|The Mad Harper
Author: Xeromem PM
Harper is acting very strangely and it appears that he is going insane. This couldn't happen at a worse time for Dylan who is in danger of losing command of the Andromeda. Sequel to Harper's Experiment & Mechanistra. Final Chapter is up. CompleteRated: Fiction K+ - English - Sci-Fi/Suspense - Chapters: 24 - Words: 51,410 - Reviews: 55 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 9 - Updated: 07-30-11 - Published: 04-26-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2368743
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Dylan threw the hard copy he had been studying onto his table in disgust while uttering a string of profanity. "I give up, Andromeda" he said to Logic. "We've examined every file the courier uploaded to us and even managed to hack into their system, and nothing. The Admiral said that new orders along with the latest intelligence update would be awaiting us and there's nothing. Nothing in clear or in any High Guard code or cypher. Nothing. What are we missing?"
"Maybe you should talk to Harper about this," suggested Rommie. "His tendency to not look at things in a military manner may be what we need right now."
Dylan rubbed the spot on his jaw where Harper had hit him earlier. "I'm not sure talking is what he's interested in right now," said Dylan.
"Probably not" agreed Core. "But I suspect if you ask him to help rather than simply order him..."
"It might work," said Dylan. "Tell Haper his presence is required, no strike that, that his presence is requested, no strike that too. Just tell him I'm in my stateroom and I need him to help me with a problem I think is just up his alley."
A few minutes later a sullen loooking Harper walked into Dylan's stateroom. "Andromeda says you need some help with a problem. He sounded as sullen as he looked.
"Harper, please." said Rommie. "We really do need your help. If you won't do it for Dylan as your commanding officer will you do it because I'm asking you as a friend?"
Some of the tension left Harper's posture. "For you Rom doll, for you." He turned to face Dylan "What's the problem?" he asked.
Dylan gave Harper a brief rundown of the situation of how Admiral Tanaka had sent a coded message using the High Guard blink code and hand signals to let him know that special orders and an intelligence update were coming. Dylan ignored the snicker that Harper made and continued his explanation stating that neither he nor Andromeda had been able to locate any orders coded or otherwise in any of the files the Valhapalomallago had transferred to the Andromeda, and that the courier was going to be leaving in less than two hours.
"Just what exactly did he say?" asked Harper. His animosity towards Dylan replaced by the challenge of finding the hidden message.
"He said the message was aboard the pigeon," answered Dylan. "It seem obvious that he was using pigeon to mean the courier since they are sometimes referred to carrier pigeons."
After a moments thought a wry little smile appear on Harper's face just before he said "Did the admiral actually say it was aboard the pigeon, or did he just say it was on the pigeon?"
"Actually he has a point Dylan," said Andromeda . "The Admiral said the intelligence packet and orders were on the pigeon. Not aboard the pigeon."
"Boss," said Harper his animosity now completely forgotten replaced by the challenge before him. "Maybe you and Andromeda are looking at this the wrong way. Have you ever considered that the Admiral might have meant exactly what he said about the message?"
"What do you mean, Harper?" asked Rommie.
"Well, sometimes the best place to hide things is not to hide them at all, but to put them in plain sight. Maybe when he signaled you that the information was on the pigeon, he meant exactly that. That the information isn't a code hidden in the orders he gave you or any other communication but actually ON the pigeon."
"That's subtle even for Admiral Tanaka,» said Dylan «but you might be on to something there. Andromeda, scan the Valhapalomallago's hull and see if you can find anything anomalous."
Rommie's eyes closed in concentration. A couple of tense moments later a smile crossed her face. "Harper, I hate to admit it but sometimes you are a genius. The code was in the name of ths ship painted on the hull.. The paint contains a magnetic code similiar to the codes used on ancient earth computers storage devices. The Admiral must have a linguist on his staff. One who studied ancient earth languages. The code was embedded in the portion of the name that spelled out the word pigeon in a 20th century earth language called Spanish."
"Do you have it decoded?" asked Dylan.
"Of course," said Core from the cabin's view screen. "I'm putting it on display now."
Her image was replaced with an image of Admiral Tanaka sitting at his desk
"Dylan," said the image, "I'm sending you this message in this cloak and dagger fashion because I can no longer trust our official system. Shortly after I sent the my last message to you Denny was murdered. A bomb was planted in his office. It had to have been planted by High Guard personnel because no civilians are allowed into the wing his office was located in. Even the clean up crew is High Guard. Denny was investigating something odd going down on Sarvong's Anvil. He hadn't told me everything he had learned but he had revealed a bit of it. In the past three months over 50 ships have visited the mining facility on the planet. Normally that many ships wouldn't visit the planet in a year. Additionally the mining company put in an order for 100 quantum control chips. That's a lot but not a totally unreasonable number as they can be used as the control system for the self directing mining machinery the company uses. However it wasn't 100 chips that were delivered but 100,000. There's no possible way the company would have need for that many chips for mining purposes. However the chips are dual purpose chips. They are used by the High Guard as controllers for missiles. One hundred thousand chips would be enough to build enough missiles to equip a fleet. The Nietzscheans did this to us during the rebellion buying dual purposes equipment and using it to equip a war fleet. It looks like someone is trying it again.
