Disclaimer: Andromeda and characters are the property of Tribune

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

By NorthernStar

****6****

The android body of Rommie walked into medical. Trance looked up from her seat beside Harper. The young man, who usually reacted favourably to Rommie's appearance, did not move. Trance had connected a drip feed to his hand to prevent him from dehydrating. He looked like a little boy, small and frightened.

She had seen him as little boy, but did not remember it. The files were sealed under privacy and she could not access them. She only knew that because he'd let it slip once. It had piqued her interest but she could not open the memory.

Rommie knelt at his side. "Harper?"

Trance looked hopeful. She knew how much Harper cared for the AI. But there was nothing, no response at all.

"Mr Harper!" Rommie said sharply and she lay a hand on his shoulder. The young man flinched back.

He flinched!

Trance was there in a second, "Harper?"

But he was still again. Her tail drooped down between her legs. She turned to Rommie, "isn't there anything you can do? What about an interface?"

"My systems are too corrupted, I could easily fry his brain if I wasn't careful. And even if I were operating at full capacity, the trauma of an interface now would only cause more damage. We have to reach him with words. He has to come out of this on his own."

"I've tried words!" Trance cried, "it's not working."

The android frowned at the note of panic in her voice. "When was the last time you took a break?"

She looked awkward, "not that long." She lied, "I have to be here for Harper. I'm not going to leave him alone!"

"He's not alone now. I can stay with him. Go and get some sleep. You won't be doing Harper any good if you're too tired to think straight."

"I can't just go and sleep. The ship-"

"That's an order, Trance."

The alien's purple skinned face held a desperate expression, "Rommie…please!"

"I'll call you the moment anything happens."

Trance paused, glanced once at Harper then her tail curled close to her body and she turned to go.

********

Tyr paced the small cell, his fists and jaw clenched tight. He hated being caged. He'd been stupid, trusting Kale's word. He knew his former friend too well and yet his desire to leave the Andromeda and pursue a more worthwhile future had blinded him. He looked at the security panel on the cell door for the thousandth time. It seemed to tempt him. He went over to it and his fingers hovered over the keys.

"I wouldn't try it if I were you. Fatal electrical discharge if it's tampered with."

Tyr took his hand away and turned to the speaker. Kale stood looking at him through the electro bars.

"Why am I being caged like some Deevan circus lion?"

"Krozan simply wants you out of the way while we collect a bit of interstellar garbage." Kale smiled, "you should be thanking me, I've saved your life. Call it a payment for the years of good company you gave me as a child."

"What do you mean?"

"That garbage, it's your ship, the Andromeda. She's dead in space and if her crew aren't as well, they soon will be."

********

It hurt. Hurt so badly nothing else existed but the pain. His flesh tore; warm blood trickled.

And he didn't move, didn't fight back.

Why didn't I fight back?

And then it stopped and the pain lessened, but it didn't go away. Bodily it would in time, in his heart it never had.

Harper huddled on the ground, the mud seeping through his ripped clothes. He was shaking hard. The Nietzschean grabbed him and hauled him to his feet. The eleven-year-old Harper whimpered in terror.

No more! He prayed silently. No more please!

"Filth!" The Nietzschean spat and threw him forcefully backwards. The boy splashed into the river. "That's where you vermin belong!"

The cold water was a perverse blessing, numbing his torn flesh, relieving the pain and washing the scent of his abuser from his skin.

No, I'll never be rid of it! I've tried. It won't wash off.

Tears came then, in the stillness that followed. The quiet that filled the night after the man had left him. His thin body shook from the cold and the shock as silent tears tracked his cheeks.

"Seamus…" Someone called. Podraig…. Podraig had found him back then. But it was not Podraig who had spoken his name; this voice was feminine.

It's Trance… some part of him recognised. He felt her hands on him, touching him, invading him.

Hands grabbing him, pushing him down, ripping his clothes….

NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

It all began again.

********

Dylan and Beka looked up from the engineering panels as Rommie walked in. They'd been working non-stop on the unencrypt code for the last five hours and they were no where near an answer.

