Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 56

 

 

* * *

     Doctor Lorn gently dabbed the scrape on Seamus’ forehead with an antiseptic wipe, making soft sounds of reassurance as he flinched at her touch.  Watching Seamus, Angie and Andrew fight those monsters had been terrifying.  It was a miracle that none of them had been very badly hurt.  As it was, Doctor Lorn was dreading opening Seamus’ shirt and seeing what the wounds he was holding pressure on looked like.  He was sitting back against a wall, eyes closed, looking far too young and pale.  Doctor Lorn brushed his hair back and smiled softly at him as he looked up at her.

     “Let me look at those cuts on your chest, dear,” she said, stroking his hair again.

     Before Seamus could respond, someone moved next to them and they both looked up to see Angie standing over them, cradling one of her arms.  A creature’s claws had caught her there, but Seamus had killed the thing before it could hurt her any worse.  She was bandaged now, but didn’t look at all pleased about the fact that they had survived this harrowing experience.  “You owe me a story,” she told Seamus rather sternly.

     “You owe me a lot of beer,” Seamus replied without pause.

     “Better be a damned good story,” Angie said with a frown.

     “Hey, we’re talking about me here.  I’m nothing if not entertaining,” Seamus replied with a little grin.  Angie’s frown wavered and was plainly forcing herself not to smile.  They were all coming down from an adrenalin high so emotions were likely to be a little unpredictable for a while.  Seamus started to sit up, but Doctor Lorn pointedly put a hand on his shoulder, keeping him back up against the wall.

     “First you get these cuts seen to, dear, then I’ll decide if you’re up to being questioned,” she said, then glared up at Angie so that she would know that this was not up for debate.  She didn’t know what was going on between her and Seamus, but it could wait.

     Seamus grinned weakly, closing his eyes again and letting himself fall back limply against the wall, murmuring, “Okay, Mom.”  He looked back up at Angie, his expression going grim once more.  “Those two bodies we found, they need to burned or more Magog are going to pop out of them in a couple of days.”

     Angie nodded somberly.  “I’ll see to it.”  Seamus grimaced as Doctor Lorn moved the wad of bandages from his chest.  Angie looked at the blood on them and his shirt and her features softened as worry took the place of the distrust that had been there.  “Don’t worry about anything for right now, Seamus.  Just get patched up and we’ll have our talk after you’ve had a chance to catch your breath.”

     “No!” Portman’s petulant voice cut in.  “Everyone keeps doing that, giving him sympathy and letting him get out of telling the truth!  The little hobo needs to tell us here and now who he really is and how he brought these monsters down on us!”

     “Oh, shut up, Portman,” Angie ordered the disagreeable man.  “Seamus saved your life.  He could have let those things eat you.”

     “Should have,” Seamus muttered under his breath, glaring up at Portman.  Doctor Lund stroked his head gently, distracting him, trying to calm him.  Seamus looked to her and pursed his lips for a moment, then lowered his head in shame.  “I didn’t want to keep things from everyone.  The Admiral told me not to tell anyone the truth,” he said softly to her, looking forlorn.  Doctor Lorn stroked his face, not knowing what he was talking about, only knowing that regretful look on his face was sincere and shouldn’t be there in the first place.  This was the last straw.  She would talk to Harri the instant he got back to port and see to it that he knew exactly what a worm of a man Portman was being.  It was simply intolerable.

     “Don’t you see?  Harper has been lying to everyone!  He’s responsible for all of this!” Portman continued to bleat.  “He’s here to destroy the Institute!  You should have shot him.  Give me a gun.  I’ll shoot him!”

     “No one would be fool enough to give you a gun, Greg,” Andrew said, sounding put out about having to do so.  “Shut up and leave the boy alone, you ass.  No one’s doing anything to him.”

     “You will give the slave to me,” a strange voice declared, making everyone turn in that direction.  There stood a grey, ridged faced being in black, chitinous-looking armor, its cold, eerie black eyes taking all of them in impassively.

     Seamus sat up straight, looking suddenly alarmed.  “No,” he murmured, “Oh, no.”

     “Who are you?” Angie demanded, drawing a weapon on the creature.  It looked to be the same gun that she had used to kill the monsters earlier, but the armored being looked unimpressed.

     “You will give me the slave.  You will give it to me now,” the alien stated as if she were brandishing a flower, stepping forward.  Angie shot the alien, but he didn’t even flinch.  In fact, he took a step forward towards where Seamus was.  The boy started to rise, but Doctor Lund grabbed him and held him back, shaking her head to his pleading look.  She wouldn’t let him go face this new danger, not hurt like he was.

     “You leave him alone!” Andrew shouted, rushing at the alien.  He backhanded the scientist, barely flicking an arm at him, but the blow sent Andrew flying.  Angie put herself between the alien and Seamus and fired round after round at him, to no avail.  The alien turned its gaze to her, scowling and stepped towards her through the hail of projectiles coming at him, raising a fist.