"I told you in my last message that I think there was someone other than the Triumvirate behind the order to deactivate our AI's. My intelligence staff tells me that they are hearing rumors about an organization that calls itself The Collectors. They seems to be operating as a power behind the throne so to speak. About the only other information I have is that some of them wear an identifying tattoo It's a small equilateral triangle above two larger triangles in the center of the small triangle was a stylized eye.
"Dylan I want you to take the Andromeda to Sarvong's Anvil and investigate the situation. If someone is building a fleet there we need to know who and why. With luck anyone who intercepted my first message will be thinking I'm sending you off to Castilla. Do what you think is necessary once you arrive. I'll back you to the hilt. Take Lt Heiyu and the inspection team with you when you leave. You might find their talents useful. That's all other than good luck."
The Admiral's image disappeared to be replace by Core's. "Shall I alert the crew that we will be transiting to Sarvong's Anvil, Captain?" she asked.
"Not yet Andromeda," answered Dylan. "If Admiral Tanaka is correct and someone has agents in the High Guard I don't want to take the chance that they may have agents aboard you. We'll simply announce that we will be departing at 1600 tomorrow and to rig for slipstream transit.
"Mr. Harper, for the moment I don't want you discussing what you just saw with anyone including Beka, Trance or your new girlfriend. Keep it under your hat till we arrive at Sarvong's Anvil. We'll have a staff meeting when we arrive."
As soon as Harper had left his stateroom Dylan began looking through his desk. After a moment he swore in disgust and turned towards his stateroom's main viewscreen. "Andromeda, will you send one of your maria's to my stateroom with some paper and envelopes. There's something I important I have to do today."
"A formal Captains dinner?" said Harper the question obvious in his voice. "What's that?"
"I think it means you're going to have to wear something clean," said Beka.
Beka, Trance and Harper were aboard the Maru discussing the hand written invitations that hey had received earlier that day. Beka's had read.
To: First Officer Rebecca Valentine
Your presence is required at a formal captain's dinner this evening at 1830. Appropriate dress is mandatory.
Dylan Hunt Commanding Officer NCS Andromeda Ascendant
The other's invitations had been similar
"What do we wear, Beka?" asked Trance. "None of us have High Guard Dress Uniforms."
"I guess you and I will have to do with formal evening dresses, Trance," answered Beka. "Harper wear your suit. If it's not clean have Rommie have one of her Marias clean and press it for you. Were going to have to hurry, it's already 1617 And both of you be their early. Dylan's 1830 means we need to be in the wardroom by 1820."
The Andromeda senior officer mess 1820
Harper entered the mess feeling somewhat apprehensive and took his spot standing behind his chair. Beka and Trance were already there along with Tyr, Rommie, Signifer Tran, the commanding officer of the Andromeda's Lancer Unit, and Lt Cmdr. Remelio the Andromeda's supply officer. Following at Harper's heels was Cmdr. Lerize the Andromeda's air boss. The ships entire senior staff was present, all dressed to the nines. The only one missing was Dylan.
At exactly 1830 Dylan entered the mess and strode to his position at the head of the table. But instead of sitting down and then indicating for the rest of his officers to sit, He indicated that they should sit first. "All of you please sit down," he said.
The dinner went as normal until the after diner coffee, when Dylan abruptly stood up and announced. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an apology to make."
"For the past three years I've been discriminating against some of my officers. This was not done consciously but nonetheless it was done. Not only was this unfair to them it was unfair to the rest of you as well since by creating a situation where they could not operate at their best level it did not allow the rest of you to operate at your best level. Beka, Trance, Harper, Tyr, I was brought up to think that High Guard officers were the cream of the space fairing community, yet your abilities in your fields of expertise are the equal to any and better than the majority of High Guard personnel. Time and time again you risked your lives for me, Andromeda and your fellow crew members and I repaid you with distrust. My actions created a command climate that is now the subject of an investigation by the High Guard Inspector General, the outcome of which will determine if I am fit to command. I have no idea what the outcome of the investigation will be but I want to let you know that I was wrong. You have my abject apologies. I won't ask for your forgiveness since I'm not sure that what I did was forgivable, but I am asking that if the investigation clears me and I am allowed to remain in command of the Andromeda that you continue to serve with me."
As Dylan was speaking one of Andromeda's Marias had entered the mess and had placed a glass of wine at each diner's place. When everyone had their glass of wine, Dylan picked his up.
"Ladies, Gentlemen, I propose a toast. To Beka Valentine, Seamus Zelazny Harper, Trance Gemini and Tyr Anasazi, some of the High Guards finest officers."
