Michelle Pichette


Chapter 66



* * *

     Harper pulled the tie on the top of his pack shut.  “Well, that’s it.  Everything’s packed,” he announced to no one in particular.  Dom smiled at him and laid a hand on his arm.  Tyr didn’t even seem to notice he’d said anything, which wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary.  Tyr ignored him, Tyr teased him, Tyr manhandled him, Tyr threatened him, but Tyr had never actually hurt him and had protected him a lot over the short time they’d known each other.  Tyr had even tolerated a hug or two with reasonably good grace when Harper had felt the overwhelming need to show somebody some affection and Tyr had drawn the short straw and been closest by.  In sort of a weird way, he and Tyr were buddies.  Not like he and Beka were buddies, but he could talk to Tyr about things he couldn’t talk to anyone else about, about dark, terrible things that had been in his past that Tyr would understand and no one else would.  Harper would miss him.

     “We’re gonna head over to the Med Deck, Tyr,” he said, thinking maybe he ought to try being more direct.  “You gonna come with?”

     Tyr let out a long suffering sigh and he rose from where he was sitting.  “I suppose I must.  The sooner your chore there is completed, the sooner I can be rid of you and get on with my own life.”  He took the pack from the bed and started to the door.

     Harper frowned.  “Well, don’t let me keep you or anything,” he sniped.

     Dom took his arm at that point and he looked to see her smiling and shaking her head at him as they followed Tyr out of the room.  “You’re so easy,” she said, her tone teasing.

     “Yeah, but you never take advantage of it,” he said a little wistfully.  Dom laughed softly and stretched up to kiss him on the cheek.

     “Soon,” she purred, giving Harper shivers.  It couldn’t be soon enough for him.  Pretty soon he wasn’t going to care if Tyr was in the room or not.  Let him watch!  Maybe the Harper would show him a thing or two.  Tyr was sure impressed with Dom, hence the conversation when Dom had been changing for bed earlier.  As if he didn’t know how to treat his lady right, Harper thought smugly as he grinned at Dom, whose hand still rested on his arm lightly.  He wasn’t exactly getting complaints for once.

     They had barely gotten out the door when a crowd appeared, Beka at their head with some new alien guy.  Harper was still mad at Beka.  She’d woken him up, dragged him out of bed, insulted him, insulted his new family, now she was bringing all this at him.  What was with her today?  “Take off the shirt,” Beka ordered as she came to a halt in front of him.

     “What?” Harper asked, exasperated.  He glanced at Ro.  She was probably the only one who hadn’t been on the dock the day everyone had gotten an eye full of his lovely collection of reminders that Earth in the future could be a rough place to live.  He didn’t need her seeing his scars and forever giving him the ‘oh, poor, abused Harper’ looks too.  Dom had let go of his arm and had taken half a step forward, looking ready to give Beka a piece of her mind, but Tyr caught her arm and imposed himself between her and Beka.  Great.  Just what he needed.  “No!  Back off, Valentine.  I’m not...” Harper started heatedly, about to tell her that she could find herself a new target for her temper tantrums and bossiness, that he was out of here.

     Scowling, Beka grabbed him by his shirt front.  Harper was about to bat her hands away, tell her the shirt was a gift from the Admiral and not to wrinkle the merchandise, but she yanked his shirt opened roughly, sending buttons flying everywhere and pulling it half off his shoulders before he could do anything.  “Hey!” Harper protested as she roughly yanked him out of it, wrenching his hurt shoulder in the process.  Harper bit back a curse and most of a cry of pain as he stumbled back from her and onto one knee, wrapped his arm around himself.  Ow, OW, OW!  What the hell was Beka’s problem?

     The corridor exploded with voices now, most of them berating Beka for what she’d just done.  He could even hear Crane and Tyr shouting, which surprised the heck out of him.  Dom was back by him, putting sheltering arms around him, but Harper sensed another, strange presence by him and looked up to see the new aliens there, one of them reaching out toward him.  “Don’t be fearful, builder Harper.  Wemrik will take the pain away,” another was saying.

     Harper wanted to cower away, but the alien was too close, almost touching him already.  “No, don’t...” he started, thinking the alien was going to do something bad to him.  Then the alien’s fingers made contact with his stricken shoulder.  The sharp needles of pain that had been stabbing him there abruptly vanished and a weird, warm feeling flooded his arm, running up his collar bone, then down across his chest and back.  He felt his eyes roll back into his head and he was lost in a fugue of strange sensations and couldn’t react to what was happening.  He shuddered hard as Dom pulled him away from the alien’s touch.  He felt like he did when his mind got dumped out of Rommie’s systems too quickly.

