Michelle Pinchette


Chapter Nine



* * *

     Dom had spent most of the morning working with her notes and getting reports written.  There had been a tense moment in the early morning when Kowalski, Patterson and Riley had shown up, asking about Seamus.  Kowalski in particular looked ready to add a few bruises to the collection that Seamus currently had to let him know that Ski wanted him gone immediately.  Ro, it seemed, had been spreading the news of her houseguest around and Captain Crane wasn’t happy about it, which made everyone else unhappy in turn.  Dom had been glad at the time that Seamus hadn’t known what had been going on at her front door.  She hadn’t let the delegation from the Seaview in, telling them that she was fine and to go to work, that she didn’t need protecting and Seamus didn’t need any more warnings.  They had left, but she knew they didn’t want to and were disgruntled that she didn’t let them have their way.  She sighed, wondering who else was going to show up ready to pummel her poor houseguest.

     Seamus had been in the garage tinkering the whole time, blissfully unaware of what had gone on.  He surfaced a little while later, just long enough to give her a smile and get a soda from the refrigerator.  He was so quiet out there it was almost worrisome, like having a child out of your line of sight and not knowing what they were up to, but knowing that they were up to something.  After a couple of hours typing, when Dom needed a break and a stretch, she went to look in on him.  He was standing by workbench that the house’s previous owner had built in along on one of the garage’s walls, working diligently on something.  Two of her broken VCR’s and a toaster were to one side of him, a couple of other things from the ‘dead’ shelf to his other side.  He didn’t seem to have heard her enter and so she called over, “Want something cold to drink, Seamus?”

     He glanced back at her and smiled.  He always seemed ready with a smile or a joke.  It was a defense mechanism, she knew, a shield from the harshness of the world.  It was one of the things that she liked about him, that he countered fearsome things with humor rather than lashing out at them.  “I’m good, thanks,” he replied, then his smile faltered.  “I’m not making too much noise, am I?  I know you’re working and I didn’t want to bother you.”

     Dom shook her head, saying, “Haven’t heard a peep out of you.  I came out to make sure you hadn’t passed out or anything.  You’re sure your stomach isn’t hurting you?  You had some really nasty bruises there.”

     “Still do, but they aren’t bothering me or anything,” he said with a shrug.  He did seem fine, but Dom still worried about him.  He turned and showed her a disassembled cd player that had been in front of him.  “I can’t fix this one.  Well, I could, but I’d basically have to rebuild it and I’d need a lot of parts.  It might be cheaper just to buy a new one, which you’ve probably already done anyway, so...”  He paused with a rather expansive shrug, “...I think we need to give it a final blessing and send it to gadget heaven.  It looks like it got hit with a massive electrical surge, probably caused by excess moisture in the system.  Everything’s burnt out.”

     Dom nodded, certain she looked a little embarrassed.  “I sort of dropped it in a tide pool when I was walking up the beach.  It made some really colorful sparks before it died.”

     “That would explain the sand and salt particles, then,” he replied with a grin.  “Mind if I use it for something else?”

     Dom shook her head and shrugged.  “If it’s dead, why not?  What were you going to use it for?”

     Seamus’ face was suddenly all dimples, his bright blue eyes sparkling.  He really did have the most wonderful smile.  “It’s a surprise.  I need to borrow your computer for a little bit for it, if that’s okay.”

     Dom gave him a questioning look.  “My computer?  What for?”

     “It’s a...”

     “Surprise,” she finished with him, then shook her head with a laugh.  “It’s all right, just later.  I’ve got some work I need to finish on it first.”                   

     “Whenever.  No rush,” he said cheerfully.

     “You could use it tonight if you wanted to.  I’ll be at the fund raiser, so I won’t need it then,” she reminded him, then thought better of it.  “On second thought, no.  You’re working too much as it is.  You should have a little bit of a rest tonight.  You’re sure you’ll be all right on your own?”

     “Sure.  I’m a big boy.  I can tie my own boots and everything,” he said, waggling a foot at her.

     Dom laughed and shook her head at him.  “No, I meant, if you’re not feeling all right and...”

