Sorry it took so long to get this final part online - thanks for keeping the faith - enjoy!
Hertzler was stood with two of his senior officers; Dylan could see flashes of what could be other soldiers in the wilds around the gates to Edenia. He lightly pressed his wrist communicator and got a three beep signal back, Andromeda had their back, as did the Maru and a few other ships that happened to be in the area. Dylan wanted peace but he wasn't going to the pay the price of trusting the Ubers, the three beeps indicated they were outnumbered in close proximity.
'Tell your men to back off, my ship informs me she has all their locations mapped, don't try any games Hertzler,' Dylan yelled, surprising Hertzler who hadn't noticed Dylan or Harper approaching.
'Just a precaution, just in case,' Hertzler dismissed calmly, and he waved his hand. Dylan saw movement and pressed his communicator again, this time one beep returned to signal the Nietzcheans had backed away sufficiently.
Dylan glanced at Harper, seeing determination in the young man's eyes and together they stepped forward so Hertzler could see them.
'Would you prefer that one of my officer's leave?' Hertzler offered, gesturing to the two men that flanked him.
'Just stay where you are and I'm happy for the moment,' Dylan replied, staying cautious and leaving a good distance between them. 'So, let's stop with the pleasantries and get down to business, what do you want?'
'Me,' Harper spoke up before Hertzler had the chance.
Hertzler offered a wry smile. 'It's true; you would make a fine addition to my serving staff.'
'Harper,' Dylan put a hand on Harper's shoulder to stop him from responding. 'Quit the small talk, let the Nietzschean speak,' he stared at Harper to make sure the engineer got the message. Harper shrugged Dylan's hand off his shoulder and took a deep breath, then looked at Hertzler to speak.
'I have your family and friends,' Hertzler began. 'I am willing to return them, unharmed, to Edenia right this minute.'
'Do it,' Harper stated.
'On condition you never return to Edenia,' Hertzler finished.
'Why request for me to meet you at the very gates of the place you want me furthest away from? Makes no sense, at least not to a human with a brain but I forgive you for what you are, logic fails when you add an Uber to the mix, so just tell me what do you really want?' Harper asked and sensed Dylan's unease at his choice of words and insults.
'Very well,' Hertzler then spoke up, dismissing Harper's tone. 'What I really want is revenge, but I doubt that surprises you. I was hoping you'd take the easy option but it seems you're not willing to pay the price of defeating my pride by never seeing your family again so you're leaving me very little options that allow me to save face with my pride.'
'You have no control over this part of space; do you remember we defeated you?' Dylan spoke up with a sarcastic tone. 'Return all your prisoners to their home in Edenia, and then you have no say over whether Harper sees his family or not, its not up to you who comes and goes from Edenia so that's the only option available to you,' he firmly stated. 'Clear out of this area of space and never return, that's the only saving face you can have. You lost, accept defeat graciously.'
'You see I would love to be able to honour that,' Hertzler frowned. 'But Dylan Hunt, you are a soldier and your naivety surprises me to think we could even consider that as an option, you must be getting old,' Hertzler mocked menacingly. 'I still have your engineer's family in my rightful custody, the spoils of war if you prefer, if we leave graciously, then they do to and they will become lost in our slave communities within our pride. Your little human would never see his family again, guaranteed.'
'You don't have to drag innocent people into this,' Dylan countered.
'They are not so innocent, they have all acted at some point to help your Commonwealth bandits, to help Harper, that instantly qualifies them as enemies of my people,' Hertzler pointed out.
'Ok, enough with the verbal sparring,' Harper then spoke up. 'If I was to willingly come with you, as a prisoner, would you keep my family and friends onboard as well?'
'Harper, don't,' Dylan warned.
'Just tell me,' Harper repeated with determination to Hertzler.
Hertzler seemed to consider his words and looked at Dylan before speaking. 'That could be possible.'
'Harper, this is what he wants,' Dylan hissed in low tones.
'I thought I'd just cut to the chase, I was getting bored dancing around your testosterone issues,' Harper hissed back.
'OK, here's the new offer,' Hertzler declared. 'On you giving yourself up as a prisoner to my pride we will return your friends to Edenia, but your woman and child will remain as slaves.'
'No deal,' Dylan immediately spoke up.
'Wait,' Harper waved Dylan aside.
'Harper I won't let you do this,' Dylan stressed. 'You did nothing to warrant becoming a prisoner to these people, and your family do not deserve that life!'