     “No!” Seamus said, jerking himself free of Doctor Lund’s grasp.  He lurched to his feet and tackled Angie out of the path of the blow.  The alien turned to where they tumbled to the ground and started towards them again.  “No, please,” Seamus said, stumbling to his feet, tossing the gun he’d had in his belt off to one side.  “Don’t hurt anyone.  I’ll go with you.  Just don’t hurt anyone.  They’re my friends.  Please.”

     “Seamus, no,” Andrew said as he started back to his feet.  His nose was bleeding, but that didn’t seem to have weakened his resolve.

     Seamus shook his head, tears filling his eyes, stilling Andrew with a look.  “Don’t make him hurt you anymore.  Not for me.  I never wanted anyone to get hurt to protect me ever again.  I’m sorry he hit you.  So sorry.”

     The alien strode up to Seamus imperiously and grabbed him by his torn shirt, lifting him effortlessly off of the floor by it.  Though Seamus didn’t fight him, the alien slapped him hard across the face, blood spraying across the room as the boy’s head was tossed viciously by the blow, then fell limply back.  “Silence, slave,” it snarled at him, then they both vanished.

     “No!” Doctor Lorn cried at the empty space where the alien had been.  “Where did they go?  Where did that thing take him?”

     “Good riddance, I say,” Portman sneered.  Andrew walked up to him and punched him square in the face, sending Portman crashing to the floor, unconscious.

     “Oh Seamus,” Doctor Lorn moaned worriedly, suddenly finding herself shaking at the whole horrifying situation.  “Why did it want him?  Where did it take him?”

     “I don’t know.  I need to get in contact with the Admiral,” Angie said, then ran from the room, probably to do just that.

     Andrew came to Doctor Lorn’s side, gently wrapping an arm around her, giving her a tight lipped look of encouragement.  “The Admiral will know what to do.  Don’t worry, Bea.”

     “But that... thing was hurt him,” Doctor Lorn said, terrified for Seamus.  “Why would it hurt him?  I don’t understand.  It called him a slave and hurt him and I can’t understand any of this.  And Angie was being so mean to him after he saved our lives.  What does it matter where he’s from?  He’s a sweet, innocent boy.  He hasn’t done anything to anyone.  Why would anyone want to hurt him?”

     “I don’t know, Bea.  I don’t know,” Andrew said as he gently escorted her out of the room.  She went with him because she didn’t know what else to do.  The alien had stolen her young friend, the gentle boy that picked up an octopus fearlessly with his bare hands because he didn’t want it to come to harm.  He had fought the monsters to save them, even though he was wounded.  He had given himself to a vicious alien to keep them from being hurt.  Portman kept saying terrible things about him and Angie was so suspicious.  How could someone like Seamus be a bad person?  No, Seamus was good boy, her good boy who was in terrible danger and she didn’t know how to help him.  Why would the alien hurt him and take him?  Suddenly, nothing made sense anymore.

* * *

     NO!” Nelson shouted as the soldier appeared, holding Harper’s limp body up by his bloody, torn shirt.  The soldier dropped Harper to the deck and dusted off his hand as if he had been touching something distasteful.  Nelson moved swiftly to the boy, Harper moaning weakly when the Admiral touched him.  “Don’t try to move, son,” Nelson told him softly, looking worriedly over the boy’s injuries.  Harper’s chest was bleeding a little, as was his forehead and a newly split lip.  Harper whimpered feebly and tried to flinch away when Nelson gently touched the fresh swelling coming up on his face where it looked as if he’d just been struck.

     “Ow,” Harper whined, opening his eyes a little.  He seemed to focus on Nelson’s face and he murmured, “Probably not a good sign that I’m seeing you earlier than expected, huh Boss.”

     Nelson wanted to tell him that it would be all right, but he couldn’t lie to him.  He didn’t know what Barris had planned.  “Just lie still.  I’ll try keep them from hurting you anymore,” Nelson said, fully intending on fighting tooth and nail to keep Harper from coming to any more harm.

     Harper shook his head, wincing when he did.  “Don’t fight them.  I’ll be okay.  Not like I’ve never had a beating before.  They’ll get tired of hitting me eventually.  Don’t do anything to make them hurt you too.  Please.  I couldn’t take that,” he said. It horrified Nelson that Harper sounded more afraid for him than he was himself and was plainly willing to suffer to keep him from harm.  Well, Nelson wouldn’t let him if he could do anything about the matter.

     Before Nelson could respond, he was grabbed from behind and pulled away from Harper by two of Barris’ soldiers.  Nelson fought them, but their grip was just too strong.  Barris moved over to Harper with a predatory grin and Harper tried to back away.  “Leave him alone, Barris!” Nelson shouted at the alien as Barris plucked Harper effortlessly off the deck by the scruff of the neck.  Harper winced, but took a swing at the alien, the blow hitting nothing but air.  Barris chuckled at the effort, then tightened his grip as his face became a mask of displeasure.  Harper grimaced in pain, raising his hands to Barris’ in an effort to pry it off of him, not having any better success with that then the punch he’d thrown.