     Seamus rolled his eyes.  “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.  Really, truly, honestly fine.  Fit as a fiddle.  Ready for action.  I got punched.  Granted it was a bunch of times by someone a whole lot bigger than me, but aside from the lingering shame of not making a better showing of myself, I’m over it.  Stop worrying, please?”  He gave her an embarrassed, pleading look and she came down into the garage and set a hand on his arm.

     “You’ve got to understand, I work with a bunch of big, macho guys that regularly say, ‘I’m fine’ when they actually mean, ‘I have massive internal bleeding,’ then they collapse when no one is looking and end up on the critical care list,” she told him, hoping it would make him feel a little less embarrassed about her concerns.

     Seamus got a confused, rather worried look on his face.  “Marine research work is that rough?”

     Dom laughed.  “No.  Life aboard the Seaview is that rough.  Don’t you read the papers?”  Seamus gave her another pained look and shook his head.  Dom sighed.  Poor Seamus was woefully uninformed about just about everything.  At first, she’d thought him a little simple, but rather quickly she became aware that he not only had all his wits, he actually was extremely bright.  He just didn’t seem to know much of anything about the world.  It was a little baffling, really, because he read a lot, only he seemed to limit that reading to fiction and technical books.  He was a wiz a fixing things and whatever he had done to her jeep when he had tuned it up had it running better than it ever had.  “The Seaview is a Naval Reserve vessel, not just a research vessel.  We get called on for government missions and to defend the country regularly.  You’ve really never heard of the Seaview before?”

     “I don’t get out much,” Harper replied sheepishly.

     Dom patted his arm and said, “So I’m beginning to fully appreciate.  I still can’t quite believe that you’ve never heard of Admiral Nelson or the Nelson Institute or Captain Crane or anything.  I thought everyone knew about them.”

     “Well, the Maru had lots of books, but no television and I didn’t leave her for much of anything but work related stuff, except the occasional surf break when we stopped for a while somewhere that had a surf, and I was too busy on the Andromeda to even think about much of anything other than fixing the last thing that got broken most of the time,” he told her with a helpless shrug.

     Dom thought dark thoughts about how poorly Seamus had been treated by his former employers, but decided to let it go, since he seemed to have.  “You surf?” she asked instead.

     That brought a huge, sunny, dimple filled smile to Harper’s face.  “Oh, yeah!  Whenever I can, which isn’t often enough.  Do you?”

     “A friend of mine does.  He’s constantly trying to lure me out with him,” she replied with a smile, thinking she might get Riley to cut Seamus some slack by telling him that they both enjoyed surfing.

     “You haven’t gone?” Seamus asked in utter disbelief.  “Oh, you don’t know what you’re missing!  It’s better then riding the Harley!”  Suddenly, he was next to her, holding her gently but firmly around the waist with one arm, pulling her close up next to him, and panning the other in front of them as if to make a display of his words, shifting them gently as if to simulate the motions he was describing.  Dom smiled at the show of enthusiasm.  It was pretty obvious that Seamus felt as strongly about surfing as Riley did.  “Getting your balance the first couple times can be tricky, but after that, it’s awesome!  The water rushing out in front of you, the wave rising up behind you, the glide of the board, the wind whippin’ past you!  It’s like flying!  It’s...”  That was when he seemed to realize that he was holding her and he let her go, backing from her, looking horrified and beginning to shake.  “I’m so sorry,” he breathed out.  “I didn’t mean it... I...”

     Dom closed the gap he’d made between them even though he tried to back away and ended up against the workbench, looking terrified.  “It’s all right, Seamus,” she assured him, gently putting a hand on his shoulder, raising the other to touch his cheek.  He obviously thought he had done something unforgivable when he’d become excited and taken her in his arm because he cringed from her touch, trembling visibly.  She dropped her other hand to his other shoulder.  “You didn’t hurt me.  I’m not mad.  You didn’t do anything wrong, Seamus.  You were just excited and being friendly.  I didn’t mind.  We are friends, aren’t we?”