"How is he?" Asked Dylan.

"Not good." Rommie said. "I just don't know what to do. It would help if we knew what the memory was that triggered this."

"And the Andromeda?"

"We have six hours before full system failure." She stood up straighter, "captain, I believe it is time you abandon ship. The docking controls are still operational but I can't guarantee they will be for much longer. I suggest you and the rest of the crew take the Maru and escape before whoever set this virus gets here."

"No, the Andromeda is my ship, I'm not just going to leave while there's still a chance."

"And the rest of us?" Beka stood up. "We are not going to die because you're too proud to cut your losses for once."

Dylan's eyes were regretful. "I know. And I'm not asking you to stay and help me save my ship…"

"Look, we can give you a couple of hours. Rommie, how long before the docking controls are affected?"

"Th…Thr-threeeee…." The android clutched her chest and fell to the deck.

****7****

"Rommie!"

"Ship…" Rommie whispered, "docking. They must…. have over…rode the…"

"What's their registration?"

"Un…known."

Dylan looked up at Beka. "Help Rommie back to medical. I'm going to greet our guests."

********

Kale prepped his rifle, re-checking the charge. He was careful and that was why he was still alive. He glanced at the other's in the boarding parting. A dozen of Krozan's best men. Men he respected but didn't trust to watch his back.

The landing ramp clanked to the floor of the Andromeda's docking bay and the party moved out. Kale felt a surge of adrenaline. He lived for moments like this.

********

Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. So bright and so sharp that the need to scream was as much a part of him as the need to breath. But the only screams he made were in his mind and they did not even scratch the surface of that need.

Harper's only real cries were the whimpering of a child uncomprehending of its fate. Only knowing that in a world of adults he trusted he must somehow have deserved this punishment.

********

Trance brought two mugs of hot chocolate into the medical bay. Harper still sat up on the bed, his arms around his knees, clutching them to him. He hadn't moved for that position. She sat down on the bed beside him and held out a mug.

"Harper?"

Nothing, not even the flinch she'd seen earlier.

"It's chocolate." She said. "I made it myself."

Still no response, he didn't even blink. Trance sighed and took his unresisting hand and folded his fingers around the mug. Then she guided the cup up to his mouth.

"See, it's your favourite." She murmured as she parted his lips with the rim of the mug and poured just a tiny taste into his mouth. Harper swallowed it down but she didn't know if it was a conscious effort or whether it was just a reflex.

"Is it OK?" She asked, "I wasn't sure about all of the ingredients so I just guessed."

Nothing.

"Just smile…please…" Trance whispered, "…I miss you."

But there was no response and her hands loosened around the mug in her disappointment. The cup slipped from Harper's limp fingers and the hot liquid tipped over Trance's hand and she yelped.

"You stupid-" Then she stopped, it wasn't his fault. She pulled one of the blankets off of the bed and began wiping her hand. The burn was the last straw and hours of worry and tension came flooding out. Tears formed in her eyes and fell down her cheeks. A wave of tiredness swept over her and she let the tears come. She simply sat there and cried.

A finger reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek. Trance looked up. Harper was studying the drop of moisture on his fingertip as tears of his own tracked down his face. He met her eyes.

"I didn't know you cried." He murmured.

With a sob, she flung her arms around him. Trance felt his body rack with sobs and she held him even tighter.

********

Dylan watched the ship from the alcove where he and Rev Bem crouched. It was Krozan's cruiser, the Bright Raven. It made sense…the chits. The Raven's ramp clanked onto the deck and a volley of blasts rained out, clearing the area of any fools so stupid as to approach.

A group of armed men walked down the ramp, Dylan quickly counting them. There were twelve. He'd expected to be outnumbered, by not by so many. But the High Guard had always taught him that strategy rather than force was more likely to win a war. Particularly, as in this case, they fought on familiar ground.

The group stepped into the corridor, not a few metres from where they were concealed. "Piece of cake," one of the men decided.

Dylan hit him with a blast from his force lance and he fell to the ground.