     “You have given me no end of trouble, little slave,” Barris snarled, pulling the boy close to his face.  “Since you are determined to be under foot, you will serve me from this moment on, attend to my every whim without hesitation or I will beat you very, very badly.  Because I am displeased with the lack of progress on my plans as of late, in no small part due to you at the moment, I intend to hurt you very severely right now.  Of course, I might be merciful if you show that you finally recognize your place, if you prostrate yourself before me and swear to be a good, obedient little slave from now on.  Don’t you want to beg my forgiveness rather than experience more pain, slave?”

     “Gee, how to express the fullness of my regret and respect,” Harper grunted, then spit in Barris’ eyes.  Barris let out an enraged roar, dashing Harper viciously to the deck.  Kicking blindly at the boy, Barris wiped angrily at his eyes.  Harper curled into a ball, trying to protect his head and chest from the blows as Nelson fought harder to pull free from the soldiers holding him.  Once Barris had cleared his vision, he began to beat the boy in earnest, and landing some very solid, vicious kicks, ones that actually lifted the boy off the floor.  Nelson wanted to do something, but thought that if he did, matters would only grow worse.

     “Stupid, pathetic worm.  I generously give you a chance to save yourself and this is the thanks I get.  Since you spurn my kind offer, you will serve me with your agony,” Barris snarled, then he bent to Harper.  Harper didn’t give up, though.  He threw another punch, this one catching Barris dead center in the face, driving him back for an instant.  Harper tried to scuttle from beneath Barris, but Barris grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him up off the deck.  Harper took another swing at Barris, but this time, Barris caught him by the wrist and held him fast.  Harper pulled against his grip, whimpering when he couldn’t get free and looked momentarily terrified as Barris let out a low, cold laugh.  “You will pay for your defiance, little slave.  You will bow to your betters, I promise you,” Barris told him, then put Harper back on his feet, but twisted Harper’s trapped arm around behind him, shifting his grip to Harper’s elbow and half lifting him off the deck again as he drove it up into the boy’s back.

     “Leave him alone, Barris,” Nelson snarled, pulling continuously against the hands gripping him.

     Barris twisted Harper’s arm, forcing him onto his knees in front of him, facing the Admiral.  He wanted Harper not only to hurt, but to feel demeaned.  “This tiny, fragile, defective thing is worthy of your notice while I am not,” Barris snarled, cruelly twisting Harper’s arm harder and pulling up on it, making the boy grimace in pain as the motion lifted his knees off the deck.  Harper tried to get his feet under him as he attempted to push Barris off him with his free hand, but his efforts were wasted.  Barris kept kicking Harper’s legs out from under him so that the boy’s weight was supported by the arm in the his grip.  Nelson refused to respond verbally to Barris’ ranting, knowing it would probably only result in Harper being hurt even worse than he already was.

     “My crew and I would serve you tirelessly, while this puny speck needs sustenance, rest, and attention constantly.  I fail to understand everyone’s tolerance for it, especially its tireless yapping.  It is affectionate, I suppose, but it requires so much care in return.  Let me show you.”  A cruel smile claimed Barris’ face and he gave Harper’s arm a fast, sharp yank.  There was a horrible sound, half crunch and half like cloth being torn, and Harper screamed as his arm was brutally dislocated at the shoulder.  “See?  It’s weak and noisy,” Barris sneered as he kept the damaged arm pinned to Harper’s back while he pushed Harper up, forcing him off his knees again, the boy weeping in agony.

     “You broke his arm!” Nelson snarled at Barris, Harper’s cries of pain ripping at him.  He couldn’t bear watching this.

      “No,” Barris said, applying pressure to the elbow in his grip.  There was an audible snap and Harper let out a strangled scream then went limp in Barris’ hands.  Barris laughed and dropped him casually to the deck, where he lay unmoving.  “Now the arm is broken.  A little pain and it loses consciousness.  It is pathetic.”  He kicked the unconscious boy hard in the ribs a few times.  Nelson forced himself not to react.  That was what Barris wanted, a response to Harper’s torture.  After a few sharp blows, Harper moaned feebly, barely coming to, only to have Barris grab his other arm and twist it behind him as he yanked Harper upright again.  The movement made Harper sob as his abused arm was jerked about, then it hung limp and useless at his side.  Somehow Harper remained conscious though Nelson willed him to faint again.  Barris would only hurt him worse if he was awake and responding to the pain being inflicted on him.  “Shall I break this arm as well?  Do you think it would scream again if I did?  It’s barely aware.  Shall I wait until it fully regains what senses it has so that it will give us better entertainment?”

     “Go to hell, creep,” Harper sobbed out, only receive a  jarring blow to the spine.  Harper’s eyes rolled back into his head.  Nelson didn’t know how he didn’t pass out because he had to be in agony.

     “Silence, flea.  No one was wasting their breath addressing you,” Barris said as he began to force the limb in his grasp.  “Well, Admiral?  Shall I break your pet apart piece by piece?  How long before the pain kills it?  Not long, I suspect.  It is weak.  I could spare it.  You could have it back to fondle at your knee for as long as you wish if you would simply accept us, welcome us to your employ.  That is all we desire.”

