Disclaimer: Andromeda and characters are the property of Tribune. Infringement is not intended. I'm not making any money out of this. I do it for enjoyment.
Rating: R for violence and adult content.
Warning: Contains scenes of a very adult nature. While none of it is graphic, if 'adult' fanfic offends you please do not read this.
Notes: This story picks up various threads from "Cold and Bitter Slumbers" and will make much better sense if you've read it. I think this story could probably be read alone though.
Crimes and Retribution
"I have heard some say that our people are criminals, mindlessly pursuing violence for it's own ends…I say to them, there has been no act committed by a Nietzschean that was not just or deserved…"Hal Vishna, Nietzschean political leader.
Prologue: The Sons of the Kodiak.
The boy watched his friend creeping through the dark corridors towards him. He strained his eyes to see if his friend was clutching something under his arm. He grinned when he saw the bundle. Kale had done it!
But behind the delight and admiration he felt, came fear.
Govan would whip them within an inch of their lives if he found the boys with his priceless treasure. They both feared his temper but the need to avenge themselves on him had spurred them into this.
Stealing the one and only thing Govan had a weakness for.
When they had talked of this, it had been exciting. Something with which they could test their bravery on, but now, seeing Kale with Govan's treasure brought the reality of this home.
And even if the threat of the pain they would endure at his hands was not enough to instil terror in him, it was the anger in his parent's eyes at his being so foolish.
Kale flashed a boyish smile when he came up beside his friend. "I wish I could see Govan's face when he sees it's gone!"
The boy didn't answer that and instead pointed to the bundle of cloth. "Let me see it."
Kale snatched his prize out of his friend's reach.
"You can look in a minute! We better go somewhere safer first. Anyone could come along right now."
The boy frowned; knowing Kale was right, but anxious to finally get his hands on Govan's pride and joy that he didn't want to wait.
They hurried to Kale's bedroom and locked the door. Kale sat down on his bed and placed the bundled up cloak down in front of his best friend. He roughly tugged at the cloth and something rolled out. A round-ish brown shape, like a large stone. It sat on the bed for a few moments while the boys watched it intently and then…
A thin, wrinkled head slowly emerged from the end, followed by four legs and a stumpy tail appearing at various points around the shell.
The tortoise looked up at its captors. It was one of only five surviving specimens of its species and worth more money than either boy could ever dream of.
But it wasn't its material value Govan treasured. It was the creature itself.
He cared for it!
That was a useless waste of affections.
And yet, the boy decided it was sort of appealing.
Did it really see them? The boy wondered. Did it understand they were not its owner's?
Was it scared?
He watched Kale lift the creature up and stare right into its tiny eyes. But there was no fascination in Kale's eyes, quite the opposite. Something dark and ugly lingered there.
The boy jumped in fright as Kale screamed in the tortoise's face.
The tortoise disappeared into its shell immediately.
Kale roared with laughter.
"Kale!" The boy objected. "We're not going to hurt it!"
Kale Tulzari glared at his friend. "We're not going to hurt it!" He mimicked in a baby voice.
"But you said!"
"I said I was gonna get back at Govan and I am," he dropped the tortoise on the floor. His friend gasped when he realised what his friend was about to do.
Kale raised his foot, "your problem, Tyr Anasazi, is that you're too soft!"
And he stomped down onto the creature, crushing its shell and killing it outright.
Tyr opened his eyes and sat up. The ship's sensors recognised his movements and the light came on just enough to cast everything into shadow. Enough to see by, but not so bright as to hurt his eyes.
Why did he dream of that?
He rarely thought of his boyhood, and almost never of Kale.
His former friend was likely dead. Killed in the battles that had taken his family from him and destroyed the good name of the Kodiak. It was a waste of energy to lament him.
Maybe it was the time he had spent with the Orca Pride. Perhaps being with his own people again after so long had awakened thoughts of the Kodiak.
And of Kale…
Tyr lay back down and closed his eyes. Sleep took him almost immediately.
The bar in Keva Station Three was like any other in the sector, poorly lit, smoky and smelling of about thirty different kinds of life forms. Each race had it's own scent and breath odour, personal habits…The resulting mix wasn't pleasant.
Harper had never got used to it. He remembered his first time on a station; the first time he'd walked into one of these places, he still hadn't recovered from the shock.
The waitress put the plates of food in the centre of the table, which he, Beka, Trance and Rev sat round. She caught his eye, appreciating what she saw and flashed him a cheeky grin, which he happily returned.
Rev Bem bowed his head and whispered something to the Divine in thanks for the meal. Harper had seen him do that every time they eat and it never ceased to grate on his nerves.