     He nodded hesitantly, but he still looked panic stricken, probably fearing that she would throw him out or call in the police on him because he’d grabbed hold of her, albeit in an innocent fashion.  The way everyone had been warning him and downright threatening him against such actions, she couldn’t blame him.  Dom smiled and stroked his temple, trying to ease him down from his fright.  “I know I’m small, but a little squeeze isn’t going to break me,” she said with a smile, patting his shoulder with her other hand.

     “I... I just...” he stammered out feebly, but at least he had stopped cowering against the workbench.

     “Thought I would freak because you got a little physically familiar?” Dom finished for him.  He nodded again, some of the tension seeming to turn into embarrassment.

     “You’re just really squeezable?” he ventured with a pained, questioning half grimace of a grin, then winced at his own words.  It was pretty obvious that he needed reassurance that she really wasn’t angry with him.

     “And I tend to be very huggy and kissy with my friends,” Dom told him, stretching up and giving him a little, sisterly peck on the cheek to demonstrate.  That seemed to calm him a lot more.  “Haven’t you noticed me grabbing you by the hand and the arm and pulling you places?  I’m a horrible invader of personal space.  The only reason you haven’t been subjected to the afore mentioned hugging is that you’re already all squished and I didn’t want to hurt you.”  That ended the matter utterly.

     “Hug away.  I’m always open to hugging,” he said with a very grand smile as he opened his arms.  Dom gave him friendly hug, which he returned with zeal as he said, “Thanks.  I needed this.  Much, much too little hugging in my life lately.”

     “Anytime,” Dom told him, then patted his back softly as the last of his shakes died off.  Once they did, she eased from his embrace.  He let her go, but she could tell he wouldn’t have minded if she’d stayed where she was.  He acted so lonely and attention starved.  He seemed to appreciate her being friendly with him as much as he did her taking him in.  She didn’t mind.  He was actually quite pleasant to spend time with.  She was glad to have met him, though she wished it could have been under less painful circumstances for Seamus.  She was also glad that he had calmed so easily, because she would have hated to think of him cringing from her every time she came near him from now on.  “I’ve got about another two hours worth of reports to finish.  Think you’d be up for a walk and some lunch then?”

     “Sure.  Sounds great.  By then I ought to be finished with... what’s this?” Seamus asked, holding up an electric mixer.  It was as if nothing had happened, which pleased Dom immensely.

     “A mixer?  You know, for cooking?” Dom said with a laugh and a shake of her head.  How could he not know what a mixer was?

     “Ah, that explains why I couldn’t figure it out.  You know me and cooking,” he replied.  He was making a joke, she knew.  He wasn’t half as helpless in the kitchen as he professed to be.

     Dom let out another soft laugh.  “I didn’t think that extended to small cooking appliances.”

     “Afraid so.  The kitchen is a strange and mysterious place to me, except coffee makers.  Them I know,” Seamus told her with grin.  That comment wasn’t surprising.  Seamus could probably live on coffee, not that Dom was about to let him try.

     Dom laughed, patted him on the arm and went back into the house and worked on her reports some more.  She was nearly done when her phone rang.  “Hello,” she said, balancing the receiver on her shoulder as she continued to type.

     “Hi.”  It was Ro.  “How’s everything going?”

     “Fine.  Almost done with my telecommuting stuff, then I was going for a walk,” Dom told her.

     “And what’s your other project doing?”

     Dom grinned, wondering what Seamus would think about Ro calling him a ‘fix me up’ project.  “He’s in the garage, repairing all the mechanical carnage.”

     “You’re sure he’s not stealing your Jeep?”

     Dom rolled her eyes.  “Your lack of trust is amazing.”

     “Well, are you?”

     “If he was going to steal anything, it would probably be the Harley.  He loves the Harley.  But Seamus isn’t going to steal from me and he’s not going to attack me.  I keep telling you, he’s sweet, not some maniacal killer.”

     “Yeah, like maniacal killers wear a sign.”  Dom groaned in frustration and Ro said, “All right, all right.  What are you going to do with him while you’re at the Fund Raiser tonight?”

     “Well, I was thinking I’d give him a huge bowl of popcorn and the tv listings,” Dom said with a smirk that she knew Ro could hear in her voice.