     “Don’t...  Not for me...  Tell’m to go to hell...” Harper gasped out, getting punched again for speaking out.  He whimpered in agony as Barris lifted him a little higher off the deck.  Nelson knew his left arm was dangerously near breaking or being dislocated from the pressure being put on it.  Nelson had to stop this somehow.

     “I won’t give you anything if you hurt him anymore, Barris, so let him go, or I will send you to hell myself,” Nelson threatened, hoping to draw the alien leader’s ire to him rather than the stricken engineer.

     Barris eased his grip on the boy’s arm, scowling as Harper fell to his knees.  He planted a foot on the back of one of Harper’s knees, pinning it to the deck, his other knee pushing into Harper’s back, and he grabbed Harper’s hair and pulled his head back hard, forcing the boy’s body to bow.  He released Harper’s arm so that he could run his hand over Harper’s taut throat.  Harper tried to struggle, but Barris tightened his grip on the boy’s hair, pulling his head back further, making him gasp as his body was stretched to its limits.  “Just a little squeeze, a slightly harder pull, a tiny twist, and it would be irrevocably broken.  Should I end its misery?”  Barris’ free hand closed over Harper’s throat and he began to squeeze.  Harper choked, clawing at Barris’ hand feebly as his face darkened.

     “I meant it, Barris.  Let him go!” Nelson demanded.

     Barris didn’t get a chance to reply because a bluish light suddenly radiated around the hand strangling Harper and seemed to shock him, but not the boy dying in his grasp.  Barris hissed as he drew his hand away and the blue light faded.  Harper was choking in sobbing gasps of air and lifted his still functioning hand to strain against the one tangled in his hair.  Barris snarled, but released Harper and pushed him to the deck with his knee as he dusted the hair he’d pulled from the boy’s head off his hands.  Harper let out a little whimper as he hit the deck,  but didn’t try to rise.  Nelson couldn’t tell if the boy was even conscious anymore.  “Fine.  Have your broken pet.  It will likely die from its injuries before the day ends, unless, of course, you agree to my request.  Only then I will let your doctor treat it.  Don’t wait too long, though, Admiral.  It is a weak little thing.  I don’t suppose it has much time left.”  With that, Barris and his crewmen suddenly became mist and vanished.

     Nelson immediately went to the intercom.  “Medical emergency in my quarters!” he barked into it.  There was no answer to his words.  “Doctor Jamieson, report!”  Still there was silence.  “Damn it!” Nelson cursed, launching himself at the door.  The knob refused to budge no matter how he strained against it, so Nelson pounded on the door and shouted, “Someone cut this open!  If anyone can hear me, give me a sign!”

     “S’no use,” came a feeble whisper from behind Nelson.  He turned and moved to Harper.  Harper looked back at him with pain dulled eyes as he stooped by the engineer.  “He’ll have sealed us off... No one can hear... No one knows... Did the same on the Andromeda... That’s why no one came... I wondered...” Harper was murmuring, his eyes losing their focus and his gaze drifting from Nelson’s face as he spoke.  He began to shiver as his voice trailed off.

     The Admiral knew Harper was going into shock.  He had to keep the boy warm and make sure that breathing was as easy as possible.  That meant turning Harper over, which was going to hurt.  “I’m so sorry, Seamus,” Nelson apologized, then took his right wrist, pinning the arm as best he could as he carefully flipped the boy onto his back.  Harper strangled back a cry of agony as he was turned, then lay panting and sobbing.  Nelson got scissors from his desk and cut open Harper’s shirt sleeve and examined the abused limb as carefully as he could.  Fortunately, the break Harper’s humerus looked nice and clean, but the bone looked dangerously near to breaking through the skin.  There was bruising beginning to form, but nothing to indicate that the artery had been damaged, which was a bit of a relief.  The dislocation, however, was severe and had to be excruciating.  Had the tearing sound been the violent sundering of muscles or ligaments?  Nelson couldn’t bear to think of how much damage he was looking at.  Harper had begun to shiver hard, so Nelson rose and quickly snatched the covers from his bed, and wrapped the broken boy in them, knowing that he had to keep him warm.

     Harper moaned when Nelson tucked the blankets carefully around his broken arm, the fresh hurt seeming to revive him a little.  Nelson gently stroked his hair, trying to calm him.  Harper’s skin looked even more pale than usual under his hand and felt clammy to the touch, making Nelson worry even more.  “Pop... pop my arm... back where it belongs, huh?...” Harper grunted out through clenched teeth as he looked up at the Admiral with tear filled eyes.

     “Barris broke your arm after he dislocated it,” Nelson told him, keeping his voice soft and level.  “I don’t think I can get it back into the socket without driving the broken bone through your arm and I might worsen any damage the dislocation caused in trying to fix it.”  Nelson kept thinking about Harper’s steady, delicate touch when he was building things and how Barris might have just ripped that brutally away from him.