********

Beka's arm was aching by the time she and Rommie reached medical. With every step the android had leaned heavier on Beka and it was a relief to finally put her onto a bed and get some circulation going in her arm again. She looked up and then frowned, Harper's bed was empty and Trance was gone.

"Trance?" She called.

The alien girl came into the room from the little bathroom at the back of the bay. And she wasn't alone.

"Harper!" Beka was over to him in an instant, pulling him to her in a fierce hug. The young man stiffened at her touch and after a second, returned her embrace awkwardly. Then his eyes fell on Rommie, lying on the bed and he let go.

"Rommie!"

"She's been invaded by a virus." Beka quickly explained, "Harper, you gotta get in there and work on an unencrypt code."

"But he's just-" Objected Trance.

"I know, but if he doesn't find a way to purge the virus, we're all dead."

"Back up a minute, OK?" Harper told them. "Virus? We're all dead?"

"The bad news: life support is ready to fail any minute but the good news is whoever set the virus in place had just docked and will probably kill us all long before we freeze to death."

"Anything else?"

"You really want there to be more?"

Harper grinned and it was good to see. Then his face became serious and Beka allowed herself to feel a flash of pride in her crewman. "Trance," Harper said, "where's my belt? I need a lead so I can jack into the system."

Beka pulled out her force lance. "I'm gonna go help Dylan and Rev slow the boarding party down. Harper?"

The young man looked up from the control panel he was defacing to get to the core processors, "yeah?"

"Be quick, I'm guessing there's more of them than there is of us and we're gonna be needing Rommie's help."

********

"Fall back!"

At Dylan's cry, Rev began running backwards, covering his own escape with a volley of fire. There assault had gone badly after they'd lost that element of surprise and they were forced to retreat, ducking through the corridors. He heard a patter of footfalls racing in their direction and he risked a glance backwards. It was Beka, headed towards them at full speed.

"Can I join the party?"

Dylan flashed her a quick grin then his body jerked and fell backwards, knocking Beka to the floor. She gasped when she saw the red stain on his shoulder.

It was blood.

****8****

Harper sat in front of the main medical terminal, which was now open and Gerry rigged with cables and circuit boards, added on. He held up a long metal connector and looked around at Trance.

"Wish me luck," he said and slid the connector into his jack. A brief flash of pain crossed his face and then he fell backwards as his consciousness rushed towards the central computer.

********

"Dylan!"

But Hunt was already climbing to his feet, clutching his shoulder to stem the flow of blood. "It's just a flesh wound," he assured her, "I'll be OK."

Beka saw the grimace of pain on his face, "you don't look OK."

"Dylan!" Rev said, "they're breaking into groups."

"How many?"

"Four."

"And only 3 of us." Beka said, "what about the fourth?"

Dylan looked upwards, "Rommie, if you can, track the teams." He looked back at the others; "we'll deal with the last when we can."

And then praying that the AI had heard him, and was able to comply, they each took a direction and began following the teams.

********

The inside was screeching; a jumble of computations unable to function battered him like a flag in the wind. Images flashed incomplete, moments captured by the ship's cameras over the years. Thousands of them, most just mere fragments, a dizzying, nauseating blend that turned his stomach.

Somewhere in here was the virus; he could feel the Andromeda's panic as more and more of her consciousness was eaten away.

Then he saw it…the virus. His mind interpreting it as a creeping vine. But one of data, not of organic matter. It was spreading outwards, coiling around the computations, and choking the AI's life the same way Ivy smothers a tree.

Harper bent down and reached out a hand. The moment his fingers brushed the vine his body was filled with an electrical surge and he was blown backwards by the force.

********

They were headed for engineering, Beka guessed. It made sense. That and the bridge were the places to go if you were going to take over a ship. Knowing that she'd skirted round to get ahead of them and hoping all the time she hadn't been wrong about their destination.

She quickly went to the central computer core on the bridge. Harper loved this place but the exhaust shaft that the bridge spanned was the depth of the entire ship.

And it was a long way down.

Ignoring the vertigo she felt, Beka pulled the façade off of the computer and looked up, "sorry Harper," she said and began cannibalising the controls, setting a little surprise for their guests.

