Title: "There But For the Grace of the God"
Season/Spoilers: Season Two. Spoilers for "Home Fires."
Summary: When one of the crew finds themselves trapped in an alternate reality, comrades become enemies, friends become martyrs, and the fate of both realities hang perilously in the balance…
Disclaimer: I don't own Andromeda. But if I did… well, you'd probably feel really sorry for Harper.
Author's notes: I "borrowed" the storyline for this fic from a brilliant television show called Stargate SG-1. I wanted to see if this great SG-1 episode could be done with an Andromeda twist. It's been a year or so since I first posted this and you know what? I think the idea works quite well…
This hasn't been betaed, so forgive any errors.
Otherwise, enjoy. ;D
"There but for the grace of God go I."
Gerios was a tourist city. There was no better way to describe the large, congested metropolis to any ordinary denizen of the galaxy then to use those two simple words. Filled with endless shops and hotels, spas, nightclubs, and more skyscrapers than one could count with five hands, it was believed to be any galactic vacationer's dream. And then more.
Seamus Zelazney Harper was ready to argue that maxim.
The lone human stood fidgeting out of boredom, smack in the center of the aforesaid dream city. All day, from the first step they'd taken off Andromeda earlier that morning until now, Trance had been rushing from store to store, her body seeming to pulse with never-ending energy. He had been debating for the past hour whether or not she could now be classified as a purple streak and less of an actual physical being anymore.
Wearily Harper watched her once again disappear into a building, thin tail vanishing into the doorframe. He sighed and glanced around, the boredom now seeming to creep into his very soul. A billion acres of stores and not a pub in sight. Just his luck.
Gerios was huge no doubt about it, made up mostly of tall office buildings and enough street stores to bankrupt a freakin' trillionaire. Harper could imagine Earth's own New York City looking somewhat like Gerios. Back in its heyday before the Niets and Magog. The planet that Gerios resided on was called Tynna Prime, but most people of the galaxy only knew it as Gerios, seeming to forget the difference between the planet's given name and the city itself.
The Andromeda Ascendant had docked here for two days in order to stock up on supplies. Dylan had granted his crew a short sabbatical on land and Harper had jumped at the chance to explore the city. Besides running low on Sparky and beer, he was more than eager to check out the nightlife. It was rumored to be wild, amongst other things. Or so he'd heard from various but reliable sources. Only a few more minutes gallivanting with Trance and he was on his own. He nearly drooled at the thought.
Behind him someone called his name and Harper turned, just in time to see Trance push another large package into his unwilling limbs. Straining his arms with the latest addition, Harper felt another whine coming on. Holy crap she was quick. He hadn't expected her back for at least a few more minutes.
Attempting to find a spot for the new item, he shifted around some of the other diverse purchases in his grip.
"Trance, do you think you could slow it down a little? I'm tired, I'm hungry, and this city smells like a Nightsider's bathroom… in desperate need of a little disinfectant!"
"Sorry," the lively purple creature replied, grabbing one of the bags he'd been holding in an attempt to lighten the load. "We can find somewhere to sit for a while. But this place… isn't it great? There are so many stores! There's so much pretty stuff I just can't help myself."
Spotting a bench of some kind up ahead, Seamus made his way over and plopped down wearily.
"You just never seemed like a big shopper," he said, trying and failing to muffle a yawn. He wondered briefly just how much she'd already spent on her various purchases throughout the day. Enough to probably buy a brand-new hoverboard and all the accessories that went with it.
"Well no, not usually," Trance answered, taking a seat next to him. "But I've been saving up for such a long time and this is the first real place in a while we've been able to stop the Andromeda, it just…"
"I get the point, Trance," Harper muttered and held up a finger to stop her babbling. "However, we have to meet Beka and everyone else back at the ship. So no more shopping. We're leaving for the next charter-happy planet of Dylan's early tomorrow. Remember?"
For a moment the girl's face fell and Harper felt inexplicably horrible for having to stop her shopfest. Guilt ate at him as he looked at her. Damn her ability to sucker him! Harper knew instantly that he wasn't going to make it.
