Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 55

 

 

* * *

     For three days, Andrew Fletcher alternately celebrated his new found success and rued the day that he’d agreed to take the new position that Nelson had given him.  For the first few hours of the first day, it had mostly been ruing.  At first Harper had been nowhere to be found even well after the Seaview had set sail.  When he had finally appeared, basically being dragged by Doctor Lund, he had been sullen and downright depressed until lunchtime.  That was when Portman had ‘accidentally’ knocked into Harper, dousing the boy in scalding hot coffee.  Fletcher was glad that Harper was still recovering from his illness because he could barely keep the boy away from Portman, who wisely retreated from the room.  After going to Doctor Babin’s house to get a change of clothing for Harper, Fletcher sat the boy down in the living room of the house and had a long talk, mostly one way, about following proper channels with grievances about coworkers rather than taking physical action.  Fletcher had never thought that keeping Harper focused and out of trouble would be the most difficult part of his job.

     As it turned out, going to Doctor Babin’s house had been a boon.  When he couldn’t get much of a response out of Harper with anything else, Fletcher asked for a little tour.  Harper loosened up as he showed Fletcher his soon to be bride’s house, glowing with pride over the fact that he had managed to win Dom’s hand.  They had gotten to the kitchen when Harper started to finally talk about their project.  They had been cleaning up other things that Harper had started at the Institute, so Fletcher had a lot of questions at the ready about Harper’s shields and scanners and the other systems that he planned to introduce to the Flying Sub to make her space ready.  Before he knew it, they were sitting at the kitchen table, which was became increasingly littered with hastily drawn diagrams and notes.  Far too soon, it was getting dark out and it was time to quit for the day.

     Not wanting Harper to be alone, Fletcher had brought him back to his own house for dinner.  Though his wife had given him a few choice words about bringing ‘the new boss’ home without any warning, Fletcher knew it had been a good decision.  Within the hour, Harper was on the living room floor, pinned under five giggling girls that were tickling the life out of him.  That alone amazed Fletcher.  His thirteen year old rarely joined in with this sort of play anymore, but somehow, she was in there with the rest of them, abusing his superior mercilessly.  Harper was plainly letting them and hamming up his supposed distress.  For a young bachelor, he was surprisingly great with children.  By dinner time, he and Fletcher’s girls were all fast friends.  After dinner, cards and some television, Harper had fallen asleep on the sofa, Fletcher’s youngest snuggled up with him as if he were a big teddy bear.  Helen had actually agreed that Harper was fine where he was for the night and as Fletcher carried his daughter to bed, she tucked one of her homemade quilts around the boy and gave him an affectionate stroke across one cheek before turning out the lights.

     After that, he and Harper got astounding amounts of work done in practically no time at all.  Fletcher only half understood most of Harper’s designs, reaffirming that the silly, childlike person that had enchanted his daughters and wife was indeed a genius.  The shielding array was almost incomprehensible to him for the moment and it’s components made Fletcher envious of Harper’s mind.  Despite that, Fletcher was having fun in his work and felt like he had learned more in the past two days than he had in last several years of his life.  Harper was patient about explaining his designs and enthusiastic about making things for the Admiral.  It was easy to see that the boy worshiped Nelson and wanted to please him.  Fletcher couldn’t see how the Admiral could help but be pleased with what would be waiting for him when he returned to the Institute.

     It was only when Portman or Lawton were around that things went sour.  Most of the engineers had decided to take the high road and leave Harper alone, but not those two.  Lawton continued to spread evil, vicious rumors about the boy and Portman was openly hostile towards him.  Harper was fed up with the whole thing and it was all Fletcher could do to keep him from taking a swing at Portman.  In the end, he and Harper stayed mostly in the lab, hard at work, which kept them both away from Portman and the trouble he was trying to cause.  Of course, they still had to surface from time to time for food and bathroom breaks, but Fletcher had gotten a feel for the best times to do so and avoid trouble.

     It was on one such foraging trip on the third afternoon after the Seaview had left port that Fletcher had been trying to work out something that he was confused over, as usual, about something new that Harper had just brought up.  “But won’t the resonance shake the ship apart?” he asked, still not entirely sure how vibration protected things rather than shaking them to pieces.

