Belonging

by

Michelle Pichette

 

Chapter 67

 

 

* * *

     Nelson watched as Barris moved casually forward and laughed despite the weapon’s fire being rained down on him.  Lee and Miss Simmons were gone, no telling where.  Nelson could only hope they were safe.  It was certain the rest of them weren’t.  Nelson moved between Harper, who was sheltering Doctor Babin with his own body, and Barris.  He was careful not to move in front of Harper’s very active force lance.  Harper was whole again, better than healed, the scars from his abusive childhood somehow erased as well.  It would be wrong for him to come to harm so quickly after that miracle, but Nelson didn’t know how to stop any of them from being hurt by Barris, who was seemingly indestructible and unstoppable.  There had to be something they could do, Nelson thought, but for the life of him, he didn’t know what that something might be.

     “You must listen,” the leader of the aliens pleaded with Barris.  “You must turn from this path.  The harm you’ve brought on others, that you seek to bring on those gathered here, it will turn on you.  It will destroy you if you don’t stop!  Let us help you.”  Barris let out another of his insane laughs and kept coming forward, looking even more determined.

     “Not cutting it, Nowan,” Hunt grunted.

     “The lances are going to run out of charge,” Harper pointed out.  Nelson had been worrying about that.  His own was growing quite warm.

     “Cease fire!” Hunt ordered and the weapons fell silent almost as one.

     At almost that exact instant, Anasazi tackled Barris from behind, the two of them tumbling to the floor uncomfortably close to where they stood.  “Move!” Nelson ordered Harper.  The boy blinked at him silently, not seeming to know what to do as he glanced to where Anasazi wrestled with Barris.  “You need to get Dominica somewhere safer,” Nelson reasoned with him, fearful that Harper would want to stay to help his friend.  The two young people were in far more danger of being harmed than the big Nietzschean was.

     Bringing Doctor Babin into the mix got Harper’s attention though.  “Come on,” he said, grabbing Doctor Babin’s hand and pulling her away.  They’d barely gone two steps when Barris was suddenly in front of them, making Harper draw to a quick halt and take a step back.

     “Little slave, you caused all this,” Barris was snarling at the boy as he loomed menacingly forward.

     “I didn’t do anything to you!” Harper shouted back, sounded equally frightened and indignant.

     Barris roared in fury at him, reaching out for him, but before anyone else could react, the alien girl had rushed between them.  She grabbed Barris and threw him away from Harper as if he weighed no more than a small, rubber ball.  Nelson grabbed Harper and Dominica by the arms and guided them to Hunt’s side.  “Barris wants Seamus,” Nelson told the starship captain.  “It’s all he can think about, getting at the boy.”

     “I didn’t do anything!  I didn’t!” Harper plead his innocence.

     Hunt nodded with a frown.  “We know, Harper.  Barris is insane,” he told the boy, then looked to his crew as they drew near.  “We need to protect Harper,” he said.

     “I was doing my best in that regard,” Anasazi pointed out, cracking his neck and looking ready to give aid to the alien girl, not that she looked to need his help at the moment.  Anasazi’s expression was cold and Nelson knew that if he could find a way to do it, Barris would no longer be a threat to anyone.  In that instant, Nelson was glad the man was a killer.

     The alien’s spokesman, Nowan, grabbed Anasazi’s arm and brought him to a temporary halt as the alien man that hadn’t healed Harper moved into action.  “Barris is of our world.  Maybe that is the answer being sought.  Let us try to stop this,” he said.

     Barris was ranting in another language all the while, then as the second alien neared him, he shouted, “This is how it happened!  Stop protecting the slave!  Don’t...”  That was went the second alien reached where the girl fought to hold Barris still.  Barris blinked free of her grasp and was standing before Nelson an instant later.  Nelson began to move forward, not about to let Barris touch Harper, who was directly behind him, and Nelson heard a shout and realized Hunt and Anasazi were coming at Barris too.  That was when the world went white.

     Nelson didn’t know what happened.  He’d been standing on the Andromeda with everyone else, then he couldn’t see and got dizzy and fell to one knee.  Blinking fast, Nelson found he wasn’t blind, just temporarily dazzled by what must have been a fantastic flash of light.  He felt hands fumble across his back and heard Harper’s voice softly ask, “Boss?  You okay?  What was that?  Where are we?  Trance?”  Nelson shook his head hard once and looked around as Harper helped him get back on his feet.  They were no longer on the Andromeda, they were on a planet, in middle of what looked to be a village of some sort.  Aliens like the ones that had been aboard Hunt’s ship were all around them, staring owlishly at them.  The strange thing was that the aliens seemed drawn into two groups, some rather belligerent looking ones to one side, some that appeared far more mild to the other side of the square where everyone from the corridor had suddenly been relocated to.  Even stranger was the sky.  Bluish black clouds moved across the sky with green lightning flashing between them.  Nelson got uneasy feeling looking up at those clouds, like there was something unnatural about them, even though it was impossible for him to know what was natural for this world.

     Trance was shrinking down to the ground, looking up at the sky with a disquieting expression, murmuring something over and over, not reacting to Captain Valentine’s efforts to calm her.  “What’s she saying?” Doctor Babin asked as Hunt bent to Trance as well.

