Michelle Pichette


Chapter 64



* * *

     Harper walked away from Beka, not knowing where he going, just knowing he needed to be away from her.  He’d wanted to explain things to her, but she just wouldn’t listen.  The things that she’d said, they weren’t true, but Harper couldn’t stop hearing them again and again.  Stupid.  She called him stupid.  She told him he was blind, that he let himself be used, that no one really cared about him, that everything that he thought he had was a lie.  Portman had said that too.  Were they seeing the same thing?  Was he blinding himself to it because he wanted it so bad?  Beka told him that it wasn’t the first time that he’d ignored the truth to see what he wanted.  What did that mean?  That she didn’t care about him?  That she was just using him?  That Dylan was?  That everyone was?

     Harper’s head spun, Barris’ harsh words ringing out in it.  Weak.  Worthless.  Pathetic.  Is that how everyone saw him?  Easy to use then toss aside, was that what he was?  Everything was spinning now and Harper stumbled into a wall.  He looked up, but just saw a corridor.  He didn’t know where he was and everything was spinning.  He clutched at the solid surface next to him because it felt like the world was tipping and that the floor was dropping out from under him.  He closed his eyes, hoping to ward off the dizzying sensations, but it didn’t help.  He was so tired and now that the adrenalin surge he’d gotten from being angry was wearing off, he was starting to feel his injuries and exhaustion.  He was too used up and probably shouldn’t have been on his feet in the first place, but he knew that if he even attempted to go back to his bed, he’d most likely end up on the floor.  And Beka would be at his quarters, still angry.  Probably Dom was mad at him too now.  He deserved it.  Barris was right.  He was a worthless troublemaker.

     “Easy, son,” came Nelson’s voice from somewhere nearby.  Strong arms steadied him as he shook helplessly.  He tried taking a deep, steadying breath, tried to make the dizzy, disoriented feeling currently drowning him go away, but it wouldn’t entirely.  He hated looking weak in front of Nelson, who never treated him that way, even with evidence to the contrary piling up in front of him.  “I’ve got you.  It’s all right,” the Admiral told him as they haltingly moved somewhere.  Harper didn’t dare open his eyes to see where they were going.  He suddenly felt in equal parts like vomiting and crying, aching all over and cold.  He’d been so happy when he’d fallen asleep with Dom in his arms.  Beka had said that Dom’s love was a lie.  He couldn’t believe that, he just couldn’t.  But Beka had been so angry and seemed so sure.  Was he blind and stupid?

     “It’s all right,” Nelson’s voice assured him as they stopped.  “Here.  Easy now.  Just sit here a moment.”  He felt himself lowered onto something soft and he huddled into the cloth behind him, wanting to curl into a ball.  He risked opening his eyes and found himself looking into the Admiral’s concerned face.  Nelson smiled softly though his expression remained worried.  “You’ll feel better in a minute.  Here now, you’re shivering.”

     Nelson unbuttoned his shirt and the next thing Harper knew he was being wrapped in it.  Harper clutched at the warm garment, looking around himself silently.  They were in Obs, the huge view port looking out at the stars a dead giveaway.  How had he gotten all the way to Obs?  Harper was confused and woozy, but Nelson’s shirt seemed to be staving off the cold that had crept into him.  The Admiral sat by him on the sofa he was currently occupying and gently patted his thigh.  Nelson loved him.  Harper was so sure of it.  It wasn’t a mistake or a lie.  It was real.  He could see it on the man’s face, feel it in his touch.  If that was true, then he wasn’t wrong about Dom either.  But Beka seemed sure too.  He was so confused and his head wouldn’t stop spinning.

     “There.  That’s better, isn’t it?” Nelson asked, his tone kind and reassuring.  “You’re half asleep, aren’t you?  I’ve done that, wandered out of bed, more asleep than awake, then just laid down somewhere and woke up in the morning cold and wondering how I got where I was.  Usually I’m on some sort of medication when it happens, just like I’d wager you are at the moment.  Don’t you worry yourself.  You catch your breath, then we’ll get you back into bed where you belong, all right?”

     Harper looked into the Admiral’s eyes, but tears blurred his own vision.  “I don’t know where I belong,” he whimpered, feeling ill and overwhelmed.  Weak, Barris’ voice accused in his head, worthless.  “I was sleeping... Then Beka was yelling... She told me it was all a lie... She said...  I can’t...”  He started to curl in on himself, sobbing incoherently, blurting out, “I don’t know what I should do... I don’t know where I belong...  Dylan and Beka want me to stay... I want to be with Dom, but... but she can’t stay here... All I have here is places people let me stay... But she says she’ll stay anyway if I want... She loves me...  I know it!... I know, but... but Beka says she’ll leave me... That everyone’s just using me... That you are... You wouldn’t!... You wouldn’t... but Beka doesn’t lie to me... but it’s not true... but... but... What’s the truth?  I’m so confueed...  Where do I belong?”  He found himself being drawn into an embrace and being held in strong arms, his cheek resting against to soft fabric of Nelson’s undershirt as Nelson gently rubbed the back of his head and hushed him softly.