     “It’s a phase shift resonator.  It doesn’t vibrate the ship, I promise.  Everything is aimed outwards at any incoming danger,” Harper repeated, not that it made anymore sense this time than it had any of the others.

     “But in space, in a vacuum, how would the vibration be able to resonate away from the ship?  There’s no atmosphere to support it.  It would die off immediately,” Fletcher said, just not able to grasp the concept.

     “Look, it just does.  Trust me.  We’ll make a model and I’ll show you,” Harper replied with a long suffering sigh.  The boy did that a lot and Fletcher was grateful that Harper didn’t get fed up with him and simply send him away.  That Harper was willing to keep working with him, willing to keep trying to get him past each technological hurdle that rose up before them spoke to the boy’s loyalty and ability to persevere.

     “I trust you, Seamus.  It’s just that...” Fletcher started, thinking to try and explain his confusion another way.  Before he could, a hideous screeching howl echoed up the engineering wing from somewhere else in the Institute.  “What was...” Fletcher started to ask, thinking some specimen had gotten loose from the Marine Biology department again.  However, when he turned to Harper, he found the boy wide eyed with fear and backing away from where the sound had come from.  “Seamus?” Fletcher said uncertainly as Harper jumped in terror as the sound echoed to them again.

     “No, no, no, no, no,” Harper breathed in horror, then turned and actually started running back up the hall.  “Not here.  Can’t be here.  No, no, no!”

     “What?  What’s that sound?  Seamus, what is that?” Fletcher asked as the screeching came again.  Fletcher didn’t know if it was the sound or Harper’s reaction to it that was getting to him, but he was starting to feel a little panicked himself.  Had he heard a scream after that last screech?  Were those sounds getting closer?  What was going on?!

     “Magog,” Harper whimpered as he fumbled his id though the security slot.  He did it incorrectly because the red light flashed up at him.  “Damn it!  Not now!  Come on!” Harper shouted at it when he tried several more times in quick succession and it still failed to work.  He was pulling his id through too quickly or twisting it.

     “Let me,” Fletcher said, pulling his own id tag through the slot.  Harper jerked the door opened and rushed over to one of the safes in the back of the room.  “Seamus, what’s a Magog?  What’s going on?”  He stood at the door, thinking that Harper was having a nervous breakdown and that maybe he ought to go get some help.

     “Close the door!” Harper shouted at him, sounding terrified. “Magog!  Sweet Divine, how do I explain Magog?!”  He worked the combination, then pulled the safe door open, yanking a bag out of it.  “Mister Fletcher, close the damned...”  He never got to finish the sentence because something large and hairy bowled Fletcher over, screeching that horrible sound he had heard in the hall.  Looking up into its wild, terrible eyes, at its bat-like, nightmarish face, Fletcher screamed.  He couldn’t think, couldn’t move as the thing started to lower its jaws toward him.  He only knew that he was going to die.

     “Eat this, you bastard,” Harper’s voice came and as suddenly as the creature had leapt onto him, it was half flung off of him by something.  Fletcher only barely started to think he wasn’t going to die after all when a second creature leapt, screeching, over him and into the lab.  Pushing the first creature fully off of him, Fletcher saw the second land on Harper, slash him viciously across the chest, and smash him to the ground, knocking something from Harper’s hand as it did.  “No!” Harper cried, reaching for an instant for what had been thrown from his hands.  It was just out of his reach.  The creature shrieked and started to lower it’s head to bite at Harper, who grabbed the thing with both hands, desperately trying to hold it’s drooling jaws away from him.  Whimpering in terror, Harper was losing the battle and those terrible teeth came closer and closer to him while Fletcher crouched there, watching, unable to move because he was frozen with fear.  Then, he saw Harper pinned under his girls giggling uncontrollably, saw him sitting at the dining room table slyly cheating to let Helen beat him at cards, saw that patient genius that had been helping him for over a week now and something in him snapped.