     “Something about paradoxes.  I don’t...” Harper said worriedly, his voice trailing off.

     “Nowan... “ Hunt started uncertainly as he looked up from his young, alien medic.

     The alien spokesman moved forward at that point, speaking quickly to the people gathered around them.  “What’s happening?” Harper whispered nervously as he and Doctor Babin moved in close to Nelson on his left side.  Harper looked nervously up at the clouds.  “That doesn’t look right.  How did we get here?  Where is here?”

     “The alien man, I think he copied Barris’ ability to teleport somehow and he brought us here,” Nelson said softly.  Captain Valentine began to speak to Hunt, Trance still huddling before them, still babbling.  The android taking up a defensive position before them, Anasazi moving to mirror her on their other side, Nowan’s two companions that had confronted Barris on the Andromeda taking up the other compass points.  They looked nervous, as did their friend that had healed Harper.  Why were they concerned?  It seemed like they were home and among their own people.  The less aggressive looking group of aliens began to whisper amongst themselves at Nowan’s continued dialog, but the leader of the more hostile looking group was looking at their small, vulnerable group with interest.  Nelson ardently wished he could understand what was being said.

     “Where is Barris?” Doctor Babin asked quietly.  It was then that Nelson realized that Barris didn’t seem to be with them.  That didn’t last, though, because he appeared suddenly by Nowan and threw him aside, then began ranting at the alien people gathered around them, at the leader of the angry group especially.  That person was giving Barris a leery look, then snapped his fingers and one of his group came forward and threw his arms out toward the new arrivals on the scene.

     Suddenly Barris’ unintelligible ranting resolved into, “... not what you want!  You need to turn away from them!  You need to go back to your huts and....”

     “I do as I will, not as you do, foreigner,” the aggressive group’s leader said, then moved to step around Barris, who was suddenly in front of him trying to stop him from going forward.  Barris blocked his path.  The alien glared at him, then snapped his fingers again.  Two more of his group came forward and grabbed Barris, who threw them off.  Several more of the group came forward and a fight broke out, not that the leader of the group concerned himself with it.  He stepped imperiously around the tussle and approached the new comers.  Rommie moved to block his path as he drew near and he gave her a withering look.  “You can understand?” he asked as his eyes swept over their small group.

     “Yes,” Nelson said, wondering how that was possible.

     “We want no trouble.  Our arrival here was accidental,” Hunt added quickly.

     “Hmmm,” the alien hummed, looking them over like a lion looks over the impalas at a watering hole.  “So that other one was saying.”

     One of the other group came forward now, Nowan coming with him.  “We are the Children of the Maker,” this alien said, bowing slightly to them as he spoke.  “Our brother, Nowan, has told us that you are travelers from space.  How is that possible?  We have seen space travelers before, but they had vessels to carry them between stars.  Where is your vessel?”

     The first alien’s eyes glittered with interest.  “Yes, where?”

     The second alien looked suddenly concerned.  “Barris, these beings are our guests,” he cautioned the first softly.  Nelson felt his eyes go wide as they snapped to the belligerent looking alien being confronted.  Barris?  Oh, that didn’t sound good at all!  “You and your Lechak Bon should go and... “

     ”Your opinion means nothing to me,” this new Barris said dismissively, still looking over them over with hunger in his eyes.  Rommie stepped directly in front of him, her dark eyes locking with Barris’.  “Hmm, interesting.  You have strength?  You do not shy away from confrontation?” Barris asked, smiling slightly.  It was not a reassuring smile.

     Rommie was unmoved.  “I was made for confrontation,” she said, her tone full of warning.

     “You would do well to step away,” Anasazi told him as he moved next to the android, the alien woman moving to her other side as the alien man that had transported them to this place fell into place just behind his companion to her other side.  Instead of looking worried, Barris’ smile deepened and became predatory.  Nelson drew his force lance, as did Hunt, the two of them moving together into position in front of Harper and Doctor Babin.  Bad things were about to happen, very bad things.

     “Harper, don’t even think about it,” Captain Valentine warned the boy as she drew her own weapon, but stayed near Trance, who Nelson realized he could also suddenly understand.  Her murmurs of paradoxes were unnerving.

     “But...” Harper tried to argue.

     “Let us handle it, Harper,” Hunt ordered, leaving no room for argument.  That was when a scream rang out from where Barris was fighting with the Lechak Bon.  Several of the aliens were now on the ground, still and covered with what Nelson assumed was blood.  Barris, the one that they were used to, was surrounded by more of the aliens, still fighting, but Nelson couldn’t see why he was.  Why didn’t he just teleport away?

     “How did the girl know my name?” the new Barris asked, not seeming to care that his minions were being beaten and possibly killed.  “Where is your vessel?  I would leave this place.  Who is in charge?”

     “I am,” Nelson said simultaneously with Hunt.  They glanced at each other.  Hunt backed down for the moment.  “There is no vessel.  Not here on your planet, in any case,” Nelson told him.  “We were brought here by other means.”

     “Brought?  Interesting,” Barris said, his black eyes regarding Nowan’s companions, then the struggling Barris for a moment.  “Not by him,” Barris said, nodding back over his shoulder.  “No, he would not have brought you.  No matter.  I’ve seen movers.  The problem is knowing where one wants to move to.  A vessel would be better.  Who built your vessel?  Your slave?”  Barris’ eyes moved to where Harper was, which made Nelson raise his force lance into the being’s direction.  The other Barris had done enough damage to the boy.  “A stick.  How... quaint.  You would risk injury to protect a slave?”