     “You aren’t leaving him alone in your house!”

     “I already have, twice.  The second time, Mister O’Donnell next door ended up kidnapping him to do car repairs for him.  I think they sort of hit it off.”

     “So, why don’t you send him over there?  Misses O’Donnell will feed him all night and Mister O’Donnell will talk him to sleep.”

     “He’s too old for a babysitter, Ro.  Besides, I don’t want Mister O’Donnell getting him drunk, which I’m sure would happen considering that more than one beer was consumed the last time they were together.  Before long, he’d have Seamus involved in some prank on the dreaded Mister MacPherson down the street and then I’d have to bail him out of jail.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.”

     “I don’t like this at all.”

     “So you have repeatedly told me.  What’re you wearing tonight?”

     “The black chiffon with the jacket.  You?”

     “The violet one that Boris loved.”

     “Ooo.  All that exposed skin.  Senator Barnett is going to love you.  Whatever happened to Boris, anyway?”

     “He thought that purple dress was an invitation and I had to convince him otherwise.  I wonder if his voice ever went back to normal.”

     “You’re so bad,” Ro giggled.  “Greg’s eyes will drop out when he sees you in that thing.”

     “Greg needs to get a life, including a girlfriend that enjoys society functions.  Gotta go.  See you there,” Dom said.

     “Bye,” Ro said.

     Dom hung up then ran her report through the spell checker.  She fixed the errors it caught, then read it through again to check grammar one last time before pulling up her secure link to the Institute.  As she sent the reports off to the Institute, she wondered if Ro had talked to anyone else besides her early morning visitors and Captain Crane about Seamus.  She could only imagine what the Admiral would have to say about the matter.  She leaned on her elbow and waited for the document to finish sending, wondering what she was going to do if Seamus still didn’t have a Social Security Number when the Seaview shipped out again.  She didn’t have a problem with him staying at her house while she was gone.  Heck, it might be clean and improved when she got back.  However, she was pretty sure that everyone else would have objections.  Toni wouldn’t let her down, she told herself.  Everything would work out.

* * *

     Trance was pacing the Command Deck of the Andromeda.  Why hadn’t she seen Harper’s abduction coming when Barris had been all but telling them that it was happening?  How was it that she didn’t know his kidnapper’s race?  Why had she been unable to rewrite everything so it never happened afterwards?  Why couldn’t she see anything but blackness ahead?  There was one conclusion that was inescapable.  What happened should never have happened.

     Trance sighed and paced.  Dylan said that he was fairly sure that Harper was in the past, where Trance knew he absolutely shouldn’t be.  Was that why she couldn’t affect the present?  She had a horrible feeling about the situation.  What if Harper had died in the past?  He shouldn’t be dead.  She’d come back and traded places with her younger self to make sure that he didn’t die.  He had died from the Magog that had infested him in her past and they had needed him when things got bad and then worse.  She wasn’t sure if saving him from the larvae would change what she’d lived through, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt anything.  Now he was lost, maybe gone forever and if that happened, her first effort to change a dark, terrible future was already undone.  Maybe she couldn’t change anything.  Maybe she shouldn’t be trying to.  Maybe she was no better than Barris was.

     No, she scolded herself, she wasn’t like Barris.  She wanted to make things better for everyone, not for herself.  Barris had given her a very uneasy feeling when she saw him, even before he hinted at what she was attempting to do.  Looking at him was like looking at the void that the future had become.  She was so relieved when Dylan wanted nothing to do with him.  Barris was bad news and if he got what he wanted, everything was lost.

     Beka had come up to talk to her a little while ago, asking if she could pilot the Andromeda to a specific year if they needed her to.  That was how she had found out about Dylan’s conclusions.  She’d said that she could try, but she didn’t know for certain.  It had been an honest answer.  Everything was in a tumble.  Last time, it had been easy to make their jaunt to the Battle of Witchhead look like an accident, and though the crew had doubts, no one ever said anything about it.  Now, everyone expected her to be able to just do what needed to be done.  For Harper’s sake, if not for theirs or the future, she wanted to be able to.  He was her friend.  It kept coming down to that.  He was her friend and she didn’t want him to die.