     “Leave him alone!” he screamed, flinging himself on the creature’s back and trying to yank the thing off of Harper.  The thing was so muscular it might as well have been made of stone and it nearly bucked Fletcher off of it with a shrug of its shoulders.  Fletcher held on, cursing the thing, pulling at its matted, stinky hair and grotesque ears.  That made it arch back and Harper jerked under it with another sob.  “No!” Fletcher shouted, thinking the thing had gutted Harper with its claws.  There was a strange whistling sound and a thump, then the creature jerked back and fell limp beneath Fletcher, both of them on top of Harper.

     “Get it off!  Get it off!” Harper whimpered, struggling in vain to escape the weight pressing down on him.  Fletcher pulled the creature off Harper, who wriggled free of it and backed up against the wall behind him, some sort of gun shaking violently in his hands, pointed at the creature.

     “It’s dead!  It’s dead,” Fletcher said, then approached Harper, making calming motions.  Harper was bleeding from a cut on his forehead and his shirt was bloody where it had been sliced through by the creature’s claws.  Harper kept the gun trained on the creature, but let Fletcher move next to him.  It was like Harper didn’t see or hear him.  He only stared wide eyed at the creature, whimpering.  The boy was in shock, Fletcher told himself.  “That’s a Magog?” he asked as he carefully looked him over, hoping to bring Harper back by talking calmly to him.  Saying the word ‘Magog’ only got another little, terrified whimper out of the boy and he shot the creature again several times, making Fletcher jump along with the body.  “You’re hurt,” Fletcher said, thinking he needed to get Harper away from the dead monsters.  He gingerly touched the wound on Harper’s forehead, wondering if it was from a claw or a tooth.

     “Ow!  Cut that out!” Harper yelled at him, then backed from him with an affronted look, almost seeming to be back to normal.  Then there was another screech outside of the lab somewhere and Harper started to shake again.  “Oh hell, there’re more.  Freakin’ hell!”

     “You’re hurt,” Fletcher repeated drawing Harper’s attention back to him.  He didn’t want to lose Harper to hysteria again.  “We need to get you to a doctor.  It bit you...”

     “No, no!” Harper sobbed, then seemed to take stock of his injuries.  “No,’ he actually laughed out.  “Just clawed me.  No bites.  Thank the Divine, no bites!”  He blinked tears out of his eyes looked back into Mister Fletcher’s eyes, seeming a little better.  “You didn’t get bit either, right?  We’re both okay?”

     Fletcher nodded, strangely relieved because Harper seemed to be mostly all right for the moment.  “The other one just knocked me down.  I’m fine, but you’re hurt.”

     There was another screech, then what sounded like a woman’s scream.  Harper’s head snapped in that direction and he seemed to shake himself the rest of the way out of his stupor.  “I’m okay.  We need to kill the rest of these things.  They breed worse than rabbits and they’ll kill everything they see.  Come on.”  He scurried over to the bag he’d pulled out of the safe and gave a gun similar to his own to Fletcher, sticking a third into the belt of his pants.  “We’re doing this, right, Mister Fletcher?  You and me?” he asked as he straightened up.

     Fletcher looked down at the gun in his hand.  It was light, looked like a toy, but he had seen what Harper’s had done.  He looked up into Harper’s face as the boy fought to retain his composure.  Harper knew what these things were and was terrified of them.  How was that possible?  Fletcher shrugged off those concerns as he heard another scream.  He would address them later, once the world was sane again.  “Let’s go,” Fletcher said, nodding to the door.  Harper grinned and handed him the bag and Fletcher looked quickly into it as they moved to the lab door.  More of the light guns were in it, maybe half a dozen, and Fletcher had to ask, “When did you make these?  Why did you?”

     “For the Admiral for on the Seaview, after he talked about some of the alien stuff that kept attacking him,” Harper said with a shrug as he carefully eased out of the lab door.  There was another scream and screech and he sprinted in that direction.  Fletcher took off after him, a little glad that Harper hadn’t gotten around to giving the weapons to the Admiral yet.  They rounded into one of the other labs to see another of the creatures clawing through equipment, trying to get at a figure letting out high pitched screams and huddling in the far corner.  It turned on them and snarled, but Harper simply shot it in the head, a cold, murderous look on his face.  Fletcher was glad to see it fade when the creature dropped.  Harper was a little frightening like this.  Fletcher would be glad never to see that look on the boy’s face ever again. 

