Michelle Pinchette


Chapter Eight



* * *

     Tyr had been prowling all over the Andromeda for hours.  It was boring and pointless.  Nothing was happening.  Harper was gone without a trace.  This Barris creature was more intelligent than to show his face on the ship now that he’d made enemies of the Andromeda’s crew.  Tyr was not overly sentimental about Harper, like Valentine was, but he had watched the log of what had happened in the machine shop and it had been an insult to all of them.  Harper might be an annoying little man, but he hadn’t deserved to be badly beaten for no reason whatsoever.  While Harper wasn’t the worthless nothing that his attacker had declared him to be, he hadn’t stood a chance in this supposed trial by combat for his place in the Andromeda’s crew.  He probably wouldn’t have even if his foe hadn’t been protected by armor.  Even so, Harper had found a way to hurt the soldier, which had been commendable, and he had showed remarkable bravery throughout the beating.  The attack made Tyr apprehensive.  Who would these aliens decide they could do without next?

     Now Harper was gone, most likely dead, though the others refused to admit to this.  Tyr was not that optimistic, however he would be willing to honor Harper by skinning alive the soldier that had sent him to his death.  Of course, he’d do it under the guise of questioning him about Harper’s whereabouts.  He doubted that anyone would care how harsh he was with his methods if they got results, and he would get results.  He was going to make certain that these alien soldiers knew without a doubt that he was not weak or meek and was perfectly willing to prove it by shedding as much of their blood as necessary.

     “Anything?” Rommie asked as they met in the corridor.  The android was not at all happy about what had happened to Harper.  If she had arrived during Harper’s assault, she would have torn the soldier limb from limb for what he’d done to the boy.

     “No.  This is futile.  Barris isn’t coming back,” Tyr told her.

     “He appeared in the machine shop right after Dylan viewed the log.  That wasn’t exactly logical, but he did it,” Rommie pointed out.

     “Barris and his crew are all cowards.  They attack the physically weakest member of the crew, which impresses no one, and retreat to a place of safety even though they outnumber us,” Tyr growled.  It wasn’t that he wanted to face the overwhelming odds that a fight with Barris and his crew would mean, but this waiting for something, anything, to happen was intolerable.

     Suddenly, Barris was standing not two paces away from Tyr, just off to his left.  He began to say something, but Tyr was in no mood to listen.  He roared, rushing the alien, heaving him bodily into the bulkhead, then head butted him.  He heard something snap under Barris’ armor as he smashed him into one of the supports.  It was quite a satisfying sound, so Tyr heaved him into the support again.  Barris pounded on his arms and back, but Tyr barely noticed because he was concentrating on mashing Barris into a compliant pulp.  Barris was going to return Harper, even if he did it from a full body cast on the Medical Deck.  What the aliens had been saying about Harper suddenly irked Tyr to no end.  The boy had proven himself worthy of Tyr’s respect on numerous occasions.  This thing had hurt his shipmate, part of his adopted pride, the person that had overcome his greatest fear to stand his ground and guard Tyr’s back to the best of his ability during the Magog attack.  Would Barris or any of his crew do that?  Tyr seriously doubted it and didn’t intend to test the theory.  If these things wanted to be stubborn about matters, Tyr was more than willing to break bones until they decided it was unwise.

     Tyr slammed Barris into the wall again and again, getting less resistance each time.  “Return the boy to this ship or I will continue smashing you into a greasy stain on the deck,” Tyr warned him quite sincerely.

     “Your pet...” Barris started, but Tyr slammed his head into the bulkhead for it.

     “Not my pet, nor anyone else’s,” Tyr said with a warning tone as he lifted Barris by his throat, just to show Barris that he was not the one in a position of power this time.  “And I didn’t tell you to talk.  Just get the little professor back here now or you will regret your decision not to.”  Barris attempted to speak again, infuriating Tyr, who shifted his grip with a menacing snarl.  He’d had enough of Barris’ empty words.

