Disclaimer: I don't own Andromeda or its characters. I just like writing about them.
Rating: PG. Some mild eroticism.
Summary: Long before Dylan and the Andromeda escaped the black hole, a young boy named Seamus Harper received his cerebral implant.
Notes: This story sprang out of an idea from a friend so thank her not me. This one is for you Emma!! This will probably be contradicted in "Harper 2.0" (can't wait for that!) but hey…
There was stars all around. Above, below and for as far as the eye could see. Nothing but endless space and stars…so many stars.
I've made it. I'm here…I'm really, truly here!
Seamus Harper was in space.
He stood at the small window of his room on the medical station, watching the tiny bright points of light move slowly to the left. But, of course, it wasn't the stars moving, it was the station, turning slowly on its axis.
And any moment now, he'd see it.
Harper shivered as Earth crept into view. The planet spun too, a brilliant ball of blue and white. Some would call it beautiful but he'd seen the truth. Earth was ugly. Earth was death.
Earth was his home.
No…he corrected himself. Earth was the place you were born, but you're home is here. In the stars, you've just gotta find it.
He turned to see a nurse in the doorway. Her reddish brown hair twisted up into a bun and she clutched a transparency to her chest.
"Yeah, that's me."
"I'm Christina Edwards, I'll be your nurse for the next couple of weeks or so, depending on how fast you heal." She tapped the transparency in her hand. "You're next on the list. If you'll just sign this, I can walk you down."
"What, I don't get the trolley treatment?"
"Not on your budget. I think they reserve those for the executive patients" And then she smiled, "but if you're good, I give you a lollipop."
Harper grinned. "Strawberry?"
"I think we're outta strawberry. What about blackcurrant?"
"No strawberry? Guess I don't have the budget for that either, right?" He frowned, "blackcurrants good, but forest fruits would be better."
She chuckled, "I see what I can do." And held out the form.
Harper took it and quickly read it through. It was the standard 'if anything goes wrong, don't sue us, it's your fault and you'd better apologise to us for up and dying because that sort of thing just ruins our day' type disclaimer. Nothing he wasn't expecting.
He signed and handed it back. She checked it was all in order. "Right, if you'll just follow me." She began towards the door and then stopped, "oh, did you lock your belonging in the bedside cabinet? The people here are fairly trustworthy, but, you know, just in case."
Harper looked back as his small, half empty nap-sack that housed all the belonging he'd brought with him. The worn clothes inside were hardly worth stealing but there was also a set of photos of his family. Both of them, the one he'd been a part of with his mother and father and the one he'd made with Podraig for his cousin to grow up in.
Jessie…he thought, and his heart ached. She was dead now, her uncle too. He had no-one left. Nothing but the memories and those few precious holographs.
He picked up the bag, tossed it in the cabinet and locked it with his thumbprint. He wondered how the hell they got these things open when the patient died during surgery.
He shuddered; maybe he didn't want to know. The image that brought up wasn't pleasant.
Nah, they probably have a master code or somethin'.
Then they began down the corridor.
The young man was handsome, she decided. Christina had cared for many patients undergoing this kind of surgery before and most of them were in their twenties, some older than that, but rarely were they as young as Harper. His medical notes said he was only eighteen, a couple of years younger than she was. He must have impressed the head surgeon to even be considered for the implant at his age, no matter how much money he might have paid. And that wasn't much. The boy was on the minimal care list, one of the 'budget' patients. Budget plan patients were the most likely to die during surgery or suffer brain damage. You had to want an implant desperately to risk it.
And at his age…
"Can I ask you something?" She said.
Harper nodded, "sure, hit me."
"Why do you want an implant? You must have read the warnings. It's not the safest way of interfacing with a computer."
"Yeah, but it's also the fastest, the best. And you don't have to worry about learning stuff, you just plug in, upload and, hey presto, you know it all."
"And if you're not careful you'll end up shorting out your brain."
Harper looked at her, "do your bosses know you go around frightening their customers off?"
She laughed, "no. And I'm not trying to put you off…exactly. I just want to make sure you know what you're doing."
"Look, I grew up on Earth, OK? I didn't have any way near enough of an education to get work on a ship or a station and if I want to be the kind of person someone'll employ I gotta have the knowledge and I gotta have an edge. Having an implant'll give me one."
She flinched at the anger in his voice. "I'm sorry." She said and looked down at her feet.
"No, I'm sorry, I guess. I didn't mean to go off at you."
They walked the rest of the way in silence and stopped outside the door of the operating room. There was another door next to it, open, revealing a small changing area. Harper pointed in there.