He had a big problem with the idea of a God. He'd seen and experienced too much horror in his short life to believe there was any divine purpose for what he had suffered. And if there was, he wanted nothing to do with such a callous being.
He picked up a fork and dove into the food.
The waitress went to leave when she frowned, "it's Captain Valentine isn't it?"
Beka stared up at her, "before you ask, I don't do salvage anymore."
"Oh I know!" The girl replied enthusiastically, "I recognise you from the broadcasts. You're with that 300 year old man who's out to take over the Universe?"
"Dylan is not out to take over anything!" Trance objected. "And he's not 300 years old…. not exactly."
"He wants to restore the Systems Commonwealth." Beka explained with an edge to her voice.
"The Commonwealth! That's right next to the dinosaurs on the extinction list!" Her laughter sounded harsh and nasty as she left.
"Man, is she ever not getting a tip!" Harper said, watching her go.
"No, but it does go to show what Dylan's up against…." Beka pushed her food around her plate. "What we're up against. Her attitude is probably no different to most ordinary people." She sighed, "Let's hope Dylan and Rommie are having better luck."
The Hyssarmi trader's yellow eyes floated back to Rommie again and the humanoid body of the ship had the sudden desire to shudder at the lust-filled glances he was giving her. She was starting to feel…naked, like she wasn't wearing enough clothes. She hadn't given all that much thought as to what her body wore, but right now, she wished that she'd put on something that had sleeves…
And some baggier trousers.
Just about anything other than the auburn tunic that did little to downplay the assets which Harper had given her and everything to enhance them.
Dylan straightened up, pulling the trader's attention back to him. "3600 gildas, it's my final offer."
"Mr Dee-lan," he hissed back through two rows of tiny pointed teeth, "my energy chits are worth twice that."
"Perhaps, but my understanding was that you wanted to sell them quickly."
The alien nodded slowly, "but not so quickly as to be out of profit."
"3600 is all I have to offer, take it or leave it."
"Not all you have to offer…" he inclined his head around to Rommie again and this time the android stepped backwards in surprise at the look of desire on his face.
"Rommie is not for sale!"
The alien traders' tongue licked his lips, "you misunderstand…I do not want to buy her. She is no doubt already soiled…but perhaps you could make me one?"
Dylan grabbed him by the neck and slammed him against the wall. His face came in so close to the aliens he could feel the creatures breath on his cheek. "3600 is my ONLY offer."
"No woman," he spat, "no deal."
Dylan let the alien drop to the ground in a heap and walked off in disgust. Rommie hesitated a moment, the ship need those chits badly, but then she hurried after the captain, falling into step beside him. They walked in silence; Rommie knowing that Dylan needed time to cool off first.
Then, when she judged he was ready, she touched his arm and they stopped.
"Dylan," she said, turning to face him, "we need those chits and Huckna is the only person who'll sell for what little currency we have."
Tyr sat at the bar. He had declined Beka's offer of dining together. How could four people who had spent nearly six months cooped up on a ship with no other company even consider spending more time with themselves.
He had gone in search of…he didn't know. Just to be away from the others.
And he had ended up sitting alone on a barstool, returning snarling looks with those who passed and muttered something nasty about Nietzscheans.
"Tyr Anasazi?" Someone said from behind him.
Tyr turned slowly, "who is asking?"
Then he recognised the face beneath a curtain of longish dark hair. An older, leaner face than the one he remembered, but little else had changed. His eyes still burned with anger and hate.
Tyr watched his old friend settle onto the barstool next to his. He was an impressive sight, even for the genetically purified Nietzscheans, but he wore no Double Helix band on his arm. He had not yet acquired a wife, or passed on his genes.
That spoke volumes for the kind of life he must have led.
Tyr contemplated his drink. A life not too far remove from the one he himself had led since their Pride had been destroyed.
Kale returned Tyr's appraisal for a long moment and then he spoke. "I heard you'd turned mercenary…"
"Was?" Kale smiled, "and now you're what?"
Tyr thought of the Andromeda and the unease he felt being amongst her crew. "I heard nothing of you." He said, avoiding the question.
Kale smiled, he wasn't fooled by the tactic. "I doubt you asked."
The man chuckled. "I have done many things over the years, my friend, little of which was very satisfying."
"Have you heard of a man called Krozan?"
Dylan scanned the crowds of gamblers, searching for the familiar blonde head of his ship's engineer. He spotted Trance first; her purple skin appeared almost luminous in the black lighting of the casino. The pair stood at the roulette wheel, arguing like a couple of kids over which number they should place their last few chips.
As he pushed his way towards them, he could hear that Trance had won both the argument and the spin of the wheel. Somehow, he wasn't surprised by either.
"Hey, Boss, I bet Rommie's real happy right now."