********

He could smell their fear of him. Rev smiled. His race's reputation for bloodshed was not something he was proud of, but sometimes that reputation came in useful. When one of the men had caught sight of him, he choked back a cry and Rev had sprayed him with venom in an instant. He had the other disabled in a second. Then he looked around for the third. A Nietzschean.

But he was gone.

********

Harper climbed to his feet. The equations swarming around him had cushioned his landing. He smiled; Rommie was helping. It felt good.

The vines had grown thicker now and he realised he'd have to go deeper into the core. The Andromeda's AI environment was huge, far larger than any he'd ever entered before and in other circumstances a trip through Rommie's 'mind' would be incredible.

But there was no time to enjoy it; he had to find the answer. It was here somewhere, he could feel it.

He just had to find it.

********

Trance knelt at Harper's side. Beads of sweat stood out on his tension creased brow. She frowned, worried. His mental plane was still reeling from whatever shock he'd had. She didn't know what had caused it but she'd seen the pain that he'd been in…that he was still in, and in some strange sense, she'd felt it too.

Awkwardly, unsure of her own motivations, the girl sat down cross-legged on the floor and slipped her arms around him. His lean body felt cold and the scent of his sweat, fresh and musky, surrounded her. But she found she was uncomfortable in this position and she shifted slightly, her head brushed against his chest.

Dur-thump… Dur-thump…Dur-thump…Dur-thump…

She let her head rest there when she heard it, even though her neck muscles cried out at the odd way she was sitting.

Dur-thump… Dur-thump…Dur-thump…Dur-thump…

Harper's heartbeat was the only sound she heard.

And it was beautiful…

********

Dur-thump… Dur-thump…Dur-thump…Dur-thump…

Harper looked around. The sound of the heartbeat seemed to come from everywhere and every when, and yet he knew it came only from himself.

The data vines grew thicker here, woven so tight that they made the ground that he walked on and the ceiling above him. He had not dared to touch them with his bare hands again. But now, listening to the steady beat, he wanted to rip away the vines to release that heart so that the sound could carry, go on forever.

His fingers brushed the vines…

…And it crumbled to dust.

And the vines, on which the dust fell, crumbled too…and those that dust touched….

And so on, and so on….

********

Beka watched from the rafters, keeping her eyes firmly on the men and not daring to look down. The group crossed the bridge, heading for the main slipstream controls. Two forcefields sprang up on either side of them, trapping them on the bridge.

Beka dropped down and smiled through the mist of the field. "Better luck next time, boys."

********

The android body of Rommie opened her eyes and sat up. She was on a medical bed. Getting up she walked into the main area and saw Trance sitting with Harper who was interfacing. She could still feel his minuscule presence deep within her consciousness. It would take a while for him to surface from there and she didn't have time to wait.

"Rommie!" Trance smiled, "does this mean-?"

"Yes. Now help me get to the bridge, someone is trying to access my neural net from there."

********

Harper reached for his neck port, ready to come out. An image, cleared of the virus, flashed. A boarding party split into groups. One of the teams on the bridge, followed by dead and disabled faces, then an image of the engineering bridge…and finally of one single man.

A Nietzschean, creeping through the ship.

Harper's mind screamed in rage.

It was him.

****9****

Harper pulled the connector out and got to his feet. He knew this ship like the back of his hand and he knew the image of the Nietzschean had been of section 31 of deck 19. It wasn't that far from here.

He picked up his tool belt and then decided against it. It was balky and heavy; it would slow him down. Besides there was only one thing he needed from it anyway.

He pulled the force lance from its holster and tucked it into his trousers.

The nightmare was going to end.

He felt almost giddy with the relief. After all these years, he'd be free…

********

Dylan had field dressed his wound and the pain had receded slightly. But only slightly, it seemed to eat away at his arm and turn his fingers into lead. He was glad he'd taken the hit on his left side. The team he was following had reached the armoury and he watched as they examined the many weapons there. They were completely useless without Rommie to control them and he was content to let the men be distracted by the vast array of weaponry. One broke off from the others and wandered close to him. Dylan jumped him as silently as he could from behind and knocked him cold. As he was tying him up, Rommie's holo form appeared between the last two.