"Is this where I get to put on one of those gowns that don't close at the back?"
"I'm afraid so. But don't worry, I won't look."
"Great, you just took away my one consolation."
"Well, I'll peek if you want me too."
"Hey, Seamus Harper does not beg."
With a laugh, the nurse pushed him into the changing room and shut the door on him.
Ten minutes later, Harper emerged from the little room in a knee-length light blue covering which he held together with one hand at the small of his back. It had taken a few minutes to work up the courage to come out and face the pretty nurse. He knew he was still underweight from all those years of too little to eat and he'd been surprised at the rush of shame he'd felt for looking like this. First thing he was gonna do when he got himself a decent job was pump a little iron.
But she didn't even seem to notice his skinny frame.
"The colour suits you." She smiled, "you should wear more blue."
"Don't you have anything a little more…well a little more."
"No, just that. One for all." She went to the surgery door and held it open, "ready?"
For a half moment, he wanted to turn and run. But he forced the feeling away. He needed to do this. And he was ready.
I am not ready for this.Was the first thing he thought when he entered the stark, sterile operating room. The lights were far too harsh; so bright his eyes hurt. The single padded recliner seat that stood in the middle of the room looked enormous. He would sit in there like a little child in a land of giants.
Christina lay a hand on his arm and did her best not to sound patronising, "you sure you're OK?"
Harper pulled himself upright, "sure."
Two men dressed in surgical scrubs looked up from their computer terminals as Harper and the nurse entered. The first smiled encouragingly, the other just frowned.
"He's a bit young." The latter concluded after he'd looked him up and down for a few moments.
"Well, he must have passed the pshycs." The first doctors replied and then he addressed Harper, "have a seat, son, the anaesthetist'll be along in a minute."
Harper stared at the seat. The huge, rigid black seat. Christina patted his arm gently and stopped when he hit her with a glare.
Oh crap…he thought as he saw a brief flash of hurt pass across her face. It was gone in an instant and he sensed an apology would not be welcome. She was doing her job, and she wasn't supposed to take it personally. But it at least gave him motivation to climb into the chair. It wasn't as uncomfortable as it had looked, or as all enveloping. OK, so he still appeared to be a small boy in it, but he didn't feel as overwhelmed as he'd thought he would.
"Comfy?" Christina asked.
Harper wiggled a bit to find a sweet spot then nodded. "Yeah."
"Do you, like, watch this or something?"
"What? Don't you want me looking at your brain?"
He frowned at her.
"No, I'm just here 'til you go nighty-night and I'll be there when you wake up."
Harper thought of all the post-operative side effects people had warned him of. There was one in particular he wasn't looking forward to very much. "To bring me a sick bag, right?"
"That's my job." She grinned, "hey as long as you actually get it in the bag I'm not complaining. If you miss, that's another story."
"That happens a lot?"
"You have no idea!"
The door swung open and emitted a tall thin woman with a tray. Christina grinned at her. "Hi, Lynda!" And then quietly to Harper, "That's Lynda. She's the one who gonna put you to sleep. In more ways than one!"
Lynda didn't make any attempt at pleasantries with Harper, something he thought was rude. She could've a least said hello. The woman prepared his left wrist with a solution and began switching on a small device she took from her tray. When it was activated, she strapped it to his wrist and pulled so tight Harper felt the blood in his veins stop circulating. And as the pressure continued, he worried that the bones in his wrists would crumble to dust under the strain.
But he bit his tongue rather than disgrace himself by wailing. Whether that was because he didn't want the anaesthetist to have the satisfaction of knowing she was hurting him, or because of his pride, he didn't know.
O maybe he didn't want Christina thinking he was a wimp… because he liked her.
Whoa! Where did that come from?
And on that thought, Lynda loosened the wrist strap to activate it, sending a rush of anaesthetic coursing through his system and he was asleep in seconds.
He was running with the horses. Wild, beautiful palominos. Strong and tall, bright as the sun on a clear day.
A clear day…
He was on the beach. An honest to God beach, with pure white sand stretching for miles, being swallowed by the tide as it crashed on the shore. Harper stared out across the ocean. The sea was clear and blue all the way to the horizon where it met a sky that was an even richer shade of blue. It was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen. Earth had never been this lovely.
He was standing among the stars and below him spun his home world. A ball that filled space with a vision a blue and white and his heart with pain. Stretching out his arms he flew closer, soaring through the stratosphere, down and down. He could see continents, first as small spots and then they grew, filling his sight. Still he flew closer; so close he could make out the patches of colour that was civilisation. Yellow and light greens for farm land, deep greens for wild forests, and slate grey for the churn of cities and towns.