"I didn't get the chits. Huckna wouldn't trade."
"Great…" Harper muttered sarcastically, "I hope you'll enjoy going EV 'cos if we don't some energy chits soon, the only way the Andromeda's gonna move is if one of us gets out to push!"
"It won't come to that. Beka's already looking for another supplier."
"Oh, there are plenty, but none of 'em gonna sell for the kind of cash we have."
"Plus what we won on that wheelie thing." Trance pointed out.
Harper shot her a look.
"I can give him my half!"
"It's your money…"
"That's right it is!"
"Dylan?" Beka came up beside him, ending the argument between Trance and Harper, much to the captain's relief. "I found one dealer who might be interested in selling, his name Krozan, Beta Krozan."
"You know him?"
"Everyone in the salvage business has heard of him," answered Beka, "no decent salvager would recommend having anything to do with him, but…" she shrugged, "he's the only one."
"Krozan is scum."
Kale's lip curled a little, "perhaps, but he pays well."
"You dishonour the name of our pride working for him."
"Our pride…." He said bitterly, "we do not have a pride. We have nothing but our own survival. And you dare to judge me, when you are little but a lap-dog for that High Guard fossil!"
Kale watched the shock flash onto his friend's face.
"Yes, I've heard the stories…. where is the honour in fighting to restore what our nation gave its unity and wealth in an attempt to overthrow?"
"It…" Tyr looked down at his drink, surprised at the automatic response he'd had. To defend the Andromeda. Defend Dylan… "I have my own agenda."
Kale roared with laughter. Tyr had forgotten how nasty that sounded. "I am sure you do. And I have mine with Krozan."
They had refused to let him go alone, arguing that they knew the situation better than he did and that this wasn't the honourable Commonwealth anymore. He didn't know whether he was more annoyed at himself for acquiescing to easily…
Or at them for being right. He didn't know this time, and he needed their help to learn it more than he cared to admit.
But he hadn't given up without imposing one condition. They could accompany him…. but only if he did all the talking.
Beka strode at his side, her stance belying the tenseness she felt at trading with Krozan. She'd filled him in on a number of his dealings and he wasn't happy about it himself.
But on the other hand, they needed those chits.
Behind him, Harper and Trance hurried to keep up with him, the latter looking about her nervously while her tail curled unconsciously close to Harper as if seeing comfort.
Either that, or she thought it might get trodden on.
Krozan's personal guards stopped them at the air lock and searched them for weapons.
"You will get this back when you leave." One of the guards said, taking possession of Dylan's blaster. Beka relinquished her weapon with more reluctance but since it was coded to her DNA, no one else could make use of it without regretting it badly.
A man who introduced himself as Murrain escorted them through the ship. Beka had heard of him, he was Krozan's right hand man, and someone to be feared in his own right. He took them to the bridge. Krozan was leaning over a display and he straightened up when he heard the doors whoosh open.
Dylan took a good look at the man. He was tall and well built, with a hawk beak nose and thick lips. Krozan returned his appraisement.
"My aide tells me you are looking to purchase energy chits for your ship."
"High class grade 17F, full fluked gilt pr…" Harper trailed off as both Dylan and Krozan nailed him with their eyes, "yeah, right, sorry…"
"But that you wish to pay only 3600 glidas…."
"Do you think I am a charity?"
"No, but this would be a long term deal. You would always have a buyer for your merchandise, that would guarantee you a regular income."
"At that price, it would also guarantee I went out of business."
"We would pay a more reasonable price in the future-"
"Yeah, we're having a little cash-flow problem, you know?" Harper stopped short at another glare; he stepped back "Just pretend I'm not here…"
"And how do I know you won't just take my chits and play this little game on some other trader?"
"You have my word."
"He's a high guard officer, his word is-" began Trance until she too, fell prey to the stares. She slunk back to Harper's side and the two of them stood together like a couple of scolded children.
"That is all I have to offer."
Krozan frowned at him for a long while.
"I will consider it."
Murrain watched Hunt leave, followed by his bizarre looking personal guard. He walked to his master's side. "I am reminded of a story my mother used to tell me."
Krozan smiled at him. "Oh?"
"Daniel in the lion's den…." He replied, "and this Captain Hunt didn't even know it."
Krozan chuckled. "This is going to be easier than I thought!"
Tyr watched Kale drain his glass for the fifth time. The man was obviously a practised drinker, something you didn't witness in a Nietzschean very often. Alcohol dulled the senses. And the very idea of an addiction was abhorrent. They had exchanged brief outlines of their lives since they had parted but neither was willing to dwell on their pasts.