"Get off my ship!" She ordered and the men spun around, firing.

And each man fell to the ground as the other's blast passed harmlessly through the hologram and hit him.

Dylan stood up, admiring her work. "Rommie, are you-?"

"I'm fine, Dylan. Harper did it; the virus is being purged. My systems are now operating at 42% of normal."

"And the rest of them?" He pointed to the men on the deck.

"There are only four left, 3 are on the bridge attempting to gain access to the computer core. I have alerted Beka and Rev and they are on their way there. The other is on deck 19."

"What is he doing?"

"Unknown." Then her eyes went distant for a second. "Harper's on his way up to deck 19. Dylan, I think he's going there to commit murder."

********

Beka saw Trance and Rommie further down the corridor, headed towards the bridge. She smiled when she saw that Rommie was walking. Harper had done it.

Rommie strode onto the bride and the 3 men turned and fired. A forcefield came up in front of her and the blasts bounced harmlessly off.

"I am Andromeda…." She said and they fell to the floor as the gravity in their area increased tenfold. "And you are finished here."

Beka and Rev burst in, force lance's ready. Beka looked at the crumpled men and returned her lance to her belt. "I feel so unappreciated."

"Then don't," said Rommie, "its not over."

"What?"

"The Bright Raven has taken off and is preparing to attack. My defensive systems are not yet fully functional."

"Are you saying the Andromeda is a sitting duck?"

********

Kale watched the Bright Raven arc through the night from the observation window. He should have guessed Krozan's nerve would fail the moment he'd lost contact with his men. Then the Raven looped back, turned towards the Andromeda. Kale felt a shiver convulse him as he saw the gunports spit fire. Krozan was as spiteful bastard; if he couldn't have the High Guard ship, no one could.

A second later, the deck beneath him lurched sickeningly and alarms began to sound.

********

"Murder?"

"Just before he came out of the interface, he saw that Nietzschean on the security scanners." Rommie explained, "I caught his last motivation before he separated. He was going to kill him."

"Why? Because he's a Nietzschean?"

"I don't know."

"We have to get to Harper. He must still be in shock." He began down the corridor just as the ship lurched under the Raven's attack and Dylan stumbled to his feet. A violent stab of pain coursed through him as he landed on his injured arm.

Before he could ask what had happened, Rommie said. "The Bright Raven is firing on us."

"I've got to get to the bridge."

"What about Harper?"

"You'll have to deal with that."

"Dylan, he's still in shock, he could get himself killed. I'm a hologram, I won't be able to help him!"

"I understand that, but it's a question of priories and right now, that's the Andromeda and all the lives aboard her."

"The defences are still down, there's nothing you can do. Beka is going to the Maru to defend the ship."

Hunt's face betrayed his emotions. He couldn't win both wars; there wasn't two of him. He took a deep breath, "where on deck 19?"

"Section 31."

Hunt began jogging in that direction, stumbling occasionally when the ship rocked under fire. "What is he doing?"

Rommie looked distant, checking the scanners for that location. "I believe he is watching the battle from the observation window."

Dylan threw her an incredulous look, "nothing else?"

"No, however his appearance matches the Nietzschean who was in the airlock when Harper had his attack."

"Beka thought it was a memory."

"I would support that theory based on medical data in my core net."

But Dylan frowned as he stopped at the stairwell and began up the ladder, "but Harper's never reacted that way to Tyr. He's always been jumpy around him, but I just thought that was natural, growing up on Earth."

Growing up on Earth…. Rommie straightened up and Dylan noticed her face had become even more official. "Dylan, I have a small portion of Harper's memories in my net." She paused, "However I cannot access them. They are sealed under a privacy order from Harper himself."

"Sounds like a man with something to hide."

"Dylan, as captain you have the authority to override his order."

"That would be an invasion of his privacy. Everyone is entitled to keep things hidden, and that includes Harper."

"Perhaps, however I do believe if we want to solve this, it is nessicary."