     It took a little while, but when he’d calmed down, Nelson said kindly, “It’s all right.  You’ve been through so much, spun in so many directions, then been hurt and ill on top of it all.  It must be so terribly confusing.”

     “You’re never confused,” Harper murmured, not wanting to move, feeling safe and steady for the moment.

     Nelson’s deep, rumbling laugh rocked him gently.  “Oh, I get confused.  Everyone does.”

     Harper lay still and quiet for a minute, thoughts beginning to whirl maddeningly through his head.  He closed his eyes again and listened to Nelson’s heartbeat, letting the strong, steady thrumming quiet his mind.  He began to feel better, more like himself and memories came unbidden.  He’d done this when he was very small and afraid, let his father or mother hold him, the soft thump of their heartbeat against his cheek reassuring in the terrible, frightening place that his world had been then.  That they were dead because of him sent icy waves of pain through his chest and he shuddered involuntarily.  Nelson gently petted him again, but Harper sat up and looked into his face rather than basking in the physical and emotional warmth that he wanted and needed so much at the moment.  He needed answers more and he couldn’t seem to find them for himself and things were just getting more and more out of control.

     “I don’t know what to do.  Everyone’s telling me things, pulling me in every direction and I don’t know where I belong.  Ever since my parents died, I haven’t felt like I was home until Dom’s house.  Beka said it’s a lie.  That hurt so much.  I... I love Dom and I know she loves me and she wouldn’t ever hurt me, but Beka... She’s looked out for me for five years now.  I don’t think she’d have said that unless she really thought I was going to get screwed over like I always do.  Maybe she just wants me to stay.  Dylan and Rommie do.  I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I’m going to no matter what I do.  How do I keep from hurting someone I love?  Do I belong here or in the past?  I don’t know and that Barris guy said I don’t belong anywhere.  Maybe I don’t.  I don’t know anymore.  You’re so much smarter... wiser than I am.  Where do I belong?  What do I do?” Harper asked, feeling pathetic for having done so.

     Nelson searched his eyes for a moment, then broke off his gaze and gently pulled his shirt a little more firmly around Harper, looking at what he was doing as he said, “I’ve told you about my sister Edith?”  Harper nodded silently.  “She’s much younger than I am, closer to your age, really, and when our parents passed away, she was a young teenager.  My parents’ will placed her in my custody, but I was in the Navy, away much of the time.  She could stay in her home, in the school she attended, keep all her friends, with adult supervision, of course, a governess or something of that nature, you understand?  I had the means, so it wasn’t a matter of money.  My family’s home was convenient to where I was stationed, so I would see her often.  Still, I would not be able to spend as much time as I would have liked with her.  I worried that she would be lonely, grieving our parents alone.  I didn’t want that.  My aunt and uncle came forward, saying they wanted to take Edith into their care.  They had a lovely home and several children nearer to Edith’s age, but they lived in Vermont and I wouldn’t be able to see her as much there.  I wanted her near me, but I wanted her to have family around her.  I didn’t know what to do, what would be the best thing for her, not me, so I sat down with her, much as I’m sitting with you, and asked her one thing.  What did she want?  What would make her the happiest?”

     There was a pause and Harper shook his head, not understanding.  Was the story over?  That couldn’t be right.  “Wha... What did she decide?” he asked in confusion.

     Nelson looked up and met Harper’s eyes again and cupped his face gently with one hand, saying, “It doesn’t matter right now.  What matters is that she had the choice and the people she loved supported her and she knew they would still care for her no matter what she decided to do.  It’s the same for you, I promise.  Stop thinking about all the things that have been pulling and pushing at you, Seamus.  This is your life.  Miss Valentine, Captain Hunt, Dominica and I all want the same thing, for you to be happy.  What do you want, son?  What will make you the happiest?”

     Harper sat there, his mind calm for the moment even though he wouldn’t have though that was possible, and he swallowed and looked down.  “I want a family again.  I want to be with Dom and... and with you.  You’ve been so good to me.  I don’t deserve it, but...”