Shortly afterwards, the communication device around Kale wrists bleeped, interrupting them. Tyr guessed this was Krozan, calling to heal his pet Nietzschean. He waited to listen in on their conversation but Kale simply tapped a control on his communicator and the message scrolled across its tiny screen.
Privacy feature. Clever.
But annoying. He hated Kale, had hated him ever since he'd watched Govan cuddle the crushed body of his tortoise with beads of moisture forming in his eyes. He knew now that such a display of sorrow was a grave dishonour and he despised Govan almost as much for it, but his ten year old heart had fluttered painfully at the sight and his hate of Kale had begun. Seeing the man again had brought it all back.
But he wasn't blind to his former friend's cunning. If he was working for Krozan, there had to be a more powerful incentive than just capital gains.
And what was good for Kale…would be good for him.
Kale stood up, "business, you understand."
Kale tossed a tip for the waitress down on the bar and turned to go. Tyr's hand shot out and clamped down hard on his wrist. Kale looked at him with amusement.
"I want in." Tyr demanded.
Kale gave a harsh chuckle. "You never know." He murmured and then he was gone.
Krozan looked up as Kale strode onto the bridge. As much as he would allow himself to fear any man, he feared Kale. That was why he'd hired Kale. Krozan truly believed in the old axiom 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer.' And Kale had had his uses over the years, like now. His acquaintance with one of Hunt's men had been fortunate.
Kale came to a halt in front of Krozan and stared in distaste at his boss. He never ceased to find the Nietzscheans dislike of him amusing.
"I had a visit today…from Hunt."
Kale chuckled, "how interesting."
The man ignored his sarcasm, "yes. Perhaps we needn't bother going through this Tyr to get to the Andromeda."
"I will still get paid." In a voice that left no room for argument.
"Yes. Yes, of course." He sneered, "you can deliver the goods. Earn your wages."
"I am not your delivery boy."
"And I am not accustomed to paying for a service I have not received."
The pair stared each other down.
"Just think of it as a change of…. duty. Rather than talking Tyr into letting you onto their ship to plant the virus, you will simply deliver it to them." Krozan smiled, "they will install it themselves! I must admit there's a certain beauty to that."
Kale seemed to consider it. Whatever Krozan called it, the job was still beneath him. "They will not so foolish as to connect a data clip without first running a scan."
"No, but they will not think to scan an ordinary looking energy chit. I had Gilmore load the virus onto one. Oh, it'll take longer to get through their systems, but that will simply give us time to catch up to them." Krozan smiled, "and when we have, the ship will be dead in space and her crew nothing more than frozen corpses. Ready for the taking by whoever holds the unencrypt code for the virus. Which is me."
Dylan Hunt looked calm. His crew was unaware of the doubts he had. None of his anxieties played on his face. Only Rommie, standing at his side in her android form and in front of him on the viewscreen knew him well enough to see the faint lines of worry around his eyes. They needed those energy chits. The ship was still connected to the docking port so they could safely run Rommie's systems on half power, conserving what was left of the depleted reserves. When their docking permit ran out and they were forced to leave, they would have to switch back to full power. And there just wasn't that much left. The battles, numerous slipstream jumps, time travel, the black hole…they'd all taken there toll on the ships energy reservoirs.
"Dylan, I'm receiving a transmission. It's Krozan." Said Rommie.
Beka and Rev looked up from their stations as Krozan's face filled the viewer.
"Captain Hunt, I have considered your proposal and decided that I will trust you. One of my associates will deliver the merchandise you requested."
"One more thing, captain, I do not like being made to look like a fool. You gave me your word and I have taken it. Don't make me regret that. Or else it will be you and your crew who will regret it." And on that he cut the connection.
"It was such a pleasure doing business with you." Beka spat.
Dylan sat back in his chair but felt no relief at finally getting the supplies they so desperately needed. In fact his unease had doubled. On top of everything else, he now had Krozan to worry about.
He sighed, "at least it can't get much worse."
Tyr watched Trance and Harper from the bar. The pair had finally abandoned the gambling wheels and had taken up a table in the corner to eat. He saw their heads together as they bent over the menu and squabbled about what they would have.
He didn't envy them. But he witnessed their ability to settle into life on the Andromeda and wondered what that must be like. He hadn't felt at home for so long, he'd almost forgotten what that was like.
There was nothing for him on the Andromeda. No ties to his people. He'd stayed because it was convenient. And because there had been nothing else.
And now there was.
Life with Kale, however much he despised him had to be better than this non-existence he lived at the moment. Service to Krozan was equally unappealing, but the gains were greater there. Krozan was out for profit. At times it was almost like Dylan wanted to be a martyr to his cause…and take his crew with him. Tyr couldn't live like that.