Oh no, here came the pouty lip…
"Soooooo," Seamus added hesitantly, well aware he'd been thoroughly whipped by Her Purpleness next to him and internally kicking himself for it, "I guess you have time to finish these next few stores before we have to go back."
Grinning from pointed ear to pointed ear, Trance took a hold of his arm to pull him up.
'Why do I always give into her?' he thought jadedly.
Following slowly behind his friend, Harper watched her approach yet another wild looking clothes boutique. It, along with half the other shops in Gerios, seemed to be the perfect place for her to pick up more of the colorful and shimmering outfits she was so fond of.
Looking into the store window, Trance began to sort out the things that she liked the best. She was in the process of asking him about what colors would look better together when Harper glanced quickly across the street.
His eyes locked on a rusty sign.
Galactic Antiques and Earthen Relics.
Harper stared at the store the banner was attached to, biting his lip. Even though some of the days on his homeworld had been the most miserable of his life, he'd always loved to hear stories of when it had been a prospering and peaceful planet. Prior of course to the Nietzschean and Magog raids that had left it desolate and brutal.
For some reason he couldn't take his eyes off of the marquee and the dark store window. He would have thought it closed except for the faint red sign in the window telling the public it was open.
"I'm going to go in, Harper," Trance said from behind him and he looked up. "You want to come?"
"Huh? Oh um, I'll just stay here and… enjoy the scenery."
"Okay then," Trance smiled, "have fun." She left his side and practically skipped into the store, leaving him alone on the crowed street.
Once Harper knew he was solo he took off. He would have a little while to himself judging from the time she'd spent ogling the merchandise. Trance had a lot to try on and those moments would give him just enough time to get a quick look at that store and be back before she could say, 'Charge it!'
Readjusting the heavy weight under his arms, Harper crossed the street quickly, trying not to bump into the pedestrians walking along. Stopping in front of the old building he gazed at the sign once more to make sure it was open before gripping the ancient handle and opening the squeaky door. After managing to make his way past the frame with his load, the door shut behind him with a loud bump and another sequel of the hinges.
Allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim interior, Harper's gaze moved around the musky smelling room to all the object-lined shelves. To his left a husky looking human male, standing behind a dirty counter, glanced up at him quickly from something he'd been reading.
"You can look, but don't even try stealing anything, boy," the man said gruffly, then went back to whatever he'd been looking at.
Rolling his eyes, Harper walked to one of the shelves and put Trance's bags on the ground. Just the thought of all the knickknacks and junk made him smile. This was definitely his kind of place. From the looks of it, toys and games were piled in one corner of the room on a table while another across from it held an assortment of rusty tools. He headed to the toys first.
Picking up the first thing he saw, Harper let the wire contraption move from hand to hand, looking like a snake made of wire coils. Taking a side in both hands he let it move back and forth between them rapidly, almost as if it were alive. He grinned, looking at the price. This "toy" was moderately cheap. Most of the things in the store were inexpensive, considering people in the present didn't need or want them anymore. Some were so used that their original owners had been dead for at least several millennia. Putting the toy down and promising to come back he moved on, leaving Trance's bags behind.
Finding another interesting table of items, Harper picked up a half water-filled sphere that contained small pieces of white plastic. Inside it a miniature city stood pasted next to a blue strip —'Probably suppose to be a river,' Harper thought— with a large gray semicircle stood in front. He shook it a bit and saw broken parts of the curved object floating around the plastic ball. The words, half eroded away, were something along the lines of: "Welce to te Shw M tate!" It was an older dialect of American Common, but decipherable enough for an old pro.
Placing it back into the pile of objects, Harper looked around the store for the next ten minutes. Digging through the old and somewhat corroded tools, he found himself amazed by the idea that people had at one time worked with them and nothing else. No nanowelders, cerebral ports, or Artificial Intelligences to help them with repairs, just their own know-how, hard work, and sweat mixed together to get the job done.