     “He isn’t a slave.  He’s my son,” Nelson told him, his words little more than a growl.

     “Appreciate the sentiment, Boss, but...” Harper started, sounding more than a bit worried.

     “Shh,” Doctor Babin hushed him.

     “Nowan, I think this would be a good time to go back to the Andromeda,” Hunt said.

     “Tobaz,” Nowan prompted his companion, obviously sharing that sentiment.

     “I don’t know how to.  I concentrated on sending Barris to where he had come from and we wound up here,” Nowan’s friend said mournfully.  “I didn’t mean to move us all!”

     Barris’ eyes moved from speaker to speaker.  “You would send me somewhere, mover?  I think not,” he told Tobaz, then shot a narrow look back at Nelson.  “Let us be clear.  My time on this world is wasted.  You space aliens asked if we sought to join the larger community of the universe.  I do and so do those that follow me.  We are ready to leave immediately.”

     Nelson frowned at him.  “Then you had better start building your own ship, because we aren’t taking you anywhere.”

     Barris smiled, the same shark-like smile that his counterpart had given Nelson whenever a threat or violence was forthcoming, and he said, “That would be perfect.”  Threw a hand out towards Rommie and Anasazi and they were swept aside by an invisible force.  His other hand shot out and he grabbed Nowan’s incredibly strong, female companion by the wrist just as she began to throw a punch at his head.  She screamed and tried to pull away from him, but the two of them began to glow and she seemed to shrink before him.

     “Barris, no!” the leader of the Children of the Maker exclaimed, starting forward.

     “I’ll swallow you, too, slave to the Maker,” Barris snarled, tossing the limp girl aside.  She didn’t move.  Nelson couldn’t tell if she was even breathing.

     Tobaz looked hard at Barris and they locked eyes, both of them beginning to glow.  “Ah, not a mover.  A mimic,” Barris said with a malevolent sneer.  “You are worthless to me.  I don’t copy.  I own.  My followers know this.  They give me a piece of them so I don’t take all of what they are.  I don’t have one gift, I have many, but unlike you, they are mine to keep.”

     “Don’t!” the other Barris pleaded.  “Turn away before it’s too late!”

     Tobaz looked frightened, but he began to move forward on the Barris confronting him.  Barris suddenly disappeared, then reappeared in front of Nelson.  He flicked a hand toward Hunt, knocking him away from them.  “How do I build a space vessel, foreigner?” he demanded, a hand shooting out toward Nelson.

     “No!” came Harper’s voice and Nelson felt himself yanked hard out of Barris’ reach and back onto the ground.  Doctor Babin was by him, helping him up as Harper stood defensively before them, holding up empty hands and making calming motions.  “Look, I can tell you how to build a ship.  You don’t have to hurt anyone else.  Just... just tell everyone to calm down and I’ll show you, okay?” Harper said pleadingly.

     “Harper, don’t...” Hunt started as he got back on his feet and began to move toward them.

     “Oh, do, Harper.  Do,” Barris said with another smile.  Again his hand shot out and he grabbed Harper by the head.  Harper let out a squeak of alarm, then a choking sound as Barris’ fingers sank into his head.  Doctor Babin screamed as Harper went limp and silent, hanging from Barris’ hand, the alien’s fingers buried fully in his skull.

     NO!!!” Nelson bellowed, starting forward, not sure what he could do but needing to do something.  Barris had killed Seamus!  He’d killed his son even though the boy had told him that he would give Barris what he wanted to protect the rest of them!

     Suddenly the other Barris was in front of him, their noses practically touching.  “I told you that you would be sorry,” he sneered, then the world flashed again.

     Nelson found himself standing in the Control Room of the Seaview, Lee and Chip standing just in front of him.  Doctor Babin made a sound of despair and collapsed to her knees by him as Lee and Chip began to react to their sudden appearance.  “Dom!” Miss Simmons cried, rushing to her friend’s side.  Doctor Babin sank into her embrace, weeping inconsolably.  Nelson felt himself starting to shake as Lee came forward as well, looking distressed.  Quiet murmurs sounded hesitantly from the other men in the room.

     “Harper,” Lee said in alarm.  “Where’s Harper?”  Nelson shook his head, unable to find words, grief swallowing him.  Lee’s face registered shock and dismay.  “No,” Lee breathed out.  “Oh, no.”

     The Control Room was silent then except for Doctor Babin’s heartbroken sobs, no one else moving or speaking.  Something in Nelson told him he should do something, but he couldn’t summon the will to.  Seamus was dead.  His son was dead, senselessly murdered and he couldn’t do anything about it, not even confront Barris.  He would never know what happened to Hunt and his crew.  Something cold filled his heart and he thought that if there was any justice in the universe, Hunt would make both incarnations of Barris pay.  Nothing Hunt could do to Barris would be enough.  Those thoughts failed under the weight of his grief and he moved to stroke Doctor Babin’s head.  Seamus was gone and nothing could ever make that right.