Dylan jumped the last few feet onto the deck, "Andromeda, privacy override, authorisation Hunt, Captain. 6295 alpha blue."

"Accessing."

Rommie scanned the memory in an instant. It was short piece of the young man's history. His first love's death…and argument that it had brought about. One sentence echoed… "I get raped by some Nietzschean but let's not talk about that!"

And then the flash of the man on Deck 19…and Harper's sudden tumult of feelings. Pain and fear and a depth of shame and sorrow to great to ever be described…and recognition.

"Dylan, the Nietzschean didn't trigger the memory. He made the memory." Her voice was quiet; "he raped him."

********

Harper turned the corner and froze. The Nietzschean who had dirtied his soul forever, and who had haunted him in his dreams and his thoughts stood staring out of the window. Something he and the others had done on so many occasions. The normality, the inherent peace of it enraged him. How dare this bastard sully the only thing of beauty and calmness in his world?

He raised his forcelance, his finger stroking the trigger. He stayed in that position for a long while, steeling himself to shoot a man in cold blood…and in the back.

"Turn round!" He ordered him, hearing the crack of panic in his own voice. The child inside of him screaming at him, crying bitter tears at the thought of seeing that man's face again.

Kale spun about, raising his blaster and Harper's finger pressed the trigger. The Nietzschean flung himself to the ground and the blast missed him by a hair. But the jolt as the man hit the floor sent his weapon skittering away across the deck.

Harper's legs felt like lead as he approached him, his blood roaring in his ears. He wasn't the victim this time…but his body shook in terror as if he was.

He felt hot tears fall down his cheeks and he was breathing hard and fast. He aimed his weapon, "you bastard!"

****10****

Krozan watched the Andromeda jolt under their attack and try to manoeuvre out of the line of fire. It was heartening to see. Large powerful ships like that at the mercy of his smaller one. Then the smile disappeared from his face as his ship jerked as if hit.

"Sir!" Yelled Murrain, "a ship has moved to attack us."

"On screen."

The Andromeda blinked away to be replaced by a far more clunky looking ship. The Eureka Maru.

"Valentine!"

********

Tyr was thrown to the floor when the ship lurched. He was up on his feet in a moment. He'd guessed Dylan would not allow his ship to be taken so easily, the crew had discovered his tenacity for themselves when they had tried to claim her.

The ship shook again and this time the system's failure effected the doors. The cell door fizzled and spat little sparks. He pushed it and yanked his hand away quickly as the searing heat burnt the flesh of his hand right to the bone.

But no matter, there were more important things to consider. Like the cell door, swinging open and inviting.

********

Dylan stopped in horror at what he saw. Harper stood over the Nietzschean; his forcelance aimed at the man head.

"Harper, no!" Dylan cried.

"Get out!"

"No, I'm not leaving. I'm not going to let you do this."

"If you come any closer, Dylan, I'll do it!"

"No you won't." He said and took a step nearer the distressed young man.

"Why not?"

"Because you're not a killer."

"He deserves this."

"I know."

"No you don't," Harper wept, "no one does."

"Rommie did, Harper, remember?" He pleaded, creeping ever closer, "you were sick, she uploaded a piece of her program into your cranium. She saw what you saw. I know what he did to you."

Harper's eyes stole a glance at the holo form behind Hunt.

"I don't even know who you are!" Kale screamed at him.

Harper yelled out in rage. To not even be remembered somehow made it worse. He squeezed the trigger and the man cowered.

"No!" Dylan ordered, "if you kill him like this you'll be just as evil as he is."

"Why shouldn't I kill him?" Harper's voice was cracked with a bitter sorrow. He sounded like he genuinely wanted to know the answer. "Because that's what the heroes always do? I don't care…all I want is to go to bed…just once, and not be afraid he's gonna come for me again."

"You will. He'll go to trail…and then to prison. He won't be able to come for you."

"And that's supposed to be justice?"

Dylan took the final step and was next to the young man, he reached out and took the forcelance from his unresisting fingers. "Maybe not," he replied, "but neither is killing him."