The call came in from Rommie about half an hour later. It was time to return to the Andromeda. As Tyr stood to return to the ship he knew he wouldn't be leaving with them.
He followed several paces behind Trance and Harper, even though they had at one point slowed to allow him to catch them up. When would those children learn they weren't friends?
"So the one isn't a one, it's really an eleven?" Trance said holding up an Ace of Spades. There was irony somewhere in that he thought.
"Yes…No!" Harper shot Trance an exasperated look, "I mean, it is worth eleven, but it can also be a one if you want."
He fanned the cards out as they walked back towards the Andromeda. When he'd first offered to teach her how to play cards, it had seemed the simplest thing in the world. Now all it was doing was giving him a headache. "And the Jacks, Kings and Queens are worth ten."
"What are Jacks Kings and Queens?"
Harper pulled out the king of diamonds. "The ones with the pictures. See he's wearing a crown. And that's a Queen, she's got a crown too. And that ones the Jack."
Trance frowned and then pulled out a joker. "Is this a ten?"
"No that's a joker."
"But it's a picture!"
"Yeah but…" Harper snatched back the card, "that's for another game, OK?"
"OK." she agreed, reluctantly. They came to the airlock and went in. Two people were already in there. Dylan looked up when he saw the pair enter. He was taking possession of the energy chits from one of Krozan's men. "Just in time," he smiled.
The Nietzschean looked up and Harper froze. He could hear his own heart pounding in his chest as if it might explode. He could feel his own blood pumping hard, rushing through him like a great river. From a great distance he could see Dylan and Trance's faces staring into his. Their eyes were full of fear and oh God, they were touching him. Hands all over him, invading his personal space. And they were so close to him. Why did they have to be so close to him?
And there was something black and ugly clutching at his heart. It made him want to scream and hit out, rip reality to shreds so that he could find that blackness and end its existence.
But he couldn't do anything. Couldn't even draw enough breath to rise up, or to fight, or to push away those horrible, horrible hands touching his body. He was useless, a useless thing that couldn't fight. Weak. Vulnerable. Worthless.
And then it faded. Blackness into white. Pain into numbness.
And Seamus Harper began staring into space, his mind hiding in a bright and safe place.
Kale brought the chits to the airlock in a little cart but didn't push them any further than that. The whole thing was beneath him. Hunt held out a payment chip, which he took.
There were footsteps behind them and they both turned to see two of Hunt's crew walking towards them. A purple skinned…something and a blonde haired human boy.
The pair looked up and Hunt smiled, "just in time. Harper, how long before-"
The boy's eyes met Kale's and the blood drained from his face.
"Harper?" The purple thing asked, concerned.
But the boy didn't seem to hear, he began gasping for air, hyperventilating. His eyes were wide and full of panic.
Hunt was at his side in a moment, supporting him as the boy's legs gave way and he collapsed to the floor. "Beka! Get out here! Trance, go and get the medical deck ready."
Kale smiled. It was their problem. He had the payment and therefore no reason to stay. Let them deal with it. Turning on his heal he began walking away. Then he frowned and looked back, just for a moment. The boy had reacted to him. But they had never met.
The scene Tyr came upon was chaotic. Dylan and Trance were crouching over Harper. The boy was half sitting; half laying in Hunt's arms and the captain was trying to get some kind of verbal response and failing. Trance was holding a small bag over the boy's mouth, forcing him to breathe his own expelled oxygen. A simple, effective technique to ease hyperventilation. It appeared to be working; the boys panic was subsiding gradually. His eyes were glazing over.
Kale passed him and Tyr barely noticed. Then the Nietzschean stopped and turned back. "Tyr."
Tyr looked around at his old friend.
"If you desire a future worthy of a son of the Kodiak, I will take you to Krozan."
Tyr glanced back at Dylan and the others. He felt little actual concern for Harper but he did wonder what was wrong with him. Information was, after all, power. Knowledge was survival.
But the boy was often sickly. And who cared for the life of one small insignificant human child when his genetic future and his survival were in the balance?
Tyr looked away, focusing his eyes on Kale. On his brethren…and followed.
Harper lay on a medical examination bed, looking far younger than his years. He lay curled on his side; his eyes open yet un-seeing. Dylan paced up and down the med bay. This was the last thing they needed. Harper would have been primarily responsible for the replacing of the chits. Now they would have to work double shifts to get it done, and with less expertise than Harper had. It would be slower and time was something they just didn't have.
Dylan glanced at Trance, trying to read her expression and the curl of her tail. The alien girl was bent over the diagnostic computer scanning through the files to find the name of whatever it was that Harper had contracted. Both the name…and the right course of treatment. By the frown on her face she wasn't having much success.