* * *

     “NO!!!” Nelson had shouted.  Dylan was too shocked to react at first to the new Barris sinking his fingers into Harper’s head.  Then the other version of Barris appeared suddenly before Nelson and said something just before Nelson and Doctor Babin vanished.  In almost that same instant, a blur of movement came from the other side of the Barrises.  Suddenly Tyr was there, making a leaping grab for Harper and pulling him away from Barris.  As they tumbled away from the alien, Tyr twisted so that he hit the ground cradling his limp charge against him.  They skidded to a stop a fair amount of distance from Barris, certainly out of easy reach.

     “I wasn’t done with him,” Barris stated petulantly, taking a step after Tyr.  Rommie grabbed his shoulder before he could take another and she hit him hard, snapping his head back so forcefully that Dylan half expected it to snap off.  He recovered, though, and caught the next fist that came his at him, scowling.  Rommie countered by snapping a kick up into Barris’ chin, driving his head violently back again, following that with a knee to the groin and a leg sweep.  At least, Dylan was sure it was meant to be a leg sweep, but Barris caught her leg with his free hand and upended her.

     “Seamus!  Seamus, no.  Breathe, kiddo, breathe,” Beka was saying frantically, drawing Dylan’s attention that way.  Tyr had Harper laid out on his back and was tilting the kid’s head back, blowing air into his lungs an instant later.  Beka was by Harper, Trance still huddling on the ground just behind her, still looking to be in shock.  There weren’t any visible wounds on Harper, though Dylan didn’t know how that was possible, but it was pretty obvious that no matter how Barris’ fingers had gotten into Harper’s head, they had done plenty of damage once they got there.  One of the Children of the Maker was coming quickly over to them.  Dylan was alarmed until he realized who it was.

     “I can help,” Nowan’s friend Wemrik said as he knelt by Harper and laid a hand on his head.  Harper’s body jerked and Tyr drew back as Harper let out of choking cough and curled up on his side away from everyone with a breathless whimper.

     “Thank you.  It will be much easier to plunder his mind with him alive,” Barris said.  Dylan looked back just in time to see him throw a hand in the direction of the helpless kid, bowling everyone away from him once more.  He had thrown Rommie away from him again, but she was getting up a lot slower than the last time.  As Barris took another step toward where Harper lay helpless, Dylan felt fury overflow in him.  Both incarnations of Barris had been given free reign long enough.  He started to move in to intercept Barris when the spikey faced version suddenly appeared, beating him to it.

     “You’re doing this all wrong!  Captain Hunt would have welcomed you and your world into his Commonwealth.  With your powers, you could take control and rule all.  You still might be able to.  Take Hunt, his luck, his destiny and use them.  The slave is meaningless.  It has no powers for you to absorb,” he tried to reason with what Dylan assumed to be his younger self.  Of course, Barris didn’t sound reasonable.  He sounded insane.

     “The little slave has a lot to give me,” Barris told himself with a shark-like smile.  “I only touched his mind for a moment, but I saw many things of use.  Space vessels. weapons, time machines, machines that mimic the ‘gifts’ of the so called ‘Maker.’  So many things that it was astounding.  I only learned a little, but next time, I will stay in his mind until I drink it dry.  Of course, that wasn’t the only thing I saw.  I also saw how powerful you are.”  With that, he leapt at his other self, hands outstretched.  Barris caught his wrists and threw his younger self away from him.  “You only delay the inevitable,” Barris said, flying back at himself, hands outstretched.

     Dylan took advantage of the distraction and rushed over to where Harper lay shivering, whimpering softly on the ground.  “Harper,” he said, but Harper didn’t respond to his name or Dylan touching his cheek.  He felt cold to the touch and looked to be in shock.  Considering that he’d had fingers rummaging through his skull a few moments ago, Harper was lucky to be alive.  Dylan scooped the unresponsive kid up onto his shoulder as Beka and Tyr were limping back in his direction.  Dylan moved away from the struggling aliens, looking up worriedly.  Sickly green lightning lanced through the sky and the ground shook as a bolt of it came down near them.  It was like this world was being made ill by there being two Barrises on her and now that they were in contact with each other, she was making her displeasure known.

     Dylan looked back to where the two Barrises grappled as he moved to Trance.  “Paradox... Barris is a paradox... No wonder I couldn’t see his future... No wonder he didn’t belong...” Trance was murmuring, repeating the words over and over.  She didn’t react to Dylan touching her either, just kept murmuring her strange mantra.

     “Listen to me!” the spikey Barris was shouting, holding his counterpart’s wrists, barely keeping his hands away from him.

     “Surrender your power!” the Lechak Bon Barris shouted back, straining to touch his future self.

     “What happens if Barris number one absorbs Barris number two?” Beka asked nervously.

     “I have the feeling we don’t want to find out,” Dylan replied.

     “How do we stop it?” Tyr asked.  Dylan shook his head, not even wanting to think about getting near the struggling pair and knowing that their weapons were useless.

     “Paradox... Paradox...” Trance murmured, somehow being heard over the almost constant thunder.

     Dylan watched the Barrises struggle, unable to look away.  Maybe the Admiral and his crew were lucky.  Wherever they’d been sent to, it had to be better than here.  Maybe they’d been sent home.  That made sense.  After all, Nelson’s life was pretty well documented and he didn’t vanish suddenly never to return.  Dylan wanted to be anywhere other than where he was, but it seemed he and his crew were doomed to watch things play out.