Realizing he had better be getting back, Harper went in search of Trance's bags. Before he reached the, however, his eyes fell upon a staircase tucked away in back. A small white sign next to it read: More Items Upstairs. Miscellaneous Origins.
He turned back toward the owner. "What's up there?"
"Just some of the more obscure objects," the man replied with a glare. "Hurry up and look, then get back here. I wanna close up early tonight and that means you gotta leave."
"Friendly customer service my ass," Harper grumbled quietly to himself as he headed up the stairs.
The accent was quick and he found himself in a room filled with furniture and bulky equipment that hadn't seen the light of day in quite a while. Running a hand over a neon green couch of some kind he debated whether or not it would look good in his quarters on Andromeda. It was just tacky enough to fit his style yet clean enough to for Dylan to let him have it.
Trying not to trip, Harper walked amongst the scattered tables and old stands filled with appliances of unknown natures. Something drew his attention and he found himself walking to a table that continued a very odd purple and burgundy tinted object. If turned upwards it faintly resembled a heart in shape, if not color.
'Maybe Trance could use it for something.'
Knowing the lovely colors would match many of the other multihued things in her room on the ship, Harper figured he should hold onto it. Turning the thing over in his hand he followed the strange design running along the edges. There didn't seem to be any other buttons on it besides a large one in the center of the two colors.
His fingers unknowingly brushed the button during his examination and Harper was startled to hear a "whoosh" sound echoed behind him. He turned slowly and found himself standing in front of a large mirror framed by think stone. It gave off a faint blue glow and reflected back the objects in the room—that is, all but him.
Moving a hand in front of the mirror, it showed nothing but the items behind him.
"Wild," Harper murmured, pondering what the use of something like this was. The only thing he could concluded was that it must be some kind of trick mirror.Whatever it was, he decided, it was totally cool.
Harper stuffed the device in his hands into an open pocket for safe keeping and went in search of a price tag. When he couldn't find one he reached out and slowly let his fingers skim the surface of the mirror.
As soon as he touched it, Seamus regretted it.
As his skin made contact with the reflective surface he was electrocuted with a quick but powerful shock that seemed to fry his entire body. A second after contact with it he jumped back, shaking his arm wildly.
"Crrrrap! Ow!" he sputtered as the faint tingling on his skin faded. His fingers didn't look burned, nor were they red. The sensation was lessening and he supposed his reaction had come more from shock than actual pain.
Backing away from the mirror he made his way to the steps, deciding the couch hadn't been that great after all. It was time to meet Trance anyway and get to clubbing.
As Harper descended the stairs he called out angrily, "Do you make it a point to keep dangerous things up there or something? That stupid…"
He stopped as his feet hit the bottom step. The store was nearly pitch-black. The only light he could see seemed to be filtering in through a boarded up window.
The human shook his head in disgust. Apparently the dim-witted worker had forgotten about him and shut down for the night. Peachy. Just peachy.
Carefully making his way toward the toy area, the engineer's eyes searched the shadowy ground for Trance's bags but found that they were no longer where he had left them.
"That overgrown, poor excuse for a sentient being stole my freakin' stuff!" he yelled aloud to the empty room.
Enraged, Seamus found his way to the entrance by the faint light coming through the window. Hitting his knee on an unseen table corner, he cursed to himself, fumbled with the handle and finally caught hold of the latch. With a hard yank he pulled the door forward only to find it wouldn't budge. He tried again more forcefully, this time hearing something snap outside as he fell backwards onto the store's flooring.
Cursing and rubbing his shoulder, Harper got himself standing, albeit slowly. Glancing outside his eyebrows raised in confusion. It felt as if the door had been bored from the outside. This was just too strange.
With a forceful lunge, Harper finally succeeded in opening the door. As it flew open, stray bits of wood were ripped from the nails holding them in place on the building.
Harper had barely taken three steps from the doorframe when he froze. There weren't any stores across the street.
He shook his head in denial and ran across the now empty road to the place he'd been standing with Trance no longer than fifteen minutes ago. Instead of a multitude of colored signs covering the structure, old boards and badly drawn graffiti had taken their place.
"What the hell?"