     “Tyr, don’t!” Rommie shouted as Tyr grabbed Barris’ head.  He didn’t care.  He gave it merciless twist, the crunch of vertebrae snapping echoing up the corridor, but he kept turning, just to be sure.  Tyr let Barris drop to the floor, then kicked him once and spat on him for good measure.  “We needed to question him,” Rommie reminded him.

     “Question his crew,” Tyr sniffed as he tossed his braided hair back over his shoulder.  “Inform them that their Captain is dead and that I will repeat the process I used to kill him on each of them in turn until Harper is returned.”

     “An interesting proposal,” came a voice from the floor.  To Tyr’s total amazement, Barris sat up.  His head was on backwards, yet he stumbled to his feet.  “I knew you were strong, but I must say, you have exceeded my estimations,” Barris said as he reached up and slowly turned his head to rights.  Once it was properly aligned, Barris leaned it to each side with a loud snap, then rolled it around once, saying, “Yes, very impressive indeed.”

     “Where is Harper?” Rommie demanded, pointing a force lance at Barris.  “You will return my Engineer immediately.”

     “Ah.  The ship’s avatar,” Barris said appreciatively, then seemed to try to smile disarmingly at her.  The tooth filled grin just looked menacing, not at all convincing.  “Does it bother you that you were constructed by a defective?  It made modifications when it built you, didn’t it?  It gave you tactile senses that you didn’t need, that distract you from your purpose.  Pain, pleasure, what good have they done you?  And then there are the emotions.  Not a sense of duty and loyalty to your crew, as would be expected, it gave you joy and anger, pride and love and a plethora of others.  How have those helped you?  They are defects programmed into you by a defective thing.  I shall have my engineers rebuild you when we join the crew, repair your programming.  Wouldn’t it be good to function as you were designed to rather than how it decided you should?”

     Rommie had murder in her eyes as she stepped forward, but Tyr held her back.  Something was wrong with Barris, terribly, terribly wrong.  Tyr breathed in the air deeply and his face wrinkled with distaste.  How had he missed the smell before?  There was death in the air.  Not new death, but something very, very old.  No wonder snapping Barris’ neck had no effect.  He hadn’t been alive in the first place.  “If you are as intelligent as you claim, you will return Harper to the Andromeda,” Tyr told him.  “Or I will pull your head off and see how easily you replace it.”

     Barris smiled again and laughed deeply.  “What a wonderful sense of humor you have.  I shall enjoy fighting by your side, Tyr Anasazi.”  With that, Barris vanished again in a black mist that stank of turned earth.  Tyr was half angry and half relieved at Barris’ disappearance.  He wondered what would have happened if he had pulled the alien’s head off.

     Dylan came at a run moments after Barris disappeared.  “What happened?  What did he say?” Dylan asked as he skidded to a halt.

     “Very little of any use,” Tyr sneered.

     “He called me defective!” Rommie declared, furious.

     “He wanted to rebuild and reprogram her because he felt Harper had added unnecessary features to her,” Tyr stated.

     “I’m glad you twisted his head backwards,” Rommie grumbled.

     “You twisted his head backwards?  And it didn’t kill him?” Dylan asked, plainly not believing what he’d just heard.

     “That would be difficult since he’s already dead,” Tyr replied as if everyone used those words in causal conversation.

     Dylan shook his head to clear it.  “He looked pretty lively earlier today,” he said as he looked back to Tyr.

     “Be that as it may, he is dead and has been for a very long time by the smell of him,” Tyr told him.

     “Oh, this just keeps getting better and better,” Dylan said, running his hand up through his hair.  “So a dead... whatever he is wants to join my crew, has taken my engineer because he’s supposed to be defective and now wants reprogram my ship’s avatar because she has too many features.”

     “That pretty much sums things up, yes,” Tyr agreed.

     “And he showed up to tell you this?” Dylan asked.

     “Presumably,” Rommie replied.  “Tyr did break several bones by smashing him against the support there before he could say anything.  That is the odd thing.  My internal scans registered the bones breaking and even the pain on Barris’ face, but not that he was dead.  Very strange.”