     As he thought that, the Lechak Bon Barris pushed forward and touched the spikey Barris on the cheek.  Lightning struck right next to them as that Barris howled and lashed forward, head butting his former self, driving him back, bloodying his forehead with his facial ridges.  The younger Barris didn’t seem to care about the black blood dribbling down his face.  “I will take you!” the Lechak Bon shrieked, lurching back at his older self.

     “I am you!” Barris finally admitted with a forlorn wail, still holding him off.

     That evil smile formed on the Lechak Bon’s face.  “You will be,” he said, driving forward.  The other Barris swung around, pulling his younger self off balance.  As he did, the Lechak Bon stumbled, losing his balance, falling before himself.

     “Stop!” the older Barris screamed as he stood over himself, looking more insane than ever.

     “Never!” the younger Barris shrieked back starting back at his older self, totally out of control.

     Barris grabbed his Lechak Bon self by the head even as the other grabbed him by the throat.  He twisted, hard, the sound of snapping bones echoing through the village center, somehow louder than the storm now raging around them.  “Why wouldn’t you listen!” Barris shrieked at his younger self as he shook the body.  “Why won’t you ever listen?”  Lightning danced all around him and Dylan watched in horror as the Barris that had stood on his Command Deck what seemed like eons ago absorbed his younger self until there was nothing left.  He straightened and looked back at the crumpled heaps and cowering vestiges of his Lechak Bon followers.  “You are in me.  You are what I am,” Barris declared, pointing an accusing finger at them.  Lightning struck him and leapt from his finger, forking out to strike all of those before him.  The Lechak Bon screamed as their bodies twisted to become like Barris’.  Everything began to blur as Barris moved forward into the middle of his writhing minions.  “We are powerful.  We will rule all.  We only need to unmake our past first,” was the last thing that Dylan heard Barris say before a flash lightning crashed down between them and Dylan recoiled, temporarily blinded.

     When Dylan blinked vision back into his eyes, he found himself back on the Command Deck of the Andromeda.  “What...” he murmured, not understanding how he had gotten here.  His crew was all accounted for, which was at least one good thing.  Harper moaned against his back and Dylan laid him down carefully on the deck.  “Harper,” Dylan said worriedly as Harper shifted restlessly before him.  “Harper, can you hear me?”

     Harper’s eyes opened wide and stared up at him for a second, then closed again as he grimaced and let out another moan.  “I feel sick,” he moaned.  “I can still feel that guy’s fingers in my brain!”  Dylan almost laughed he was so relieved, but that didn’t last, not when Harper tried to push himself up onto an elbow as he opened his eyes again, saying, “Dom.  Where’s Dom?  She’s not hurt or...”

     “Oh, Seamus,” Beka said, suddenly by him, helping him to sit up, stroking his face gently.  “She’s gone, kiddo.  She’s gone.”

     “Gone?” Harper replied, looking stricken.  “Barris... killed her?”  The expression on his face was so devastated that Dylan thought the kid would die from grief on the spot.

     “No,” Trance told him, seemingly back to herself as she crouched by Harper.  “No, she’s back where she belongs.  When the paradox happened, we all snapped back to where we belong.”

     Harper gazed into her eyes, shaking his head, looking lost.  “No,” he told her.  “No, I was supposed to go with her.  I was supposed to...  I belong with her... We decided... No, this is wrong... I have to...”  He rose quickly to his feet, looking determined.  “I can fix it.  The Admiral had a time traveling device.  It was complicated but I think I remember most of it.  Where are my tools?”

     “You’re in shock, Seamus.  You need to go the Medical,” Beka tried to tell him in soothing tones.

     “Yes.  Let me take a look at you in Medical.  You were hurt and...” Trance tried to back her up.

     Harper got a furious expression on his face.  “No!  You’re not listening again!  She thinks I’m dead and she’s upset like I just was and you don’t care!  You just don’t want me to leave!  You don’t care that I was happy with her!  I’m getting her back!  Now where the hell are my damned tools?!” he demanded, making the two women fall back in the face of his anger.

     “Storage bay twelve,” Trance said meekly.

     Harper gave each of them a glare, then stomped off silently.  “Oh, Seamus,” Beka sighed out, sounding heartbroken for him.

     “What about Barris?” Tyr asked.  “We have nothing that can destroy him.  If he returns...”

     “He won’t,” Trance declared emphatically.

     “How can you know that?” Dylan asked.  “He’s replenished his army.  He could show up any second ready for...”

     “He can’t,” Trance told him.  “He didn’t replenish his army, they’re the same army.  His future self killed his past self and some how survived the experience, maybe because he absorbed himself, maybe because of his time traveling powers.  I don’t know.  He shouldn’t even exist, but he does.  That’s what warped the space around the Children of the Maker’s world.  That’s what twisted Barris up so bad.  Whatever was supposed to happen to him, however he got this way, he changed it all by killing himself in the past.  He’s caught in a loop that he’s trying to break, but he can’t because he’s trapped.  He just keeps going around and around and around.  We’ve seen the end of the cycle and Barris is back at the beginning.  He can’t cause any more trouble.”