     “Messy break?” Harper asked as he seemed to try to focus on Nelson’s face.  His pupils were far too large for the amount of light in the room.  Pain was doing terrible things to the boy, but Harper was trying to fight it and stay with him.

     “No.  It looks clean,” Nelson told him, hoping that would reassure him.

     “Set... Set the break... then pop the... the joint back...” Harper instructed him, seeming to concentrate all his strength into getting each word out clearly.  He was looking at the injury like an engineer would, simply trying to fix what was broken in the most efficient way possible to keep the machine from shutting down entirely.

     “The pain would be...” Nelson started to warn him.

     “Couldn’t hurt... worse than this... Please...” Harper whimpered out, tears spilling from his eyes.  He was suffering and Nelson couldn’t bear to watch it, so he nodded.  Harper seemed heartened by his agreeing, then visibly steeled himself for what Nelson was about to do.

     The Admiral turned back the blanket and said, “Take three deep breaths.  On the third, I’m going to try to set the break.”  Harper nodded, biting his lip for a moment, then stopped and sucked in a trembling breath.  As he drew in a second, Nelson carefully gripped Harper’s arm, causing the breath to catch in Harper’s throat for a second and come out as a whimper.  Nelson silently cursed Barris for making him do this and as Harper began to suck in the third breath, the Admiral pulled, hard.  Harper choked on the air he was drawing in, then began to let it out in short, sharp cries, but Nelson grunted, “Just a little more, son.  Almost there.  Hang on,” as he guided the broken bone back in line, then released Harper’s arm carefully.  Harper was panting and sobbing again, but Nelson didn’t think less of him for it.  He had gone through the experience himself and knew how painful it was.

     “The other part will be worse,” Nelson cautioned Harper once he’d calmed a little.  “Do you still want to go through with it?”  Harper nodded, closing his eyes tightly, more tears spilling out.  He probably didn’t trust himself to speak at the moment.  This time, Nelson didn’t bother trying to prepare the boy and in one quick motion he seized the stricken limb as high as he could to avoid jarring the break and forced it back into place with a sickening crunch.  Harper screamed and passed out cold.

     “Now, why couldn’t you have done that when I set the bone?” Nelson muttered.  He carefully felt over Harper’s limp arm to see if the bone was indeed still set properly.  It was an enormous relief to find that it seemed to be.  After that, the Admiral carefully rotated Harper’s arm at the shoulder.  The arm moved easily and the boy didn’t respond, so Nelson hoped that meant he hadn’t done more harm than good in popping the bone back in place.  Harper was going to the best orthopedic surgeon in the country the instant Nelson could get him there.  He only hoped that would be soon enough and that Harper wouldn’t lose any of his fine motor control because of the injury.

     After getting the first aid kit from under the sink in his head, Nelson gently cleaned and dressed Harper’s wounds.  Most of them were shallow, but a couple of the gashes from where the Magog had clawed Harper’s chest looked like they could use some stitches.  Nelson butterflied the wounds shut, hoping that would be good enough for now, hating the fact that Harper was going to have more scars when the wounds healed.  The boy already had far too many scars.  Fresh bruises from his beating were already starting to making their presence known by the time the wounds were tended to.  None of Harper’s ribs felt broken, but the boy was going to hurt all over when he woke up.

     Once he finished bandaging Harper, Nelson gently tucked the blanket back around him, knowing rest and warmth were the two things the boy needed most until he could be given proper medical attention.  He raised Harper’s legs with some cushions from the chairs, wishing there was more he could do, but knowing there wasn’t.  After waiting in silence for the better part of an hour, it began to bother him that Harper hadn’t stirred at all since fainting and before he realized what he was doing, he was gently slapping the boy’s cheeks, trying to bring him around.  Harper groaned as he started to come to and Nelson chided himself, thinking he should have left the boy in the merciful grip of unconsciousness.  It wasn’t as if they had anywhere to go in a hurry.

     Harper’s eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on Nelson’s face, then he sighed out, “Did I cry like a baby and scream for my mommy or was I hallucinating?”  At least he didn’t look or sound to be in anywhere near as much pain as he had been when he’d last been conscious.

     “You were hallucinating,” Nelson told him, brushing Harper’s hair back away from his face.  He wasn’t clammy any longer and  Nelson took that as a good sign.

     “Good.  No, bad.  Crap, why couldn’t I have hallucinated being in hot tub with Dom?” Harper murmured as he turned to look up at the ceiling.  He winced in pain, then looked back to Nelson as his face mostly relaxed again.

     Nelson shook his head at the boy, giving him a little grin and gently ruffling his hair.  He didn’t know how Harper could make jokes at a time like this.  “How does your arm feel?”

     “It aches into my chest,” Harper admitted feebly.  Nelson began to frown until he added, “No, it’s okay.  Before it was a tearing pain that ran all the way down to my toes.  Thanks for fixing it.”  Harper sounded exhausted, his eyes barely open, but Nelson knew sleep was probably the furthest thing from the boy’s mind.

     “I’m sorry, Seamus.  I wish I hadn’t needed to hurt you that way,” Nelson apologized, hating lines of pain that marred the boy’s usually soft features.