     “Don’t say that,” Nelson said, his hand sliding down onto the side of his neck and squeezing gently, getting him to look up.  “Don’t ever think that.  You are a loving, generous young man.  I am so fortunate that you came into my life.  You deserve every good thing that I can give you,” Nelson told him, sounding as though he meant every word.  Harper didn’t think, didn’t really realize that he’d moved, but suddenly he was hugging Nelson for all he was worth with his one working arm and Nelson was gently returning his embrace.  “We’ll go home then,” he said softly.  “We’ll go home as soon as we can.  You’re part of my family, son, from now on.  Edith will be so happy to meet you.  She’s always wanted a nephew.  You’ll let her spoil you a bit, yes?  She’ll want to show you off and show you around the world.  She’s very forceful, but in a pleasant way, so it would be best to indulge her.  The Nelson family ranks could use a little bolstering.  You and Dominica and your children are just what we needed.”

     “You won’t be sorry.  You won’t,” Harper told him, staying where he was this time, not wanting to move, wanting to feel cherished and know it was real.  His aunt and uncle had done good by him.  They really had.  He was sure they had loved him, but that was when people had started holding him at a distance.  He hadn’t felt like they actually wanted him.  That was when he’d first felt like a nuisance, a stone around the neck of the people he cared about, like he had to prove himself constantly.  He’d felt that way with Beka and Dylan, much as he knew they cared about him too.  He didn’t feel that way at the moment.  He didn’t want to feel that way anymore.

     That was when Harper remembered how he’d left things in the Institute and he winced.  “Uh, actually, you might regret deciding to keep me around a little,” he said, sitting up again and running a hand sheepishly through his hair as he looked down.  “When that alien dude snatched me out of the Institute, Angie was quizzing me on who I am and where I’m from.  Portman was getting all freaky and ranting.  Everyone, they know I’m not who we were saying I was.  It’s a big mess.  I’m sorry, really sorry.  If it hadn’t been for the Magog and stuff...”

      “Don’t concern yourself, Seamus.  I’ll handle it,” Nelson told him, not sounding bothered, though Harper didn’t know how that could be possible.

     Harper looked up at him halfheartedly.  “But.. but they know I’m from the future or something.  They’ll all think... I don’t even know what they must think.  Portman was going on about how everything with the Magog was my fault and it sort of was.  He’ll keep pushing it until the whole world knows I’m from the future, then you’ll have all kinds of trouble.  And Dom will be in danger!  Freakin’ hell, how do I...”  Harper began to panic and talk faster and faster until Nelson set a hand gently on his arm and made him fall silent again.

     “First of all, what happened with the Magog most definitely was not in any way your fault and that will be the final word on the matter,” Nelson declared firmly.  Harper nodded again, feeling relieved that the Admiral didn’t blame him like Portman had.  “As for where and when you’re from, we’ll have a long talk with Admiral Landry, the Chief of Naval Operations.  He’s a friend of mine.  I’m sure we can get your rather convoluted past declared classified and placed under the Espionage Act.  Everyone at the Institute that knows anything at all about it will sign an agreement to keep everything about your past secret for the good of the nation, under pain of severe repercussions.  As for Mister Portman, he’s been warned about ceasing what has been some very unacceptable behavior as of late.  I’ll have his signed agreement, then he will go.”

     “I wasn’t trying to get the guy fired!” Harper said, though it would be a huge relief to not have Portman breathing down his neck any more.

     “Which proves you to be a better man than he is,” Nelson said, then patted Harper’s knee with a soft smile.  “Let’s get you back to your quarters and your bed.  You should be resting, letting your injuries heal.  We’re going to have a lot to do soon and you’ll need to have all your strength to deal with it all.  Are you all right to walk there or should I get the Andromeda to send a wheelchair or something of that nature.”

     “No, no.  I’m good,” Harper said, getting up as Nelson rose.  The Admiral patted his shoulder and gave him another warm smile, then nodded them both out of Obs back into the corridor.  Harper felt mostly reassured, but going back to his quarters meant he’d likely have to face Beka again.  Doubts niggled his mind and he bit at the inside of his lip, thinking about how he managed to get people frustrated with him without even trying.  “What if your sister thinks I’m annoying?” he asked, not wanting to blow the chance at having a family again, one that actually wanted him.  Dom’s family would have to put up with him because of him marrying into them.  They didn’t have to like that fact or him.  He was still nervous about meeting Dom’s sister Toni face to face.  It sounded so nice, having a sort of aunt that would love him as much as the Admiral did.

     Nelson chuckled.  “Edith will adore you.”