     “Are you okay?  Hello?” Harper called to the barely visible person curled in the corner.  When the figure turned and Fletcher saw it was Portman, he nearly laughed.  Portman screamed like a girl!  Harper rolled his eyes with a sound of disgust, turning from Portman, muttering, “Figures,” as he started back out of the room.  Fletcher spared Portman a look of distaste and started off after Harper.

     “Wait!” Portman shrieked from behind him.  “What was that?  Where did you get that weapon?  What’s going on?”

     “We’re monster hunting.  Go find something else to hide under and we’ll tell you when the men around here are done doing what needs to be done,” Harper sneered back at him.

     “What if another monster comes?  Do you have more of those guns?” Portman whimpered as he scurried up behind them.

     “I don’t give weapons to little girls,” Harper stated with contempt.  Fletcher wasn’t sure he wanted Portman armed anywhere near him either and didn’t offer the man anything from the bag tucked through his belt.  They moved to sweep the Engineering wing for more creatures.  All they found were more terrified looking engineers that fell into a trembling group behind them.  All of them were silent except for Portman, who kept whining about how things like this had never happened before and that Harper was responsible somehow.  They met another group coming from the Administrative offices when they reached the hub, this one lead by Angie, the Institute’s Officer Manager.  She held a laser like someone accustomed to using one.  No wonder she was the voice of the Admiral when he was away.

     “You’re hurt, Mister Harper,” she stated calmly as the office staff huddled behind her much as Engineering was clumped behind Harper.

     “Had worse,” Harper said with a shrug, then nodded to the laser.  “How’d that do against them?”

     “Had to pretty much cut its head off, but it got the job done,” Angie replied, still sounding calm, though a few of the secretaries behind her shuddered or sobbed.  Fletcher had the feeling things had been as scary in Administration as they had been in Engineering.

     “These do better,” Harper said, handing Angie the gun from his belt, then turned to Fletcher to retrieve another from the bag.  “Body shot’ll knock ‘em down, head shot’ll kill ‘em.  Anyone else worth arming here?”

     “You have more guns?  I want a gun!” Portman whined.

     Angie ignored him, but took another gun from the bag and handed it to Katie, saying, “You’ll keep the others safe.  Leave the actual fighting of these things to Mister Harper and I.”

     “But Seamus is hurt,” Katie said, turning concerned eyes to Harper.

     “I’m okay, Katie,” Harper assured her.  “We need to hurry.”

     “You’re giving all these girls guns, but not me?  I want a gun!” Portman declared, looking like he was about to stamp his foot like a child.

     Angie gave him a withering glare and Portman wisely fell silent again.  He was lucky that Angie didn’t punch him from the look of things.  Instead she turned back to Harper.  “Did you see Security up your way?”

     Harper shook his head.  “Only three Magog.  We need to sweep the whole Institute, kill ‘em all.  If they get out of here and into the city, it’ll be like plague.  Don’t let’m bite you.  They bite you, you’re dead.”

     Angie gave Harper a close, careful look.  “You know what these things are,” she said rather than asked.

     “Yeah,” Harper told her, his strong facade fading as he shivered and looked terrified for a second.  “Trust me, that’s not making this any easier for me.”

     Suddenly Angie’s weapon was trained on Harper’s face.  “Who are you?  Where are you and these Magog from?”

     “Angie!” Katy said in astonishment, but no one else said anything right away.

     Fletcher started forward, not liking that weapon being pointed in the direction it was, but Harper waved him off, rolled his eyes, and let out a weary sigh.  “We don’t have time for this right now.”

     “Oh, I think we do,” Angie told him.

     There was another chorus of screeches from the direction of Marine Biology and Harper’s head snapped in that direction.  He turned and looked at Angie rather than the gun in his face, his expression determined.  “I’m Seamus Harper and I’m from Earth, just not from now.  Magog are aliens and they kill things and breed.  That’s all they do and they will kill everything in the Institute, in Santa Barbara, in California... you get the idea.  So, help me get rid of them or shoot me in the back.  I don’t freakin’ care at the moment,” Harper told Angie then started at a trot off toward the Marine Biology wing.  Angie watched him go, her gun training on his back as he moved away.  Fletcher didn’t know whether to follow Harper or try to convince Angie that the boy was no danger to them.