'It would enable me to stay with my family,' Harper shrugged.
'No, Harper, not like this, I beg you don't do this,' Dylan could see Hertzler was smiling now, Harper was walking right into his trap. 'Think about it, you're supposed to be a genius remember? In that head of yours is the knowledge to control Edenia and you're considering just walking into his hands, how is that helping Edenia?'
Harper finally hesitated as he considered Dylan's words but in seconds he felt a powerful force hit him full on and didn't get his bearings until he felt the dirt against his face. As seconds passed by, Harper tried to figure out what had just happened, he heard gun fire, but before he could work it out he felt himself being pulled away by someone grabbing his wrist. He began to protest to try and fight but he was still too stunned to put up a struggle, the trees and overgrowth passed him by quickly and he felt his clothes and face getting ripped at the speed he was being dragged. His head cracked against something and he was momentarily dazed, and didn't notice when he was no longer moving.
'Keep quiet, very quiet.'
Harper squinted but the light now hurt his eyes as his head pounded. 'Rommie?' he questioned.
'Quiet!' Rommie snapped, and Harper felt her strong hold over his mouth. Moments later he felt leaves and overgrowth being hastily placed on top of him, and figured it was to hide him further. Confusion took over, what had happened to make Rommie this jumpy about being found?
He heard muffled shouts, as Rommie's hand remained firmly over his mouth. She was on full alert, and he could sense her soldier mentality as he looked up at her scanning the area. He lifted his hands to meet hers on his mouth, prompting her to trust him as she slowly moved her hand aside. Harper slowly and carefully sat up and squinted into the distance, he saw Dylan being held by the two soldiers that had been flanking Hertzler.
'We have to help him!' Harper stressed quietly.
'Quiet,' Rommie returned in a hushed whisper.
'What happened, what is going on?' Harper demanded.
'Harper, I love you very much but please, be QUIET!' Rommie insisted.
Harper reluctantly got the message and watched as Dylan received a couple of upper cut hits to the face. Before he could protest again, Rommie had grabbed his arm and they were moving once more with speed.
Trying to stay at pace with Rommie, Harper managed to glance a few more times in Dylan's direction, getting the impression Dylan was playing with Hertzler and Hertzler was responding with violence. Rommie abruptly stopped and indicated for Harper to remain low, she tried to cover him with more undergrowth but Harper wasn't interested in hiding.
'Tell me what is going on before I ask Hertzler,' Harper spoke in warning tones.
Rommie flashed frustration in her perfect features and looked down for a moment before responding.
'We're trying to get your friends and family released,' she answered.
'Do you mind me pointing out that this is a crappy effort so far?' Harper offered. 'Let me give myself up.'
'Not an option,' Rommie answered in hushed tones.
'And Dylan getting his ass kicked is?' Harper objected.
'This is his plan,' Rommie partly shrugged.
Harper stopped before responding, he noted Rommie's expression. 'You also think this is a crappy plan, right?'
Rommie looked at odds before briefly nodding her head. 'We had to try something, we all knew you were planning on giving yourself up to those ubers, we can't let that happen.'
'It's for my family, Rommie,' Harper stressed.
'I know,' Rommie answered truthfully.
'Dylan is family too, yet you're all happy for him to take a beating for a plan that has no chance of succeeding, over mine that does?' Harper asked.
Before Rommie could reply she suddenly flung Harper aside and proceeded to simultaneously fight four of Hertzler's men that had discovered them. As she expertly dealt with them, Harper saw his chance to keep moving. Staying alert he swiftly moved and as he did so he disguised any possible scent with strong plant life he found around him, an old trick to bypass the ubers that he'd learnt many years before. Evading two with ease, Harper then saw a ship in the distance, sitting in a clearing being guarded by three more ubers.
'They have to be on that ship,' Harper muttered to himself and stayed low, as he tried to figure out a plan.
'Stay where you are.'
Harper jumped and then quickly recovered his senses. 'Crap Beka, some warning next time, you nearly gave my position up to the ubers!' he hissed as he held his ear. 'I didn't even know these things still worked.'
'They still work, you've either been too drunk to notice the voices in your head or right by my side for me to need to use it lately, plus Rommie might have got a fix on your position for me,' Beka responded. 'Now don't you dare move any closer to that ship, Seamus, I'm warning you, I have your position locked and I will shoot you down myself.'
