk yourself out of no matter how hard you tried
and this time he had no where to bolt to and no family or Beka or Dylan to
bail him out.
“You aren’t, Seamus. It’s
all right,” she told him as she pulled into an area with a lot of other
vehicles. She stopped hers
and shut it down, then turned to look full at him and gently patted one of
his hands. “You’ll see.
Toni, my sister, will work her legal magic and you’ll have a
Social Security Number in no time. Then
we’ll see about finding you a job and some place that you can call home.
A real home, one that won’t leave port without you. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”
“Sort of,” Harper said with a pained look, only he had been the
one that had been forced, very involuntarily, to leave the Andromeda.
Dom smiled warmly, giving his hand a squeeze.
“Well, don’t let it bother you. I’m
not going to ditch you, okay? I’m
in port for a few weeks and by the time I have to ship out again,
everything will be all settled, I’m sure.”
Harper couldn’t believe how kind Dom was being to him.
How had he gotten this lucky?
“Are you this nice to everybody?” he asked as some of the
tension leaked out of him.
“Everyone doesn’t drop at my doorstep pulverized, frozen and
half drowned,” Dom told him. “And what kind of Catholic would I be if I looked away when
God was obviously shoving somebody in need right at me?” She was religious. That
was okay. She wasn’t trying
to convert him or anything. Wayism
made Rev Bem a friend instead of another Magog looking at him as if he
were a meal, much as Harper had kidded him to the contrary.
“Come on. I’m
hungry. Let’s get some
pizza, then we’ll restock my pantry.”
“Okay, but I feel like I’m taking advantage of you,” Harper
admitted. Normally, he
didn’t have a problem with women wanting to give him things, not that it
had ever happened when the woman in question wasn’t about to get him
into huge amounts of trouble or quite possibility try to kill or enslave
him. Even Beka, who was his
friend, expected him to work hard and risk life and limb for her when
necessary to earn his food, shelter and clothing. However,
Dom obviously didn’t want anything from him, so it was confusing him.
“You know, I don’t remember you ever asking me for anything
other than to have your clothes back and to borrow a book,” Dom pointed
out, then got out of her vehicle. Harper
sat there for a second, unable to argue the point but feeling like he
ought to, when his door opened. “Out!
You’re getting fed, like it or not,” Dom ordered, nodding him
out of the vehicle.
Harper got out and gave her a grin.
“I hope you’ve got a lot of stuff for me to fix.
I have the feeling that it’s gonna take me forever to work off
Dom shook her head at him, but she was smiling and grabbed his
hand, pulling him after her. Harper went without a struggle through the vehicles and up
onto a cement walkway in front of a line of what seemed to be stores.
He couldn’t believe the number of people around, but Earth’s
human population had been a lot smaller in his day.
Some people smiled at him as he watched them, though most ignored
him. He was so busy gawking
that when Dom tugged him toward one of the stores, she nearly pulled him
over. He gave her a sheepish
look when she turned to him, which garnered him another of Dom’s sweet
smiles. She was so cute that
he just wanted to kiss her, but he wasn’t stupid enough to listen to
that impulsive voice whispering in the back of his head.
“Hey, Dom. Got a new
recruit there?” a man at a podium just within the door asked as they
entered. Good smells radiated
from this place and Harper was suddenly hungry as he breathed them in.
“Hi Bill. No, Seamus
is a friend from out of town,” Dom said.
Harper blinked, looking at her.
She’d called him a friend and sounded as though she’d meant it.
“Better watch it, Seamus. All
of Dom’s friends end up in the Admiral’s thrall,” Bill said with a
laugh, nodding for them to follow him.
He led them to a small table not that far away, but Harper’s mind
was on other things. Who was
the Admiral? Did this guy
mean that Admiral Nelson that Dom had said was her boss?
But she seemed to like and respect him.
How did he put people into his thrall?
Dom didn’t act like a slave.
If anyone tried to hurt her... Harper forced down the urge to
protect Dom. Even if he had
to, how could he?
“Bill, all my friends that you know were working for the
Institute long before I did,” Dom replied.
Harper sighed in relief as he realized the ‘thrall’ thing was
just teasing. He had to calm
down, but he couldn’t. He
kept expecting people to jump him and tie him down and do awful things to
him, though the people in the restaurant weren’t paying any attention to
him at all, much less acting in a threatening manner.
So why was he on the verge of a panic attack? He swallowed hard, forcing down the feeling somehow.
“Want your usual or do you need a minute?” Bill asked.
“A minute should about do it,” Dom said, then handed a paper
menu to Harper, set her chin on her hand and waited.
He looked down at the menu, still inhaling smells so good they were
all but making his head spin. Everything
looked good as he scanned the items available.