     “Seamus, are you...” Dom started, then made a surprised sound and murmured, “How... What...”  The corridor fell silent.

     “Wemrik meant no offense,” the alien was saying a little frantically.  “He wanted to heal your injuries.  It is better, yes?”

     Harper blinked, coming back to himself, then found he was lying on Dom, who was running a hand over his stomach, looking shocked for some reason.  “‘m okay.  I’m okay,” he slurred out, rather glad that he wasn’t in pain anymore.  Tyr had the alien that had touched him by the throat and the one that had spoken to him had a hand on the girl alien’s chest, keeping her from confronting Tyr.  All of them were looking at him rather than Tyr at the moment, probably surprised that he was talking.  Harper said, “Put’em down, Tyr.  He didn’t hurt me.  He numbed out my shoulder or something.  I’m okay.”  Tyr wasn’t looking at the alien that he released almost absently, though.  Tyr was staring at him.  That was he noticed that everyone was still staring and that Dom was running a hand slowly over his stomach again and again.  He turned back to her and found that Dom was staring too, only at where she was touching him.  He looked down to see what had Dom so transfixed.  She never seemed to mind his scars before.  Had something happened?  Then he saw it.  Where her hand moved was smooth, perfect skin.  Harper blinked again.  Wait.  What?  Where were the scars that he’d carried since childhood?

     “Your arm?” Dom asked hesitantly.

     Harper flexed his shoulder.  It didn’t hurt and the joint moved easily, good as new.  Harper grinned.  “It’s all fixed.  Here, help me,” he said, starting to struggle free of his sling.  Dom got it off him quickly and he pulled the fasteners on his cast loose, shaking that off as well.  Not rising from where he sat on the floor, Harper ran a hand down his arm, finding it didn’t hurt a bit and that he had full mobility again.  He pulled at the bandages around his chest, yanking them loose, thinking that the scratches that had been there weren’t itching anymore and that maybe they were gone like his scars.  “Wait, my back...” Harper started.

     “All the scars that were there are gone too,” Dom finished his thought stroking his lower back, below his loosening bandages.  Her light touch made him tingle.  Everything was so much more sensitive than it had been, probably because nerve ending that had been long since destroyed were alive and back in action.  He was so used to the muted sensation he’d had in the scar tissue on him that Dom stroking him now was almost overwhelming, but in a good, fairly erotic way.  He could get used to this!  He yanked the bandages free to find there was nothing under them either, just more smooth, unscarred skin.  Harper let out a little laugh, not able to stop it.  All his wounds and hurts were gone and so were reminders from the worst of his previous ones.  He wasn’t a disfigured freak anymore!

     “See, short stuff, I was trying to help you.  You’re too stubborn for your own good,” Beka said, her tone gloating.

     Dom stilled and looked up, frowning.  “What’s she saying now?  Is she being mean to you again?” she said quietly, angrily.  Beka wasn’t exactly on Dom’s list of favorite people at the moment, not that Harper blamed her for feeling that way.

     “Not so much,” Harper told her, then looked up at everyone looming over them and met eyes with Beka.  She looked smug, like she was waiting for him to tell her right and that he owed her.  That was so not happening this time.  “Okay, you wanted to fix my busted arm.  Great.  You were still being a jerk about it,” he told her.  “You better not have wrecked my new shirt.”

     Everyone started talking at once again.  “Harper, are you sure you’re all right?” Ro was asking, Crane echoing her, both of them actually sounding concerned.  Trance was telling Tyr that the aliens were friends.  The aliens were chattering at each other in a language Harper was pretty sure he’d never heard before.  There were so many languages flying around the corridor at the moment that Harper’s head spun a little as it kept jumping from Earth Common to Galactic Common and back again.

     Suddenly, Dylan’s voice rose over all the other ones.  “Harper!  Doctor Babin!  What’s going on here?”

     “Seamus!  Dominica!” Nelson’s voice came quickly and a moment later, the Admiral had pushed past everyone and was kneeling by them.  Harper hugged him warmly for worrying about him and out of overwhelming happiness.

     “Look, look!  I’m not all messed up anymore!” he said giddily, showing Nelson his unmarked, pale chest.  For the first time in what seemed like his whole life, he didn’t mind that he was half naked somewhere other than in private when he was totally sober.

     Nelson blinked in confusion as he looked down at Harper’s chest, then smiled at him.  “How did... This is wonderful, but...” he stammered, not seeming to be able to make sense of it.