Besides the apparent lack of stores, people were also absent from the scene. It was nearing twilight, Gerios' most popular time of the day. The streets should be teeming with crowds of people hitting the various bars and clubs along the main strip of the city. Instead it lay deserted before him like a ghost town in one of his Western holonovels. He was almost surprised a tumbleweed didn't amble by.
In the middle of the lonely street, the blond engineer spun in a circle, letting his eyes fall on the dark burned out buildings.
"Hello?" Harper called hesitantly, hoping that someone -anyone- would respond, but the city was silent around him. "Trance? Hello?"
His friend did not answer and the Earthling felt his stomach clench. 'I have to contact the Andromeda. I'm sure they can explain what's happening here…'
Harper pulled out his com and put it to his lips. "Andromeda? This is Harper. I need some help." Static. "Andromeda?" he called again. The device didn't seem to be working. He cursed and slipped it back into his pocket.
If the ship wouldn't talk to him, well, he'd have to go talk to the ship. Getting a grip on his queasy stomach, Harper took off in a jog toward the city's main docking ports.
'Get back, tell them you can't find Trance. I'm sure everything is fine. It has to be fine.'
Ten long minutes passed but Harper had only made it halfway to where Andromeda rested. He wanted to keep going but his body insisted he stop and catch his breath if he didn't want to collapse right there on the street. Bending down and clutching his knees like an asthmatic Perseid, Harper coughed and tried to control his breathing. For a few moments he concentrated on just bringing oxygen into his lungs.
Everywhere he looked, nothing was the same. Buildings he'd passed just hours before were just… gone. Something wasn't right here. Besides the missing buildings, only recently had he caught his first glimpse of people, all of whom had been slinking around in the shadows or begging for food or money as he passed. It reminded him vividly of the people inside the refugee camps he'd grown up in.
Clutching his side but straightening up, Harper took a few more deep breaths before he started out again. When his body once again seemed to be under his control he took off again, only to be stopped by someone calling out to him.
"Please son, a little money to feed myself," an elderly voice pleaded from the side of the road.
Harper could faintly make out an old woman sitting against one of the burnt buildings with her hands reaching out to him. Sighing, Seamus reached into one of his pockets for the money he'd never gotten to use and hoped the woman could at least buy herself a final meal. It wouldn't be long before her body succumbed to starvation, but he figured she'd at least get a decent spread before she went.
He tossed the coins toward her and they landed a few inches from her small form.
Harper took off running, his adrenaline pumping again and ready to take him to the ship.
Long, bony hands reached for the money eagerly and Harper could faintly hear her call of, "Bless you, child, bless you! I am in your debt!" as he disappeared into the shadows of the city.
For the tired young man who approached Tynna Prime's largest docking platform, the growing Andromeda Ascendant was a sight for sore eyes. At first it had been so tiny in the distance, but now the ship's sleek form was almost large enough for Harper to make out the numbering on the side. Thank the Devine!
As he passed a dingy ally on his run, strange eyes glanced at him with menace and Harper raised his gun. The eyes turned away.
Gerios had quickly turned from Urban Paradise to Criminal Central. Besides the homeless, thieves seemed to be waiting around every corner trying to rob him. He'd had a hard enough time trying to get back to the ship without popping a lung, so being mugged or murdered definitely wasn't on his to-do list.
Knowing Dylan Hunt's prize possession loomed ahead of him, Harper upped his pace. It actually seemed like he'd finally made it. When on board Andromeda it was easy to take for granted her size, but from out here, the view was beautiful
'No wonder other ships don't like to mess with Rommie,' Harper thought to himself, finally letting himself smile.
It quickly faded when he realized why he was back here in the first place: he'd lost Trance.
"She'd have better have gotten her little violet tail back to this ship or Dylan and Beka are going to skin me alive… or possibly worse," Harper murmured.
Pondering what could be worse than skinning someone alive, and knowing that Beka Valentine could probably find something, he approached the High Guard vessel.