     Harper shrugged, not so sure about that.  “What about your friend Landry?  Or your other friends that won’t know about where I’m from and stuff?  If they think I’m some homeless guy you sorta adopted, they’re gonna think that your nuts or something.”  He didn’t want others thinking poorly about Nelson because of him.

     “Seamus, when you get to my age and station in life, you will find that you care very little for what others think.  Not that anyone will be doing anything of the sort.  You’re going to amaze them with your space program.  They won’t be pitying me, they’ll be envious of my brilliant son,” Nelson told him, patting him gently on the back, stilling his worried thoughts.  Nelson had called him his son.  Warmth enveloped Harper.  The Admiral was already proud of him, he thought with a smile, proud enough to want him as a member of his family.  “I did want to ask about something though.  How attached are you to your neural interface?  Would you mind terribly if, once this whole business with Barris is settled, we went to a doctor here and had it removed?”

     Harper thought about that for a few seconds.  He’d worked so hard and done a few unsavory things to get his neural net.  He’d wanted it so bad at the time and even though it wasn’t the best even back when he’d gotten it, it had served him well.  Somehow, though, at the moment, he didn’t care about it in the slightest.  “No problem,” he said, giving Nelson a sincere smile.  He would give up anything he had to be back on Earth and happy like he had been before the Seaview had shipped out.

     Beka was probably waiting for him outside his quarters, still angry about whatever she had been furious about before.  Harper still wasn’t sure what that was about now that he really thought about it.  She’d pulled him out of a dead sleep and he’d been too groggy to make sense of anything.  He was still feeling pretty shaky, but he knew it was because he needed some more food and rest.  Dom was probably wondering what his deal was, what with him taking off like he had.  He’d apologize and tell her the truth.  He wasn’t used to having someone to run to, somebody that would take his side and shelter him no matter what.  He smiled over at the Admiral again.  Now he had a couple of somebodies.  Not that she would ever admit it, but Beka was wrong.  Harper couldn’t stop smiling about the fact that this time Beka was absolutely, totally wrong.

* * *

     When it had been announced that the Maru had arrived, Dylan had escorted his three visitors from the past through the ship toward the Maru’s hanger, thinking that Doctor Babin had let him off easy.  She was, according to the Andromeda, currently asleep with Harper in Harper’s quarters.  That was a little surreal, Harper having a woman in his bed, even if Dylan was fairly certain that nothing of a sexual nature was happening between them with Tyr in the room.  Actually, Dylan was hoping that Harper would sleep through the entire visit of the aliens from Barris’ home world.  He was fairly certain that whatever Barris was trying to avoid had something to do with them and so the further Harper was from the whole situation, the better.

     “Were you planning on keeping the aliens aboard the Eureka Maru until they are ready to leave?” Nelson asked as they were passing the Observation Deck.

     Dylan had been seriously considering it, but he didn’t want to be inhospitable to the newly arrived visitors.  As far as the crew of the Maru were concerned, they weren’t at all hostile and had been very cooperative as far as trying to help them with Barris.  He paused, thinking that Obs afforded comfortable surroundings with a fantastic view.  “No.  I think I’ll bring them here to the Observation Deck,” he said, indicating the room.

     “Then I’ll wait for you here,” Nelson said, which surprised Dylan for a moment.  Then he thought about it.  Nelson had not stopped for quite some time and he was considerably older than Dylan was.  Dylan would have liked to take a breather himself, but it seemed that life wasn’t going to let him.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept.

     “That would be fine, sir,” Dylan said, then turned to Captain Crane and Miss Simmons.  “If you’d like to wait here with the Admiral...” he started.

     “No,” Crane said, looking rather determined, “I think I’d like a word with these aliens myself.  I want my boat back where it belongs and they seem to be the ones that can get that done.”  Miss Simmons didn’t say anything, but she crossed her arms over her chest, looking as though she agreed with Crane.

     “Let Captain Hunt handle things for the moment, Lee.  These people might be from Barris’ planet, but they aren’t Barris,” Nelson cautioned Crane, then he turned and strolled causally into Obs.  Nelson wasn’t concerned, or if he was it certainly didn’t show.  Crane frowned a little, but Dylan was glad that Nelson had made it plain that the Seaview’s Captain should follow his lead.  Things were crazy enough as it was.  They certainly didn’t need any more enemies.

     “Do you have more translators that we could use with your visitors?” Miss Simmons asked once they started back on their way again.

     “Ah, no.  This is an experimental unit,” Dylan said, self consciously touching the device on his throat.

     “That’s the funny echo,” Crane commented.