"I don't get it."
Dylan turned to the speaker. It was Beka, leaning against the wall wearing the same concerned face he knew he had. "What do you mean?"
"He didn't look sick."
"So he was hiding it. I've noticed that he doesn't like to make a fuss."
"No," Beka sighed, "look, I've known Harper a long time. I know the way he thinks…mostly. And I always know when he's sick. And he wasn't sick!"
"He's not sick." Trance interrupted.
They both turned to the girl. She came up to them, "I ran every test I could and there's nothing wrong. No virus, no infection, no organ damage, nothing. He's just not sick."
Dylan was silent for a moment and then, "what about telepathic interference?"
"His brain waves are normal. I checked." Her eyes fell to the floor, "I checked everything and there's…he's just gone!"
Beka frowned, "gone?"
The alien looked up and nodded, "I think he's hiding."
Dylan was about to ask her to explain further when Rommie's hologrammic form appeared at his side. "Dylan, I know this isn't a good time but…"
"The chits, I know." He looked over at Beka, "Get Rev, meet me on the engineering level and we'll get started on installing the chits. When Tyr returns, send him down there too. Trance, Rommie, try to find a way to help Harper. Search through the security scans of the airlock, you might see something that can explain…" he nodded towards Harper. "Call me if find anything."
As they all left the medical bay, Beka couldn't help but glance back at Harper. What the hell was wrong with the kid? And why hadn't she known?
Removing the old and corrupted chits was the hardest part. They had warped in the trips trough time and fractured into pieces at the slightest touch. It spoke volumes for Harper's skills and natural talent that the internal systems worked as well as they had up 'til now.
Dylan carefully laid another old chit in the junk cart ready to be stored in a cargo hold. Harper would go ballistic when he was better if they'd simply chucked everything out. 'Waste not, want not, my mum always said.' He told them, 'besides, look at the size of this place, it's not like we don't have the room!'
Picking up another chit, Dylan slowly slid it into place and then began to connect it up. It was slow work but it couldn't be hurried. When it was finished ten minutes later, he touched a key on the control panel and it whirred happily. Dylan smiled. And then his smile vanished as the panel ground to a halt.
He checked through his connections. None were faulty or wrongly placed. Harper's voice echoed in his head, 'sometimes high tech problems require low tech solutions.'
Dylan chuckled at the thought and silently apologising to Rommie, thumped the panel. Lights came to life and it's little hum returned.
Dylan smiled, "it worked!"
And deep within the controls, the virus on the chit began to download and creep slowly through the ship.
The station's authority had taken some persuading to let them look at the airlock scans, but they had eventually handed over the tapes. Beka brought them down to the medical deck during one of her breaks and settled down beside Trance to watch.
The moment they were looking for was only a couple of minutes in length. Dylan was in the airlock, taking possession on the chits when Trance and Harper entered. Harper stopped and something crossed his face in an instant and he fell backwards, gasping for breath.
That was it.
They played the tape again. And again. And again.
But they could see nothing.
"Enlarge and enhance area 3G." Said Beka and the screen automatically zoomed in for a close up of Harper's face. "OK, run it again."
The little tableau played out again and Beka shivered unconsciously at the sudden shock on Harper's face. The depth of the pain in his eyes.
Something jolted in the back of her mind but she couldn't tell what it was.
A full 24 hours later, Rommie reported that they had enough power to detach from the docking port. Their permit was about to expire and although Dylan would have preferred to leave only when all the chit were installed and working, the docking authority wouldn't grant them an extension.
Their next port of call was the Di'Naarni homeworld where Dylan hoped to persuade it's leaders to ratify their Commonwealth agreements. And that was the direction Rommie began in, until Trance came quietly onto the bridge. "Dylan?"
He looked around.
"I think…" Her tail drooped down as far as it would go. He could see the pain and exhaustion in her eyes. "I can't help Harper…. I tried."
"I know you did. You are."
"I think we should get him to a proper medical centre."
"We have better facilities here."
"But not proper doctor's!" She looked up at him, pleadingly, "please!"
Dylan was silent for a long while. "OK."
Rommie's holo form blinked into existence at her side. "I can contact the president of Di'Naarni and ask for any assistance that he can give us."
"Will their doctors be experienced in human physiology?"
"I believe so. Di'Naarni has a large human colonial population."
Dylan nodded, "do that and prepare the ship for departure."
They all turned to Tyr who spoke as he strode onto the bridge.
"I am leaving."
"I am leaving the Andromeda."
"Why? What about Dylan?" Trance asked.
"This isn't about Dylan, it's about me. About my survival; my future."
"Where will you go?" Dylan asked.
"Yes. You're a member of my crew."
"Who wishes to leave."
