Michelle Pichette


Chapter Five



* * *

     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 reconsidered.

     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 system?”

     “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 challenge.

     “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 doctors.”

     “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 doctor anyway.

     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 me.”

     “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 your hair.”

     “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 didn’t.”

     “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 died.”

     “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 say anything.

     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 concerned.

     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 mechanical principals.

     “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.  You?”

     “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 the memory.

     “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 intelligent dogs...”

     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 company of.

     “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 shoulder.

     “Get out of town!  I’m from Saugus!”  Her enthusiasm spread to him without hesitation.

     “Really?  Wow!”  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 universe, huh?”

     “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 about remembering.

     “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 at hand.

     “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 didn’t mean...”

     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 his reverie.

     “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.  Sorry.”

     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, sorry.”

     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 Marine Biologist.”

     “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 life.”

     “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...”

     “Homeless.  Got 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.  Don’t worry.”

     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 your generosity.”

     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 or cold?”

     “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 worrying about?

     “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 asked.

     “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 gaze.

     “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.

 * * *



Chapter Six
Belonging, Chapter 1
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