********

Inside the Maru, the ship was breaking to pieces around them. Beka felt hot tears sting her eyes, after all these years, the ship…her ship, was going to die. Her father would be so ashamed of her.

"Beka, I'm receiving a transmission!"

"Put it on screen."

Tyr's face blinked onto the viewer. "Having trouble?"

"Tyr!"

The Nietzschean smiled, "Krozan and I have had a little chat about the finer points of interstellar piracy and he's decided to give himself up."

Beka smiled, "wish I could have seen that conversation."

"I think you would have approved. I'm bringing the Raven into the Andromeda."

"Couldn't stay away, huh?"

"Fortunately for you. But not for me."

*******

The crew of the Raven was confined to their ship while the Andromeda carried them to the central justice authority for this sector. Only Kale was not returned to the ship, he was detained in the Andromeda's cells while the ship made the relatively short slipstream jump to Earth where they could hand him over to the justice department.

Harper had been quiet since Dylan had taken his forcelance away from him and led him up to the bridge. Hunt had worried about his silence but he was still alert, which he took to be a good sign. The kid had a lot to think about. He'd slipped away from the bridge and although Rommie had followed, he'd looked back at her and the anger in his eyes told her he didn't want to deal with her right now.

Dylan saw him go. His drive to restore the commonwealth had turned to a burning need the moment Rommie had told him what Harper had hidden in his past. No more children would suffer the way Harper had even if he had to die to fulfil that promise.

When the ship exited the slipstream back into normal space, Rommie looked up from her station; her eyes seemed to be looking inward of herself as if checking something in the ship. "Dylan," she said, "its Kale. His cell had been breached. He's escaped."

********

Harper walked behind Kale in silence, holding his forcelance in the small of the Nietzschean. It had been relatively easy work overriding Rommie's systems to open the cell, almost as easy as disabling the internal scanners without Rommie's knowledge. They would never know how Kale got out.

The Nietzschean had asked a number of questions, none of which Harper cared to answer. His only response to the man's inquiry as to where they were going was, "you'll see."

"So you're just going to kill me now there's no one here to stop you?"

Harper looked away, hating the feel of the Nietzschean's eyes on him. "If I was gonna kill ya, you'd be dead already."

Harper stopped at the outer hull where a line of life capsules ran for as far as the eye could see. Harper jiggled the forcelance, signalling Kale should get in the one next to them. Kale refused to move.

"So you're going to make it look like an accident? I just happen to get in the only faulty capsule and get blown to pieces."

"I think I'd enjoy seeing that," Harper said quietly, "but I've done nothing to the capsule. I'm not going to kill you. You deserve it, you bastard, but I'm not gonna let you take even more of my life from me."

Kale frowned, "I don't know what the hell it is you think I did to you, kid, but I've never seen you before in my life."

Harper's voice was hollow and lifeless; "you raped me." There were no tears now, he couldn't cry anymore. It was over. He was going to make it over. "I was eleven years old and you raped me."

Kale was silent but Harper doubted it was because of shame. "Mistaken identity kid, I didn't do anything to you."

"I've seen you're face in my head every day, I'm not mistaken."

Kale took a step forward, looking him up and down. "You grew up beautiful." He whispered.

With a cry of rage, Harper pushed the man into the capsule. He aimed his lance at the Nietzschean sprawled on the bottom of the capsule. His hand shook…

Then he threw the lance away and hit the release. The capsule fell away into space and Harper prayed it was taking his nightmares with it.

********

Dylan found him in the engineering tunnels an hour later. He tried to make it look like he was engrossed in checking the efficiency of the energy chits. He was pleased to see that, despite the virus, they were made from top quality materials. Krozan hadn't wanted his prize damaged.

Dylan sat down beside him, wincing a little at the tenderness in his injured shoulder. The captain hadn't mentioned anything of what had happened up on deck 19 or of what he'd learned from Rommie and he was grateful for his discretion. He hated the thought of anyone knowing.

"Kale's gone." Dylan said eventually. Harper made himself react to that with a sharp look in the captain's direction. Hunt had no idea that all he felt was relief that Kale had got away and hadn't been traced. "He took one of the life capsules. He must have somehow overridden the tracking device. There's no way we can find him, I'm sorry."