     Simmons nodded, then asked, “Harper made it?”  Dylan nodded and she whistled softly.  “He’s a lot smarter than I was giving him credit for being, and I was beginning to think he was pretty smart before we left port,” she commented.  Dylan was still a little impressed by the translator himself.  It had certainly made his life easier since Doctor Babin had come aboard.  Harper had constructed the device when his head had been full of the All Systems Library files, but it was still pretty amazing.  Harper did amazing things with technology all the time, but no one gave the kid any sort of recognition for his achievements.  Maybe that was why Harper sang his own praises so much, because no one else ever did.  That was wrong, Dylan thought, feeling guilty about it.  If Harper would listen, if he would stay with the Andromeda for even a little while longer, Dylan would make a concerted effort to make it up to him.

     They arrived at the bay where the Maru was docked to find Trance, Rommie and four aliens standing just outside the freighter.  Beka was nowhere to be seen, but she might be still aboard the Maru.  “Dylan, this is Nowan.  He is the spokesman for the Children of the Maker,” Rommie introduced, one of the aliens coming to the fore and bowing slightly.  “Nowan, this is Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant, Captain Lee Crane of the submersible vessel Seaview and Lieutenant Commander Rowena Simmons, his chief engineer.”

     “Ah, another builder,” Nowan commented in Galactic Common, bowing to Miss Simmons, seeming very impressed.  Simmons raised an eyebrow to Crane but gave the alien a slight bow in return.  She was probably wondering what the alien had said to her.

     “Rommie, can you translate for the Seaview’s personnel?” Dylan asked, thinking he could do at least that much.  Nowan gave him a quizzical look when he did.

     “Of course Dylan.  I’d like to also introduce Lassa, Wemrik, and Tobaz,” Rommie continued, indicating each of the remaining aliens in turn, then repeated the same thing in Earth Common to Crane and Simmons.  Nowan turned his interested look to her when she did, seeming captivated by her words when she spoke Earth Common.  With introductions out of the way, Rommie said, “Nowan is willing to speak with Barris at the first available opportunity,” then echoed her words.

     “I am uncertain that I can do anything to sway Barris from whatever course he has determined to take, Captain Hunt,” Nowan told Dylan apologetically, bowing a little again.  “Barris has been away from our people for a very long time and all of this,” Nowan paused and looked around the hanger, seeming a bit awestruck, “is outside of our experience.”

     Dylan nodded, trying to feel sympathy for Nowan and his companions, but was finding it difficult after all of Barris’ antics.  “I understand,” he said none the less.  “Maybe we’ll all be fortunate and Barris will listen reason when it comes from the one of his own people.  We’ve certainly had no luck in that regard.  We still aren’t entirely sure what he wants here.”

     “You said these were Barris’ people,” Simmons said before Nowan could respond.  “They don’t look anything like the aliens that were on the Seaview.”

     Nowan turned to her, looking intensely interested again.  “Another language!” he said with delight.  “Is it her native tongue?  Will she speak some more?  I will learn if she will speak.”  Dylan remembered Rommie reporting that one of the aliens had a gift of learning languages.  Plainly Nowan was that individual.

     A hologram appeared suddenly and said, “Dylan, we have a situation.”

     Dylan looked at the group before him and said, “If you’ll excuse me for just a moment,” before stepping out of easy earshot of them and asking, “Is Barris back?”

     “No, but Beka went to Harper’s quarters and they had an argument.  Harper is heading towards Obs unarmed and Nelson is going to intercept him so that he won’t be vulnerable to Barris or his crew.  Doctor Babin is upset and is dressing and saying that she wants to return to the Seaview with Harper.  Tyr is trying to calm her down, but does not seem to be having any success,” Rommie told him.

     Dylan groaned and scrubbed a hand down his face.  Why was it never easy?  What was Beka doing?  He’d thought she would be happy to have Harper back safe and mostly sound.  “All right.  Let me get these people settled someplace other than Obs and I’ll go talk to Harper and Doctor Babin,” he sighed out.

     “I don’t know if this can wait, Dylan,” Rommie told him.  “I’ve been talking to Harper and listening to him talk to others and he’s planning to leave.  He says that Doctor Babin wouldn’t be fit in here because of language difficulties and culture differences and that he has to think of her.  My avatar can bring all of our visitors to one of the conference rooms and she and Captain Crane can start talking to them about Barris and how they plan to deal with him.  You need to go talk to Harper.  You need to go talk to Harper now or we’re going to lose him forever.”

     “If we don’t settle this thing with Barris, we might lose everything forever,” Dylan reminded her.  “I should deal with that situation first.”