He looked at prices, but they didn’t make any sense to him.
The monetary system wasn’t based on thrones, like in his time, so
he didn’t know what anything cost.
Dom cleared her throat, reminding him that she was waiting for a
decision. “Uh, everything
smells wonderful. Anything...
Whatever you usually get will be fine,” he said, getting flustered.
“You like mushrooms?” Dom asked.
Harper shrugged and nodded. Food
was food. “Okay, Bill, but a medium pie and,” she looked back to
him and asked, “Caffeine, right? Hot
“Coffee?” Harper asked with a little cringe, wondering if it
was too pricey to be asking about. Good
coffee, real coffee from real beans, was expensive in his day and age.
Mostly it was synthetic, but all Harper usually wanted out of it
was the caffeine charge, so he didn’t care.
On the menu, coffee had looked pretty inexpensive comparatively,
but he couldn’t be sure.
“Coffee it is,” Bill said.
“It’ll be about twenty minutes.”
Then someone else came into the small restaurant and Bill put the
piece of paper he’d been writing on up on a shelf in the back of the café,
then moved to welcome them.
Harper looked at Dom and she smiled at him again, which settled his
nerves somehow. How did she
keep doing that, making him go from terrified to almost relaxed with just
a look or a touch or a couple of words?
“You come here a lot?” Harper asked, just to have something to
say. He kept sounding stupid.
She probably thought he was an idiot.
He didn’t want her to think that.
Why did it matter so much to him with everything else he should be
“Once in a while. Bill just knows everyone,” Dom told him, still smiling.
“So, let’s see. Toni’s going to need a few facts about you, I’m sure.
When were you born?”
Harper felt panic hit him dead in his stomach, which shrank
suddenly into a lead ball. What did he tell her? He
didn’t even know what year it was!
Dom had said her Harley was a ninety four model, but who knew how
old it was when she had purchased it or how many years she’d had it. “You tell me when you were and I’ll tell you when I was.
Say, how old are you? Am
I gonna get in trouble for even talking to you?” he asked in what he
hoped sounded like a playful tone. Please,
please let her think that I’m playing, he thought desperately, hoping in
equal amounts that he didn’t look as panicked as he felt and that she
would answer his questions so that he could answer hers.
Dom smiled, chuckling. “I
doubt it since I’ll be twenty four next month.
I was born October thirtieth, nineteen seventy two and, fortunately
for you, I’m not the sort of person that minds being asked her age.
Better watch that with other women.
You’ll get slapped.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Harper admitted, but he was
glad Dom was so forthcoming. Beka would have punched him for asking that sort of stuff.
He had been working for her for about five years and he still
didn’t know how old she was.
“And so you were born...?”
“May fourth, nineteen seventy one.”
May fourth was the truth, anyway.
At least that’s what his parents had told him.
“So you’re twenty five?”
Harper nodded, glad he was good at math under pressure.
It was nineteen ninety six. What
Earth year had it been when they’d joined the Commonwealth and changed
all the calendars? Harper
couldn’t remember, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t any time soon.
“And you don’t think you have a Social Security Number?”
“If I do, it would really surprise me,” Harper replied.
“Okay. Umm... Besides your cousin, do you have any family or a close
family friend that could swear a statement as to who you are?” Dom
“Nope. Just me and
my cousin left and I’m not entirely sure he’s still around.
Things weren’t exactly wonderful for him the last time I saw
him,” Harper told her with a sigh.
He’d looked down and found he didn’t know what to do with his
hands. He began playing with
some of the things on the table: a
salt and pepper shaker and another, fatter one with what smelled like
finely grated cheese in it. He
slid them around, but he wanted to pick one up and launch it across the
room. Why couldn’t Dylan
have come to help that one time? It
wasn’t like he asked Dylan for much, or anything at all.
Why was Earth the last thing on Dylan’s priority list?
Then a hand stilled his and he looked up, meeting Dom’s troubled
“I’m sorry to keep bringing up your family,” she apologized.
He was going to tell her it was all right, but she pressed his hand
gently, continuing, “Don’t say it’s okay.
I can see how much it hurts you to think about them.
From now on, I won’t bring the subject up. If you want to talk about them, we will, as much as you want.
The problem is other people are probably going to ask even more
pointed questions about them than I have.
Will you be all right if they do?”
She was sincerely concerned and sympathetic, and it moved Harper in
a way he wasn’t unaccustomed to. “I’ll
be fine,” he told her, even working up a little bit of a real smile as
he turned his hand under hers and squeezed her fingers gently.
As he met her eyes across the table, he actually felt that he might
be all right. At least he had
made one friend in this strange Earth he’d been sent to.
* * *
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