     “S’okay.  You were a lot nicer about it than the last person that did that for me,” Harper sighed, then he shifted his head uncomfortably on the floor.  Nelson tried not to think too much on the implications of Harper’s statement, instead wondering whether he should move him to the bed.  He decided against it because he didn’t want to hurt Harper anymore.  Who knew when Barris would be back uninvited to do just that.  Instead, he rose, got his own pillow from his bed and put it carefully beneath the boy’s head as he was thinking of how miserably he had failed to protect Harper from harm.  That Harper actually gave him small, grateful smile as Nelson arranged the blankets around him only served to make him feel worse.

     “You shouldn’t have been dragged into this, Seamus.”

     A lopsided grin formed on Harper’s face as he let out a small laugh.  “Probably couldn’t tell from my description, but he’s one of the aliens that trashed me before on the Andromeda.  I just wish I knew what they have against me.  Probably shouldn’t have baited that Barris dude, huh?  Mouthing off to a guy that can lift me off the floor with one finger, not one of my smartest moves to be sure.  So, I brought this on myself, right?  Don’t feel bad about it, okay?  I’ll heal and, believe it or not, I’ve been hurt worse plenty of times,” Harper told him, seeming ready to take the blame for the entire matter.

     Nelson stroked the boy’s head.  “You were hurt because I wouldn’t give Barris what he wanted and I’m sorry for that.  You didn’t deserve what happened to you, but you made me proud of you, son.  You were incredibly brave through it all,” Nelson praised him, thinking it was the least he could do.

     Harper didn’t look encouraged, though, actually looking sheepish about something.  “Sorry I dragged them here after me.  I know you don’t need this sort of grief.  I swear, it follows me around.  I think I’m cursed,” he said, which at least explained the look.

     “No, Seamus.  Barris was in my office making his ludicrous demands that I accept him and his soldiers as employees of the Institute before Dominica found you.  I refused him and turned him away repeatedly and now he’s come back for revenge.  You mustn’t blame yourself,” Nelson told him.  He wished there was more he could do to make Harper comfortable and ease his pain, but aside from getting him drunk, which wasn’t advisable, there was nothing.

     Harper looked off and Nelson hoped he was going to sleep, but he murmured, “I wonder... Do you suppose that he did the same thing on the Andromeda, Boss?  I mean, telling Dylan to let him and his buddies join the crew or else?  Do you think that’s why he roughed me up then?  That he made Dylan watch, thinking maybe he’d give in if Barris’ goon hurt me enough, then tossed me through the vortex to punish Dylan for not agreeing?”

     Nelson found himself intrigued.  “Interesting hypothesis, Mister Harper.  But why?”

     “Because I have a big, invisible target stamped on me and I’m a handy size for squashing?” Harper asked back.

     Nelson couldn’t help but chuckle.  “No, I meant why would Barris be so desperate to join the crew of the Seaview or the Andromeda?  If they wanted either vessel, they seem strong enough to simply take them.”

     “I don’t know about that.  I mean, he wouldn’t be the first guy to try that with you or Dylan and nobody’s done it yet,” Harper said.  Nelson thought about hushing the boy and telling him to try to sleep, but Harper seemed to be gaining strength the more he talked and if talking was keeping his mind off his arm and from succumbing to shock, Nelson couldn’t see the harm in it.

     “I appreciate the vote of confidence, Seamus, as would Captain Hunt, but I still think this isn’t about my boat or his ship.  I think this about belonging.  That’s why he was hurting you, then and now, because you belonged and he didn’t think you should when he wasn’t being accepted,” Nelson said, thinking back on what, exactly, Barris had said.  With every slur against Harper, Barris had all but demanded why Nelson would take the engineer in but would not take him and his crew.

     “Yeah, his goon said something about that too when he was tossing me around.  I don’t understand.  I pull my weight.  Heck, I worked like a dog on the Andromeda, making sure everything was better than new on her.  I loved that ship like she was mine, even though I knew she was Dylan’s.  You should see some of the enhancements I made, not to mention the ship’s avatar.  And Dylan never gave me any complaints about my work.  I thought I was doing okay here, too,” Harper said, the last part coming out like he wasn’t sure.

     Nelson smiled warmly and ruffled his hair again.  “Job performance, as chaotic but superior as yours has been, is not the issue right now.  I think it’s because Captain Hunt and I could both see someone deserving of our time and attention in you, even though, for some reason that escapes me, you don’t seem to think you’re worthy.  Barris wants the same thing and he’s not getting it and that is why he keeps punishing you.  You don’t push yourself on people...”

     “I pushed myself on Beka,” Harper reminded him.

     Nelson dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand.  “You were desperate to escape a life of poverty and abuse, so I think we can discount that.  And it wasn’t as if you chased her down.  The entire chain of events was pretty much down to luck.  You said it yourself, you always seem to fall into places where you fit.  You belonged on the Maru.  You belonged on the Andromeda.  You belong here with us at the Institute now and don’t you ever doubt it.  Barris bulls his way into places and declares that he is ready to sign up and he cannot comprehend why people aren’t jumping at the chance to welcome him to their bosom.”