He was in a market place, which was full of people wrapped warmly against the cold. A small child darted up to him; her little face peeping out from under a riot of honey coloured curls. She said a word in her baby talk that sounded like 'hi ya', the smile she gave him wrinkling her nose because it was so big.
Harper smiled back just as the child's mother scooped her up and grinned at him, a rueful look in her eyes that seemed to say 'kids!'
"Legally, yes, you are old enough. But the general policy of this hospital is not to perform this kind of operation on someone as young as you."
Harper stood at the back of the hospital administrator's office, watching himself plead his case for the neural implant. This wasn't a dream. This had happened. Had the other stuff happened too? He couldn't remember. Maybe it wasgoing to happen…one day.
The Harper he was watching shifted slightly in his chair.I don't remember being so fidgety. He thought as he stared at himself.
"But what about the pshyc tests? I could take one of those."
"Mr Harper, those tests are expensive."
"I have money." His voice was defensive.Great, Harper, real cool!
"Yes, but the test are not available on the budget plan."
"So I pay for them separately."
"You could do that…" The hospital administrator had sighed, "if you were prepared to wait just 3 more years, you could save yourself the expense. And the chances of a successful outcome increase after you turn 21."
"But I'm not prepared!" Harper closed his eyes, trying to stay calm. This was only his whole life they were discussing. "I'll sit any test you want. I know I can pass them. I already know far more about neural implants than most of the people who have one."
"Yes, I know. And that was the only reason the board agreed to this interview." The administrator paused for a long moment, considering the thin, pale young boy in front of him.
Harper had sensed the man's understanding. And he'd pushed…just a little.
"Look, I need this. I know most of implants you do are for Mafioso types who only want an implant to keep their dirty little secrets safe in their own brains. But I just want to work. Ineed to work!"
"Mr Harper…Seamus…I can understand your desire to leave Earth-"
"No you don't! You probably grew up on a station or a ship with clean water and plenty of food and a warm bed. I didn't! And I don't want to live that way anymore. If I can just get a job off-world…"
"You can." He replied, "there are-"
"No there aren't! Not decent ones. If I have a good job maybe…maybe my kids won't have to grow up the way I did."You oughta be shot for that one, Seamus.
The administrator looked down for a moment then raised his head to meet the boy's eyes. "Do you even have the money for the pshycs?"
A rush of relief washed over him. "I'll get it."
There was the sound of galloping horses behind him and the office melted away, disappearing like an early morning mist in the heat of day.
And then he was running with the horses again, just another string in nature's unending tapestry…
Christina was humming. A lilting melody that seemed to reach into him and gently coax him to consciousness. He was vaguely aware of pain centred a little below his right ear spreading slowly to encompass his entire head the more awake he became. He wanted to fall back into the comforting arms of sleep but he was on the brink of consciousness and he couldn't go back.
"Seamus?" Her voice was soft and came to him as nothing but a whisper.
He heard someone else mumble something totally incomprehensible and realised it must have been him.
"Shh, don't try to move yet." She advised him. "You've been unconscious for quite a while, just give yourself some time to wake up, OK?"
Naturally he ignored her and a wave of intense nausea swept over him at the barest of movements. He felt her hands on his chest as she forced him to be still. He heard her mutter something like "why do they never listen when I tell them that?" under her breath and hazily promised himself to do as she asked in future. She knew more about these things than he did.
He must have wandered off into a light doze somewhere in there, because when he struggled to open his eyes, she was sitting beside his bed sipping a hot drink and reading a book. He watched her without her knowing, his eyes trying to focus on the title of the book she held. When everything stopped swaying and shifting, he read 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'
He wanted to ask her what chapter she was on but the only thing that came out of his mouth was a parched wispy "hey."
Christina put the book down. "Hey. How you feeling?"
He swallowed, wishing he had something cool to drink. "Better…I think."
"You ought too, you've been out of it for days."
"Huh?" was all the questioning he could give.
"You got a secondary infection in the menes. The fluid around your brain. We almost lost you a couple of times."
It was then that he became aware of the extra medical equipment around his bed, bleeping and flashing quietly. Several fluid lines fed into his veins on both arms and one ran under his nose.
"How…um, how long?"
"6 and a half days."
He licked his lips, "any chance of a drink?"
"Sure. Only little sips though or you'll be seeing it again." She went over to a pitcher of water on the bedside cabinet and poured out a small measure into a cup. She brought it over to him and tapped the bed control so that it lifted Harper's head a little. "Here, take it slow, OK?" And she held it to his lips.