     “I say shoot him,” Portman said, moving next to her.

     Angie scowled at him and smacked him hard across the back of the head with the flat of her hand, then took off after Harper at a fast march.  Fletcher kept up with her and fell into step at Harper’s left as Angie did at his right.  “The minute these things are all dead, you’re telling me everything,” she informed Harper.

     “Fine,” Harper agreed.  “If we’re all still alive when this is over, I say we get a keg and I’ll tell everybody my life story.  On second thought, two or three kegs.  It’s a really long story and I suddenly feel the need to be really, really drunk.”

     “The Admiral’s heard this story?” Angie asked.

     “Of course.  And Dom,” Harper said, then a Magog leaped out of one of the offices at them.  The three of the shot the thing repeatedly and it fell dead before them.  “Can this possibly wait until we aren’t in deadly danger?” Harper asked Angie a little petulantly.

     She frowned at him, but didn’t get to answer, because a swarm of the creatures came at them from the corridor they faced.  It was terrifying.  Fletcher had never been a fighter, but the thought of just one of these things getting free of the Institute and threatening his family kept him at Harper’s side.  In the end, they killed at least a dozen Magog and got through to the Marine biology staff.  Doctor Lorn had gotten everyone safely locked away in one of the large decompression chambers, which had been surrounded by a score more shrieking Magog that were quickly dispatched.  They were all a little bloodied and exhausted after that, but no one had gotten bit and they kept going until they had swept all the main buildings.  They found two shredded guards, but no one else had been killed.

     They didn’t find any live security guards until they started to move their search out to the Institute grounds.  These men didn’t seem to have a clue as to what was going on, which didn’t give Fletcher a very good feeling.  No wonder spies and creatures like the Magog were able to breach the Institute so easily!  That didn’t stop the security men from taking the bag of weapons that Harper had made and berating Harper and Angie for not having summoned help immediately rather than taking on the monsters themselves.  Harper scowled at them and refused to hand over his gun and Angie read the riot act over the entire situation.  Fletcher began to shake, suddenly feeling as though he’d been running a marathon.  He was glad when they went, still armed, back to Marine Biology, where they had left everyone in the safety of the decompression chamber.

     When they let everyone out and Doctor Lorn was finally allowed to fuss over Harper’s injuries, Fletcher began to feel like they were going to actually live through this.  Though Angie was having a wounded arm tended to herself, she began casting suspicious glances over at Harper.  Fletcher hadn’t had a chance to really think about it, but the boy had said something about being from a different time, most likely from the future, all things considered.  It made sense, really, now that Fletcher thought about it, but Harper was still human and had pretty much saved the Institute with the guns he had made.  Fletcher found that the rest of the details, while probably pretty interesting, didn’t change who Harper was.  He still was a nice kid with a good heart and Fletcher would stand by him if anyone decided the boy’s history was more important than that.  As someone began to treat some of the scratches he had picked up in their battle, Fletcher leaned against the nearest wall and began to agree that now seemed like a very good time for a keg of beer or three.  Helen was never going to believe any of this.

* * *

     Nelson smiled triumphantly as he watched the last of the Magog fall.  He had known Harper was the right man to trust the Institute to, knew the boy would rise to any challenges thrown at him.  Anger over the deaths of the security men flared in him, but Harper had kept it from being worse.  Angie had done herself proud and Fletcher had been a surprise, but Harper had proved that Nelson’s faith in him hadn’t been misplaced.  That Barris snarled over what played out before them only made Nelson tense again.  Would the alien throw more Magog at the Institute’s bedraggled, spent defenders or would he try something else?

     “Annoying, worthless, little thing,” Barris snarled under his breath, then snapped his fingers.  One of soldiers appeared by him.  He nodded at the image of Harper, who was bloodied but being tended to, on the shimmery patch, saying, “Bring it.”  The soldier snapped to attention and vanished as Barris lifted a hand to the shimmery patch, which disappeared.  Nelson turned to Barris, clenching his hands into fists, fervently wishing that Harper’s weapons would work as well on whatever Barris was as they did on Magog.

* * *

 

 

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