     “We didn’t mean to alarm you, builder Harper,” the alien that had spoken before said now that things had settled down again.  “Wemrik is sorry that he startled everyone so badly.  We thought you understood.”

     “Can you stand up?  Here,” Nelson said, offering Harper his hand.  He and Dom got him back on his feet and everyone pressed close, telling him how happy they were that he wasn’t hurt any longer.  Harper basked in the attention, unused to it but happy to have it.  “Now, give the boy some air,” the Admiral said gruffly after a few moments.  His hand remained gently on Harper’s shoulder and Dom never let go of his arm.  Harper didn’t mind, quite the contrary, actually.  He’d never been so happy.

     “What’s with the old guy, Seamus?” Beka asked, bringing him crashing back to the reality that his life was never easy or nice.

     “He’s Admiral Nelson, like I told you before,” Harper told her, not sure what she was thinking.  By the expression on her face, it was something along the lines of Dom not being the only one with a physical interest in him.

     “Is he extra nice when you let him have some alone time?” Beka said, crossing her arms over her chest with a look of disdain.

       “Firstly... Ewww!  So not happening and thanks for putting that image in my head,” Harper told her with a mental head shake to try and dislodge that very unwanted thought.  “I don’t swing that way and you know it.  Second, he’s my boss and he looks out for me.  You know, actually caring about my physical well being rather than saying, ‘You first, short stuff,’ before shoving me directly at the hazards in question.  Not that you’d know about that, huh?”

     Beka frowned at being called out on that point.  “Whatever.  The new Master, huh?  Well, tell him thanks for everything, but you’re home now, so he can go back to his submersible.”

     Harper sighed.  Yeah, he should have known things were too good to last.  “Beka, I told you, it’s not like that.  He’s been great to me, better than I deserve.  Treats me like I’m family.  You know, a normal, healthy type family?  The sort that cares about each other, not the kind that cheats, lies and steals from each other.”  Beka stiffened and glared at him.  Hey, it wasn’t his fault that her family was dysfunctional.  “When he goes, I’m going with him.  Me and Dom, we’re going home to Earth to get married and have kids and get old together.  It’s what I want,” he told her, hoping that she’d listen this time.

     “Is that Captain Valentine?” the Admiral asked, sounding a little concerned.  “What was she saying?  She looks angry.”

     “Is he threatening you?” Beka asked, giving Nelson a suspicious glare.  “Telling you he’ll take your little bed buddy if you don’t do what he wants?”

     Harper internalized a groan, wishing that everyone could understand everybody else.  “I could give her the translator that you made, Harper,” Dylan offered as he stepped into the mix.  “Not that I think it would help.  Beka, listen to what Harper is saying.  No one is forcing him to do anything.  He wants to go.  Earth is his home.”  Good old Dylan.  At least he was trying to be the voice of reason.

     “She thinks I’m trying to force you to leave?” Nelson asked, sounding affronted.

     “You wouldn’t do that,” Crane said, sounding insulted too.

     “The Earth is a garbage heap.  No one in their right mind would want to go there,” Beka stated.  Harper was glad that the Seaview people couldn’t understand her.  They’d be really insulted.

     “It’s not like that in the past,” Dylan tried to reason with her again.

     “What’s not like what?  What is he talking about?” Ro asked.

     “I could translate everything,” Rommie said.

     “Don’t bother.  It’s confusing enough as it is and no one is really listening to anyone else anyway,” Harper sighed.  Dom squeezed his arm but didn’t say anything.  At least she had the good sense to stay out of the mayhem.

     “I am listening,” Beka insisted.  “You’re not making any sense, Harper.  You can’t seriously want to go to Earth.  Either you’re stuck with primitives in their huts in the past or you’re living on a radioactive dung heap full of Uber slavers and Magogs in the present.  You can’t tell me that a rational person would want to do either.”

     “Fine.  You’re right.  I’m nuts.  I’ve gone totally native.  I’ll be naked swinging through the trees, but I’ll be happy, and that’s all that should matter to you,” Harper countered her.

     “Yeah, sure.  You’ll be real happy the next time you get sick and their witch doctor starts sticking pins in you,” Beka replied.  “And you’re going to get sick.  You know you are.”

     “About that,” the alien spoke up now.  “Wemrik sensed there was deeper hurt in you, that your lungs and immune system were badly damaged and other things less so.  You pulled away from him before he could heal those older injuries.  He said that he could repair everything if you’ll allow him to.”