     “I don’t want to lose Harper,” Rommie declared.  “He’s the best engineer we’ve ever had and you know it.  If you don’t go talk to him right now, he’s going to leave.  Harper’s confused and upset and Admiral Nelson is with him, comforting him.  You need to be there too or Harper will think you don’t care if he goes.”

     Dylan was torn.  He certainly didn’t want Harper to think that no one aboard the Andromeda cared if he left, but he had the distinct impression that the next time Barris appeared, things were finally going to come to a dangerous conclusion.  He didn’t want Harper involved in anything to do with Barris anymore, certain that would lead to disaster for the poor kid.  Harper had definitely taken enough abuse lately.  Frowning and deciding that he really should have opened fire on Barris’ ship the moment it had come into range what seemed like eons ago, Dylan turned back to the hanger.  “Captain Crane, a crew issue has come up that needs my attention.  I wonder if I could impose upon you to go to one of the Andromeda’s conference rooms with our guests and start making some sort of plan for confronting Barris when he next appears?” Dylan asked the Seaview’s Captain.

     Crane looked surprised for a moment, but quickly recovered and nodded, saying, “I don’t mind getting the ball rolling.”

     That came as a bit of a relief and Dylan said, “Thank you.  I’ll join you shortly with the Admiral.”

     “Is Harper all right?” Miss Simmons asked.  Dylan was a little surprised by her intuitiveness. 

     “He’s fine,” Dylan assured her.  “Rommie, if you’d show everyone the way and arrange refreshments?  Trance, a moment.”

     The golden alien walked a little away from the group and Dylan gave her the modified lances he’d been holding for her and Rommie.  “These will work on Barris and his people,” he told her.  “Let his people try to talk him out of whatever he’s been planning, but don’t let him take anyone else off this ship.  Captain Crane and Miss Simmons are both armed and I don’t think they have any love for Barris.”

     Trance nodded solemnly, taking the weapons.  “Dylan, Harper really is all right, isn’t he?” she asked, looking worried.

     Dylan somehow got a weak smile onto his face.  “He got roughed up, but Tyr pumped him full of nanobots and he’s healing.  Keep an eye on our guests, all of them.  Don’t let Captain Crane get too upset with your new friends.  I have the feeling there aren’t going to be any quick solutions to Barris or getting the Seaview home.”

     Trance nodded again, then caught up to Rommie, who was already leading her group out of the hanger.  Dylan waited for them to go and then started for Obs.  He didn’t run.  He was thinking too hard for that, wondering what he could possibly say that would sway Harper to staying.  Harper loved Doctor Babin and he had found respect and acceptance at Nelson’s Institute, not to mention that Earth was Harper’s home and it was no secret that he had always wanted to return there somehow, someday.  Everything that Harper had ever wanted was wrapped up in the simple act of going with the Seaview when it returned to its proper time.  What could Dylan offer that could compare?  Should he even be trying to get Harper to stay?  The kid had been abused his entire life.  Dylan knew that Harper had gone through more pain and hard times than most people would have been able to bear.  That he could smile that big, sincere smile of his more often not sometimes amazed Dylan.  Harper deserved some peace and happiness more than most of the people Dylan knew for persevering through the dark times alone.

     Rommie was right, too.  Harper was the best engineer he’d ever had.  Despite having no formal education, Harper knew astounding amounts about technology.  Innovative and inventive, Harper’s ability to think on his feet and act quickly had saved the Andromeda several times when Dylan was positive they were done for.  No matter how bad the odds or how badly they got damaged, Harper, all by himself, would keep them going long enough to win the battle.  He didn’t like to admit it, but Dylan had come to count on that more than a little.  They could probably find another qualified engineer, but it would take an entire engineering team to take Harper’s place.  He was that good.  All that aside, Dylan liked him and he couldn’t image never seeing the kid again.  Dylan walked slowly, thinking hard about what was the right thing to do.

     When he finally got to Obs, he found the room empty.  He looked around, surprised, and said, “Uh, Rommie, where is Harper?  I thought he was here.”

     “He was.  He’s gone back to his quarters with Admiral Nelson.  Hurry, Dylan.  He’s packing!” Rommie said, sounding alarmed.  Dylan turned and trotted towards Harper’s quarters, Rommie worriedly telling him to hurry, hurry, hurry!  When he reached the room, he found the door opened and could hear talking coming from within.

     “I still think you’re making a colossal mistake,” Tyr said nonchalantly when Dylan got close enough to hear.  “Your children will be tiny.”

     “Har har,” Harper sniped back.