     “You hurt him?” Dylan asked, probably wanting all the details clear.

     “Definitely,” Tyr replied.

     “And it didn’t make him angry, like when Harper hurt the soldier?” Dylan pressed.

     “No.  In fact, he expressed increased admiration for me after I snapped his neck,” Tyr answered him, feeling a little smug about how easily he had brought Barris down.

     “So, your hurting them is all right, but Harper doing it isn’t,” Dylan again summed up, plainly thinking heavily as he said it.

     “Perhaps because they feel Harper is defective,” Rommie suggested.

     “My thoughts exactly,” Dylan told her, then he looked perplexed.  “How does someone who’s dead feel pain?”

     “Or talk or walk around?” Rommie added.

     Dylan was getting frustrated.  Tyr was already well past that, not that he was showing it.  “Well, just steer clear of them, Rommie.  I don’t want to know what Barris’ idea of what a ship’s avatar should be by first hand experience.  And Tyr, you seem to be able to hold your own against them.  Do you think you could capture one if another came aboard so Trance could study it?”

     “That might prove difficult since they seem to be able to turn to mist or phase shift or do whatever it is that they do to come and go at will,” Tyr said.  “However, I did tell Barris that I would rip off his head the next time I saw him, so perhaps that would impede his departure.”

     He thought Dylan would argue about it, tell him not to do anything they’d all regret later, but to Tyr’s surprise he said, “Just get whatever pieces that don’t dissolve to Trance right away.  I want to know how to take these guys down hard and fast.  Maybe if we have a little leverage over them, they’ll return Harper and go back to wherever they came from.”  Was Dylan more concerned about Harper or his ship or the beginnings that he had made on his new Commonwealth?  Most likely all in equal amounts, Tyr assumed.

     “And if we gain this leverage, will we take it to their ship and search for the boy there?” Tyr asked.

     “Absolutely,” Dylan said, then said to Rommie, “I want the log of Barris’ appearance here added to the ones in my quarters.  Any progress identifying that portal?”

     “None,” she replied.

     “Keep on it,” Dylan ordered, then disappeared back up the corridor, muttering to himself.

     “He’s worried,” Rommie said, as if Tyr couldn’t figure that out for himself.

     “He would be a fool not to be.  How long will it be before Barris decides that none of us measure up to his standards?” Tyr asked.  That eventuality concerned him greatly.

     “You seem to have passed muster,” Rommie pointed out.

     “This time,” Tyr replied, then went stalking up the corridor again.  He should have twisted Barris’ ugly head off when he’d had the chance.  He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

* * *

     Nelson was just finishing with the first third of his to do pile when there was a knock at his office door.  He glanced at the clock on his desk.  It was six.  Katy had gone home about an hour ago, though she had offered to stay late if he needed her.  Nelson had waved her on her way, thinking just about everyone else would also be heading out soon and he could get some serious work done in the relative quiet that claimed the Institute at night.  He’d been avoiding his paperwork for too long as it was and he’d have almost no time for it tomorrow, since there were sure to be last minute considerations to do with the Fund Raiser that evening.  “Come,” he called, thinking it was most likely Chip with the day’s repair logs.

     Portman entered, holding a six inch stack of papers, making Nelson wish he’d asked who was at the door before telling them to come in.  “I found the virus, sir!” Portman proclaimed proudly as he approached Nelson’s desk.  Nelson sighed.  The problem with the Bell was not his chief concern and this virus that Portman was obsessed with fell right behind it in importance.  “You see?”  Portman put the stack of papers on Nelson’s desk and pointed at some code.  “There.  I’ve been checking through everything from the originally downloaded program to the most recent upgrade and this code is not documented anywhere.  It’s causing an information loop in the Diving Bell’s system.”