     Dylan entered Command as she turned to pace the other way.  “It’s been quiet here?” he asked.

     “Nothing’s happened since you left earlier,” Trance told him.  He nodded, then walked his post and fiddled with some controls.  He was trying to come up with a tactful way off asking her something, she knew.  “If we find out when Harper is, I’ll do my best to get us there,” she told him, hoping that would settle things.  Dylan looked up at her, his face unreadable.

     “Do you know where or when he is?” he asked.

     Trance shook her head.  “I wish I did.”

     “If I had you take the helm and just go, would we find him?  Would we be even a little closer to finding him?”

     Trance gave him a helpless look.  “I don’t know.”

     Dylan’s jaw tightened.  “Do we get him back?  Is he all right where he is?”

     “I don’t know,” she told him, her voice trembling.  “Barris is like a black hole to me.  Everything he does is a complete surprise.  Everything he touches, it’s like I can’t see it anymore.  I can’t see Harper.  I can’t feel him.  He’s just... gone, and I’m so scared that he needs us and I’m letting him down.  I can’t even tell you how to fight Barris.  He doesn’t belong here.  He doesn’t belong anywhere.”

     Dylan’s brow knit.  “What did you just say?”

     “I said that Barris doesn’t belong here, that he...”

     “But you never got that sense from Harper?” Dylan asked before she could finish repeating herself.

     “No, of course not.  He’s our friend, part of the crew, part of the  Andromeda.  Of course he belongs.”

     “But Barris doesn’t think he should,” Dylan said, almost excited because he’d just figured something out.  “Those were his exact words, in fact.  He didn’t think Harper should belong while he didn’t because Harper is defective.”

     Trance felt her brow knit.  “Harper’s defective?”

     Dylan actually laughed.  “Not really, but Barris seems to think so.  The question is, why doesn’t Barris belong?  Is it because he’s dead?”

     Trance was shocked.  “He’s dead?  When did that happen?”

     “Tyr seems to think a long time ago, but you didn’t know, so that’s not it,” Dylan said, then he began to rub his chin and pace the deck.  “We need to find out why Barris doesn’t belong.  That’s what this is all about.  That’s what Barris wants.  He wants to belong.”

     Trance felt dread build in her.  “You can’t give him what he wants.  If you do, he’ll kill Harper.  He’ll kill lots of people.  He’ll be worse than the Magog and the Nietzscheans combined.”

     Dylan stopped and looked closely at her.  “You know that?  You know that for sure?”  Trance bit her lip and nodded.  Dylan smiled and clasped her arm.  “That means Harper’s alive,” he told her.  “It means if we can solve this, we can find him and bring him home.  Andromeda, put this ship wide.”

     “Go ahead, Dylan,” Andromeda told him as Beka, Tyr and Rommie’s images all came up on screens.

     “Everyone, we still want to capture Barris or one of his crew, but if Barris comes for one of his little chats, ask him why he doesn’t belong.  Ask him why he wants to belong here,” Dylan instructed them.

     “What?” Beka asked, mirroring the others’ looks of confusion.

     “It’s why Barris came to the Andromeda in the first place.  It’s why he took Harper,” Dylan said.  No one looked any less confused.  “Just do it and let me know if you find out anything.  Dylan out.”  He turned to Trance, saying, “If anything else comes to you, anything at all, no matter how small, tell me, Trance.  I’m trying to solve a mystery with too few clues, so every little piece is fills in the picture.”

     “Like... like in a puzzle?” Trance suggested.

     “Exactly,” Dylan agreed.  “And we need to solve it to find Harper.  I’m going to review the logs again.  Keep thinking.”

     Dylan strode off the deck with a purposeful air.  Trance wished she had a fraction of his confidence.  Every time she tried to think, she kept seeing nothing, or picturing Harper alone, hurt, and afraid.  She knew it was just her imagination, or at least she hoped it was, because this time at least, he hadn’t done anything to land himself in the predicament he was in.  “Please, try to stay safe, Harper,” she whispered to herself as she began to pace again.

* * *



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Belonging, Chapter 1
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