     “Their children will be brilliant like their parents,” Nelson said as Dylan entered the room.  Harper was sitting on his bed, holding a backpack and Doctor Babin was folding one of his loud Hawaiian shirts and smiling as she handed it to him.  She was wearing another one and Harper was wearing Nelson’s shirt for some reason.  Tyr was sitting in a chair off to the side, watching the others, seeming amused.  Nelson was standing by the closet, giving one of Harper’s louder shirts a leery look.  He looked no less authoritative for the fact that he was in his undershirt rather than his proper uniform.

     “No one told me there was a party,” Dylan said, everyone looking swiftly in his direction and falling silent.

     “Captain Hunt...” Nelson started, the first to recover.

     “It’s okay,” Harper cut him off, then stood and walked up to Dylan and look him square in the eye.  His features were soft, untroubled and he smiled a little as he looked up into Dylan’s face.  “Dylan, I’m going home,” was all he said.  Those few, short, simple words said everything that needed to be said, destroyed any hope of Dylan’s thoughts of appealing to the kid’s sense of duty or loyalty having any affect on Harper’s decision.  Harper straightened up and put a serious expression on his face and saluted with his left hand, saying, “Permission to be dismissed... or something... uh, sir.”  Harper looked as flustered as he sounded, which almost made Dylan smile.  He probably would have, if not for what Harper was asking of him.

     Dylan stood at attention holding Harper’s blue eyes with his own, then said, “Andromeda, let the logs show that Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Seamus Zelazny Harper has been honorably discharged from duty.”  He gave Harper a crisp salute, saying, “It has been an honor serving with you, Mister Harper.  The Commonwealth is losing one of her best.”  He meant every word, but it was the right thing to do.  He knew that the rest of the crew, with the possible exception of Tyr, and most especially his ship might not agree and would probably give him unmeasurable amounts of grief over what he’d just done, but he knew as he watched a bright, dimple filled smile flow onto Harper’s face that this was right.  He held out his left hand for Harper to shake, but wound up being the recipient of an enthusiastic hug instead.  He awkwardly patted Harper’s back, not used to physical displays of affection from other men, but he found himself smiling softly.  “We’ll miss you, Harper.”

     “I’ll miss you guys too,” Harper said as he let go and took a step back, looking a little sheepish about what he’d just done.

     Doctor Babin stepped forward and tugged Dylan down as she stretched up to give him a kiss on the cheek.  “You’re sure I can’t get you two to stay for just a little while?” Dylan asked as he straightened again.  “Six months with both of you and I swear I’ll have the Commonwealth up and running like it was before The Fall.”

     “Yes, Harper, you should both stay,” the Andromeda chimed in, sounding almost plaintive.

     “Flattery will get you no where,” Doctor Babin chuckled.  “The two of us were curious about something, though.  Can starship captains marry people like seagoing captains could back in my day?”

     Dylan blinked at her in surprise and then smiled suddenly when he realized what was really being asked.  “Why yes we can,” he replied.

     “Maybe you’d come onto the Seaview and hitch the two of us, huh, boss?” Harper said, wrapping his arm around Doctor Babin and pulling her up close.  “It’d be easier for you guys to go there then for all the Seaview crew to come here and it should be all legal and stuff since we’ll still be aboard the Andromeda even when we’re aboard the Seaview.  If that’s okay with you.”  He looked to the Admiral for confirmation.

     The Admiral came forward and pat Harper affectionately on the back.  “Of course it is.”

     Harper’s smile flagged as he looked back to Dylan.  “And I’d like to use the Medical Deck one last time and ask for Trance’s help with something.”

     Dylan felt his brow knit.  “Is something wrong?”

     Harper shook his head.  “No, not wrong exactly, but if I’m going to be living in the past, I should ditch all the anomalous stuff.  I found the procedure for removing a neural interface.  Looks pretty simple.  The Admiral is going to have Doctor Jamieson come over to do it, but he’s probably going to be kinda freaked about the whole thing, so I thought maybe Trance could give him a hand.  After that, I’ll purge the nanobots out of my system and I’ll be just like anybody else.”

     Nelson frowned suddenly.  “Now, we discussed this.  No one will ever know about the nanobots.  That isn’t necessary.”

     Harper’s mouth with tight for a moment and he looked to Doctor Babin.  She gave him a soft, slightly worried smile and nodded, and Harper looked back to Nelson.  “Doctor Jamieson would have figured it out eventually because of the oddities in the blood work he did on me.  Someone else could too.  It’s better if there’s nothing to find.  I don’t need ‘em anyway.  I mean, I survived twenty years in a radioactive cesspit getting beat to hell every other day.  Somehow, I doubt that life at the Institute will be half that taxing on me.  It’ll be okay.”  Nelson looked ready to argue the matter and Dylan could understand his worries about Harper’s health, but Harper got that stubborn look on his face and said, “That’s what’s happening.  Dom and I talked about it and she’s the one that’s gonna have to take care of my sorry ass when I catch every virus that makes its way through Santa Barbara.  I’ll be fine.  I really will.”