     Dylan didn’t know if he fully understood what Trance was saying, but he frowned.  “He’s done enough damage,” he said, then looked to Rommie.  “Where is Harper?”

     “Almost to storage bay twelve,” she replied.  “And Admiral Nelson never published papers on a time travel device.  He would have if he’d invented one.  He was very meticulous.”

     “Yea, I know,” Dylan said quietly.

     “What do we do?” Beka asked.  “Harper can’t make a time machine.  He would have made one for you ages ago if he knew how.”

     Dylan closed his eyes, remembering the failed matter transporter that had worked as a time machine just long enough for him to go back and say goodbye to Sarah.  Harper had fought with the device for ages, nearly making himself sick trying to make it work so that Dylan could go back to Sarah and take her here to be with him.  He could never work out how to make the remote stabilizer that would have allowed a person from the past to come forward to the Andromeda’s present work properly.  Dylan had ordered him to stop finally.  Harper had been devastated by his failure and Dylan had felt required to go out of his way to show the kid that there was no ill will between the two of them over it.

     “I know,” he said quietly, knowing that Harper was feeling what he had felt when the realization that everyone he knew and loved was long dead and that he would never see them again.

     “This is bad.  This is so bad,” Beka said worriedly.  “I’ll go talk to him.”

     “He won’t listen.  Not now.  It’s too soon,” Dylan told her.

     “You should talk to him, then.  Or Tyr.  He wasn’t mad at either of you,” Beka said, grasping at straws.

     Tyr shook his head.  “He’s mourning.  He just doesn’t know it yet.  Let him be,” he said, then walked away.

     “Bastard,” Beka snarled at his back.  “Dylan, he shouldn’t be alone.  Please.  You know how he gets when he’s upset like this.”  She meant suicidal, but Dylan knew she didn’t want to say it aloud, probably not wanting to tempt fate.  According to the Andromeda, Harper had several times come very close to trying to take his own life when he’d been infested with Magog.  She and Tyr had somehow talked him out of actually doing it.  Much as he would like to say otherwise, he and Beka just hadn’t known how to help him and had been fearful of their efforts would push him over the edge.  Dylan knew neither of them was equipped to do any better of a job now.

     “Rommie, go keep an eye on him.  Give him whatever he wants if we have it.  Don’t let him hurt himself,” Dylan told the ship’s avatar.  Rommie nodded and headed off at a quick walk in silence.

     “Harper should be in Medical.  Barris had his hand in his brain,” Trance said.

     “If he collapses, we’ll bring him there.  If we force him to do anything right now, it will only make matters worse,” Dylan said.

     “So, you’re not going to do anything either,” Beka snapped at him.

     “Rommie’s watching him.  We need to give him a little space right now, let him work things out,” Dylan said.

     Beka rolled her eyes.  “Men!” she exclaimed, making the word sound like a curse.  With that, she walked away too.

     Trance started to follow, but Dylan caught her by the arm and held her back.  She turned to stare at him, but he didn’t say anything until Beka was gone.  “Can you do anything?” Dylan asked, not knowing what Trance was capable of.  He had the feeling that it was a lot more than he could ever imagine.

     Trance shook her head.  “No.  Harper came back here with us because he’s supposed to be here.”

     “He might differ with that opinion,” Dylan said, then scowled.  “Damn Barris.”

     “He’s pretty much done that to himself.  He’s trapped forever in a hell of his own making,” Trance said.

     “I suppose,” Dylan sighed, running a hand back through his hair.  He wouldn’t have minded landing a few punches.  Breaking Barris’ face seemed inadequate considering the pain he’d caused everyone.  Poor Harper, he thought with another sigh.  The worst part was all of this seemed so meaningless.  Why had Barris singled out Harper in the first place?  If he had left the kid alone, his past self wouldn’t have known about his powers and would probably never have attacked him.  He could at least understand Barris’ motives as far as he was concerned.  Perhaps Barris had hoped to win him and the Admiral over to change his own destiny.  Dylan couldn’t be absolutely sure about that.  According to Trance, they would never see Barris again.

     Dylan glanced at Trance as he put his hand down from his head.  Even if she knew something, she might not tell him if she deemed it to be ‘for his own good’ not to know.  She also probably wouldn’t help in any efforts to get Harper back together with Doctor Babin, since Trance had stated that he was where he belonged.  Dylan didn’t want Harper to go, but his being here instead of with Doctor Babin was wrong.  He only wished there was something he could do about it, but there wasn’t.

     “There’s nothing we can do.  This is how things are supposed to be,” Trance stated as if she were reading his mind.

     “But this isn’t right,” Dylan told her.  “Harper was an innocent bystander in all this insanity with Barris.  He probably saved Admiral Nelson’s life.  He doesn’t deserve to be punished this way.”

     “He needs to be here,” Trance insisted.  “Until you can find a way to defeat the Abyss, this is where he belongs.”

     Dylan felt his brow knit.  “Why?  If he goes, will we lose?”

     Trance looked troubled.  “If he goes, it would be... harder.  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no way for him to go back.”