     Harper looked up at the ceiling for a moment, considering what Nelson had told him, then looked back.  “Okay, I sorta can understand what you’re saying, but why does he keep picking on me?  I never even saw the guy until today.”

     “I can’t speak for what happened on the Andromeda, but I was at fault this time.  I used the staff you gave me on one of his crew and Barris was not at all pleased about it,” Nelson admitted to him, wishing, not for the first time, he’d used it on Barris himself first.

     Harper smiled a little.  “The Force Lance worked okay?  You hurt a goon with it?”

     Nelson was not so happy and felt his mouth tighten.  “And Barris exacted his pound of flesh for it.”  He not only hadn’t protected Harper from harm, he’d gotten the boy tortured.  Why did Harper seem happy about it?

     “Who cares?  Force Lances work against them.  Hot damn!  Get me to a workroom or someplace and I’ll make some for your whole crew,” Harper said enthusiastically, trying to sit up, grimacing as he moved his shoulder.  That didn’t stop him from twisting his legs off the cushions they’d been resting on and kicking the offending padding out of the way, the cushions pulling the blankets off of him as they were launched away.

     Nelson caught him by reaching across to his left shoulder and tried to get him to recline again.  “Lie still, Seamus.  We can’t get out of here and you’re only going to hurt yourself moving around,” Nelson admonished him.

     Harper made a derisive sound, batting at Nelson’s hands with his one functioning one, his right arm still limp at his side.  Somehow, he worked himself into a sitting position.  “Please, this is nothing.  The last time someone broke my arm to torture someone else, the Nietzschean that did it made me work six more hours before he’d let anyone set it.  Come on!  Alien invaders in serious need a butt kicking here!  Let’s go!  You aren’t the kind of guy that doesn’t have a back door out of his own quarters, just in case.  I’ve got two that even Dylan doesn’t know about.”

     Nelson frowned, but Harper looked so utterly determined that he knew there was no way that he was going to get the boy to lie still again short of knocking him unconscious.  His pupils were still a little dilated, but he wasn’t as pale as he’d been and he certainly didn’t seem to be suffering from weakness at the moment.  However, Nelson knew as soon as the adrenaline surge Harper was currently having wore off, the boy was going to be in a world of hurt.  “Seamus,” he started, then gently put a hand on the boy’s uninjured collarbone and squeezed, giving him a warm smile.  “You’re going on vacation the moment this is over and that arm is taken care of.  Somewhere warm and luxurious and you’re staying there for a month of pampering.”

     “Great!  Can I bring Dom?” Harper asked, giving Nelson the same slightly pained grin he got whenever he thought he was pushing his luck.

     “Yes.  A nice long honeymoon.  I think you’ve more than earned it,” Nelson told him with a soft smile.  “Let’s immobilize that arm.  I don’t want any more damage done to it.”  He cut up a sheet and carefully bound the arm in place.  Harper bit his lip a lot during the process, but didn’t make a sound and continued to look adamant about getting somewhere where he could make some weapons for Nelson and his crew to use against Barris and his.  Nelson had to admit, he would certainly be much happier facing Barris and his lot with a dozen of the lances that Harper had made for him.  However, he intended to carefully watch the process while Harper constructed one, then hand the boy over to Jamieson to be heavily sedated and have his injuries treated.  He did not like planning to betray Harper’s trust this way, but Nelson didn’t want Harper harmed anymore.  Barris hadn’t seemed as interested in hurting him severely when he’d been unconscious, so Harper would remain unconscious until Barris was permanently expelled from the Seaview.

     When Nelson finished, Harper couldn’t have moved his right arm if he wanted to.  It would still hurt when Harper moved, but the boy didn’t seem to care.  That was when Nelson finally showed Harper the air duct.  To Nelson’s surprise, it opened easily, unlike the door.  “Crawling through there is not going to be pleasant with that shoulder of yours.  I think you should wait here and I’ll go get someone to cut the door open,” Nelson told him as Harper stretched up to look inside. 

     “Stay here?  And wait for Barris to come back and torture me some more while he makes you listen through the door?  Thanks but no thanks.  Give me a leg up,” Harper said, looking ready to jump up into the duct as he spoke, but couldn’t pull himself up one handed.  Nelson drew over his desk chair, then preceded Harper up, carefully guiding him as he followed.  He didn’t want Harper to jar his shoulder anymore than was necessary while they escaped.

     “We’ll go to one of the storage rooms, then you’ll tell me what parts and tools you need and I’ll go get them while you rest and wait,” Nelson said as he pulled the grate shut behind Harper.

He knew Harper would be exhausted after the long crawl they had ahead of them.  He just hoped the boy wouldn’t go into shock in the duct and collapse.  It wouldn’t be easy or pleasant for either of them if Nelson had to drag him out.

     “But...” Harper started to argue, but Nelson silenced him with a look.