     Harper looked at the alien, but didn’t get to reply before Beka pounced.  “You could?  How many friendly aliens offering to fix all the stuff messed up in you were there in the past, huh, Harper?”

     “Yeah, and what’s it gonna cost me?” Harper shot back.  There was no such thing as a free ride.  He knew that better than probably anyone else in the room.  Harper already wondering what losing his scars was going to cost him and when he was going to have to pay up.

     “We use our gifts for the glory of the Maker.  We require nothing in return,” the alien said with a bow.

     “What is he saying?” Crane asked.  “Why is he bowing to you?”

     “Not to me,” Harper muttered, thoughts hammering as his poor, already overtaxed mind.  To be whole.  To not be gasping for air because he decided to run for a while instead of walking.  To not get sick every time a germ got near him.  All the little aches and pains and complaints that were the price for surviving his childhood magically gone like his scars.  Wasn’t it what he always dreamed of, being normal, being healthy?  Wasn’t that worth whatever the going rate was?  Then Dom stroked his arm and Harper looked at her again, gazed into her soft, compassionate eyes for a moment.  He felt the Admiral’s hand resting gently, reassuring, on him.  Harper stroked Dom’s cheek and decided that some things were worth more to him.  He looked to the alien again.  “Tell him thanks, but I’m good,” Harper told him.

     “What?!” Beka exploded.  “See, Dylan?  He’s gone crazy!”

     “Harper...” Dylan started uncertainly.  They didn’t understand.  They couldn’t.  They hadn’t lived his life.

     “This Maker, he made me how I am.  He gave me a fast mind and a slow body.  It all balances out and I’m okay with it.  So, no.  Thanks, but no,” Harper told the alien that was still regarding him steadily.

     Beka sputtered some more, but Harper watched as the alien’s smile brightened and he bowed to him, actually to him this time. “You understand.  So many don’t, even among my own people.  The Maker gives us what we need, not everything we desire.  So few can grasp this.  Fewer still embrace it.  You are a rare being.  Live well, builder Harper.  We will meet again in paradise,” he said as he bowed again, then turned to his companions and began to say something to them.

     He never got to finish because Barris suddenly appeared shouting, “NO!  What are you doing?  You would speak words of honor to this?  This,” he pointed a scornful finger into Harper’s chest, knocking him back a few steps, Dom and the Admiral with him, “is a broken slave!  It is nothing.”

     The alien stared at Barris for a moment, then blinked, his face becoming sad.  “I am so sorry, Barris.  We failed you so badly, didn’t we?” he said, sounding mournful.

     “I DON”T WANT YOUR PITY!” Barris shrieked at him.  That was when Tyr hit him, shoving Barris out of the middle of everyone with a bellow that echoed down the corridors.  Barris threw him off with a snarl of his own, but was greeted with the fire of half a dozen force lances when he turned back to where everyone else stood.  Harper felt his heart sink in his chest when they did absolutely nothing.  “You cannot hurt me with your toys,” Barris said with a malevolent laugh, taking a step forward, not seeming to even notice the blasts hitting him.  He looked to where Captain Crane and Ro stood.  “Your part is done.  Go,” Barris said, and they vanished.  Harper was horrified.  Where did they go?  Were they all right?  Then Barris laughed that evil laugh again and took another step forward into the reduced firing.  Harper moved Dom behind him, drawing his own lance, wondering if anyone would be left to search for Ro and Crane.

* * *

     “Lee!  Where did you come from!” Chip said in surprise as Lee found himself standing in the Control Room of the Seaview.  He felt dizzy for a second as he lowered his weapon.  Ro was still next to him, but she was the only other person from the fight in the corridor of the Andromeda who was.  Lee’s eyes widened in alarm.  The Admiral, Dom and Harper and all of Harper’s friends were in terrible danger!  Barris was shrugging off blasts that had reduced the other aliens to ash and he was in a rage!  The Admiral, Hunt and all the others needed help!

     Lee was about to tell Chip to gather everyone with one of the tube weapons, that they needed to hurry to the Andromeda, but he never got a chance.  The Seaview lurched violently and everyone was thrown to the deck.  Alarms wailed through the boat as the shaking came to an abrupt halt.  “What was that?” Lee asked as he stood up, wondering if the Andromeda was taking fire.  That was when he caught sight of what was out the front view port.  They were in their berth back at the Institute.  “Oh, no,” Lee breathed in horror, knowing they were home.  The Admiral, Dom and Harper weren’t, though.  They were trapped with that maniac in the future and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it!

* * *



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