"Yeah…" Harper murmured, "yeah me too…"

Epilogue: The Choices That We Make.

Tyr looked up as Dylan walked into the ball court holding a basketball and dressed ready for a game.

"I suppose you came here to gloat over my return to your little fold."

"Gloat?" Dylan smiled, "me? No. I came for a game." And bounced the ball once.

"I wanted to leave and you pretend like nothing happened."

"It was your choice, Tyr."

"That's right it was, and I'll make it again." They stared at each other. Both of them were unwilling to look away first. Tyr's lip curled, "Game?" He asked finally.

"You won't run out on me before the final whistle?"

Tyr glared even more at Hunt's humour. "No."

"Then let's play."

********

Harper swallowed the last drop of coffee in his mug and poured himself another. He had so much caffeine in his system he was almost shaking. It was nearly three in the morning but he wasn't going to bed. He didn't want to sleep. He didn't want to dream.

The door chimed politely and he got up. When he opened the door he was surprised to see it was Rommie, rather than Trance.

He let her in and flopped back onto the sofa. After a moment she sat next to him.

"It was you who let Kale go, wasn't it?"

Harper finished his coffee and decided it was time to switch to something stronger. He went to the drinks cabinet and pulled out a bottle. Popping the cork, he didn't bother with a glass and drank it down. The liquid was warm, burning his throat. He offered the bottle to Rommie and she shook her head.

"Your loss."

"Why Harper?"

"Why let him go, you mean? Well, ya see, Rommie, I've been hanging around Rev too long, you know. I decided to forgive his sins and all that shit."

"Then why are you acting like this? Forgiveness brings you peace. You don't look like a man at peace."

"Hey, I'm at peace…oh yeah, I'm really 'peaced' off."

"I haven't informed Dylan of this yet. When I do he'll want to know why, and he also won't want someone he can't trust on his ship."

"Come on, Rommie, you wouldn't…"

"Tell me why you did it."

Harper looked away and swallowed the last of the bottle. He moved to get another. Rommie got there first and held it out of reach. Harper glared at her; "I'm not spilling my guts sober, OK?"

"Agreed." And she handed the bottle over.

Harper began swigging that down too and Rommie waited. She was about to prompt him again when he said quietly, "I couldn't face a trial. Standing up there, having everyone looking at me, knowing what he did."

"No one would have blamed you." She said, "you were eleven years old, it wasn't your fault."

"Yeah…that's what everyone says, Rommie and maybe its right. It is right…" He swallowed more of the drink, "but I can't live with people knowing that stuff about me." He pointed to his head, "it's up here Rommie, always will be up here. And that's where its gotta stay."

"So Kale gets to go free?"

"Yeah…but me too." He looked at her bitterly, "you think I'm a coward, don't you?"

"No. After everything he did to you, you didn't kill him. You should be proud of that." She touched his shoulder and was shocked to see the discomfort that caused him, "and I won't be telling Dylan of this."

She got up to leave. Halfway tot the door, he spoke. "Even my mom never knew."

"I know." And she pointed to her head.

He smiled, "do me a favour, Rommie, keep it up there, OK?"

"I will." She said and the door closed on her. Harper picked up the alcohol and began drinking.

Coda: A Thousand Tears I've Cried…

The hydroponics garden was quiet at this time of night. So still, so calm. Trance loved to walk here after every one had gone to bed. It felt like she was the only person in the Universe when she was here and it all belonged to her.

She saw Harper at the window and smiled, she'd known she would find him here. She came up beside him and settled her arms on the ledge of the window to the Heavens, unconsciously mimicking his posture. He was staring at a star, a little sparkle among so many. But she knew that this one held meaning to him. It was the star that Earth circled.

A tear dripped onto her arms and she looked up, Harper's cheeks were wet. Touching the little drop of moisture with her finger, she smiled, "it's OK to cry."

So he did.

~~END~~

© T S "NORTHERN STAR" FENN

Comments appreciated. Thanks for reading.