Harper took a tiny sip and let it wash over his taste buds. It was quite possibly the best thing he'd ever tasted in his entire life. He took another, slightly bigger one this time and had to fight the urge to gulp the whole lot down in one go.
"That's enough for now." Christina decided and put the glass back down on the cabinet. "If you can keep that down OK, you can have some more in a minute."
Harper looked hungrily at the water. His mouth felt a little better for the liquid but he'd not had nearly enough to satisfy his thirst.
After about five minutes, Christina held the water out for him again. He didn't like being helped to drink like a baby and he frowned. "I can hold my own cup."
She looked at him dubiously.
"I think I can remember how to do it!"
She sighed, "only if you don't drink too much too fast."
And he took the cup from her unresisting fingers and swallowed. It was only a fraction bigger than the tastes he'd had before but it churned his stomach and he had to press his lips together and swallow several times to avoid being sick.
"Slower this time." She chided, "I know you're thirsty but you'll just make yourself ill."
Harper tried to slow up but the need in his throat for great gulps of water screamed at him loudly. He took one sip too many.
Christina swore and only just managed to get a bowl under Harper's chin before he vomited.
Harper was allowed to have a small meal the next morning. Just a bowl of soup and a piece of bread and butter but it tasted wonderful. And best of all, it stayed down.
At midday, Christina disappeared and returned an hour later with a doctor. He vaguely recognised him from the operating room.
"Seamus, this is Dr. Micheals."
Harper nodded in greeting as the doctor sat down on the chair beside Harper's bed. Micheals picked up the medical notes and read through them before taking a scanner from his pocket and running it around Harper's head.
"Has the discomfort gone?"
"Yeah. Skin feels kinda itchy though."
"That's normal. And you're balance is fine, is it?"
Harper shuddered at the memory of his few trips out of the bed. They hadn't been pleasant, but the implant was located so close to his ear canals that it would take a while before his brain could adjust to this new equilibrium. "It's getting better."
"Good." He murmured as he checked the dilation response of Harper's eyes. "And that's fine too." He tapped something onto the medical file. "No nausea? Dizziness?"
"Only when I'm tired." He paused, wanting to ask something more. Micheals read his expression and guessed what the boy wanted to know.
"I think we can activate the implant later today if you have no more periods of nausea. And don't just pretend you're fine when you're not because you're anxious to try it out. You'll end up regretting it."
Harper remembered the warnings about side effects. "The blackouts?"
"Yes. And possible neural damage if the area hasn't healed properly." Micheals replied as he got to his feet. "Hopefully I will see you in a few hours."
"Yeah, thanks, doc."
Harper watched his nurse lead the doctor out of the room. His hand lifted unconsciously to his neck and his fingers stroked the implant there. The metal was warm to the touch, heated through the contact with his skin. He liked the feel of it there. It was different. Special.
In a few hours…
It was going to happen. He was going to interface; he couldn't wait.
The room Christina led him to this time was less intimidating that the operating room, though no less sterile and brightly lit. The chair too was a normal size and Harper had no qualms about sitting in it. Micheals came in a moment later. He took up a position next to Harper's head.
"Are you alright, Mr Harper?"
"Good. Now I'm just going to activate the implant and you'll probably experience a warm flush, OK?"
The doctor waved a small device over Harper's neck port and then it beeped. At that little sound, Harper felt like his entire body had slipped into a hot bath. Not an unpleasant feeling, just odd.
"Still OK?" Micheals asked.
"Do you want to try an interface?"
Was the world round?But he tried to sound cool and collected. "Sure."
The doctor picked up a lead and held it out for Harper to see. "This is the connector."
Harper stared in horror at the length of the metal jack.
"The skin around your port is still inflamed so it's probably going to hurt when it goes in. Would you prefer to do it yourself?"
He shuddered at the thought of something that long sliding into his brain. But if anyone was going to do it, it would be him. Besides, he had to get used to doing it.
Tilting his head to one side, he took the connector and took it to his neck. It scrapped against the port, pulling on the tender skin painfully but didn't go in.
"Try reaching over your head." Micheals advised, "it makes it easier."
Harper tried again, sticking his arms as far as they would go only to swear loudly when he bashed the port again, sending a bright stab of pain down his neck.
"Like this." The doctor said and carefully took the young man's arms and lifted them over his head. Then he guided the connector to the entrance of the jack. "It stings a bit going in."
Harper took a deep breath and moved his hand just a millimetre. The metal crept a tiny way into the jack. There was no pain so far. He tried a little more. And then a little more…
And then flinched at the unexpected scraping sensation across his nerves.
Pain he could've dealt with, this was…nasty.
"Do you want to continue?" Micheals asked when he saw the look of discomfort on Harper's face.