     Dylan still wasn’t sure that was true, but he was tired of arguing.  He didn’t say anything else, just walked away from Trance and went to Machine Shop seventeen.  It was where Harper liked to work the best, for whatever reason, and it was probably where he would go to build his time travel device.  Sure enough, when Dylan got to the door, Harper was there with Rommie hovering nearby.  Harper had a shirt on again, which made Dylan remember all the scars Wemrik had erased.  How much had the alien healed the last time, when he’d pretty much saved Harper’s life?  Were Harper’s lungs and immune system still damaged?  Was all the damage that Barris must have done to Harper’s brain healed?  Dylan wanted to order the kid to Medical to find out what was going on with Harper physically, but he couldn’t picture that going over well at all.

     Dylan stepped out of the room again and said, “Andromeda, how much discrete medical scanning can you do of Harper?”

     A hologram appeared in from of Dylan.  “Basic vital signs, which are a little high, probably because he’s upset,” Andromeda told him.  “Some viral scans, which are showing some very old strains of some Earthborn diseases.  There’s nothing there that will hurt anyone, including Harper.”

     “What about internal scans?” Dylan asked.  “Barris stuck his hand in Harper’s head, then one of the Children of the Maker healed him.  Is there brain damage?  If not, did Harper get any side benefits, like he did in the corridor outside his quarters before all hell broke loose?”

     “Do you think all this anger and silence is part of some sort of psychotic episode brought on by brain damage?” Andromeda asked him.

     Dylan shook his head.  “I don’t think it is, but fingers in a person’s brain is usually not good.”

     “I’ll have my avatar get a portable scanner if you’ll watch him for a while,” Andromeda said.

     “Go ahead,” Dylan said, then stepped back into the room, this time going to where Harper was working.  Harper was muttering to himself unintelligibly, quickly constructing... something.  Dylan didn’t know what Nelson’s supposed time machine looked like, so he couldn’t be sure what Harper was trying to make.  Rommie gave him a nod and left the room.  Dylan stood silently across the work table from Harper, not knowing what to say, until Harper looked up at him with a glare that practically set the air between them on fire.  “Do you need anything, Harper?” Dylan asked, thinking that would let Harper know that he wasn’t here for confrontation.

     Harper’s burning gaze stayed locked on him for another few seconds, then Harper looked back down at what he was doing without comment.  Dylan felt like sighing.  A non talkative Harper was a very bad thing.  Rommie got back and moved near to Harper and carefully scanned him from behind.  Harper ignored her right up to the moment that she ran the scanner up over the top his head and brought it into his field of vision.  Harper’s hand shot up, snatched the scanner from Rommie and threw it hard away from him, immediately going back to work as if nothing had happened.  Rommie gave Dylan a tight lipped look and nodded toward the door.  Dylan agreed that talking in front of Harper was probably an exceedingly bad idea at the moment and moved back into the hall.

     “Everything is coming back an almost perfect match to his most recent medical scans, less the damage to his arm and chest and some old dermal scar tissue.  There doesn’t seem to be any brain damage,” Rommie told him as soon as she joined him, “but his reaction just now...”  She paused, his lips going tight again.  “Harper’s never been angry with me before.  I don’t know how to respond to it.”

     “He’s not mad at you,” Dylan assured her, setting a hand gently on her arm.

     Rommie didn’t look to fully believe him.  “I should have done a better job protecting him from Barris.  Harper was the only thing standing between him and Admiral Nelson.  If the Admiral or Doctor Babin had been injured or killed, I don’t know what would have happened.  We might have been as trapped as Barris, paradoxes from a destroyed time line.  He didn’t just save the Admiral when he pulled him out of Barris’ reach.  He probably saved all of us.”

     That only served to make Dylan feel worse because he hadn’t thought things through quite that far.  “The thing he’s trying to build, can you make out what he’s trying to do?  Can we help him somehow?” Dylan asked.  He didn’t care what Trance said about the matter.  Harper shouldn’t be punished this way and Dylan would help him if he could.

     Rommie shook her head.  “No.  He’s trying to combine some incompatible Perseid and Vedran technology.  It doesn’t make any sense to me and I don’t think he fully understands what he’s doing either.  He so upset.  He keeps murmuring things about how he never meant to upset Doctor Babin and that he’ll make it up to her, that she’ll forgive him for... something.  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  He didn’t do anything wrong.”

     “I know,” Dylan sighed out, running a hand through his hair, feeling helpless.

     There was a roar of frustration from the machine shop and then a crash of metal. Dylan and Rommie went back to the door to see Harper sweeping things off the table in front of him and cursing.  “Stupid, worthless...  Can’t do anything right!” Harper was saying, throwing things, tears streaming down his face as he flung the final bit of his barely started contraption away from himself.

     “Harper, don’t...” Dylan started as Harper stood there, chest heaving.

     “Leave me alone,” he half snarled, half sobbed, looking down at the empty table, not moving otherwise.

     “No,” Dylan said, going over to him and laying a hand gently on his shoulder.  “Come on, Harper.  She wouldn’t want you to do this to yourself.”