"If that's your choice."
"It is." Tyr paused, then gave a little. Not something you saw a Nietzschean do very often. "Beta Krozan has offered me a position on his ship. I accepted."
Trance was outraged. "But you promised Dylan."
"You promised. I did not. I stayed because I had nothing better."
"And now you think you do?" Dylan asked.
"I know I do." Tyr met Dylan's gaze, "this ship, it's crew, it's mission, you're all doomed to failure. The sooner you face that the better. For all of us."
Hunt's eyes turned to steel. "We will not fail."
"Have it your way but I will not stay simply to be proved right."
Dylan's jaw tightened, he wished they had more time. That he had more time to persuade Tyr to stay. But they didn't.
"I can't say we won't miss your expertise. Or that we don't need you. Because we do. But I also can't stop you."
"No, you can't."
"Then there's only one thing I can do…" And he held out his hand in one of the oldest human gestures around. Tyr stared at it, his lip curled slightly in disgust.
Then he turned and walked out.
Dylan sat in the slipstream chair staring at the viewscreen. If Sara were here she would probably tell him to stop brooding. It wouldn't bring Tyr back. He was alone on the bridge. As alone as he could be with Rommie's ever present around him. Her android body was down in engineering, helping Beka and Rev fit the rest of the chits. They would need to be up to full capacity before they could attempt a slipstream jump.
Sometime later, he'd stopped by the medical bay earlier to check on Harper. Trance told him to just talk to the boy. 'I think that helps.' She'd said and he believed her. Trance always seemed to know these things.
So he'd explained that Tyr had left and that the chits were almost all in place. And assured him that nothing had been disposed of.
Then he'd gone to bed.
Beka had called in the small hours of the morning to say the work was finished. And that she and Rev were off to bed, no arguments. He'd bid them goodnight and returned to the bridge.
He sat in the slipstream chair and checked the navigation. When he was satisfied everything was in order, he activated the controls and the whole ship seemed to shift to the right.
An alarm sounded.
Dylan looked up. "What!"
Rommie appeared at his side, clutching her head as if in pain. "Get it out now!"
"Get what out? Rommie!"
He tapped at the controls furiously. "Exiting slipstream!" But nothing happened, "Rommie!"
But the Andromeda's holo form fizzed once and was gone.
Her face reappeared on the screen in front of him and Dylan felt a rush of relief. The ship's alarm continued to sound as the Andromeda careened out of control.
"What the hell is happening?" Beka's voice screamed over the comm.
"Get up here!" He yelled back, "we've got trouble!"
Dylan pulled himself to his feet, barely able to maintain his balance as the ship lurched beneath his feet. He stumbled to the override command controls, grabbed them and held on as he tapped his command codes into the computer. With a hiss, a small hatch opened to reveal a lever. He looked upward and yelled into the communicator. "All hands, brace yourselves!"
He slowly counted to twenty, giving the crew time to secure themselves, then pulled the lever. The air around him seemed to scream and turn to stone, crushing him. The ship tumbled out of the slipstream abruptly and without any of the usual failsafes. It spun over and over; rolling on a momentum that would never cease in space.
"Rommie! Reverse thrusters!"
The weight of the g-force was suffocating him, he couldn't breathe and tiny black pinpoints began to dance in his vision. "Try…harder!" He croaked.
Then the pressure stopped and Dylan collapsed to the floor, gulping air into his tortured lungs.
"Is everyone alright?" He gasped into the comm as soon as he was able.
Beka's voice came back to him loudly as nothing but an incomprehensible stream of swearing.
Trance sat up and gingerly touched her mouth to check if she still had a lip. She could taste her own blood and knew she'd bitten down hard on it when she'd fallen to the floor. It was still there, she realised with relief. But it was going to hurt like seven shades of crap for the next day or so.
The next thing she checked was her tail, which was undamaged. And then she remembered.
Climbing painfully to her feet, she limped into the medical bay, guessing from the sharp stabbing and it's refusal to allow her to put any weight on it that her ankle was broken.
Harper was still sitting up in bed, held in place by the protective forcefields the bed automatically put up the moment the ship had gone into the slipstream. She went to his side and checked him over, just to be sure. He was fine. But his eyes were still dull and lifeless. Even the terrible danger the ship…his Andromeda…was in had failed to even stir him.
Dylan's voice sounded over the intercom, "is everyone alright?"
She ruffled Harper's hair sadly and wished she could say 'yes.'
Krozan stared at Tyr, openly appraising him and his usefulness. The Nietzschean returned his stare unflinchingly. Murrain watched the two men, trying to read his bosses expression. This was unexpected. And largely unwelcome. Tyr was a member of Hunt's crew and while he did not appear to hold much loyalty to the High Guard, he might balk at helping Krozan send Hunt and the others to hell.