Harper took a deep breath. 'Beka, I have to.'
'Don't make me do this, Seamus, please,' Beka now pleaded.
'Could you maybe shoot the soldiers by the ship then?' Harper asked.
'Not without alerting the entire crew and other ubers in the forest of your location,' Beka admitted.
'You'd also be alerting them to my position if you shot me,' Harper pointed out, and he slowly began to move.
'If I shot you there'd be very little left to find of you,' Beka stated but Harper didn't respond. 'Seamus, I was joking, you know I won't shoot you.'
'I know,' Harper finally acknowledged. 'So help me.'
'I want to but,' Beka hesitated.
'Dylan has whatever reasons he has to take that beating for me but all I want is my family,' Harper stressed.
'Harper get down,' Beka stressed, her voice in his head was enough to make Harper get down fast and hide. He cautiously looked up enough to see Hertzler and his men dragging a beaten Dylan towards the ship.
'Crap, one more fricking body to save now,' Harper whined under his breath.
'He's on the ship, that's further than you've got,' Beka noted over the comms.
'Damn him,' Harper sighed. 'That was his plan?' he questioned.
'Yeah,' Beka replied, as unconvinced as Harper.
'So why have Rommie take me out of that plan?' Harper asked.
'For a genius you really are slow sometimes, the one place in this universe Hertzler wants you is on that damn ship, none of this is for your family, he wont release them, not ever, Harper, wake up, he wants you because he still wants Edenia,' Beka stressed. 'Dylan is of no use to him, he can at least protect your family if nothing else.'
'That wasn't the deal, I want to be with my family!' Harper stressed with frustration. 'Dylan will be killed before he's even let near my family!'
'Harper, Dylan is on that ship, not you, and you know what its like when Dylan is on a ship he doesn't want to be on,' Beka reasoned.
'He's not there for long and always finds a way off,' Harper conceded as he watched Dylan being pushed towards the ramp of the ship. 'But this is so very different Beka, I can't just sit around and hope Hunt will be the hero again, I can't do it, Beka.'
'Seamus, I know what you are like and I'm sorry,' Beka responded.
'Sorry? For what?' Harper asked and then felt the sudden feeling he wasn't alone. Without looking back to see Rommie approaching he suddenly got to his feet and began to run towards the ship, as quickly as he could, screaming out his location before the ubers had the chance to miss him, hearing Beka screaming in his head a host of empty threats and insults.
Dylan inwardly smiled as he heard the first of Harper's screams, almost without fail the uber's attentions were caught on their number one prey and he had his chance to strike out. He'd floored two ubers before they even realised he had moved, Rommie's shots from the forest fired either side of him taking out three more soldiers. Dylan took his one chance well and got Hertzler into a head lock, expertly catching a force lance from the rapidly approaching Rommie, who had since overtaken Harper.
'Stop or I'll strike him down right here!' Dylan yelled and all activity on the Uber's part ceased immediately. Hertzler rightly stayed silent as the force lance pressed against his temple, offering no resistance.
Rommie rounded up the remaining soldiers, as Dylan secured Hertzler. Harper finally wandered over and took in the scene. 'You played me, Dylan?'
'I played to your strengths,' Dylan simply answered. 'I knew we couldn't go head first into battle with these guys, I also knew it would kill you to think I would take over your fight, I trusted you to go against both Rommie and Beka for something you believe in, your family.'
'You still played me,' Harper complained.
'It worked, now take Rommie and go finished the job,' Dylan ordered, indicating to the interior of the ship.
Harper glanced over to where the Maru and a couple of other ships were descending to clean up the mess, and without further prompting proceeded inside the ship.
'What if they're not in here?' Harper asked quietly.
'They are, we have determined their life signs in ship scans,' Rommie answered.
'Could be a trick,' Harper shrugged.
Rommie moved beside him as they walked. 'They are here, I am never tricked.'
'Right,' Harper sighed heavily and followed the directions Rommie gave him.
'You get to play hero, you get to save the day and rescue your loved ones,' Rommie smiled.
'I guess,' Harper agreed and felt Rommies hand on his arm stopping him.
'What is it?' Rommie asked and noticed Harper look away, looking into the distance.
'I don't know, maybe I'd resigned myself to losing this one,' Harper offered unsure. 'I'm still not sure we've won.'