     Nelson looked down at the code, then picked up the page to examine what else was there.  He knew that Chip had tried to circumvent the guidance problem with some new programing, but this was not that.  Nelson rubbed his chin.  “Well, this would certainly keep the computer busy and cause delays, but...” he began.

     “I’ll have it all straightened out tomorrow morning and we’ll run a new diagnostic and you’ll see that the problem is no more, sir,” Portman said enthusiastically.

     Nelson rubbed the back of his neck.  He was sure that this little bug was causing problems, but he wasn’t so sure that it was the sole reason for the Bell’s faulty guidance.  “Lawton rewired the Bell?” he asked.

     Annoyance flashed across Portman’s face for an instant.  “Yes, sir, but it didn’t do anything,” he said.  “I’ll do the reprogram on the Bell and it’ll be good as new.  Then I should check the Seaview’s code and see if the same problem there, sir.”

     “You can give me a report and I will pass it along to Miss Simmons and Mister Morton.  You should check the Institute’s systems if you’re concerned,” Nelson replied.

     “But I...” Portman began.

     “Mister Portman, the Seaview is not your concern unless I, personally, make it your concern, as I did with the Diving Bell,” Nelson reminded him.  “I believe you were working on upgrades for the Institute’s computer systems before I asked for your assistance with that.”

     “Yes, sir, but I feel that I could be of greater service to the Institute than I currently am,” Portman said.  He sounded like a wounded puppy.

     Nelson sat forward and rubbed his forehead.  “Mister Portman, do you have any idea how important properly working computers and safe data storage are to the Institute.  The loss of scientific data alone, should our current systems fail, would be staggering.  Everyone, including myself, use that system for everything from testing data to emails to family.  There are discoveries and personnel files entered that must be kept safe from outside intruders.  There are classified documents that, if lost would be irreplaceable or could be downright dangerous if stolen.  You have a very important job, Mister Portman.  You should not covet other people’s positions.  Many people envy you yours.”

     Portman still didn’t look very happy, but he sighed out, “Yes, sir.”

     Nelson came around his desk, handed him his mound of papers, and guided him toward the door.  “Fine then.  We all have a lot to get accomplished before tomorrow evening, Mister Portman, so get that report to me as soon as you’re able.  Good work on finding that loop.  Good night, now.”

     Portman looked like he wanted to argue some more, but he bit back whatever he was going to say, replying, “Good night, sir,” then vanished out the door.  Nelson hoped that this would be the end of it, but he suspected it wouldn’t be.  The Seaview was a very high profile assignment, making Miss Simmons the envy of her peers.  Engineers all over the country wrote to him attempting to get any sort of assignment on the Seaview or at the Institute.  One of the secretaries was in charge of this mail, replying politely to each letter, but no one had ever gotten a job from him through one of them.  Nelson knew the sort of people he wanted working for him and he recruited them personally.  Perhaps he would regret his hiring policy someday, but so far he hadn’t.

     Nelson went back to his reports and settled back down to them, thinking he would work at them for another hour, then head for home himself.  Tomorrow promised to be a very busy day, not that this week had been anything but trials.  Even Doctor Babin, who typically gave him the least amount of trouble, was making him worry.  He couldn’t very well criticize her for a generous act, but it didn’t mean he had to happy about it.  Lee had been in earlier, commenting on the security issues her ‘guest’ might bring up.  Nelson sighed.  No, nothing was simple today.

     “Have you considered my offer, Admiral Nelson,” came Barris’ voice just as he was thinking this.  Nelson felt like groaning.  Didn’t this just round out his day nicely?

     “Mister Barris, you have no idea how unfortunate your timing is,” Nelson said as he looked up.  “I have had one of the most annoying days of my life today and tomorrow promises to be no better.  Kindly let yourself out the way you came in.”  He absently waved Barris on his way, on the off chance that the alien would just go away.

     “Why, Admiral, how can my crew and I help to improve the situation?” Barris asked.

     “I thought I just told you, by going away and preferably not returning,” Nelson told him bluntly.