Murrain looked over at Kale. He stood at the back of the room, his amusement clearly on his face. He was enjoying this. Enjoying watching Krozan squirm like a worm on a hook.
"Put him in the brig." Krozan concluded.
Tyr had no time to react before the guards had him.
"Relax, Tyr, it is only for now. I have some important business to attend to and I don't have time to waste if you decided to interfere."
Halfway to the bridge, Rev found her. The android body of the ship's artificial intelligence lay crumpled on the deck. He knelt at her side and brushed her hair back. Her skin was pale and clammy.
Her eyelids fluttered open.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Bridge," she murmured and her eyes closed again.
Rev carefully picked her up and began to carry her through the corridors.
Dylan looked up as Rev came through the doors with Rommie in his arms. Dylan quickly crossed the bridge and took her from him. He laid her in the slipstream chair and lent over her.
"Rommie?" He asked.
She lifted her head a little and then it fell back. Dylan turned to her face on the viewscreen but the AI looked distant as if checking her systems.
"What the hell is going on?" Beka demanded as she strode onto the bridge.
"A virus has been introduced into my systems." Rommie explained, "it's freezing all of the networks and controls it passes through. Navigation, helm, slipstream. I have only 36% of my normal operating memory left and that percentage is falling rapidly."
"How long before life support is affected?" Dylan asked.
"The oxygen supply is maintained by the plants in the hydroponics, but gravity will cease in approximately 26 hours, environmental and heating controls will fail in 16. The temperature will begin dropping rapidly and in approximately two hours, forty-seven minutes afterwards, it will reach a level intolerable to humans."
"And then what happens, we freeze to death?" Beka asked.
"No," Dylan answered, "if we can't find a way to destroy the virus, we can take the Maru."
"Is there a way to destroy it?"
"The virus appears to have an unencrypt code built in," replied Rommie, "presumably so whoever created it can purge the systems and take control of the ship."
Beka sensed what was coming, "but?"
"I have no way of finding that code."
"What about Harper?" Beka said. "Couldn't he…?"
"If he were here, yes. Human biological neural nets have their own protective systems."
Beka frowned, "protective…" And then her eyes widened. "Oh my God!"
Dylan and Rev looked at her questioningly.
"When me and Trance looked at the security scans, I knew there was something familiar about Harper's reaction. I saw it on the newscasts of the New Colia earthquake. The kids were like statues, mute. They were protecting themselves from the memories."
"Yeah, and Harper's got a lot of 'em. Most are bad!"
"And you think something triggered one in Harper?"
"We need him back, Dylan." Rommie said, "he could be our best chance of breaking the virus."
"I know. Rommie, can you protect as much of your program as you can against this virus?"
"I am currently transferring all remaining memory and data files to my body. Her…my body is a relatively separate component. It will take the virus longer to freeze those files."
"How much longer?"
"About 6 hours."
"That'll have to be enough." Dylan sighed, "when you've finished go down to medical and help Trance to reach Harper."
"And what do we do?" Beka asked.
"Try to decrypt."
"You have any better idea's?"
He was eleven. No, he was ten. He had to be ten. He had to stay ten. I'm ten. I'm ten. I'm ten. I'm ten. I'm ten. I'm ten. Not a good age, that gap between childhood and the growing responsibilities of young adulthood. He was still a boy; he still played by the river…
The river…Don't think of the river…
He still played like a child, still kicked a ball around with little conscious skill. But other things were before him now. Like girls who no longer seemed sooo bad. And the wetness in his night-clothes some mornings when he awoke.
The different thoughts in his head…
Thoughts…don't think about it…don't talk about. Podraig's voice echoed around him, "we will never speak of this, Seamus."
And they hadn't. To no one, not even his mother and father. And they hadn't noticed! He didn't understand how they couldn't see something was wrong. Night terrors, bed wetting, moodiness…And every time he saw the river, he'd remember…
NO! NO! NO! Don't make me remember!
Eleven-year-old Harper's heart began to beat hard, the sound booming across the river. He turned and searched the night, maybe this time he would see him first. Maybe this time he could escape. He began to run along the bank of the filthy river, his feet slipping in the sticky mud. A hand grabbed him while another clamped over his mouth, preventing him from screaming for help that would never come. Harper struggled in his assailant's grip, kicking out wildly, gaining nothing but sickening blows to the head.
"If you move again, I will kill you."
He froze in an instant; the only thing he couldn't still was the rapid rise and fall of his chest. He stared at his attacker.
He wore that same face as the Nietzschean in airlock.
©T S "NORTHERN STAR" FENN