     Harper turned on his so quickly that Dylan didn’t have a chance to react, not even when Harper punched him hard in the jaw, sending him crashing to the deck half from the force of the blow, half from shock.  “You don’t get you use her as a weapon against me!” Harper screamed in fury, standing over him with clenched fists.  “Dom would never hurt me!  I was the one... the one that hurt her.”  The anger was leaking off Harper’s face as he began to shake.  “I had to go and try to be a hero... like that would happen.  I was the one that messed up everything and I’m too stupid to fix it.  I didn’t deserve her anyway.  She would’ve gotten tired of me... She...”  He was all but sobbing now and he turned from Dylan and went at a run to the next access way, yelling, “Leave me alone!  Just leave me alone!”

     Harper disappeared into the access way before Dylan actually thought to pick himself up off the deck.  “Do you want me to go restrain him?” Rommie asked as she came over to where he was, looking uncertain.

     Dylan rubbed his sore chin and said, “No.  That was my fault.  I said the wrong thing.  I’ll take care of it.  Could you clean up in here so Harper doesn’t have to deal with any of this?”

     Rommie looked at the wreckage around the room.  “Do you think it would help?”

     “At this point, I don’t know if anything would, but I don’t think it would hurt,” Dylan said, then went to the access way that Harper had vanished into, sighed to himself, and climbed into the tunnel, thinking that someday, something would be easy.

     It took several hours to find Harper, who looked to be doing some sort of maintenance deep in ship.  He was sitting cross legged in front of an open panel that he was adjusting circuits in.  Dylan stopped a good distance away, trying desperately to think of something to say that wouldn’t set things off again, when Harper beat him to it.  “You can hit me,” he murmured, not looking up, though he dropped his hands down into his lap.  “It’s fine.  I owe you one shot.  Go ahead.  Hit me as hard as you want.”  He didn’t look up or turn around, which meant that the best targets afforded to Dylan was the back of Harper’s head or his spine.  Dylan was horrified that Harper might actually think that he would strike him with any kind of force in either place.

     “That was some punch, Harper, but I earned it,” Dylan said,

shifting a little closer and sitting down himself.  He didn’t want Harper to feel threatened.  Besides, his knees were sore from crawling through the access tunnels and he rubbed them absently as Harper shrugged, still not looking back at him.

     “Most of my stuff is packed.  You can throw me out wherever you want.”

     “Why would I do that?” Dylan asked.  Harper was plainly upset, but why would he think anyone wanted to be rid of him?

     “I hit you.  I mean, hitting a superior officer, that’s major, right?  Aren’t you supposed to arrest me or throw me out or execute me or something?” Harper sighed out.  It didn’t sound like he’d put up a fight against any of the options he’d listed.

     “Well, aside from the fact that you resigned and I accepted your resignation, which means I’m not your superior officer for the moment, I did just say I was to blame,” Dylan said.  Harper shook his head, but didn’t say anything else.  He was blaming himself for what had happened in the machine shop, and probably a lot more.  Harper had to be feeling so hurt and lost right now.  Dylan knew how he’d felt when he realized he’d been catapulted three hundred years into the future.  What had happened to Harper wasn’t that, exactly, but close enough.  “Harper, I know what you’re feeling...” Dylan started, thinking he was the only one that could come close to meaning it.

     “No, you don’t,” Harper cut him off, his head hanging lower and one hand moving to his face.  “People like you.  They want you around.  You... you always know what to do.  You don’t mess up.  You fit anywhere, any time.  You’re Dylan Hunt, Captain, hero, all around great guy.  For once, I had that and it’s all gone because I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut, because I didn’t let you handle things like you said to.  It’s all my fault.”  Harper’s voice was broken and shuddering as he finished.

     Dylan edged a little closer, saying, “You didn’t do anything wrong, Harper.”

     “Yeah.  Sure.  That’s why everything’s so perfect and everyone’s so happy,” Harper said, sounding as though he was struggling hard to stop crying.  Poor kid, Dylan thought with a sigh.

     “That’s on Barris, not you,” Dylan told him, easing nearer still.  “He should have asked for our help instead of trying to extort things from us.”  Finally, he arrived just behind Harper and slowly, carefully reached a hand out to touch him on the shoulder as he said, “Harper, he failed because of you.  You are the hero.”

     “Being the hero sucks,” Harper sobbed out, hugging himself.  “I’m never doing it again.”  Dylan gently squeezed Harper’s shoulder, about to give him a few words of encouragement, when Harper twitched away.  “Nope, no more being the hero for me,” he said, swiping a sleeve across his eyes as he moved away.  “I’ll leave all that to you.  I’m going back to the background position of adorable grease monkey.  Rommie said I’m two weeks behind on scheduled maintenance, so I’ve gotta put it in high gear so she doesn’t start bugging you for a replacement engineer.”

     He began to scurry away again, but Dylan followed this time, saying, “Harper, you don’t need to...”

     “Yes, I do,” Harper cut him off, though he didn’t stop moving nor did he look at Dylan.  “I need to be doing something and be thinking about something other than D... other than what I lost or I’m gonna curl up in a ball and shut down.  This is how I deal, Dylan.  Just let me, okay?  Thanks.  See ya.  Soon.  I promise.”  And with that, he disappeared again.  Dylan sighed, hanging his head for a moment, feeling helpless and very tired of being in that position.  No matter what Trance said, things shouldn’t be this way, but Dylan didn’t know how to change anything.  Suddenly, Barris being doomed to kill himself over and over again felt like the alien was getting off way too easy.

* * *

 

 

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