     “We either do that, or I knock you unconscious and leave you bound and gagged in the ducts until I’m satisfied Barris is gone for good,” Nelson threatened him sincerely.

     Harper cringed a little.  “Resting sounds just great, Boss.”

     Nelson nodded, starting off.  “And don’t you get any ideas once I leave you there, young man, or I might just change my mind about giving Dominica time off.  In fact, I could keep her very busy for the foreseeable future.”

     “All right, already.  I’ll behave,” Harper grunted.  Nelson glanced back.  In the dim light, he could see Harper biting his lip, a grimace on his face.  He was in pain, but he was pressing on without complaint.  Nelson turned back to the long shaft and slowed his pace a little.  Barris didn’t know the first thing about Harper if he thought the boy weak.  Nelson couldn’t imagine someone displaying more strength or courage than Harper was at that very moment.

     They crawled along in silence for what seemed like forever.  When they reached the store room, Nelson had problems getting the duct grate to open.  He began to think that Barris had discovered them and sealed them in the duct, then the stubborn grate popped open.  He dropped into the room easily, then called up, “Seamus, wait there,” because he didn’t want the boy to do the same and jar his shoulder.  He pushed a few boxes over to the vent, made a crude stair, climbed up, and helped Harper down.  Harper was sweating heavily and looked exhausted from his exertions, so Nelson sat him down against the wall rather than putting him on his feet.  “Just catch your breath, son,” Nelson said softly.  Harper nodded, closing his eyes, trying to rally himself.  Frankly, Nelson was a little surprised that he had made it all this way.

     “I’ll be okay,” Harper whispered out, his voice husky, letting Nelson know that he was trying not to acknowledge the pain he was feeling.  Nelson stooped by him, waiting and watching, wanting to tell Harper stop fighting, that he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.  Before he could, Harper opened his eyes and looked up at him again.  He was pale and haggard, but he licked his dry lips, gathering whatever shreds of strength were left in him to ask, “What’ve I got to work with?”

     “You just tell me what you need, son,” Nelson said, leaning near to Harper so that he wouldn’t miss anything.  Harper rattled off a list of tools and parts and outlining what he intended to do with them, barely pausing for a breath.  His eyes closed about halfway through, as if he didn’t have the strength to keep them open and keep talking.  He probably didn’t considering everything he had been through today.  Nelson didn’t have any problem remembering everything Harper asked for.  Unfortunately several items were not aboard the Seaview and he could not readily think of any feasible substitutes.  It didn’t really matter, Nelson thought.  Harper was utterly spent.  There was no way the boy could work in this condition.  However, when Harper finished his list, opened his eyes again and looked up to Nelson, the Admiral smiled softly at him and said, “All right, then.  I need a little while to gather all that.  I want you to rest a bit while I do.”

     “I could help,” Harper offered doggedly, but Nelson doubted that the boy could even get to his knees, much less his feet.

     “We discussed this, Mister Harper,” Nelson said sternly, immediately regretting the harsh tone and continued more gently, “You should save your strength for now.  When I get back, you’ll need it.”  Nelson glanced around the storeroom and quickly spied exactly what he wanted, some spare bedding.  He went over and grabbed up several pillows and blankets and before Harper fully knew what was happening, he was bundled up and bedded down in a dark corner of the storeroom.  This time, Harper was too done in to argue about it.  “I want you to see if you can sleep a little while I’m gone.  Don’t move from this spot until I get back,” Nelson told him, tucking the last of the blankets around him.  Harper looked so done in, Nelson didn’t really think he needed to be told to sleep, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.

     “Just a little,” Harper murmured back, his eyes blinking shut and not opening again.  “I’ll be okay... Just gonna close my eyes for a few minutes...”  And then he was out cold.

     Nelson stayed by him, listening to him for a few moments, making sure that Harper’s breathing was slow and even.  Once he was sure that Harper was soundly asleep, he rose and moved to the door of the store room.  Glancing back, he couldn’t see Harper in the shadows.  That was good, Nelson thought with a nod.  That meant no one else could find him easily either, which had been Nelson’s only real concern about leaving Harper alone for the short period of time that it would take to run to Sickbay and tell Jamieson where the boy was hidden and what had happened to him.  Then it would be time to rid the Seaview of Barris once and for all.  Harper might not have been able to build more weapons for Nelson, but the list of components he had given the Admiral gave him some major clues as to what he needed to do make his own.  The weapon Nelson intended to build wouldn’t be as elegant as Harper’s force lance, but he would waste esthetics on Barris.  Nelson just wanted him gone.

     As he let himself out into the corridor, he was relieved that there was no one just outside the door waiting for him.  He eased carefully to the nearest corridor and looked carefully around it.  To his dismay, one of Barris’ soldiers was just going into a cabin along its length.  The soldier emerged from the cabin after a while and went to the next, moving away from where Harper was hidden.  Nelson hoped that meant they had already searched the storeroom.  They were still searching for Doctor Babin, Nelson thought.  He was glad that she had hidden herself from them, but he began to wonder where she was himself.

* * *

 

 

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