But as quick as the feeling came, it was gone. "Yeah, I'm OK. Just wasn't expecting it to feel like that."
Micheals nodded and checked that the lead was properly inserted. "That looks fine. You did well for your first time. Ok, now I'm going to switch the computer on. Usually it would already be up and running when you connect but for the first few times we'll do it this way so you can get used to the sensations. I don't want you to do anything until I tell you."
The doctor tapped at the computer and it came to life with a quick hum. As it did so, Harper was aware of it. In the same sense that he'd been aware of Christina's presence from the moment he'd met her. The same type of 'sense' he'd been aware of with all those he'd been close too. His mother and father, the other's in his family…in the warmth, in their similarities to him. And the other 'sense', like Ashling and other women he'd loved with his physical self…the heat, the sexuality, the need.
It was both senses and neither. It was something unique but the same.
And his sense of his own body was gone, it lay limp and lifeless in the chair.
But he wasn't satisfied with the sensations, he wanted more. Like a man on the brink of an orgasm, he couldn't stay where he was, he needed to move, to thrust himself into that presence and possess it; join with it.
"OK, good," Micheals voice came from very far away, relaying through the device itself as Harper had lost touch with the reality around him. "When you think your ready, reach out."
Oh man, was he ever ready…Harper sailed towards the presence and felt it flood him. The caress of energy, the taste of data…
His mind began to make sense of the jumble of information around him, assimilating it into something like a room and he was at the very centre. Colours and writing and formulae moved in straight lines to form walls.
"What-what do I do?" Harper asked.
"Nothing yet. Now that we know the implant is functioning and that your brain is interpreting the data streams, we can begin uploading the knowledge you will need." Micheals voice came back to him, "do you think you can detach without help?"
"Yeah." Harper closed his virtual eyes and withdrew from the mainframe. It was harder than he'd thought and it took him several minutes and numerous attempts before he was aware of his own body again. His hand gingerly touched the lead in his jack and Harper winced as the sore flesh around it protested. He removed the connector as quickly as he could and was relieved to feel little more than a brief discomfort.
Christina smiled at him, "congratulations, you're a natural. Most people take a few goes before they can do that."
"I think that's enough for today, Mr Harper." Micheals said as he quickly checked Harper over. "Tomorrow we'll try an upload of the basic software and if that takes, you should be out of here in a couple of days."
The uploads were a trip, like waves crashing over him, but bringing knowledge on its tide instead of water. He knew things. Understood them. At first he had needed to link with a computer for the uploads, each interface as unique as the next, sometimes the sensations and awareness flooded his mind and sometimes it was as if they never existed. The only thing that didn't change was the pain, that nerve scrapping feeling whenever he jacked himself in. And he'd found it was worse when the computer was running and the connector was 'live.' When he'd first done that, his nerves had screamed in agony and it had left him panting for breath. At least now he knew what he was going to feel and could prepare himself.
But fortunately, after a wealth of uploads, he didn't need to interface if he didn't want too. He could simply chose a data rod and insert it into his port. At the moment, Harper was absorbing the encyclopaedia of stellar anatomy while he packed his few paltry possessions. Christina had promised to come by before he left to say goodbye. He wondered if he should ask her out to dinner somewhere. But he was probably just another patient to her. If they'd had fun together, that was her job.
"All ready to go?"
Harper turned to the door. Christina stood there smiling at him with another transparency in her hand.
"What you got going on up here?" She pointed behind her ear.
"Stellar anatomy. This implant is a blast. I'm gonna be a freakin' genius by, like, Thursday. Not that I wasn't already, but now I'm twice the genius!"
"If you sign this, you'll be a free genius." She held out the form. Harper took it and signed his release before handing it back.
Go on…ask her!
But his mouth refused to work.
She saw the way he was looking at her, "was there anything else."
"No, just…um, goodbye and all that."
And then she disappeared out of the door. Harper sighed and picked up his bag, tossed it over his shoulder and headed out.
Halfway to the airlock, he heard someone calling his name. He turned to see Christina running towards him, her hair flying behind her.
He stopped and let her catch him up. She was out of breath by the time she reached his side.
"You forgot something." She said breathlessly and held out a small stick with a red ball on the top.
It was a lollipop.
"Well, I did promise," she said shyly.
Harper broke into a smile as he took it. His fingers brushed hers as he plucked it from her hand. Was that a faint blush on her face or was she just flushed from running? He popped the lollipop into his mouth.
"You were lucky, that was the last one." She squared her shoulders, "so, seeing as you're not my patient anymore, aren't you going to ask me to lunch?"