"What do you think?" asked Rommie.
"About what?" asked Trance. «Dylan's comments that we're as good as any High Guard Officer? It was nice of him to say that."
Trance, Beka and Rommie were on their way to the Maruand 'the girls room' for some coffee and discussion. The formal diner had concluded about two hours ago and the girls wanted to discuss what Dylan had said at the dinner. They were heading for the Maru as they had been informed by both Core and Logic that Harper and Evie wanted the Observation Deck for themselves for the next hour.
"I meant about Evie and Harper's relationship."
"Their relationship should have been pretty obvious when they started taking off their clothes in the VR matrix," said Beka.
"There's more to a relationship than just sex, Beka," chided Trance.
"This is Harper were talking about, Trance," responded Beka. "There's only type of relationship he's interested in and that's..."
She stopped in mid sentence, for the subject of her comments was approaching the women at a fast walk. He had changed out of his suit and was now wearing clothes more typical of him. More typical meaning a bright red shirt, printed with green palm tree leaves and purple birds with large beaks, and a pair of khaki cargo pants. This would not have been considered unusual except that the clothing was clean, strain free and freshly pressed. Even his boots were shined. In his right hand he was carrying a bouquet of flowers, dirt still attached to the roots of the plants.
"Hi ladies," he said as he walked by. "Can't stop to chat. Got something important I gotta do."
"Clean clothes? Flowers? Andromeda," asked Beka, "was that really Harper that just walked by?"
"That was definitely Harper," responded Core. "And I suggest that the three of you head back towards the observation deck so you can be the first to offer congratulations."
"Huh?" said Beka still bemused by the site of her old engineer bearing flowers.
"I guess you didn't notice what he was holding in his other hand," said Trance. "It was a small black box. Just large enough to hold a ring."
The three women stopped walking, stared at each other for a moment then turned around and headed back in the direction of the Observation Deck. The arrived at the entrance way just in time to hear Harper shout exultantly, "YES!"
"Can you sense him?" asked Core.
"As far as I can tell he's nowhere around," answered Logic.
"This is creepy," added Rommie. "Now I m understand how an organic woman must feel when they learn there is a Peeping Tom in their neighborhood."
The three women were in what could be loosely called Core's quarters in the VR matrix discussing the Gaheris Rhade program that Harper had created.
"I'm concerned that we can't trace him," said Core.
"I'm concerned that he's Gaheris Rhade," said Rommie. "He betrayed us once. Why should we believe that he won't he betray us again?"
"It's going to depend on if he's really sentient or just a sophisticated program that can emulate sentience," put in Logic. "If it's just a sophisticated version of a psychiatric counseling program it might be wise for us to leave it in place but if it is really Gaheris Rhade ..." she let the sentence trail off unfinished.
"Here's something else to think about," said Core. "How did Harper know about the transfer process, let alone how to construct the equipment."
"You're right," agreed Rommie. "There was no way he could have known. If we don't know how the process works, how could he have known?"
"I think our primary concern right now", said Logic, "is to ascertain if Rhade is truly self aware. Once we determine that we can make further plans."
Core and Rommie nodded in agreement. The meeting was over.
Enlisted Mess 12:30
Gunnery Sergeant Samuda, Sergeant. Haulder and Lancer First Class. Dow were seated at the same table they had used at every meal they had while aboard the Andromeda.. Each of them had pushed aside their breakfast trays leaving just a cup of steaming coffee and a flexi in front of them. While comparing their notes on their flexis they barely noticed when one of the ubiquitous Maria-bots came by and laid another flexi next to Samuda.
"Ok guys, this report looks ready, now all we have is one more inspection to do then get them to Admiral Tanaka." Samuda took a sip of the coffee.
"I'm glad that this job is almost done. For a while there I didn't think we'd ever get it done in the time that the admiral asked us to." Dow took a sip of her coffee then added "Tanaka never gives us the easy jobs does he."
Haulder raised her eyebrows. "Well if you want easy you could always resign and go work for some civvie on some backwater world."
"Or request a transfer to a nice cushy desk at a core world post." Samuda added with a sardonic grin on his face.
"No thanks. If I did that I wouldn't be working for the admiral."
"I know exactly what you mean Dow." Samuda said in agreement then he picked up the flexi the maria-bot had brought and began reading it.
While he was busy reading the flexi Haulder took a quick look at the time then said "The LT wants to get underway to our next stop by 1330. So we've have less than an hour before we board the courier for our next stop. So we better get our butts in gear and get our duffles ready."
As the two women started getting ready to leave Samuda said "Looks like there's been a change plans. According to this, Cpt. Hunt has ordered a change in course. At 1600 today the Andromeda will be slipstreaming to a new location and the captain says that the admiral asked him to take us along with them."
Dow looked at him in surprise then said in a low voice "I wonder where we're headed this time?"
"I don't know but you can bet that wherever we're going it will be someplace interesting," said Samuda.