     Barris continued to smile his toothy grin at him all the same.  “Your jest is most amusing.”  Nelson did groan this time.

     “What do you want?” he asked, wondering what he’d done to deserve this day.

     “Why, to enter into your service, as I have said,” Barris replied, smiling.  Those little, sharp teeth, they just reminded him too much of a shark’s.

     “Yes, but why?  I know, I’m supposed to be a pivotal point in time.  How do you know that?  Why does it matter?  Why are you here at all?  Couldn’t you go bother someone else?” Nelson asked.

     “You are a brilliant man, Admiral.  I know that you will make good use of my crew and me.  We only wish to serve,” Barris answered, which, not surprisingly, was no answer at all.  Nelson was tired of this and he stood up.  “Our first task could be repairs to the Seaview.  We could have her fully repaired by tomorrow.  Wouldn’t that be an advantage?  Then your crew could get much needed rest before... where are you going?”  Barris actually sounded confused and perhaps concerned as Nelson walked out of his office.

     “Home.  I am going home.  Don’t bother me there or I will shoot you and hand your body over to the first government agency that asks for it to experiment on.  I do not want anything to do with you, Mister Barris.  I want nothing from you and would consider it a blessing if I never saw you again,” Nelson said as he stopped almost at the outer office door.

     Barris seemed baffled.  “You will not reconsider?”

     “No,” Nelson said so there would be no mistake about this.

     “I shall give you more time.  Perhaps in a few days, when you are not so stressed by circumstances...”

     “Good bye, Barris.  Don’t come back,” Nelson said, left the outer office and slammed the door behind himself.  What a day.  What else could go wrong?  He knew, of course, exactly what else could go wrong, so as he got into his car, he picked up his cell phone and dialed Doctor Babin’s home number.  It rang four times.

     “Hello,” her voice came just after the fourth ring.  She sounded like she’d been laughing about something just before she had picked up the telephone.

     “Doctor Babin, I was just touching base to see if you needed anything before tomorrow night’s event,” Nelson said.  It was a poor excuse for calling her, but he felt better checking up on her than not at this point.

     “Not a thing.  Pulled out some old rag to throw on and got my dancing shoes ready for action,” she said.  There was a voice in the background and she giggled softly at whatever the person had said.

     “Good.  I’m sorry to have interrupted.  It sounds as though you have company,” Nelson said.  He didn’t want to ask about the man she’d taken in, but assumed it was his voice that he had barely heard in the background and had made Doctor Babin laugh.

     “Oh, you weren’t interrupting.  Just got home from a movie with a friend, actually.  You almost missed me,” she replied.  Nelson got a little confused.  Was the voice he’d heard this friend or the homeless man?  He didn’t get to puzzle about it for long, because she continued, “I was going to email in my notes on those cephalopod variants we found tomorrow morning.  I know you probably won’t have a chance to look at them at all, but they’ll be there when you get around to them.  I’m also sending a copy to Doctor Lorn.  I know she’s working on the sound experiments with her escape artist mollusk, but it’s sort of related and she wanted to take a look.”

     “That’s fine, Doctor Babin.  Was there anything else?” he asked, willing her to talk about her ‘project,’ as Miss Simmons had called this Harper person.

     “Not unless you want to hear about the movie,” she said.

     Nelson could picture her playful smile from the sound of her voice and knew, even without seeing her, that she was fine.  It seemed he had been worried over nothing.  Nelson felt himself begin to unwind a little and he started his car.  “Perhaps tomorrow, if conversation lags.”

     “All right.  See you then, Admiral,” she said.

     “Good night, Doctor Babin,” he replied and then hung up the phone.  Nelson leaned back into the car seat for a moment, then reached over to grab a cigarette from the pack on seat next to him.  As he lit it and pulled in a good, solid drag, he thought perhaps that would be how he could get rid of Barris if he showed up again.  Nelson blew a smoke ring up toward the ceiling of the car, wondering if Barris might find smoking offensive and finally leave for good if he got some blown into his face.

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter 1
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