'Dylan used Hertzler's obsession with you to his advantage to defeat him, and he's definitely defeated this time, he had the chance to run, Dylan gave him more chances than he's ever given anyone,' Rommie stated.
'I guess I thought I'd be the one to fix this mess,' Harper admitted.
'Harper, Dylan has just fixed the immediate problem, have absolutely no worries that he's intending on leaving you to fix the bigger mess, Edenia is far from fixed,' Rommie smiled and was relieved when Harper seemed to understand her meaning. 'Your work begins now, with the release of your friends and family,' she indicated.
Harper began to nod his head in understanding. 'Pretty big job, yeah?'
'I'd say that's an affirmative,' Rommie agreed.
'Want to help?' Harper asked hopefully.
'I'd love to, but sadly have to wash my hair,' Rommie simply answered and then playfully pushed Harper forward.
Harper was all smiles as he turned the corner that led to the cells, and he then stopped as he focused on the people cowering in the cage before him. Returning immediately to the case in hand, he quickly unlocked the door and rushed inside to hug the breath from Naomi.
'Shay, oh my goodness, Shay, but how?' Naomi flustered as she held tightly.
'Shay, it's official, you will never cease to amaze me, never,' Zal announced from the darkness, sounding weak.
'We have to go,' Harper stated, turning to everyone, encouraging them to move. As he turned back to Naomi he felt a bundle of rags pressed into his arms and he already knew the value, as he gently adjusted his hold.
'Protect him, first and foremost,' Naomi asked.
'You didn't have to ask,' Harper nodded and kept the child close to him, before helping Zal to his feet, then he noticed movement. 'C'mon Zelazny,' Harper saw the child looking lost, before Zal scooped him up, he recognised the terror in the kids face and his determination grew. 'We have freedom waiting for us just outside, come on!' he rallied them on to move.
The warmth of the day bathed the room in golden light, the brickwork no longer cold looking but had the feeling of safety and home.
'I guess this means we made it,' Harper spoke up, dropping his bags outside their home.
'Or that this is just the beginning,' Naomi offered, as she sidled up to him. A little noise from the bundle she was carrying made Harper smile fondly.
'I'm so glad we're here, nothing else matters anymore,' he decided as he stroked the cheek of his baby son.
'I wouldn't say that, our friends are just twenty minutes behind us and our house is a mess,' Naomi smiled broadly. 'You need to clean that crap off the walls to start with.'
Harper grimaced at the questionable graffiti that had been sprawled on their walls during the bleakest moments of the past few weeks. 'Do you think I'll ever be accepted here?'
'Does it worry you?' Naomi asked.
'Not if I have you and the little one,' Harper shrugged. 'Everything I've done to this point has been for you, my dream,' he added and put his arm around his wife.
'Well, maybe we should leave that rubbish on our walls for the time being to remind those around us how wrong they were about you,' Naomi suggested.
'I like that plan, less work for me, I have enough to get on with as it is!' Harper grinned and picked up the bags. 'After you, my dear,' he gestured for his wife to enter the house.
Drinks were flowing and everyone seemed to be smiling, news of a party had quickly spread and it seemed half of Edenia, along with the Andromeda crew were now in the Harper house.
'So come on, Mr Harper, have you named the baby yet?' Dylan asked loudly, and a hush seemed to quickly descend on the room.
'As a matter of fact we have,' Harper announced and took his son from his wife. 'In just a few weeks of life this little one has proved to be a fighter, a survivor, and obviously he's from very good stock,' Harper declared. 'Really with that fighting pedigree is there any other name we could call him than Valentino?' Beka put her hand to her mouth in shock as her eyes brimmed. 'Named after the strongest, best fighter I know of the female species, Rhade, I mean Beka Valentine! He'll also be the world's most handsome man, so win win for my kid!'
'A fine choice of name,' Dylan declared loudly, raising his glass and a series of agrees were cheered.
Beka moved over to where Harper and Naomi were sitting, her eyes still brimming. 'Thank you,' she simply said.
'Really, was there any other name I would have given to my first born son, hell, my first born daughter probably as well! Although Beka might work better there,' Harper joked. 'This is my thank you for everything you've done for me, every pain in the ass moment I've given you over the years,' Harper offered.
Beka smiled and accepted her namesake into her arms as Harper stood up. 'He's already looking a lot better, stronger,' Beka observed.