     “He will,” Dylan chimed in, thinking that the least he could do was give Harper a little support.  He could see how important this was to the kid.  “Harper only had the nanobots because I forced them on him.  He’s right.  If I hadn’t put us into an extremely hazardous situation, I would have never known about half of his health issues.  Harper is as tough as they come.”

     Harper nodded, squaring his shoulders and trying to look the part.  “Damned straight.”

     Nelson didn’t look pleased about it, but he relented, saying, “It’s your decision, son.  Just realize that Doctor Jamieson is going to be watching you very closely and I’m not going to dissuade him from doing so.”

     Harper looked to Dom and she raised an eyebrow at him, obviously not about to give him any help, which made Dylan grin.  Harper at the mercy of a determined doctor.  That certainly painted a picture.  Dylan didn’t actually know who to be sorry for.  Harper frowned at the lack of support and said gruffly, “That’s okay.  I can handle him.”  Tyr let out a derisive snort and Harper half turned to glower at him.  Nelson patted him gently on the shoulder and drew Harper’s attention back to him.

     “Captain Hunt and I will go discuss the details of all of this while you finish packing,” he said, then moved around Harper and Doctor Babin toward the door to the cabin.  Doctor Babin smiled at Harper and shook her head at him, but instead of frowning again, Harper kissed her tenderly.  It left Dylan stunned, seeing them like that, fitting together so seamlessly.  It made him miss Sarah suddenly, miss her touch and her kiss, lost to the past where he should have lived out his life with her.  If he had, if he hadn’t gotten caught in the event horizon of the black hole and woken up three hundred years in the future, none of this would have happened.  Or maybe it would have, with someone else standing in his place.  Dylan tried not to think too much along those lines.  It was sad at best.

     As Harper and Doctor Babin went back to what they had been doing and Nelson nodded toward the still opened door.  Dylan led the way through and once they were outside and a little way away from the room, Nelson said, “Thank you for not making this any more difficult for Seamus than it already is.  He wants so desperately not to hurt anyone, but he’s certain he will no matter what he does.  He also thought that you and Captain Valentine would hate him for leaving.”

     That almost hurt, but then Harper did tend to expect the worst a lot of the time and usually wasn’t disappointed.  “Of course not,” Dylan assured him, though he couldn’t be sure how Beka was going to react to this turn of events.  According to what the Andromeda had said, she and Harper had already argued about something.  Perhaps Beka already know about Harper’s plans to leave.  Dylan doubted it.  She’d probably still be arguing with Harper if she knew.  “I’d like him to stay, but I’m not going to force him,” he added, hoping that Beka wouldn’t try anything drastic herself.

     Nelson nodded, grumbling, “Rather how I feel about him keeping those nanobots, really.”

     “Get used to it.  Harper is incredibly stubborn,” Dylan said with a smile.  “And he’s not above being sneaky to get his way.  You’re lucky that he didn’t just do it and not say anything.  At least this way, you know.”

     “I doubt that he would keep anything like that a secret from Dominica,” Nelson told him.  “As for this Trance person, I’d like to meet her.  Seamus has a lot of good things to say about the purple person that was Trance, but I don’t think he trusts the current version the same way.”

     “She’s new to all of us,” Dylan said, wondering how much Harper had told the Admiral about his life in the future and on the Andromeda.  He wondered if it mattered.  When they had fallen back through time and wound up at the Battle of Witchhead, what they did there hadn’t changed anything.  Maybe Harper was meant to go back with the Seaview and her crew, maybe that was why he’d been so happy there.  Dylan wished he had time to research things, but he didn’t.  “Trance, my ship’s avatar, Captain Crane, Miss Simmons and the aliens from Barris’ home world are all in one of my conference rooms, trying to figure out what do to about Barris.  We should probably go and see how things are going,” Dylan said rather than dwelling on it.

      “The avatar Seamus built?  Yes, I’d like to see that, if nothing else,” Nelson said, following Dylan off again.  Dylan was hesitant to ask Rommie which conference room was being used.  She was probably mad at him for letting Harper go so easily.  Harper didn’t need to be worried about everyone being angry with him for going because Dylan figured he’d drawn all the ire aboard ship for wanting to just let the kid be happy for once.  He couldn’t have Sarah, but maybe he could let someone have a happily ever after.

* * *



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