Unlike the tourist district he had just came from, the spaceport was filled with masses of people. From the look of it there seemed to be a enormous rave going on. Though the thought of going in search of a lovely lady (or two) was tempting, Harper continued toward the ship. As enticed as he was by the idea, this was not the time to be flirting. Even he could understand that.
Harper quickly pushed his way through a herd of people admiring the impressive vessel. He muttered a curse when a dark, furry alien elbowed him in the ribs as he passed.
"Watch it, excuse me, coming through… gotta get by here," he yelled loudly, try to get the people before him to part. He felt like an intergalactic Moses.
Everyone seemed to be stopped at the beginning of the small platform that attached to the ship and Harper didn't find it difficult to get to the mammoth craft once he was on the platform. No one had crossed it.
"Hey, watch out kid!" someone from the drove yelled.
Another deeper voice called to him, "You don't want to go over there! The last guy who tried wasn't around very long!"
Harper turned back, searching for the persons who'd spoken to him. When no one seemed to stick out the human just smirked. "Don't worry, I've got the VIP pass."
There were a few snickers and gasps as Harper crossed the platform and made his way to the hatch. He stopped in front of the two androids guarding it. Each one held a forcelance tightly in its robotic hands.
"Hiya guys," Seamus greeted, nodding in turn to the hominoid shaped machines. "It's me, open up."
Neither of the robots seemed to notice he was speaking to them.
"Pretty please?" he tried again, hoping for the ship's AI to talk to him through the bots. Harper knew she could hear him. She'd probably noticed his approach a hundred meters away.
As he stood begging, he was acutely aware of the fact that the crowd seemed to be backing away from him, almost as if he were holding a metal pole in the middle of a Vedran lightening storm.
"Andromeda!" Harper protested loudly, his patience coming to an end. "Come on, this isn't funny you know! I've got a problem and I need to talk to Dylan!"
Harper was beginning to get annoyed by the ship's ignorance of him but was finally relieved to see a life-size hologram shimmer into existence between the androids guarding the door. It was about damn time.
As the ship's form materialized, he found his mouth slightly ajar. Harper would recognize the familiar form of the ship's AI anywhere, but he suddenly himself baffled by her different appearance. The first thing he noted was her black outfit. Normally she stuck to primary colors, but this completely dark look was new to him—not that he thought it looked bad on her of course. Her hair was also changed, now falling well past her shoulders in straight columns. It wasn't the darkness of the outfit or the new hair, however, that startled him most. It was the solemn look on her face.
"You have twenty seconds to leave the premises before defensive measures will be taken," Andromeda's hologram announced promptly.
"Hold up, hold up… just wait a minute here. This is a joke, right?" Harper asked, smiling weakly.
"Andromeda! Geeze… hah hah, really funny. Did Dylan put you up to this? Or Beka? Look, tell her I'm sorry for that stupid prank with the Maru's water pressure last week but I was just joking around. Seriously!"
"Eleven sec--," the hologram replied and stopped, her eyes widening"What did you say?"
"This isn't about the prank?" Harper innocently asked.
"Identify yourself," the ship demanded and Seamus raised his eyebrows.
"Me? Are you serious?"
"I know you heard me clearly. Tell me who you are and how you know those names. If not," she said, crossing her arms, "you are now down to only nine seconds."
Harper was completely flabbergasted. He, who spent countless hours crawling around her maintenance shafts and pouring his own blood and sweet into repairing defective systems in her VR Matrix, needed to identify himself?
'She's gotta be malfunctioning,' he thought. 'That's the only explanation considering she's threatened to kill me repeatedly.'he thought.
Harper put a hand over his eyes and sighed wearily. There was obviously something wrong with her core programming. He really hadn't wanted anything else to fix… but now this. Trance was lost and Andromeda, the greatest ship in the known galaxies, was broken. Didn't the universe know that the word holiday equaled vacation, not vocation?
The engineer strengthened himself up nevertheless. He could complain later. This ship was his duty and she needed him.
"Harper," he finally answered. "My name's Seamus Harper."
Even if the ship didn't recognize him everyone else aboard would. That, above all other things, he was sure of.