'Fighting fit, just like his dad,' Harper agreed. 'And like his dad will probably have a crappy immune system but it's never done me any serious harm,' he quickly added. 'I'm just glad I have the Commonwealth to call on should he ever get sick.'
'He's beautiful,' Beka smiled.
'Yeah, who'd of thought this would ever be possible?' Harper smirked.
'I never thought I'd be jealous of you, Harper, but right now, officially, I would love to be in your shoes, family, a home, a new life,' she stressed.
'Beka, stop with the losers and you could easily have all this,' Harper insisted. 'We all deserve this, even Rhade, even though he already had this and chose to walk away, at least he's seen sense to return to it.'
'I have the Maru, and a desolate Trance, that's my family,' Beka half smiled.
'I didn't find that so bad when I had that,' Harper offered, as he accepted his son back from Beka. 'In fact it probably saved my life.'
'Just promise me one thing,' Beka then asked.
'Anything,' Harper agreed.
'Stay out of trouble,' Beka requested.
Harper laughed and then frowned. 'You always asked the impossible of me, Rebeka Valentine, but I'll see what I can do, for his sake,' he gestured to Valentino as he handed him back to his mother.
'Good,' Beka then hugged Harper tightly.
'I need to breathe still,' Harper choked.
'I think this is probably our cue to leave,' Dylan announced as Beka finally let Harper go. 'We need to get Andromeda back to base, reports written, commands stepped down and all that jazz,' Dylan explained, with Rommie, Trance and Beka now beside him. 'And Mr Harper,' Dylan then added.
'What?' Harper asked.
'Don't mess this up,' Dylan half smiled.
'Dylan it's already messed up, that's why I'm here,' Harper joked.
'Don't mess it up any more than it already is then,' Dylan restated.
'Gotcha, but you'll be the first person I call if I do, after Beka, naturally,' Harper offered.
Trance stepped forward. 'This is your future now, we are your past, keep looking forward.'
'I will, princess,' Harper agreed. 'I have to, new priorities and things to fix, my work is never done.'
'We have enough empty houses if you guys want to stay, I mean you seem in no hurry to leave,' Zal remarked candidly. 'We can then all worship at the altar of Shay then.'
'Ok, ok, we're leaving,' Dylan mock protested. 'You know where we are if you need us, don't forget that.'
'I know,' Harper smiled now, seeing Zal hit his forehead and then be nudged angrily by Junia to stop teasing Shay's friends.
'Communications every week, understand!' Beka ordered and Harper simply nodded his head in agreement.
With no more words the Andromeda crew turned and offered one last wave before leaving. Harper felt a sudden emptiness as they went, looking around at his new friends and family, before looking at the miracle of his son.
'No one could have predicted this when I first stepped through those gates,' Harper thought to himself with a smile.
'Shay,' Naomi spoke up, breaking his thoughts.
'What?' Harper asked, whilst tickling his son's nose.
'What is this thing Beka gave you as a leaving present?' Naomi asked, pointing to a series of wooden objects.
'It's a symbol,' Harper proceeded to pick the planks up, painted white. 'It's to complete my dream, tomorrow, my dear, our house shall have a white picket fence,' Harper smiled, the only one now in the room that would get the reference.
'Your people are weird,' Zal observed. 'No wonder you're a rare species now if this symbolises your dreams.'
'You have absolutely no idea,' Harper offered distantly, flashes of his life on Earth coming to mind and then just as quickly leaving his thoughts, as he turned to his wife and child still not quite believing how lucky he suddenly was.
'I say at least three.'
'Come on, give him some credit, six months to take into account his stubborn 'not accepting he's in trouble till he absolutely has to face it' nature,' Beka joked, as she looked at both Dylan and Rommie on the communications screen.
Trance moved closer to the console. 'I think we might have heard the end of Harper's trouble making days, you saw him with little Valentino, he wouldn't risk anything for him.'
Dylan smiled. 'You're right, maybe this is the end to Harper's love affair with trouble, he's in a place now that is off the beaten track, he has other concerns now.'
'The universe will have to find a new beating stick to play with,' Beka agreed.
'Let's just try and not step into Harper's shoes, I want the quiet life now,' Rommie noted.
'I think it's safe to say we're all looking for the easier life now,' Dylan agreed.
'I still say six months,' Beka grinned, before closing communications with the Andromeda and setting course to take her away from Edenia, already missing her Seamus Harper.